The Lord Jesus promised, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (Jn. 8:32). Scripture bids us speak the truth in love (cf. Eph. 4:15). The God who is at once truth and love calls the Church to minister to every man, woman and child with the pastoral solicitude of our compassionate Lord.
-CDF, “Homosexualitatis Problema”
“Speak the truth in love”, advice which the institutional church singularly fails to follow itself. (See “Excluded From God’s People”, for a description of this failure). The advice, however, remains sound. Vatican teaching on sexuality has the remarkable characteristic of being distantly removed from any grounding in the facts of real human lives. This is especially so for gay, lesbian and trans lives, but is hardly surprising, given the ivory tower manner in which Catholic theology is developed and preserved. Yet it should not be so. The Church claims to be a listening church, and pays at least lip service to the place of reason, science, and the continuing revelation by the Holy Spirit, speaking to us through experience, in developing Church teaching. But this of little value unless there are voices speaking from that real experience to which the Church may listen.
The gay Catholic theologian Michael B Kelly has argued convincingly that for many, possibly most, lesbian or gay Catholics it may be necessary to leave the church, literally, or figuratively, for a time. Thereafter, he says, we need to return and speak to the church in prophetic witness to the truth of our lives. We must, he says, take the road to Emmaus, away from the established rulers, but after meeting the risen Christ take the road back again. (One of the ways he is doing this himself by conducting research on gay men’s erotic experience as a path to spirituality, and writing about what this experience can teach the wider church about spirituality.)
However, as Michael has noted himself, the Catholic does not have the necessary structures for us to speak to the church as a whole. Yet, our voices matter. The conservative evangelical theologian Dr Mark Achtemeier has described how his own conversion from opposition to advocacy for full inclusion came after he started listening gay people themselves, and heard their stories. (Ironically, one of the voices that strongly influenced him was that of the Catholic writer Andrew Sullivan, through his book, “Virtually Normal”).
If we lack the formal structures to speak to the institutional Church, we must create our own. One American Catholic, Joseph Gentilini, has found a way to do so himself, which all of us can follow. He simply writes to the bishops. This is the opening of his letter (For the full text of the letter, see the next post).
Dear Bishop __________:
I hope that you are able to read this letter, even though I am not living in your Diocese. Several years ago a Catholic Bishop encouraged gay and lesbian persons to write the United States Bishops and just tell our stories.
My goal is not to embarrass you or the Church, to militantly disagree with Church teachings, or to “demand” anything of the Church. My goal is to share my own experiences of growing up Gay and Catholic so that you will have a better understanding of who we are, why some gay persons are angry and frustrated and why they sometimes act in ways that seem counter-productive. I love my Catholic faith and only wish to deepen it but I also feel called to encourage the Church to show more compassion and sensitivity.
(Thanks, here to the theologian John McNeill for telling me about Joseph and his letters, and for putting us in touch).
What I like about this, is the complete absence of confrontation. This is indeed, speaking the truth in love, in terms that the Church can understand. For all the hostility and lack of compassion from the Church as an institution, individual clergy are overwhelmingly compassionate, good people, trying to provide the best pastoral care they can. I expect that most would at least read such a letter, and think about it. What I also like about it, is that he is not content with just one letter to his own bishop, but is writing regularly to all of them. This is what Joseph wrote to me:
Anyway, I am putting the letter I send to the Active American Bishops below. The letter includes two journal entries I made about my gay life at the end of the letter. I am sending about 3 or 4 letters a month and will do so until I have sent one to every Bishop. I am also putting down a recent 2010 journal entry about this “ministry.”
Yes, you may publish any or all of it as long as you use my name and let people know that I am a real person, a gay Catholic man in relationship with God and with my partner Leo Radel.
A single letter to any one bishop though, is unlikely to change anybody’s mind.
What if there were more? What if a single letter was followed by dozens, hundreds, thousands? What if they were to receive continuous evidence, by way of personal testimony, that contradicts one of the underlying arguments in Homosexualitatis Problema, that “homosexual activity” leads us away from God? My own experience certainly contradicts it. It was while attempting to live in full compliance with sexual teaching, in a conventional family, that I drifted steadily away from the Church, and to nearly complete agnosticism. It was only after I started to live more honestly as an openly gay man, in a committed and loving partnership, that I was led back to the church, and a deepening relationship with God.
Joseph Gentilini’s letter is an excellent example of one way to take the road back from Emmaus, to bear prophetic witness to the Church. It is an example I urge you to follow, and to promote to your friends.
(Joseph has also very generously shared with me some extracts from his spiritual journals, which provide a lot of further useful material for reflection. I will come back to these later).
- “Speaking the Truth” on Catholic LGBT Inclusion (queertheology.blogspot.com)
- A Catholic Statement of Support for Same-Sex Marriage (thewildreed.blogspot.com)
- Kate Childs Graham on Making American Catholicism a Welcoming and Safe Space for Gay Persons (bilgrimage.blogspot.com)
- Deifying Pastors–A Recipe For Betrayal (enlightenedcatholicism-colkoch.blogspot.com)
- Come Out to Save Lives – Megachurch Pastor Jim Swilley (queertheology.blogspot.com)
- “Catholics For Equality” on Gay Bullycide (queeringthechurch.wordpress.com)