06/18/17

Homosexuality of Jesus explored by 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham

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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.

Jeremy Bentham engraving by J. Thomson, from a painting by W. Derby

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.

In January 2014 Bentham’s own overview of the “Not Paul, but Jesus, Volume 3” appeared as a chapter in a book published by Oxford University Press: “Of Sexual Irregularities, and Other Writings on Sexual Morality” by Jeremy Bentham. (More info at: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199685189.do)

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.”

Not Paul, but Jesus Vol. III by Jeremy Bentham, edited by Philip Schofield, Michael Quinn and Catherine Pease-Watkin, is now freely available to download or view online at:
http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/bentham-project/2013/04/30/not-paul-but-jesus-vol-iii/

Complete Article HERE!

05/26/17

From ‘Spotlight’ to ‘Keepers,’ Richard Sipe sees celibate priesthood as problem for the Catholic Church

Former Baltimore priest lends expertise on sexual abuse to ‘Spotlight’ and ‘The Keepers’

Richard Sipe, center, a former Baltimore-based priest who wrote several books on priests and sexual abuse, with Phil Saviano, left, a victim, and Terry McKiernan, who runs a nonprofit group that tracks the Catholic clergy scandal, at a screening for ‘Spotlight’ in 2015.

By Dan Rodricks

Richard Sipe, the former priest who spent 25 years studying the sexual behavior of the Catholic clergy, appears in “The Keepers,” the Netflix documentary series about the unsolved murder of Sister Catherine Cesnick and the monstrous abuse of some of her students by the chaplain of a Baltimore high school in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Sipe is the bearded fellow with the cool eyeglasses in Episode 4.

A Benedictine monk and priest for 18 years, Sipe came to Baltimore to study counseling at the old Seton Psychiatric Institute. He left the priesthood at 38 and married a former Maryknoll sister. He practiced psychotherapy in Maryland before moving to California with his wife in the late 1990s. He has written six books and contributed to numerous documentaries on the celibate priesthood and sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. He estimates that he has reviewed more than 1,500 cases and provided expert testimony in 230.

Sipe famously helped the Boston Globe reporters who broke the story of widespread abuse by priests in Massachusetts. In “Spotlight,” the Oscar-winning film about the Globe’s investigation, the actor Richard Jenkins plays Sipe – or at least his voice, by phone – telling reporters that his lengthy study of priests found that six percent of them had had sex with children. Sipe provided the Globe Spotlight team with guidance throughout its lengthy investigation.

So he’s an old hand at this. He’s heard a lot of stories and told many.

And Sipe had already heard firsthand the story of Jean Hargadon Wehner, one of Maskell’s victims, because he had been a consultant on her civil suit against the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Sipe found credible Wehner’s story, including her claim, made some 25 years after Cesnick’s murder, to have been taken by Maskell to see the slain nun’s body in a secluded, wooded area. Sipe believes Wehner and other victims can repress their memories of traumatic experiences for years.

And while repressed memory is still a debated concept in psychiatry, his embrace of it is not what made Sipe prominent and controversial. Rather, it was his research and his published findings about the abuse of minors by priests, accompanied by his criticism of celibacy, that brought Sipe to public attention and earned him the ire of Catholic hierarchy.

He argued then, and argues now, that child sexual abuse by the clergy should be addressed as part of an examination of celibacy, which, he says, stunts the psychological development of priests, leaving them emotionally unprepared for the celibate life.

“Don’t say we have celibacy,” he corrects me during an interview. “We have only a rule of celibacy. We have a large number of priests who claim celibacy but who do not practice it. And 6 to 9 percent of priests are involved with minors sexually.”

When Sipe first made that disturbing claim years ago, church officials criticized him and some, he says, told him to shut up about it. He says he was invited, then disinvited, to sit on a Maryland state council on the abuse of minors.

“I was blackballed,” he says. “Bishops wouldn’t have anything to do with me.” Among his critics was the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Washington, one William E. Lori, now the archbishop of Baltimore. “Mr. Sipe’s approach is not helpful,” Lori told The Baltimore Sun in 1994. “It’s an approach that is anti-celibacy. He seems to relate the tradition of celibacy to sexual immaturity. Celibacy is not the problem.”

But it is, insists Sipe, now 84.

A five-year study in Australia, he says, supported his findings. And a comprehensive study by John Jay College of Criminal Justice, published in 2004, confirmed his original estimate of the percentage of American priests involved with minors. The study found, he says, that more than six percent of priests ordained between 1960 and 1984 were alleged to have had sex with children. A longer look, from 1950 to 2002, found 10,667 children allegedly victimized by 4,392 priests. Half of their victims were found to have been between 11 and 14 years of age; about 80 percent of them were male.

Sipe had seen the scandal that rocked the church coming.

In his 1990 book, “A Secret World,” he described a system in which church officials held celibacy as an ideal, yet ignored violations. Priests who had an interest in women were advised to “take a housekeeper.” Priests who abused children were routinely recycled, moved from parish to parish by superiors, their problems never addressed. Those who went after children, Sipe argued, had been locked into an adolescent stage of development.

Over the last three decades, the Catholic Church has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits brought by thousands of victims, male and female, around the world. Popes, cardinals and bishops have apologized numerous times for the church’s complicity in the offenses of priests. And yet, for Sipe, the condition that fostered the abuse of minors, celibacy, remains in place.

“I said it in 1992,” he says. “I knew enough by then. I said, ‘The problem we’re looking at is the tip, and if we follow it to its foundation, it will lead to the highest corridors of the Vatican.”

But still? Hasn’t an epic lesson been learned from all this?

“I’m convinced we’re not past it,” Sipe says. “People have sexual impulses that they have to deal with, and the church doesn’t deal with them. Church leaders hold up celibacy, as if it is some kind of ideal, as if it is even possible.”

And what if the Roman Catholic Church were to do away with the all-male, celibate priesthood?

“I think it would lead to a flourishing,” Sipe says. “I think we would see a renewal of men and women committed to the priesthood. We have nuns with advanced degrees ready to step in . . . The danger is, it will upset the power structure. The resistance would come from the established male hierarchy; they don’t want to give up power and entitlement.”

Still, Sipe believes, there will come a day for the married priesthood. “The Catholic religion will evolve,” he says. “The church will not prosper without woman and marriage in the priesthood.” 

Complete Article HERE!

04/20/17

How the Catholic Priesthood Became an Unlikely Haven for Many Gay Men

Father Krysztof Olaf Charamsa gives a press conference to reveal his homosexuality on October 3, 2015 in Rome. The priest claimed the Catholic clergy was largely made up of intensely homophobic homosexuals.

By Ross Benes

Adapted from The Sex Effect: Baring Our Complicated Relationship With Sex, out now from Sourcebooks.

Back in March, Pope Francis sparked a wave of headlines when he hinted at the possibility of ordaining married men as priests. Since there’s no evidence that church practice will actually change, reactions to Francis’ comments were premature. But the speculators ignored one interesting point: Opening the priesthood to married men would probably reduce the high percentage of priests who are gay.

While doing research for my book The Sex Effect, I came across many scholars who suggested that preventing priests from marrying altered the makeup of the priesthood over time, unintentionally providing a shelter for some devout gay men to hide their sexual orientation. By continuing to disqualify women and married men, the priesthood attracts men who desire to forgo sex for the rest of their lives in an attempt to get closer to God. Because the church denounces all gay sex, some devout gay men pursue the celibate priesthood as a self-incentive to avoid sex with men, which can help them circumvent perceived damnation.

Of course, many factors influence a person’s decision to join the clergy; it’s not like sexuality alone determines vocations. But it’s dishonest to dismiss sexuality’s influence given that we know there is a disproportionate number of gay priests, despite the church’s hostility toward LGBTQ identity. As a gay priest told Frontline in a February 2014 episode, “I cannot understand this schizophrenic attitude of the hierarchy against gays when a lot of priests are gay.”

So how many gay priests actually exist? While there’s a glut of homoerotic writings from priests going back to the Middle Ages, obtaining an accurate count is tough. But most surveys (which, due to the sensitivity of the subject, admiittedly suffer from limited samples and other design issues) find between 15 percent and 50 percent of U.S. priests are gay, which is much greater than the 3.8 percent of people who identify as LGBTQ in the general population.

In the last half century there’s also been an increased “gaying of the priesthood” in the West. Throughout the 1970s, several hundred men left the priesthood each year, many of them for marriage. As straight priests left the church for domestic bliss, the proportion of remaining priests who were gay grew. In a survey of several thousand priests in the U.S., the Los Angeles Times found that 28 percent of priests between the ages of 46 and 55 reported that they were gay. This statistic was higher than the percentages found in other age brackets and reflected the outflow of straight priests throughout the 1970s and ’80s.

The high number of gay priests also became evident in the 1980s, when the priesthood was hit hard by the AIDS crisis that was afflicting the gay community. The Kansas City Star estimated that at least 300 U.S. priests suffered AIDS-related deaths between the mid-1980s and 1999. The Star concluded that priests were about twice as likely as other adult men to die from AIDS.

Given that the church has called a gay orientation an “objective disorder” and gay sex “an intrinsic moral evil,” it may seem bewildering why a gay man would chose this profession. But it makes more sense after realizing the church encourages sublimation of homosexuality through prayer. “Homosexual persons are called to chastity,” states the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”

Sexual sublimation is by far the most common theory in the literature as to why there are so many gay priests. There has also been speculation that as a discriminated-against minority group, gay men may be more sensitive to empathize with people—a strong desire to help others leads some of these men to the altruistic priesthood. Another common theme is that clerical celibacy is good cover for gay people wanting to hide their orientation.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Review Board reported that “certain homosexual men appear to have been attracted to the priesthood because they mistakenly viewed the requirement of celibacy as a means of avoiding struggles with their sexual identities.” As gay former-priest Christopher Schiavone put it, “I thought I would never need to tell another person my secret, because celibacy would make it irrelevant.”

It’s not as if the church is unaware of this issue. A past president of the USCCB complained about an “ongoing struggle to make sure that the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men.” And Pope Benedict once said that homosexuality in the priesthood was “one of the miseries of the church” and that the church needed to “head off a situation where the celibacy of priests would practically end up being identified with the tendency to homosexuality.”

Allowing more married men in the priesthood would probably bring more straight men into the fold, which would reduce the percentage of priests who are gay. Given that the worldwide number of permanent deacons (who are allowed to get married and can perform nearly every task required of a priest except consecrate the Eucharist or hear confessions) has increased by nearly 40,000 people in the past forty years, there appears to be a large group of married men open to clerical life.

But just because some church officials would like to see fewer gay priests doesn’t mean that a change in discipline would benefit the institution. A large percentage of priests being gay doesn’t automatically equate to a crisis or indicate that church teaching should change. Though other denominations have shown that women, married men, and sexually-active LGBTQ people can be entirely competent as pastors, for centuries the Catholic Church’s model of relying on single, sexually-abstinent men has generally served the institution well. And most Catholic priests are psychologically well-adjusted and satisfied with their lives and occupation.

Rather, the gaying of the priesthood denotes a complex phenomenon that makes many people uncomfortable, an example of sexual regulations producing unintended consequences. For the most part, the church continues to downplay shifting cultural contexts in favor of adhering to sexual renunciation laws developed by ancient eschatological communities and desert ascetics responding to an uncertain world. The church also continues to rely on clerical structures that were influenced by social and economic conditions from the Middle Ages.

In doing so, the hierarchy has contributed to a phenomenon it would rather have people ignore: Rigid policies on homosexuality and clerical celibacy have inadvertently driven many gay men toward the priesthood. “Bishops are caught in the middle and running scared,” priest-theologian Richard McBrien told reporter Jason Berry in his book Lead Us Not Into Temptation. “They live in a church with a very hardline policy on homosexuals, yet they realize they’re drawing from that population well beyond its presence in society, by default.”

A paradox of this magnitude seems baffling. And it certainly is baffling for the gay priests who battle cognitive dissonance. But as an entry in Human Sexuality in the Catholic Tradition points out, “Christian faith proclaims its deepest truth in paradoxes.” The contemporary church’s greatest paradox may be that its positions of authority continue to be heavily represented by people it declares “objectively disordered.”

Complete Article HERE!

02/15/17

A tale of two priests:

Why does NJ Advance Media laud only one of them who who spoke up?

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The Rev. Peter West is a Roman Catholic priest who spoke out, on his own Facebook page, on issues important to him.

The Rev. Warren Hall is also a Roman Catholic priest who spoke out, on his own Facebook page, on issues important to him.

One priest received opprobrium from NJ Advance Media, the digital age moniker of what used to be the Newark Star-Ledger and other Garden State papers owned by the Newhouse empire. The other priest was lauded as a martyr of sorts following a transfer from one field of ministry to another.

Rev. Warren Hall

Want to guess who was praised and who was panned?

Here’s a hint: West is a supporter of Donald J. Trump. Another hint: Hall came out as gay.

Can you say (to use the appropriate GetReligion term) Kellerism? That’s what came to mind when I saw the West story:

West has assailed millennials as “snowflakes” who attend “cry-ins” and described liberals as “smug and arrogant” people who find solace in puppies and Play-Doh.

He has called Hillary Clinton an “evil witch” and former President Barack Obama a “bum,” at one point sharing a post that challenged Obama’s authenticity as an African-American because he wasn’t raised by a poor single mother in the inner city.

Were West some random internet flamethrower, his posts might garner a shrug in an age of intense political division and social media rancor.

But West, 57, is a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Newark, and some of his withering attacks, while popular with many of his 7,300 Facebook followers from around the country, run counter to the statements and philosophies of his own leader, Newark Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, and his ultimate boss, Pope Francis.

Well, I can’t imagine Spencer Tracy starring in “The Father West” story, can you?

West, in his personal posts, comes across as, well, bombastic and his opinions might be off-putting, to say the least. To its credit, the NJ Advance Media story is clear on that point:

The Rev. John J. Dietrich, the director of spiritual formation at the nation’s second largest seminary, Mount Saint Mary’s in Maryland, called West’s comments about politicians, Muslims and liberals “way over-the-top inappropriate behavior.”

“The thrust of his priesthood is not to be political. The thrust of his priesthood is supposed to be sacramental, preaching the Scripture,” Dietrich said, adding, “There’s a red line you don’t cross.”

Here’s the journalistic paradox: However irritating or infuriating West’s positions are, the story properly balances West’s statements with trenchant observations from Catholic experts. In the case of the other Facebook-friendly Catholic priest, his stances are presented with no real objections from within Catholic ranks, at the local national or global level.

About 18 months before the West story emerged, however, the NJ Advance Media team took a far more sanguine view of an outspoken Roman Catholic cleric, the aforementioned Rev. Warren Hall. Let’s go to the digital archives:

The priest who says he was fired from his post at Seton Hall University over a pro-LGBT Facebook post starts a new gig in Hudson County next month.

Rev. Warren Hall starts as assistant pastor at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Hoboken and St. Lawrence Roman Catholic Church in Weehawken – which share pastors – on Aug. 15, Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the Archdiocese confirmed on Friday. Hall, who has come out as gay, claims he was removed as director of campus ministry at Seton Hall in May after posting a picture on Facebook supporting the LGBT ‘NO H8’ movement. The archdiocese has publicly denied that this was the impetus for his removal. Goodness said on Friday that Hall had a six-week vacation and then was reassigned to the Catholic churches.

This story continues for several paragraphs about how Hall would continue his campaign for gay rights within the Catholic Church and had hoped to meet with Pope Francis during the pontiff’s 2015 U.S. visit, a meeting that apparently didn’t happen. It’s safe to assume that reporters would have reported on that.

Instead, we read about how Hall was a friend of the Rev. Bob Meyers, who pastors the two Catholic parishes, and how church officials believe Hall would be a welcome asset:

“The church’s teachings on LGBT individuals, as the Catechism of the Catholic church says, is that they are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and we welcome them with respect, compassion and sensitivity,” [a parish spokesm an] said in a statement. “With more than 25 years of experience as a priest, Father Hall knows how to make the Good News of the Gospel resonate with parishioners from all walks of life.”

While I’m not qualified to analyze the Roman church’s Catechism, and while I certainly accept the notion that all believers “are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives,” which for faithful priests means celibacy, I do wonder whether there are other voices in Catholicism that might have an issue with Hall’s views. But where an NJ Advance reporter found plenty of experts to comment on West, not a word of opposition was heard about Hall.

So a presumably socially liberal cleric can make the Christian message “resonate” with all kinds of people, while the presumably socially conservative cleric represents a major problem for the church’s image.

That may well be the case, but it would have been nice to have the journalistic scrutiny found in the West piece applied equally in the Hall case.

Complete Article HERE!

01/13/17

A gay priest reflects: ‘Why I can’t go back’

By Warren Hall

The Rev. Warren Hall leads a special mass for couples renewing their vows on Valentine’s Day 2014 at the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception on Steon Hall University’s South Orange campus.

“Will our parish leaders petition Cardinal Tobin to lift the suspension of Rev. Hall? This parishioner requests it.”

That comment was posted on my Twitter feed on Jan. 6, the day that Cardinal Joseph Tobin was formally installed as the new archbishop of Newark, where I have served as a Catholic priest for 27 years.

That was also the day that Archbishop John Myers, who had suspended me from priestly ministry for refusing to hide my identity as a gay man and for refusing to stop supporting others in the LGBT community, would be officially and completely retired.

John J. Myers former archbishop of Newark, N.J.

I was very humbled and full of gratitude for the tweet from the parishioner, a member of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Hoboken, N.J., where I had been serving until my suspension last Aug. 31. I had seen a few other postings expressing a similar sentiment since the announcement that Tobin would replace Myers, and I had been contacted by family members and friends asking the same question.

It has now been a year and a half since this whole saga began, when Archbishop Myers removed me from my job as chaplain at Seton Hall University in May 2015. He did this due to suspicions that a “NOH8” posting I made on Facebook standing against attacks on the LGBT community, plus my subsequent coming out as a gay man, reflected a “hidden agenda” that he claimed undermined Catholic teaching.

It has also been five months since Myers suspended me from all priestly ministry for my “disobedience” in continuing to be involved with that same work against LGBT discrimination.

That’s given me a lot of time to think about what would happen when a new archbishop came to Newark, and what my future would be.

But as I was contemplating it all the decision was effectively made for me, on Dec. 7. That’s when the Vatican issued a document reaffirming a 2005 instruction that gay men should not be admitted to the priesthood. Apparently, Pope Francis approved of the policy.

How he could assert this is as confusing as his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment when asked about gay men in the priesthood.

One of the reasons for the ban, per the latest document, is that “gay men find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women.”

I’m thinking I would like to go back to all the men and women who I’ve had the privilege to minister with and to over my 27 years of priestly service to ask if I was hindered in relating to them.

Apparently, the parishioner cited above would not think so. We should keep in mind that the original 2005 teaching came out at a time when gay priests were made scapegoats for the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Since then science and mental health studies have proved that very few acts of pedophilia in general are committed by gay men.

The activity for which I was suspended last August was related to my speaking publicly to LGBT Catholics and encouraging them to stay in the Catholic Church. Yes, I said stay IN the church!

And yes, I met with groups that do not necessarily agree with our teaching. But those are the places Jesus went. I believe that today is comparable to many other times in the church’s history when the tenets of its teachings came face to face with developments in society, and things became “messy.”

Look at the Council of Jerusalem in the first century, when the debate was whether you had to convert to Judaism prior to becoming a Christian (you didn’t, they decided). Or when church authorities argued whether Catholics could marry non-Catholics. (They can, but to this day a Catholic who wants to marry a non-Catholic must request a “dispensation”!)

Those were challenging issues with strong emotions on all sides of the debate. We are again in one of those times in the church’s history, and like those previous eras there are strong emotions on all sides.

Is the language in the church’s teachings referring to same-sex attraction as “objectively disordered” and same-sex relations as an “intrinsic moral evil” offensive? I believe it is. Theologians will posit that these descriptors reference behavior and not the person but either way it’s still offensive.

So too was the language of the Good Friday Liturgy when it referred to the “perfidious Jews.” Pope John XXIII determined that the language was offensive to our Jewish brothers and sisters and he did not just change it but completely removed it from the Catholic lexicon.

Will the day come when “disordered” and “evil” referring to LGBT people are changed or, better, removed from Catholic teaching? I believe it will. But today is not that day. Therefore, until that day arrives, we have to keep discussing, debating and perhaps even being “disobedient.”

So, will I seek reinstatement as a priest in good standing?

I can’t, simply because I could not in good conscience take the Oath of Fidelity that all priests take upon ordination and when assuming a pastorate, namely, that I “accept and hold everything that is proposed by the hierarchy” and that I “adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings.”

I’m not talking about the matters of faith but matters of discipline. I’m sure pretty much all Catholics pick and choose what teachings to follow, and in a sense that’s what I’ll be doing when it comes to the church’s views on gay men and women.

But that teaching is hardly the most important one. I think the average Catholic wants the church to get back to the basics: feeding the hungry; clothing the naked; proclaiming the message of love, forgiveness and inclusion that Jesus taught his followers.

It’s a message the people are not hearing enough, and because of that their church is failing them and because of that many are abandoning their church, in droves! As bishops sit on their thrones the view has to be disturbing. What Cardinal Tobin saw from the altar at his new cathedral in Newark was a gathering of the faithful hoping for a kinder, gentler and more pastoral shepherd — and from all accounts they got one.

Yet as open as he is, I don’t believe the new archbishop can even make an offer to reinstate me. If he did it would be tantamount to a cardinal defying his own church’s teaching.

Also, I don’t think the church knows yet how to deal with openly gay men in active ministry, even those of us who observe our vows of chastity. I don’t think the church knows how to minister to its LGBT brothers and sisters, and it’s not yet trying to learn.

So I’ll continue to be Catholic, albeit the “pick-and-choose” kind, because I still love and have hope for my church. I have found a wonderful parish with terrific ministries, including one especially for its LGBT parishioners — I now count myself one of them.

At this point I consider myself a “former priest” and will just move on with life as a lay person. There will probably be some paperwork so the diocese is no longer legally responsible for me. But I don’t see any reason to bother with formal laicization.

I will work now in the secular world with that same sense of mission that was mine since I was a youth group teen and which I committed myself to on the day of my ordination.

In doing so, I’ll continue to live by the final command of the liturgy that we all celebrate: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”

Complete Article HERE!

12/16/16

Gay Priests and a Stonewall Moment?

By Lisa Fullam

12/12/16

When it comes to ordination, Pope Francis is still a puppet of the church

By refusing the ordination of women and gay priests, Francis is limiting his own legacy despite his declaration that ‘God is not afraid of new things’

‘Unless Francis expands and changes who makes decisions and how decisions are made in the Catholic church, his papacy will risk changing nothing in the long run.’

By

There’s a deep struggle going on in the Catholic church when it comes to power and who exercises it.

Pope Francis has shaken things up, and he has some of the bishops and cardinals mightily unnerved. The Vatican bureaucrats, known as the Curia, are unhappy with this pope.

On matters of faith and morals, Francis is mostly winning so far.

Francis is comfortable with “speaking truth to external power”: demanding governments pay attention to refugees and asylum seekers, to growing economic inequality, and to climate change.

Francis is also at ease with a less-than-certain church, particularly when it comes to questions of human relationships and moral prescriptions. Unlike his predecessor, the current pope is insistent that issues like birth control, divorce and remarriage are not black and white issues.

Earlier this year Francis released a document Amoris Laetitia, (On Love in the Family), in which the pope encouraged Catholic priests to confront the reality that human lives are messy and complex. He asserted that complicated moral issues that arise in human relationships must be responded to not with hard and fast rules, but rather by making conscientious decisions in the sight of God.

As Francis put it, the church is there to form consciences, not replace them.

This approach hasn’t sat well with some. Four cardinals recently sent Pope Francis a letter demanding yes or no answers to five questions they say he has left unanswered in Amoris Laetitia.

It’s unlikely Francis will give them the certainty they want. He wants them to get used to uncertainty, and discern the right approach in these modern times.

However, there is one area where Francis is ceding ground to the cardinals and the Curia: ordination.

Ordination equals power inside the Catholic church. Only the ordained can contribute to theology, form church teaching and set church rules. Only the ordained can control the money and the property. Only the ordained can respond to issues like the child sexual abuse crisis. Only the ordained can choose new bishops and cardinals. Only the ordained can administer the sacraments. Only the ordained can vote for the next pope.

On ordination, the Curia are pulling the pope’s puppet strings.

Case in point: gay priests.

Just a few years ago, during a “free-wheeling” conversation with reporters on a flight back from Brazil, Pope Francis was asked about gay clergy. Here was his response:

There is so much being written about the gay lobby. I haven’t met anyone in the Vatican yet who has “gay” written on their identity cards. There is a distinction between being gay, being this way inclined and lobbying. Lobbies are not good. If a gay person is in eager search of God, who am I to judge them? The Catholic Church teaches that gay people should not be discriminated against; they should be made to feel welcome.

That was 2013. Last week the Vatican’s Congregation on the Clergy last week released a document titled The Gift of Priestly Formation:

The Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.’ Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.

It seems the Curia decided that gay priests needed to be judged, after all.

In fact, the prohibition against homosexual men receiving ordination as cited above first appeared in 2005. The fact that this paragraph re-appeared, word for word, in 2016 seems to indicate that the Curia felt it necessary to clarify that the pope’s words – “who am I to judge” – in no way replace or modify formal church teaching when it comes to homosexual priests.

This new document last week follows last month’s declaration by Francis that women will never be ordained as Catholic priests.

Francis’ pronouncement on women priests didn’t come out of the blue. It was a sop to the Curia and those bishops and cardinals alarmed by the pope’s promise earlier in the year to review the question of whether women can be ordained as deacons.

Many assume that if women were granted ordination as Catholic deacons, ordination as priests would inevitably follow.

The Curia has for many years hoped a pope would declare the ban on women’s ordination as infallibly held – the highest, most solemn form of church teaching and most difficult to overturn. Pope John Paul II came close to doing so in 1995, and Francis’ statement this year, while not infallibly issued, made clear there would be no room in his papacy to move toward the priestly ordination of women.

Francis is fond of saying that “God is not afraid of new things.” But when it comes to ordination, Francis seems afraid of the Curia, and the Curia in turn seems afraid of women priests, married priests and gay priests.

This is the fatal flaw in Francis’ approach: by not speaking truth to internal power, by refusing to contemplate how ordination could be expanded, Francis is limiting his own legacy.

Unless Francis expands and changes who makes decisions and how decisions are made in the Catholic church, his papacy will risk changing nothing in the long run.

All his emphasis on the poor, the dispossessed and the climate will end up being just that – emphasis only. All his commentary about facing uncertainty and complexity of modern life will be just that – commentary.

Francis said he imagined his papacy will be short, maybe only four or five years.

Once Francis leaves the papacy who will hold the power? Who will make the black and white rules? The all-male priesthood, the traditionalist cardinals and the Curia, no longer unnerved, and back in charge.

Complete Article HERE!

12/5/16

LGBTQ clergy tackle tough issues ahead of Trump presidency

by Tanzina Vega

Transgender rights. Same-sex marriage. Federal protections against discrimination.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, some of the hard won rights and protections that the LGBTQ community have gained in recent years are once again in the national spotlight.

President-elect Trump has appointed several members to top government posts that have supported so-called religious freedom laws and opposed same-sex marriage, leaving many in the LGBTQ community concerned that their civil rights hang in the balance.

“Rather than getting a respite we’ve got almost an overload of emotion because things are heating up,” said Joshua Lesser, a gay rabbi in Atlanta. Rabbi Lesser is one of three openly gay clergy members CNN interviewed who say they are not only worried about their own rights, but they’ve been busy counseling a number of parishioners about a wide range of issues since Trump was elected.

Trump received 81% of the vote among white, born-again/evangelical Christians and significant support from Mormons, white Catholics and Protestants, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

The deep support from evangelicals in particular means a Trump administration “will feel obligated to deliver a set of promises to them,” many of which will be based in conservative values, said Katherine Franke, a law professor at Columbia University and the director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law.

Related: Civil rights groups’ biggest fears about a President Trump

In November, Trump said that he was “fine” with the Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 decision allowing same-sex couples to marry. But still many fear that he will appoint a conservative Supreme Court justice who will want to overturn the ruling.

Rabbi Josh Lesser of Atlanta.

Rabbi Josh Lesser of Atlanta.

Trump’s spokespeople did not return a request for comment.

Rabbi Lesser said he and other gay couples he knows are considering moving up their wedding plans so they can be registered before Trump takes office in January. Lesser, who watched the election results with his partner, said he got tearful and “felt existential dread” when Trump was declared the winner. “It was the immediate sense that I’m not safe,” Lesser said.

That feeling of insecurity has hit the LGBTQ community in other ways, too, said Franke.

On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to sign the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that allows any individual, organization or business that receives federal funding to eschew the federal protections aimed at preventing discrimination against same-sex couples and LGBTQ individuals.

For instance, a gay person who is turned away from a government funded homeless shelter will not be protected by non-discrimination laws. The consequences for such a bill could be severe, Franke said.

Trump’s vice presidential pick, Mike Pence, has further fueled fears. As governor of Indiana, Pence signed into a law a measure that could have allowed individuals or businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ customers in the name of “religious freedom.” After activists, corporations and other organizations — including the Indianapolis-based NCAA — threatened to boycott the state, Pence amended the law and prohibited such discrimination.

Trump has said he also plans to repeal President Obama’s executive orders, one of which prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

Fred Daley, a gay priest in Syracuse, New York, said he was also concerned about Trump overturning Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an executive order that allows undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children apply for work permits, driver’s licenses and without the fear of being deported for at least two years.

“We are a pretty open, progressive parish,” Daley said. “There’s a coalescing of people who are concerned with these issues saying – we just can’t sit back idly now, we have to do something.”

Reverend Winnie Varghese is an Episcopal priest in New York City.

Reverend Winnie Varghese is an Episcopal priest in New York City.

Physical safety is another big concern. In the weeks since Trump’s election, hundreds of hate crimes have been reported, several of them against members of the LGBT community. As a result, Lesser said he was considering increasing security for his congregation.

Winnie Varghese, a queer Episcopal priest in New York City said she knew of two Episcopal churches that had been spray painted with swastikas after the election. Varghese said that while many of the people in her congregation share a wide range of political views, “most people I meet in church are sympathetic to people in need.”

One of the first people to come to Varghese for guidance after the election is a refugee who is applying for political asylum in the U.S. and is terrified about whether or not she and her children will be able to stay in the country. (Varghese did not say which country in order to protect the woman.)

“We are on the side of the most vulnerable at all times,” Varghese said. “In this scenario, the most vulnerable are more vulnerable.”

Complete Article HERE!