The Catholic Laity/Bishops Disconnect on Sexuality, Homosexuality

The evidence of a gulf in thinking on homosexuality (and sexuality more generally) between the formal position of Vatican orthodoxy and the  real beliefs of ordinary Catholics is clear. To make sense of this. we need to consider two key questions: the compelling, established evidence that such a gulf exists, and the more tentative evidence that the oligarchy is starting to catch up.

In this post, I simply present a summary of the main findings on the belief of real Catholics, with some commentary and supporting links. Later, I will report on commentary elsewhere, and expand on the signs of the change that must come from the bishops’ oligarchy – and is just starting to do so.

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“Come Out”, Do Not Be Ashamed, Filipino Archbishops Tell Gay Catholics

The website of the Filipino television station GMA News has an intriguing report that two Archbishops, Paciano Aniceto pf San Fernando and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz have urged to “come out in the open”, because they have nothing to be ashamed of.

Their full message does not depart from the formal position of Vatican doctrine, as it repeats the standard distinction between “homosexual persons” and  “homosexual acts”, and repeats the warning that these “acts” because they are “contrary to natural law”, and do not flow from “natural complementarity”. In this respect, they are as offensive as many other utterances from our bishops and the Vatican. (The occasion for this remarks was the Philippines launch of the book ”  ” by Fr John Harvey, the founder of Courage).   Nevertheless, I see some good news in this report, supporting my belief that there is a gradual and welcome shift of emphasis underway. There are two elements of this shift evident in the bishops’ message.

Image via Wikipedia

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Confused English Bishops, and the Catholic “Redefinition” of Marriage.

A firestorm has erupted among some British church people and commentators over government proposals to amend the civil partnership regulations, allowing the ceremonies to be conducted on religious premises, and using religious words, symbols or music. I have avoided commenting up to now, because the precise substance of the proposals has been unclear, and has been badly misrepresented in some press reports, as providing for “gay marriage” in church. This is simply false reporting, arising from the close similarity of British civil marriage in civil partnerships in their legal import – so that many newspapers simply ignore the difference in their reporting, and routinely refer to civil partnerships as “marriage” – which they are not. This has not deterred the howls of protest in some quarters, complaining about the state’s interference to redefine marriage, and more laughably still, to restrict religious freedom.

Particularly incoherent examples of this have come from Austin Ivereigh at “America” magazine (where I really expect better). I ignored his first post last week (which I did not see until a friend emailed me a link late on Sunday), but responded to a follow-up post, in which he reported that the Catholic bishops will strenuously oppose the legislation. This was the response I placed, earlier today:

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The Catholic Push For Maryland Equality

Catholics have been prominent in the Maryland push for marriage equality – on both sides of the divide. Delegate  Heather Mizeur is a Catholic lesbian who married her spouse, Deborah, five years ago – and is a lead sponsor of the legislation now making its way through the state legislature. Governor Quinn is a Catholic, who has said that  if when the legislation is passed, he will follow his conscience – and sign. Polling evidence shows that collectively, Maryland Catholics are more supportive of marriage without discrimination than the state as a whole. New Ways Ministry, the nationwide organisation founded in 1976 by Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent to promoteg sound pastoral care for LGBT Catholics and their families, and providing reliable information about sexual orientation to the Church as a whole, is based in Maryland.

 

Sister Jeanine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo speak at the day-long conference

Yesterday, New Ways Ministry hosted a day-long conference?, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach,  to promote equality.

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My Vatican Dossier, and Papal Backing for the Soho Masses

It’s official. I now have confirmation that somewhere in the depths of the Vatican, someone (indeed, more than one) has a dossier on me. More accurately, the dossier is on the nefarious doings of the Soho Masses, in which I am infamously involved, and the “homosexualist bloggers” (c’est moi!) that it includes and shelters. These dossiers (there seem to be multiple copies of one original) were not put together by a curial official, but by the interfering busybodies who ludicrously believe that in their determination to prevent a few hundred Catholic men and women from attending a Mass of their choosing, a Mass which has the formal approval of the Westminster diocese, and was initiated by the diocese with the full knowledge and co-operation of the Vatican at the highest levels, they are somehow acting “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (PEEP!)

It would be funny, if it were not in fact so sad.

…….two of us decided to go to Rome in October to discuss just these two points and the future appointment of sound bishops in this country. As usual we took dossiers with us illustrating the present position on the SOHO Masses and the officially approved religious instruction in most schools and parishes. We were kindly received in every Curia Office we visited and we went through our dossiers with the officials we met, leaving a set behind for their further study.

SOHO Masses. This dossier contained News Letters from the Church of Our Lady and St Gregory, Warwick Street, which showed encouragement to walk in the GAY PRIDE MARCH carrying banners proclaiming “Proud to be Catholic, Proud to be Gay”; promotion of books, talks and films by advocates of the homosexual lifestyle; the spread of these Masses as they are not being stopped; the recruitment of young Catholics to join them etc. We also included addresses of web-sites run by regular members of this congregation stating their hostility to Church teaching and their programme to spread this practice quite explicitly, with names of priests and bishops who facilitate all this. ……

(from the PEEP Newsletter, February 2011)

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Priest “Bart”, on “What is a Gay Priest to do?”

Ever since I first read the important question posed by James Martin SJ at America blog, “What is a gay Catholic to do?”, I have tried to provide some examples of what a selection of gay Catholics have done. The responses I have had from some of my readers who are priests, and also some posts I have read at other sites, have shown that there is another much more difficult question to be answered, too: “What is a gay Catholic priest to do?”  This is way outside my own ability to explore, so I have said before that I would welcome commentary from any priest who would like to offer a personal response. I have had some observations made in comment threads, but a full response needs much more space than that.

I am delighted that one of my readers has taken up the challenge. “Bart” has formally joined “Queering the Church” as a contributor, and describes himself in his profile as

Catholic priest, in the mid-forties, presently serving in a diocese away from home. Self-identifying as gay, and going through the coming-out process. Keenly interested in LGBT issues, not only where they concern the religious sphere, but also in the wider social context. Enjoys outdoor activities and sports, as well as indoor pastimes such as reading, listening to music, and watching films when time permits.

Bart has prepared an introductory post in which he explains his choice of pen name, and introduces the topic, “What is a gay priest to do?”. He will then follow up the introductory post with some further reflections on the same theme.  I loved reading the introductory post, which appears here (at my primary domain).

Bart Simpson

Image via Wikipedia

 

This is Bart’s opening:

I think that one of the first issues a gay priest (or any gay person, I suppose) has to tackle is that of coming out. Now, let me make it clear that there will be as many different coming-out stories as there are persons, but I suspect that a common denominator for each story is: deciding on which side are you. Let me ask a few pointed questions. Are you going to (continue to) live in a state of self-loathing, rejection or denial? Will you continue to agree with the barrage of homophobic messages received from the Church, family, friends, workmates, society…? Pope Benedict has just reiterated (in his book Light of the World )a classic view held by the Church, that of homosexuals looking at their state as being a trial. It seems that the Church hierarchy wants to keep gay persons, in this case its priests, stuck in an ego-dystonic state, loathing themselves because of their homosexual orientation, as if it is some foreign body that must be fought with vigour. I am stating this because I cannot really see any way forward unless one moves from this stage to a stage where one has fully embraced one’s gayness. If I cannot come to a point where I have fully accepted myself as I am, that I am gay, how am I ever to accept others as they are? Can you see the necessity and the logic behind this fundamental step? If I may put it in other words, I can only love others to the degree that I can love myself.

These may seem to be difficult words to digest but, judging from my own experience, rejection and self-loathing are hardly a solid foundation for the priestly ministry. I mean, even all the glib talk on how much God loves me becomes suspect. If God loves me as I am, then this leaves little room for self-loathing. Time and again I have come across the works of various authors who talk of “internalised homophobia”, and this term really hits the nail on the head because what we are doing when we reject ourselves is accept the rejection we perceive to get from others.

Read the full post here.

 

On Dialogue, Disagreements and Dissent in Church

I frequently come across Catholic writers and commenters (the rule-book Catholics) complaining in horror on-line at the existence of Catholic “dissenters” who insist on calling themselves Catholic, even while flouting the teaching of the church.

As I am one of those who publicly disagree with the teaching on some issues (by no means all) but refuse to deny my Catholic identity, I am directly affected. In my own mind, the position is simple. I am in agreement here with Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, who made clear a few months ago that Catholicism is not in fact about blind obedience to authority, but rather it is a commitment to a search for truth (and with it, in consequence, to service, and justice and the rest). I have stated before that I accept the teaching authority of the Church, but “teaching” does not mean legislating, and any good teacher will fully expect and encourage students to argue a case where they disagree.

A useful article at America magazine by Nicholas Lash makes much the same point, but does so much more effectively than I could hope to do.

When the Second Vatican Council ended, several of the bishops who took part told me that the most important lesson they had learned through the conciliar process had been a renewed recognition that the church exists to be, for all its members, a lifelong school of holiness and wisdom, a lifelong school of friendship (a better rendering of caritas than “charity” would be). It follows that the most fundamental truth about the structure of Christian teaching cannot lie in distinctions between teachers and pupils—although such distinctions are not unimportant—but in the recognition that all Christians are called to lifelong learning in the Spirit, and all of us are called to embody, communicate and protect what we have learned. Much of what is said about the office of “teachership” or magisterium seems dangerously forgetful of this fact.

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Building Sexual Theology From the Ground Up

We are all familiar with the established, restrictive views on human sexuality espoused by the Vatican. In my writing on queer faith, I have often expressed views that some find controversial – but my regular readers generally find more helpful.

Some gay Catholics, and some priests, have been led to conclusions even more provocative than my own. One such is “Paul Robert”, who describes himself at his site Enhanced Masculinity as a Catholic “priest trying to put together a new theology of male homosexuality”.  His tone and style are markedly different to mine, but there is a fundamental point of theological agreement here: in the absence of any realistic sexual ethics taught by the nominally celibate men of the Vatican , we have no choice but to find our own path, and build a meaningful framework for sexual ethics from the ground up.

 

From "Enhanced Masculinity" Front Page

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Fr Owen O’Sullivan on Gay Inclusion (Pt 3): Is It Wrong to Act Gay?

For part 3 of his extract from Fr Owen O’Sullivan’s article on LGBT inclusion, Boundless Salvation deals with the section that tackles the official position of the CDF, as set out in the Pastoral Letter, “Homosexualitatis Problema”: it is entirely natural and morally neutral to have a homosexual disposition, but that homosexual acts are “disordered” and so are morally unacceptable.  That is, It’s not wrong to be gay, but it is wrong to act gay.

Fr O’Sullivan is Irish, writing for an Irish magazine, so he uses an Irish analogy to make his point:

Imagine someone saying to a group of Irish people, ‘There’s nothing in itself wrong with being Irish. I’m not saying there is. But that doesn’t mean you may act on it. So, no more Guinness, going to Croke Park, singing rebel songs into the early hours of the morning, waving tricolours, no more craic. Close the pubs as occasions of sin, and, while you’re at it, would you please do something about your accent: it’s suggestive – of Irishness. I’m not asking you to deny your Irishness, far from it, just not to act on it.’ Would you consider the speaker to be nuanced, respectful and compassionate, or pedantic, patronising and arrogant?

This captures the problem precisely – for the Irish. For others, not so much. For them, I have another analogy which is also based in biology, not in culture. Like a homoerotic orientation, left-handedness is entirely “natural”, in the sense that it occurs freely in nature, but is “abnormal” in the purely statistical sense that it is uncommon*. The medical professionals have confirmed that both conditions are not in any way to be seen as “diseased” or requiring treatment. But like same sex attraction, left-handedness has in the past, been popularly viewed with great suspicion. Even our language illustrates this: the words “sinister” (morally dubious) and “dexterity” (denoting skill) are derived respectively from the Latin for left and right. In the past, numerous attempts were made to “reform” the obstinate schoolchildren who perversely insisted in writing with their left hands. Today, thankfully, the world has moved on. Any suggestion that it is OK to be left-handed, but just don’t write left-handed, would be met with derision.

The analogy with sexual orientation is precise – except in orthodox CDF doctrine. Most people today agree that homosexuality, like left-handedness, is entirely natural, and even most Catholics agree that homoerotic relationships and sexual activities are, in themselves, morally neutral. But the CDF continues in its insistence that “It’s OK to be gay, just don’t act gay”.

This assertion leads, Fr O’Sullivan, to contradictions and to enormous cruelty for lesbian and gay Catholics. In particular, it leads them to deny their truth. Sexuality is a fundamental part of the human condition and nature. (Even the Catechism recognizes the importance of accepting and embracing our sexual lives). The Pastoral Letter claims to teach the importance of treating “homosexual persons” with dignity, compassion and respect, but the rest of the teaching, with its impossible distinction between doing and being, makes this impossible.

The distinction between being homosexual and doing homosexual acts is phoney. It’s like saying, ‘Your sexuality is part of you; but you must not be part of your sexuality.’ Have we forgotten that the Incarnation brings matter and spirit, body and soul into one in the human-divine body of Jesus? The Incarnation is God’s answer to dualism.

Being and doing are not as separable in life as they might seem in a lecture hall. But, even in a lecture hall, Saint Thomas Aquinas said, ‘Agere sequitur esse in actu.’ (Summa contra Gentiles, 3.53, 69.) If my Latin is not too rusty that means, ‘Doing follows being in action.’

The tragedy for gay or lesbian Catholics who attempt to live celibate lives strictly within the CDF parameters, is that the practical effect is to deprive them of much more than mere physical erotic attraction. For in the real world of Catholicism, far too often people who are seen to be living in single sex coupled relationships, are simply assumed to be in a sexual relationship. To avoid this suspicion (and also the sexual temptations that might be presented in such a relationship), “faithful” gay Catholics are effectively forced to deny the possibility even of celibate unions with another, to live the lives alone, bereft of the daily emotional support that could help them to cope with the trials imposed upon them by a misguided Church rule.

Homosexuals who try to be faithful to church teaching are in danger of distorting themselves, like left-handed people forcing themselves to use only their right hands; they are in danger of developing a Jekyll-and-Hyde mentality, suppressing what is true about themselves. The statement of the CDF that, ‘Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral’ applies here. (Letter, n.15)

The pastoral rhetoric about respecting homosexuals is meaningless at best when the associated moral rhetoric undercuts a homosexual’s personhood. It means that homosexuals are neither in nor out, neither persons nor non-persons, but tolerated somewhere on the border.

 


(” Heterosexuality isn’t “normal” – it’s just common!” – T-shirt slogan seen at Pride)

 

The full series of extracts from Fr O’Sullivan’s “Furrow” article at Boundless Salvation is:

My previous commentary is at

 

Fr Owen O’Sullivan on Gay Inclusion (Pt 2): Why Can’t They Just Keep Quiet About It?

At Boundless Salvation,  Jason Davies-Kildea, took as his second extract from Fr Owen O’Sullivan’s paper on Gay Inclusion a section headed “Why Can’t they Just Keep Quiet?”.

This is a short passage, and an apparently reasonable question – which hides some big and important questions. Fr O’Sullivan’s brief response is summarised even more  briefly in his first two sentences of the passage:

Homosexuality is not a problem; the denial of it is, especially if one denies it to oneself. Good human relationships (or good health) can never be founded on the basis of suppression or denial of the truth.

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