Gay Priests: There’s power in testimony

“Bart” continues his series of reflections on what it is to be a gay Catholic priest:

It gets better. It gets better. It gets better! These words have become something of a mantra over the past weeks as I watched clip after clip from the wall of videos uploaded on the It Gets Better Project site (itgetsbetter.org) and on YouTube. As anyone who’s been following events in the States knows, this project (set up by Dan Savage and his partner Terry) is aimed at giving support and encouragement to vulnerable (mainly LGBT) youth. It was set up after a number of gay and lesbian teens were driven to suicide after being bullied and harassed.

Dan Savage speaking at IWU as part of Gender I...

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What struck me all the more about this project was the effect it was having on me. Here I am, a gay priest in his forties, being deeply moved as I watch testimony after testimony being given by persons of all ages and backgrounds. Some of the clips featured individuals; others presented couples, or parents with kids. There were a number of clips made by groups of persons, whether all gay or mixed gay-straight groups. On a number of occasions I cried tears of joy whilst hearing the stories of those who have come such a long way to be where they are now, and being able to witness to this change. Other times I felt sad because I too would like to be able to add my story to this cloud of witnesses who have come forward for the sake of others. Even though I have not arrived at the stage where I can go public about my identity, I have been strengthened in my resolve to press on with the coming-out process. Yes, even though the going can be tough at times, it is definitely getting better … for me as well!

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Coming out as Grace: Patrick Chen, on the “Out Christ”

In the second instalment of his long essay on Christology, sin and grace at “Jesus in Love Blog”, the theologian Patrick Chen discusses Christ’s incarnation as God “coming out” to the world. This is an idea I first came across in Chris Glaser’s “Coming out As Sacrament“, and which Chen takes as his starting point:

The Out Christ arises out of the reality that God reveals Godself most fully in the person of Jesus Christ.  In other words, God “comes out of the closet” in the person of Jesus Christ; it is only through the incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we understand the true nature of God (for example, God’s solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed).  Indeed, the notion of the Out Christ as the revelation of God is supported by Jesus Christ’s description in the Fourth Gospel as the logos or Word of God.

Chris Glaser, the gay theologian and Metropolitan Community Church minister, has written about the Out Christ in his book Coming Out as Sacrament.  In that book, Glaser describes Jesus Christ as nothing less than God’s very own coming out to humanity:  “The story of the New Testament is that God comes out of the closet of heaven and out of the religious system of time to reveal Godself in the person of Jesus the Christ.”

“Sermon on the Mount” (from Ecce Homo) by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin

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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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Coming Out as a Religious Obligation: Micah and Justice.

When I was reading some biographical notes recently about the Argentinian theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid, I was interested to note that she began her career working for the church among the poor of Buenos Aires, applying the techniques of liberation theology to the “option for the poor”. Later, she applied those same techniques in slum communities in Scotland, before starting to apply the same techniques to the situation of the equally marginalized communities within the church itself, its sexual minorities.

I have never been engaged full time in this work, not worked directly with the poor, but in South Africa I did get involved as a volunteer in some of the activities of the Catholic Church Justice & Peace Commission, and attended several meetings and training workshops on the subject. A standard Scripture verse to open those meetings was the well-known words of the prophet Micah:

Do justice, love well, and walk modestly with God

-Micah 6:8

I clearly remember one major workshop at which these words were elaborated as a paradigm for the very concept of justice, as as set of three related relationships: relationships with God, relationships with others, and relationship with oneself.

The Jewish lesbian Rebeccah Alpert expands on this idea in her contribution to  Robert Goss’s “Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible“, and emphasises an implication to this injunction that I believe is a key to resolving the difficult choices facing us as lesbian, gay or trans people of faith – the importance of coming out.

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Come Out to Save Lives – Megachurch Pastor Jim Swilley

There are many sound religious reason for coming out (which I summarise below).  The Georgia megachurch pastor Jim Swilley, of  “Church in the Now”, by his own example has presented another. He has come out to save lives.

Swilley has hidden his sexuality from his congregation for years, through two marriages (although he was at least honest with his second wife, who in turn encouraged him to be open more publicly). Unlike so many other closeted preachers (Bishop Long, George Rekers and Ted Swaggart, for instance) however, he has never fallen into the trap of preaching against homosexuality to hide his own orientation.

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"Coming Out" as Wrestling with the Divine

At this time of Pride, marking the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, I wanted to post something on the important legacy of visibilty and coming out. (Now the 41st anniversary – this is a re-post)

After mulling over some thoughts on what to say, I picked up Richard Cleaver’s “Know My Name” for re-reading, and was delighted by the synchronicity of finding that his Chapter 2, “Knowing and Naming”, deals with exactly this subject.  So instead of rehashing or expanding the ideas I presented in my opening post 6 months ago (“Welcome:  Come in, and Come out”), I thought I would share with you some of Cleaver’s insights.

First, Cleaver points out that in addition to the modern association of “coming out” with escaping the closet, there are two other important contexts. It can also call to mind the Exodus story of coming out of the land of Egypt, of escaping slavery and oppression; and it was used before Stonewall to mimic the English debutante ritual of “coming out” into society, of achieving the first recognition as an adult in polite society .  For us then, coming out is both a liberation from oppression and an acceptance and a welcome into a new society.  He then continues by arguing that coming out in the modern sense is an essential first step in hearing the Gospel message of liberation .

 

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Eugene Delacroix

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Celibacy and a Wounded Church: Readers’ Observations

A few weeks ago, I was sent me this anecdote by email:

A friend of Armin’s was recently in Austria to bury her mother.  Her aunts referred to the priest’s “frau”; Sandra thought that was a bit odd because Catholic priests don’t marry, right, but since she isn’t a churchgoer she figured maybe she was just out of touch. So she invited the priest “and your wife” to dinner. He blanched… she repeated the invitation… he accepted. And brought her along.

Apparently this woman was originally the housekeeper, but has become his mistress. The whole parish knows. It’s all widely accepted and understood, although this was the first time she had been invited along like that. (But from the sounds of it, it won’t be the last.)  Another instance, I think, of actual Catholic communities being far more progressive (and human) than the Vatican.

I was interested, but not surprised by this. We know that all around the world, the rule on compulsory celibacy is widely ignored, often openly. In both Austria and Germany there are formal, organized support groups for priests with mistresses. In Italy, a group of mistresses have petitioned the pope to end the celibacy rule so that they could (in effect) come out of the closet.  In Africa, one Bishop was removed from office when knowledge that many priests in his diocese were living openly with their wives and families became embarrassingly commonplace, and another was excommunicated (long after) he followed up his own marriage by actively promoting marriage for Catholic priests. Universal celibacy of Catholic priests is a myth. Any pretence otherwise is sheer hypocrisy.

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