Category Archives: 30 Queer Church History / Saints

The Distorted Christian Tradition of the Sodomy Myth (2)

The remarkable thing about the Christian tradition that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was because of the sin of homoerotic sex, is that this was never part of the Jewish tradition: not in the Hebrew Bible (First, or Old Testament), not in the Apocrypha, not in the Pseudepigrapha, and not in the Rabbinic tradition that followed. The obvious question that follows, is quite how did the Christian theologians get it so wrong, using a strong condemnation against oppression, injustice and lack of hospitality to strangers, to justify their own persecution, oppression, and explicit refusal of hospitality in Church to sexual and gender minorities?

sodom

In tracing the historical development of what is clearly a distorted tradition, Renato Lings draws on the commentaries of the story from each historical tradition – and simultaneously describes how changes in language over those centuries meant that later commentators, up to the medieval scholastics, were depending on texts which had been through multiple translations, losing some of the subtlety and nuance of the original, and also had suffered corruption from copying errors.

A long church tradition may have led to errors of misinterpretation end errors of translation, some of which continue to affect todays versions of the Bible. Since the issues addresses by the Hebrew prophets are idolatry, pride, social injustice and oppression, it is indeed remarkable that today’s scholarly consensus emphasizes sexual violence.

Continue reading The Distorted Christian Tradition of the Sodomy Myth (2)

Protus & Hyacinth, 24th December

Protus and Hyacinthus were the eunuch slaves who were the companions of St. Eugenia of Alexandria. They served as her two teachers who accompanied her on a somewhat romantic journey, and at the end were martyred with her.

Select bibliography

Dukakis, Megas Synaxaristes, translated in various volumes by Holy Apostles Convent, (Buena Vista, Colorado,
various dates ), sub. Eugenia
Szarmach, Paul E., “Aelfric’s Women Saints: Eugenia”, in Helen Damico and Alexandria Hennessey Olsen, eds., New
Readings on Women in Old English Literature, (Bloomington IN: Indiana UP, 1990), 146-157

Vida Dutton Scudder, American Lesbian Saint for Our Times

Vida Dutton Scudder is a rare example of a modern lesbian who is a recognized Christian saint (recognized by the US Episcopal Church, not the Roman Catholics). Her work and message are particularly relevant to the twentieth century, as we grapple with an economic crisis triggered in effect by corporate and consumer greed.

 Born in 1861, over a long life Scudder was an educator, writer, and welfare activist in the social gospel movement. Much of her thinking has particular relevance to us today, as we grapple with a financial and economic crisis precipitated in effect by a corporate and consumer culture marked by unrestrained greed. Throughout her life Scudder’s primary relationships and support network were women. From 1919 until her death, Scudder was in a relationship with Florence Converse, with whom she lived.

  After earning a BA degree from Smith College in 1894, in 1895 she became one of the first two American women admitted to graduate study at Oxford university. After returning to Boston, Scudder Continue reading Vida Dutton Scudder, American Lesbian Saint for Our Times

“Out of the Shadows, Into the Light”:Blessed John Henry Newman, Soho “Gay” Masses

Last Sunday I went up to London for one of the regular LGBT – oriented “Soho Masses”. Earlier in the day, Pope Benedict had conducted the beatification service for Cardinal John Henry Newman. Cardinal Newman is now officially Blessed John Henry – and so the liturgy used our Mass was, quite appropriately, the newly minted liturgy for his festal day.

Portrait of Cardinal Newman by John Millais

When I first wrote about Newman a year ago, I wrote that he has particular significance for gay Catholics, on account of his deep commitment to his beloved friend Aubrey St John, and his writing on conscience.  That initial post was simplistic: I did not then realize how sharply opinions on John Henry divide, specifically on his ideas of conscience and loyalty. While some progressive Catholics celebrate and promote (their understanding of) his championing of conscience, some conservatives see this as entirely a misrepresentation of his understanding of conscience, which should rather be read in the context of his parallel championing of church authority and loyalty.

For a long time, I have been wary of writing anything further – although for a time I was trying unsuccessfully to put together something on the “paradox” of Newman. Now, after a flood of information and commentary leading up to the beatification, I stick by my original assertion. Blessed John Henry Newman indeed of great importance for queer Christians, with even more reason than I originally recognized.

Newman’s legacy is paradoxical: he is claimed simultaneously as hero by progressive Catholics for his stout defence of conscience, and by conservatives for his defence of authority. He is touted as a gay saint over his highly publicized deep relationship with Aubrey St John – and “defended” as obviously heterosexual because he was celibate, and so obviously not giving sexual expression to any same- sex attraction.  All of these deserve further consideration, and have received plenty elsewhere.

For now, I want to limit my own observations only to two additional ways in  which Newman’s career is particularly relevant for queer Christians, and especially the LGBT Catholic congregation of the Soho Masses, by prefiguring our own position.

We too live in a paradoxical state, with the official position of the Vatican (and many other leading religious bodies) urging noble ideas of treating us with dignity, compassion and respect – yet in their own actions they frequently do the exact opposite. They urge us to follow and to speak the truth – but when we do, we may find ourselves paying a heavy price. They have attempted to silence people like John McNeill and Jeannine Gramick for their attempts to speak the truth, a Canadian altar server was refused ministry for his, Michael B Kelly and many others have lost their jobs in Catholic schools and colleges, simply for telling the truth of their lives. The CDF reminds us that “the truth will set you free”, but for Catholics in Church employ, too often it simply sets us free of that employment.

Newman spent most of his life as priest under attack from all sides. It was only late in life that he began to receive recognition for his achievements as a theologian, when he was suddenly promoted from parish priest directly to cardinal, and eventually beatification. I believe that we as a queer Christian community are following a similar path, from persecution and exclusion, to ever-increasing inclusion – and even respect for what we can teach the wider church. We see this most clearly in denominations like the mainline Protestant groups that have already accepted the principles of full inclusion and equal treatment for queer Christians and clergy, or who are openly debating these issues – but we are also starting to see some embryonic signs of the same thing in the Catholic Church.

This was most dramatically illustrated for out Soho Masses community by the blaze of media publicity (mostly favourable) we received in the build-up to Newman’s beatification. We have been operating for over eleven years now, and for over three years in a Catholic parish as a formal pastoral initiative of Westminster diocese, and so under the patronage of the head of the Church in England and Wales. We have experienced continuous low level mutterings from some conservative opponents, but otherwise very little publicity, with not even a mention on the diocesan website.

This changed dramatically over the past few weeks. In addition to substantial coverage in BBC television and radio programmes, there were additional British reports in a range of newspapers and magazines. Coverage has since gone global. At last Sunday’s Mass, we had reporters present from Spanish national radio, Croatian radio, Czech Television – and Gaydar radio. (Gaydar is a major UK gay dating website, with an on-line radio service).

“Out of the shadows, into the light”, indeed.

Related articles on John Henry Newman

Cardinal Borghese, Homoerotic Art Lover

The name “Borghese” will be familiar to many art lovers and tourists in Italy from the name “Villa Borghese”, the palace which was designed by the architect Flaminio Ponzo from sketches by Cardinal Borghese himself, and which housed his impressive art collection.
The mere existence of this collection and its magnificence poses important questions about the institutional Catholic Church. What does this vast wealth that this collection represented, have to do with pastoral care, outreach to the poor, or preaching the Gospels? The questions become even murkier in the light of its manner of acquisition:

   In 1607, the Pope gave the Cardinal 107 paintings which had been confiscated from the studio of the painter Cavalier D’Arpino. In the following year, Raphael’s Deposition was removed by force from the Baglioni Chapel in the church of San Francesco in Perugia and transported to Rome to be given to the Cardinal Scipione through a papal motu proprio.

At this site, however, I am not interested in exploring the iniquities of the historical church. Instead, what interests me here is the nature of the artists and the works in the collection. Several commentaries of the collection note its substantial number of clearly homoerotic works, and he bestowed direct patronage on several well -known homosexual artists – Caravaggio the best-known among them.
He was also implicated in numerous scandals around his homosexual interests, including a close friendship with one Stefano Pignatelli, who acquired such a strong influence over Borghese that the Pope banished him entirely. Borghese thereupon fell into a long and serious illness, from which he only recovered once his dear friend was eventually allowed to return.
Pope Paul V then made the best of a bad job with Pignatelli, and made him a cardinal.
Although the implications are clear, and contemporary allegations plentiful, there appears to be little hard evidence for a specifically sexual relationship between Borghese and Pignatelli. If there was such a relationship  though, Pignatelli will not have been the first to owe his cardinal’s red hat to sexual favours granted.

This is how it is described in Aldrich & Wetherspoon, “Who’s Who in Gay and Lesbian History from Antiquity to WWII”

He was adopted by his uncle who, when became pope with the name Paul V, made him Cardinal at age 29. His uncle’s favour allowed Borgese to accumulate an immense fortune, which he used to acquire which he used to acquire the vast land-holdings where he built Villa Borghese, now one of the most important Museums in Rome.

Scipione was oriented towards his own sex, and this led to full-blown scandals. In 1605, soon after being made a cardinal, Borghese wanted to bring to Rome Stefano Pignattelli, his intimate “friend”.

Paul V compelled Stefano to move out of Shipone’s house, but the cardinal doubled his love for his friend and succumbed to a severe melancholy which resuletd in a long and serious illness. Only when Stefano was allowed to return to Rome to look after Scipione, did the cardinal recover.

Shipione’s uncle the pope, thereupon decided that in order to keep a check on Pignattelli he must co-opt, rather than combat, him. He had Stefano ordained, the beginning of a carreer which led to his becoming a cardinal in 1621. But Stefano died in 1623. Scipione died ten years later.

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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.

In the modern West, we are so obsessed with sex, and particularly with off-colour wisecracks and snickering at wedding receptions that we entirely forget that marriage is not only about sex. Yet every adult knows there is far more to marriage, once the wedding night and honeymoon are over and forgotten. What becomes far more important is simply working together to ease the trials of the day – by offering companionship and support, taking leisure or seeing friends and family together, and sharing in the costs and responsibilities that go into making a home: house, garden and car maintenance, paying the bills, cleaning, laundry and food arrangements – and raising children together if and when they arrive.
It is not only that sex is not the only part of marriage – we forget that it was once an accepted part of Christianity that sexual relationships need not be a part of marriage at all. Many early Christians renounced sex altogether and dedicated themselves to virginity, even in marriage, and even as married couples. So it is entirely accepted in Christian tradition that an emotionally intimate, recognized committed relationship between two people is possible without the need for a sexual foundation.
We also know, through the scholarship of John Boswell and Alan Bray, that for many centuries the early and medieval Church accepted and recognized the value of liturgical recognition of same sex couples, for which they used established rites of blessing. In the Eastern Church, these were known as rites for “adelphopoeisis“, or “making of brothers”, and in the Western Church, as “sworn brotherhood.”  Boswell’s work is controversial, and has been widely criticized in some quarters on the grounds that these unions were not “comparable” to modern heterosexual marriage – but that is precisely my point: modern civil unions are also not comparable to modern (sacramental) marriage (and nor were heterosexual unions in the early and medieval church “comparable” with modern marriage). (UPDATE: I have learnt from a note in the comments that there is a new book forthcoming on adelphopoeisis. It will be fascinating to see how much this new study departs from, or adds to, Boswell’s early and controversial work).
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What cannot be denied is that these liturgical rites existed, and were used. Bray’s work is a lot more cautious than Boswell’s, and he is careful to describe these unions only in terms of “friendship” – but as he also makes clear, male friendship at that time is also not directly comparable with modern ideas of male “buddies”. Friendship between men then was  a far more serious affair than it usually is today, possibly of greater emotional and practical importance that mere marriage, which is why it was deemed worthy of liturgical recognition, and why a number of pairs of sworn brothers demanded and got joint burial in shared tombs in church – exactly as many  married couples. These unions were not always sexual – but some most certainly were.
The practice of liturgical blessing for same-sex unions gradually fell away, but continued in occasional use in the Eastern use, and I have heard a suggestion that although it has fallen into disuse in the West, it has never been formally abolished and so remains at least theoretically available (that would need checking, and I do not vouch for the claim.) However, the practice of shared burial continued rather longer. The best known and most recent example is that of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who insisted on being buried alongside his beloved friend St John, that they could be together “for all eternity”. There was no objection raised to the request, and they were indeed buried together, right in Birmingham Oratory, with no slight to Newman’s reputation. He is today on the path to recognized sainthood, and will be formally beatified next month, during the papal visit to the UK.
So, there is an established basis in scripture and in church history, for recognizing a human need for a companion, and for liturgical recognition of such relationships, even when between pairs of men, by the Church. So the case for modern liturgical recognition of some same-sex relationships would seem to be incontestable – it has already been established church practice in both Eastern and Western branches of Christianity. The question is – what kind of relationships? Are rites for making “brothers”, or of “sworn brotherhood”,  really appropriate for modern civil unions? The argument against might be, that the former were not sexual relationships, and modern civil unions are.
Well, not exactly. Some sworn brotherhoods most certainly did have a sexual basis, and some modern civil unions do not. More importantly, both sets of unions are or were very much about joint financial business or property relationships, and reciprocal obligations for mutual care and protection. Before considering modern partnerships which are sexual, I want to deal with those which are not. To do so, I want to consider the case of a Catholic man who has a “homosexual condition”, but who successfully strives to live strictly within the parameters of orthodox Catholic doctrine. Call him Chas, for chastity.
We know from Vatican documents that a homosexual man in himself is not sinful – only his homosexual “acts”, but being a dutiful Catholic, Chas does not commit any of those. We also know from Genesis that in the eyes of God, it is not right that he should be alone, that he needs a companion. We also know that the Church itself recognizes that a person like Chaz will have a difficult time living out his life of voluntary chastity – they describe this as a “cross” that such men must learn to carry, and also are careful to arrange support groups (in the Courage ministry) to help them to deal with this cross.
Now if Chas recognizes that it would be good for him to have a companion, someone who can offer help and support in carrying this cross on a full-time basis, not just in weekly Courage meetings, and can furthermore help with all the little practical details of living arrangements, as married couples do as matter of course when not making babies, and if Chas meets someone with whom he can find the right emotional connection, and who is just as committed to living within Church teaching (someone he met in his Courage group, perhaps) – what possible objection can there be to the two of them agreeing to live together as room-mates, sharing expenses, chores and responsibilities – and providing full-time companionship and support?
Once they do start living together, and develop deep emotional bonds, they may well see the need for legal contracts to protect their respective interests in the eyes of the law. As the relationship has been set up to honour and support each other in living out Church teaching in love, is there not also a need for such a relationship to secure some form of honouring within the Church community, so that God who has recognized their mutual need for companionship, and the faith community of which they are part, might bear witness to their love and commitment – and encourage them to maintain it obedience to the demands of their faith, as they see it? Such recognition should not take the form of “marriage”, with its association with child-bearing and raising, but it would have strong and obvious parallels with sworn brotherhood – based on deep friendship, but also incorporating legal, financial and personal mutual responsibilities.
So, it is clear to me that precisely as the early and medieval church saw the value of celebrating some same sex unions in sworn brotherhood, there would be value for the church in recognizing (celibate) civil unions with an independent, but associated, rite of blessing within the congregation.
What of unions that are not known to be celibate? Well, they may be.  Here in the UK, the law for civil partnerships closely parallels that for marriage, with very few exceptions. One important one that does exist, is sexual: unlike marriage, there is no legal requirement for sexual consummation for the union to be valid. In law, the partnership is essentially a matter of contract between two people, and in not a sexual arrangement.  For those cynics who doubt the possibility of a partnership which is not sexual, I simply point again to the example of the early church, and those married couples who were encouraged to practice virginity even within marriage. There certainly are modern male couples, living in close emotional partnerships, who claim to be doing so in complete chastity, just as our fictitious Chaz might do. Who are we to disbelieve them?
Even where we know that a particular couple are not celibate, we would be wrong to assume that they are living in sin. Although the Vatican documents and the Catechism are clear that homosexual genital acts are sinful, it is also established and accepted that the primary obligation is to one’s conscience. There is a parallel clear and established teaching that the use of artificial contraception is sinful – but that conscience may at times override that. So, the simple fact that two men are living together, in a relationship that is not celibate, does not mean that they are sinful. They too, just like Chaz and his hoped-for friend and partner, need companionship, mutual help and support in negotiating life’s difficulties, and the problems they will face together. They too, could do with some support from their congregation, and recognition for their love.
Before dismissing the possibility, consider once more the case of a married couple, one that has been married, say, for ten years, and remain childless.  When they present themselves for communion, does the priest assume that they are using contraception, and deny the sacrament? Of course, it could be that there are natural causes at work. Let us simplify the case further, let us say that both couples have had children by previous marriages, marriages which ended tragically in the deaths of their spouses. They are now in en entirely licit new marriage and each has established proof of   fertility. Still the priest, although he might have questions in his mind, will not refuse communion, because he will assume that the couple have worked things out in conscience and good faith.
Why can the church not approach modern same sex couples in the same spirit? The case for church recognition of celibate civil unions I showed above to be incontestable.  I submit that if we truly apply Catholic teaching on the importance of conscience, and on not judging the state of an other’s conscience, there is equally a strong case for Church recognition of unions that are not necessarily celibate.

Gay Popes, Papal Sodomites

For the month of Gay Pride (in church), it would be great if we we could simply celebrate a list of unambiguously gay popes – but we can’t. This is not because they don’t exist (there were undoubtedly several popes whom we know had physical relationships with men), but because of the inadequacies of language, and the weakness of the historical record over something so deeply personal, especially among the clergy. Both of these difficulties are exemplified by Mark Jordan’s use of the phrase, “Papal Sodomites”.  In medieval terms, a “sodomite” was one of utmost abuse, which meant far more than just the modern “homosexual”. It could also include, bestiality, or heresy, or withcraft, and (in England, after the Reformation) “popery”, which is deeply ironic, and hence treason.

So in the years before libel laws and carefully controlled democratic institutions, accusations of “sodomy” were a useful slander for the powerful to throw at their political enemies. Some at least of the charges against the popes will have been without foundation. We just don’t know, and probably never will, which of these charges were simply malicious. On the other hand, the historical facts around some of the others are clear.
In the modern world, the problem is somewhat different. There have been clear reports and claims that at least two modern popes have had male lovers, but in the deeply closeted world of the Vatican, these claims remain as yet not conclusively proven (not have they been clearly refuted).
Still, it is worth considering both those are definitely known to have had male lovers, as well as those who may have done, and also those who did not, but tolerated or protected others.
About Paul II (1464 – 1471) Sixtus IV ( 1471-84), Julius II (1503-1513), Leo X ( 1513-1521), and Julius III (1550-1555) there is little room for doubt: the historical record is clear.
About Boniface, Alexander VI (r. 1492-1503),  Benedict IX and John XII (r. 955-964) the evidence is less certain.
Among the early popes who notable tolerated or protected people accused of homosexual practices, we should remember Pope Callistus, who was harshly criticized by Tertullian for his failure to condemn sex between men; Pope Leo IX, who implemented many of St Peter Damian’ s proposals for church reform, but rejected the appeals for harsh penalties against clerical “sodomites”, and also rejected appeals to prevent the consecration as bishop of the promiscuous John (or Jean) of Orleans. Later, ,Paul III (1534 -49) is said to have protected and bestowed honours on his son, Pier Luigi Farnese, who surrounded himself with male lovers, used Roman police to track down a young man who had spurned his advances, and was accused of raping a bishop and other clerics.
A passage from the glbtq.com is fascinating for the very different picture it paints to that prevailing elsewhere, at a time when the inquisition and secular powers were burning between them thousans of men across Europe and in the New World:

The papacy generally revealed in practice a relatively tolerant attitude to sexual “deviation.” Within the Papal States, penalties against sodomy were enforced less rigorously than in many other territories. By the fifteenth century, Rome had developed a vibrant subculture of men who enjoyed sexual relationships with other men. (The situation of women in Rome is less well documented.)
Thus, throughout the early modern era, men found refuge in Rome from the harsh punishment of sodomy, which was more “routine” in northern Europe and which was also vigorously prosecuted in Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Although popes at least acquiesced in the prosecutions under the Inquisition, the persecution of sodomites probably resulted from local animus and zeal rather than from directives from Rome. Protestant reformers consistently condemned papal toleration of homosexual acts.
In the modern period, there have been claims that Pope John XXIII was preparing a gentler  teaching on same sex relationships before his death, that Jon Paul I in his brief papacy promoted a gentler approach and may have had some gay experience in his past, and that Pope Paul VI had an extensive history of homosexual affairs in his early career.
Vatican apologists will no doubt acknowledge that there have been times when appallingly inappropriate men occupied the papacy, especially in the scandalous centuries before the Counter-Reformation. However, Leo IX at least is regarded as one of a great wave of reforming popes from the 11th and 12th centuries. More importantly, it is central to Vatican claims of supremacy and authority that by apostolic succession, they are the direct representatives of Christ on earth. If this argument is valid, what possible reason can there be for assuming that the harsh arguments espoused by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI should carry any more weight than the example of their predecessors?

Gay Pride, Warsaw- In the 16 th Century!

Most Pride celebrations are local, for a specific city or town. In Europe, things are a little different. Every year, one city is selected for a continental celebration, drawing in visitors from right across the continent for Euro Pride. A few years ago, it was London’s turn. Today, Warsaw hosts Europride. This has attracted the attention of activists who are conscious of modern Poland’s reputation as a bastion of homophobia, one of the few European countries where gay marriage is constitutionally prohibited, and where some major political parties campaign on gay-bashing.  UK government minister Chris Bryant, the most senior openly gay man in the new coalition,  has gone to Warsaw to join the parade, in the hope that Euro Pride in Warsaw will contribute to an erosion of the hostile political culture.

At least one gay Pole objects to this image. Writing a “A Postcard From Gay Poland“, ?ukasz Palucki exposes an extraordinary amount of what for most of us is hidden gay history, showing how Poland was for centuries a bastion of gay tolerance.

Reports like this need to be taken seriously. Far too much for what passes for political or religious discourse on sexuality is based on a highly edited, selective view based on a heterosexist bias. We need to recover and disseminate our lesbian and gay history, in the state and in the church.

Here are some extracts :

There is a State called Poland in the middle of Europe.  For unclear reasons to me, Poland is described as a part of Eastern Europe.  This qualification is more mental than geographical because Poles are being perceived as homophobes.

This stereotype strengthens Poles’ image as fanatic Catholics whose intolerance results from conservatism and is deeply rooted in the state’s long history.  There is nothing more false than that!  There are only a few countries in the world where the history of social tolerance is of such great importance, as in Poland.

I’m going to tell you the story you certainly don’t know.  This is a history of a State that was a safe refuge for many types of ‘unaccepted’ minorities, where homosexuality was never a crime, where several rulers were homosexual, and catholic priests gave church weddings to same-sex couples.

Sigmund Column: Symbol of Warsaw – and a Gay Memorial

Some people quote a wrong date, 1932, as the date of decriminalisation of homosexuality in Poland.  This mistake comes from a lack of knowledge.  In this year, the ‘Makarewicz’ Penal Code was actually established – and it  didn’t include a penalty for homosexual acts.

But the history of tolerance towards homosexuals is much older.  In order to understand it, we have to go back in the past, to the beginning of  the Polish State.

In a nutshell, in the Kingdom of Poland the phenomenon was well-known, named, and, what was the most interesting aspect, seldom punished.

Medieval church courts could sentence sodomites to burn at the stake or hanging, but a nobleman could replace it (as an act of favour) with beheading.

It happened like that throughout most of Europe.  But not in Poland.

Polish historians have been proud that Poland was a state “without stakes”.  There was no death penalty for homosexuality.

The date February 27, 1493, is very important here.  On this day, King Jan I Olbracht finally separated secular and ecclesiastical judiciaries and placed a ban on the clergy’s interference in law courts.

Since that date, homosexual acts have not been penalised in Poland.  There was no such tolerance towards homosexual individuals as in Poland at that time.

How was the state of tolerance born?

Everything started at the end of 14th century, when Poland and Lithuania were unified by the political union and military alliance that was to secure them against the aggression from the Teutonic Order and to avoid the war between these countries for the Russian land.

The victory over the Order in the battle of Grunewald in 1410 established the Jagiellon dynasty and gave rise to the union of the two states.  The Commonwealth of both nations, composed of the Polish ‘Crown’ and the Great Duchy of Lithuania, was formed in 1569 in Lublin.  This gave rise to one of the largest countries of contemporary Europe.  The Commonwealth was a country with the Parliament dominated by the gentry.  Kings were elected.

The law guaranteed everyone the right to practice any religion, which was of high importance in particular in the 16th century, when Poland was to a large extent a Protestant country.

Moreover, the famous Polish tolerance – although nowadays this sounds sarcastic – also referred to Muslims (Tatars) who received privileges from Polish kings as early as in the 16th century.

Gays and Authority

First rumours about the homosexuality of Polish rulers were in the 13th century with King Boleslaus the Bold, and Leszek Bialy.

The latter died in interesting circumstances during so called ‘Invasion of G?sawa’.  It happened in 1227 during the meeting of Polish Princes.  When Prince ?wi?tope?ek invaded Gasawa he met few Princes naked, without security, in an urban sauna.

However Jan Dlugosz, the Polish analyst, has described for the first time a homosexual incidence among rulers
concerning King Wladyslaw III Jagiellon called Warnenczyk, who never got married.

Wladyslaw was fighting with Turkey in the defence of Christian Europe (formally it was a crusade) and he was killed during a battle in 1444 near Warna.

The King’s corpse has never been found.  There are several legends about his further history.  One of them suggests that the King survived and escaped to Turkey with his lover.  The Church officially recognised his homosexuality and because of that, Wladyslaw is only King Crusader who has never been beatified.

And you thought that Gay Pride was a modern idea!

Gay Prides in XVI century?

Some reports about the first homosexual individuals, directly demonstrating their orientation (they simply paraded) on market in Cracow in 16th century, have been kept.  A well-known historian, Stefan Bratkowski, has described them (but very shortly) in one of his books.  It wasn’t actually a gay parade as we know today, unless we consider a Polish word paradowa? (which translates as public manifestation) as a Parade.

A long line of gay kings…

Even King Sigismund the Old was suspected of at least being bisexual…

However, the greatest ‘star’ of these times was King Henri de Valois – the first Polish elected to be king, who became later the King of France.  He was stayed just 123 days in Poland.  But what he had done in Wawel in Cracow was remembered by the Polish nobility for a long time.  He wasn’t gay, he was transsexual.

History, like nature, likes balance. So surely that’s why Wladyslaw IV (1595-1648) , a son of the ‘king-Jesuit’ Zygmunt III, Waza, started to rule.  The same-sex affairs of the king Wladyslaw IV constituted a secret for ages.  But fortunately, my friend Sergiusz Wróblewski, a well-known LGBT journalist and historian from Poznan, has spent some time on revealing these interesting stories.

This is perfect story for a movie.  Wladyslaw IV was very powerful gay.  He was king of Poland and Sweden, he was Tsar of  Russia and Great Duke of Lithuania – and he was gay. This story is very long, so I will give only the precis…..

Even the city symbol is a gay emblem!

Symbol of Warsaw is gay

Only a few people know that the Sigmund Column – a symbol of Warsaw and the oldest civic monument in the city – was erected after conflict between conservative ultra-Catholic father and his homosexual son.

There is quite a lot of evidence on homosexuality of the king W?adys?aw IV Vasa. The emotional tie linking the king’s son with Adam Kazanowski was noted by several known people at the beginning of 17th century.  Kazanowski and his family benefited from it greatly. However, let’s concentrate on the Warsaw City.

King Sigmund III Vasa wanted his unruly son to be his successor. In order to facilitate his the election, he bought Bobola’s manorial estate near Krakowskie Przedmie?cie in Warsaw and refashioned the building into dignified residence that was donated to his son.

From chronicles, it can be concluded that it was the one of the most beautiful (and the most expensive) palaces in Europe of the time.  Young Wladyslaw gave it as a present to his lover Adam Kazanowski so the gift constituted beautiful expression of Wladyslaw’s love.

Since that time, this building has been called Kazanowski’s Palace.  When king Sigmund found out about this, he went mad.  There were many conflicts between father and his son, but this was the greatest.

The Church objected (naturally)

The Church claimed pagan Romans had built columns and Christians should not have done it.  Church resistance had greater weight because the Bernardines Monastery was the owner of the ground where the sculpture was planned to be erected.

Church protests against the construction had some interesting aspects.  For instance, a sculpture of the Blessed Virgin was placed to discourage the ‘king-sodomist’. However, after lots of adventures, Wladyslaw erected the Column.  This is the history of Warsaw’s symbol that today is associated more with catholic conservatism than with family scandal.

We also have in our history two bisexual kings: Michal KorybutWisniowiecki and the last Polish king Stanislaw August Poniatowski.  The latter started his political career in the English ambassador’s bed, from where he jumped into Tsarina Catherine the Great’s bed!

Gay Marriage is not possible in Poland today, but that is because the modern politicians have “redefined ” it, restricting it to one man and woman. It was not always so:

Catholic same-sex marriages

In 15th century Poland, two men, as long as they were from the nobility, could marry each other.  It happened in Catholic churches.  A ceremony had unique character. Men joined their hands and kneeled down at the altar.  A priest blessed them and read ceremonial prayers.  Next, both knights pledged that they “would love each other as whole brothers”, would support themselves with health and fortune till the end of their lives.

An oath was long and full of flourishes, in accordance with rhetoric of the rime. After that, the priest put the rings on their
fingers and blessed them again saying: “To glory of God. I wish you all the best wholeheartedly”.

The ‘newlyweds’ kissed the steps of an altar and joined their hands, bowing to moved nobles and marched through the church.

In eastern Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine there are lots of common graves of men that they spent their lives together.  If the Catholic church ever takes the decision to support gays and lesbian’s partnerships, it will be enough to go back to the ritual that was established five hundred years ago.

There is much more in the full post. Read it at UK Gay News

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Radical protesters shout slogans and gesture to Euro Pride gay parade participants in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, July 17, 2010. Over 8.000 people took part in the parade, for the first time held in an eastern European capital.

Gay Popes: Julius II

Julius 11 (1443-1513) positioned himself for high office during the reign of his uncle Sixtus IV. A lover of art, he patronized both Michelangelo and Raphael, and in 1506 he laid the foundation stone for the magnificent church of New St. Peters. However, Julius’ military conquests caused friction with the king of France and the German emperor. At their behest a council met in Pisa in 151 1 to consider his deposition. Arraigned as “this sodomite, covered with shameful ulcers, who has infected the church with his corruption,” Julius nonetheless managed to prevail by calling his own council, which was still in session when he died in May 1513

 Rumors that Pope Julius II (Giuliano Della Rovere, 1443-1513; reigned 1503-13) was involved in numerous homosexual liaisons are reported both in Protestant polemical tracts and in official reports submitted by ambassadors from friendly Catholic powers. Although the Protestant sources must be regarded as inherently biased, the frequency of these accounts suggests that they may be accurate. Julius’s enthusiastic patronage of Michelangelo’s homoerotic depictions of the male figure also indicates that he may have fully appreciated the physical beauties of men.

Appointed Cardinal in 1471 by his uncle, Sixtus IV, Della Rovere revealed great diplomatic skill in his negotiations with various European powers. As Pope, Julius acted as a very effective general for the papal armies, and, by 1508, he recaptured the Italian region of Romagna for the Papal States. Through his patronage of various artistic projects, Julius hoped that Catholic Rome would regain and even surpass the splendor of the city at the height of the Roman Empire.
As part of his renovation of the fabric of the city, Julius ordered in 1506 that the Early Christian Basilica of Saint Peter’s be demolished and replaced by a new structure, designed by Donato Bramante (1444-1516), who was the first Renaissance architect to create structures with the sense of weight and strong physical presence of ancient Roman monuments. Bramante’s Tempietto (1502, Rome) had been the first Renaissance structure to employ ancient architectural orders in a correct fashion. For Saint Peter’s, Bramante envisioned an immense centralized structure with a Greek cross plan. Among the elements based on ancient prototypes was the saucer dome, inspired by the Pantheon, Rome (118-25).
When he undertook the construction of the New Saint Peter’s, Julius resolved that his tomb would be placed directly underneath the central dome. Michelangelo (1475-1564) envisioned a monumental funerary structure with three stories, decorated with forty-seven life-size statues. Constant changes in plans, required first by Julius and subsequently by his heirs as well as by successive popes who did not want his monument to detract from theirs, were among the many factors that inhibited the realization of the original plans. However, Michelangelo had begun by 1513 the heroic, muscular figure of Moses, which was incorporated into the truncated version of the monument assembled in San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, in 1545. Of uncertain meaning, sensuous nude figures, the Rebellious Captive and Dying Captive (1513-19, both Louvre, Paris), also were created for the tomb.

By the end of 1506, Julius compelled Michelangelo to undertake the Sistine Ceiling, even though the artist did not believe that he had sufficient talent to complete this project. Over the next two years, the final program for the ceiling was developed through often heated negotiations between the Pope and the artist. The nine narrative scenes down the center of the ceiling narrate the history of creation, the fall of the human race through original sin, and the establishment of a Covenant between God and the Chosen People, led by Noah. These panels are displayed in a fictive stone framework, which seems to have the weight of Bramante’s actual structures. The figures became increasingly large in size, heroic in musculature, and dynamic in movement as work progressed from the chronologically later scenes of Noah toward the initial stages of Creation. Located approximately in the middle of the ceiling, the Creation of Adam visualizes a balance between human potential and divine power.
The program also includes enthroned figures of sibyls and prophets to the sides of the narrative panels. Sensual nude male figures are seated at the corners of the five smaller narrative panels. The meaning of these nudes is uncertain, but their homoerotic qualities cannot be denied. Insignia of the Pope’s family, including oak leaves and acorns, are displayed throughout the ceiling.

In Memoriam: Fr Robert Carter, Priest and Gay Activist

“Since Jesus had table fellowship with social outcasts and sinners, those rejected by the religious establishment of his time, I consider myself to have been most fully a Jesuit, a ‘companion of Jesus,’ when I came out publicly as a gay man, one of the social rejects of my time. It was only by our coming out that society’s negative stereotypes would be overcome and we would gain social acceptance.”
-Fr Robert Carter
There is no contradiction between being Catholic and gay or lesbian. Indeed, just as Robert Carter says he was most fully a Jesuit when he cane out publicly, so for many of us, we are most fully Catholic when we too come out in Church.  (I say deliberately “for many of us”, as coming out is always a deeply personal decision, which may not always be feasible for all.)

Robert Carter, Priest and Gay Activist, Dies at 82

The Rev. Robert Carter, who in the early 1970s was one of the first Roman Catholic priests in the country to declare publicly that he was gay and who helped found the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, died on Feb. 22 in the Bronx. He was 82.
  Robert Carter, right, with Dan McCarthy, left, Bernard Lynch and John McNeill at a gay pride march in the early 1980s

 

His death, at a Jesuit health care facility, was confirmed by the Rev. Thomas R. Slon, executive assistant to the provincial of the New York Province of the Society of Jesus.

Father Carter’s coming out was a very public one. In October 1973, Dr. Howard J. Brown, a former New York City health services administrator, announced that he was gay and that he was forming a civil rights organization for homosexual men and women. Then called the National Gay Task Force, it later became the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
An article about the group in The New York Times said: “A number of homosexual and lesbian organizations were represented on the board. One member was the Rev. Robert Carter, a Jesuit priest and professor of historical theology.”
Soon afterward he was visited by a subprovincial of the Jesuit order. “It seems that they were afraid I had had a psychotic break or something,” Father Carter wrote in an unpublished memoir.
Although there were calls for his expulsion by irate “Jesuits, parents and alumni of our schools,” Father Carter continued, he was not disciplined. In those days, the church and the Jesuit order were somewhat more accepting of gay people.
The church continues to hold that while homosexual attraction is “disordered,” gay people who are celibate are not inherently sinful. In 2005, however, the Vatican issued a document saying the church would not admit to a seminary or ordain “those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.’ ”
Father Carter helped found the New York chapter of DignityUSA, a support group for gay Catholics. In 1972, with the Rev. John McNeill, he hosted the first meeting of the chapter at the Jesuit chapel on West 98th Street in Manhattan.
“I refer to him as the heart of Dignity,” Father McNeill, the author of “The Church and the Homosexual” (Beacon, 1976), said in an interview. “I was doing all the writing, but he was on the front line, meeting with people, counseling people.”
When the Catholic authorities said Dignity could not meet on church property, Father Carter celebrated Mass in apartments all around Manhattan. He led blessing ceremonies for gay couples. He testified in support of the gay rights law proposed by Mayor Edward I. Koch before it was passed by the City Council in 1986. He urged Dignity to march in gay pride parades and marched himself, in his clerical collar.
Although he was a classics scholar, he was also a trained social worker who counseled gay priests and hundreds of lay Catholics. “As I sought to reconcile being gay and Catholic,” Brendan Fay, a longtime gay rights activist, said in an interview, “Bob Carter helped me move from self-hate to self-acceptance and then to a place of gay activism. He was like a Catholic Harvey Milk.”
Robert Earl Carter was born in Chicago on July 27, 1927, the son of Earl and Ila Grace Smith Carter. His father managed several music stores. He is survived by his sister, Nancy Glader of Prospect Heights, Ill.
Father Carter’s parents were Protestants who worshiped in a series of denominations as he grew up. Then, at the University of Chicago, he read James Joyce’s semiautobiographical “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” It introduced him, he wrote, to “the centrality of Catholicism in the history of Western civilization.”
He graduated in June 1946 and the next day was received into the Catholic Church. Three years later, he completed a master’s degree in Greek studies at his alma mater, and in 1953 he received his doctorate there. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1954 and was ordained in 1963.
Father Carter went on to earn a master’s degree in social work from Columbia in 1981. By 1985 he was counseling AIDS patients at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx; he later became a supervisor of the outpatient AIDS program at the Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan.
For him, there was no contradiction between homosexuality and Christianity.
In his memoir, Father Carter wrote: “Since Jesus had table fellowship wi
th social outcasts and sinners, those rejected by the religious establishment of his time, I consider myself to have been most fully a Jesuit, a ‘companion of Jesus,’ when I came out publicly as a gay man, one of the social rejects of my time. It was only by our coming out that society’s negative stereotypes would be overcome and we would gain social acceptance.”