A Looming Ecclesiastical Revolution? A Child Abuse Tsunami?

After the flood of revelations over child abuse earlier this year, emerging in country after country to ever greater outrage over abuse, cover-up, and claims of inadequate institutional response, the flow of big, really scandalous news stories has pretty well dried up. There’s a limit to just how long the press can continue discussing the precise degree of personal culpability of then Archbishop Ratzinger in Munich, or of Cardinal Ratzinger at the CDF- and a limit to how long readers or television viewers will continue to pay any attention.

Sure, there continues to be a steady trickle of local news stories concerning one or other clergyman being accused or coming to trial, and we now have fresh complaints that the newly released revised guidelines don’t do enough, and will be ineffective. I don’t believe thought that most Catholics will pay enough attention to these details to be seriously bothered. So does this mean that the whole affair will slowly die a death, with bygones allowed to be bygones, and the present dealt with means that while not perfect, will at least ensure that it is never again quite as bad as it was?

 

Not a bit of it. Read the rest of this entry »

“Holy Mother” Church: Time for Frail Care?

Writing about John McNeill earlier this week left me reflecting on his ideas of mature faith as reflecting a mature relationship with our parents. McNeill’s thesis, simply put, is that when we are young children, we assume that our parents are always right. If they reprimand or punish us, we assume, even if the evidence points to the contrary, that they are right and that we must be wrong – because our “perfect” parents have said so. As we mature, we are able to recognise the fallibility of our parents, even as we continue to love them. We recognize that they too are human, and that they too can and do make mistakes, and can be wrong. In the same way, we in the church begin by accepting without question the idea that the “church”, as represented by the Pope and bishops are necessarily right in their teaching, and that if we differ, it must be we who are wrong. By analogy with a mature relationship with our parents, McNeill argues that in a mature relationship with the Church, we should similarly recognise the possibility of fallibility.

My thoughts on this were triggered too, by a recent homily I heard which expounded on the image of “Holy Mother” the Church, an image that I find increasingly irritating, for its implied portrayal of us as children. Then, putting this together with McNeill’s conception of the parental image, I took the idea further. After reaching an adult relationship with our parents, we and they continue to grow and age. Sadly, this inevitably leads to a point where our parents’ health begins to fade, and if death does not first overtake them, they may may become frail, or suffer from some form of dementia, losing their grip on simple understanding or their own past and the world around them.

Is this what is happening to the institutional Church? Is “Holy Mother” Church in need of frail care?

It certainly seems that Alzheimer’s has set in. Gone is any connection to Christ’s ministry as one of unbounding love, compassion and inclusion. Gone is any memory of the important place of women in the early church, whether as the early apostle and disciples Junia, Priscilla and others, or as powerful medieval abbesses; gone is any acknowledgement of the many prominent saints, clergy, bishops and popes with openly homosexual relationships, which did not prevent their ordination or elevation to high office; gone is the memory of liturgical rites for blessing same sex couples in Church, or the burial of some such couples in shared graves in honoured church tombs, exactly as married couples.

Gone, in other words, is any connection to any history which does not conform to the distorted understanding of the modern institutional theologians.

Perhaps it is time for us, as adult and mature lay Catholics, to recognize the weakness of our frail and ageing mother, the Church, and nurse here through her slow demise.

Related articles

Womenpriests, and Vatican Horror.

The Vatican has issued new guidelines on dealing with sexual abuse (which in principle is to be welcomed), and included in those guidelines a declaration that the “attempted” ordination of women is to be classed among the  “delicta graviore“.

That women’s ordination is to be linked with paedophilia is so ludicrous that I will not even attempt to discuss the stupidity. Likewise, I will not discuss the abuse guidelines until I have properly scrutinized the original document. However, the Vatican horror at women’s ordination is highly topical in the light of events elsewhere, and worth some consideration. Before coming to the Vatican statement though, let us take a quick refresher in recent history, in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests, and in women’s ordination in other denominations.

Did you realise that women priests have been around for over two centuries?  As early as  the late eighteenth century in England, John Wesley allowed for female office-bearers and preachers.

Here are just a few notable dates over that period: Read the rest of this entry »

Vatican 13 Years Late With UN Child Rights Report

If you want rights, you must accept responsibilities. If the Vatican wants to be taken seriously as a genuine independent state, it must behave like a state. The Vatican claims representation at the UN, a status that brings with it obligations to comply with reporting requirements on a wide range of matters pertinent to global concerns. One one of these, the Vatican has neglected these obligations for thirteen years! Is is a co-incidence that the subject is child rights?

Vatican "observer" at the UN, Msgr Silvano Tomasi

This neglect is not mere oversight. They have had repeated reminders, and officials assured the UN last year that completion of the report was imminent. But still – there is not yet any sign of a report appearing. It may be some small consolation that they are not alone. The only other states that have not yet submitted reports are   St. Kitts and Nevis and five Pacific minnow states – the Cook Islands, Nauru, Niue, Tuvalu and Tonga.

These AP news extracts are via CBS News, where you can read the full report:

The Vatican has failed to send the United Nations a report on child rights that is now almost 13 years overdue, the head of a U.N. panel has told The Associated Press.

……

A Vatican representative told the U.N. last year that the report was being “finalized as we speak.”

Appearing before the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in September, Hubertus Matheus Van Megen said “a paragraph will be dedicated to the problem of child abuse by Catholic clergy.”

The Vatican has faced claims that it has covered up clerical sex abuse around the world, such as by not investigating allegations or transferring accused priests to other duties without punishing them.

Van Megen told the Geneva-based council that the church was “very conscious of the seriousness of the problem” but insisted critics had misrepresented the situation.

“While many speak of child abuse as pedophilia, it would be more correct to speak of ephebophilia, being a homosexual attraction to adolescent males,” he told the rights council. “Of all priests involved in the abuses, 80-90 percent belong to this sexual orientation minority, which is sexually engaged with adolescent boys between the age of 11 and 17 years old.”

“From available research we know now that in the last 50 years somewhere between 1.5 and 5 percent of the Catholic clergy has been involved in sexual abuse cases,” he said.

While the Vatican delivered an initial report in 1995, the second, third and fourth reports are now overdue, according to Lee. This puts it on a par with the Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis. Only five Pacific minnow states – the Cook Islands, Nauru, Niue, Tuvalu and Tonga – have failed to deliver any kind of report.

Mongolia, Senegal and Togo, which also had a 1997 deadline, have since filed their second reports.

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The Spiritual Gifts of Gay Sexuality

Spiritual direction is one of the best -kept secrets of the Catholic Church. This is unfortunate- the process needs to better known and used. This is how Jesuit theologian James L’Empereur describes it:

the process in which a Christian accompanies others for an extended period of time for the process of clarifying the psychological and religious issues in the directee so that they may move toward deeper union with God and contribute to ministry within the Christian community.

I have unexpectedly been able to borrow L’Empereur’s “Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person”, which I would now like to prescribe to all my readers as required reading, with a 3 hour examination at the end of the course. I began reading last evening, and have been devouring it with enthusiasm. I am now about half way through, and not yet ready to offer a full and balanced assessment. (That will come later). Still, every page has important insights that I want to share or explore further. As an appetizer before the main course to follow, I offer some snippets today:

Here are the opening sentences:

Homosexuality is on of God’s most significant gifts to humanity. To be gay or lesbian is to have received a special blessing from God. to be gay or lesbian is to have received a special blessing from God. All humans receive their own special graces from their creator, but god has chosen some to be gay and lesbian as a way of revealing something about Godself that heterosexuals do not.

This is a startling, unexpected beginning, but of course he goes on to explain and fully substantiate it, in a chapter that had me engrossed, and anxious to explore also all his references and sources (a task, I fear, which may be well beyond me.) Elsewhere, he makes another startling claim: he calls the gay state a “charism”, exactly comparable to the charism of celibacy embraced by Catholic clergy. Both are charisms granted to just a few, from which the wider church can learn. Here I was reminded of an observation in one of our Soho Mass homilies, that if “homosexuality” is an environmental threat because it cannot lead to procreation, so is celibacy.) The key manner in which we who are gay or lesbian can teach the wider Church is in the manner of our sexuality, which is not exclusively about genital contact (in complete contradiction to the popular stereotypes), nor is it based in patriarchal patterns of domination and submission.

I should stress here that L’Empereur very carefully does not either endorse or condemn any specific form of sexual expression, whether in committed, faithful relationships, in recreational sex, or in voluntary celibacy: those decisions are to be reached by the person being directed, through the process, and not decided a priori. However, he does argue strongly that for all people, gay or otherwise, the historic dichotomy between sex and spirituality has been destructive. Instead of thinking of spirituality OR sexuality, we should be looking for spirituality THROUGH sexuality , possibly (but not necessarily) including genital sexuality. Gay people, he says, may find this easier than heterosexuals, who are often startled during counselling before , when he asks whether they expect to use their sexual union as a form of prayer.

In this book L’Empereur presents with great clarity and authority a number of the themes I have been grasping at on these pages. Another is the view that authentic Catholic teaching fully supports, not condemns, the homosexual and his/her struggle. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. We know from painful experience of course, that approached from the perspective of sexual ethics, standard Catholic teaching is deeply hostile. L’Empereur reminds us that Catholic teaching is far broader than just sexual ethics. Approached from social justice, which is at least as important to the totality of teaching, a completely different picture emerges, one which demands compassion and support for the marginalised and oppressed, and requires that we work towards justice. This latter perspective has been profoundly influential in my own faith as it was formed under South African apartheid, and why I found Cardinal O’Connors instruction to the Soho Masses to present Catholic teaching on sexuality “in full, and without ambiguity”. This is impossible: “in full” implies from a range of approaches, which are self-contradictory. When we think of the structure of Catholic teaching on homosexuality, far too often we see only the dominating monolith of the official Vatican teaching on sexual ethics, and especially the scaled down, reduced travesty that we find in the catechism. Reading this book, I am reminded that the teaching “in full” more closely resembles a crowded, diverse city, with many strands coming from the Vatican centre – and also important subsidiary nodes, such as those presented by theologians like L’Empereur. Historically, cities grew around single, strong centres. During the twentieth century, the development of private transport led to dramatic changes in city morphology, with the major growth occurring on the suburban or exurban fringes and in suburban business nodes. In some cities, it has been suggested, the traditional centre has virtually disappeared.

We may be seeing the same thing in theology. Comparable to private transport, the emergence of lay theologians and secular schools of theology have privatised the construction of new ideas. Instead of the ancient central monolith dominating the skyline, steadfastly preserving and protecting its traditional inheritance, suburban nodes are bubbling away, creating new forms and structures: liberation theology, feminist theology, gay and lesbian theology, queer theology; theology by discerned experience, theology of spirituality through sexuality – and so many more I have not yet encountered. With so much vitality at the suburban fringes, the “margins” lose conceptual significance. Will Vatican City in time become irrelevant, as some physical central cities have done?

Jayden Cameron thinks so, at the Gay Mystic. Read “Life Finds a Way“.

(I will have more on this important book later – probably repeatedly.)

 

See also:

L’Empereur, James: Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person

Nelson, James: Between Two Gardens: Reflections on Faith and Spirituality

 

Previous QTC Posts:

The Intimate Dance of Sexuality and Spirituality

Finding God in Gay Lovemaking

Homoerotic Sexuality

 

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Vatican Gay Prostitution Ring

The existence of a Vatican prostitution ring, gay or otherwise, should not surprise anyone. All that is new, is its public exposure. I regret I do not have time to comment fully right now, as I must begin lunch preparations. For now, just read the story from the Guardian. I’ ll have more later – after my din-dins.

Vatican hit by gay sex scandal

Gentlemen of His Holiness, pallbearers for Pope JP II

The Vatican was today rocked by a sex scandal reaching into Pope Benedict’s household after a chorister was sacked for allegedly procuring male prostitutes for a papal gentleman-in-waiting.

Angelo Balducci, a Gentleman of His Holiness, was caught by police on a wiretap allegedly negotiating with Thomas Chinedu Ehiem, a 29-year-old Vatican chorister, over the specific physical details of men he wanted brought to him. Transcripts in the possession of the Guardian suggest that numerous men may have been procured for Balducci, at least one of whom was studying for the priesthood.

The explosive claims about Balducci’s private life have caused grave embarrassment to the Vatican, which has yet to publicly comment on the affair.

(Read More)


The Vatican and “Objective Disorder”: John McNeill

In John McNeill’s “Sex as God Intended”, the epilogue reflects on the “Vatican Instruction” barring openly gay men from seminary training.  This reflection is clearly directed at gay men and lesbians, but in fact covers much more ground, with important observations on the very meaning and understanding of God’s revelation,  and on the source of authority within the Church. As such, it is relevant to a wider audience as well, and just as the “Declaration” that I wrote about earlier in the week, it seems at least as relevant in the light of the current troubles over abuse, as when first published.  These are some edited extracts from that chapter,  with a light commentary to take you through it.

From the Epilogue to “Sex As God Intended”: Objective Disorder

Since his election as Pope Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Ratzinger has carried the persecution of gays and lesbians to almost a hysterical level.  I would like to reflect here on one action in particular:  the implications of the Instruction forbidding the ordination of self-accepting gay men to the priesthood.

In that Instruction the Vatican has given a vicious collective slap in the face not only to gay priests and seminarians, but to every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered person on earth.  The Instruction, issued by  Pope Benedict XVI,  calls homosexual orientation an “objective disorder” and any sexual act that follows from that orientation is contrary to the divine will and profoundly sinful.  Any effort by a gay person to reach out for human sexual love, no matter what the circumstances, it judges as evil.   Scripture says that if anyone loves, they know God because God is love.  The Vatican says that if gay people enter into a human sexual love relation, they know evil and will separate themselves from the love of God.

It is common knowledge that the primary yet unstated reason for the publication of this Instruction is the priest/child abuse scandal that has seriously and probably permanently damaged the Catholic Church’s moral authority. This document has little to do with God or even morality.  This is a political document issued in self-defence by the human and sinful hierarchy of the institutional church. The hierarchy, rather than accept their responsibility, for this crisis, decided to scapegoat gay priests and seminarians

A more probable explanation for the abuse, according to the majority of psychologists is the high number of priests who were immature, insecure about their tendencies and full of doubt and guilt.  Any homosexual who achieves a healthy self-acceptance and has a positive attitude towards his sexual orientation is precisely the one this Instruction excludes, whereas those gay men who are struggling with immaturity and self-rejection acceptable candidates for seminary. Rather than setting up a cure of the child abuse crisis, this Instruction guarantees that the crisis will continue.  What is bad psychology is bad theology.

A consequence of this Instruction will be a further decline of the moral authority of the hierarchy.

Read the rest of this entry »