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 »