Category Archives: 20 Church Teaching / Tradition

"The Sexual Person": Bishops, Theologians Clash on Sexual Ethics

In 2008 two Catholic academic theologians at a reputable Jesuit university published a book, “The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology (Moral Traditions)“,  on the Church’s sexual theology which represented a fundamental critique of its entire foundations. The United States Catholic Bishops have now launched a strong counter-attack, concentrating their fire especially on the authors’ section on homosexuality.

I am grateful to the Bishops for this attack: it has brought to my close attention a book that I was previously aware of, but had not considered too seriously. After reading some reviews and the extracts available at Google Books, I will now most certainly read it in full – and will later discuss its conclusions with my readers. As I have not yet had this opportunity to read the book for myself, I will not attempt in this post  to evaluate the content or conclusions. However, I have read the authors’ intent and methods as presented in the prologue, and can contrast these with the bishops’ disappointing response, which I have read and re-read in full.

Todd A Salzmann and Michael G Lawler are both married, faithful Catholics who are careful in this book to work strictly within the Catholic tradition. However, as married Catholics living in the real world, they are compelled to recognize the well-known fact that most Catholics simply do not believe or follow the orthodox Catholic teaching on sexual ethics. In response, they have considered the teaching in its historical development, considered the Scriptural foundations, and examined also the findings of modern science and anthropology.
The bishops reject their book primarily because they disagree with its findings. As married men with real-life experience of sexual love in marriage, the authors are able to bring some personal insight to their discussion.
The bishops reject the value of personal experience. Salzmann & Lawler recognize that sexual theological ethics are a complex web affecting many different aspects, including marital morality, cohabitation and the “process” of marrying, homosexuality and reproductive technology.
The bishops train their fire specifically on the easy target of “the gays”. The authors discuss the many disconnects and contradictions in the Vatican’s own abstract pronouncements, such as those of “Gaudium et Spes” on the unitive value of conjugal love  and the failure of the Magisterium to give this formal expression, or between the guidelines on scriptural interpretation, and the complete failure of the Magisterium to follow these guidelines when pronouncing on homosexuality.
Even in the prologue to “The Sexual Person”, the authors point to the dependence of the Catechism on the Genesis story of Sodom to condemn homosexuality, whereas  most Biblical scholars no longer believe that this was remotely the point of the passage.

The bishops respond,

In the final analysis, all interpretation of Scripture is subject to the authoritative judgment by those responsible for the Church’s deposit of faith.

In other words, scripture means what the Church decrees that it means.
The medieval scholar Mark Jordan has shown from an analysis of its rhetorical style, that the Vatican is incapable of rational debate, instead depending primarily on techniques such as simple repetition of its own mantras. So it is here: in the  24 page document constituting their response to what is clearly a thoughtful, reasoned and thoroughly researched piece of academic writing which draws on a wide range of sources and approaches, the US bishops can refer only to the writings of the Church itself.

The book was prompted by the recognition that most Catholics simply do not accept the orthodox sexual ethics of the Catholic Church. There is nothing in the bishops’ response to suggest that it will change anybody’s mind (or sexual behaviour).

The bishops’ full statement is here.

This is what some others have said about “The Sexual Person”:

“This superb volume courageously explores Catholic teaching on sexual ethics. The authors’ exploration of the biological, relational and spiritual dimensions of human sexuality engages Catholic teaching respectfully, critically, and creatively. The book is a significant contribution to both sexual ethics and moral theology generally.”
-Paul Lauritzen, Director, Program in Applied Ethics, John Carroll University.
“This book is a much-needed contribution to the contemporary Catholic discussion of sexual ethics. The authors utilize the most recent sociological and psychological data to supplement their careful parsing of the Catholic theology of sex, gender, and embodiment. It is a work that manages to be highly theoretical while addressing everyday concerns about premarital sex, contraception, homosexuality, divorce and reproductive technology.
Salzman and Lawler embrace the model of theology as dialogue, and as a result, their treatment of borh traditionalist and revisionist views about human sexuality is constructive and helpful. They succeed in moving a seemingly stalled conversation forward”.
-Aline Kalbian, associate professor, Department of Religion, Florida State University.
“A bold and brave book! Tightly argued and well documented, this book lays out an understanding of human sexuality that expresses the profound work that theologians do on behalf of the Church in order to find ever better understandings of what the Church teaches in light of the witness of scripture, the tradition, and our understanding of human experience.”
-Richard M Gula, SS, The Franciscan School of Theology. Graduate Theological Union

This is from the publishers’ blurb posted at Google Books:

In this comprehensive overview of Catholicism and sexuality, theologians Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler examine and challenge the principles that any human genital act must occur within the framework of heterosexual marriage, and must remain open to the transmission of life. Remaining firmly within the Catholic tradition, they contend that the church is being inconsistent in its teaching by adopting a dynamic, historically conscious anthropology and worldview on social ethics and the interpretation of scripture while adopting a static, classicist anthropology and worldview on sexual ethics. “The Sexual Person” draws from Catholic tradition and provides a context for current theological debates between traditionalists and revisionists regarding marriage, cohabitation, homosexuality, and reproductive technologies.. This daring and potentially revolutionary book will be sure to provoke constructive dialogue among theologians, and between theologians and the Magi
sterium.

The bishops may disapprove, but this will not prevent this important book attracting careful attention from the growing band of Catholic theologians not tied to their apron strings, and from ordinary Catholics who place a search for truth above simplistic rule-book Catholicism.

I will have more on this once I have been able to source and read a complete copy.  For a taster meanwhile, I list here the table of contents:

Prologue
One:     Sexual Morality in the Catholic Tradition: A Brief History

Historicity
Sexuality and Sexual Ethics in Ancient Greece and Rome
Sexuality and Sexual Ethics in the Catholic Tradition
Reading Sacred Scripture
The Fathers of the Church
The Penitentials
Scholastic Doctrine
The Modern Period
Conclusion

Two:     Natural Law and Sexual Anthropology: Catholic Traditionalists

“Nature” defined
The Revision of Catholic Moral Theology
Natural Law and Sexual Anthropology
Traditionalists and Sexual Anthropology
Conclusion

Three:  Natural Law and Sexual Anthropology: Catholic Revisionists

Revisionist Critiques of Traditionalist Anthropologies
Karl Rahner: Transcendental Freedoms
Revisionists and Sexual Anthropology
Conclusion

Four:    Unitive Sexual Morality: A Revised Foundational Principle and Anthropology.

Gaudium et Spes and a foundational Sexual Principle
The Relationship between Conjugal Love and Sexual Intercourse
Multiple Dimensions of Human Sexuality
Truly Human and Complementary
Conclusion

Five:     Marital Morality

Marital Intercourse and Morality
NNLT and Marital Morality
Modern Catholic Thought and Marital Morality
Marital Morality and Contraception
A Renewed Principle of Human Sexuality and Contraception
Conclusion

Six:       Cohabitation and the Process of Marrying

Cohabitation in the Contemporary West
Betrothal and the Christian Tradition
Complementarity and Nuptial Cohabitation
Conclusion

Seven:  Homosexuality

The Bible and Homosexuality
Magisterial Teaching on Homosexual Acts and Relationships
The Moral Sense of the Christian People and Homosexual Acts
The Morality of Homosexual Acts Reconsidered
Conclusion

Eight :  Artificial Reproductive Technologies

Defining Artificial Reproductive Technologies
The CDF instruction and Reproductive Technologies
Parental Complementarity, Relational Considerations, and Social Ethics
Conclusions

Epilogue

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James Alison: Discovery of "Gay" = Good News For the Church

Wherever the Catholic sun does shine, there’s love and laughter and red red wine

at least I’ve always found it so.  Benedicamus Domino*

– Hillaire Belloc.
Matisse Dancers

Not many people today would readily associate the above words with the modern Catholic Church, especially not lesbian gay, transgendered and other sexual minorities – i.e. in the eyes of the church, most of us.  But James Alison is one who clearly would agree with the sentiment.  In a fascinating and stimulating new article, James argues that thee “discovery” in recent decades of homosexuality as an orientation, part of the natural order of things rather than a lifestyle choice or pathology, should rightly be seen as Good News for heterosexuals and for the Catholic Church as a  whole.  For lesbigaytrans Catholics, this is likewise obviously good news – but it is much more.  It is an opportunity, he argues exuberantly, for fun and delight in the Church.
What I would like to share with you is a sense of fun. I think being Catholic is huge fun. A huge roller-coaster ride into reality propelled by God, borne up on safe wings, gestated by the loving self-giving of Our Lord in his crucifixion, watched and smiled over by his Holy Mother, played into being like a virtuoso first performance of an unknown masterpiece by the adventurous coaxing of God’s Holy Spirit.

And right now one of the best places from where we can get a rich sense of how much fun this adventure is, is by looking at matters gay and their incidence in the life of the Church.





james-alison
This will be a novel and unexpected perspective for most of us, so used to seeing (and experiencing) our position in the Church in terms of accusations, lack of welcome or even outright rejection, often leading us to question our own inner selves.  This will be a hard sell for James, we think reading these introductory words, but James Alison is on his familiar ground of “delight”, and well up to the task.  In his previous writing, he has frequently emphasised the joy and delight of being catholic, and of being gay as well as Catholic.  Part of the key in retaining that joy, he believes, is to avoid the trap of responding to the Church opposition to us with an antagonistic relationship to the hiearchy.  Rather, he argued, it is healthier to approach the Church with an attitude of Ignatian indifference (an attitude I now aspire to of, but cannot always achieve) .  In this article, he expands on what others, notably John McNeill, have described as an emerging Kairos moment in the church, here thinking specifically of an impending transformation of the theology of sexuality, with gay sexuality at the centre.  (Kairos Moment:  from the Greek for a “an appropriate time, an opportune moment.”)
First, though he needs to prepare the way by establishing a frame of reference, and an analogy.
The frame of reference he applies is the “discovery” of sexual orientation as innate and natural.
So, to my first point. In the last fifty years or so we have undergone a genuine human discovery of the sort that we, the human race, don’t make all that often. A genuine anthropological discovery: one that is not a matter of fashion, or wishful thinking; not the result of a decline in morals or a collapse of family values. We now know something objectively true about humans that we didn’t know before: that there is a regularly occurring, non-pathological minority variant in the human condition, independent of culture, habitat, religion, education, or customs, which we currently call “being gay”. This minority variant is not, of course, lived in a way that is independent of culture, habitat, religion, education and customs. It is lived, as is every other human reality, in an entirely culture-laden way, which is one of the reasons why it has in the past been so easy to mistake it as merely a function of culture, psychology, religion or morality: something to get worked up about rather than something that is just there.

The analogy he draws is with the impact on human consciousness following the discovery of America at the end of the 15th century, and specifically the impact on map making.

And a richer example still: just think of the hugeness of what happened when Europeans made landfall in the Americas in the late fifteenth century. The sheer vastness, otherness, of what they had stumbled across by mistake, while looking for a fast trade route to China and Japan, would take decades, even centuries, to sink in. Every single feature of the way Europeans saw themselves underwent a radical shift of perspective in the light of the geological, anthropological, botanical, zoological and cultural “thereness” of something that had of course “always” been there, but of which Europeans had previously had no knowledge at all. But that shift of perspective didn’t happen immediately.

So why is this Good News, and for whom?

Well, first of all, obviously, for us as lesbian and gay people.  Recognising that we are an entirely “natural” part of creation, albeit a minority part, frees us from any sense of guilt or shame at being who we are.  We are clearly part of god’s creation, just as God intended us to be.  An important  corollary follows:

Each person finds their good by adherence to God’s plan for them, in order to realise it fully: in this plan, each one finds their truth, and through adherence to this truth, becomes free (cf John 8,22). To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity.”

Following this train of though
t, the above words logically lead to the conclusion that gay people have not just a right to defend themselves, but an obligation to come out, to bear witness to their truth and to articulate it.  These are positions I have frequently publicised and argued here on QTC.  So which radical gay or lesbian theologian produced those words?  Benedict XVI himself, in the recent encyclical “Caritas in Veritate”.  Of course,  in writing them, he wasn’t thinking specifically of the dreaded “homosexuals”, but that is precisely the point.

In the years immediately following Columbus’ voyage, it took a while for the knowledge of this new world to sink into consciousness, and for people to begin to understand the implications.  Alison is arguing here that at the time of writing the infamous Hallowe’en letter on the “fundamentally disordered” nature of a homosexual orientation, the understanding of the discoveries by scientists and anthropologists had not yet sunk it.  The church at that time was still working with maps that had not yet been redrawn accurately to show the full extent of the discovery.  As it becomes better understood, as the maps improve, the number of people who benefit will expand.  After the LGBT community itself, the next to benefit will be their families, but later also all straights.

Again, the discovery is rather obviously good news for the parents and families of those who are gay and lesbian, since it means that the false guilt trips which have been laid on them can be shrugged off……………..


We are only now beginning to be able to tell what are some of the knock-on effects of having discovered that what we call being “straight” or “heterosexual” is not the normative human condition, but a majority human condition. ……And this has important consequences for understanding the relation between the emotional, the sexual, and the reproductive lives of those who are heterosexual. If there are some humans in whom, as a normal and non-pathological minority variant, the emotional and the sexual elements of their lives are not linked to any possible reproductive element, then the link between the possible reproductive element and the emotional and sexual element in those in whom these elements are linked is of a somewhat different sort than was previously imagined. We are talking about something within the sphere of the free, the intentional and the deliberate rather than the mechanical and the fated. The relationship between that which is simply “biological” and that which is available to be humanised has changed.

Alison argues from this that the “discovery of gay” thus creates circumstances of greater freedom for the straights as well as for the rest of us, by offering more choices, and removing the fear of being considered “gay”. Bit the really interesting and exciting part is where he goes on to spell out the implications for the church as a whole, and for gay Catholics in particular.

Where I would like to take this further is in the really very interesting field of how this is affecting, and going to affect, the Church. So, let’s look at the alterations in the map of the world which the discovery is producing.


There was a time, in the not too distant past, when loud voices from Rome, along with their local amplifiers, would tell people like us that the only acceptable form of discussion about, or pastoral work with, gay and lesbian people was one that was strictly in accordance with the truth, and that truth was properly set forth in the teaching of the Roman Congregations. This truth, as it turned out, was that “although the homosexual inclination is not itself a sin, it constitutes a more or less strong tendency towards behaviour which is intrinsically evil, and thus the inclination itself must be considered objectively disordered”


But curiously, the very Church whose apparent “truth” in this area I’ve just recited for you, teaches very strongly ……that there is such a thing as something that is true independently of the perspective and wish list of any of us, and that that truth in some sense imposes itself on us. In other words, the same authorities who told us that we have to go along with their understanding of the homosexual inclination because it is true, are also, thank heaven, insisting that the truth doesn’t depend on them, and that they and their teaching are receptive to that which is discovered to be objectively true in whatever field it should emerge.

And the objective truth that is emerging is the discovery that homosexuality is in every sense natural, and not disordered at all.   By its own logic and teaching, the Church will have to redraw its maps of human sexuality to take account of this discovery.

Well, what has emerged with ever-greater clarity over the last twenty or so years is that the claim underlying the teaching of the Roman Congregations in this sphere is not true. It is not true that all humans are intrinsically heterosexual, and that those who appear not to be heterosexual are in fact defective heterosexuals. There is no longer any reputable scientific evidence of any sort: psychological, biological, genetic, medical, neurological – to back up the claim. The discovery that I talked about earlier, backed with abundant evidence, is that there is a small but regular proportion of human beings – somewhere between three and four percent – across all cultures who are hardwired to be principally attracted to members of their own sex. Furthermore there is no pathology of any psychological or physiological sort that is invariably associated with this sort of hardwiring. It is not a vice or a sickness. It is simply a regularly occurring minority variant in the human species.

In developing this new map, those responsible for drawing it will have to take account of one rather surprising phenomenon.  It is not simply the case, says Alison, that the official teaching on same gender relationships is flawed: rather, he claims:

It is properly speaking true to say that, appearances aside, the Catholic Church has no teaching at all about homosexuality.

This is because up to now, the theologians have not been writing about homosexuality as it is now known to be, but as something that previously existed primarily in their imaginations, based only on distorted reports – rather as medieval Europeans might have interpreted reports of a large, four egged mammal with a horn as a mythological unicorn, not as a rhinoceros.  This creates for us the opportunity to develop from the ground up, an entire new body of theology.

So here is a splendid, splendid opportunity for us to be able to say “yippee”! “Just in time”! Just as it was
becoming clear that the whole way of talking about being human which has sustained official Church teaching for much of the time between the apostolic period and now is in deep trouble, here at last we have an objective fulcrum from which to be working out what it is to be Catholic. ……We find ourselves facing up to the fact that we have discovered something objectively true about being human which is going to re-write our maps.



Now, I would say the fun lies in the challenge to discover Catholicity from within this process of learning, which is as it should be. ……We can relax into the discovery that God did something very big a long time ago, and is continuing to do exactly that thing, and that we are surfing the very big waves which are continuing to flow out from this in hugely creative ways.

But in doing so, we must resist the temptation to do it in opposition to the church, in argumentative or squabbling fashion.

Here we are dealing with something that is true independently of the positions and the authority of those speaking. Which means: its truth doesn’t depend on us, so we needn’t be in rivalry about it. And there is something marvellously freeing about this.


Now if we look at these officials not as people with whom we must be in rivalry, but as people who have a difficult job to do in the face of emerging truth, we can also learn to be much more sympathetic to them, without going along with their falsehoods………There is quite genuinely no firm tradition of Catholic discussion or teaching about human love and partnering other than that which is derived from the presupposition of universal heterosexuality and the goodness of marriage.


This is where we all come in. …..This seems to me to be the challenge for us now, and as I say continually, it seems to me to be a fun challenge: are we going to dare to be Catholics, not in rivalry with our office holders, grateful that they’re there, aware that they’re pretty stuck, but delighted to be beginning to take on board the contours of the new discovery about being human that goes with the term “gay”? Are we going to allow ourselves to be empowered to discover ways in which God is much more for us than we had imagined, that God really does want us to be free and to be happy, and to rejoice in what is true as we are stretched toward and stand alongside the weakest and most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers wherever we may find them? Are we going to allow ourselves to discover the potential for Catholicity that is opening up alongside the discovery of the new richness in Creation that shimmers within the little word “gay”?

Conclusions

What this is saying, is clear in its implications for gay and lesbian Catholics:

  • Catholic tradition, and Benedict XVI in particular, insists on reason as a complement to faith.
  • Reason dictates that the Church must and will recognise the implications of the “recent” discovery that sexual orientation is innate, natural and not remotely disordered.
  • This will force a corresponding recognition that we, all of us together, need to create a brand new theology of sexuality. This will represent Good News for all in the Church, gay and straight alike.
  • We have the opportunity at this critical point in history, this Kairos moment, to participate in this exciting, even fun-filled, adventure.

Read the full text at  The Fulcrum of Discovery: how the “gay thing” is good news for the Catholic Church (Footnote: Years before I became involved with Jesuit thinking and Ignatian spirituality, back as a first year student in 1970 at the University of Cape Town, I developed a soft spot for the several Dominicans I met through the Catholic student chaplaincies at SA universities. This admiration grew further in later years as I began to learn of the sterling work done by Dominicans of the calibre of Albert Nolan in adapting Liberation Theology to the South African context.     So I was delighted to see that one of the occasions for presenting a version of this paper was a conference at the Dominican Priory in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. ) Further Reading: James Alison Website Brokeheart Mountain: Reflections on monotheism, idolatry and the Kingdom Letter to a young, gay Catholic. See also:  Mary Hunt on Dignity at 40: Faithful & Fabulous

James Alison’s  Books:

Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay On Being Liked Undergoing God: Dispatches from the Scene of a Break-in Broken Hearts and New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal (Forthcoming) Although we as gay Catholics know Alison primarily as a gay theologian, he describes himself as a theologian, who happens to write from a gay male perspective. He also writes more general theology – and we too need to read outside the box (or closet? ) of sexuality: Raising Abel: The Recovery of Eschatological Imagination The Joy of Being Wrong

The Church’s Changing Tradition

The CDF famous (or infamous) letter “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”  makes the claim “Thus, the Church’s teaching today is in organic continuity with the Scriptural perspective and with her own constant Tradition” , and later states “Scripture bids us speak the truth in love”.  This is the image that the established church so likes to proote – of an authoritative, unchanging tradition “speaking the truth” for all time.  The image favoured by the church, however, is a false one.

In the context of current arguments about the papacy and its authority, it is worth recalling just how false is this proposition: for the tradition has not been “unchanging”,  nor has it always spoken “truth”. Indeed, the only constant over 2000 years of church history has been that of constant change. Josephus at “Salus Animarum” has been posting on reflections prompted by reading of Alan Bray‘s “The Friend”, and sharing thoughts on church history. This is a useful point then to remind readers of just how much church practice concerning same sex relationships has changed over two millenia.  The present intransigent attitude of the church against “gay marriage”, or even against civil partnerships, obscures the fact that in other times and places the church has sanctioned some form of same sex relationships, and even provided them with liturgical recognition.

John Boswell was the first scholar to establish in his research that the early church included a liturgical rite of “adelphopoeisis”, or “making of brothers”.  This he identified as having some of the characteristics pertaining to the marriage forms of his day.  In his two books, he also drew attention to the number of prominent churchmen and women in earlier times who are known to have had intimate same sex relationships in their own lives.  Bernadette Brooten has extended this research into same sex relationships in early Christianity with a particular focus on women, while Alan Bray approached the topic from a different angle:  in “The Friend”, he examined a number of instances of English and other churches where tombstones and church records tell of same sex couples buried in single graves, in exactly the same way that married couples sometimes were.  Like Boswell, he too finds evidence in the early church of a rite of “adelphopoeisis”. Like Bray, in tun, Valerie Abrahamsen has examined evidence of same sex burials – from Macedonia in the 6th Century.

Scholars, of course, differ amongst themselves about the precise significance of these findings – in particular, whether these relationships can be thought of as  resembling marriage rites, or even if there is likely to have been any erotic implications to them at all.  I do not wish to go into these nuances – it is enough for my purpose simply to show that liturgical practice concerning same sex relationships has changed.  Today they are vigourously opposed in any form, but in earlier times, from the early church in Rome and Byzantium, to much more recent periods in Western Europe, the Church has provided liturgical recognition for some form of same sex relationships at their formation, and at their dissolution at death.

Many other examples of changes in church teaching and practice could easily be produced – priestly celibacy was not required for the first millenium of history, marriage was not recognised as a sacrament, the church before modern times endorsed slavery and the inferior position of women (in its practice, it still does – but I am not going to venture down that path at present).

But most important, is to recognise that the papacy and the institution of papal power have themselves been subject to constant change.  It is worth remembering that the origins of  the current fuss lie exactly in the repudiation by the SSPX of the Second Vatican Council – a council notable, among other things, for its attempt to recast the balance of power within the Church, with a much enhanced role for the laity. Even the doctrine of papal infallibility, so widely known but so widely misunderstood, is of relatively recent origin.

Even the institution itself does not extend back to the earliest days of the church.  Before there was a pope, the Bishop of Rome was just one among many, then one of 5 patriarchs of equal stature.  After the rise of Islam placed the patriarchs of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandra under Muslim domination, just two patriarchs, of Rome and Constantinople, remained. In time, the Bishop of Rome acquired special status and power in the Western church, while that of Constantinople did so in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

I have come across a fascinating series of articles by Tom Lee in the Australian internet forum “Catolica”, which has been tracing in weekly instalments, the story of the first 500 years of the Christian church and “the invention” of the papacy.  I have found the early chapters riveting reading, for the insightful picture they paint of the historical setting for the Gospels, and the beginnings of the spread of the Christianity.  I look forward to reading the rest.

As we continue to watch, fascinated, the extraordinary machinations in Vatican City over SSPX, or despair at ongoing stupidities on sexuality, we can perhaps take comfort from the changing past.  The one thing we know for sure is that the papacy and its teachings, as we now know them will certainly change.  What we don’t yet know, is how – or when.

What IS a Gay Catholic to do?

An important question for gay Catholics comes out of the closet.

At America blog last week, the Jesuit priest, Fr James Martin opened up a conversation that is well overdue, but which has up to now been conducted only among those most directly affected, or in obscure specialist theological circles: “What”, he asked, “Is a gay Catholic to do?”
Introducing his question, Fr Martin began by observing five actions that most people would regard as standard life experiences or choices, but which are prohibited to gay Catholics if they wish to conform to standard Church teaching.  Briefly, these actions are:
  • To experience  romantic, sexual love
  • To get married
  • To adopt children
  • To seek ordination
  • To take employment with the church or its agencies.
What, then, is a gay Catholic to do? Fr Martin raised the question, which I suspect will also be relevant in many other faiths, but did not attempt to answer it. Having had the question put before them, his readers responded with vigour – but they too had few answers, beyond the obvious one of simply “accept church teaching without questioning”, and so to accept this misfortune as one would any other disability or ill-fate bestowed by God.
This is not a response that I would consider constructive – and nor would most of the other gay men and lesbians who joined the discussion. (Christ himself said nothing at all against homoerotic relationships). Only marginally more helpful is the variation on the above, to pray to the Lord for help, accept His guidance – and then follow church teaching, quite overlooking even the possibility that the response to sincere, deep prayer might be to ignore church teaching (which, incidentally, was my own experience – but of that more later).
There can be very few heterosexual people who would voluntarily give up all five of these actions. The supposed grounds for setting the expectation, in Scripture and in the Magisterium of the church, are disputed by some significant modern scholars. Is  it surprising that some gay Catholics are refusing to just roll over and play dead?  This is a conversation that has been conducted quietly for decades by gay Catholics themselves, and more formally by an expanding band of reputable academics in “gay & lesbian theology”, in “queer theology”, or even in “indecent theology”.  If Fr Martin did not suggest an answer to his question, he did at least bring into public view the simple fact there such a conversation exists, and needs to be conducted more openly.
In the absence of any clear agreement on what a gay Catholic is to do, I would like to summarise what, based on my own observations, gay Catholics who have seriously considered the question, have in fact done.
Conform
This is obviously the approved response, actively promoted by the church as the “Courage” ministry, which aims to guide its members to live in complete chastity. I have no information on the numbers following this path, but suspect that they are low.  Many gay Catholics view this with scepticism, or even downright hostility, for its links to the discredited ideas of reparative therapy. (See “All You Wanted to Know About  Courage “, at the Wild Reed.)
Conscientious (silent) dissent
In setting its rules, the church claims that the basis lies in the clear voice of Scripture and the unchanging tradition of the church. However, as important decisions over the past summer of the ECLA, the Episcopalians and the Swedish Lutherans have shown, there is no longer a universal consensus among scholars that Scripture is as hostile as was once assumed.  It is now obvious that there is at least room for sincere disagreement on the relevance of the so-called “clobber texts”.
Similarly, the church’s own Magisterium is not, as claimed, unchanging. As gay Catholic historians like John Boswell and Mark Jordan have shown, the Magisterium on homoerotic relationships is anything but unchanging, and indeed may have followed rather than led popular intolerance which grew steadily in the centuries of urban decline in Western Europe after the fall of Rome.
Church teaching itself recognises the possibility of disagreeing, in conscience, with official teaching, provided that conscience has been properly formed.  For years, this was in effect my own position.  The challenge of course, is just what does “properly formed” mean? In my case, it included many different elements, including personal prayer, formal spiritual direction with highly qualified priests, several 6 or 8 day silent, directed retreats, and extensive reading, of Scripture, bible commentary, church history and sexual theology, and informal discussion with friends, gay and others. For me, the outcome was clear:  the official teaching, for whatever reason, is misguided, and I must live with integrity, in accordance with the way the Lord made me.
I would have thought that I had done about as much to form my conscience as most people could reasonably expect, but it seems not.  To judge by the comments following Fr Martin’s question, many orthodox Catholics simply argue that conscience cannot be properly formed unless it ends up agreeing with church teaching.  And even where there is agreement that I may after all have the right to dissent in private, this may not be in public, nor does it give me access to the five things named by Fr Martin – at least not with the co-operation of the church.
Conscientious (visible) dissent
The problem with silent dissent is that is silent –and therefore lonely. One yearns for the opportunity to talk openly, with other dissenting gay Christians, or with other Catholics (when we do, we usually find that they have their own profound disagreements with church teaching, but somehow their disagreements in conscience, over contraception for example, are deemed acceptable, while ours are not).  As it can be difficult to find safe spaces in most parishes to give expression to these issues, some Catholics seek to worship, where possible, in dedicated LGBT congregations.  As a “solution” to the problem, this is not satisfactory.  (The church should not be forming a series of ghettos.) Still, as a strategy and interim measure pending more welcoming responses by mainstream congregations, they are valuable.
But these too attract strong opposition in some quarters.  (Here in London, the regular Soho “gay masses” attract a steady band of protestors, praying outside the church for an end to the “heresy” that we too should be able to attend Mass.  How they argue that their Catholic duty is to prevent or discourage people from attending Mass, I fail to understand.)
External dissent: Prophetic Witness, or Sniping From the Margins?
One of the most penetrating discussions of the problem I have come across is by Michael B Kelly, an Australian writer and spiritual director, now working towards a PhD in Spirituality.  In a powerful reflection on the story of the road to Emmaus, he observes that this came immediately after the resurrection – which the religious authorities, holed up in Jerusalem, had not as yet accepted or recognised, in spite of the personal witness of the women who had met the risen Christ.  Two of the disciples, despondent, left Jerusalem, and made their way to the town of Emmaus.  The next part of the story is well known – on the road they met a stranger, walked with him, and offered the hospitality of their home, whereupon they recognised the risen Lord. This is where Kelly’s version becomes profound, because he makes the next part, usually omitted, the key to the story.  Having met and conversed with the Lord at a personal level, they then leave Emmaus, and return to Jerusalem, to deliver the news of the Risen Lord to the religious authorities who had so dismally failed earlier to recognise him.
This, says Kelly, is what a gay Catholic has to do.  First, to turn away (possibly literally, possibly figuratively) from the religious authority of the institutional church, and to meet Christ on a personal level.  Having done that, having formed a personal relationship, the task is to take the road away from Emmaus, back to Jerusalem, and then to speak up to the establishment in prophetic witness:  that Christ is not met among the religious “pure”, in ritual and religious law, but among the marginalised and rejected, in love and compassion.
There are an increasing number of gay Catholic dissenters who have followed this path in one from or another, who have distanced themselves from the institution and who speak up in prophetic witness (as they see it) against the sins of the church, and in support of the truth as they see it.  They still see themselves (and describe themselves) as “catholic” (just not necessarily “Roman”), but do not necessarily participate in regular liturgical services.  Whether they are indeed perceptive prophets who will in time be seen to have been right, or whether they are simply misguided fools sniping from the margins, time will tell.
Walk right away.
Right at the opposite end of the spectrum are those who have simply walked right away from the Catholic church, disgusted and repelled by the harsh words and treatment it has for them.  Some of these make their way to more supportive Christian denominations, some abandon religion entirely.  The ones that disturb me the most are those I often come across in the blogosphere, who describe themselves as “recovering” Catholics.
Still no answer.
I have still not given a clear answer: “What is a gay Catholic to do?”.  I have outlined a range of strategies that some gay Catholics have followed.  I now ask you:  if you are indeed a lesbian or gay Christian, in any of the hostile denominations, what strategy do you adopt (or have adopted) yourself? If you are not gay, but willing sincerely to consider the question from their point of view, putting yourself in their shoes, and without simply parroting out slogans, what would you do?

What, finally, would Jesus do?

Read More:
What is a Gay Catholic to do? Fr James Martin at America blog. (read the comments, too)
All You Wanted to Know About Courage“, at the Wild Reed
Countering the Clobber Texts
The Church’s Changing Tradition , here at QTC
The Road from Emmaus:  A Reflection by Michael B Keely on the gay & lesbian Prophetic Role in the Church.

Books:

Alison, James:  Faith Beyond Resentment – fragments catholic and gay
Alison, James: On Being Liked
Alison, James: Undergoing God
Comstock, Gary: Queer(y)ing Religion
Glaser, Chris: Coming Out as Sacrament
Goss, Robert:  Jesus Acted Up
Helminiak, Daniel:  Sex and the Sacred
Kelly, Michael B:  Seduced by Grace
McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended
Schinnick:  This Remarkable Gift being gay and catholic
Stuart,  Elisabeth: Religion is a Queer Thing
Stuart,  Elisabeth:  Gay & Lesbian Theologies

Some Irish Sense On Gay Relationships: Another Bishop Speaking Out.

Willie Walsh, the retiring Bishop of Killaloe, has some unremarkable but encouraging words on homosexual relationships. Unremarkable, that is, for anybody outside of the Catholic episcopate. Encouraging, given that he is of it. Speaking informally at a civic reception to mark his retirement, he was asked for his views on the Irish Civil Partnership legislation, which was signed into law earlier this week. While making clear his unwavering belief in the traditional support for “family” and marriage, he made two important statements which should give encouragement to all gay and lesbian Catholics.
Referring directly to the civil partnership law, he said he had always been “hesitant” about asking the state to support a particular teaching of the Church. This is a clear distancing from his fellow Irish bishops, who were forthright in their attempts to do just that, with strenuous attempts to derail the bill.

(It is not a coincidence that these remarks were made on his retirement. Could he have been as candid before announcing his departure? ) He also said he “respects” people of homosexual orientation, and was “saddened” by the hurt the church had done to us.

“I’ve always been hesitant about asking civil authorities to support a particular teaching of our church. I do place great emphasis on marriage, I have worked in that area all my life and I place great emphasis on marriage and family life.”

“While I do worry about the apparent breakdown of family life, I equally respect the laws of this country. I have always done so and always will do so.

I respect people who are of homosexual orientation and I would be always conscious of the fact that very often we in the church have hurt them and hurt them deeply and I am saddened by that and saddened by the lack of respect for any human being.

He added: “It is deeply, deeply important and we would be endangering that at our peril. I know and respect many people who are gay. We should always treat them with the deep respect to which every human being is entitled.
The emphasis on “respect” is orthodox teaching – but not heard or seen in practice nearly as often as opposition to equality legislation, or to protection from discrimination, so it is good to  hear it articulated, as it is to read his cautious distancing from opposition to Civil Partnership law.
-Irish Times, July 13.
Still, the words themselves are indeed cautious. What makes them interesting to me, is that this is now the fourth bishop in recent months to suggest or imply a more nuanced stance on gay relationships – and as far as I can tell, not one has been rebuked or repudiated by the Vatican or a single other bishop. First, we had Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna  in late April, who has certainly not been repudiated – I’ve been watching closely. Then there were  Bishops Januario Torgal Ferreira of Portugal, and Francis Quinn, of California. (Note that three of these four are now either retired, or on the point of retirement. How many younger bishops feel the same way, but are more guarded in their words – for now? I suspect it will not take too much for more men too feel that the climate has changed, and so able to speak more freely.)
It is also worth recalling that the last unequivocal denunciation of homosexuality, the “Homosexualitatis Problema” was issued over twenty years ago. Since then, ten countries have approved gay marriage, including four Catholic countries and Canada, which is damn near majority Catholic. Meanwhile, there have been numerous reports of hostile words by Pope Benedict, including a reported attack on gay marriage in Portugal, just before the legislation was signed. But close attention to his actual words has generally shown they were not quite what the press was reporting. Even the Portuguese address, while probably implying a criticism of gay marriage, did not actually use the words.
Are we in the eye of a storm, do you suppose, waiting apprehensively while the Vatican prepares an updated Hallowe’en letter to cope with the new onslaught on “traditional” marriage and family – or is it conceivable that the worst of the storm really has passed, that the Vatican theologians are in fact quietly preparing a discreet, tactical retreat from the excesses of the JP II papacy on sexual ethics, while they attempt to digest and come toe terms with the implications for theology, as James Alison has suggested (Discovery of “Gay” = Good News for the Church“), of what medical science, biology and anthropology have already made plain: homosexuality is not in any sense “unnatural”, and is not diseased?   It is also not “disordered” in any sense except that it is not “ordered” towards procreation -but then, nor is celibacy.

Presbyterian Assembly: Lesbian/Gay Ordination.

Last week, the PCUSA General Assembly meeting in Minnesota approved a decision to accept openly gay or lesbian pastors without any requirement of celibacy. This move, widely reported, follows a similar decision by the ELCA in the same venue a year ago. This should be a clear cause for celebration – but hold the applause for now. The same decision has been taken in previous years, without coming into effect. First, the GA decision must be ratified by local presbyteries, which is where it has come unstuck in the past. Does the present assembly decision represent real progress, or will there be yet another failure at grass roots?

At “More Light Ministries“, who will carry  a major share of the work promoting the idea to local congregations, the mood is optimistic, but conscious of the hard work involved:

We rejoiced with the extraordinary pro-LGBT vote approving by 53 to 46% a “Revise-B” Ordination Overture. This vote advances the moral equality of LGBT persons in both Church and society within the USA and around the world. There are Presbyterians in over 100 countries. So, creating one standard for ordination for all persons regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or any other human condition in the Presbyterian Church (USA) is remarkable statement for justice and equality.
Historic levels of support for Ordination Equality during the 2008-2009 Ordination Amendment 08-B Campaign offer hope and encouragement. We look forward to the life-giving and liberating conversations and work of a national ratification campaign to ensure passage of this overture. Everyone participating in this national grassroots ratification campaign will ensure its passage.

This is the fourth year that this decision has been approved at GA – but the margin this year is almost unchanged from last year (in fact, support has slipped slightly – from 54 /46 last year, to 53/46 this year. At least one report from the grassroots, in a region where the decision was rejected last year, the expectation is that there will still be no ratification.  This is from “The State” (South Carolina):

The debate over the ordination of practicing homosexuals to the ministry of the Presbyterian Church USA once again moves to the local level, leaving some clergy energized and others worn out by the continuing debate.
“I’m frankly weary of it,” said the Rev. Scott Bowerman, pastor of New Kirk Presbyterian Church in Northeast Richland and an opponent of a more liberal ordination policy. “I’ve been talking about it for 20 years, and I’ve been involved in study groups and debates and conversations. I’ve not changed my position over time.”
“I hesitate to count the number of ways that we have dealt with this,” said the Rev. Alan Arnold, leader of Trinity Presbytery, which oversees 67 PCUSA congregations in the Midlands. “It has been four or five times that it has gone back to the presbyteries.”
He predicted Trinity Presbytery would again reject the new overture, despite updated language that makes no mention of gays and lesbians. The new language states that “standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life.”
-Read more at  “The State
Does that mean that the motion is doomed, yet again, to an endless stalemate? Not necessarily. There are strong grounds for hope, even so – and even if the ratification drive does fail.
First, the new moderator is strongly in favour of LGBT equality and inclusion. It is likely that her backing will help to strengthen the continuing work on the ground, at local level. It is entirely possible that some of the presbyteries that narrowly defeated the proposal last year may now switch sides.
Even if ratification is  not achieved, gains will have been made.  In a less widely reported move, the Assembly also voted to extend spousal benefits applicable to staff to LGBT couples on exactly the same basis as married staff. This is in itself an important symbolic move (and a hugely practical one for the people directly affected), and will help to set the mood for future votes, if they are required again.
Win or lose, the process is important. Once again, I am impressed by the discussion, debate and prayer that goes into decisions at these assemblies, which is such a contrast to the Vatican method of simply dictating from on high. We know from experience that where people of good will sincerely discuss pray over matters of homosexuality and faith, minds are changed. Sometimes firm opposition becomes tolerance, sometimes indifference is moved to active support – and sometimes a full Damascene conversion takes place, whereby former hostility is replaced by repentance and advocacy. The Rev. Peter Hobbie, a religion professor at Presbyterian College, said Monday he believes the continued examination of the issue is reflective of the Presbyterian system where “you keep dealing with it until there is a resolution.”
“I know that some people are getting tired of talking about it,” Hobbie said. “But you have to admire the people who deeply believe that it is a cause for justice and what it means to be a Christian.
“I think this is a very crucial issue in the life of the church and I think that it is one we should pursue,” Hobbie said, likening it to the battles over women’s ordination and integration 40 and 50 years ago. “I hope that more and more people are getting to know gays and lesbians and know what these Christians have done for the church.”

But the most important source of hope is fundamental.  Ultimately, it is not human actions that will decide these things, but God, who will not allow injustice to prevail. (For the arguments in favour of full ordination for gay and lesbian clergy, see the “Overture Advocates’ Speeches

Faithful Dissent, or Myopic Obedience?

It is surely obvious to anyone who has given more than a cursory look to the problems of abuse in the Church, that a major part of the causes of the cover-ups, secrecy and protection of offenders that we have seen in the past, comes the insitutional culture which demands unquestioning loyalty and obedience to the hierarchy of control. (This of course is in sharp contrast to the Church’s own teaching on secular law. Where a law or governing regime is unjust and brings harm to the innocent, we are clearly told to oppose it. ) The Church however, has never been much given to applying to itself the standards it expects of others.

Fortunately, we are starting to see some small glimmers of resistance and breaking of ranks within the clergy. Mostly, this has been mild, or expressed behind closed doors. Now we have one brave priest who has spoken out unequivocally, stating that he does not believe that Benedict XVI is speaking the truth about his own past record, and that he needs to resign to restore the confidence of Catholics in the Church. He has done so, moreover in the most appropriate, public manner possible: in a Sunday sermon during Mass.

The Rev. James J. Scahill greeted people after Sunday’s Mass. (Michele Mcdonald for The New York Times)

The Rev. James J. Scahill has been in trouble with the “hierarchy” before, over his public stance against official cover-ups and protection of offenders, but this is going a whole lot further. He  understands very clearly the obvious risk he is taking, but believes that in conscience, he has no choice.  This is clearly in accordance with the Church position that I was taught in apartheid South Africa on dissent in conscience from injustice,  but I don’t suppose that is how the men in control of the Church will see it.  How will they react?

That we cannot yet know.  If there is an attempt to discipline him, I will be interested to see whether they move any more swiftly than they did in the numerous cases now coming to light where action against priests known to have sexually molested minors was glacially slow, or even non-existent.  Fr Scahill will at least have the backing of his congregation.  It is notable that at a time when Catholics around the globe are leaving the Church in droves, or simply not bothering to attend Mass, attendance at his own parish is booming.   He describes the standard expectation of unswerving loyalty and obedience as “myopic”. He is right. Back in the old South Africa, critics of the government were routinely described as “unpatriotic”  (which has left me with an abiding distaste for the whole notion of reflex patriotism). I and many others knew though, that true fidelity to the good of the country as a whole, not just that of its rulers, demanded dissent, resistance, and (sometimes) defiance of the law.  Precisely the same principles apply now in the Catholic Church.  James Scahill deserves our support.

From

The Rev. James J. Scahill describes himself as “rather a reclusive person.’’ He insists he is no rebel.

But the parish priest from East Longmeadow was fielding media calls from around the country yesterday about his request from the pulpit on Sunday that Pope Benedict XVI step down over his handling of clergy sexual abuse.

In an interview, Scahill sounded exhausted but firm as he reasserted his critique of the pope: “The right thing is to be truthful, and if he is not up to dealing with this, then he should have the integrity to resign.’’

Scahill has been an outspoken critic of the church’s handling of sexual abuse cases since shortly after he arrived at St. Michael’s church in 2002, the year the clergy abuse scandal exploded in Massachusetts.

He infuriated the local church hierarchy by withholding payments to the Springfield Diocese until it did away with a fund to assist dismissed priests.

He made national news by pressing for a fuller investigation of the 1972 killing of a Springfield boy whose parents attribute their son’s death to an abusive priest.

And he helped to reveal the sexual misconduct of former Springfield Bishop Thomas L. Dupre, who abruptly resigned after he was confronted with accusations that he had abused children as a parish priest.

(Read the full report)

At Creative Advance, Gerald had an extract from a report by a local paper:

“The church will not have myopic obedience from me like the myopic obedience of the soldiers of Hitler,” he said. “There is nothing more prolife than the better protection of children from exploitation of any kind from anyone, and yet this church has remained patently silent about this.”