Catholics Support Gay Marriage; Homosexuality “Not a Moral Issue”

Once again, research has shown that by a small margin, Catholics “support gay marriage” (Pew Research Centre) – the only one of the major religious groupings identified that does so. (The strongest support for marriage equality comes from the “unaffiliated” sector, with the strongest opposition from white evangelicals.)

Support for gay marriage

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Clerical Abuse: How We Are All The Solution.

My extended series on Clerical abuse has turned into a long and depressing affair, dragging on much longer that I ever expected,and leading me into several digressions along the way, included excursions into coming out as spiritual gift, South African history, and the importance of the sensus fidelium.  These digressions, though, were important and helpful – at least to me.  The conclusions presented thus far were also depressing: the root causes are deeply embedded in the institutional culture of the church (celibacy and the concentration of ecclesiastical power) and will not be easily changed, and also directly affect us all, not only the victims and their families. We are all victims, and we have all been complicit in the causes.

Now though, I can finally bring the series to a close on a more positive note.  In the same way that the end of apartheid came about finally as a result of numerous internal and external pressures, in which all South Africans (and many foreigners) participated to some degree, so we are all part of the solution to the abuse scandal.

How?

Read the rest of this entry »

The Impotent, Violent Hierachy.

In an interesting observation on the disgraceful Vatican investigation, Mercy Sr Theresa Kane describes as a sign not of the power of the hierarchy, but of its impotence:

Referring to the Vatican investigation of U.S. women religious initiated last December by Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé, who heads the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Kane called it “a sign of impotence in the church hierarchy.”

“Regarding the present interrogation, I think the male hierarchy is truly impotent, incapable of equality, co-responsibility in adult behavior,” she said, not mincing any words. “In the church today, we are experiencing a dictatorial mindset and spiritual violence.”

Kane said there is a proper place for anger. “If we do not get angry, we won’t make change,” she said. And change can come, she noted. Years back, she recalled, women were required to cover their heads when in church — “even using tissue paper, if necessary.” After a while women simply stopped the practice and the requirement ended. She called it a “silent revolution.”

Spiritual violence it demonstrably is, impotence less clearly so, but I think she is right. Real authority does not do reassert itself with these conspicuous assertions of power, but instead is proves itself by the continuing, voluntary cooperation of those governed. I also like her observations on excommunication, and on the possibility of change, and on the possibility of facing excommunication:

Kane, as the nation’s most identifiable advocate of women’s ordination, has been repeatedly asked if she fears a Vatican excommunication. Her response: “I’m not out of communion. The institution got out of communion with me.”

This is the view that I am rapidly reaching.  It is not the ordinary Catholics who are out of touch with the real heart of Catholicism, but the supposed religious experts in the Vatican, and some of the bishops, who are so obsessed with their cloistered lives, power and finery that they have completely lost touch with the realities of ordinary lives.  In their courage and willingness to stick their necks out and speak up against injustice where they see it, including injustice inside the church, against the opposition of the powerful, these women are bearing true prophetic witness to the Gospel message.  Instead of being investigated by the authorities, they should be recognised and celebrated as the true leaders of the modern church.

(Read the full report of Sr Kane’s address, and other news from the 40th anniversary conference of the National Coalition of American Nuns, at the National CAtholic  Reporter,)


Scripture Discussion in Kalamazoo

There is an instructive story at Box Turtle Bulletin (which has become my favourite site for general LGBT news and comment) on a Kalamazoo discussion of the Bible and homosexuality.

With a city council anti-discrimination ordinance facing a test at the ballot box, a public meeting was arranged to hear a public discussion on just what Scripture has to say.  But this was a discussion, not an anti-gay tirade.

So the Wenkes sponsored a forum with ministers discussing scripture. But you probably have made some false assumptions about Wenke’s motivation. (Mlive.com)

“The more that you talk about this issue and the more you get to know families struggling with this issue, the more you know the Bible doesn’t condemn them,” Wenke said.

So Wenke’s forum was not limited to anti-gay messages. Rather, he presented three ministers who find scripture to condemn homosexuality and three that do not.

“It’s only .002 percent of the entire Bible, an incredibly small slice,” Laney said. “Sexual orientation is not a choice; it’s not a disorder. It’s part of God’s diverse creation.”

The Rev. Dr. Douglas Vernon, senior pastor of Kalamazoo’s First United Methodist Church, agreed, saying the Bible may be taken “very seriously” but not always literally.

“We believe there is no one right way to interpret Scripture,” Vernon said.

The Rev. John Byl, pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church, and the Rev. Dr. Paul Naumann, of St. Michael Lutheran Church, disagreed, saying the literal words are relevant and timeless.

The organisers say they were encouraged by the turnout.  Expecting 300, they had 800. This is encouraging, but not surprising. It is easy to demonstrate that, as noted, the supposedly anti-gay texts are only a very tiny slice of the entire Scripture. Those who have gone into it more carefully have observed (i)that this in itself is surprising, in a Graeco-Roman cultural context where homoerotic relationships where commonplace; (ii) that the supposedly hostile texts have misinterpreted, mistranslated, or misapplied; (iii)and there are far more supportive texts than hostile ones.

Wherever the churches have approached the issue with careful reflection and study, there have been movements at least towards greater acceptance.The recent proceedings of the ECLA are a great example. Following an extended process of careful study and prayerful reflection on Scripture, the assembly passed a series of notable resolutions that recognise that differing interpretations are possible and equally valid, that approve the recognition of gay and lesbian pastors in committed, monogamous relationships that need no longer be celibate, on exactly the same terms as those of heterosexual  pastors, and that are likely to lead to the recognition of same sex marriage or blessing ceremonies in church.  This process towards rational debate and greater acceptance will continue.

We as queer Catholics and other people of faith need to say this to our non-religious friends, and point out that if they could just set aside their anti-religious bigotry, and try to understand the supportive side of the religious argument, they can assist the moderates in the churches in this move towards LGBT acceptance

Some Faithful Dissenters

Investigating further the question of the sensus fidelium and Catholic dissent, I came across two notable articles on the subject. (Here I acknowledge thanks to the magnificent archives of Michael Bayley at the Wild Reed, where I first came across the links.)

The first, posted at U.S. Catholic in July 2008, is Catholic Dissent: When Wrong Turns Out to be Right. This article reports on notable dissenters, who have faced hostility and direct opposition for their views, but have since been vindicated and in some cases canonized.

Working backwards chronologically, the article begins with  the Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, who took a stand for freedom of religion against the established view that

civil governments had an obligation to officially recognize the church and support it.

Pope Pius IX made the point in no uncertain terms in 1846 in his encyclical Quanta cura and the accompanying Syllabus of Errors: “The state must recognize [the Catholic Church] as supreme and submit to its influence. . . . The power of the state must be at its disposal and all who do not conform to its requirements must be compelled or punished. . . . Freedom of conscience and cult is madness.

Courtney argued not only that this view was wrong, but also that as espoused by Pius, it was of recent origin, having developed over the previous 100 years.  (This is not the only instance of a “traditional” teaching which is in fact of recent origin.  Papal infallibilty is another, among many).  Murray met fierce opposition from the authorities, who eventually ordered him to cease writing and publication on the subject – but he was entirely vindicated when he became a major drafter  at Vatican II of the Council’s Declaration of Religious Freedom:

“This synod declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups, or any human power . . . This synod further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person, as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and reason itself.” The words reflect Murray’s thinking and may very well have been written by him.”

An earlier famous dissident was John Henry Newman, during his time as editor of the magazine “Ramparts”.

As the editor of the magazine Ramparts, he got into trouble with the English hierarchy for asserting in an article that the British bishops would be well-advised to seek the counsel of lay Catholics in important matters. Such a view was regarded as rash and disruptive of good order. He was subsequently informed by his own bishop that the next issue of Ramparts, July 1859, would be his last as editor.

But in that last issue, he expanded on his argument:

Newman drew some shocking conclusions that have been reverberating in the church ever since: that there is in the body of the faithful (the laity) an “instinct” for the truth, that this “sense of the faithful” must never be ignored or taken for granted by the church’s official teachers, that authentic church teaching therefore comes about through a kind of “conspiracy” or co-operative enterprise on the part of both laity and hierarchy, and finally that certain lapses (or “suspensions”) can occur when one side or other of this living body temporarily ceases to function.

I had forgotten this point about the “suspensions”.  Are we now, I wonder, in just such a state, with most Catholics neglecting to speak up against the obvious stupidity of so much of the sexual teaching, against the folly of an exclusively male, supposedly celibate clergy, or against the whole structure of untrammelled clerical power?  Instead, we too readily leave the right wing neocons to parrot  their insistence that we can only be “true” Catholics if we acquiesce meekly in blind obedience to every teaching (except of course, on matters of the social Gospel). Convinced by their rhetoric that we are somehow less Catholic than they for our dissent, we bite our tongues and remain silent.

Newman, of course went on to be rehabiliated and was made a Cardinal.  His full vindication also came with Vatican II, with his ideas incorporated into the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church.

Earlier examples were the women Mary Ward, founder of the religious order the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) in the 17th Century, Saints Catherine of Sienna, Teresa of Avila, Bridget of Sweden, and Hildegard of Bingen- “all remembered for their faithfulness to the Gospel as they understood the message in their time.  They join a cast of men who creatively protested in various eras”.

Earlier still were those against the Arian heresy, who opposed the many bishops who supported it – and about whom Newman wrote in developing his own argument. Earlier still, the apostle Peter, nominal founder of the Papacy , was opposed by Paul on the regulations governing Gentile converts to Christianity. Here too, the “dissident” view won the day.

Then the most famous religious dissident of them all – Jesus Christ, who dissented strongly from the religious authirities of His own day.

Church & Laity: More on the Sensus Fidelium

Michael Bayley at the Wild Reed has already noted how his post on Richard Sipe, with his observations about sexuality and the sensus fidelium, has provoked widespread comment. I want to elaborate now on why this should have been so, and why it is important – and also to address some of the confusion in that comment.

Sipe’s observations were just a few comments extracted from a longer article on the coming reformation of the church: “Sexuality Sets Stage for Church’s Next Reformation, Expert Predicts.” (Arthur Jones, NCR January 2003). Let us not forget this context.  Many other observers have commented on the same idea, not as something to be desired, but as an imminent event. The challenge then, is to identify the ways in which we can accelerate and participate in this Kairos moment. But before venturing into the bigger picture, we must consider the specific points covered in the original Wild Reed post, and the subsequent discussion.

In the short extract posted, Sipe notes that there is a sharp divergence in thinking between the hierarchy and the laity on matters of sexuality, and goes on to remind us that in terms of traditional teaching on the sensus fidelium (SF), a teaching which does not carry with it the support of the faithful as a whole, lacks authority. It was this observation in particular that produced most of the vigorous discussion. Read the rest of this entry »

Synchronicity: Thinking (and Speaking) Together

I wrote a couple of days ago how about how closely Richard Sipe’s comments (quoted at the Wild Reed) on sexuality and the church, on the sensus fidelium, and the hierarchy, so closely matched the conclusions I was reaching myself.  What I didn’t know at the time,  was that William Lindsey posted a comment at the Wild Reed immediately after my own with almost identical thoughts on the comments thread. Bill, like me, also wrote about this in his own blog, drawing attention to the “synchronicity” involved:  Colleen Kochivar – Baker too had been writing along similar lines. Since then, Bill has written again about the synchronicities involved.

“Synchronicity” is a word I have been using a lot lately, especially in private correspondence with Bill Lindsey.  There have been several occasions where one or other of us have been wanting to write on a particular topic, but have been slow to do so:  then found the other has written something  almost identical.  As illustration, the story of the South African athlete is one example.  As a South African travelling in that country as the news broke of rumoured gender test results, I was thinking of writing, but stalled as I wondered if it was strictly relevant to this blog .  No sooner had I decided to put something together, than I found that Bill had written a post with almost identical thoughts to my own, so I left the topic alone, except for a comment at Bilgrimage.   There have also been other examples.

“Synchronicity” is a word carefully chosen, in clear distinction to “co-incidence”.  In strictly temporal terms, they mean much the same thing, but “co-incidence” implies an occurrence due purely to chance.  “Synchronicity” has no such connotation, and suggests instead at least the possibility of some linking causality- such as (perhaps) the influence of the Holy Spirit. Read the rest of this entry »

Clerical Abuse: How We Are All Complicit, Part 1

After several stops and starts, with some deviations along the way, I have now almost finished with my series of posts on clerical abuse in the Catholic Church. Today, I want to proceed with my core conclusion: that in one way or other, in manner large or small , we are all part of the problem, we have all been complicit, to some degree, in the scandal.  I expect this conclusion will surprise, even shock some of you, so before I present this conclusion , it will be helpful to review the evidence and argument so far.

Before I ever began with this series, I wrote about a book by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, who had been point man for the Australian bishops in investigating the scandal in that country.  In this damning book, Robinson concludes that there are three key causes to the problem:  innate psychological problems of sexual immaturity in individuals, compulsory celibacy, and the excessively concentrated power structures of the Catholic Church.  Since then, as I ahve found that many other writers with expert knowledge have reached similar conclusions, as I noted here. I take these as a starting point, which underpin much of my reasoning. Read the rest of this entry »

Anglicans in South Africa Join the push.

Anglicans in the Archdioces of Cape Town have joined the movement for ecclesiastical support for gay relationships.  Coming hot on the heels of important decisions by the US Episcopalians and Evangelical Lutherans, it adds to the momentum for  acceptance in church for sexual minorities. From Episcopal Life Online:

“The Anglican Diocese of Cape Town, meeting in synod August 22, supported a resolution asking the bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa to provide pastoral guidelines for gay and lesbian members living in “covenanted partnerships,” whilst “taking due regard of the mind of the Anglican Communion.”

The synod also resolved to ask Archbishop Thabo Makgoba to appoint a working group, representing church members of varying perspectives, to engage in a “process of dialogue and listening” on issues of human sexuality.”

On the face of it, the actual resolution from St George’s Cathedral is cautious, possibly disappointing.: but one has to understand the context.  The Archdiocese here is much more than just the city of Cape Town, and takes in Anglican commuinities also from the broader Southern African region.  Although South Africa itself has  a proud record in recognising LGBT rights, the neighbouring countries are far less accepting, with many of them still treating any form of homosexual expression as a criminal act.

The Anglican Diocese of Cape Town, which includes Anglican bishops from South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Namibia, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and Angola, passed a resolution at the weekend asking the church’s bishops to provide pastoral guidelines for gay parishioners living in “covenanted partnerships”.

(from Independent Online)

So the resolution adopted necessarily had to take account of widely differing sensibilities across the region.  Still, it is a move forward. who can doubt that it will end in full support for lesbian & gay unions? The full text: Read the rest of this entry »

UK Church Takes Action FOR Gay Marriage!

Here in the UK, there has not been a big  push for same sex marriage, as the civil partnership regulations provide virtually the same benefits as full marriage  This includes national benefits (unlike Washington’s proposal),and really is “marriage in all but name” (an important qualification).  Now, according to the BBC, the British Quakers are to take up the issue.

gay_marriage

The proposal to begin performing marriage ceremonies for same -sex couples is expected to pass  by consensus, without opposition, at their annual gathering in York “on Friday”, even though this could bring them into conflict with the law.  They are also expected to ask for the law to be changed.  (Is “Friday” today…..or next week? I don’t yet know, but will investigate).

(UPDATE:  This has now been approved.  See the TIMES ONLINE)

This is the first time that I know of that a church group is taking a lead on the issue – anywhere.

From the BBC, 30th July 2009:

“Quakers ‘to allow gay marriages’

One of the UK‘s oldest Christian denominations – the Quakers – looks set to extend marriage services to same-sex couples at their yearly meeting later.

The society has already held religious blessings for same-sex couples who have had a civil partnership ceremony.

But agreeing to perform gay marriages, which are currently not allowed under civil law, could bring the Quakers into conflict with the government.

…BBC’s religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said the Quakers had been more prepared than other groups to reinterpret the Bible in the light of contemporary life.

Religious commitment

The Quakers – also known as The Religious Society of Friends – are likely to reach consensus on the issue of gay marriage without a vote at their annual gathering in York on Friday.

They will also formally ask the government to change the law to allow gay people to marry.”

The full report from the BBC is here.

***

From TIMES ONLINE, July 31st:

The Quakers sanctioned gay marriage today and decided to call on the Government to give same-sex couples the same standing as married couples.

Other Christian churches and religious denominations have approved blessings for civil same-sex partnerships but the Quakers have now become Britain’s first mainstream religious group to approve gay marriage.”