“On the second or third night of the conference,” according to Mr. Bond-Upson, “after dinner, Jim got up to speak. He told us that he’d been doing a lot of hard thinking that summer. Jim told us he could no longer live a lie. He’d been hiding his nature — his true self — from everyone except his closest friends. ‘If the revolution we’re in means anything,’ he said, ‘it means we have the right to be ourselves, without shame or fear.’
“Then he told us he was gay, and had always been gay, and it wasn’t a choice, and he wasn’t ashamed anymore and that he wasn’t going to hide it anymore, and from now on he was going to be himself in public. After he concluded, there was a dead silence, then a couple of the young women went up and hugged him, followed by general congratulations. The few who did not approve kept their peace.” ’
CHARLES DE FOUCAULD (Brother Charles of Jesus) was born in Strasbourg, France on September 15th, 1858. Orphaned at the age of six, he and his sister Marie were raised by their grandfather in whose footsteps he followed by taking up a military career.
He lost his faith as an adolescent.His taste for easy living was well known to all and yet he showed that he could be strong willed and constant in difficult situations. He undertook a risky exploration of Morocco (1883-1884). Seeing the way Muslims expressed their faith questioned him and he began repeating, “My God, if you exist, let me come to know you.”
On his return to France, the warm, respectful welcome he received from his deeply Christian family made him continue his search. Under the guidance of Fr. Huvelin he rediscovered God in October 1886.He was then 28 years old. “As soon as I believed in God, I understood that I could not do otherwise than to live for him alone.”
A pilgrimage to the Holy Land revealed his vocation to him: to follow Jesus in his life at Nazareth.He spent 7 years as a Trappist, first in France and then at Akbès in Syria. Later he began to lead a life of prayer and adoration, alone, near a convent of Poor Clares in Nazareth.
Ordained a priest at 43 (1901) he left for the Sahara, living at first in Beni Abbès and later at Tamanrasset among the Tuaregs of the Hoggar. He wanted to be among those who were, “the furthest removed, the most abandoned.” He wanted all who drew close to him to find in him a brother, “a universal brother.” In a great respect for the culture and faith of those among whom he lived, his desire was to “shout the Gospel with his life”. “I would like to be sufficiently good that people would say, “If such is the servant, what must the Master be like?”
On the evening of December 1st 1916, he was killed by a band of marauders who had encircled his house.
He had always dreamed of sharing his vocation with others: after having written several rules for religious life, he came to the conclusion that this “life of Nazareth” could be led by all. Today the “spiritual family of Charles de Foucauld” encompasses several associations of the faithful, religious communities and secular institutes for both lay people and priests.-Vatican News Service
For a possible gay connection, through his close friend Louis Massignon, see Gay Mystic.:
Sometime ago, however, I received a personal communication via a White Father with many years experience in North Africa, (who is normally very defensive about the church and unwilling to relate negative comments about saintly figures) that Foucauld’s death was caused in part as revenge for his practice of entertaining handsome young Tuareg men in his hermitage in the evenings. Rumors also suggest that the 15 year old boy was something other than a guard. This source did not affirm any improprieties on Blessed Charles’ part, (and I for one, would not believe them, if they did), but they do suggest a predilection for beautiful young males. The rumors, like swirls of dust in the desert, are difficult to credit because of Charles’ own dissolute early life and female lovers, but then, who knows? Read below of his very close connection to the great Islamic scholar, Louis Massignon, who underwent a great psychological crisis because of his own homosexuality, and who partly attributed his conversion to Christianity to Charles de Foucauld. Blessed Charles would later name Massignon the executor of his will and Massignon was responsible for publishing Charles’ Rule for the Little Brothers of Jesus.
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
With all the current fuss about the decision of the US Episcopal Church to consecrate openly gay bishops, and the Catholic Church’s declared hostility to gay priests and to gay marriage or even civil unions, we forget that in the older history of the church, it is not gay priests and bishops that are new, or gay marriage, but the opposition to them. Many medieval and classical scholars have produced abundant evidence of clearly homosexual clergy, bishops, and even saints, and of church recognition of same sex unions.
Gay Bishops in Church History
One story is particularly striking. At the close of the 11th Century, Archbishop Ralph of Tours persuaded the King of France to install as Bishop of Orleans a certain John – who was widely known as Ralph’s gay lover, as he had previously been of Ralph’s brother and predecessor as Bishop of Orleans, of the king himself, and of several other prominent men. This was strongly opposed by prominent churchmen, on the grounds that John was too young and would be too easily influenced by Ralph. (Note, please, that the opposition was not based on the grounds of sexuality, or even of promiscuity.) Ivo of Chartres tried to get Pope Urban II to intervene. Now, Urban had strong personal reasons, based in ecclesiastical and national politics, to oppose Ralph. Yet he declined to do so. In spite of well-founded opposition, John was consecrated Bishop of Orleans on March 1, 1098, when he joined two of his own lovers, and numerous others, in the ranks of openly homosexual Catholic Bishops.
An earlier example was St Paulinus of Nola, whose feast day was celebrated earlier this month. Paulinus was noted as both bishop and poet: his poetic “epistles” to his friend Faustinus are noted in the on-line Catholic Encyclopedia. What the CE does not remind us, is that Pulinus ans Faustinus were lovers, and the “epistles” were frankly homoerotic verse, which may be read today in the Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse. Church history for its first twelve centuries at least is littered with further stories of male and female clergy, some canonized or popularly recognised as saints, with clear homosexual orientations. Some of these, as clergy, probably lived celibate lives. Many clearly did not.
In England, there was Bishop Longchamps, the bishop that Richard the Lionheart made Regent. The well-known line on him was that the barons would trust their daughters with him, but not their sons.
Gay Saints in Church History
Church history for its first twelve centuries at least is littered with further stories of male and female clergy, some canonized or popularly recognised as saints, with clear homosexual orientations. Some of these, as clergy, probably lived celibate lives. Many clearly did not. Among many examples from Church history, some of the better known are:
Aelred of Rievaulx (probably celibate, but wrote intensely ardent love letters to male friends);
St Patrick (believed to have worked as a prostitute in his youth, and may have taken a male lover in later life);
SS Sergius & Bacchus( Roman soldiers, lovers & martyrs)
St John of the Cross (Well known mystic, whose metaphorical poetry of his love for Christ uses frankly homoerotic imagery)
Cardinal John Henry Newman (soon to be beatified, was so devoted to his beloved friend Aubrey St John, that he insisted on being buried with him in the same grave.)
Same Sex Unions in Church History
The earliest church, in Rome and in the Slavic countries, recognised some forms of same sex union in liturgical rites of “adelphopoein” . It is not entirely clear precisely what was the precise meaning of these rites. They were clearly not directly comparable to modern marriage – but nor were the forms of heterosexual unions at the time. Some claim that they were no more than a formalised friendship under the name of “brotherhood” – but many Roman lovers called themselves “brothers”. Some of the couples united under this rite were certainly homosexual lovers, but it is possible not all were. What is certain, is that the Church under the Roman Empire, for many years recognised and blessed liturgically some form of union for same sex couples. As late as the sixteenth century, there is a clear written report of a Portuguese male couple having been married in a church in Rome.
This recognition also extended to death. From the earliest church until at least the nineteenth century, there are examples of same sex couples, both male and female, being buried in shared graves, in a manner exactly comparable to the common practice of married couples sharing a grave – and often with the parallel made clear in the inscriptions.
The modern Church likes to claim that in condemning same sex relationships, and resisting gay marriage and gay clergy, it is maintaining a long church tradition. It is not. To persist in this claim, in the light of increasing evidence from modern scholars, is simply to promote a highly selective and hence dishonest reading of history.
and at “Queering the Church“:
From the “Lesbian and Gay Catholic Handbook“
- The Passion of Sergius & Bacchus (Roman soldiers, lovers and martyrs)
Also available on-line:
Burials in Greek Macedonia (Valerie Abrahamsen)
- Boisvert, Donald : Sanctity And Male Desire: A Gay Reading Of Saints
- Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century
- Boswell, John: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe
- Kuefler, Matthew (ed): The Boswell Thesis: Essays on Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality
- Brooten, Bernadette: Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism (The Chicago Series on Sexuality, History, and Society)
- Bray,Alan : The Friend
- O’Neill: Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People
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.
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
- Newman’s Democratic Church (Martin Pendergast,http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief)
- Celibacy, Homosexuality, Jeffrey John and Cardinal Newman (queering-the-church.blogspot.com)
- John Cornwell on the “Pontifical Hijacking” of Cardinal Newman(thewildreed.blogspot.com)
- Reflections on the Life and Legacy of John Henry Newman(thewildreed.blogspot.com)
- Cardinal John Henry Newman: a modern Christian (theglobeandmail.com)
- Pope visits Britain: Cardinal Newman’s beatification live (guardian.co.uk)