Monday 30 August 2010

James Alison on Coming Out

The shape of daring imagination: coming out and coming home

We started to look this morning at what it is like to be scandalised, and the beginnings of moving beyond scandal. And I’d like to go back to the little boy, or little girl, and share with you what I have learned to pray for. It took me a long time to be able to pray for this, but I think it’s the prayer the little nine-year-old wanted to pray. It’s a prayer for four things: a home; a heart; a husband; and a ministry. I tried to think of an H word to fit the other three Hs, but ‘hinistry’ didn’t sound very good [laughter]. It would have been nice if we could talk about the four Hs, but we can’t. Home, heart, husband and ministry – obviously, change gender perspectives at will. And of course, if we live with our desire scandalised, these are four things that it’s very very difficult to imagine. They’re obviously good things – which of us does not want a home? Somewhere where we have a sense of belonging, where we’re recognised, where we are called by name, where we are received with joy – where we are received as we are, with joy, rather than being received on condition we pretend to be someone else. But home is a difficult thing to imagine when you’re scandalised: it’s a difficult thing to imagine that one’s desire for home, is good. So, imagining the arduous good: what might it be like recovering that little-boy longing, that little-girl longing for home, and making it real, or making it more real for ourself and for others? A heart: one of the things of the scandalised heart, is the sense of not belonging anywhere, and actually, not being sure that I can even rely on my feelings. Is this only me, or is this something we have in common? Having been regularly, and apparently religiously, taught to distrust my feelings on the ground that they were wrong – and of course that’s devastating. That means, you don’t really have a heart; or in as far as you do have a heart, it’s a heart which might be toxic to other people. ‘Be careful how you love them since you will only do them harm’. And how very very difficult it can be for us to receive a heart, the possibility that our love might be healthy, might not be frightened, might be able to imagine itself as building people up – this is a little-boy or a little-girl desire, and recovering it is central to the life of faith. A husband, or a wife: the little boy or the little girl longed for someone they could be with for ever. And how quickly voices of impossibility rushed in, to say, ‘No! Not possible! Never! You’re wrong even to want that’. And how difficult it is to recover the possibility that such a thing might be good, and possible, and blessed. Fighting off voices of impossibility, in terms of scandal – insisting, so as to be able to imagine the arduous good. Scandal closes down the possibility of imagining the arduous good. Ministry: as a little child, with a vocation, to exercise some ministry in the life of the church. Some ability to share the good news, to be part of something good, and positive, that shares the life of God: ‘yes, but only if you pretend to be someone you’re not’; yes, but so long as you don’t tell the truth’; ‘yes, but’, ‘yes, but’, ‘yes, but’ – the scandalised mind. The arduous good – imagining what it might be like to discover that we are exercising a ministry, starting from where we are; that such ministries are compatible with having a home, a heart, and a husband, whatever form that takes. And that it’s not wrong to want all these things – just like a greedy little child. How easily we are scandalised off from wanting all these things, like a greedy little child. Learning to imagine the arduous good…:
And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city, there was a judge, who neither feared God, nor regarded man”.

Books by James Alison


Saturday 28 August 2010

A Catholic Case For Blessing Civil Unions.

With gay marriage back in the news, one may well ask (and I have been asked) is there a case for the Catholic Church to provide some form of church recognition for civil unions?

I have several objections, which I have frequently stated,  to the entire foundations of the Vatican doctrines on sexuality - but the question I want to deal with was very specific and moderate, from a person whose undoubted sincerity and respect for tradition I freely accept, and so, for the sake of argument, I want to address David's question on its own terms - from strictly within orthodox Catholic tradition and teaching. My short answer is yes, undoubtedly; my slightly longer answer is that there should not need to be a case, as liturgical blessing of same sex unions already has an established place in Church history, complete with fixed liturgical rites and ceremonies. However, this traditional practice is no longer familiar to us, and so I need to update it, together with some background information,  for the modern context.

I begin with what is foundational to all questions of marriage - the words of Scripture, in Genesis 2 (which is the earlier of the two creation stories, notwithstanding the familiar numbering):
"It is not good for the man to live alone. I will make a companion to help him."
-(Gen 2:18)
Notice please: not a wife, to make babies, but a companion, to help him. So we have it on the very best authority, God's authority, that humans need companions, not for sexual pleasure, nor primarily for procreation, but for help, companionship and support.

Why Not in Church, Too?

In the modern West, we are so obsessed with sex, and particularly with off-colour wisecracks and snickering at wedding receptions that we entirely forget that marriage is not only about sex. Yet every adult knows there is far more to marriage, once the wedding night and honeymoon are over and forgotten. What becomes far more important is simply working together to ease the trials of the day - by offering companionship and support, taking leisure or seeing friends and family together, and sharing in the costs and responsibilities that go into making a home: house, garden and car maintenance, paying the bills, cleaning, laundry and food arrangements - and raising children together if and when they arrive.

It is not only that sex is not the only part of marriage - we forget that it was once an accepted part of Christianity that sexual relationships need not be a part of marriage at all. Many early Christians renounced sex altogether and dedicated themselves to virginity, even in marriage, and even as married couples. So it is entirely accepted in Christian tradition that an emotionally intimate, recognized committed relationship between two people is possible without the need for a sexual foundation.

We also know, through the scholarship of John Boswell and Alan Bray, that for many centuries the early and medieval Church accepted and recognized the value of liturgical recognition of same sex couples, for which they used established rites of blessing. In the Eastern Church, these were known as rites for "adelphopoeisis", or "making of brothers", and in the Western Church, as "sworn brotherhood."  Boswell's work is controversial, and has been widely criticized in some quarters on the grounds that these unions were not "comparable" to modern heterosexual marriage - but that is precisely my point: modern civil unions are also not comparable to modern (sacramental) marriage (and nor were heterosexual unions in the early and medieval church "comparable" with modern marriage).

What cannot be denied is that these liturgical rites existed, and were used. Bray's work is a lot more cautious than Boswell's, and he is careful to describe these unions only in terms of "friendship" - but as he also makes clear, male friendship at that time is also not directly comparable with modern ideas of male "buddies". Friendship between men then was  a far more serious affair than it usually is today, possibly of greater emotional and practical importance that mere marriage, which is why it was deemed worthy of liturgical recognition, and why a number of pairs of sworn brothers demanded and got joint burial in shared tombs in church - exactly as many  married couples. These unions were not always sexual - but some most certainly were.

The practice of liturgical blessing for same-sex unions gradually fell away, but continued in occasional use in the Eastern use, and I have heard a suggestion that although it has fallen into disuse in the West, it has never been formally abolished and so remains at least theoretically available (that would need checking, and I do not vouch for the claim.) However, the practice of shared burial continued rather longer. The best known and most recent example is that of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who insisted on being buried alongside his beloved friend St John, that they could be together "for all eternity". There was no objection raised to the request, and they were indeed buried together, right in Birmingham Oratory, with no slight to Newman's reputation. He is today on the path to recognized sainthood, and will be formally beatified next month, during the papal visit to the UK.

So, there is an established basis in scripture and in church history, for recognizing a human need for a companion, and for liturgical recognition of such relationships, even when between pairs of men, by the Church. So the case for modern liturgical recognition of some same-sex relationships would seem to be inc0ntestable - it has already been established church practice in both Eastern and Western branches of Christianity. The question is - what kind of relationships? Are rites for making "brothers", or of "sworn brotherhood",  really appropriate for modern civil unions? The argument against might be, that the former were not sexual relationships, and modern civil unions are.

Well, not exactly. Some sworn brotherhoods most certainly did have a sexual basis, and some modern civil unions do not. More importantly, both sets of unions are or were very much about joint financial business or property relationships, and reciprocal obligations for mutual care and protection. Before considering modern partnerships which are sexual, I want to deal with those which are not. To do so, I want to consider the case of a Catholic man who has a "homosexual condition", but who successfully strives to live strictly within the parameters of orthodox Catholic doctrine. Call him Chas, for chastity.

We know from Vatican documents that a homosexual man in himself is not sinful - only his homosexual "acts", but being a dutiful Catholic, Chas does not commit any of those. We also know from Genesis that in the eyes of God, it is not right that he should be alone, that he needs a companion. We also know that the Church itself recognizes that a person like Chaz will have a difficult time living out his life of voluntary chastity - they describe this as a "cross" that such men must learn to carry, and also are careful to arrange support groups (in the Courage ministry) to help them to deal with this cross.

Now if Chas recognizes that it would be good for him to have a companion, someone who can offer help and support in carrying this cross on a full-time basis, not just in weekly Courage meetings, and can furthermore help with all the little practical details of living arrangements, as married couples do as matter of course when not making babies, and if Chas meets someone with whom he can find the right emotional connection, and who is just as committed to living within Church teaching (someone he met in his Courage group, perhaps) - what possible objection can there be to the two of them agreeing to live together as room-mates, sharing expenses, chores and responsibilities - and providing full-time companionship and support?

Once they do start living together, and develop deep emotional bonds, they may well see the need for legal contracts to protect their respective interests in the eyes of the law. As the relationship has been set up to honour and support each other in living out Church teaching in love, is there not also a need for such a relationship to secure some form of honouring within the Church community, so that God who has recognized their mutual need for companionship, and the faith community of which they are part, might bear witness to their love and commitment - and encourage them to maintain it obedience to the demands of their faith, as they see it? Such recognition should not take the form of "marriage", with its association with child-bearing and raising, but it would have strong and obvious parallels with sworn brotherhood - based on deep friendship, but also incorporating legal, financial and personal mutual responsibilities.

So, it is clear to me that precisely as the early and medieval church saw the value of celebrating some same sex unions in sworn brotherhood, there would be value for the church in recognizing (celibate) civil unions with an independent, but associated, rite of blessing within the congregation.

What of unions that are not known to be celibate? Well, they may be.  Here in the UK, the law for civil partnerships closely parallels that for marriage, with very few exceptions. One important one that does exist, is sexual: unlike marriage, there is no legal requirement for sexual consummation for the union to be valid. In law, the partnership is essentially a matter of contract between two people, and in not a sexual arrangement.  For those cynics who doubt the possibility of a partnership which is not sexual, I simply point again to the example of the early church, and those married couples who were encouraged to practice virginity even within marriage. There certainly are modern male couples, living in close emotional partnerships, who claim to be doing so in complete chastity, just as our fictitious Chaz might do. Who are we to disbelieve them?

Even where we know that a particular couple are not celibate, we would be wrong to assume that they are living in sin. Although the Vatican documents and the Catechism are clear that homosexual genital acts are sinful, it is also established and accepted that the primary obligation is to one's conscience. There is a parallel clear and established teaching that the use of artificial contraception is sinful - but that conscience may at times override that. So, the simple fact that two men are living together, in a relationship that is not celibate, does not mean that they are sinful. They too, just like Chaz and his hoped-for friend and partner, need companionship, mutual help and support in negotiating life's difficulties, and the problems they will face together. They too, could do with some support from their congregation, and recognition for their love.

Before dismissing the possibility, consider once more the case of a married couple, one that has been married, say, for ten years, and remain childless.  When they present themselves for communion, does the priest assume that they are using contraception, and deny the sacrament? Of course, it could be that there are natural causes at work. Let us simplify the case further, let us say that both couples have had children by previous marriages, marriages which ended tragically in the deaths of their spouses. They are now in en entirely licit new marriage and each has established proof of   fertility. Still the priest, although he might have questions in his mind, will not refuse communion, because he will assume that the couple have worked things out in conscience and good faith.

Why can the church not approach modern same sex couples in the same spirit? The case for church recognition of celibate civil unions I showed above to be incontestable.  I submit that if we truly apply Catholic teaching on the importance of conscience, and on not judging the state of an other's conscience, there is equally a strong case for Church recognition of unions that are not necessarily celibate.

Friday 27 August 2010

John McNeill: Theology of Fallibility, Part III

How LBGT Should React to the Fallibility of the Hierarchy

The day I read in the New York Times that the Vatican under Pope Benedict, the former Cardinal Ratzinger of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had made the decision to bar all gays, even celibate gays, from the priesthood, my immediate reaction as an ordained gay priest was great sadness for the Church I love, then rage at the injustice of it all, and then painful awareness of all those good and holy gay men in the priesthood who will feel betrayed and abandoned by their mother Church. I then entered into prayer and asked the indwelling Holy Spirit to help me discern what this is all about!

First, the Spirit assured me that this decision has nothing to do with God or the teaching of Jesus Christ. Notice the total absence of any sense of love and compassion for all the suffering this will cause gay Catholics in general and, especially, gay priests. The hierarchy is aware that the child abuse crisis and its cover up by hierarchs has seriously undermined their authority and power. This purge is a political move by the sinful human church to try to repair the damage done to their power and prestige by scapegoating the gay members of the clergy. They are ignoring all the expert advice from professional psychologists and psychiatrists that gayness was not the cause of the child abuse crisis. By this move they are trying to avoid their responibility for the crisis and the need to reform the Church. The Holy Spirit is still ultimately in charge of the Church and the Spirit will call the shots on how the Church will evolve and be transformed! Our task is to prayerfully discern what the Holy Spirit is about in this moment of crisis and support the transformation of the Church coming from God's Spirit.

(Read the full post)

Books by Fr John McNeill:

Monday 23 August 2010

James Alison on Growing Up Gay

James Alison is another important theologian for gay men, although he described himself not as a "gay theologian", but as a theologian who writes from a gay (male) perspective. He was formerly a Dominican priest, who like Fr John McNeill,, was forced out of the priesthood for daring to speak honestly, in his case about gay priests. He has since created a new career as an independent theologian, writing, speaking and leading workshops. His work is characterised by a continuous ability to celebrate the joy of being gay and Catholic,and for a particular attention to the difficulties of young people on first coming out.
This is the focus of this piece, published at his website:

Navigating uncharted waters: the gift of faith and growing up LGBT

The first point which I’d like to make, in a sense, is a big sigh of relief. And the sigh of relief is as follows: if faith were an ideology, and gay were a pathology, how easy this conference would be! Because if faith were an ideology, it would merely say “nyet” to us, and if being gay were a pathology, then we would merely go “oh poor little me”; and the matter would be over. Unfortunately for people who try to present things in the way that makes faith into an ideology, and being LGBT into a pathology, this world has collapsed. The world in which faith is an ideology, and ‘LGBT’ is a pathology, has collapsed. Our ability to have survived into what might pass as adulthood in some of our cases, seems to have borne witness to this. We’re no longer run by the world in which faith is an ideology, and being LGBT is a pathology. But getting out of some of the tracks of thinking, to which many of us have got used, which did rather regard it as though we were perpetually stuck between those two, has taken time.
So what I want us to do today is to start in the morning by looking forward, and looking back, a little bit. This is, remember, with a view to being able to think more creatively this afternoon. So I’m not asking you to look back for reasons of nostalgia – though that can be important – but it’s because a healthy looking back is what empowers a looking forward. This is one of the things which is very important for us. We are all autobiographical animals – we tell stories. And our stories are not based on fixed memories from the past, read towards us; all our stories are told from where we are now, looking backwards. And what I think inspires us to be able to think about these stories, is the gift of hope. And I want to make – this is my second point: the difference between hope and optimism. Often the two are confused. Optimism is, if you like, a strategic matter: I try and examine what the forces in play are, in the society in which I live, or in the church, or whatever, and I ask myself, ‘am I optimistic or am I pessimistic?’. But this proposes that, or this imagines that, one is in a battle with something, on one’s own level, and one is optimistic or pessimistic depending on who gets elected pope, what the bishop is like, etc etc – things like this. Hope is something entirely different. Hope is a gift, given us by Someone Else, who s pulling us out of where we are, into something bigger. Hope is actually compatible with a great deal of non-optimism, with quite a sanguine assessment of the reality of our situation. But hope is a theological virtue, a gift – we’re going to be looking at how faith is a gift in just a second – it presupposes Someone Else, to wit, God, pulling us out of a situation, and opening us up into something bigger. It’s that that I want to focus on, because it’s in the degree to which we are able to imagine someone else doing that for us, that we are able to retell our stories, in more open, more critical, more relaxed ways, in such a way that they will open our trajectories out to open and more creative futures. Does that make sense? [pause] Good.
Books by James Alison
Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay
On Being Liked
Undergoing God: Dispatches from the Scene of a Break-in
Broken Hearts New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal
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Sunday 22 August 2010

Celibacy, Homosexuality, Jeffrey John and Cardinal Newman

The Pope’s visit to the UK later this year is turning the spotlight on Cardinal John Henry Newman – Newman’s scheduled beatification is the ostensible primary reason for the visit. There are many aspects of Newman’s life and work that will be worth considering: his story as a leading Anglican convert to Rome will focus attention on the relations between the two churches, on the privileged position of the Anglicans as the “established” church here, and on the legal disadvantages of the Catholic church. There will also be interest in his work as a theologian, which has led some to see him as a “progressive” for his insistence on the primacy of conscience, while paradoxically others hail him as an arch traditionalist. I hope to discuss both of these later. For now though, I want to consider another aspect of his life, his well-known intensely passionate love for a younger priest, Ambrose St John.

This love has led me, like others, to include Newman in my collection of “queer” saints and martyrs. At the Guardian, Jack Valero clearly disagrees. In his discussion of Newman, he complains, “It is symptomatic of modern values that we conclude Cardinal Newman’s intense love for a man meant he was a homosexual.” My response to this, is that it is even more symptomatic of the modern Church that we conclude that anybody identifying as “homosexual”, or as gay, is not celibate. This is an important issue for the place of gay men and lesbians in the Catholic church, and of the treatment we receive.

First, let us consider the bare facts of Newman and his love, which are generally agreed. His love for St John is beyond dispute. "He loved me with an intensity of love, which was unaccountable," Newman wrote after St John’s death. This love was reciprocated, to the extent that it was his explicit wish that he wanted to be buried alongside his lover in a shared grave. This wish was understood and respected by his colleagues of the Birmingham Oratory, and so it was done. However, there is no serious suggestion that the intense love between the two was given sexual expression. They were, after all, both priests. Yet from the same set of agreed facts, one side acclaims him as a “gay” saint, another as obviously not “homosexual”. To make sense of this contradiction, I now want to explore some of the nuances behind the bare facts.

A priest’s desire today to be buried in the same grave as another priest would certainly be extraordinary, possibly even scandalous but in earlier times it was uncommon, but less remarkable. Alan Bray in “The Friend” describes many English churches which have tombs holding male couples, some of them priests. What is significant here, is that this practice of burying couples in shared tombs was far more commonly practiced for married couples – and many of the male couples buried together that Bray described are known to have been “sworn brothers”, made so in a liturgical rite exactly comparable to the rite of “adelphopoesis” that John Boswell describes in “Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe”. Boswell and Bray disagree on the significance: Boswell presents evidence that these rites included many elements exactly comparable to the rites for opposite-sex marriage of the day. Bray argues that they should not be seen as a form of marriage, but merely as a sign of deep friendship – some of the men undergoing sworn brotherhood were also married to wives. Most of these predated Newman and St John by many centuries – by the nineteenth century the practice had all but died out, and there is no evidence that the men had ever formalized the relationship in any form of written contract or liturgical rite, Still, the symbolism of the shared grave remains powerful, given its historical context.

Now, consider Newman’s celibacy. Recall that he started life as an Anglican, for whom clerical celibacy was not a requirement. He quite specifically approved of marriage as a general rule, and believed that “country parsons” too should marry. Yet, even at the tender age of 16, he knew that he personally would not, believing that a single life was the “will of God” for him. If this deliberate celibacy in a priest should mean that he cannot be considered “homosexual”, does this mean that he is necessarily to be thought of as “heterosexual”? Surely not. Celibacy in itself is no indicator of sexual orientation. The common words simply are not of any help. Personally, I no longer think in terms of any category of “gay” saints: the modern word does not work outside of the modern period, and so I use the term “queer” instead, to denote anybody whose behaviour or choices stand clearly outside the standard, gendered role models for “heterosexual” men and women. On this basis, I have no hesitation in describing as “queer” a man who early on praised marriage in principle, but eschewed it for himself without any religious obligation to do so, and whose major emotional investment was a passionate (if sexless) relationship with a man, with whom he desired to share eternity.

Now, I return to the implications behind the opening statement in the Guardian: “It is symptomatic of modern values that we conclude Cardinal Newman’s intense love for a man meant he was a homosexual.” The argument here, that celibacy denies “homosexuality”, can be turned on its head: there is an assumption behind it that “homosexual” implies sexual activity. This is a dangerous assumption, which leads to some of the more shameful aspects of pastoral practice in the institutional church. Vatican theory is quite different: the significant modern documents draw a clear distinction between the homosexual person, the “inclination” (or orientation), and actions. It is made clear that the “inclination” is not sinful, and that homosexual persons are to be treated with compassion, dignity and respect. Only homosexual “actions” are considered to be sinful. Yet Vatican teaching argues against protecting the persons from discrimination in housing or employment, even though such discrimination is clearly targeted at people for who they are, not for what they may have done. In defending this position, they claim that the “person” can remain free of discrimination by the simple expedient of keeping his “inclination” secret. “DADT”, in other words, in the Church.

This week, the English courts ruled on the validity of this argument as it applies to gay asylum seekers, looking for refuge here from serious homophobic persecution, even the risk of death, in their home countries. The British Border Agency, fearing that a sympathetic ruling would open the flood-gates to unwanted hordes of opportunistic refugees, had argued that gay Iranians, Sudanese and the like could escape persecution by the simple expedient of remaining closeted. The court sensible disagreed, stating that this was an entirely unreasonable and unjust expectation. It is even more unreasonable and unjust on the part of a Church which reminds us (in “Homosexualitatis Problema”, para 18) of the Scripture injunction to “Speak the truth in love”, and “the truth shall set you free”.

The problem is that the Vatican promise of “dignity, compassion and respect” does not apply to persons who are “homosexual”, but only to those who hide their sexuality. Why? Because if their “condition” is known, they are assumed to be not celibate - even when they give assurances to the contrary, as was the case of the Canadian altar server. This is not just a problem for the Vatican – it applies equally to the Anglican Church, and was the unstated problem that derailed the proposed selection of Jeffrey John as Bishop of Southwark. John declares that he is celibate. However, he is known to be in a Civil Partnership. British law on these partnerships is clear that they are in many respects virtually identical to conventional marriage, but there are a handful of key differences. One of these is that unlike traditional marriage, there is no requirement of sexual consummation for the partnership to be legally valid. In terms of law, it is entirely possible for two men to be in a legal Civil Partnership, and celibate, just as John says he is. His opponents, however, simply refuse to believe this. To them, the simple fact that two homosexually identified men are living together is taken as “proof” that they are not celibate. In the commentary around John’s nomination, it was asked whether there was any “proof” (such as video footage) that their relationship was “chaste”. Why?

Now, let us return once more to Cardinal Newman. He never disclosed physical sexual activity, or its absence with St John, but in the absence of evidence, it is assumed that his close emotional relationship was suitable celibate. In the case of both the (Catholic) Canadian altar server, and the (Anglican) Jeffrey John, we have clear statements of both that their relationships with their partners are celibate, and so (presumably) exactly comparable to that of Newman and St John. Yet the popular assumption around these men is precisely the reverse of that applied to Newman. Whereas he is assumed to be celibate, they are assumed not to be. If modern standards had been applied to Newman, he should have been barred from the priesthood altogether, let alone raised to high office and a path to sainthood.


Boswell, John : Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe

Alan Bray, The Friend

Saturday 21 August 2010

Water into Wine: Jesus's Gay Wedding at Cana.

Yesterday I dipped into two books, and found ideas that amplified  each other with powerful effect, especially in the current context of advances for marriage equality and the bishops' opposition. "Take Back the Word" (ed Robert Goss) is a compilation of writings on Scripture designed to take us as queer Christians beyond battles with the "texts of terror", to an approach more in keeping with what it should be, a source of inspiration and value in our lives.  "Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body " (ed Gerard Loughlin) is a broader and more ambitious compilation, of writing on a range of dimensions of faith from a queer perspective.
Who was getting married?
In the introduction to his book, Loughlin reflects on the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana, (John 2: 1 - 11) which we usually think of in terms of the transformation of water into wine. Immediately I thought of this as a wonderful alternative image for Goss's "Take Back the Word". It is one thing for us to move beyond a fear of Scripture to a point where it is the "water" of life: but how can we go beyond even that, to the "wine" of celebration?  This, I thought, is what Elizabeth Stuart does in a short piece "Camping Around the Canon", which (as it happens) she ends with some thoughts on weddings. Stuart's point is that we need to be able to approach Scripture with laughter, which is too often absent from religious practice. After a concise exposition of the historical and theological justification for the approach, she offers just one illustration of what she means,  discussing Ephesians, 5:21-33 ("Wives, submit to your husbands"), which is so often used at weddings, and which for women can so easily become a text of terror. Hearing it read at weddings, she says, left her "churning with anger". But an analysis by Gerard Loughlin changed her reaction from tragic to comic, as the "heteropatriarchal" readings are
undermined and washed away in the deeper waters of the Christian symbolic, for insofar as as women are members of the body, they too are called to be Christ to others; so that they too must also act as "groom" and "husband"; to the "bride" and "wife" of the other, whether it is to a man or woman.  For it cannot be said that within the community only men are called to love as Christ does."
-Gerard Loughlin, "Baptismal Fluid", unpublished paper quoted by Stuar
Stuart comments:
Loughlin's reading of the text had transformed it into a queer text. The very incongruity of this reading with the "original" reading is enough to stimulate laughter. I find it funny that this passage should be read so often and do solemnly at weddings, the great ceremony of heteropatriarchy.
-Stuart, Camping Around the Canon, in Goss "Take Back the Word"
I remember a comparable insight and laughter from my own experience. Once on retreat, I found myself reflecting on the familiar image of the Church as the bride of Christ, and realized that as a gay man, I was spared the oddity (for straight men) of imagining myself as "bride", and instead was able to picture myself in my meditation as "groom" of Christ - a meditation that became extremely powerful. Looking  back on it later, I found satisfaction and humour in the realisation that my orientation had given me a unique advantage in my prayer.
This left me with a predisposed receptivity to Loughlin's main ideas concerning the wedding at Cana.  Instead of considering the miracle of transformation, he asks instead, "Who is it that was married?". He answers the question in stages.
First, he points out that the story should be read as a parable, with distinct anticipation of the Last Supper,  Passion and Resurrection. The wedding takes place on "the third day" (anticipating the resurrection) after He has talked with Nathanel (John 1:43 -51), and the transformation of water into wine anticipates the transformation of wine into His blood. In a liturgical setting, the Mass recalls these three days. So, it is a standard idea that symbolically, in the church's recollection of the story, we are all guests at the wedding, where Christ is marrying his Church.   At one level closer to the literal, it is Christ marrying his disciples. Loughlin then goes on to discuss a fascinating more literal idea from the early and medieval church - that it was indeed Christ who was married - to John, the beloved disciple. This idea was articulated in the apocryphal Acts of John, in which it is said that John broke off his betrothals to a woman to "bind himself" to Jesus. This was apparently a common strand in some German medieval thinking, right up until the Reformation, and is visually illustrated in some surviving art.  In a  "Libellus for John the Evangelist", a painting of the wedding feast is said to feature a bearded Christ seated next to a beardless, androgynous John - whom, says Loughlin, he appears about to kiss.  In the "Admont Codex" illustrated manuscript of  St Anselm's "Prayers and Meditations", an illustration in two parts shows John's story. In one, John is seen leaving his female betrothed. In the companion piece, he is lying on the ground with this head on Jesus's breast, while Jesus himself is tenderly caressing his chin.
Is this tradition "true"? We cannot know. Like so much much else in Scripture, it is impossible to get through the mists produced by unfamiliar language, a different literary tradition, and remote historical /cultural context to get close to the literal "truth" behind the text.   No matter. Even without accepting  this idea literally, it is enough for me to know that it was once widely accepted in the mystical tradition, and to incorporate it into my reader response.
It is when Loughlin moves beyond the "meaning" of the text to its multiple ironies that the fun starts. This where, in sympathy with Elizabeth Stuart, I found myself quite literally laughing with Scripture.  For if it is true that the consecration of Eucharistic wine into Christ's bloods is prefigured in the Cana transformation of water into wine, then we can see that in every Mass we are commemorating  Christ's own wedding with His (male) disciples. Every Mass can be seen as a mystical gay wedding.  That Mass is celebrated by a priest who has committed himself to celibacy, and so forswears procreation himself, but is expected to preach against gay marriage or others - because homosexual intercourse, being unable to procreate, is "intrinsically disordered". The priesthood in turn, is run by a a similarly celibate coterie in the Vatican which reproduces itself by recruitment not biological reproduction - and castigates the homosexual community for its own social, not biological reproduction.
The threat posed by gays and lesbians to family and society is often proclaimed by men - named "fathers"- who have vowed never to to beget children. The pope lives in a household of such men - a veritable palace of "eunuchs"for Christ  - that reproduces itself by persuading others not to procreate. Why us the refusal of fecundity - the celibate lifestyle - not also a threat to family and society?
-Loughlin, introduction to "Queer Theology"

Friday 20 August 2010

"How The Catholic Church Made Me Into a Lesbian Feminist": Elizabeth Stuart".

When people ask me how I can possible remain a practicing Catholic while also being an extremely out lesbian feminist, my answer is that it was from the Catholic Church that I learn that God was a God of liberation who takes the side of the poor and oppressed. It was from the Catholic Church that I learnt that God is a god of equality and mutuality. It was from the Catholic Church that I learnt that love knows know boundaries. It was from the Catholic Church that I learnt that the church was not the pope, bishops or priests but the whole people of God, including me. It was at the Mass that I learnt that bodies are indispensable in the praise of God and that they matter. It was at the Mass that I learnt that it was quite alright for men to wear lavish frocks. At convent school I learnt that marriage and family life were not the only options for a Christian. I was introduced to a whole tradition of saints that defied the social conventions of their day and told not only that God loved them for it but that they were my friends.  It was among my Catholic friends that I first encountered liberation and feminist theology. Of course, I also learnt that the church did not live up to what it taught me, there was a slip between vision and reality and this scandalized me and still does. But the vision gave me permission to be lesbian and feminist and actually it was more than permission, in a sense it made me into those things.
Elizabeth Stuart, "Why Bother With Christianity Anyway?"
(Elizabeth Stuart, ed.)

John McNeill: Theology of Fallibility, Part II

A central Christian teaching, going back to Jesus himself, is without doubt of utmost importance to all Christians and especially to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Christians. That teaching is freedom of conscience. This teaching is based on Jesus' promise to his followers to send them the Holy Spirit who will dwell in their hearts and lead them into all truth. At the last supper Jesus promised: "I shall ask the Father and he will give you another Paraclete (The Greek word means advocate) to be with you for ever, the Spirit of Truth whom the world can never accept since it never sees nor knows him, but you know him" (John 14: 16-17). Jesus declared further: "I have said these things to you while still with you, but the (Advocate) the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you" (John 14:26-26). The title Advocate which Jesus gives the Spirit means a lawyer, one who speaks with us and for us, one who will plead our cause.

Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, sees Jesus' gift of the Spirit as the fulfillment of this prophecy of the prophet Jeremiah:
Look, the days are coming, Yahwey declared, when I shall make a new covenant with the House of Israel when those days have come.... Then I shall plant my Law, writing it in their heart. Then I shall be their God and they will be my people. There will be no further need for everyone to teach neighbor or brother, saying, "Learn to know Yahwey"! No, they will all know me, from the least to the greatest...since I shall forgive their guilt, and never more call their sin to mind (Jer. 31: 31-34).

Thursday 19 August 2010

Rhode Island Catholics Support Marriage Equality

In New England, just two of the six states do not yet have marriage equality - Maine, where gay marriage was passed by the legislature before being disappointingly overturned, and Rhode Island.  I would expect that to change next year, after a new governor is elected in November.

The two factors most commonly quoted as reasons for the failure to secure gay marriage have been the implacable opposition of the current governor Don Carcieri, and the high proportion of Catholic voters. (At 46%, this is the highest in the US).  However, a new state level poll confirms what has become apparent at the national level. Support for marriage equality has grown, local Catholics support gay marriage - and support has grown faster among Catholics than among other groups.

Joseph Ratzinger, On Conscience and Dissent.

Fr Joseph Ratzinger, Vatican peritus

"Over the pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one's own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even the official church, also establishes a principle in opposition to increasing totalitarianism".
Joseph Ratzinger, 1967
(in: Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II )

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

I first heard this quotation a few months ago, but was unable to write it down. I have been looking for an on line text ever since, so was delighted to find this in Bishop Kevin Dowling's notable talk on the watering -down of Vatican II decisions since the council and especially under the papacies of John-Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Pope Benedict XVI
(For extensive commentary on the main substance of Bishop Dowling's remarks, see Bill Lindsey's post, and follow his links to further analysis elsewhere.)

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Women-Church, Queer-Church - and House Slaves

Rev Andy Braunston, MCC

In 1895 Elizabeth Cady Stanton published the final part of the Women's Bible. This book was a commentary on the Bible with one simple premise: texts that oppressed, or could be used to oppress women, were not the word of God but the words of men Over a hundred years later Christianity is still experienced as an obstacle by some women.
Ruether and Schussler Fiorenza are two modern theologians who propose the creation of something called women-church. They point out that that the Greek word for church. ekklesia, is taken from Greek politics, and referred to an assembly of all free citizens. Many women, however, have not  found themselves free in the Church.
The decision by the Anglican church to ordain women in 1992 caused widespread dismay and led a number of priest to leave and join the Roman Catholic Church..... There have been many attempts to reform the churches over the years, most notably the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church. This great Council made many reforms and Catholics thought it would become rejuvenated in its attempts to reach out.  Many women embraced the reforms and worked to change that church. Yet the extent of the change is debatable.  So much was promised yet so little delivered by the reforms in all the churches.
Some women started organizing their own liturgical communities...These feminist communities have an influence which is much greater than one would expect from their size. Together they constitute a movement which has become known as women-church. It is not a new denomination. Many of the women involved remain in within another denomination.  Nor is women-church just for women. Many men and children are also involved, to seek out a "discipleship of equals".
Queer Christians can learn a lot from this model of women-church. Queer agendas will never be delivered by straight people, no matter how well-meaning. 
When slavery was legal in the United States, some slaves were allowed to live in the master's house. These slaves were dressed in fine clothes and had to give off the air of being paid servants  and not slaves. Beneath the veneer of respectability there was a harsh reality of humans owning other humans.

... These were the "house-slaves" and in many cases they became "house-trained" - they took on board the values the master wanted and made sure they propagated them themselves.  We can see a similar parallel every year when we celebrate the Stonewall riots. For this one day of the eyar the Queer community holds sway and we dress up and parade through town....However, every year we see some sections of our people saying we should not be so "flamboyant", as we will upset some straight people who might be on our side.  The house-slaves are still with us.  Perhaps this is most obvious in the churches where the number of gay (and lesbian) ministers living closeted lives is becoming increasingly obvious. ......But liberation can never come  whilst closets exist, for a closet is a state of oppression. Yet usually coming out as a minister means exclusion.
The sad thing is that queer people are leaving churches in their millions. We don;t want to play by those rules any more. So what choices do we have? Many of us have adopted the ideas of Schussler Fiorenza  and created our own religious communities: queer-church. These take on many forms, from the world wide queer denominations (the Metropolitan Community Church), through to support and campaigning groups like the LGCM in Britain, Dignity and Integrity ans so forth in the USA.  There are also independent groups that function as churches in everything but name. The thing that unites us is the feeling that we are making the rules for ourselves.
We have many choices as queer Christians. we can see ourselves as house-slaves, who are just like any other Christians really, not wanting to cause a fuss or disturb anyone.  This strategy might work for a time, but will, I fear lead to frustration, as these terms will never be affirming or life-enhancing. Or we can let ourselves go on the exodus that God calls many of us to. ..There are dangers with the exodus - we might lose our way, we might get tired and want to want to go back.  There is a danger that whilst we have left Egypt, Egypt has not left us, and we might succeed only in creating carbon copies of what we have left behind - but the danger is worth it.
-Extracts from Andy Braunston, "The Church"

(Elizabeth Stuart, ed.)

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Gay Clergy: God's Spirit at Work (Huff Post)

The decision by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the USA to ordain openly gay and lesbian clergy has not yet been ratified (and may not be), but as I wrote at the time, ratified or not, this still represents a gain for LGBT inclusion in church. How so? Because the requirement for local ratification guarantees that Presbyterians right across the country long after the summer has been forgotten. These discussions will not affect only Presbyterians - and experience has shown that the more people discuss these things with open minds, the more their thinking shifts from the old assumptions, to one of greater acceptance and understanding. A story by Rev Peter Wallace at Huffington Post neatly illustrates how this plays out.

Monday 16 August 2010

Authentic Christianity & the Belhar Confession

I was reading this article about the PCUSA decision on ordination of gay and lesbian clergy, when I was struck by two features that hadn't fully registered before. The first was the narrow margin that stood between simple passage, and the need for the proposal to first go through local ratification.  Just nine more votes in favour, and ratification would not have been required.  The second was the note that a second proposal that passed, but requires ratification, was the acceptance of the "Belhar Confession."
Those outside the Reformed or wider Protestant tradition, and unfamiliar with South African history may be unfamiliar with this document, but it has powerful resonance for me, as a South African whose faith was strongly influenced by the long struggle against racial injustice - which has been transformed in my own story to the struggle against gender and sexual injustice. Here is a snippet from Saffer religious history.
During the apartheid ascendancy, many South African churches became involved (to a greater or lesser degree) in proclaiming that apartheid was unjust, and hence unChristian, even sinful. The one big exception was the largest denomination in the European Christian tradition, the Dutch Reformed Church, in one of its three branches. This was strongly associated with the thinking of the National Party (The National Party at Prayer, to adapt an English phrase). It provided a theological framework and justification for apartheid as supposedly founded on Biblical principles, and practiced strict racial segregation in its own ranks, which extended to the establishment of three distinct "sister churches" for each of the major racial groupings that did not qualify as "white". One of these was the DRC "mission" church, paternalistically directed at evangelizing the so-called "Coloured" people (i.e. mixed-race people - South African usage is not the same as in the US). The internal leadership of this and the other "sister" churches did not see themselves as simply on the receiving end of White evangelizing.
Under the leadership of its then Moderator Alan Boesak (later a cabinet minister and provincial leader of the ANC) , at a famous 1986 conference in Belhar, an otherwise unremarkable, somewhat drab "Coloured" residential area on the outskirts of Cape Town, they drafted a declaration of religious principles which can truly be said to have represented prophetic witness to what the Church in a divided society was called to be. It draws heavily on Scripture, speaking in terms sufficiently broad to have relevance and resonance way beyond the immediate context of apartheid era South Africa. In recent years, other denominations elsewhere have recognised the value of the document. The Reformed Church of America adopted it for themselves last year, and now the PCUSA are looking to do the same.
Although it was originally drafted specifically to promote racial inclusion, a quarter century later, when the nature of the divisions in Church has shifted from racial to sexual and gender/orientation, the declaration continues to have at least as much relevance as it ever did. Whether or not the structure and governance f any particular church lends itself to the adoption of a formal resolution,  the principles contained in this document are worth promoting in any Christian Church in the modern world.
Here is the full text of the confession, taken from the site of the Reformed Church of America:

"Amidst the Stones and the Dust" - James Alison's Theology for Much-Loved Queers.

James Alison understands well, and clearly articulates, the place of desolation in which so many gay Catholics find themselves.  In his book, “Faith Beyond Resentment”, the title of his second chapter, “theology amidst the stones and dust”, presents a vivid image of this dry and desolate place.  Reinforcing this image, the first section is headed “a heart-close-to-cracking”.  Many of my readers will find that this phrase vividly describes emotional spaces they may have occupied in the past, or may occupy still, in negotiating a place of welcome in the Christian community.  It most certainly describes one strand of the emotional responses I read in the commentary following Fr James Martin’s recent article “What is a gay Catholic to do?”.

Fr Martin presented the problem of the gay Catholic in objective terms, listing five things that he cannot do if he is to be viewed by the Church as “in good standing”.  Alison presents the problem in far more personal and subjective terms.  (Unlike Fr Martin, he is speaking here from direct personal experience). Writing about our experience of the Church, he does not pull his punches:
“The experience of many gay people is that the Church in some way or other, kills us.  Typically in official discourse we are a “they”, dangerous people whose most notable characteristic is not a shared humanity, but a tendency to commit acts considered to be gravely objectively disordered.  Typically our inclusion within the structure of church life comes at a very high price: that of agreeing not to speak honestly………. The message is : you’re fine just so long as you don’t rock the boat through talking too frankly, which is the same as saying “you’re protected while you play the game our way, but the moment that something “comes to light”, you’re out.  …….….And please notice that the scandal in question is not a scandal for a great part of the heterosexual population, who tend to be indifferent to all this, when not mildly amused by what they always suspected. It is a scandal for the group which fears the consequences for itself of the revelation of truths about its group composition.
In this the non-explicit message of the ecclesiastical mechanism is exactly the reverse of the explicit message of the  Church. The explicit message is: God loves you just as you are, and it is from where you are that you are invited to prepare with us the banquet of the kingdom.  The latent message is,: God loves you as long as you hide what you are and deny yourself the search for the integrity and transparency of life and of virtues which it is your task to teach to others.” (p45)
However, it is not Alison’s practice to wallow in self-pity, nor to encourage us to do so.  Typically, the response of too many gay Catholics is to slip into one of two extreme responses:  fanatical loyalty, accepting without question the official teaching of the Church, or fanatical rejection. Alison leads us instead, in quite another direction, to a place of hope and delight:  he refers frequently to “much-loved queers”, for that is what he believes we are, and wants us too to realize this.

Before he can make clear his main point, he makes a startling claim:

“Jesus taught that there is no analogue on earth for divine paternity, and that divine paternity can only be learnt by means of learning fraternity with Jesus.”
The implications are far-reaching.  First, and most obviously, that our relationship with Jesus must be a fraternal, that is a brotherly, one, because he is “exactly at the same level as us, that is, he is a human being.”  More surprisingly, it leads to a subversion, a destruction of out entire way of viewing the social order and its response to us queers.
“I suspect that I’m not the only gay man to have imagined and received the whole force of the social, cultural and ecclesiastical hatred of gay people as if it were a paternal force. A paternal force that demanded that I either buckle under or die, or both at the same time.”
But if this idea of a patriarchal model (which the church routinely adopts) is invalid, then we must insist on finding an alternative model, a fraternal model, for our relationship to the church.  We have the right and the duty to re-imagine that relationship along lines which reflect the teaching and voice of Christ. This re-imagining, in turn, presents us with the opportunity to engage in mature discussion with the Church on several important texts, from Scripture and from the documents of the Church, on equal terms with everybody else.
“We have to rework Catholic moral theology in such a way as to make it capable of unbinding the consciences of people who fear, at a very deep level, receiving the conscience of a child of God.  We have to offer, in a non-threatening way, the possibility of being introduced into the dynamic movement which I have tried to sketch out, of becoming detached from idols so as to receive divine sonship.  We have to learn how to present in a much clearer way something which I have only begun to sketch out: the loving kindness and audacity of God who invites us just as we are to create fraternity by means of the crucified and risen brother who opens up our minds to imagine the new Jerusalem in the midst of the ruins of all our idolatries, all our acts of cowardice.  No small task for the third millennium.”
Let me now return to the imagery of the “hearts close to cracking”, with which Alison begins his exposition.  He uses the phrase in a very specific context, with a very specific purpose.  The context is that of three distinct Bible passages:  of Elijah, of the destruction of the Jewish temple, and of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus.  The point of these, each of which represents a point of extremity, of desolation for the people affected, is that from this point of extremity, of near destruction of the spirit, comes a new birth, with profound experience of the love and consolation of the Lord.

In Ignatian spirituality, two key concepts are those of the experience of “consolation”, in which we are aware of finding God, and its apparent opposite, “desolation”, in which we do not experience God.  These two, however, are not as distinct as might seem.  Handled correctly, desolation can be turned around, and can lead to consolation.  (In Ignatius’ thinking, we can and must “find God in all things” – and “all things” includes those times of hearts close to cracking).

It is my contention, as I think it is James Alison’s, that in its attempt to marginalise us, the institutional church unintentionally does something quite different, something that can be turned into a great gift. To see what I mean, I want to elaborate on this idea of “margins” with a lesson in mathematics.
It is a fundamental truth in high school geometry that parallel lines never meet – indeed, that is one definition of parallel lines.  Yet twentieth century mathematicians produced a profound demonstration that the proposition is entirely false, that parallel lines frequently meet. The idea that they do not, applies only to one very special set of circumstances:  when they lie on the same flat plane.  (Consider the case of a sphere, as represented by the earth.  Lines of longitude are parallel, and all meet at the two poles).  This realisation led to an entirely new field of mathematics, non-Euclidean geometry, with some very productive outcomes for modern mathematics, and for modern science.

Now apply the same idea to the concept of “margins”.  They do not exist, except on a flat surface. On the surface of the globe, there are no margins. My experience of being shoved to the so-called “margins” of the church has led me instead to a closer, more direct and more personal relationship with God, partially bypassing the Church as an imtermediary  - and to the recognition that there are no margins, there is no centre.  Thinking of the globe again, there are precisely two points that are distinct, that have all lines of longitude leading to them.  In that sense, they could be regarded as a kind of “centre”.  These two points are the two poles.

So, concluding with James Alison once again.  Our “hearts close to cracking” offer the opportunity to experience, as much – loved queers, a more intense, more personal experience of the Lord, and to develop a more adult, fraternal relationship with the church. There are no “margins”, as there is no “centre”, except as created and presented to us by the ecclesiastical mechanism. Move beyond the trap of seeing things in two dimensions, and we have no need to swallow their hoax.

Sunday 15 August 2010

Never Say Never, Bishop Tartaglia !

In the UK, pressure is building (slowly) for changes in the law to bring them closer into line with full civil marriage. Some gay activists and human rights lobbies are starting to call for it, some politicians are inching towards acceptance - but only very, very cautiously. So it is that the equality minister, Lynn Featherstone, would say no more than that the government would introduce "greater" provision for some religious content in civil partnership ceremonies, and the Liberal Democrat deputy leader made a prediction - not a promise - that we would have full marriage equality by the time of the next election, which is still five years away. The Prime Ministers, who is the one that really matters in this, has been even more cautious. Before the election, in a transparent to win gay votes, he would say no more than that he would "consider" gay marriage. Since then, speaking at a gay pride function, he chose his words very carefully:
“I am pleased to announce that we are taking a further step, and I think a good step and a right step – and I say this as someone who believes in marriage, who believes in civil partnership, who believes in commitment – and that is to say that if religious organisations, if churches, if mosques, if temples want to have civil partnerships celebrated at religious places of worship, that should be able to happen and we should make that happen.”

Read this carefully. Note the repeated "if". All it says is that if religious organizations want civil partnerships -not real marriage- at places of worship, then the government will enable it.   Bishop Phillip Tartaglia of Paisley has noted the caution of the words, but nevertheless, he has a fiery response for the PM:
" and your Government need to be aware from the outset that the Catholic Church will not register civil partnerships nor celebrate same-sex unions: not now, not in the future, not ever, no matter what legislation or regulations your Government enacts or endorses.”
Really? Not ever? "Never" is a long time. Somebody should remind the bishop of just how often the church has changed tack over the past two thousand years. Back in the medieval period, church marriage was not a requirement for most couples - unless the groom was a priest. Usury for centuries was condemned along with sodomy as "unnatural" - until the Vatican learned the value of borrowing money, even at the price of paying interest. Slavery was the "natural order" of things, and even chocolate was forbidden. Have we forgotten how quickly the permanent, universal language of the church was swept away, with Latin replaced by the vernacular in worship?

But most importantly of all, tell the bishop of the practice in the early church of recognising and blessing same sex unions in church, or of burying some same sex couples in shared graves, exactly as some married couples were. Remind him that canonized saints and other medieval bishops can still have their homoerotic poems read in the Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse , that John of Orleans and his mentor Ralph of Tours were not the only openly homosexual men to be elevated to the episcopate, and that even during the Inquisition persecution of  "sodomites", some gay popes graced the Vatican with sumptuous artworks by celebrated, openly homosexual artworks.

In his rash promise, Bishop Tartaglia is operating on the assumption  that the Church's often quoted lie of a "constant, unchanging tradition" has some foundation in reality. In fact, the only thing truly constant in Church history is the constant presence of change.

Tartaglia is certainly wrong. Current teaching on homoerotic relationships will change, as some bishops are already cautiously proposing.  The Catholic church will lag behind other denominations, but will ultimately follow, in blessing and then marrying same sex couples, just as they will end by ordaining women and married men. These things will surely come to pass:  we just cannot know when.

See also:
The Church’s changing tradition
Gay Bishops: How Many?
Catholic Church Ordains Gay Bishop (in 1098)
Saint Paulinus of Nola
Homoerotic Christianity: The Medieval Flowering