Exceptionalism: failing to learn from history

(Gay priest Bart writes on the impact of the culture of clericalism on the Church):

Exceptionalism (Wikipedia; Collins English Dictionary) is the perception that a country, society, institution, movement, or time period is “exceptional” (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way and thus does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles. In recent decades, we heard more often of the term “American exceptionalism”, but really this word has a long pedigree, with British and Soviet exceptionalism being other recent examples. The perception behind exceptionalism is not dissimilar to that belief which holds that certain companies or institutions are too big to fail. The last decade disproved  this perception in a horrific way, first with the Enron collapse, and then more recently with the collapse of Lehman Brothers (and with it the whole banking sector), followed by the bailing-out of a corporation that used to boast a product output that was larger than the GDP of most countries: General Motors. As I sat reading Terry’s Thoughts on Popular Revolutions: in Egypt, in South Africa – in the Church, I couldn’t but help remembering that the Catholic Church promotes its own brand of exceptionalism. I would like to share a couple of thoughts on this point with my readers.

Catholicism locks onto a cluster of foundational principles, the most important being the following:

1.      The belief that the Church is established by Jesus Christ, who also promised that he would be with it till the end of time (Matthew 16:18-19; 28:20);

2.      The belief in the unifying, leadership role of Peter the Apostle and his successor, the Pope, the bishop of Rome (Matthew 16:18-19); and

3.      The belief that the one Church of Jesus Christ – “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” (Nicene Creed) – subsists in the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council, in n. 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, stated that “this Church, constituted and organized as a society in this present, world, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and truth can be found outside her structure; such elements, as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic unity.”

 

pope-benedict-saturno-hat

Image by Waka Jawaka via Flickr

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My Vatican Dossier, and Papal Backing for the Soho Masses

It’s official. I now have confirmation that somewhere in the depths of the Vatican, someone (indeed, more than one) has a dossier on me. More accurately, the dossier is on the nefarious doings of the Soho Masses, in which I am infamously involved, and the “homosexualist bloggers” (c’est moi!) that it includes and shelters. These dossiers (there seem to be multiple copies of one original) were not put together by a curial official, but by the interfering busybodies who ludicrously believe that in their determination to prevent a few hundred Catholic men and women from attending a Mass of their choosing, a Mass which has the formal approval of the Westminster diocese, and was initiated by the diocese with the full knowledge and co-operation of the Vatican at the highest levels, they are somehow acting “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (PEEP!)

It would be funny, if it were not in fact so sad.

…….two of us decided to go to Rome in October to discuss just these two points and the future appointment of sound bishops in this country. As usual we took dossiers with us illustrating the present position on the SOHO Masses and the officially approved religious instruction in most schools and parishes. We were kindly received in every Curia Office we visited and we went through our dossiers with the officials we met, leaving a set behind for their further study.

SOHO Masses. This dossier contained News Letters from the Church of Our Lady and St Gregory, Warwick Street, which showed encouragement to walk in the GAY PRIDE MARCH carrying banners proclaiming “Proud to be Catholic, Proud to be Gay”; promotion of books, talks and films by advocates of the homosexual lifestyle; the spread of these Masses as they are not being stopped; the recruitment of young Catholics to join them etc. We also included addresses of web-sites run by regular members of this congregation stating their hostility to Church teaching and their programme to spread this practice quite explicitly, with names of priests and bishops who facilitate all this. ……

(from the PEEP Newsletter, February 2011)

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Pope Benedict, on the Queer Lessons in the Church’s Martyrdom of St Joan.

At Enhanced Masculinity, I came across a post which reported on an address by Pope Benedict about the martyrdom and later canonization of St Joan of Arc. I was pleased to see this, as I have written before of the importance of Joan as a queer saint who was first martyred by the church, and later rehabilitated and honoured. Much the same will surely occur in time to those modern queer heroes who have been professionally martyred, by the Church which has deliberately destroyed their careers, for the great sin of attempting to speak the truth on sexual ethics or LGBT inclusion.

Benedict’s frank admission of the patent error of the church theologians who presided over Joan’s trial and passed sentence on her, together with his quotation from Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium on the constant need for purification, made a welcome contrast with the usual glossing over of past mistakes and the insistence on a constant and unchanging tradition. His words also immediately reminded me of the words of a much younger man, when he as Fr Joseph Ratzinger he wrote a commentary on the Second Vatican Council:

“Not everything that exists in the Church must for that reason be also a legitimate tradition…. There is a distorting tradition as well as a legitimate tradition, ….[and] …consequently tradition must not be considered only affirmatively but also critically.”

So, in addition to the significance of this address to my own arguments about the relevance of the queer saints and martyrs, it also relates to the current theological ferment on sexual ethics and widespread criticism of the institutional church. When I then crossed to the Vatican website and read the address in full, I found even more in Pope Benedict’s words that can guide and inspire gay in lesbian Catholics in our struggles to withstand the hostility of the traditional, disordered teaching on homoerotic relationships. Read the rest of this entry »

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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Pope Benedict’s Gay Circus at the Vatican

The net was briefly ablaze last month with reports and youtube clips of these circus acrobats’ performance for Pope Benedict. Commentary was divided: queer and queer friendly sites simply asked us to enjoy the show – or noted wryly that the pope appeared to be doing so himself. Other less friendly sites expressed shock at the scandal of this homoerotic display in the hallowed halls of the Vatican. At the time, I read a couple of reports, watched the video – and moved on, without comment.

A more recent report by Randy Engel in Spero News caught my attention this week, for suggesting that there may well be something of more interest to it for LGBT readers, claiming that the performers are definitely gay aligned, if not specifically gay men themselves. It seems that they formed part of the gay circus, which performed as part of the Euro gay games in Barcelona, 2008.

On July 25-27, 2008, the Pellegrini Brothers appeared in the Gay Circus, a specially-staged 3-day event set within the framework of the XII EuroGames (“Gay Olympics”) in Barcelona, Spain. Up until this point, the Pellegrini name had been associated with well-known international circuses including the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus (USA), the Circus Knie (Switzerland), and the International Circus Festival (Monte Carlo).

Billed as “a show for people without prejudices,” that is “a gay and lesbian friendly audience,” by publicist Irene Peralta, the “Gay Circus” was created as an artistic tribute to gay culture and as a “contribution to the normalization of homosexuality.” It featured male/male performers in a homoerotic setting. Peralta told reporters that “Gay Circus will transform the traditional understanding of the circus.”

As always with Randy Engel, the piece needs to be read with a health warning. She is described as “one of the nation’s top investigative reporters”, but by whom? Well, her own website. She is indeed prolific, and has a track record of writing extensively about a supposed “gay mafia” in the Vatican, and has made extensive claims of homosexuality against numerous bishops and cardinals worldwide – and against some recent popes, most notably John Paul I and Paul VI. Many of her claims are at least credible, but not all are generally accepted as proven by more established journalists. In this piece, her claims about the Pellegrini brothers can presumably be quite easily verified, but I confess I have not had the energy to do so myself.

If you like, do the fact checking yourself – or simply take her piece at face value,  and enjoy its implications.

The Circus at the Vatican: Reflections on how it came to be

Saturday, January 08, 2011 By Randy Engel

“Topless Acrobats Perform for Pope”, “Bare-chested Acrobats Perform for Pope”, “Pope Captivated by Shirtless Male Acrobats”, “Surprise Strippers in Vatican!”

These headlines which flooded the Internet and international media following the Papal General Audience of December 15, 2010, held at Paul VI Hall in Vatican City were enough to unsettle even the most intrepid post-Conciliar Catholic.

The scandal in question involved the Pellegrini Brothers, heirs to the well-known Italian circus dynasty, who were invited to entertain the pope and his entourage and the more than 6,000 visitors assembled for the weekly audience during the Advent season in Rome. It was, however, not their short hand-balancing act, but rather their grand entrance and provocative salutation to the Holy Father that sparked controversy.

On cue, the four young men mounted the platform area, faced the pope seated across from his secretary and cardinals on stage, and then in a manner reminiscent of the Vegas Chippendale male strippers, peeled off their jackets revealing their bare muscular upper torso. The Fratelli Pellegrini were accompanied on stage by a statuesque, well-endowed brunette with stiletto boots who had been poured into a black skin-tight leather outfit and whose task it was to gather up the performers’ jackets, stroll across the stage and await the end of the exhibition. The only fashion accessory she lacked to complete the sadomasochist scenario was a whip.

The anti-climatic gymnast act completed, the Pellegrini Brothers followed by the madam in leather, left the stage to the sounds of clapping from an enthusiastic audience, including a smiling pope and host of cardinals.

Pellegrini Brothers Perform at “Gay Circus”

On July 25-27, 2008, the Pellegrini Brothers appeared in the Gay Circus, a specially-staged 3-day event set within the framework of the XII EuroGames (“Gay Olympics”) in Barcelona, Spain. Up until this point, the Pellegrini name had been associated with well-known international circuses including the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus (USA), the Circus Knie (Switzerland), and the International Circus Festival (Monte Carlo).

Billed as “a show for people without prejudices,” that is “a gay and lesbian friendly audience,” by publicist Irene Peralta, the “Gay Circus” was created as an artistic tribute to gay culture and as a “contribution to the normalization of homosexuality.” It featured male/male performers in a homoerotic setting. Peralta told reporters that “Gay Circus will transform the traditional understanding of the circus.”

The homosexual media touted the event as an opportunity for parents to introduce their sons to other forms of sexual love outside the traditional male/female model, and to give greater exposure to homosexuality as a legitimate sexual preference. Video selections of the Gay Circus show many children in the audience. Ticket sales were estimated to be over 12,000.

The theme of the Gay Circus centered upon the eternal struggle between Good and Evil. Sadomasochist elements which dominate gay culture were visible both in the costuming and demeanor of the performers. One aerial act featured two male “angels” in a tight embrace naked except for a g-string. Another, with two “devils” in black leather jockstraps and harnesses. A short video of the Pellegrini Brothers performance at the Gay Circus, which was very similar to the portion of their act performed at the papal audience complete with an opening strip scenario, showed two burly shirtless men acting as jacket attendants.

According to Gay Circus producer Genis Matabosch, artistic performance and quality were the primary criteria for casting, not sexual orientation. Matabosch admitted he did not know who among the cast was homosexual and who was not.

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Pope Benedict, on the Priesthood

Before I elaborate on Pope Benedict’s views on gay men and the priesthood as expressed in “Light of the World”, I want to put this into the broader context of his views on the priesthood generally, and some other observations on sexuality.  Before doing that, I just want to post verbatim the relevant specific questions that Peter Seewald put to him, and his responses. First, I place here his quoted observations on the priesthood. In a companion posting, I do the same with his responses on divorce and contraception. The questions are lightly edited, to remove some of Seewald’s less relevant remarks, or those which are specific to Germany. Benedict’s responses I have quoted in full.  (My own reflection on these responses will follow shortly).

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Pope Benedict, on Divorce, Contraception

Pope Benedict’s views on condoms and HIV/AIDS prevention as expressed in “Light of the World” have been widely quoted, misquoted, celebrated and condemned. However, they form only a few line in a wider discussion on sexuality. This broader context is also relevant for its suggestion of some welcome flexibility in his thinking, which is important for a proper perspective on hos views of homosexuality. In an earlier post, I have quoted verbatim the relevant specific questions that Peter Seewald put to him on homosexuality and on the priesthood, and his responses.In this posting, I do the same with his responses on divorce and contraception. The questions are lightly edited, to remove some of Seewald’s less relevant remarks, or those which are specific to Germany. Benedict’s responses I have quoted in full.  (My own reflection on these responses will follow shortly).

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