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A Theology of Gay Inclusion, Pt 7: "In the end we will be judged on how we have loved."

In March this year, Fr Owen O’Sullivan published an article in the theological journal “Furrow” on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, “Boundless Salvation”. 

Here is the seventh extract:

‘In the end we will be judged on how we have loved.’

Many of the passengers on the 9/11 flights, when told they were going to die, phoned their families to say that they loved them. In former times, we might have thought that a better response would have been to beg God for forgiveness of their sins. I prefer the first, and I dare to think that God would, too.

If God is love, and if sex is loving, then sex between two people of different or the same gender can only be looked upon lovingly by God. The real sin would be to live without ever having had this contact with another human being.

Sacraments are places where God’s story and the human story meet. Not only do we need to tell the human story, but we need to tell it first; that was Jesus’ way of doing things and of teaching. The human story of some homosexuals is that awakening to their sexuality has meant taking responsibility for themselves and growing up. They say they have grown into better people for having taken the risk of giving and receiving love. A gay man said that, in experiencing being despised and rejected for being gay, he found that, ‘The ultimate sign of a person’s love is the figure of Jesus on the cross. The wound of homosexuality is not unrelated to Christ’s presence in the Passion. Through suffering, rejection and pain, people grow, change, and are transformed.’ Another said simply, ‘God wants us to be the people he created us to be.’ This echoes the saying of Saint Clement of Alexandria that, ‘We ought not to be ashamed of what God was not ashamed to create.’ Where is the Good News for homosexuals? Is it in the Wisdom of Solomon, ‘You [God] love all things that exist, and detest none of the things you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it. How would anything have endured if you had not willed it? Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved? You spare all things, O Lord, you who love the living. For your immortal spirit is in all things.’ (Wisdom 11.24-12.1, NRSV)

“Speaking the Truth” on Catholic LGBT Inclusion

Regular readers here will know that the infamous CDF document on “homosexuals”, Homosexualitatis Problema (better known as then Cardinal Ratzingrer’s Hallowe’en letter), is not my favourite Church document.  Nevertheless, it does include some important features, which many people in the Catholic Church too easily forget.
In its closing paragraphs, the document reminds us of the words of Scripture: “Speak the truth in love”, and “The truth shall set you free”. It is disgraceful that the document itself ignores its own advice here, but no matter: the advice itself is sound, and there are an increasing number of Catholics, lay and clerical, who are making up for the CDF omission, by speaking the truth in love on LGBT inclusion in church. The latest to do so is  Jody Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), in an address October 21 at King’s University-College, a Catholic institution based at the University of Western Ontario. In doing so, he reminded us of the other neglected portion of the CDF letter – the exhortation to treat “homosexual” persons with dignity, compassion and respect.
I regret that the only report I have been able to find of Huckaby’s address is from Lifesite News, which is not usually renowned for its sympathy with progressive causes in general, or LGBT Catholics in particular. Nevertheless, they quote some sections verbatim, which are worth taking on board:

“The somewhat charitable act of simply reminding gay and lesbian people that they are children of God is not the same as working to achieve justice and inclusion for them,” said Jody Huckaby.  “As children of God, they and we all deserve better.”
Huckaby, who was raised Catholic and attended Catholic colleges, appealed to the Church’s insistence on the dignity of every person and the duty to serve the disadvantaged.  He called for the Church to make the fight for homosexual rights a key component of its social justice work, on the same level as the fight against racism, sexism, and poverty.
In his talk at King’s, Huckaby quoted the Church’s teachings on homosexuality extensively, particularly the Catechism of the Catholic Church and various letters from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) while he was head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Discussing the Church’s call for homosexuals to practice chastity, Huckaby said that while the Church prohibits unjust discrimination, “the bottom line remains that for gay and lesbian people the only way to live in grace within the Catholic Church is to live celibately and with this as their cross to bear.”
“In fact, for those who choose not to be celibate, they are sinful and somehow playing a role in the discrimination that they receive,” he continued.  “Almost to the point that it seems that they might deserve what happens.”
After reading one section of the catechism he stated, “So this time around, we were taught that gay and lesbian people are intrinsically disordered, and that their actions – which one may argue, in this case, are indivisible from the person – are not to be approved.”
“All of the credible research indicates that being gay is not a choice, nor can one successfully change his or her sexual orientation from gay to straight,” said Huckaby.  “Therefore, no one should be made to feel that they have been forsaken by God because of one part of who they are.”
He condemned the Church’s vocal stand against “the battle for marriage equality,” citing various letters and campaigns from the U.S. Bishops’ Conference and various U.S. dioceses.  Further, he praised certain groups that have already been “building bridges of inclusion” within the Church, in his view, such as Dignity, the New Ways Ministry, and the newly-formed Catholics for Equality.
Huckaby was introduced by Fr. Michael Bechard, the college’s chaplain.  King’s principal, Dr. David Sylvester, defended the address when questioned by LifeSiteNews early last month.
As a Catholic who is challenging Vatican doctrine on same – sex relationships, Huckaby is hardly alone. The orthodox teaching of the institutional church has been criticized for decades, by theologians like the Jesuit (as he then was) John McNeill and Daniel Helminiak; by scripture scholars like William Countryman and Jack Rogers, and by historians like John Boswell, Alan Bray and Mark Jordan, who have demonstrated from historical records that present teaching is contradicted by the actual practice of the Church in earlier times.  
The teaching has also been widely challenged by organizations for lesbian and gay Catholics themselves, such as Dignity (USA), Quest (UK) and Acceptance (Australia) – and by Huckaby’s own organisation (PFLAG), by the pastoral outreach New Ways Ministry, and by the newer groups Catholics for Equality and Equally Blessed. More generally, research has repeatedly shown that most ordinary Catholics disagree with Vatican teaching. Collectively, Catholics themselves simply do not agree that same sex relationships are morally wrong, and in many countries (including the US), they are even more supportive of legal recognition of same sex unions than the population at large.
What I find striking about this address is not the familiar words or arguments themselves, but the venue – a Catholic college. Just as in so many Protestant denominations, formal theological discussion of the place of queer Catholics in the Church is starting to move beyond quiet discussion or mutterings among those most directly affected, and deeper into the formal structures of the Church. We have seen this in the cautious suggestions for reform, and a shift in emphasis from the homosexual “acts” to the relationships and respect and dignity urged by an increasing number of Cardinals and bishops, in a steady flow of important books by theologians who are not themselves gay, by the extensive list of learned papers delivered at this year’s Trent conference on theological ethics  – and by the number of Catholic colleges and journals which are increasingly willing to make space for these discussions. The move to more open discussion and reconsideration remains a minority one for all that. The lesson from the Protestant denominations though, has been that once open-minded study and discussion begin, minds are changed and movement occurs. If the reconsideration has not yet begun in the Vatican, we are not yet hearing of it – but I am certain that we soon will.

Recommended Books:

Sexual Ethics
Farley, Margaret: Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics
McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended

Salzman, Todd A. and Lawler, Michael G: The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology (Moral Traditions)

Scripture and Homosexuality

Countryman, William L: Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today
Countryman, William L: Gifted by Otherness: Gay and Lesbian Christians in the Church
Countryman, William L: Forgiven and Forgiving
Helminiak, Daniel: What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality
Rogers, Jack Bartlett: New Testament and Homosexuality
Scroggs: New Testament and Homosexuality

Related articles

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.”

Michael B Kelly on Gay Catholics and "The Church in Four Dimensions" (Part I)

A comment to my recent post at the Open Tabernacle ,“Excluded from God’s People: the Problem with Homosexualitatis Problema” puts the question, “Why not just join the Anglican Communion?”, a frequent question whenever I write about the flaws in the official Vatican line on “homosexuality”. (This is odd, as I have never yet seen the same question put to people who question the teaching on contraception, for instance.)
My short answer was:

Why, indeed? I may disagree (strongly) with the Vatican on certain issues, but the Catholic Church is far more than just a handful of power obsessed clerics in Rome, and far more than the bizarre teachings on sexuality. I will be writing more on this shortly.

My longer answer goes along the lines clearly expressed by the Australian Catholic theologian Michael B Kelly, in an address he gave in the Melbourne City Hall, at the invitation of the Cultural Affairs Office of the city of Melbourne in January 2004. This is contained in his excellent book, “Seduced by Grace: Contemporary spirituality, Gay experience and Christian faith”, which I was reading just yesterday, and which I summarize below.

Kelly’s preamble
Before discussing this specific question, Kelly reflects on the irony of the invitation he has received from the city where he grew up, a city with a past and culture which in many ways was deeply homophobic, where for many young people gay-bashing was seen as simple “sport” and recreation. He tells of a meeting he was once invited to, with two directors (one of them a priest) of of one of the most important Catholic social welfare networks in Melbourne. This organisation, he writes,

Does real grassroots work with prisoners, drug addicts, homeless lads, street workers, refugees. They represent the Church at its best.

Kelly had been invited to this meeting because field workers had identified the fact that a high proportion of the homeless young people were gay, and they wanted to know if he could offer guidance on how this agency could best use its resources in helping them. They had, he says, a useful discussion, he had to put to them a question of his own. Turning to the priest, he asked:

“Have you given any thought to how your organization might begin addressing the problem at source? How about changing the attitudes of people in homes and schools and parish churches and rural communities so that these people don’t end up on the street in the first place?”

(I should interject here, with the observation that around the world, verbal and physical bullying of gay youth are a major reason why young gay and lesbians are not only more prone to homelessness, but to a much higher rate of youth suicide than other groups.)
Of course, the directors had to admit that such an obvious approach to tackling the problem at source, would be way outside the mandate of a church-based agency.
The question and answer
In his address, Kelly then puts the key question:

I need to ask then, how I, as a gay man, can remain a Catholic.I many ways it would be easier for people like me to walk away from the institutional churches, shaking the dust from our feet as we go. I must say that, for many gay and lesbian people, they may need to do just that.
It is also worth noting that in the past few years the struggle within the churches has emerged into the spotlight worldwide. This is beginning to look like a watershed, defining concern for Christianity in the twenty-first century.
I would like to reflect with you on this experience of being gay and Catholic today. Because the topic is huge and time is short I am going to do so in broad brushstrokes. I would like to approach the topic under four headings: length, breadth, depth and height.

Length
By “length”, Kelly is referring to the long sweep of historical time over which current teaching has developed. He points out that the origins lay in a time when, with the supposed imminence of the second coming, virginity and celibacy came to be seen as ideals for all. Parallel with the exalted ideas about virginity and the celibate state, were also embedded older ideas from Hebrew culture embracing a “quagmire of ancient misogyny” embedded in the Jewish purity codes. Of course, marriage and family continued for some, but at the cost of developing an entrenched class-based society of two casts:

In those early centuries the developing church faced intense struggles between the reality of marriage, “house-holding”, procreation and the need for stable, structured forms of human community, and the radical “spiritual” renunciation of of time-bound, earthly, fleshly lifestyles..By the end of the Patristic period , a kind of “deal had been struck. In short, the church embraced the idea that permanent virginity, celibacy and total sexual renunciation were always to be preferred as a higher form of Christian life.However, marriage, sexual activity and procreation were to be permitted within specific norms……. for the purposes of procreation.

So, what we had developing here were not just two approved lifestyle for Christians, but two classes. Virgins, monks and committed celibates formed the higher class of Christian. Married people formed a lower class….. This “deal” was amazingly successful. So successful, that we have it still.

However, in the twentieth century, there emerged a major change in Church thinking about sex. It was finally recognised that sexual expression within marriage is not only about procreation, but also has a unitive value, and can be good i itself. This was recognised in the encyclical “Humanae Vitae”. This is best known for its controversial rejection of artificial contraception, but its acceptance of “natural” family planning, says Kelly, was in fact of enormous importance. This shift has not yet embraced gay people (or “artificial” methods of contraception, but it could.

“Of course, it is not a big step from here to suggest that same-sex couples can be committed, loving, generous and responsible in their sexual activity – and so they can be. When they come forward i the Church, however, and seek honest acceptance, support and blessing, only the collapse of the ancient “deal”, the old mentality around sex, body, pleasure and holiness comes into sharp focus.

This is one of the key reasons why gay relationships are becoming a watershed issue in the church. They make it clear that the structures, theology, legislation, and spirituality built up around the ancient “deal” regarding sexuality are falling apart. they call for honest change – or rather, they call for change to be faced honestly.

When I, as a gay Catholic, seek to engage with the institutional Church I need to be aware that I am at the centre of a maelstrom. I also need to see that the long and complex history I have so briefly sketched will continue to unfold, and that my life, faith and experiences are part of that. The “story” is far from over.

*****
To Kelly’s analysis of the history (which I endorse fully), I would add some further observations of my own. The historical development as he outlined it, did not unfold in a simple straight line. As medieval historians like John Boswell and Mark Jordan have shown, there were periods in the first millenium (and more) where the Church showed rather greater tolerance for homoerotic relationships than is commonly recognised – just as the following centuries saw vicious, active persecution under the Inquisition.
The early theologian, St Paulinus of Nola, is credited in the Church history with accomplished religious verse: elsewhere, he is remembered for the frankly erotic love poems he addressed to his male lover. Saints Sergius & Bacchus, and also Polyeuct & Nearchos, were two pairs of early martyrs – and both pairs were also lovers. In the medieval period, the saints Anselm of Canterbury, Alcuin and Aelred of Rievaulx were all renowned for their passionate (if celibate) male love affairs.
In the 11th century, a young man in France, John, was named as Bishop of Orleans. It was well-known that he had a history of promiscuous male love affairs, which included the king of France, Ralph, the Archbishop of Tours, and the previous Archbishop. The appointment was strongly opposed – not on the grounds of his sexuality, or even his promiscuity, but his youth. Nevertherless, the pope refused to intervene, and the consecration went ahead.
When Saint Peter Damian proposed a number of reforms to the practice of the Church, he included a plea for harsher condemnation of homesexual activity, which he claimed was rife in the monasteries. All his proposals were accepted by the reform- minded pope – except that on homosexuality.
Where the Church’s teaching and practice have fluctuated over the centuries, it will surely change again, just as it has already done on so many other issues of both doctrine and internal regulation.
(To come, in Part Two:
Kelly’s discussion of his other three “dimensions”- breadth, depth, and height.)
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“Sex As God Intended” (Book Review)

sex-as-god-intended-_-john-mcneillJohn McNeill, Lethe Press 2008.

I have just two small niggles about this book, so let me get them out of the way now. First, I was initally disappointed to find that this is not all new wrting by McNeill.  Only half the book is by McNeill, and the rest is a collection of celebratory articles, a “Festchrift”, by others. This Festschrift is welcome, but even his own writing is not all new.  I have not read all the previous works, but even so I recognised large chunks of the material as not just a restatement, but verbatim reprints, of  sections of  “Taking a Chance of God.” So big chunks of this are not new material.

Also irritating was the poor editing.  McNeill appears to have gone to a new publisher, who have clearly made good use of a spell-checker – but paid insufficient attention to grammar.  There were many instances  where the flow of the text was interrupted by obvious missing words, with important parts of speech simply not present, leading to incomplete sentences or clauses that just did not hang together.

Celebrating John McNeill

But these were irritations only.  It does not matter that this is not all new writing by McNeill, and should not be treated as such.  The Festchrift is the clue: this is not a continuation, but a celebration, of the earlier work.  Just running down the contributors, all of whom have made major contributions of their own to the continuing struggle of LGBT Catholics, is testimony to the importances of McNeill’s work as theologian, as writer, and as therapist. (One of the contributions is titled  “You saved My Life”  this is intended to be taken quite literally). Amongst the contributors, I was already familiar with the work of  Toby Johnson, Mark Jordan, Robert Goss, Sister Jeannine Gramick and Daniel Helminiak.  The contributions of others has left me wanting to explore their work too.

So what is this life work of McNeill, and why should we celebrate it?

“The Church and The Homosexual”, published back in 1976, was groundbreaking.  Many writers since have testified to the liberating impact it has had on their own lives, and it has become a staple in the exploding bibliographies on the subject ever since.  It was originally published with the blessing and ‘imprimi potest’ of his Jesuit order, but soon attracted the displeasure of the Vatican.  Ordered to refrain from publication and teaching on the subject, McNeill initially complied, and fell silent for some years.  In conscience though, he felt compelled to continue to write and to speak out. Like so many others, he left the priesthood and embarked on a precarious career as writer and psychotherapist. Subsequent books included “Freedom, Glorious Freedom”, “Taking a Chance on God”, and “Both Feet Planted Firmly in Midair.”

“Sex as God Intended”

In the current book, McNeill examines systematically the treatment of sexuality, particularly in same sex relationships, and finds conclusions rather different to those usually used against us.  As he and others have done before, he dismisses the old interpretation of the story of Sodom as a gross misinterpretation  The sin of Sodom was not that of sexual relationships between men, but the failure to offer hospitality to guests – an important traditional obligation in a desert society.  Where McNeill differs from so many other writers who have made the same point, is that he is not content to simply argue against the old ‘clobber texts’.  Rather, he goes further, arguing for the positive place of sexuality in the Old Testament.  Highlighting Genesis 2 (the older version) rather than the more usual creation story in Genesis 1, he shows how Eve was created because Adam needed a companion, not just a mother for his children. This balances the procreative nature of marriage, so beloved by our opponents, with that of love and companionship.

An important piece of new writing in the book is a celebration of the Song of Songs, as a scriptural basis for sex as play. He also presents evidence that this may have been written to celebrate love been men.  The gender of the protagonists, though is ultimately not important.  The passion and ardour expressed is sufficiently powerful that the Song can be read with any interpretation you choose – but impossible to come away with the idea that sex is only about procreation.

Similarly, in examining the New Testament, McNeill’s focus is on the positive messages for LGBT Christians, rather than a repetition of arguments against the clobber texts.  He shows for instance, that in his family of choice, Jesus is associating with same sex groups rather than with ‘traditional’ family groups. His analysis of the healing of the (male) ‘servant’ of the Roman centurion shows how this servant was almost certainly a sexual partner, even  lover, of the centruiion.  He also draws attention to the special attentions paid to John  the Evangelist as “the apostle whom Jesus loved.”  It has often been noted how Jesus in the Gospels has absolutely nothing to say about homosexuality.  John McNeill has shown clearly that in His actions, the Lord goes much further than words in acknowledging and accepting such relationships.

Joy and the Holy Spirit.

The joy of McNeill’s writing is always his emphasis on the positive.  His recurring refrains are a quotation from St Irenaus “The glory of God is humans fully alive”,  an insistence that healthy psychology and healthy theology go hand in hand (and healthy psychology requires in turn healthy sexuality), and  a strong underpinning of Ignatian Spirituality, in which we find God in all things – even in persecution and exclusion by the church.   You can take McNeill out of the Jesuits, but you cannot take the Jesuits out of McNeill, and I thank the Lord for that.

Central to this thinking is that the Holy Spirit is constantly at work in our lives and in the world.  In a context where official teaching on sexuality out of Rome is so obviously misplaced and psychologically unhealthy, it is too easy too lose one’s spiritual bearings.  McNeill reminds us that where Rome fails, the Holy Spirit is permanently at hand for guidance  – we need  only ask.

He goes further. In an important address to Dignity, reprinted in this book, he speculates on the active participation of the Holy Spirit in the church of today,  directly intervening in a ‘Kairos Moment ‘ to restore a proper balance between what has been the unbridled power of the papacy and the rest of the Church.  (I am delighted that I have secured permission from McNeill to post this address in full  on this blog, here.) At the time of writing, it was prescient.  Given the turmoil in the church in recent weeks, and the resistance of so many to the series of Vatican fiascoes, I suspect we may now be seeing signs of just this intervention.  As evidence, just see how Benedict has been forced to react to outrage over the most recent disaster concerning the SSPX by completing a nearly complete turnaround. What at one time appeared to be a slap in the face for the spirit of Vatican II has now become a firm endorsement of it!

This book may not contain significant new writing by John McNeill, but no matter.  If you have not yet had the benefit of enjoying his exuberance, this will be an excellent introduction.  If you have read the earlier books, then you should still buy it, read it, and circulate it, to join the celebration.

John McNeill, thank you.

Good News for Queer Catholics

The first time (as a young student) that I came across the title “Good News for Modern Man”, I did not realise it was an unconventional name for a new Bible translation. Later I made the connection, but could not see the relevance. “For Modern Man” I could understand, but in what sense “Good News”? After drifting away from the Church as a young adult, and later facing my sexuality, the description of the Bible as “good” news seemed even less appropriate. After all, ‘everybody’ knew how it was riddled with condemnations of any touch of sexual impropriety, most especially of the shameful sin of ‘sodomy’. There were a sprinkling of liberal churchmen, I knew, who took a more enlightened and tolerant view, but the Catholic Church in which I had grown up was implacable and instransigent. Like birth control, homosexuals were just not acceptable. So, like so many sexual minorities, I stayed outside the Church where I knew I was not welcome.

CB024386

Today, after some years’ journey of rediscovery of my faith, I find that the Bible is indeed “Good News”, including and especially for sexual outsiders; The Catholic Church really is the universal, welcoming community implied by that little word ‘catholic’ and LGBT people have an important part to play in it.

As I write, I can picture the jaws of my readers dropping in disbelief. In my experience, there are few people who believe that openly gay people can be accommodated in the Christian family: those of firm religious views reject out of hand the sinful ‘gay lifestyle’ (whatever that is), while people who have worked through the difficulties of coming out, have no desire to collaborate in ‘our oppression’ by religion. But around the world, more and more gay, lesbian and transgendered people are indeed finding that truth, as always, is more subtle and nuanced than the superficial perception, that they can after all find a welcome in a Catholic church, and that they do not have to renounce or compromise their sexual psyche to find it.

Naturally, we have some disagreements, even tensions, with the Vatican and some of our churchmen. The church and church people have inflicted great evils on our community in the past, and some smaller iniquities continue to this day. Likewise, Scripture contains some uncomfortable ‘clobber texts’ we have to come to terms with. But I submit that these texts are not as intimidating as we might fear, and in any case represent just a tiny fraction of the total Bible message. The Church, too, is greater than the clergy, the clergy greater than the Papacy and its attendant Vatican bureaucrats, and the Papacy far greater than its peculiar and disordered pronouncements on ‘homosexuals’.

If you remain sceptical, as I suspect many of you will be, I ask that you suspend your scepticism a little longer, as I share with you some of the experiences and insights that have led me to my transformed view of faith. I hope also to bring to your attention relevant topical news, information and comment.

But I do not wish to do this alone. The catholic church, after all, is above all about community. I have invited several of my associates too, to share their views, news and beliefs. Who knows? You may even find yourself stung into posting a comment or longer contribution.

I hope you do.

Terence.

 

Me

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A Kairos moment for Queer Catholics

Former Jesuit, theologian, psychotherapist and author John McNeill (The Church and the HomosexualFreedom, Glorious FreedomBoth Feet Firmly Planted in MidairTaking a Chance on God and Sex as God Intended) has written an angry open letter to the U.S. bishops. He begins by slamming the bishops for ignoring the call to dialogue made by Dignity 30 years ago, and continues by lamenting “the enormous destruction recent Vatican documents have caused in the psychic life of young Catholic gays, and of the violence they will provoke against all gay people.”Gay Catholics, he says, have had “Enough!” With repeated cries of “Enough! Enough of …….” opening each section, his declaration rises in power and anger to its climax.
Holy Spirit in action?.

To me, the most interesting feature is not the anger or the arguments: these are all too familiar. But at the end of the letter he claims to be sensing a “Kairos moment” – a time ripe for significant change. The last time heard such a claim from churchmen was back in South Africa, in what seemed to the rest of us the darkest days of apartheid. I think it was within just a year or two that aprtheid had been officially disowned, Mandela had been released, and the new democracy was firmly on its way.
Is McNeill right? The point of a Kairos moment is not just to sit back and wait for things to happen – it is a time of potential only. To achieve the realisation of this moment, we need to grasp the opportunity, and force the change that is coming.

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John McNeill

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