Monday, 28 February 2011

Breaking the silence

Gay Priest, "Bart", discusses the importance of breaking the silence in the Catholic Church, continuing his weekly series at "Queering the Church":

I ended my last post by asking: will our silence [forced as it so often is] be judged as complicity in the Church’s deceptive ways? It’s a question that has been troubling me for quite some time now, not only as a gay priest who is going through a coming-out process, but also in the wider sense, as a member of the Catholic Church. Even as I was grappling with this complex subject, I was informed of a recent documentary shown on BBC’s Channel Four. Entitled Father Ray Comes Out, it presents a very touching account of the coming-out of an Anglican vicar – Father Ray Andrews – to his congregation during a Sunday homily. For the benefit of my readers, I thought of embedding the story here (in 2 parts), before expanding on the subject in today’s post.


At one point, while writing his homily, Father Ray ponders and says: “Break the silence that kills.” The truth of this point slowly sank into my consciousness as I realised that, yes, it is silence that kills, or rather, fear that produces a blanket of silence choking everything under it. And it is not just the silence about homosexuality, relevant as this topic may be right now, but we’re also seeing the effect of silence in the clerical sexual-abuse crisis, and the silence resulting from the Catholic hierarchy’s clamp-down on all dissenting voices. And for those of you who may wish to pan out to see the wider picture, is it not this silence which is being shattered in the various uprisings taking place in the Arab world, as people overcome their fears and bring down longstanding dictators?

“Break the silence that kills.” In Ecclesiastes, in possibly the book’s most quoted text, the philosopher-teacher says that there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven, and goes on to say, amongst other things:

“a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” (3:7b)

Even more enlightening are Jesus’ words to his disciples:

“Have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.”

(Matthew 10:26-27)

I reflect on these words, whilst trying to read and interpret the signs of the times, and especially the more recent events within the Church. I’m just wondering whether or not there is a pattern to the breaking of this silence. For example, the reporting of the clerical sexual-abuse cases around the world helped to uncover the clericalism that seems to be the breeding-ground for this and other abuses in the Catholic Church. On a similar vein, the fact that more and more LGBT persons are coming out and standing up for their rights is forcing the Catholic hierarchy – as well as the religious right – to show their true colours, and the brand of Christianity they subscribe to.

Now we have a growing number of theologians (at the time of writing, the majority of these are from the German-speaking countries in Europe) who are demanding that a number of fundamental issues having a bearing on church life be re-examined. As far as I can tell, no reply has been forthcoming from the Vatican.

For those who were wondering if this phenomenon of speaking/coming out is limited to the religious sphere, then we have only to look at the events of the past weeks to realise that such is not the case. The recent uprisings and revolutions in the Arab world have many elements in common. I’ve noticed that they are mainly grass-roots movements, enjoying a wide appeal. The demands being made are also very similar, basically that of achieving true freedom and dignity as human beings, as well as of being consulted and heard. Time and again those protesting describe their actions as a casting-off of their fears, and finding their voice. There seems to be a power that is released once the fear is faced and the silence is broken; impregnable walls begin to crumble.

Perhaps I am reading too much into these events, but am I alone in seeing parallels between what is happening in the Church on the one hand, and in society on the other? Only time will tell if in the near future we will go through a similar revolution in our way of being Church. Perhaps the time is ripe for Catholics to stop being afraid of the bogeyman and make their views known. When the hierarchy presumes to speak on our behalf in controversial matters, such as marriage equality rights, then it’s high time to come forward and say: Not in my name.

Suggested reading:

From Inquisition to Freedom:Seven Prominent Catholics and Their Struggle With the Vatican (Paul Collins, editor)

The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism (Mark D Jordan)

Gay Catholic Priests And Clerical Sexual Misconduct: Breaking The Silence (Donald L Boisvert & Robert E Goss, editors)

Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II (Jason Berry & Gerald Renner)

Why the Catholic Church Needs Vatican III (T P O’Mahony)

Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes (Eamonn Duffy)

Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church (Bishop Geoffrey Robinson)

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