Pope Benedict’s Strong Argument for Gay Marriage, Queer Families.

Last Sunday, I picked up a little book at the Soho Masses bookstall called “Christians and Sexuality in the Time of AIDS“, a useful little book, which I bought at a ridiculously low bargain price. Some of the insights have little to do directly with the main theme, and it is one of these that is relevant here, an observation made by James Alison in his introduction, writing about Pope Benedict XVI and the nature of his theology.  James has frequently observed that when we respond too quickly or too superficially to the pope’s reported remarks, we often underestimate his thinking, which is substantially more nuanced than we usually recognize. In his position, he argues, Benedict cannot do other than repeat the well-worn, established magisterial positions on topical issues.

The really interesting questions surrounding what a pope is doing are never the politically immediate headline grabbers, but always the small, apparently insignificant tinkerings around the edges which are either going to make change possible over time, or try to block it.

When I read these words, they brought into focus for me the speech that Benedict  gave to a group of Italian politicians and public officials last Friday, which has been widely interpreted as an attack on gay marriage. This is not the way I interpreted the speech: instead, I wrote (in the post below) that the reference to “marriage between a man and a woman”, and to the forces undermining it, were curiously minor. The main thrust of the speech was more usefully seen as in praise of strong families – which could equally well apply to the families of same sex parents as to any other.   After reading James Alison, I thought how perfectly his warning applies to the present case: well, of course he made the obligatory noises about marriage between a man and a woman (how could he not?) – but the headline writers have missed the main points. With just a little “apparently insignificant tinkerings around the edges”, this attack on gay marriage can instead be read as a statement in praise of all families – including those which are queer.

I submit my original post below, just as I wrote it Sunday — with profound apologies to my colleague Bart, who very generously responded to my request for preliminary comment with some very useful and helpful suggestions, which I have duly ignored. This is not in any way a reflection on his contribution – but just on my acute lack of time this week.  (I am writing this close to midnight, as it is). I will revise and refine this text later, to incorporate the additional links, Bart’s contribution – and possibly later thought as well (both my own and that of readers’ comments).

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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 »

True Catholic Belief

Who is a “true” Catholic? What constitutes authentic Catholic belief? I have often met claims in the comments threads on a range of Catholic sites that one cannot claim to be part of the Catholic faithful unless that includes faithfulness to Catechism, that loyalty to the Church necessarily implies, indeed requires, loyalty and automatic obedience to the pope and to Vatican doctrine. How sound is the claim? I know, of course, what the Catechism says, but this is circular reasoning: we must believe the Catechism, because it says so. (This reminds me of Scott Pomfret’s delightful observation: “How do we know the Pope is infallible? Because he said so. In 1879“). I could equally well argue that you must believe me, “because I say so.” It is true  that the argument summarised above is far more complex, with the doctrine developing over many centuries, but at its essence, the argument remains: believe the bishops, because (over many centuries) they have, collectively, said so.

James Alison likes to respond to Vatican teaching by saying “Yes, but is it true?“. I like to respond by checking claims not against theory, but against empirical evidence. So I repeat my questions, and ask ou to pay attention to the precise words: not what should Catholics be or believe, but who are the, what do they really believe?

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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.”

Fig Leaves, Gerasene Swine, and Carpets: Bishops and Clerical Sexual Abuse.

Since my somewhat rushed report at midnight last night, with one 3 am update. I have had some time to look for more information.  Guess what?  I have found none. Is this a symptom of  what will happen to the full report later?

Let me recap.

A news story from Associated Press yesterday stated that an interim report had been presented to the USCCB meeting on research undertaken for the bishops by researchers from the John Jay College. of Criminal Justice.  The AP story on this report, carried by the Minneapolis Star Tribune and by Azstar yesterday, focused on a finding that there was no evidence that the problem was caused by “homosexual” clergy. On the contrary, gay and straight priests appeared to be equally culpable. The Catholic News Agency also carried a story on the report, but picking up on a different aspect. Another key finding of the report was that there had been “no change” in the pattern of abuse since the first report. I have made extensive attempts to track down additional reports on this story, and have found none. I have seen exactly the three discussed above – two carrying essentially the same syndicated AP take, and one from Catholic News.

Worst Logo Ever? LA Diocesan Youth Commission

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James Alison: Discovery of “Gay” = Good News For the Church *

This post has moved to my new domain at http://queering-the-church.com/blog