The Catholic Church’s Judas Kiss.

“What’s a Gay Catholic to Do?” is the heading to a sad but honest reflection by Fr James Martin SJ at the America blog. Fr Martin notes the dilemma that we face, listing just five things that the church tells us we may not do, that are not a problem for those who are not lesbian, gay or transsexual. These will be familiar to my queer readers, so there is no need to elaborate at any length:  I present here just a summary:

    1. Enjoy Romantic Love
    2. Marry
    3. Adopt a child
    4. Enter a seminary
    5. Work for the church and be open

Asking his readers to “imagine” that they are gay no difficulty in that, here), he observes that this presents a real pastoral problem for the church – one which he does not attempt to answer.  He is content just to raise the question, a useful enough exercise in itself.

This picture, of the Judas kiss, rather symbolises to me what the institutional church is doing to us.  They repeatedly tell us we are welcome and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity – but then insist that we are “disordered” and must be deprived of the full participation in the church we should reasonably expect. Worse, by providing a spurious religious justification for discrimination, they give tacit support to popular prejudice, leading not only to the denial of civic rights, but also to active homophobia, childhood bullying, violence, and even death.

Judas Kiss (Giotto fresco, Padua)

Judas Kiss (Giotto fresco, Padua)

What I found especially depressing on fr Martin’s blog was the completely unsympathetic, ignorant responses that are so prominent in the comments that followed.  My colleague Bill Lindsey has waged a valiant effort to bring some sense to the discussion (in fairness, there are also some other thoughtful responses, but not enough).

Here’s just part of one of Bill’s contributions:

Those of us who are gay and trying to maintain some ties to the church have a great deal vested in seeking to understand, unravel, and deal with attitudes and beliefs that seem simply incomprehensible at times.
What perplexes me is why everything seems to hang today – at least in the minds of some Catholics (and of some other Christians) – on seeing that gay human beings know we are identified as sinners in a way that goes far beyond the identification of any other social subset as sinners.
That’s a fascinating psychological phenomenon, it seems to me – and a fascinating theological phenomenon.
And when one notes that those impelled by this need to target gay folks as sinners in some unique way, and to keep gay human beings in our place at all cost, also happen to be frequently heterosexual males, then one has to ask what it is in the male psyche nowadays that wants to hang so much significance on demeaning gay people and keeping gay people in their demeaned places.

And then my own response:

Fr Martin’s piece represents a real issue for gay Catholics.  Many of us have concluded that there simply is no possible resolution, and have simply left the church in anger, and now describe themselves as ”in recovery”, which is sad.  Just this morning, I found a new blog with the revealing title ”Catholics Suck”, written by one such self-described recovering Catholic.  Many in the Church of course, are delighted to see them go, and indeed encourage us to do so.  But this is shortsighted.  If gay Catholics did indeed all leave, the church would find itself even more short of priests than it is at present, and also short of musicians, liturgists and other key roles.  Many gay Catholics take on important support roles in parishes all around the world.  There are almost certainly many more in every congregation than the other members would ever suspect, but unfortunately they feel constrained, for the reasons quoted by Fr Martin, to remain discreetly closeted in church even if they are out and proud elsewhere.
It is also regrettable how so many ordinary Catholics, like many of the comments above, simply parrot the standard and unjustifiable Vatican line. The simple facts are that homoerotic orientation is not unnatural, as shown by biology, psychology, anthropology and zoology, and so arguments from ”natural law” are invalid. Modern Scripture scholars and theologians are arguing that the traditional teachings are based on misunderstandings, misinterpretations or mistranslations, and need to be revised, in the light of the findings of science and the church’s own teaching on the importance of reason, and new findings from scholarship and science.  The only thing disordered about ”homosexuality” is the Vatican teaching.
Finally, for those who insist we have an obligation to meekly follow church teaching on sexual ethics, try telling that to those married couples practising contraception, or young couples expressing love in sex before marriage, or those recovering from the heartbreak of divorce and seeking comfort with new loving partners, or young people (and older) compensating for the absence of any sexual partners with a little solitary masturbation.
It has been reliably estimated that probably 95% of Catholics are in dissent or contravention   of church teaching on at least one of the above.  The fact that the so-called, self-selecting ”leaders” and too many of their followers are vocal in their hostility to one group of dissidents, while ignoring all other contraventions, is simply inexcusable.

Why not go to Fr Martin’s blog, and have a say yourself?

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5 Responses to “The Catholic Church’s Judas Kiss.”

  1. William Lindsey Says:

    Terry, your response to Fr. Martin’s posting was outstanding. I think the Judas kiss metaphor is also extremely apt.

    In some ways, the story of Judas and Jesus is about how the most savage things we do, we do to those who most remind us of ourselves, to those who are most like us, but unlike us in a way that mirrors to us something about ourselves we don’t want to admit.

    (I’m thinking of Judas as a failed messianic figure with those remarks, as Shusaku Endo’s life of Jesus suggests–the one disciple who understood more than others what Jesus was about and intended, but who refused to accept Jesus’s refusal to be a messianic king.)

    I think gay men, in particular, elicit such vitriol from the Catholic hierarchy because so many priests and bishops (and cardinals) are gay men who refuse to accept themselves. They externalize the self-hatred on those most like them, but most unlike in a fearsome way–on gay men who refuse to hide or apologize for their identities.

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      The idea that the most homophobic outbursts come from closeted gay men is well known, but usually unsubstantiated. Some months ago though I did see a report of experimental confirmation , from researchers using the good old standby, measurements of penile erection responses to gay porn. I knew I had have stored the reference and link, but stupidly did not, and no longer have any idea where I saw it.

      Wouldn’t it just be fun to take that equipment and a store of mags into a bishops’ conference, in the US or anywhere else!

  2. Eli Says:

    I feel for my gay brothers and sisters, and express solidarity with you all. But, I feel in all love, that sexuality is not a matter of choice, but of plumbing. The issue at hand is promiscuity, gay and straight. I think the church has largely failed to express solidarity with homosexuals in america and the developed western world because of our victorian past, and a largely unconscious retension of a dead and dying culture.

    Yet, I feel that sexuality is inescapably about embodiment, and that male bodies are made for female bodies, or celibacy.

    I’m not a fundamentalist, and I have friends in all places on the sexuality/gender spectrum, but our bodies provide a concrete word to us about the kind of lives we should lead. And it’s ultimately about our sacrifice, i think that this sexual sacrifice is largely ignored by the heterosexual church, yet it is not undermined by this abuse. The fact of the matter still stands, despite dissent, the church is the church, and she lays out a certain type of life.

    I’ve chosen a path that I feel is faithful to orthodoxy, and I think that’s of primary importance, not because of the church in itself, but because of Jesus. He was not just a friendly man who served tea and embraced everyone, he also laid down very strict rules for the new community to follow.

    It’s a convoluted issue for sure. And I’m grateful for your post and your position. I hope that some solutions start to emerge on the popular level that allow for homosexuals to feel welcome as Christians. I try my best to do that, to be inclusive seeing sin as sin, not bigger or smaller, just sin. It all needs to be remedied, and through the love of Christ we can all face the call to come and die.

    I feel you made some very good points. And i feel that the prevention of openly gay bishops and priests is problematic, and negates a present reality of the church. I think that the only two options for the sexuality of Christians are celibacy or marriage, but marriage is as much about embodiment as it is love, and its procreative feature is not to be denied. All in all, you’ve helped me think in ways i hadn’t thought before. With all respect in the love of Christ, thanks for posting.

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      Thank you, Eli, for taking the trouble to post a sincere and thoughtful response on a subject that is clearly of limited relevance to you personally, but only in empathy. I assure you that I value straight allies, especially inside the church, even when we disagree on some points. The important thing is to accept each others’ bona fides, and to listen carefully to waht we are saying to each other.

      There are clearly some points where I disagree with you – on the argument from plumbing, for example- but I’m not going to hammer them now. Anything that I could say in argument against you, you can easily find elsewhere on this site.

      I just want to close by stating clearly that if I have helped you to think in new ways, I am delighted. Thanks for reading, and for replying.

      (You can read Eli’s own thoughtful blog, largely on theology,at Echoes and Memory)

      • Eli Says:

        I think you’re exactly right about accepting each other’s bona fides. And know that I seek to be generous to various positions, and I appreciate your temperance and graciousness in your response. the dialogue is appreciated.

        Thank you for your reply.


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