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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Cardinal Pell: All (including gays) Really Are Welcome

Cardinal Pell is not the first name that come to mind when one thinks of welcoming and supporting gay Catholics. However, this report from Australia shows some clear similarities with the clear expressions of support that we in the Soho Masses received last year from Archbishops Vincent Nichols and Bernard Longley.

The background is that the parish of St Joseph’s church in Newtown, Sydney has for some years hosted a monthly Friday Mass with a particular welcome for LGBT Catholics (not an explicitly or exclusively a “gay” Mass). Last year, a very vocal group of opponents made a lot of threatening noises, then seem to have quieted down. This year, responding to a charity appeal raising funds for accommodation for people living with HIV, they moved from threatening disruption to mounting a visible, noisy and intimidating presence outside the Church.

The renewed threat came on February 12 when Acceptance held a fundraiser for Stanford House – a short term accommodation service for people living with HIV – and was faced with people praying across the street.

One Acceptance member, who wished to remain anonymous, told SX “it was intimidating”.

“They were across the road in the shadows praying. I wouldn’t like to be the last person to leave the church,” he said.

– SX News

They no doubt see themselves as loyal defenders of the faith, and so expected support from the Cardinal in their attempts to have the “sacrilegious Masses” halted.

In the weeks preceding the threat, the fundamentalist group stalked Acceptance members taking photographs and video footage, threatening to show the Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell.

– SX News

But they had a surprise coming: instead of siding with the objectors, Cardinal Pell wrote a letter affirming support for the continuation of the Masses, which was posted at the back of the Church, for all to see.

Headed ‘Welcome to the Catholic Church’, the letter specifically addressed the regular Friday night mass at the church, which is attended by LGBT members of the Catholic group Acceptance Sydney.

– SX News

I have not been able to find the full text of this letter on – line, but the extracts which were published in the SX report are worth noting:

“The Catholic Church welcomes all to come and pray in the church, particularly during the Mass and other communal liturgies.

“On Fridays at St Joseph’s Parish Newtown, Mass is celebrated for the spiritual benefit of those present and to foster mutual support and encouragement for all.  These celebrations are not sponsored by any particular organisation, but are for all to share.”

It is understood the letter, which outlines rules around receiving communion, was sent to all Parishes.

“Priests recognise that individuals make their own decisions before God on the reception of the Sacraments.”

– SX News

This emphasis on individual conscience over receiving communion repeats the approach of the Dutch Bishop last year which ended the impasse over the refusal of communion to an openly gay Carnival King, and the approach outlined by Archbishop Nichols when he was questioned last year about the (LGBT) Soho Masses:

In a BBC radio interview with Mark Dowd on “The Pope’s British Divisions”, …. he repudiated any suggestion that by allowing these Masses to continue, he was permitting people to receive Communion in a state of mortal sin. The clergy, he said have no business judging the soul of anyone who presents for communion – and anyone who does attempt to judge another should just STFU:

“anybody from the outside who is trying to cast a judgement on the people who come forward for Communion [there], really ought to learn to hold their tongue.”

Queering the Church

It also is the same approach described by Cardinal Mahoney, in a recent LA Times interview on the occasion of his retirement. (Cardinal Mahoney was speaking about pro-choice politicians, not gay Masses – but the principle, refusing to use communion as a weapon to police individual conscience, is the same).

While some of Mahony’s brother bishops appear as if they won’t be happy until they get the chance to deny Communion to elected officials who deviate from church teachings, Mahony has resisted taking that step. Why? Canon law, he notes, puts the responsibility for worthy receipt of the sacrament on the person approaching the Communion rail rather than on the priest.

“It isn’t for us to guess at what’s on someone’s conscience,” he said. Moreover, the cardinal mused, Christ gave Communion to Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper, though the apostle had, that day, committed his betrayal.

“You know, throughout the Gospels, Jesus never appeals to punitive measures to change anyone’s life….

LA Times

I am delighted that Cardinal Mahoney has based his response not only on Catholic teaching on the primacy of conscience, but also on the Gospels themselves. It really is high time that so-called “Catholic” (and other “Christian”) zealots who attempt to impose their views by force on all others, should likewise ask themselves: “What would Jesus do ?

There is nothing remotely Catholic or Christian in trying to drive people away from the Mass, or any other form of worship.

My Related Posts:


Christ into Christianity: Essential Self-Giving

There are many aspects to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. However you view the Christian story though, one feature has got to be pre-eminent: the self-sacrifice on the cross and the associated resurrection. It follows then that this comprehensive self-giving is one essential characteristic of the followers of Christ, the Christians. The CDF states, entirely without substantiation, that as gay men and lesbians, we lack this “essential self-giving” that is a mark of Christianity.

When I came across this assertion in “Homosexualitatis Problema”, I was puzzled. Other than self-giving in sex for procreation, I could not see any sense of self-giving that necessarily excluded gay men and lesbians. Research and anecdotal evidence in fact, is the exact opposite gay men typically are far better represented in the altruistic service professions of nursing, teaching, social work, librarianship and the priesthood itself than straight men – and markedly under-represented in the self-centred, greed-based professions of finance and business. Puzzled by the CDF claim, I wrote to several priests and former priests with greater knowledge of the Gospels than I, to see if I have missed something in the Gospels that might justify the CDF statement. I have already reported James Alison’s response (which I repeat below). I also liked the response of the priest who calls himself “Bart” on these pages, for its citing of the Gospel texts that elaborate on the meaning of “self-giving”  – and its demonstration that these simply do not apply in the way that the CDF intends:

 

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Christ’s Queer Family

This week, the Catholic Church celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family – so often an occasion of trial for those Catholics who are not living in officially approved families of Mom, Pop, kids, pets and picket fence. Subjected year after year to the same -old, same-old shallow sermons on the joys of family life, single people, the divorced, childless couples and queer Catholics can easily find that this Sunday is a very pointed reminder of how easily and thoughtlessly we can be excluded from the Church community. Most of the standard preaching on the Holy Family though is entirely misguided – the true nature of the Holy Family is very far from a celebration of the modern, but inappropriately named,  “traditional family” .

Not a

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St John the Evangelist, the “Beloved Disciple”: December 27th

In the catalogue of “gay saints”, or pairs of supposedly “gay lovers” in Scripture, the coupling of John the Evangelist (the “beloved disciple”)  and Jesus himself is surely the most controversial. Many people, including some of my friends from the LGBT Soho Masses, find the whole idea that this may have been a “gay”, sexually active relationship, highly offensive. Others argue the opposite case.

In an explosive book, “the man jesus loved,  the reputable biblical scholar Theodore Jennings mounts an extended argument that Jesus himself was actually gay and that the beloved disciple of John’s Gospel was Jesus’ lover.  To support this provocative conclusion, Jennings examines not only the texts that relate to the beloved disciple but also the story of the centurion’s servant boy and the texts that show Jesus’ rather negative attitude toward the traditional family: not mother and brothers, but those who do the will of God, are family to Jesus.  Jennings suggests that Jesus relatives and disciples knew he was gay, and that, despite the efforts of the early Church to downplay this “dangerous memory” about Jesus, a lot of clues remains in the Gospels.  Piecing the clues together, Jennings suggests not only that Jesus was very open to homosexuality, but that he himself was probably in an intimate, and probably sexual, relationship with the beloved disciple.

Daniel Helminiak, Sex and the Sacred

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This Christmas, Let Us Put Christ Back Into Christianity

At this time of year, we are accustomed to numerous pleas to “Put Christ back into Christmas”. These are entirely appropriate. The commercial binge and festive eating and drinking have nothing to do with the religious celebration of the Nativity. To the extent that secular jollity has crowded out the story of Christ, we do indeed need to put Christ back into Christmas. (However, I do not deplore the secular celebrations alongside – in the  northern winter, they are a welcome antidote to the cold and dark, and were a part of the established seasonal calendar long before the religious festival commandeered some of their features).

There is also a more important aspect of putting Christ back into Christmas: reinstating the place of Christ the man, not just the infant Jesus. Celebrate the incarnation, not just the nativity. As we do so, let us recall the full implications of Christ’s humanity, and of his words and actions as we have them in the Gospels, not as they have been distorted, sanitized and abused by centuries of theological and popular overlay to support human agendas.

For this last week of Advent, I want to explore Christmas as a time to reflect on the Incarnation, and it’s implications.  I will be looking at the remarkable absence of Christ’s words or example in the CDF teaching on sexuality, and on homosexuality in particular. In contrast, I will consider Robert Goss’s emphasis on Christology as a turning point in the development of gay and lesbian theology towards queer theology, and the Christological models of sin and grace proposed by Patrick Chen. I will reflect on the unavoidable fact of Christ’s real, physical male body. Together with Rev Cindi Love, I will ask “Would Christ Discriminate”?

Finally, I will conclude with an appeal to bring Christ back into Christianity at the most basic, personal level – by developing a strong personal relationship, growing in spirituality, by “Taking a Chance on God.”

The first instalment, on the near exclusion of Christ from the CDF writing on human sexuality, I hope to publish later today. The rest, and possibly more, will follow at intervals during the week.

 

Fr Owen O’Sullivan on Gay Inclusion (Pt 6): Liberating our theology of sexual relationships from the Church

In some recent posts, I have responded to a reader who pointed to the sixth commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, by pointing out that so much of orthodox sexual teaching has nothing to do with adultery. This commandment has been extended to prohibit much that was never originally included. Fr O’Sullivan makes the same point, but adds to it the contrast with the fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”, which has been so frequently qualified to permit killing in certain circumstances.

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Penitential Walk, Repenting for Past Homophobia.

Slowly, the message is getting through. It is not homoeroticism that is sinful and contrary to the Gospels, but homophobia and prejudice. In some cases the movement is dramatic, manifested in dramatic decisions that impact on entire denominations – but sometimes, the movement is purely personal, directly affecting only one or two lives.

Symon Hill is one of those in the latter category, who once actively opposed LGBT inclusion in church. Over the years, he has modified his views, and is now appalled by his former actions. He is quite clear that it was the influence of misguided religious teaching that influenced his homophobia in the first place – he had no problem with homosexuality or bisexuality before he became a Christian, but thereafter modified his earlier open-mindedness to “fit in” more easily.

However, after grappling with the subject with prayer, and scripture study, he found what many others have done, who have approached the subject with an open mind, and sufficient effort in study – it is not homoeroticism that is sinful, but homophobia:

I had no problem with homosexuality or bisexuality before I became a Christian. But I chose to support a narrow homophobic position, partly out of a desire to fit in at the church I had joined. I stifled doubts about the flimsiness of the arguments used to back up hostility to same-sex relationships. Although that church played an important role in guiding me towards Christ, I am now convinced they were severely mistaken about sexuality.

I have struggled for years with issues of sexuality – through prayer, reflection, personal experience and of course through reading the Bible. And I have come to the conclusion that it is not homosexuality, but homophobia, that is sinful and contrary to the Gospel of Christ.

My homophobia caused direct harm to several people. My support for policies that excluded gay, lesbian and bisexual people from churches contributed to the harm caused to many others.

-from Ekklesia

 

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Building a Welcoming Church: Use Our Stories

After a few posts and some readers’ responses on the idea of a “welcoming church”, I thought it worth sharing a reflection on how to go beyond simply paying lip service to the idea, to creating truly welcoming parishes.

This is from the newsletter of Fortunate Families, a Catholic organisation for the families of lesbians and gay men. From my own experience in some parishes, I fully endorse Vicki’s observation that once you have discerned an “open or positive feel” for a specific person inside the congregation, it is perfectly feasible to share with them some details of your personal story. I have always found that the response has been explicitly welcoming, and has eased the way for further sharing later – either at a deeper level with the same person, or in a similar way with others. Judging the appropriate person time and context however, can be tricky. This is, in Vicki’s word, an act of real “discernment”, and not to be rushed. Some people will find it near impossible at any time, many people will find it impossible in specific parishes, but not in others. Still the general approach should be strongly encouraged – the more people there are doing so, the easier it will be for those who follow.

Using Our Stories to Build a More Welcoming Church

By Ron Ohmann

Rev. Vicki Wunsch, an ordained UCC minister – but still a “Catholic at heart” (her adopted daughter was refused baptism because of Vicki’s samesex partnership) – conducted an inspiring workshop on “Strategic Storytelling” at the Fortunate Families gathering Saturday, Oct. 23rd. Her basic premise was that with all the media politics regarding GLBT issues surrounding denominational churchgoers, the most effective way to change attitudes is the organic one of individuals with personal stories engaging others who may share those concerns or at least are willing to listen. Vicki suggested that once you have discerned an open or positive feel for a person, a deliberately planned, well-crafted, and gracefully-delivered story of you as a GLBT person or your loved one’s experience offers the best chance for sharing and integration. It’s about bypassing the cultural barriers of separation and opening hearts and minds in faith communities and society at large.   The story’s telling should be short (3-5 min), sincere, credible, and candid, with emphasis on the positive.  Touch on key specifics to give meaning with minimal detail.  Stay upbeat and avoid painting the portrait of a victim, either yourself or your loved one.  Likewise, avoid stark value judgments which may trigger a negative response.  Finally, let go of any ego tendency or ego demeanor.  As Jesus showed us in telling his stories (parables) in the Gospels, humility and the soft-sell usually work best.


What Part of the Gospels, Bishop Soto, is “Hard for Gays to Accept?”

An interview with Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto, published in the Sacramento News and Review, neatly illustrates the muddled thinking and selective morality we so often hear from bishops and other spokesmen for Catholic orthodoxy. In a wide-ranging interview,  Jeff von Kaenel engaged the bishop in discussion on a slew of questions that in his view, many loyal Catholics who are troubled by selected elements of Church doctrine or practice would like to put to him if they had a chance:  on the reasons so many people are simply turning away from participation in the sacramental life of the church,  on the strict prohibition on women’s ordination, on abortion and contraception, on homosexuality, on clerical abuse.

The response on homosexuality is revealing:

von Kaenel: Is there a welcome mat out to our gay readers who grew up Catholic?

Soto: The welcome mat is definitely out, because the good news of the Gospel is for everyone. And I think it is good news, and I think it is a message of hope for everyone. I recognize that for many gay people, as well as others, that there are certain parts of the Gospel that are hard to accept. I still encourage people to come hear us, to come be part of the community life, be part of a parish, because I do believe that the Gospel is persuasive, and I do believe that we have a message that gives hope and a message that saves. It’s important for us, as it was important for Jesus, to leave the door open so that people can hear us and know us and make their decision as to whether they can walk with us.

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