Tuesday, 2 November 2010

All Souls Reflection: On Burying Our Queer Dead

In Catholic tradition, the Feast of All Souls (Nov 2nd) is the day on which we remember the souls in Purgatory. Fresh from my mother’s funeral, this is a topic much on my mind. I find, however, my thoughts are not so much on those starting their new lives in Christ, as on those nearing the end of their present lives on earth. In particular, I am led to the difficult question: for those lesbian or gay Catholics who attempt to live fully within the guidelines of the CDF, who will bury our dead?
My mother’s attempt to live scrupulously according to Church teaching, and the Natural Family Planning it recommends and she in turn commended to her daughters, was witnessed by her seven children. Her reward was that even though I now live in the UK, and one of my sisters in Cape Town, and after the death earlier this year of one son, during her last months she still had living in close proximity four daughters, nine of her sixteen grandchildren, and two of six great-grandchildren, all of whom were with her on her final day. She clearly knew she was going, and was able to make peaceful goodbyes. We all contributed to the funeral planning, while the pall-bearers included myself, three sons-in-law, and two grandsons.
During my two bereavements this year, I have been greatly helped by the prayers and support of the congregation of the Soho LGBT Masses, and of my readers here at QTC. Similarly, the congregation has frequently lent its prayers and support to others in their own bereavements. I am increasingly aware though, that the day is approaching when we will be praying not for our departed relatives, but for our own deceased congregants. How will we respond? In some cases, those who live alone, will we even know they have passed away?
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith insists that it condemns all forms of unjust discrimination against persons of a homosexual disposition. However, it goes on to insist that the best way for us to avoid any discrimination is to remain firmly closeted, to avoid any self-disclosure of our sexual identity. In practice, this means that the Church frequently makes the assumption that where self-identified gay men or lesbians are living together as couples, their relationships are not celibate, and so in contravention of Church teaching. We are condemned by CDF doctrine to lives not only celibate, but also solitary. We are further denied Church approval as adoptive parents.
And so the question arises: if we do indeed order our lives as recommended in Homosexualitatis Problema – without loving spouses or children to survive us, who will bury our dead?
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