Lesbian and Gay Ministry: Los Angeles

When news of Cardinal Mahoney’s retirement as Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles hit the news recently, numerous commentaries on his tenure and achievements began to appear. I read several of these, looking for observations on one particular aspect of his period in office – but in vain. What I was looking for was information on the diocesan ministry to lesbian and gay Catholics, about which I have twice watched a recording of the television programme,  “A Journey for Understanding”, produced by Rick Flynn. The model that LA has adopted is rather different from that of the Soho Mass that I am familiar, but one that I thought, when I saw the TV programme, had strong potential. That programme, however, was made back in 1992, a long time ago, and only a few years after the ministry itself was founded. I have been wondering how the ministry has developed since then.

I have no need to wonder any longer. By courtesy of my friend and colleague Martin Pendergast, I have been sent by email just such an assessment that I was not able to find for myself. (The full assessment is online at The Tidings). From this, together with the ministry’s page at the diocesan website, from its own impressive website and from its active participation in the Religious Education Conference coming up, it is obvious that the program is very much alive and flourishing.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels , Los Angeles

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Gay Catholics: the Real Issues

As a gay Catholic in Minnesota, as co-ordinator of the Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, as editor of the Progressive Catholic Voice, and in several other capacities, Michael Bayly is right in the thick of things in the conflicts in the Twin Cities over Archbishop Nienstedt’s DVD on gay marriage, and the subsequent refusal of communion to some rainbow-buttoned students. At the Wild Reed, he has posted the text he prepared for a local Fox News broadcast on the issue, in which he was invited to discuss the issue with St. Thomas University professor Robert Kennedy, who supports the archbishop’s actions.

Michael points out in his post how easily the media restrict discussion to just a narrow focus which suits their current focus, but proper understanding demands a broader, contextual approach. This he set out in the analysis he prepared in advance of the broadcast. I particularly like the emphasis on the Church and its teaching as a living, evolving entity, rather than something fixed for all time at or around the Council of Trent. Even the most cursory look at Church history shows how constantly it has changed, and surely will continue to do so. As such, those who are contributing to the debates are not the problem that Archbishop and the rule-book Catholics would suggest, but part of the solution.

This is the opening of Michael’s post:

It’s important to realize that what happened at St. John’s didn’t occur within a vacuum. It’s just one of a number of recent incidences that tell us that within Catholicism the issue of homosexuality is not a settled one. [By “recent incidences” I was referring to the different expressions of the backlash to the MN Catholic bishop’s anti-gay marriage campaign. See, for instance, here, here, here, andhere.] We’re clearly still grappling with this very human reality. And that’s okay. It’s a sign of a living, growing church.

The clerical leadership of the church, however, likes to insist that it is a done deal and that all we have to do to be “good Catholics” is be quiet and obey. But the Catholic faithful, the people, have a very different opinion. Many have gay children, co-workers, and neighbors. They’ve moved beyond the type of rhetoric and stereotypes that the clerical leadership uses to describe the gay people they know and love. Also, polls show that the majority of Catholics support gay marriage. [See, for instance, here and here.]

Now, our church teaches – and history shows it – that the views of the Catholic people are an important component of the teaching process. Our voices need to be heard and respected if church teaching is to be considered authentic. [I’m referring, of course, to the Catholic doctrine of reception.] Yet there’s no official venues for such sharing and listening to take place. The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the archdiocese, refuses to publish commentaries or articles that respectfully offer alternative perspectives on, for example, the church’s teaching on homosexuality – a teaching that is not infallible, a teaching that we can and should talk about. Is it any wonder that some are compelled to challenge the archbishop as these students did at St. John’s? What other options or venues do they have?

(For the full piece, go to The Wild Reed)

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James Alison Book Launch: "Broken Hearts and New Creation"

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the launch of theologian James Alison’s new book “Broken Hearts and New Creation”. I have known James since I first starting attending the London Soho gay Masses, where he was then a regular, and have read and admired all his his previous books, which have significantly influenced my own thinking, so I looked forward to this with anticipation. I was not disappointed – the evening even exceeded my expectations.

For those unfamiliar with his work, I offer some brief background. James is a priest, who was formerly a Dominican and teacher of theology. He was forced to leave the order some years ago for his insistence on speaking honestly about homosexuality, and since then has forged a new career as an independent theologian, writing, lecturing and leading workshops around the world. He is openly gay, but refuses to identify as a “gay theologian” – rather, he says he is a theologian who writes from a gay perspective. This shows, as his work is admired not only by gay Catholics, but also in the wider theological fraternity. (He was introduced at the launch as “every theologian’s second favourite theologian – after themselves”.)

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Pope Benedict, and “Homosexual Orgies in the Lateran Palace”.

A few days ago, there were several breathless reports that Mel Gibson’s father had claimed that Pope Benedict XVI, along with half the Vatican, were “homosexuals”. It turned out though, that these were old claims, made in a January radio interview which were totally unsupported by any evidence.

Allegations of widespread homosexuality among high ranking Vatican officials are not new though, nor are they surprising. Read the rest of this entry »

Gay Masses: Soho, San Francisco.

Earlier this week, California Catholic Daily carried a piece on San Francisco Pride, and the decision by the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer not to participate. However, the parish did advertise in the Pride pocket guide:
I completely fail to see why a Catholic paper should object to the proclamation of God’s love, but they and their readers were enraged by this. The immediate  trigger was the fact that the publication also included the usual gay ads, like a prominent back page one for a gay hook-up site. Is anyone surprised that some gay men use dating sites? However, it was clear that the real anger was directed at the simple existence of a Mass catering primarily to an out queer community.  I placed a comment – the first in the thread – and for my pains, had a response which suggested that I might be in league with some demon:
Terence Weldon appears on other sites as a rabid perverter of Holy Scripture. If he’s in league with some demon, then it’s a particularly depraved one.
(Relax, it’s not true.) What I found remarkable about the rest of the comments was their complete and utter lack of any thought or understanding, a simple parroting of clichés about the sin of Sodom, and the Sin that Cries Out to Heaven and the like: confirming once again, my firm conviction that what draws a certain type of Catholic to the Church is a simple desire to avoid any need for hard thinking on ethical choices, merely depending on following a rule book and the formulaic repetition of fixed prayers for “Salvation”, or for “favours” to be granted. This form of religion (it hardly counts as faith) is not that far removed from belief in magic.

Pioneers of Gay & Lesbian Theology: Reversing the Discourse.

Obama’s  officially designated “Pride Month” of June has come and gone, but the season of Pride continues – especially here in the UK, where the major Pride celebrations are in any case held later: in July (London) and August (Brighton). I have no compunction continuing my exploration of pride in church, which was in any case my primary motive in starting here at QTC eighteen months ago. Since then, my concerns have tended to wander, but I now want to return to my primary concern, which I do with a major series,  introducing our notable gay and lesbian theologians

One of the useful developments over the 40 years since Stonewall, has been the emergence of a wide range of writing and scholarship, across many fields, from an explicitly gay, lesbian or trans perspective  – or more generally, a “queer” perspective, or GLBT or GLBTQI , or…. Academics and activists may quibble over terminology, but the bottom line is simple. We no longer have to take all our knowledge straining through a hetero-normative filter.

I still remember the awe, the sense of shock I experienced the first time I saw a range of books displayed which included titles such as “Gay and Lesbian Theology”. The very idea at the time appeared to me welcome, but disorienting. If it was true that “theology” totally disapproved of “homosexuals”, how could it be that there could be “Gay” theology? The simple truth of course is that theology is more than just the official stuff propagated by the Vatican. It is more even, than just the formal, academic material churned out by the professional theologians. At its most basic, “doing theology” is no more than speaking about, and asking questions about, God and God’s place in our lives. This obviously includes consideration of the work that is collectively known as the “Magisterium”, but also a great deal more.

“Formal” (i.e. written by “professionals” ) gay and lesbian theology, queer theology, and even indecent theology has come in many forms, with many emphases and concerns. To guide us through the thicket, I shall begin with a summary of its unfolding by the lesbian Catholic theologian, Elizabeth Stuart, as presented in her book “Gay & Lesbian Theologies: Repetitions With Critical Differences“, which I have been re-reading.  Paradoxically, in spite of her title, Stuart in this book is not promoting but critiquing “gay and lesbian” theology, as she argues that gay and lesbian theology has failed, and needs to give way to queer theology. (Yes, there is a difference). Still, in critiquing the earlier work, she offers a most useful commentary on its historical development and sources, before introducing the newer ideas from queer and indecent theology.

The Pioneers.

It may come as a surprise that books on gay and lesbian theology have been around for over three decades, ever since a trio of titles appeared in the 1970’s. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »