Exceptionalism: failing to learn from history

(Gay priest Bart writes on the impact of the culture of clericalism on the Church):

Exceptionalism (Wikipedia; Collins English Dictionary) is the perception that a country, society, institution, movement, or time period is “exceptional” (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way and thus does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles. In recent decades, we heard more often of the term “American exceptionalism”, but really this word has a long pedigree, with British and Soviet exceptionalism being other recent examples. The perception behind exceptionalism is not dissimilar to that belief which holds that certain companies or institutions are too big to fail. The last decade disproved  this perception in a horrific way, first with the Enron collapse, and then more recently with the collapse of Lehman Brothers (and with it the whole banking sector), followed by the bailing-out of a corporation that used to boast a product output that was larger than the GDP of most countries: General Motors. As I sat reading Terry’s Thoughts on Popular Revolutions: in Egypt, in South Africa – in the Church, I couldn’t but help remembering that the Catholic Church promotes its own brand of exceptionalism. I would like to share a couple of thoughts on this point with my readers.

Catholicism locks onto a cluster of foundational principles, the most important being the following:

1.      The belief that the Church is established by Jesus Christ, who also promised that he would be with it till the end of time (Matthew 16:18-19; 28:20);

2.      The belief in the unifying, leadership role of Peter the Apostle and his successor, the Pope, the bishop of Rome (Matthew 16:18-19); and

3.      The belief that the one Church of Jesus Christ – “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” (Nicene Creed) – subsists in the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council, in n. 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, stated that “this Church, constituted and organized as a society in this present, world, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and truth can be found outside her structure; such elements, as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic unity.”

 

pope-benedict-saturno-hat

Image by Waka Jawaka via Flickr

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Pope Benedict’s Gay Circus at the Vatican

The net was briefly ablaze last month with reports and youtube clips of these circus acrobats’ performance for Pope Benedict. Commentary was divided: queer and queer friendly sites simply asked us to enjoy the show – or noted wryly that the pope appeared to be doing so himself. Other less friendly sites expressed shock at the scandal of this homoerotic display in the hallowed halls of the Vatican. At the time, I read a couple of reports, watched the video – and moved on, without comment.

A more recent report by Randy Engel in Spero News caught my attention this week, for suggesting that there may well be something of more interest to it for LGBT readers, claiming that the performers are definitely gay aligned, if not specifically gay men themselves. It seems that they formed part of the gay circus, which performed as part of the Euro gay games in Barcelona, 2008.

On July 25-27, 2008, the Pellegrini Brothers appeared in the Gay Circus, a specially-staged 3-day event set within the framework of the XII EuroGames (“Gay Olympics”) in Barcelona, Spain. Up until this point, the Pellegrini name had been associated with well-known international circuses including the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus (USA), the Circus Knie (Switzerland), and the International Circus Festival (Monte Carlo).

Billed as “a show for people without prejudices,” that is “a gay and lesbian friendly audience,” by publicist Irene Peralta, the “Gay Circus” was created as an artistic tribute to gay culture and as a “contribution to the normalization of homosexuality.” It featured male/male performers in a homoerotic setting. Peralta told reporters that “Gay Circus will transform the traditional understanding of the circus.”

As always with Randy Engel, the piece needs to be read with a health warning. She is described as “one of the nation’s top investigative reporters”, but by whom? Well, her own website. She is indeed prolific, and has a track record of writing extensively about a supposed “gay mafia” in the Vatican, and has made extensive claims of homosexuality against numerous bishops and cardinals worldwide – and against some recent popes, most notably John Paul I and Paul VI. Many of her claims are at least credible, but not all are generally accepted as proven by more established journalists. In this piece, her claims about the Pellegrini brothers can presumably be quite easily verified, but I confess I have not had the energy to do so myself.

If you like, do the fact checking yourself – or simply take her piece at face value,  and enjoy its implications.

The Circus at the Vatican: Reflections on how it came to be

Saturday, January 08, 2011 By Randy Engel

“Topless Acrobats Perform for Pope”, “Bare-chested Acrobats Perform for Pope”, “Pope Captivated by Shirtless Male Acrobats”, “Surprise Strippers in Vatican!”

These headlines which flooded the Internet and international media following the Papal General Audience of December 15, 2010, held at Paul VI Hall in Vatican City were enough to unsettle even the most intrepid post-Conciliar Catholic.

The scandal in question involved the Pellegrini Brothers, heirs to the well-known Italian circus dynasty, who were invited to entertain the pope and his entourage and the more than 6,000 visitors assembled for the weekly audience during the Advent season in Rome. It was, however, not their short hand-balancing act, but rather their grand entrance and provocative salutation to the Holy Father that sparked controversy.

On cue, the four young men mounted the platform area, faced the pope seated across from his secretary and cardinals on stage, and then in a manner reminiscent of the Vegas Chippendale male strippers, peeled off their jackets revealing their bare muscular upper torso. The Fratelli Pellegrini were accompanied on stage by a statuesque, well-endowed brunette with stiletto boots who had been poured into a black skin-tight leather outfit and whose task it was to gather up the performers’ jackets, stroll across the stage and await the end of the exhibition. The only fashion accessory she lacked to complete the sadomasochist scenario was a whip.

The anti-climatic gymnast act completed, the Pellegrini Brothers followed by the madam in leather, left the stage to the sounds of clapping from an enthusiastic audience, including a smiling pope and host of cardinals.

Pellegrini Brothers Perform at “Gay Circus”

On July 25-27, 2008, the Pellegrini Brothers appeared in the Gay Circus, a specially-staged 3-day event set within the framework of the XII EuroGames (“Gay Olympics”) in Barcelona, Spain. Up until this point, the Pellegrini name had been associated with well-known international circuses including the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus (USA), the Circus Knie (Switzerland), and the International Circus Festival (Monte Carlo).

Billed as “a show for people without prejudices,” that is “a gay and lesbian friendly audience,” by publicist Irene Peralta, the “Gay Circus” was created as an artistic tribute to gay culture and as a “contribution to the normalization of homosexuality.” It featured male/male performers in a homoerotic setting. Peralta told reporters that “Gay Circus will transform the traditional understanding of the circus.”

The homosexual media touted the event as an opportunity for parents to introduce their sons to other forms of sexual love outside the traditional male/female model, and to give greater exposure to homosexuality as a legitimate sexual preference. Video selections of the Gay Circus show many children in the audience. Ticket sales were estimated to be over 12,000.

The theme of the Gay Circus centered upon the eternal struggle between Good and Evil. Sadomasochist elements which dominate gay culture were visible both in the costuming and demeanor of the performers. One aerial act featured two male “angels” in a tight embrace naked except for a g-string. Another, with two “devils” in black leather jockstraps and harnesses. A short video of the Pellegrini Brothers performance at the Gay Circus, which was very similar to the portion of their act performed at the papal audience complete with an opening strip scenario, showed two burly shirtless men acting as jacket attendants.

According to Gay Circus producer Genis Matabosch, artistic performance and quality were the primary criteria for casting, not sexual orientation. Matabosch admitted he did not know who among the cast was homosexual and who was not.

Related articles


John XXI: The Pope Who Promoted Birth Control, Abortion and Aphrodisiacs

I love the oddities that can be discovered in the lesser known corners of Church history. Peter of Spain has gone down in history as Pope John XXI, whose brief papacy (1276 – 77) ended when part of the ceiling of his library fell on his head. He is also the only pope placed by Dante in the third book, “Paradiso” of the Divine Comedy. (He placed in Inferno, or Purgatorio – which says something of his view of the papacy.)

 

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Un-Catholic at Pride: Protest the Pope, or Ignore Him?

While walking down Oxford Street with other gay/lesbian Catholics, I suddenly found myself faced with a BBC television camera and reporter. “What,” she asked, “do you think of the pope’s UK visit?”

This has become highly topical, and highly emotional here. Even today, there are some permanent tensions which have their background in the historical development of the Anglican church, and the subsequent suppression of the Catholic faith, when Catholicism was seen as a form of treason (and incidentally, lumped  together with heresy and sodomy as the greatest of sins against religion. Today, traces of the legal restrictions remain in the unequal status of the “established” Anglican church and the others, while deep suspicion lingers in some quarters about the Catholic (and other) faith schools, about the regular interventions by Catholic bishops in political debates on abortion legislation,  civil partnerships / gay marriage, gay adoption rights, and most recently about the successful attempts to thwart parts of recent equality legislation intended to prevent discrimination by church employers. The stories of clerical abuse and inadequate church response over the past year have simply added to the hostility of a small anti-Catholic minority, and a wider anti-papal/ anti-Vatican feeling of some others (including many progressive Catholics). What has really added fuel to the fire, is that this is to be treated as a state visit, with substantial cost to the British taxpayer, at a time when the new government is announcing plans to slash expenditure across a wide front. No wonder some people are angry.

This particularly includes the LGBT community, and so there was a strong anti-papal presence at the London Pride parade, with a banner, and leaflet distributors. The reporter in front of me was clearly preparing a program not on Gay Pride specifically, but a broader current affairs program on the papal visit, with gay and gay Catholic reactions just one element. Read the rest of this entry »

Gay Popes, Papal Sodomites

For the month of Gay Pride (in church), it would be great if we could simply celebrate a list of unambiguously gay popes – but we can’t. This is not because they don’t exist (there were undoubtedly several popes whom we know had physical relationships with men), but because of the inadequacies of language, and the weakness of the historical record over something so deeply personal, especially among the clergy. Both of these difficulties are exemplified by Mark Jordan’s use of the phrase, “Papal Sodomites”.  In medieval terms, a “sodomite” was one of utmost abuse, which meant far more than just the modern “homosexual”. It could also include, bestiality, or heresy, or withcraft, and (in England, after the Reformation) “popery”, which is deeply ironic, and hence treason.

So in the years before libel laws and carefully controlled democratic institutions, accusations of “sodomy” were a useful slander for the powerful to throw at their political enemies. Read the rest of this entry »

Irish Bishops’ Resignations Over Abuse: 1 Accepted, 4 (5?) to go.

One of the big disappointments of the pope’s “pastoral” letter to Irish Catholics, was that it contained no reference at all to the resignations of four bishops in the wake of the Murphy report on the cover-ups in Dublin. (A fifth bishop refused to resign, insisting that he had done “nothing wrong”.) In an under-reported press-conference at the time the pastoral letter was released, the obvious question was asked, “What about the resignations?” The only response was that they would be dealt with “in time” by the “appropriate Vatican department”. How long does it take, I wondered, to accept a resignation? The answer may have come this morning: a year.

In a matter entirely unrelated to the Murphy report and the Dublin diocese, Bishop John Magee, formerly of the Cloyne diocese, quit the day-to day running of his diocese a year ago, in March 2009. It has taken the Vatican a full year to accept his resignation. If this is a reliable guide to form, we might expect the acceptance of the four resignations arising from the Dublin Murphy report early in 20011. How long it will take to get rid of the one who is in denial, or of Benedict himself who has overseen the whole sorry mess, is anybody’s guess.

Vatican accepts resignation of Irish Catholic bishop John Magee

The Vatican has accepted the resignation of an Irish bishop who was once the personal secretary to three popes, it was announced today.

The papacy said Bishop John Magee was stepping down over his mishandling of allegations of clerical sex abuse in his Irish diocese.

Although Magee quit the day-to-day running of parishes across rural Cork last March, it has taken the Vatican bureaucracy a year to formally confirm his resignation.

The cleric, originally from Northern Ireland, faced scathing criticism after the church’s watchdog found he had taken minimal action over accusations against two of his priests.

He served as personal assistant to Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I and Pope John Paul II in Rome.

There have been many calls for Magee’s resignation since the report into the Cloyne diocese earlier this year.

The announcement of his official resignation was made in statement released through the Irish Catholic Bishops’ conference.

Read the full report at the Guardian

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Boulder School Exclusion: Other Parents’ Reaction.

Following the exclusion from a Boulder Catholic school of the children of a lesbian couple, National Catholic Reporter carried a useful post which gave the two women an opportunity to present their point of view.  Following this post, in which I thought the women came across as courteous, reasonable and thoughtful, NCR carried a follow-up in which they interviewed the local priest concerned. ( I shall bite my tongue here, and withhold comment on what I thought of him.) On publication of this interview, NCR promised us some follow-ups with other parents from the same school.  The first of these has appeared today – an interview with Andy Bush and his wife, Anna,who  have three children at Sacred Heart School,  and make it clear that they disagree with the decision.

 

Sacred Heart of Jesus School, Boulder

The first point here is that this has become for them a matter of conscience against faith –  they have found their own belief and value system in conflict with the public stance of the church.

Well, I think it’s been hard because for the first time our faith has run head-on with our consciences. We don’t support the decision and at the same time we’ve been part of this wonderful community for our kids for the last six years. It’s given us pause and a lot of concern, a lot of sorrow, like everybody else.

But also important, is the observation that technically, at least, they are also living in clear contravention of church teaching – but have not been sanctioned themselves. Read the rest of this entry »