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

Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

“Incompatible With Scripture”: Jeffrey John on Sexuality & Sanity

The news that Jeffrey John is  a leading candidate to be the next Anglican bishop has caused some panic to break out on the conservative religious blogosphere: the inappropriately and misleadingly named “Anglican Mainstream” has called for an urgent day of prayer to forestall this impending calamity. Virtue Online has dredged up and posted an address he gave back in 1998 on the theme of homosexuality in the Anglican clergy. I am grateful to David Virtue. No doubt he thinks he has posted it as some kind of “warning”:  I read it as prescient.  In the dozen years since he gave this address, years before he was first named and then asked to withdraw as bishop of Reading, the Anglican church has moved a long way, here and world-wide. But instead of simply reading the address as dated, I see it as a mirror for the present state of play in the Catholic church: exactly the same allegations of clerical and episcopal hypocrisy apply to the Church of Rome. More interesting, is that when I put this alongside the small, hopeful signs I see of an imminent shift in emphasis by Catholic bishops, I wonder if we in the Catholic church will also be able to look back twelve years hence, and to note some useful changes.

But that is speculation. Far more useful at this stage is just to read and enjoy John’s wisdom – and humour. I loved his story of the run-around he was given years before when first applying for ordination. The church authorities had established from medical records that Johns was possible gay, and had referred him for psychiatric evaluation:

So l had to go and be checked by the ACCM psychiatrist. This was the first time I realized that in seeking ordination I was entering a danger zone. I was furious that it had happened. but I duly trotted down to London from Oxford one Saturday morning and arrived at a remarkably dingy practice in Battersea. It was the sort of place one might imagine a back street abortionist to operate in, a tiny surgery with peeling wallpaper lit by one fly-blown naked lightbulb. This apparently was the Church of England’s psychiatric HQ. But the truly remarkable thing was the ACCM psychiatrist, whom at first I took to be a patient, since he was dressed in a leather jacket with studs and chains, leather boots, tight jeans, very long dark hair, and a cerise chiffon scarf. When he introduced himself as the ACM psychiatrist, I began to wonder if this was some sort of entrapment procedure – perhaps I was supposed to respond to the uniform and try to get off with him, whereupon an ACCM official would leap out from behind a curtain and say ‘Aha. Got you red-handed’

That did not happen. We had a cup of tea instead, and a cosy chat about family and feelings. Nothing at all about sexuality, nor the entry on my medical record, which was the reason I was there. After tea he said, since he realized I was more than a little angry about what had happened, that he would write his report on me right away so that l could see it myself and post it to ACCM on my way home. So he did. He wrote, ‘Dear ACCM Secretary, I have examined Mr John and conclude that he is a good deal saner than those who sent him to me. Yours sincerely,…’. I posted it in the box outside. Read the rest of this entry »

Cardinal Schönborn: Two months. No Repudiation, A Portuguese Ally

On April 28th this year, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna dropped some remarks in a news conference that hit made headlines around the world. He called for deep reform of the curia, he criticized a colleague (Cardinal Sodano), and suggested that  it might be time for the Church to moderate its thinking on same sex relationships and on divorce. Most attention fell on the remarks about reform, and the criticism of Sodano, but in the implications for Church teaching, the observations on same sex relationships and divorce were potentially groundbreaking. As my regular readers know, I have been keeping a watching brief on news about Cardinal Schönborn in the expectation of a clear refutation or repudiation by the Vatican or by colleagues, but this still has not happened – at least, not on the sexuality remarks.

On Monday this week, two months to the day after the original news conference, it looked as though things might have changed. The Cardinal had been summonsed to Rome. where he had a lengthy conference with Pope Benedict  and Cardinal Bertone, hardly the most gay-friendly of his colleagues. He emerged with a clear papal reprimand – for his criticism of Sodano.

Then there was today’s meeting between between the pope and his erstwhile protege, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, who has among other things denounced Angelo Sodano, head of the College of Cardinals, called for a reform of the Curia, and suggested that the church take another look at clerical celibacy, divorce, and committed same-sex relationships. Sodano trooped into the meeting at the end with Bertone–on hand to mediate?–and a wacky press release ensued that claimed that 1) Schönborn might have  in unspecified ways spoken out of turn; 2) Sodano didn’t really mean it when he denounced press chattering about priestly sexual abuse on Easter Sunday; and 3) only the pope gets to criticize a cardinal.

((From BeliefNet)

About “homosexual” relationships, not a word. (I have not seen anything on this in any of the reports of the meeting, mainstream or fringe).

Are we to assume then, that respect for homosexual relationships of good “quality” has become acceptable doctrine?

In the meantime, while I have been apprehensively looking out for repudiation from Schönborn’s colleagues, I have instead found  independent support, from a bishop in Portugal.

The Catholic religious right are aflame with indignation at the reported comments of Portuguese Bishop Januario Torgal Ferreira, who heads the ordinariate for the armed forces, over some sane remarks on homosexuality and on “family planning”. The only English language reports I have found are the heavily edited and filtered reports on sites like Catholic Culture and Lifesite News, so I attempted to find the full, original report in Portuguese,  and to read it via Google Translate. The result in a (clumsy) English  translation is  here.

I can’t say the exercise has left me with any of the subtleties of his thinking, but I’m pleased I did so – the full report includes much that was omitted from the edited English reports, and has left me with some idea of the person behind the remarks – a person that strikes me as a breath of fresh air in the Church. Taking all the reports together, I have a sense that this is a man who is simply asking for more flexibility and realism in the church. On gay marriage, he is personally opposed, but also acknowledges that gay relationships are a reality the church should deal with. He asks his colleagues, he says, if they have ever spoken to homosexuals? The Church would surely show a great deal more sensitivity on these matters if only they did so. Although he opposed the legislation which introduced same sex marriage, he thinks the President was right not to veto – because that was the realistic thing to do, avoiding unpleasant public displays of anger and protest, with an inevitable legislative override of any veto.

He also argues for more decentralization in Church governance, and is commendably frank in pointing out that bishops are human, like everyone else – and nobody needs to be scandalized by the thought of him, or any other bishop, going to a beach in swimming trunks, and possible lying next to a woman sunbathing topless.

Overall, the man is clearly that rare creature in the echelons of the Catholic oligarchy – a bishop who is capable of blending into his theology a healthy dose of reality, and I commend him for that.

Combating Bigotry, A Cause for Sainthood: Brooklyn Diocese

At a special church service on Thursday night, Bishop Nicholas A. Di Marzio of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn opened what is known as a “canonical inquiry” into the cause of sainthood for a Brooklyn priest, Msgr. Bernard J. Quinn.

New York Times

The basis of the cause is Msgr Quinn’s proud record of fighting against bigotry,  inside the church as well as outside.

Monsignor Quinn, who died in 1940 at age 52, championed racial equality at a time when discrimination against blacks was ubiquitous in America, even inside the Catholic Church. In the Depression-era heyday of the anti-Semitic, pro-Fascist radio broadcasts of the Rev. Charles E. Coughlin, Monsignor Quinn encountered sharp resistance from some fellow priests when he proposed ministering to Brooklyn’s growing population of blacks, many of them fleeing the Jim Crow South or migrating from the poor Caribbean countries.

When Msgr. John L. Belford, an outspokenly antiblack priest in New York, wrote in 1929 in his church newsletter that “negroes should be excluded from this Roman Catholic church if they become numerous,” Monsignor Quinn took pains during the public controversy that followed to state his strong disagreement.

The bigotry that Msgr Quinn fought against was racial, not sexual – but the principle is the same. Racial discrimination was once commonplace, and was widely “justified” by spurious references from Scripture. Today, overt displays of racial prejudice are taboo, and many Churches like to cast themselves as models of racial justice.   Why can the church not see that the injustice of discrimination in Church is every bit as distasteful when applied to sexual minorities, as to racial groups?

This will change, is already changing. In years to come, we could easily see a repeat of something very like the above announcement, requiring changes to only the name and a very few words:

At a special church service on Thursday night, Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn opened what is known as a “canonical inquiry” into the cause of sainthood for a … priest/sister, Fr John McNeill / Jeannine Gramick/………….(insert your nominee).

Fr John McNeill / Jeannine Gramick/………….(insert your nominee)n championed sexual equality at a time when discrimination against sexual minorities was ubiquitous in America, even inside the Catholic Church. In the  heyday of the heteronormative, homophobic campaigns against marriage equality waged by so many bishops and prominent lay Catholics, Fr John McNeill / Jeannine Gramick/………….(insert your nominee) encountered sharp resistance from some fellow priests when he proposed ministering to the growing population of openly gay and lesbian Catholics, many of them fleeing homophobic violence  or migrating from countries same sex relationships could meet prosecution, or even the death penalty.

Will it happen? not necessarily in those exact words, but in principle, I am sure it will. When will it happen? only time will tell.