Breaking the silence

Gay Priest “Bart” continues his weekly series:

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.


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“The Gift of Gay” – The Priest Who Came Out, aged 90!

Father Matthew Kelty, OCSO, was a monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, where he was the last confessor to Thomas Merton. He also came out as gay at the age of 90.

The full obituary is worth reading at Religion Dispatches – I want to reflect only on the coming out story, and Fr Matthew’s assertion that gay is a gift – especially in the pursuit of monastic celibacy.

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Irish Archbishop Agrees: Catholic Church Needs Fundamental, Cultural Change

When people think of the crisis facing the Irish church since public awareness exploded over the sexual abuse scandals, they generally think only of the abuse itself. However, the real crisis goes much deeper. The abuse problems brought the crisis into sharp focus, but (tragically important as they are) they are in fact just one symptom of a much deeper malaise.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has garnered respect for his own response to the crisis, but in a hard-hitting speech in Cambridge, he has explained the extent of the problem, in terms remarkably similar to the argument made by the German theologians this month. Their statement, remember, was a response to a reflection on the abuse problems that emerged in Germany, Austria and Switzerland a year ago. Reflecting on the abuse issue, they concluded, like Archbishop Martin, that clerical sexual abuse cannot be looked at in isolation, but must be viewed as part of a much larger problem of Catholic culture and structures, which are urgently in need of fundamental reform.

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The Myth of Clerical Celibacy, Revisited

One of the key points in the recent declaration by German theologians (now joined by others, worldwide), is the urgency of ending the current insistence on compulsory clerical celibacy. This is my cue to revisit, and expand on, some points I have made frequently on previous occasions.

When I wrote a series of posts on the problem of compulsory clerical celibacy nearly two years ago, I listed several problems with the rule:

  • It is not based on Scripture, but in fact contradicts Paul’s clear advice that celibacy is not for everyone.
  • It was not the practice of the early church, and was not compulsory for the first twelve centuries of Christianity – over half of Church history
  • The rule, when it became fixed, was not introduced as a matter of pastoral care, but to preserve church wealth and power
  • Celibacy has never been required for all clergy in the Eastern Orthodox Churches
  • It was swiftly rejected by the Protestant churches after the Reformation
  • It is still not required for all Catholic priests: it does not apply to those in the Eastern rite of the Roman church, nor to those who are already married, and are now converting from other denominations.
  • Many bishops and even national Bishops’ conferences have asked, either privately or formally, for the blanket ban to be relaxed.

I can now add some further observations that I was not then aware of:

  • Research shows that the majority of Catholics want an end to the policy.
  • As a young man, Joseph Ratzinger himself signed a document asking for the ban to end.
  • As pope, Benedict XVI has conceded that celibacy is difficult, but becomes possible when living in a supportive community of fellow priests. He can offer no advice on how it becomes “possible” for one who can not live in such a community, implicitly conceding that for many men, perhaps it is not (agreeing in this, with St Paul).
  • The only objection he raised in the interview to ending the rule was not not one of principle, but of practicality, saying there were questions as to how this could be arranged.

But the most serious difficulty to my mind, is that as a universal practice, even within the Roman rite, it is a myth – and a dangerous one. It is a myth, because it is a rule that is widely broken.

Ordinands: A Lifetime of Celibacy?

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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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Pope Benedict, on the Queer Lessons in the Church’s Martyrdom of St Joan.

At Enhanced Masculinity, I came across a post which reported on an address by Pope Benedict about the martyrdom and later canonization of St Joan of Arc. I was pleased to see this, as I have written before of the importance of Joan as a queer saint who was first martyred by the church, and later rehabilitated and honoured. Much the same will surely occur in time to those modern queer heroes who have been professionally martyred, by the Church which has deliberately destroyed their careers, for the great sin of attempting to speak the truth on sexual ethics or LGBT inclusion.

Benedict’s frank admission of the patent error of the church theologians who presided over Joan’s trial and passed sentence on her, together with his quotation from Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium on the constant need for purification, made a welcome contrast with the usual glossing over of past mistakes and the insistence on a constant and unchanging tradition. His words also immediately reminded me of the words of a much younger man, when he as Fr Joseph Ratzinger he wrote a commentary on the Second Vatican Council:

“Not everything that exists in the Church must for that reason be also a legitimate tradition…. There is a distorting tradition as well as a legitimate tradition, ….[and] …consequently tradition must not be considered only affirmatively but also critically.”

So, in addition to the significance of this address to my own arguments about the relevance of the queer saints and martyrs, it also relates to the current theological ferment on sexual ethics and widespread criticism of the institutional church. When I then crossed to the Vatican website and read the address in full, I found even more in Pope Benedict’s words that can guide and inspire gay in lesbian Catholics in our struggles to withstand the hostility of the traditional, disordered teaching on homoerotic relationships. Read the rest of this entry »

Thoughts on Popular Revolutions: in Egypt, in South Africa – in the Church

Events in Egypt are dominating the headlines all around the world. It is always dangerous for outsiders to comment too definitively on the internal politics of foreign countries, but inevitably many of us will have thoughts of our own, and will consider the implications for their own countries.  Bill Lindsay’s reflections on this theme at Bilgrimage led to an exchange in the comments between myself and another reader, which I would like to share (and expand on) here. After some specific response to Bill’s post, I reflected on the implications for the Catholic Church:

My own reflections lie in analogy and implications for another autocratic and corrupt empire of an entirely different kind – the Holy Roman one, based in the Vatican, but with global reach and influence. Just like the Egyptian (and Tunisian) people this year, and the East Europeans, South Africans, Ukrainians and Filipinos before them, Catholics will not continue indefinitely to blithely accept control from the top, with no possibility of meaningful input from below.


Vatican control and influence in the lives of Catholics takes a fundamentally different form to the political control in Arab states, and the Catholic revolution will look different. But the principle is the same, and the revolution is most certainly coming – if it has not already begun.

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