Tag Archives: Church history

Hildegonde of Neuss 20/04

(Also spelt Hildegund) She was born at Neuss, near Cologne. After the death of her mother, at age 12, she went with her father, a knight, on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. For her safety, during the trip, she was dressed as a boy and called “Joseph” for her protection.
While returning from the Holy Land Hildegund’s father died, but she was able to make her own way home and maintained her disguise first as a boy and then as a man. Later, she made a pilgrimage to Rome, during which she had several adventures.
On one of them, she was condemned to be hanged as a robber and escaped only when a friend of the real robber cut her down from the gallows.
After that, she returned to Germany and was accepted into the Cistercian monastery at Shönau, near Heidelberg, concealing her gender, and to her death she was believed to be a man. Her true sex went undiscovered until her death in 1188.
A few years later, abbot Engelhartof Langheim wrote her biography. She is considered saint, even though her cult is not approved by the Roman Catholic Church.

Cardinal Borghese, Homoerotic Art Lover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Catholic Case For Blessing Civil Unions

With gay marriage back in the news, one may well ask (and I have been asked) is there a case for the Catholic Church to provide some form of church recognition for civil unions?
I have several objections, which I have frequently stated,  to the entire foundations of the Vatican doctrines on sexuality – but the question I want to deal with was very specific and moderate, from a person whose undoubted sincerity and respect for tradition I freely accept, and so, for the sake of argument, I want to address David’s question on its own terms – from strictly within orthodox Catholic tradition and teaching. My short answer is yes, undoubtedly; my slightly longer answer is that there should not need to be a case, as liturgical blessing of same sex unions already has an established place in Church history, complete with fixed liturgical rites and ceremonies. However, this traditional practice is no longer familiar to us, and so I need to update it, together with some background information,  for the modern context.
I begin with what is foundational to all questions of marriage – the words of Scripture, in Genesis 2 (which is the earlier of the two creation stories, notwithstanding the familiar numbering):
“It is not good for the man to live alone. I will make a companion to help him.”
-(Gen 2:18)
Notice please: not a wife, to make babies, but a companion, to help him. So we have it on the very best authority, God’s authority, that humans need companions, not for sexual pleasure, nor primarily for procreation, but for help, companionship and support.

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

Gay Popes, Papal Sodomites

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

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

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

Lest We Forget: The Ashes of our Martyrs

For Ash Wednesday, I reminded readers here that the season of Lent is also a “joyful” season, an aspect that should not be ignored.  We should never forget though, that it is also a solemn time, above all a time for repentance and renewal, individually and collectively.

So it was entirely appropriate and welcome ten years ago, that at the start of the season Pope John Paul spoke of the horrors that had been perpetrated by the church in the past, apologised for the evils it had done to .    and asked for forgiveness. This was important and welcome:  I do not wish to belittle it in any way.  However, there is an important category of offence which was omitted from the list, for which he did not apologise, and for which there has never been any apology: the persecution of “sodomites”.

For the first thousand years of its history, the Church was disapproving of homoerotic relationships, as it was of all sexual expression, but showed varying degrees of tolerance, culminating in what John Boswell described as a flowering of a gay sub-culture in the high medieval period.  During the 11th century,  Burchard, the Bishop of Worms in Germany,

classified homosexuality as a variety of fornication less serious than heterosexual adultery. He assigned penance for homosexual acts only to married men. In civil legislation regulating family life in the diocese of Worms there is no mention of homosexual behaviour

In 1059, the Lateran synod accepted all of the reforms for the church proposed by St Peter Damian – except for his proposal for harsher penalties against monks engaged in homosexual affairs.

All that changed within a few decades. In 1120, the Church Council of Nablus specified burning at the stake for homosexual acts.  Although this  penalty may not immediately have been applied, other harsh condemnations followed rapidly. In 1212, the death penalty for sodomy was specified in in France. Before long the execution of supposed “sodomites”, often by burning at the stake, but also by other harsh means, had become regular practice in many areas.

Templars

Historical research to date has been patchy, and in many places the records have not survived. Even so, the evidence from the modest research we do have is horrifying.  In the largest scale, and best known, single incident, over 400 hundred Knights Templar were burned in the early 14th century. This is usually discussed in terms of trials for “heresy”, but in fact the charges were of both heresy and sodomy.  (These terms were often associated and confused at the time, but much of the evidence in the Templar trials made it clear that specifically sexual offences were meant).

To modern researchers, it is clear that the trials were deeply flawed, with the procedures seriously stacked against the accused.  In marking the 700th anniversary of the trials in 2007, the Vatican explicitly cleared those killed of the charges of heresy – but said never a word about the charges of sodomy.

Elsewhere, the trials and punishments were of individuals, or of small groups – but with equally flawed judicial procedures. (Typically, the prosecutor was also judge; torture was widely used to extract confessions;  and church and state benefited by sharing the property of those convicted).  These were sometimes under the auspices of the Inquisition, sometimes of the state – but always inspired by church preaching against the “sodomites”.

The severity of the pursuit and punishments varied from place to place.  Venice was one of the harshest, with several hundred executions from 1422, until the persecution finally ended. In Spain, it was calculated that in total there were more burnings for homosexuality than for heresy. Executions also applied in the New World – in both North America (where some of the colonists were accused and convicted) and South (where it was the indigenous locals who suffered for the Spanish prejudices) .  Altogether, it is likely that executions in Southern Europe, either by or with the collaboration of the Church, amounted to several thousand men.

Protestant Europe

After the Reformation, the practice of burning homosexuals spread to Northern Europe and some of the new Protestant territories, where the practice was sometimes use as a pretext to attack Catholic clergy: in Belgium, several Franciscans were burnt for sodomy, as was a Jesuit in Antwerp (in 1601).

The persecution finally began to ease from the late 17th century, when some “softening” became evident by the Inquisition in Spain. Nevertheless, some executions continued throughout the eighteenth century, to as late as 1816 in  England. The statutory provision for the death penalty was not removed in England until 1861.

Obviously, the Catholic Church cannot be held directly responsible for the judicial sentences handed down by secular authorities in Protestant countries.  It can, however, be held responsible for it part in fanning the flames of bigotry and hatred in the early part of the persecution, using the cloak of religion to provide cover for what was in reality based not on Scripture or the teaching of the early Church, but on simple intolerance and greed.

It is important as gay men lesbians and transgendered that we remember the examples of the many who have in earlier times been honoured by the Church as saints or martyrs for the faith.  It is also important that we remember the example of the many thousands who have been martyred by the churches – Catholic and other.

Sources:

The Church’s Changing Tradition.

The only part of Catholic tradition that is truly constant and unchanging, is the permanent presence of (gradual) change.

The CDF’s 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, howeer, 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.

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.

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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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