Tag Archives: On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons

A Theology of Gay Inclusion, Pt 8: "Are homosexuals showing church and society a way forward?"

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 eighth (and final) extract:

Are homosexuals showing church and society a way forward?

There is a long history in the Christian community of the stone which the builders rejected becoming the corner stone, the ‘sinners’ being preferred – as in the Gospel – to the holy huddle of the mutually approving who follow the official line.

Forty years ago, in Ireland as in other countries, homosexuality was a subject that ‘decent people’ didn’t talk about. But homosexuals found the honesty and courage to come out, to declare themselves, and to share their thoughts and feelings, often in the face of derision, hatred, violence or the threat of hell. They began to organize, to challenge the system, and to go political. They have brought about a 180 degree turn in public attitudes, exemplified by the Civil Partnerships Bill now going through the Oireachtas (legislature), something unimaginable forty years ago. Would that the church had so re-invented itself in the same forty years! Maybe the missing ingredients were the same: honesty, courage, openness, dialogue, challenging the status quo.

One finds a similar process at work among the ‘Anonymouses’ – alcoholics, gamblers, narcotics- and sex-addicts. They are at the bottom of the heap. By coming out, facing the truth, revealing their feelings, supporting and challenging each other, they have built communities which reflect what the church is meant to be – but often isn’t. Leadership is from the bottom up, the despised and rejected at the bottom of the hierarchical pyramid showing the way to the wise and learned at the top.

And recently we have seen how it was the suffering of the most helpless in society – children – which eventually led to the exposure of much of what was rotten in the church.

Will homosexuals help us to re-discover new/old ways of doing theology and developing pastoral practice, where human experience is the starting point? That has happened already with other teachings that didn’t tally with human experience or meet human needs. Will they help us to read scripture with one eye on the page and the other on life? They are equally parts of one process. Perhaps they will show us that human experience is as valuable as scripture, as Saint Ignatius Loyola, for one, affirmed. ‘The word became flesh…’ (John 1.14) – God still speaks.

Perhaps, too, homosexuals are showing men a way forward out of self-imposed isolation, out of individualism built on machismo, and a way of dealing with personal issues such as men’s identity, men’s spirituality, addictions, domestic violence against men, male suicide, how abortion affects men, bereavement, paternity and parenting, access to and custody of children in a separation, and care of one’s health. The issues are different, but the qualities needed to face them are those that homosexuals developed in recent times.

Some of what the Scriptures say.
A few quotations: –

‘God saw all that he had made and indeed it was very good.’ (Genesis 1.31)

‘God does not see as people see; people look at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.’ (1 Samuel 16.7)

‘Anyone who is not against us is for us’. (Mark 9.38-40; Luke 9.49-50)

‘Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?’ (Luke 12.57)

‘Whoever comes to me, I shall not turn away’. (John 6.37)

‘God has no favourites.’ (Romans 2.11)

‘We belong to each other.’ (Romans 12.5)

‘Each must be left free to hold his own opinion.’ (Romans 14.5)

‘You should never pass judgment on another or treat them with contempt.’ (Romans 14.10)

‘Do not let what is good to you be spoken of as evil.’ (Romans 14.16)

‘Your bodies are members making up the body of Christ.’ (1 Corinthians 6.15)

‘By the grace of God, I am what I am.’ (1 Corinthians 15.10. See also 12.18-21, 26)

‘Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you since you received him from God.’ (2 Corinthians 6.19)

‘You are, all of you, children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. All baptized in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3.26-28)

‘We are what God made us’. (Ephesians 2.10)

‘Everything God has created is good.’ (1 Timothy 4.4)

The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of ‘the whole church in which everyone is a “first-born” and a citizen of heaven.’ (12.23)

Or read 1 John 4.7-21.

For those who don’t like the above, the great consolation is that it’s all God’s fault. Why? For creating in diversity instead of uniformity, as we see all around us in – guess where? – nature, for making some people different from others. Or did God make a mistake?

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

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.

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.)
Enhanced by Zemanta