The Vatican this month is showing unprecedented, if symbolic, outreach on issues of human sexuality, using for what’s believed to be the first time the term “LGBT” in a planning document for a huge upcoming bishops meeting. Vatican officials also invited to speak at a second global meeting a prominent advocate for LGBT people, something some gay Catholic groups say has never been done.
The two moves, announced in the past 10 days, are being seen by church-watchers as largely an effort to speak in a more respectful way with a younger generation of Catholics who are confronting the church on topics from female priests and abortion to sexuality — but who are clearly not ready to totally walk away from the faith.
The efforts related to the Synod of Bishops on Young People (in October) and the World Meeting of Families (in August) are part of an explicit push by Pope Francis’s church to say “we have to pay attention to this whole LGBT reality, especially for those who have chosen to remain in the church,” said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, who has often served as an English assistant to the Vatican press office.
On Tuesday, the Vatican released the details of the bishops’ synod, or meeting, the third in major global gatherings about the family. The others were in 2014 and 2015. While the document was released only in Italian, the National Catholic Reporter noted it was the first time the acronym was used. The Catholic Church “has in the past formally referred to gay people as ‘persons with homosexual tendencies,’ ” the Reporter said.
Rosica agreed it was a first, but said “they’re just using the lingo young people use. There’s nothing earth-shattering.” Vatican spokeswoman Paloma Garcia Ovejero declined to comment on the reason for the adoption of the acronym beyond saying, “I guess there’s no specific answer … it’s just the result of so many proposals and will be used as a ‘tool’ for discussion.”
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke did not respond to a request for comment.
Hundreds of bishops will attend the meeting in Rome to discuss how they can serve young people better. Their meeting will touch on topics from lack of job opportunities for young people in some places and migration to digital addiction and the struggle for reliable news.
In a section of the synod outline called “the body, affectivity and sexuality,” reports the Catholic Reporter, “It states: ‘Sociological studies demonstrate that many young Catholics do not follow the indications of the Church’s sexual moral teachings. … No bishops’ conference offers solutions or recipes, but many are of the point of view that questions of sexuality must be discussed more openly and without prejudice.’ ”
“There are young Catholics that find in the teachings of the Church a source of joy and desire ‘not only that they continue to be taught despite their unpopularity, but that they be proclaimed with greater depth,’ ” the Catholic Reporter quotes the document as saying. “Those that instead do not share the teachings express the desire to remain part of the Church and ask for a greater clarity about them.”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways ministry, which aims to connect gay Catholics and their church, said the use of the term LGBT is very significant — especially compared with past language, such as people with “homosexual inclinations.”
“That said, there is nothing in this new document that indicates a change in church teaching. It simply indicates a new openness to discuss these issues more respectfully. How they actually conduct the synod, and, more importantly, what the final synod document will say, is much more important than these developments,” he wrote in an email to The Washington Post.
The second development involves the World Meeting of Families, a massive, Vatican-run event the Catholic Church holds once every three years. The last time it was held, in 2015, Francis was in Philadelphia. The church faced criticism from LGBT advocates when the only sign of gay families amid a days-long display of family issues was a gay man and his mother talking about celibacy.
Eight days ago, the Vatican announced details of the next World Meeting, Aug. 21 to 26 in Dublin. Among many other speakers will be the Rev. Jim Martin, a New York City Jesuit popularly known as Stephen Colbert’s pastor — but within the church as a fierce advocate for positive images and engagement with gay Catholics. Martin will be the first speaker at a World Meeting “on positive pastoral outreach to LGBT people,” the Associated Press reported“Building a Bridge,” about Catholic outreach to the LGBT community, has had several talks canceled in the United States in recent months because of pressure from conservative groups who oppose his call for the church to better accompany gay Catholics, the AP reported.
A survivor of clerical sexual abuse has said Pope Francis told him that God had made him gay and loved him, in arguably the most strikingly accepting comments about homosexuality to be uttered by the leader of the Roman Catholic church.
Juan Carlos Cruz, who spoke privately with the pope two weeks ago about the abuse he suffered at the hands of one of Chile’s most notorious paedophiles, said the issue of his sexuality had arisen because some of the Latin American country’s bishops had sought to depict him as a pervert as they accused him of lying about the abuse.
“He told me, ‘Juan Carlos, that you are gay does not matter. God made you like this and loves you like this and I don’t care. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are,’” Cruz told Spanish newspaper El País.
Now 87, Fernando Karadima, the man who abused Cruz, was found guilty of abuse by the Vatican in 2011.
Greg Burke, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, did not respond to questions about whether Cruz’s statement accurately reflected his conversation with the pope.
It is not the first time it has been suggested Francis has an open and tolerant attitude toward homosexuality, despite the Catholic church’s teaching that gay sex – and all sex outside of heterosexual marriage – is a sin. In July 2013, in response to a reporter’s question about the existence of an alleged “gay lobby” within the Vatican, Francis said: “Who am I to judge?”
The new remarks appear to go much further in embracing homosexuality as a sexual orientation that is designed and bestowed by God. It suggests that Francis does not believe that individuals choose to be gay or lesbian, as some religious conservatives argue.
Austen Ivereigh, who has written a biography of the pope, said Francis had likely made similar comments in private in the past, when he served as a spiritual director to gay people in Buenos Aires, but that Cruz’s public discussion of his conversation with Francis represented the most “forceful” remarks on the subject since 2013.
It did not, however, represent a shift in church teaching, Ivereigh said, since the church had never formally made any pronouncements on why individuals were gay.
Christopher Lamb, the Vatican correspondent for the Tablet, said the comments were remarkable and a sign of a shift in attitudes taking place. “It goes beyond ‘who am I to judge?’ to ‘you are loved by God,’” said Lamb. “I don’t think he has changed church teaching but he’s demonstrating an affirmation of gay Catholics, something that has been missing over the years in Rome.”
The remarks come as several high profile members of the clergy have sought to publicly make inroads with gay Catholics, many of whom have felt shunned and unwelcome in the church and have been ostracised.
Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest in New York who has nearly 200,000 Twitter followers, has led the outreach effort and was chosen last month to serve as a consultor to the Vatican’s secretariat for communications.
Martin has argued in his book Building a Bridge that the onus is on the church to make LGBT Catholics feel welcome in the church and to stop discriminating against people based on their “sexual morality”.
A contemporary Jesus arrives as a young gay man in a modern city with “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” by Douglas Blanchard. The 24 paintings present a liberating new vision of Jesus’ final days, including Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, and the arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection.
“Christ is one of us in my pictures,” says Blanchard. “In His sufferings, I want to show Him as someone who experiences and understands fully what it is like to be an unwelcome outsider.” Blanchard, an art professor and self-proclaimed “very agnostic believer,” used the series to grapple with his own faith struggles as a New Yorker who witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
High-quality reproductions of Doug Blanchard’s 24 gay Passion paintings are available at: http://douglas-blanchard.fineartamerica.com/ Giclee prints come in many sizes and formats. Greeting cards can be purchased too. Some originals are also available.
Papal apologies for the Catholic church’s behavior are a relatively recent phenomenon. Pope John Paul II, who held the title between 1979 and 2005, was the first to issue them. His successor, Benedict XVI, timidly followed that precedent; but it is Pope Francis who has turned the symbolic apology into something of a masterstroke, helping to shift the church’s atonement from a focus on historical wrongs to accepting moral responsibility for more current events.
In January 2017, Pope Francis met with Chilean survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests to apologize to them personally. It was a strikingly intimate gesture that demonstrates how the concept of papal apologies has evolved. Here’s a look at some of the most important apologies the church has made.
John Paul’s first papal apology in 1992 was for the church’s treatment of Galileo. In the 17th century, the church had branded the astronomer a heretic for (correctly) asserting that the sun was the center of our solar system. Because this contradicted the church’s position that Earth was the center, the church forced Galileo to choose between recanting his position or burning at the stake. He decided to recant, and spent the last several years of his life on house arrest.
This first apology was one of over 100 that John Paul issued during his time as pope, most of which concerned the church’s historical misdeeds. Yet not everyone was happy about this new turn in the papacy.
“There were some misgivings because many thought that would weaken the public standing of the Catholic church,” says Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University. “Some bishops or some cardinals evidently grew tired of this pope who thought that it was good for the church to apologize.”
My parents created a single view on the world for me through a Catholic lens. It was a narrow peephole that included Mass every Sunday, confession before Easter and Christmas, and don’t get me started on the fact that every time I asked my parents for help the answer was “go pray.”
As a child, this lens was clear, full of nightly prayers and Vacation Bible School. When I grew out of my training bra, I began to question Catholic teachings because the narrow lens didn’t seem fair to women. My perspective widened and feminism had all the answers.
The first frustration began when I discovered womanhood in the church boils down to being a wife or nun. To complete the seven sacraments and live fully Catholic, you must get married or work for the church. What if you don’t want to do either but still want to be a devout Catholic?
This causes single, gay and working women to feel like outsiders to their church. Women feel singled out by the church for being themselves and embracing a modern lifestyle. It seems unfair for women to be stuck in time and sacrifice who they want to be for the sake of outdated traditions. Or if you become a nun, you cannot rise to levels of power as men do in the church.
Women cannot be priests, bishops or cardinals. No, women can only aspire to be Mother Teresa and work tirelessly in the slums as a mother figure to the poor and needy. Meanwhile, men wear expensive white garments and heavily influence the Catholic population. As a result of men being in power in the church, updating women’s roles is irrelevant without women in power to represent the issue.
Essentially, the church is a boy’s club, but unlike politics there is no slow progress including women. Men are in charge, and without a woman’s perspective, they are incapable of realizing the misogyny within the church. The options for women in the church are few and serve as clear evidence of misogyny.
Catholic women are pressured to see motherhood as a rite of passage. The Virgin Mary best exemplifies this manifestation by being a virgin who birthed the son of God. She is evidence of the weight the church puts on motherhood. Again, there is an unescapable pressure for women to become mothers, which excludes gay Catholics, infertile women and career women.
Children mean a lot of different things, but for a woman they are always restrictive (blessings can still be restrictive). Historically, motherhood has been a women’s single role but now there are career women with fast paced lives. Women should be encouraged to embrace their talents and passions before having a child and shouldn’t be shamed for doing so. The church puts a high place on mothers (can’t blame ‘em, it’s tough being a mom!), but they need to consider that not all women want to be mothers, wives or nuns.
In addition, married couples are encouraged to have large families. In Jesus’ times, several children were relevant for subsistence living, but it has now become a financial burden to Catholics following outdated teachings to “embrace life.” Nowadays, to embrace life and having a few expensive pets will cost you approximately a quarter of a million dollars per kid. Yes, a child is more than a dollar sign, but realistically the church doesn’t account for the financial consequences of embracing life.
Indeed, fertility is a blessing, but selective fertility is being responsible and allowing room to map out a child’s success. Being pro-life is not about being prolific, but being able to provide the most concentrated energy into each life, such as providing the best academic and health opportunities.
Speaking of best health opportunities, abstinence is another outdated example of church teachings ruining modern generations. Corpus Christie, Texas exemplifies this best because the population of pregnant teenagers contributes to being a part of the highest in the nation. Of course, there are several factors to consider, but one is the majority of these young girls are Hispanic and Catholic. Hispanic Catholic households value traditions such as abstinence and often fall to ignorance on how to have a healthy sexual relationship.
The show “Jane The Virgin” best captures this Catholic culture within Hispanic families. Her strict Catholic Abuela teaches Jane Villanueva, the lead character, that her virginity is like a flower. Abuela makes Jane crush the flower, then Abuela tells her to make it perfect again, and when Jane can’t reshape it, Abuela tells her that after you lose your virginity you can’t be perfect again.
Jane’s mother had Jane at sixteen because Abuela’s flower scare tactic failed. The crushed flower image stays with Jane throughout her life and later struggles to be affectionate with her own fiancé. She waits until marriage and struggles to be confident in bed with her new husband. (SPOILER) When Jane is single again, she is handicapped to have a healthy sexual relationship and later admits her Abuela’s teachings greatly skewed the realities of sex.
It isn’t just Hispanic culture, but Catholic culture chooses to shame sex rather than be liberated with education and options. A culture that shames sex leads to ignorance and mistakes are a result. As I mentioned before, the Catholic lens is narrow and the consequence of maintaining this singular lens can lead to larger issues such as an unplanned pregnancy.
To be fair, the current Catholic Pope, Pope Francis, is turning heads by taking steps to modernize the church. Pope Francis has chosen to take a new approach on divorce, abortion, contraception and gay marriage thus making the church more inclusive despite traditionalist backlash. The appropriate alternative, for me, is full on feminism.
The lens of feminism allows you to clearly see that sex can be empowering when you’re given the knowledge to take control of your body and assert it how you see fit. “Your body, your choice” is much more than a chant at pro-choice rallies; it disregards all the decisions made for women’s bodies throughout history. Catholic history is what has trapped women. Historically, the Catholic lens puts modern women in these stagnant traditional roles under pressure of the church. On the converse, feminism is a broad and all around inclusive lens allowing women to write their own history.
In the most recent episode of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation podcast The Current, hostess Anna Maria Tremonti spoke with former seminarian and Vatican expert Robert Mickens who said, “There are a large number … of people in the priesthood and in religious life who have homosexual orientation,” adding “What you end up having are a lot of self-loathing, homophobic homosexuals in the priesthood.”
The Vatican and entire Catholic priesthood are apparently very, very gay
Mickens himself chose to leave the seminary when he fell in love with a fellow male seminarian. He lived in Rome at the time, and spoke to Tremonti about what he saw when he started going to Rome’s gay nightclubs and hotspots:
“Starting to go to gay places, you know, clubs and the beach … and I was running into all kinds of priests and even seminarians, people who worked at the Vatican. Gay bathhouses, I’d meet priests there. I met people who are bishops today. I pity these people because I know they must live double-lives. I don’t know how they do it. I think people end up self-destructing.
“I know a number of priests who have partners or who have ‘special friends’ from various stages of platonic to full-blown almost husband-and-husband relationships. The church and certainly the Vatican is certainly a homoerotic place. Take a look or walk through the Vatican museums. It’s all genitalia all over the place….
“And look at the rituals, the young men who sing at these things — it’s all men up there. The bring out the pretty ones, you know. Look at the bishops, look at who their secretaries are — it’s always the pretty one. And they’re blind to it. There’s nothing going on, but it’s eye candy; they love surrounding themselves. They wear dresses for God’s sake.
“In the Vatican, it’s basically as long as you’re discreet, you don’t get caught. But once you do, you’re all on your own. We’re not going to help you.”
According to Tremonti, a 2002 poll by The L.A. Times revealed that 15% of American priests identify as gay or “somewhere in between leaning on the homosexual side” — 23% of younger priests identify the same way. However, she also said that many gay priests that she has talked to say that the percentage is much higher, as high as 70%.
Mickens thinks the church wants to keep homosexuality a taboo so that “those pious young men” will continue to think of priesthood as a noble profession rather than simply as way to live a gay life. He also says that if the church began openly accepting its gay clergy and laymen, it would lose a great deal of support from its larger worldwide ministry. Put another way, the power of homophobia fuels the church, even though large numbers of homosexuals help run it.
Here’s the podcast where Mickens talks about the Vatican’s gay priests:
The story of a closeted Vatican insider who stood up to its homophobia
In the same podcast, Krzysztof Charamsa, a gay defrocked Polish priest (pictured in the featured image at top) said, “The Catholic Church is the principal political agency of homophobic position in the world. Very powerful.”
From 2003 until 2015, Charamsa worked as a senior add at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that writes and enforces Catholic rules. For most of his time there, his boss was Joseph Ratzinger, the cardinal who would later become Pope Benedict XVI (or as we liked to call him, Papa Ratzi), a pope who issued numerous statements against LGBTQ people including one calling them “intrinsically disordered” and calling homosexuality an “inherent moral evil.“
When asked of his opinion about the church’s stance on homosexuality, Charamsa (who was painfully closeted and still working at the Vatican) affirmed its goodness and then privately cried in his office afterwards.
He eventually fell in love with a man from Barcelona named Eduard. “When I discovered that I love this man,” Charamsa told the podcast in broken English, “I think ‘You must say who you are.’ For us there was no possibility to double-life. For me, for my partner, it was impossible.”
Charamsa’s friends recommended against his coming out in fear that it would jeopardize his career, financial stability, pension and influential standing in the church, but he came out in October 2015 anyway, introducing his partner to international journalists. During the announcement, he slammed the Vatican for its “paranoid homophobia” and apologized for his own complicity in the church’s demonization of gay people.
Though he issued his resignation, the Vatican formally fired and defrocked him soon after. He lost his pension, his status and is now forbidden from teaching in any Catholic university. He has since become an advocate for LGBTQ rights and Catholic reform. He also says that living with Eduard in Barcelona has helped him understand the love of family, feeling that people now love him completely because he is whole.
However, in his home country of Poland, Charamsa says, Catholic homophobia looms large, making LGBTQ people and even his family (who sometimes get ridiculed for his famous coming out) miserable. He recently appeared in Article 18, a documentary about Poland’s refusal of same-sex marriage.
Though he appreciates that the current Pope has encouraged Catholics to embrace LGBTQ people rather than demonize them, Charamsa says, “If the Church can’t make a serious, scientific reflection on homosexuality and include it in its teachings, even the Holy Father’s openings and warm words on gays are empty.”
Biblical arguments for LGBTQ rights and a queer Jesus may seem like new ideas, but they were pioneered about 200 years ago by an influential British philosopher — in writings that were published only recently.
Philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832) presented Biblical evidence for Jesus’ homosexuality as part of his theological defense for same-sex love in “Not Paul, but Jesus Vol. III.” It was published for the first time in 2013 and is freely available to download or view online. He died on June 6, 1832.
Bentham didn’t dare publish it during his lifetime because he feared being labeled a “sodomite” himself. At the time “buggery” was punished with death by hanging in England.
This champion of sexual freedom was far, far ahead of his time. “Not Paul, but Jesus” lays out many of the same arguments that are still used today by LGBTQ
Christians and our allies: debunking the scriptures typically used to condemn LGBTQ people and pointing out that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. Bentham goes on to present an idea that many still consider blasphemous. He suggests that Jesus had male-male sexual relationships.
Bentham wrote the book so long ago that the word “homosexuality” had not been invented yet. Instead he has a chapter titled “The eccentric pleasures of the bed, whether partaken of by Jesus?” His language may sound quaint, but his ideas are right on target for today. Bentham himself struggled with words for what we call homosexuality, deliberately creating new vocabulary so he could avoid the negative connotations associated with the terminology of his day (sodomy, buggery, perversion, etc.).
Bentham is best known as the founder of Utilitarianism, a philosophy that advocates “the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people” A respected thinker during his lifetime, Bentham was also far advanced on a wide range of other legal, economic and political issues. He coined the word “international.” He was one of the first proponents of animal rights. He supported women’s equality and opposed slavery and capital punishment. He corresponded with various world leaders, including US presidents Jefferson and Madison. Several South and Central American nations sought his advice in creating their constitutions and legal codes. Born and raised in a devout Anglican family in London, he became an agnostic who believed that religion was an instrument of oppression. His solution was separation of church and state.
In the third volume of “Not Paul, but Jesus Vol. III,” Bentham corrects false interpretations of what would later come to be called the “clobber passages.” He identifies the sin of Sodom as gang-rape. He puts the sexual prohibitions of the Hebrew scriptures into historical context, pointing out that many of the other taboos are no longer enforced.
Bentham dismisses Paul’s condemnations of homosexuality as an asceticism not shared by Jesus himself. He sees romantic love between Old Testament heroes Jonathan and David — and possibly between Jesus and his beloved disciple John, noting that the Bible reports their loving touch without condemnation.
Bentham goes on to analyze the account in Mark’s gospel of “the stripling in the loose attire” (now usually known as “the naked young man”) at the arrest of Jesus — a passage that continues to fuel 21st-century speculations in the LGBTQ community. He urges readers to consider the most “probable interpretation” for the nakedness. (In a different manuscript he made it clear that the youth was probably a male prostitute loyal to Jesus.) Bentham even hints that Jesus was killed for homosexuality, asking readers to consider what interaction with a naked man could be “so awful” that it leads to cruel execution.
Pro-LGBTQ Christians today often note that Jesus never said anything against homosexuality. Bentham makes the same point in his own elaborate way, with sentences such as: “In the acts or discourses of Jesus, had any such marks of reprobation towards the mode of sexuality in question been to be found as may be seen in such abundance in the epistles of Paul—in a word, had any one decided mark of reprobation been so to be found as pronounced upon it by Jesus, in the eyes [of] no believer in Jesus could any such body of evidence as hath here been seen [to] present itself be considered as worth regarding.”
Indeed Bentham’s main purpose in all three volumes of “Not Paul, but Jesus” is to show the error in following the ascetic Paul instead of the true Christianity of the more tolerant Jesus, who accepted the human pursuit of pleasure. This concept is introduced in the first volume of “Not Paul, but Jesus” was published in 1823. Fearing hostile reactions, Bentham used the pseudonym Gamaliel Smith. The second volume, which deals with the early church, and the third volume, which focuses on sexual morality, remained unpublished.
Bentham wrote more than 500 pages explaining his liberal views on homosexuality during the last 50 years of his life. Some of these documents may have circulated among his followers, but none of it was published during his lifetime.
The first Bentham writings on homosexuality to be published were primarily secular. His 1785 essay “Offences Against One’s Self: Paederasty” is considered the first document arguing for decriminalization of homosexuality in England. He reasoned that consensual sex between same-sex partners should not be punished because it does not harm anyone. The essay was not published until 1931, when a fragment first appeared in print. The full essay was finally published in 1978.
Only now are Bentham’s writings on Jesus and homosexuality coming to light. The third volume of “Not Paul, but Jesus” was not published in any form until 2013. It was released last year by the Bentham Project at University College London, which counts him as its spiritual father.
A section on “Jesus’s Sexuality” is also included in the 2012 article “Jeremy Bentham: Prophet of Secularism” by Philip Schofield, director of the Bentham Project. He draws on the “Not Paul” book and another set of manuscripts to draw powerful conclusions such as this:
Bentham claimed that, unlike Paul, Jesus did not, according to any account that appeared in the four Gospels, condemn either the pleasures of the table or the pleasures of the bed. On the contrary, Jesus’s opposition to asceticism was shown in his condemnation of the Mosaic law in Matthew 9: 9–17…. Bentham pointed out that Paul’s most forceful condemnation was directed towards homosexuality. Bentham responded that not only had Jesus never condemned homosexuality, but that he had probably engaged in it. There were, moreover, many females in Jesus’s immediate circle, and again Bentham saw no reason why Jesus might not have engaged in heterosexual activity as well.
Although Bentham doggedly defended consensual sexual activity between same-sex couples for half a century, his own love life remains a mystery. The son of a wealthy lawyer, he was a child prodigy who grew up to be a brilliant and eccentric recluse, living alone in London in what he called “a state of perpetual and unruffled gaiety.” He referred to his home as his “hermitage.” He lived there with a “sacred teapot” called Dicky, a favorite walking stick named Dapple, and a beloved tom cat addressed as the Reverend Doctor John Langborn. He declared, “I love everything that has four legs,” and allowed a colony of mice to share his office. One study concludes he had Asperger Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. Check this link for an 1827 description of Bentham’s eccentricities.
The philosopher’s influence continued to grow after his death as his supporters spread his ideas. Most of what is now known as liberalism is rooted in Bentham’s philosophy. His diverse followers included economist John Stuart Mill and feminist firebrand Frances “Fanny” Wright, who once exclaimed in a poem, “Oh had I but the Lesbyan’s lyre, / Blue-eyed Sappho’s fervid strain, / Then might I hope thy blood to fire…”.
Contemporary queer theologians such as Robert Shore-Goss have recognized him too. Shore-Goss writes a section about Bentham in the chapter on “Christian Homodevotion to Jesus” in his book “Queering Christ: Beyond Jesus Acted Up.”
During his 84 years Bentham wrote manuscripts totaling more than 5 million words, and many remain unstudied and unpublished. The Bentham Project is busy recruiting volunteers worldwide to transcribe them. More words of wisdom are likely to emerge from this prophet of LGBTQ rights who once summed up his approach to life by saying: “Create all the happiness you are able to create: remove all the misery you are able to remove.”
The word “pilgrimage” usually evokes visions of far-off, exotic places, but for some 100 gay and lesbian Catholics and their families, a pilgrimage to the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart here on a recent Sunday was more like a homecoming.
The doors to the cathedral were opened to them, and they were welcomed personally by the leader of the Archdiocese of Newark, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin. They were seated on folding chairs at the cathedral’s center, in front of the altar in the towering sanctuary, under the blue-tinted glow of stained glass.
“I am Joseph, your brother,” Cardinal Tobin told the group, which included lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics from around New York and the five dioceses in New Jersey. “I am your brother, as a disciple of Jesus. I am your brother, as a sinner who finds mercy with the Lord.”
The welcoming of a group of openly gay people to Mass by a leader of Cardinal Tobin’s standing in the Roman Catholic Church in this country would have been unthinkable even five years ago. But Cardinal Tobin, whom Pope Francis appointed to Newark last year, is among a small but growing group of bishops changing how the American church relates to its gay members. They are seeking to be more inclusive and signaling to subordinate priests that they should do the same.
“The word I use is ‘welcome,’” Cardinal Tobin said in an interview just before the Mass last month. “These are people that have not felt welcome in other places. My prayer for them is that they do. Today in the Catholic Church, we read a passage that says you have to be able to give a reason for your hope. And I’m praying that this pilgrimage for them, and really for the whole church, is a reason for hope.”
Four years ago, Pope Francis amazed the Catholic world with his comment about gay priests seeking the Lord: “Who am I to judge?” But it was unclear how his words would affect Catholics seeking acceptance in the pews.
After all, the church teaches in its catechism that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” Men who “present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called gay culture” are not to become priests, according to Vatican instructions renewed in 2016. Catholic bishops in America have strongly opposed same-sex marriage. More than 100 employees of Catholic institutions across the nation have lost their posts in the past three years for being gay or for marrying a same-sex spouse, according to Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, an organization of Catholics that advocates equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
But gestures like Cardinal Tobin’s are evidence that Pope Francis’ words are having an impact. Bishops now have latitude to focus on the more inclusive parts of the church’s catechism on homosexuals, such as the call to accept them with “respect, compassion and sensitivity.” They can follow the principle of accompaniment, meaning they can meet people where they are spiritually and build relationships that help them deepen their faith.
“It’s the beginning of a dialogue,” said Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, a group that ministers to and is an advocate for gay Catholics. “The church leadership, for the past 40 years, has just been so silent, and unwilling to dialogue, and unwilling to pray with L.G.B.T. Catholics that, even though this isn’t the ultimate step, it’s a first step,” he said of Cardinal Tobin’s welcome.
Some church conservatives were wary, however. The problem, they said, was not the idea of welcoming — after all, Jesus welcomed all — but that the public embrace of such a group could be interpreted as the church’s acceptance of a homosexual lifestyle, which church teaching bans.
“Everyone is welcome in the church, but no one is accepted as they are,” said the Rev. Robert Gahl, a professor of ethics at Opus Dei’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. “While I am delighted that they went to Mass in the cathedral, I hope that Cardinal Tobin challenged them, as all good shepherds should, to live according to the teachings of Jesus.”
But Cardinal Tobin said in an interview last week that to combine his welcome with a criticism would not have been a full welcome at all.
“That sounds a little backhanded to me,” he said. “It was appropriate to welcome people to come and pray and call them who they were. And later on, we can talk.”
Showing just how sensitive the simple act of welcome could be, he said that after the Mass he had received a fair amount of visceral hate mail from fellow Catholics. Someone was even organizing a letter-writing campaign to call on other bishops to correct him.
“And there’s a lot to correct in me, without a doubt,” Cardinal Tobin said. “But not for welcoming people. No.”
Individual parishes across the country have for decades had ministries to gay and lesbian Catholics. But more traditional forces prevailed among the church hierarchy, guided by a 1986 Vatican letter written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, that warned against any acceptance of homosexuality.
Gay Catholics became among the most marginalized groups in the church. After the nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., last June, for example, only a handful of American bishops made public statements of support for the gay and lesbian community that had been targeted.
The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author, said he found the bishops’ silence revelatory. He has written a book calling for small steps forward that was released on Tuesday, “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the L.G.B.T. Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity.”
In it, he calls on church leaders to show respect by using terms like “gay” and “L.G.B.T.,” instead of phrases like “afflicted with same-sex attraction.” He also argues that to expect a sinless lifestyle from gay Catholics, but not from any other group, is a form of “unjust discrimination” and that gay people should not be fired for marrying a same-sex spouse.
“Pretty much everyone’s lifestyle is sinful,” Father Martin said. “Unless the Blessed Mother shows up in the communion line, there is no one sinless in our church.”
Across the country, there have been recent glimmers of openness that would not have been possible under previous popes, Mr. DeBernardo said.
The diocese of Jefferson City, Mo., for example, said last month that it would permit transgender students in its Catholic schools. In October, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego held a diocesan synod on the family that called for improved ministry toward gay and lesbian Catholics. At a New Ways Ministry national conference in April, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Ky., said he admired and respected lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who remained steadfast to the church even though the church had not always been as welcoming.
Both Cardinal Tobin and Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the prefect of the Vatican’s dicastery for laity, family and life, who was appointed by Pope Francis, wrote positive blurbs for Father Martin’s book. Cardinal Farrell, who was previously the bishop of Dallas, wrote that he thought it would “help L.G.B.T. Catholics feel more at home in what is, after all, their church.”
But Cardinal Tobin’s welcome to Mass on May 21 has been the most significant of such recent gestures, because of the symbolism of a cardinal welcoming a group of gay Catholics, some of whom were married to same-sex spouses, to participate in the Sacrament of Holy Communion at the center of a cathedral, no questions asked.
The “L.G.B.T. pilgrimage” was organized by gay ministries within the Church of the Sacred Heart in South Plainfield, N.J., and the Church of the Precious Blood in Monmouth Beach, N.J. It stemmed from a conversation between David Harvie, of the South Plainfield parish group, and the Rev. Francis Gargani, a Brooklyn priest who, like Cardinal Tobin, belongs to the Redemptorist order, and took the idea to him.
Though Cardinal Tobin left soon after greeting the Mass attendees, citing a previous engagement, eight priests concelebrated it with Father Gargani. The group was also welcomed by the rector of the cathedral, Bishop Manuel Cruz, who told the people that the cathedral doors were always open to them “because we are children of God and our identity is that we all belong to him.”
Many of those in attendance were moved to tears.
“It felt like a miracle,” Ed Poliandro, a member of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Manhattan and a clinical social worker. “It was a miracle to have church leaders say, ‘You are welcome; you belong.’ And I felt, after a lifetime of struggle, that we are home.”
Cardinal Tobin’s predecessor in Newark, Archbishop John J. Myers, emphasized the immorality of homosexuality during his tenure, supporting, for example, the 2016 dismissal of a dean of a Catholic high school in Paramus, N.J., for marrying her lesbian partner. So Cardinal Tobin’s welcome to Mass was particularly powerful for those there from his own diocese.
“He brought Francis to us,” said Thomas M. Smith, 66, a deacon who serves the deaf community at the Newark cathedral. “I’ve been waiting 25 years for this. I’m a deacon in the church, and I’ve had to be careful. And afraid.”
He teared up, remembering how his parents had died thinking he would go to hell if he found someone to love. “This is amazing to me,” he said.
John Boswell (1947-1994) was a prominent scholar who researched and wrote about the importance of gays and lesbians in Christian history. He was born on March 20, 1947.
Boswell, a history professor at Yale University, wrote such influential classics as Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1980) and Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (1994).
Boswell converted from the Episcopal Church of his upbringing to Roman Catholicism at age 16. He attended mass daily until his death, even though as an openly gay Christian he disagreed with church teachings on homosexuality. He also helped found Yale’s Lesbian and Gay Studies Center in the late 1980s.
Using some of his last strength as he battled AIDS, Boswell translated many rites of adelphopoiesis (Greek for making brothers) in his book Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, presenting evidence that they were same-sex unions similar to marriage.
Boswell died an untimely death at age 47 from AIDS-related illness on Christmas Eve 1994. He remains an unofficial saint to the many LGBTQ Christians who find life-giving spiritual value in his historical research that affirms queer people in Christian history.
Boswell is buried beside his longtime partner Jerone Hart (1946-2010) at Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut. They are pictured together in photos on Boswell’s Findagave page with the caption, “partners in life, for life.” Their shared headstone is shaped to look like a book. An inscription reads, “To live in one’s memory is never to die.”
John Boswell profile at Elisa Reviews and Ramblings
This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.
The majority of Americans who identify as religious say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry and oppose policies that would give business owners the right to refuse services to same-sex wedding ceremonies, according to data compiled by the Public Religion Research Institute.
Last Friday, the Washington, D.C.-based polling firm released a new analysis drawn from interviews with 40,509 Americans throughout 2016 for PRRI’s American Values Atlas.
The data, which has an error margin of less than 1 percentage point, finds that the majority of only three religious demographics — white evangelical Protestants, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses — said they oppose “allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally.”
While 58 percent of Americans said they support same-sex marriage, 61 percent of white evangelical Protestants, 55 percent of Mormons and 53 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses signaled that they oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage, which happened in 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states cannot ban same-sex marriage, making it legal nationwide.
By comparison, only 28 percent of white Mainline Protestants and white Catholics, 25 percent of Hispanic Catholics and 30 percent of Orthodox Christians said they oppose allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry.
found that 54 percent of all Christians surveyed agreed that homosexuality should be accepted by society. Over half of all Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, Orthodox Christians and African-American Protestant respondents said they believe that homosexuality should be accepted in society, while only 36 percent of evangelical Protestants, 36 percent of Mormons and 16 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses agreed.
As reports have indicated in the last week that President Donald Trump is considering a possible “religious freedom order” that conservative religious freedom advocates say could do many things to protect the rights of religious institutions and federal contractors to operate their organizations in accordance with their beliefs, the PRRI data also shows that most American religious demographics oppose allowing businesses to refuse services for same-sex wedding ceremonies based on religious objections.
In recent years, small business owners across the U.S. were fined, sued and punished over their refusal to provide services for same-sex weddings because their participation would violate their religious beliefs. Advocates have called for state governments to give these religious business owners accommodations to non-discrimination laws, while opponents claim such exemptions would give these businesses a license to discriminate.