Gay priests: Coming Out, Discovering Love – 2

Bart, a gay priest, continues his weekly series of reflections on the challenges and difficulties of coming out for a priest. In this week’s reflection, he begins to tackle the thorny issue of sexual activity:

Having laid down the groundwork by talking more generally about love (not simply love as eros), I will now enter the minefield. That a priest – of all persons – should wish to directly talk about sex is problematic enough. Throw the gay ingredient into the mix and we have a bomb in our hands. So be it! Let’s talk about sex.

I take it to be axiomatic when I say that we are sexed beings. By this I mean that humans are not simply spirits. We are embodied beings, we occupy space, and one of the major characteristics of this body is that it presents certain features that we commonly refer to as gender characteristics, male or female, or (more rarely) both. Clearly we are not asexual beings, just as much as we are not disembodied spirits. It is most unfortunate that in two thousand years of Christianity we have not wholly succeeded in coming to terms with both our corporeality and our sexuality. I suspect that the Catholic priesthood is the symbolic locus of this neurosis. Cue the film “Priest” (1994).

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Gay Priests (3): Coming out, discovering love – 1

Bart continues his series of reflections on the challenges of being gay and a priest:

“Things to do before I die:

1.      Fall in love

2.      See the world”

Jim, a 64-year old bachelor jots these words down in his diary on the day of his retirement. This very short to-do list starts off the story between him and Ray, a widowed pensioner, in the BBC film “When I’m Sixty-Four” (2004). Their friendship flowers into love, as both men open up to each other in their desire to break through the walls of isolation and loneliness. The film is very upbeat about the possibility of discovering love at any age, as well as exploring gay love (in Ray’s case, his bisexuality) at a more mature age. Hmmm! I think I got my priorities wrong. Unlike Jim, my “to do” list inverts the order, because I decided to see the world first. Well, the film became something of wake-up call. I distinctly remember telling myself: I sure don’t want to wait until I’m 64 to enter into a relationship! I slowly realised that the isolation and loneliness that seemed to overshadow me, were rooted in my inability to love. I could not love myself, and I had really nothing to offer to others. The reason being that I had so successfully denied the love and feelings I had because I was told that they were not right, unnatural, dirty. Self-hatred took love’s place, as love died a premature death; I was breathing, but dead in my spirit. Coming out of the closet? More like coming out from the grave.

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When Will the Catholic Church Repeal Its Own DADT?

My colleague Bart and I clearly think along the same lines. This was his response to my post on the repeal of DADT:

When is the Catholic Church going to follow suit? The way the Church leadership is dealing with the issue of the gay clergy within its ranks is similar in many ways to the DADT story in the American military. When will the Church enter the 21st century?

As his comment came through, I was halfway done with preparing a full post on precisely this theme. It was this observation by Rep Tammy Baldwin that initially set me thinking:

Integrity is a hallmark of military service. Yet, for 17 years, we have had a statutory policy that requires some in our military to conceal, deceive, and lie.  This is an inexcusable affront to all who wear the uniform.

Change a word or two, and precisely the same thing could be said about gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church. If it is true (and it is) that integrity is a hallmark of military service, so it should be even more so in the Church. DADT in the Catholic church most directly affects our gay priests, presenting them with a major challenge in any attempt to live honest lives of integrity. This is the continuing theme of Bart’s own excellent series on gay priests and his personal struggles with coming out, so I leave the discussion of DADT and priests entirely to him (the next instalment will appear tomorrow morning).

However, Catholic DADT also affects all gay and lesbian lay people, and it this aspect that I address here.

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Priest “Bart”, on “What is a Gay Priest to do?”

Ever since I first read the important question posed by James Martin SJ at America blog, “What is a gay Catholic to do?”, I have tried to provide some examples of what a selection of gay Catholics have done. The responses I have had from some of my readers who are priests, and also some posts I have read at other sites, have shown that there is another much more difficult question to be answered, too: “What is a gay Catholic priest to do?”  This is way outside my own ability to explore, so I have said before that I would welcome commentary from any priest who would like to offer a personal response. I have had some observations made in comment threads, but a full response needs much more space than that.

I am delighted that one of my readers has taken up the challenge. “Bart” has formally joined “Queering the Church” as a contributor, and describes himself in his profile as

Catholic priest, in the mid-forties, presently serving in a diocese away from home. Self-identifying as gay, and going through the coming-out process. Keenly interested in LGBT issues, not only where they concern the religious sphere, but also in the wider social context. Enjoys outdoor activities and sports, as well as indoor pastimes such as reading, listening to music, and watching films when time permits.

Bart has prepared an introductory post in which he explains his choice of pen name, and introduces the topic, “What is a gay priest to do?”. He will then follow up the introductory post with some further reflections on the same theme.  I loved reading the introductory post, which appears here (at my primary domain).

Bart Simpson

Image via Wikipedia

 

This is Bart’s opening:

I think that one of the first issues a gay priest (or any gay person, I suppose) has to tackle is that of coming out. Now, let me make it clear that there will be as many different coming-out stories as there are persons, but I suspect that a common denominator for each story is: deciding on which side are you. Let me ask a few pointed questions. Are you going to (continue to) live in a state of self-loathing, rejection or denial? Will you continue to agree with the barrage of homophobic messages received from the Church, family, friends, workmates, society…? Pope Benedict has just reiterated (in his book Light of the World )a classic view held by the Church, that of homosexuals looking at their state as being a trial. It seems that the Church hierarchy wants to keep gay persons, in this case its priests, stuck in an ego-dystonic state, loathing themselves because of their homosexual orientation, as if it is some foreign body that must be fought with vigour. I am stating this because I cannot really see any way forward unless one moves from this stage to a stage where one has fully embraced one’s gayness. If I cannot come to a point where I have fully accepted myself as I am, that I am gay, how am I ever to accept others as they are? Can you see the necessity and the logic behind this fundamental step? If I may put it in other words, I can only love others to the degree that I can love myself.

These may seem to be difficult words to digest but, judging from my own experience, rejection and self-loathing are hardly a solid foundation for the priestly ministry. I mean, even all the glib talk on how much God loves me becomes suspect. If God loves me as I am, then this leaves little room for self-loathing. Time and again I have come across the works of various authors who talk of “internalised homophobia”, and this term really hits the nail on the head because what we are doing when we reject ourselves is accept the rejection we perceive to get from others.

Read the full post here.

 

The Myth of Clerical Celibacy, Again.

It really is well past time to face some obvious facts, and end the farcical myth of clerical celibacy.

From Earth times:

Jilted Catholic monk arrested in killings of nun, priest in China

Beijing – A Catholic monk in northern China has confessed to killing a nun and a priest whom he blamed for persuading her to jilt him, state media said Friday.

Zhang Wenping, 43, told police in the Inner Mongolia region that he committed the killings because the nun had ended a “romantic relationship” with him and he “believed the priest persuaded her to do so,” the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Police arrested Zhang Thursday in the regional capital, Hohhot, after the nun and priest were found dead at a church-run home for the elderly Tuesday in the nearby city of Wuhai.

Zhang confessed that his “personal grudges” were the motive for the killings, the agency quoted a Wuhai police spokesman as saying.

Zhang and the two victims were all members of the city’s state-approved Wuda Catholic Church, it said.

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.

Benedict Advises: Get Blogging

Also see James Martin’s take on this, at America

From Washington Post

Pope to priests: Go forth and blog

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has a new commandment for priests struggling to get their message across: Go forth and blog.

The pope, whose own presence on the Web has heavily grown in recent years, urged priests on Saturday to use all multimedia tools at their disposal to preach the Gospel and engage in dialogue with people of other religions and cultures.

And just using e-mail or surfing the Web is often not enough: Priests should use cutting-edge technologies to express themselves and lead their communities, Benedict said in a message released by the Vatican.

“The spread of multimedia communications and its rich ‘menu of options’ might make us think it sufficient simply to be present on the Web,” but priests are “challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources,” he said.

Monsignor Claudio Maria Celli, who heads the Vatican’s social communications office, said that Benedict’s words aimed to encourage reflection in the church on the positive uses of new media.

……..

“That doesn’t mean that (every priest) must open a blog or a Web site. It means that the church and the faithful must engage in this ministry in a digital world,” Celli told reporters. “At some point, a balance will be found.”

Modern Heroes 1: The Priest With the Pink Triangle.

For the first post in my “queer modern heroes” series, I begin with someone most people have never heard of. (I’m not sure anyone even knows his name.) I begin with him because he represents a double martyrdom, martyred for his orientation, and also martyred for his faith. I choose him also precisely because he is anonymous,  reminding us that in our own way, we are all called to our own  heroism in the face of persecution, all called to be “martyrs” in the true, original sense – as witnesses to truth. I read this story in John McNeill’s “Taking a Chance on God“: McNeill got the story from Heinz Heger.  These are McNeill’s words:

“I would like to end this reflection on the mature life of faith with the eyewitness account of a gay priest who was beaten to death in a German concentration camp during World War II because he refused to stop praying or to express contempt for himself. The story is recounted by Heinz Heger in his book “The Men With the Pink Triangle“, in which he he recalls what took place in the special concentration camp for gay men in Sachsenhausen (Sachsenhausen was a “level 3” camp where prisoners were deliberately worked to death):

 

“Homosexual” prisoners in Sachsenhausen

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Satyagraha: How Passive Resistance Ended an Empire

In 1893, a London trained lawyer was thrown off a train to Johannesburg because he was barred by his skin colour from sitting in the first class seat he had paid for. The experience transformed his outlook, and from being content to be a mild middle-class professional, Mahatma Gandhi became instead a political activist, whose ideas helped to transform the history and politics of at least three countries, and led to the total disintegration of the once invincible British Empire.

The strategy Gandhi developed during his early years in South Africa, “Satyagraha”, brought some early modest successes for the South African Natal Indian Congress, and later became one strand in the tactics of the South African resistance movement, and certainly contributed much later to the arrival of full democracy.   Most powerfully, the strategy was a major factor behind the British withdrawal from India, paving the way for the disintegration of the once seemingly invincible British Empire.  In the US, Gandhi’s ideas were adopted and adapted by Martin Luther King, under the English (inexact) translation of “passive resistance”.

I have been thinking a lot recently about this theme of passive resistance, or active non-co-operation, as it is currently occurring spontaneously in the Catholic Church.  This morning, I noticed a headline from Australia, which gives the perfect excuse to pull together some otherwise disconnected observations.   It is now one year since the misguided and unsuccessful attempts of the Australian institutional church to silence one of its most vigorous branches, that of the parish of St Mary’s, South Brisbane, and its priest Fr Patrick Kennedy.  In a classic demonstration of non-co-operation, the parish simply upped sticks and relocated, to a venue outside of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

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Wedding Bells for Gay Priest

Wedding Cake

In the Catholic church, married priests are not new (there were many in early times.  Nowadays of course, there are many more who have joined the Catholic church after first serving as married priests with other denominations.  I noted recently there are also a very large number of priests who have married after leaving active ministry and receiving “dispensation” to marry.

There are also very many gay priests (possibly half of all US priests, according to some estimates).  Many of these have partners, some have married them, quietly and discreetly – but this is the first occasion I have come across of a priest who is not only marrying, but doing so in the full glare of publicity.  In Toronto,  Father Karl Clemens is getting married Saturday to his partner Nick.

Fr Clemens is 70, retired from parish work and has spent the past decade ministering in Toronto’s gay village, so it is perhaps not quite as dramatic a move as if he were a young parish priest with a suburban congregation.  Still, he will have to face the  reaction of the local bishops and other Catholics, many of whom are unlikely to be impressed, and some of whom will be vocal in their self-righteous outrage. Clemens says he is not doing this to start a revolution, but because he feels strongly that it is the right thing to do. Read the rest of this entry »