Catholic Clergy, Gay Sex – and Church History.

Last week, there were reports from Italy that undercover reporters had shadowed three priests, and had followed them to gay sex clubs. Video footage, allegedly of these priests in the clubs, in a private flat where one of them had sex with a man, and of one saying Mass, has been posted on line. The Catholic Church says it is “embarrassed” .

It needn’t be – there’s a long history of Catholic clergy having sex with men, from the earliest church to modern times. Read the rest of this entry »

Ss Boris & George

Many gay men and lesbians are familiar with the names Sergius & Bacchus, the Roman soldiers and martyrs who are the best known of the queer saints. Somewhat fewer are familiar with SS Polyeuct and Nearchos, who were also Roman soldiers and martyrs, in a very similar story. But hardly anyone, I find, is familiar with Boris and George.

This is sad, as it comes from a period and a region where there are not too many others, but reminds us that the queer saints were not only a feature of the earliest church, as it sometimes appears.

Read the rest of this entry »

St Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles.

There is much that is paradoxical in the figure of Paul. In his dual persona as Saul / Paul, he is renowned as both a one-time feared persecutor of Christians, and as the greatest of all the early missionaries, who spread the word far beyond it s original geographic compounds, and author of by far the most influential Christian texts outside the Gospels themselves. In the same way, as the author of the most infamous New Testament clobber texts, he is widely regarded as strongly condemning homoerotic relationships – and yet  Paul Halsall lists him in his Calendar of LGBT Saints:

There is considerable debate over those anti-gay “proof -texts”, but whatever the conclusions, there is much, as Anglican Bishop of Newark John Spong has pointed out, which leads one to suspect Paul might have been “queer” in some way. The fact he was never married, unusual for a Jew of his time, his companionship with a series of younger men, especially St. Timothy, his mention of an unnamed “thorn in the flesh”. and, possibly, his disdain for some types of exploitative homosexual relationship in his period, all raise questions, questions which cannot be answered it must be admitted, about his sexuality.

What are we to make of this?

Conversion of St Paul (Andrea Meldolla, more often known in English as Andrea Schiavone or Lo Schiavone c. 1510/1515)

First, let us dismiss the idea that Paul’s writing is anti-gay: it isn’t, and further, much of his message is precisely the opposite, arguing for full inclusion of all. For a counter to the standard view of Paul as anti-gay, anti-sex, see Reidulf Molvaer, Sex & St. Paul the Realist

St. Paul was, in many ways, an ascetic and happy to be so, but he refused to make asceticism a general model or ideal for Christians – most people cannot live by such principles, especially in the area of sex. In the seventh chapter of his first letter to Corinth, he rejects any appeal for his support of sexual abstinence as ethically superior to active sexual relations. He sets limits, but does not limit legitimate sexual relations to marriage. In his day, it was commonly believed that homosexual practice, more easily than heterosexual relations, could bring people into harmony with the unchangeable nature of God. This Paul strongly rejects in the first chapter of his letter to Rome. Otherwise he does not write about “natural” homosexuality. In fact, it is a logical inference from the principles he sets forth in his letter to Corinth that loving, lasting homosexual relations are ethically as valid as heterosexual relations. Dr. Molvaer maintains that insight into contemporary ideologies can be a help to understanding what the New Testament says about these matters. Today, as in the early Church, extraneous influences in these areas can easily distort genuine Christian moral concerns as they are stated by Christ and St. Paul.

Then, consider his person. Astonishingly little is known for certain of Paul the man, but Bishop Spong is not the only one to have suggested that Paul may have had same close same -sex relationships  of his own. Gay Catholic blogger Jeremiah Bartram, who recently spent time on a pilgrimage “in the footsteps of St Paul” has reflected deeply on the life and writign of Paul, and concluded that on balance, the suggestion is sound.

In the absence of hard evidence, personally I am happy to leave this discussion to others with greater scholarship and expertise behind them. My interest in the queer saints is in the lessons they hold for us today, and here I think there is one clear message, which lies in the best known story of al about Paul, his conversion on the road to Damascus. This has entered language as a “Damascene Conversion”, and therein lies hope. For if Saul, the renowned persecutor of Christians, could undergo such a complete change of heart and become instead active as the most famous proselytizer,  so too is there hope for the religion -based persecutors of sexual minorities today. Not only is there hope, but there is already abundant evidence from the very many Christians in the modern world who have experienced just such Damascene conversions, going from direct, outright condemnation of same sex relationships, to actively advocating full inclusion in church.   These changes of heart, usually coming after intensive study of Scripture and extensive discussions with gay and lesbian church members, have already been responsible for changes of policy in several denominations, and a more welcoming atmosphere in many local congregations. This process will continue.

For those Catholics who like to pray to the saints, you can freely include St Paul in you prayers. This is not because he was queer (although he may have been), but because his own conversion experience provides a useful model for all those modern day conversions that we need among the bigots who use religion as a cloak for prejudice and discrimination.

 

The Saints & Martyrs of Stonewall

Devotion to the saints is one of the most characteristic features of Catholic culture – but just who are the “saints”? The best known are those officially recognised by the church, those who have been formally canonized and listed in official guides by the Church. But it was not always so – in the early church, before it became an institutional industry (sometimes even a commercial enterprise) things were different: saints were recognized by popular acclamation.
In this month of LGBT Pride, worldwide, there has been a lot written about the events of the Stonewall rebellion in June 1969, events that led to the first gay liberation marches the following year, and to countless more Pride Parades, in an expanding list of locations, ever since. Can we think of those Stonewall heroes as “saints”? Kittredge Cherry thinks we can, and has written about them for her LGBT Saints and Martyrs series at “Jesus in Love” Blog.

There are many forms of sainthood, and Kitt is right to include as saints more than just those formally recognised by the institutional church. Often linked to “saints” is the word “martyrs”, from the Greek “to bear witness”. It is in this sense, that we can think of the Stonewall heroes not only as saints, but also as “martyrs”, those who bore witness to the truth. So it is too, that we are all called to “martyrdom” at Pride, to bear witness to out own truth. “Speak the Truth in Love” is the instruction from Scripture, and even from the Vatican in its infamous Hallowe’en letter. “Speaking the Truth” can also mean, quite simply, joining a Pride Parade as a religious act.

I like to think of saints in terms of the lessons they can offer us in our lives today, and in this there is another lesson we can take from the Stonewall martyrs: the importance of standing up against injustice. For them, it was the harassment of the police they were standing up to and resisting, against all expectations. For us, it is the harassment and unequal treatment meted out by the institutional church.

This is how Kitt introduces her post:

LGBT people fought back against police harassment 41 years ago today (June 28) at New York City’s Stonewall Inn, launching the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender liberation movement.

The Stonewall Rebellion (aka Stonewall Riots) became known as the first time that LGBT people rebelled against government persecution of homosexuality. It is commemorated around the world during June as LGBT Pride Month.

The queer people who fought back at Stonewall are not saints in the usual sense. But they are honored here as “saints of Stonewall” because they had the guts to battle an unjust system. They do not represent religious faith — they stand for faith in ourselves as LGBT people. They performed the miracle of transforming self-hatred into pride. These “saints” began a process in which self-hating individuals were galvanized into a cohesive community. Their saintly courage inspired a justice movement that is still growing stronger after four decades.

Before Stonewall, police regularly raided gay bars, where customers submitted willingly to arrest. The Stonewall Inn catered to the poorest and most marginalized queer people: drag queens, transgenders, hustlers and homeless youth.

She concludes with a prayer for all saints:

I think of the saints of Stonewall as I pray this standard prayer for all saints:

God, May we who aspire to have part in their joy

be filled with the Spirit that blessed their lives. Amen.

(Read the full post at  “GLBT saints: The Saints of Stonewall“)

 

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.

St Paulinus of Nola: Bishop, Poet, Saint – and Gay.

Although some would dispute the description of Paulinus as ‘gay’, the description seems to me entirely appropriate to his sensibility. Although history records no evidence of physical expression of his same sex attraction, nor is there any evidence against it.  Given the historical context he was living in (4th/5th century Roman empire), when sex with either gender was commonplace for men at at all levels of society, inside and outside the Christian church, the absence of written records of private activities after 15 centuries is completely unremarkable.  Nor is the fact that he was married particularly significant – for Romans, marriage and sex with men were entirely compatible.

Read the rest of this entry »

St Patrick, Gay Role Model.

So why should we see St Paddy as a gay icon?

saint-patrickIn a notable book on Irish gay history (“Terrible Queer Creatures”) Brian Lacey presents some evidence that Patrick may have had a long term intimate relationship with a man:

“St. Patrick himself may have had a relationship tinged with homoeroticism. Tirechan, a late seventh century cleric who wrote about St. Patrick, tells the story of a man Patrick visited and converted to Christianity, who had a son to whom Patrick took a strong liking. Tirechan wrote that “he gave him the name Benignus, because he took Patrick’s feet between his hands and would not sleep with his father and mother, but wept unless he would be allowed to sleep with Patrick.” Patrick baptized the boy and made him his close lifelong companion, so much so that Benignus succeeded Patrick as bishop of Armagh.”

Going backwards in his life, I have seen elsewhere a report* that after his escape from slavery and return to Britain, he supported himself by working for a time as a prostitute  – yes, good old Patrick sold sexual favours.

Does this sound far fetched? Not if you consider the historical realities of the time.  Patrick’s home was in Roman Britain. throughout the Empire, prostitution was an entirely acceptable way for men or women in desperate circumstances to make a living. Consider also his likely experience as a slave.  In both Roman and Greek society, as well as elsewhere, it was assumed that one of the duties of a slave, particularly if young or attractive, was to provide sexual services on demand.  Ireland was not under Roman rule, but there is no reason to suppose that the conditions of slavery were notably different.  (Lacy shows in his book that in pre-christian Ireland same sex relationships were accepted and respected.)

There is another reason, though why we as queer Catholics should look to Patrick as a role model, regardless of his own sexual history, a reason which goes to the heart of his mission.

In “Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay“,  theologian James Alison observes that in the Gospel story of the healing of the man possessed by demons, Jesus instruction to the man after healing was to “Go home,” that is, back to the community which had tormented and rejected him, back to his persecutors.

This is what Patrick did.  Having escaped from slavery and returned to his original home, he responded to what he saw as a call to return to the country of his captivity, to go back to the land of his tormentors – and convert them.

So he did, and so, I think, must we.  Tormented and persecuted we have sometimes (but not always) been by the Catholic Church. Somehow, though, we must find a way to move beyond the anger that provokes, to set aside the resentment, and to “go home to” the church. Thereby we will contribute to its own conversion.

*  In a comment to an earlier posting of this piece, theologian John McNeill has said that he thinks the book with this story was “How The Irish Saved Civilization“, by Thomas Cahill. “He claims that Patrick paid for his passage back to Ireland by servicing the sailors on the boat.”