12th January: St Aelred of Rievaulx, Patron of Same Sex Intimacy

St Aelred,  whose feast we celebrate today, is recognised in all sources as an important English saint, who lived in the north of England in the 12 C. As a young man, he joined the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx, later returning there as Abbott.  He is remembered especially for his writings on friendship, some of which have led gay writers such as John Boswell to claim him as ‘homosexual’. For instances, Integrity USA, an Anglican LGBT organisation, have designated him as their patron. From the website of Integrity, this Collect for the feast of Aelred:

Collect

Pour into our hearts, 0 God, the Holy Spirit’s gift of love, that we, clasping each the other’s hand, may share the joy of friendship, human and divine, and with your servant Aelred draw many into your community of love; through Jesus Christ the Righteous, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


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Saints Polyeuct and Nearchos, 3rd Century Lovers and Martyrs.

The Roman soldiers, lovers and martyrs Sergius and Bacchus are well known examples of early queer saints. Polyeuct and Nearchos are not as familiar – but should be.  John Boswell (“Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe“) names the two as one of the three primary pairs of same-sex lovers in the early church, their martyrdom coming about half a century after Felicity and Perpetua, and about another half century before  Sergius & Bacchus .
Like the later pair, Polyeuct and Nearchos were friends in the Roman army in Armenia. Nearchos was a Christian, Polyeuct was not. Polyeuct was married, to a woman whose father was a Roman official. When the father-in-law undertook as part of his duties to enforce a general persecution of the local Christians, he realized that this would endanger Polyeuct, whose close friendship with Nearchos could tempt him to side with the Christians.  The concern was fully justified: although Polyeuct was not himself a Christian, he refused to prove his loyalty to Rome by sacrificing to pagan gods. In terms of the regulations being enforced, this meant that he would sacrifice his chances of promotion, but (as a non-Christian) not his life. Christians who refused to sacrifice faced beheading. When Nearchos learned of this, he was distraught, not at the prospect of death in itself, but because in dying, he would enter Paradise without the company of his beloved Polyeuct. When Polyeuct learned the reasons for his friends anguish, he decided to become a Christian himself, so that he too could be killed, and enter eternity together with Nearchos.

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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Blessed John Henry and Ambrose: Newman’s Last Sermon

The media caravanserai has moved on, but Cardinal John Henry Newman is now and will remain known as Blessed John Henry. He remains also a significant, if complex, figure for gay and lesbian Catholics in his relationship with his beloved Ambrose St John, and in his theology for progressive Catholics more generally. The theology is subtle, and has been too easily misappropriated by people on both sides of the Church ideological divide. I do not (yet) want to enter that territory. About the relationship with Ambrose, I feel more secure.

 

Inscription for a grave in which both John Henry and Ambrose were buried.

Alan Bray (“The Friend “) has written extensively about this relationship, showing how it fits into an ancient tradition of close, even passionate friendship between male couples in the Church: Read the rest of this entry »

A Catholic Case For Blessing Civil Unions

With gay marriage back in the news, one may well ask (and I have been asked) is there a case for the Catholic Church to provide some form of church recognition for civil unions?

I have several objections, which I have frequently stated,  to the entire foundations of the Vatican doctrines on sexuality – but the question I want to deal with was very specific and moderate, from a person whose undoubted sincerity and respect for tradition I freely accept, and so, for the sake of argument, I want to address David’s question on its own terms – from strictly within orthodox Catholic tradition and teaching. My short answer is yes, undoubtedly; my slightly longer answer is that there should not need to be a case, as liturgical blessing of same sex unions already has an established place in Church history, complete with fixed liturgical rites and ceremonies. However, this traditional practice is no longer familiar to us, and so I need to update it, together with some background information,  for the modern context.

I begin with what is foundational to all questions of marriage – the words of Scripture, in Genesis 2 (which is the earlier of the two creation stories, notwithstanding the familiar numbering):

“It is not good for the man to live alone. I will make a companion to help him.”

-(Gen 2:18)

Notice please: not a wife, to make babies, but a companion, to help him. So we have it on the very best authority, God’s authority, that humans need companions, not for sexual pleasure, nor primarily for procreation, but for help, companionship and support.

Why Not in Church, Too?

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The Story of Our Queer Saints & Martyrs (and others)

Ever since I started writing at Queering The Church, I have tried to share with you some information about our gay, lesbian and trans saints and martyrs, which I think is one of the great unknown stories of Church a and LGBT history. Ever since Stonewall, there has been a recognition that so much of the queer past has been hidden from history, with a great deal of work done to uncover this history and bring it into the light of day. In exactly the same way, and more dangerously, our history in the church has also been hidden. The pioneering work of scholars like John Boswell (and before him, Vern Bullough) has done a great deal to open this history up for exposure, but too often it remains buried in academic treatises which are valuable, but possibly inaccessible or intimidating to a general reader.

 

 

All Saints

 

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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 »