Breaking a bad habit

— the Catholic Church and LGBTQ+ rights

By Nick Alford

Director Evgeny Afineevsky’s latest film, ‘Francesco’, is about Pope Francis. It premiered at the Rome film festival in October 2020 and included an interview with the bishop of Rome himself. At some point during this interview, the pope said something extraordinary. Finally, after all these years, the Catholic Church would be accepting same-sex marriage. This was completely unexpected. People all over social media were shocked. Surely, this would mark the start of a new epoch in Catholicism.

Well, no. He hadn’t said that. According to The Independent, the comments were made in 2019 during an untelevised interview segment with a Mexican broadcaster and did not refer to same-sex marriage. It looks as if the pope was saying he was fine with states providing civil unions, and defended the right to a family, but that was all. The Vatican have claimed Francis was specifically telling parents of LGBTQ+ children not to treat them harshly, so there wasn’t even a defence of same-sex couples adopting either.

For LGBTQ+ Catholics, this appeared to be a sign that their Pope truly supported them. For conservative Catholics, it was proof that the Pope is dangerously revolutionary, and that they risk losing followers to more right wing religious groups

So why were so many people convinced Pope Francis had changed his mind? It is possible people simply misunderstood what he was trying to say and thought same-sex marriages were synonymous with civil unions. Once the interview had been translated and copied enough times it was inevitable people would begin to make this mistake. Alternatively, even though the story wasn’t true, it provokes strong feelings. For LGBTQ+ Catholics, this appeared to be a sign that their pope truly supported them. For conservative Catholics, it was proof that the Pope is dangerously revolutionary, and that they risk losing followers to more right wing religious groups. It didn’t particularly matter that the pope hadn’t said anything new, because it still remains one of the most controversial political questions within Catholicism. But perhaps the most interesting idea is that since Francis took over in 2013, the idea of a pope supporting same-sex marriage is, whilst untrue, not quite as implausible as it once was.

Compared to his predecessors, Francis is progressive. The previous pontiff for example, Pope Benedict XVI, argued against even celibate gay men joining the priesthood. By contrast, Francis has claimed the Church should apologise to gay people for the discrimination they have faced, has argued against judging gay Catholics and has supported civil unions since his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. That seems remarkably liberal when compared to say, Bishop Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, who has argued that same-sex unions are “objectively immoral”.

Considering how different Pope Francis is to not only those who came before him but to those around him presently, the idea that he one day might support same-sex marriage is understandable. A poll in the United States revealed that most Catholics view him favourably, and think that he has worked at least somewhat to change the Church’s position on homosexuality, and indeed the majority think he has changed the Church for the better. However, there is a growing share of US Catholics, particularly those who identify themselves as part of or leaning towards the Republican Party, who believe he is too liberal. But is this really the full story? One could paint Francis as a popular liberal figure who’s bringing in sweeping changes to the annoyance of more conservative Catholics, but the truth is far more complicated than that.

The official position of the Catholic Church remains that homosexuality is not sinful, but that homosexual acts are

The official position of the Catholic Church remains that homosexuality is not sinful, but that homosexual acts are. The Church argues these are “intrinsically disordered”. Francis has not changed this position. As Paul Elie put so succinctly in The New Yorker, “Francis, like his predecessors, made a distinction between gay people (good) and the way that they express passion and love (not good)”. Sexually active gay and bisexual people understandably might take offence at the idea that while they deserve respect and are owed an apology, part of their relationships are still being judged. Of course, sex and romance are not the same, but for many sex is an expression of romantic feeling. To be told this is wrong means the Catholic Church is maybe not as liberal as its LGBTQ+ members would like, nor as its more conservative members fear. Likewise, LGBTQ+ people might be doubly insulted as whilst their consensual relationships are constantly up for debate, the Church has a shameful history of covering up sexual abuse towards its members, including children.

Returning to marriage, in February 2015, Slovakia held a referendum that would, if passed, have banned same-sex marriage, though it was not recognised domestically anyway. It also would have prohibited adoption by same-sex couples. When visited by pilgrims from Slovakia, Francis commented “I wish to express my appreciation to the entire Slovak church, encouraging everyone to continue their efforts in defence of the family, the vital cell of society”. In 2014 he explicitly stated in an interview that marriage is “between a man and a woman”. Whilst the pope might be open to civil unions by states, he is clearly no supporter of marriage. He might have told a gay man in 2018 that “God made you like this”, but he remains unwilling to allow the same man to marry someone he loves. In fact, just before his native Argentina granted marriage rights in 2010 the then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio claimed supporters of the new law were inspired by Satan.

Despite some inclusive language, Francis is still running a church that is not truly accepting of transgender and gender non-conforming people

On transgender issues, the pope seems to be taking a similar stance to his one on homosexuality. Although he has argued against abandoning trans Catholics, and perhaps surprisingly used the pronoun ‘he’ when describing a trans man, he has also argued against “gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation” and compared it to “nuclear arms”. Like homosexuality, he argued that a person could have “tendencies” but argued spreading awareness in schools could be “ideological colonization” or “indoctrination”. The pope appears concerned that discussion of transgender issues could be used in a war on marriage. Despite some inclusive language, Francis is still running a church that is not truly accepting of transgender and gender non-conforming people. He might be more liberal than one might expect, but he is hardly a great ally either. This has frustrated many, such as Rev. Rodney McKenzie, Jr. of the National LGBTQ Task Force, who said such a position would “reject and dehumanize” rather than “welcome and affirm” trans people.

There is also the question of how much the Catholic Church is changing because of Francis, and how much it is changing to survive. Several Christian denominations already allow same-sex marriage, so the Catholic Church is hardly a trailblazer. Likewise, of the American Catholics mentioned earlier, 61% support same-sex marriage. It’s easy to say Francis is a liberal pope when compared to some of his bishops but compared to his followers in the USA he is more conservative. In Britain, a 2015 study by YouGov discovered that religious Catholics support gay marriage by 50% to 40%, unlike British religious Protestants who opposed it by 47% to 45%. A study in 2013 also discovered that more Catholics in Britain between the ages of 18 and 44 thought same-sex marriage was right than wrong. Additionally, in several countries across the world, fewer and fewer people are identifying as Catholic. In Argentina, despite remaining a majority of the population, the proportion of the population that identified as Catholic dropped by over 13% since 2008. Noticeable drops were also recorded in Italy, Switzerland, and the United States. Is Francis’ use of inclusive language an attempt to encourage younger, more tolerant Catholics to stay, whilst not changing Church positions in a way that would upset senior religious figures? That is not to say the pope is being insincere, as he has supported civil unions since before his time as pope. However, if figures around the world continue to drop, is it possible that Catholic Church positions could change its positions to seem more appealing to younger Christians? It seems only time may tell.

Pope Francis is an unusual figure. He has angered more conservative Catholics with some of his words, yet his positions on LGBTQ+ issues are not so dissimilar from that of his predecessors. He is more tolerant than many clerics, and yet less so than most British or American Catholics. He is also a man with tremendous power and influence. Take for instance the creation of anti-LGBT zones in Poland, a country that is overwhelming Roman Catholic and where lawmakers will openly say their values are shaped by the Church.

The Church’s positions have directly led to LGBTQ+ people feeling fearful. The pope’s views, and the Church’s positions, matter not just to Catholics but to people of other faiths and non-believers too.  When the pope speaks, the world listens. Even the suggestion that Francis is supportive of same-sex marriage is enough to get people’s attention. As for what the future holds, that remains to be seen. A more LGBTQ+ friendly Catholic Church might happen one day, but for all he has said it is unlikely to happen under Pope Francis.

Complete Article HERE!

Sainted Too Soon?

Vatican Report Cast John Paul II in Harsh New Light

Pope John Paul II greeting worshipers in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in 1999.

The former pope was fast-tracked for canonization immediately after his death. But a tarnished legacy in dealing with the church’s sex abuse scandals has left critics to wonder whether it was too fast.

By

At the funeral of Pope John Paul II at St. Peter’s Square, banners rose from the sea of mourners reading “Santo Subito,” or “Saint at Once.” He was a giant of the church in the 20th century, spanning the globe, inspiring generations of believers with his youthful magnetism, then aged infirmity, and, as the Polish pope, he helped bring down Communism over his more than 26-year reign.

Days after his death in 2005, cardinals eager to uphold his conservative policies had already begun discussing putting him on a fast track to sainthood while devotees in Rome and beyond clamored for his immediate canonization, drowning out notes of caution from survivors of sexual abuse and historians that John Paul had persistently turned a blind eye to the crimes in his church.

Now, after more than a decade of doubts, his reputation has fallen under its darkest cloud yet, after the very Vatican that rushed to canonize him released an extraordinary report this week that laid at the saint’s feet the blame for the advancement of the disgraced former prelate Theodore E. McCarrick.

The investigation, commissioned by Pope Francis, who canonized John Paul in 2014, revealed how John Paul chose not to believe longstanding accusations of sexual abuse against Mr. McCarrick, including pedophilia, allowing him to climb the hierarchy’s ladder.

The findings detailed decades of bureaucratic obfuscation and lack of accountability by a host of top prelates and threatened to sully the white robes of three popes. But most of all, critics say, it provides searing proof that the church moved with reckless speed to canonize John Paul and now it is caught in its own wreckage.

“He was canonized too fast,” said Kathleen Cummings, author of “A Saint of Our Own” and the head of a center on U.S. Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame. She said that given the “really damning evidence,” in the report, had the church waited at least five years, and not mere days, to begin the canonization process “it would probably not begin for John Paul II because of his complicity in the clergy sex abuse scandal.”

A reversal of the canonization, which historians struggle to recall ever happening, is implausible. Some historians say the McCarrick report is more likely to put back some brakes on a process that John Paul II himself sped up. But the report may complicate the canonization chances of others at the top of the church hierarchy during the late 20th century and early 21st century, when the scourge of sex abuse exploded in the church.

The Vatican report shows that Pope Benedict XVI told Mr. McCarrick to keep a low profile when more allegations of abuse emerged in 2005. Pope Francis, despite hearing rumors of the abuse from his top lieutenants, trusted that his predecessors had properly vetted the case and left it alone, the report found.

Francis has acknowledged his own failures in believing bishops over victims. He removed Mr. McCarrick from the priesthood and has in recent years instituted new church policies to increase accountability.

Many church experts consider those new rules corrections to the abuses and almost willful ignorance of church leaders that occurred under John Paul II.

John Paul II’s defenders say the report only demonstrated that Mr. McCarrick deceived the pope, as he did many others over his half-century rise to the highest ranks of the Catholic Church, and that it has no bearing on the heroic Christian virtue that made the pontiff a saint.

John Paul had been “cynically deceived” by Mr. McCarrick and other American bishops, Stanislaw Gadecki, the head of the Polish bishops conference said in a statement.

“Saints make errors of judgment, this was clearly an error of judgment,” said George Weigel, a biographer of Pope John Paul II and an official witness during his beatification process. “McCarrick was a pathological liar. And pathological liars fool people including saints.”

Mr. Weigel said that if perfection were a prerequisite for sainthood, St. Peter himself would not have made the cut. Indeed, infallibility, which is sometimes attributed to popes, is not a necessary saintly attribute, and history is full of saints who were not exactly saints during their lifetimes.

There has been a satanic priest, prostitutes, thieves and much else on the road to redemption and sainthood. In 1969, Pope Paul VI removed 93 saints from the church’s universal liturgical calendar, but mostly because they might not have existed, such as St. Christopher, who carried on his shoulders an infant who with each step grew heavier with the weight of the world.

But much is known about John Paul II, and some critics are arguing that it is enough cause not to celebrate him.

Citing John Paul’s “calamitous, callous decision-making,” which it said put children around the world at risk, an editorial Friday in the National Catholic Reporter urged American bishops meeting next week for their annual conference to “discuss requesting that the Vatican formally suppress John Paul’s cult,” or cease celebrating him. “Abuse victims deserve no less.”

That is a tremendous irony for a pope who turned the church into an efficient canonization factory. John Paul knocked down the criteria for beatification from two miracles to one, and did the same for canonization. In 1983, he reduced the amount of time required between a person’s death and the start of their canonization process to five years from 50.

He produced more than 480 saints, and put enough into the pipeline that Benedict XVI was able to canonize scores more. Pope Francis has followed suit, but has chosen to canonize people closer to his more pastoral, and less doctrinaire, vision of the church, such as Pope Paul VI and the martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero.

All three of the popes embraced the canonization process as a tool to fortify the faithful with the notion that saints are still among us, but also as mission statements for who merits emulation. Given the ideological divisions in the church, that approach puts a premium on speed.

“A process normally begins after five years of the death of the Servant of God and not later than 30 years after his death,” the Rev. Pascual Cebollada, the postulator, or person who presents a case for canonization, for the Jesuit order, explained. “For the last condition there are, of course, many exceptions that must be justified. For the first,” he added, “there have been less exceptions.”

John Paul was one of them. Benedict XVI waived the five-year requirement, allowing his canonization case to begin only days after his death. Even before the McCarrick report’s release on Tuesday, there was a growing sense that might have been a mistake.

In May, reporters asked Msgr. Slawomir Oder, the promoter of the cause for John Paul’s sainthood, whether it would have been wiser to hold off on the canonization. Already by that time, a cloud had grown over John Paul’s relationship with Mr. McCarrick and his close ties to the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the Mexican founder of the wealthy and powerful religious order Legionaries of Christ, who was later found to have fathered several children and been a serial abuser.

“All questions were faced, even the ones you are talking about” concerning abuse, Monsignor Oder said. He added that “John Paul II did not cover up any pedophile.”

But Monsignor Oder, who did not return a request for comment after the report’s publication, also said at the time that the Vatican did not grant direct access to the archives to those investigating the case for John Paul’s canonization, and that the Secretariat of State researched their questions and provided answers.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former official in the Secretariat of State who became the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States, in part prompted the report by publishing a remarkable letter in 2018 that accused Pope Francis of having covered up Mr. McCarrick’s abuse.

To shield John Paul II, who was actually in power at the time of Mr. McCarrick’s promotions, Archbishop Viganò argued that the ailing pontiff was too sick with Parkinson’s in 2000 to be held accountable.

But the Vatican investigation, which Archbishop Viganò said did not interview him, says that John Paul was of sound mind when he personally made the decision to reject the accusations and appoint Mr. McCarrick.

“The record unequivocally shows that Pope John Paul II made the decision personally,” the report says, and quotes the testimony of the former prefect of the papal household, James Harvey, saying John Paul was “fully capable to make all of his own decisions in 2000.”

The more frequent defense of John Paul, expressed also in the report, is that his experience facing Communism in Poland led him to believe that false accusations against priests and bishops were a political weapon against the faith.

But the reports give a rare glimpse at other, less noble, factors that led the pope to believe Mr. McCarrick, namely that the Vatican operated like an old boys network where bishops always got the benefit of the doubt.

John Paul first met Mr. McCarrick in 1976. Mr. McCarrick, the report says, “was on a fishing trip in the Bahamas with teenagers from some of the Catholic families” when a telegram told him to come back immediately to help translate for Pope John Paul II, then known as Karol Jozef Wojtyla, a rising star in the church. Mr. McCarrick joked that Cardinal Wojtyła had ruined his vacation and they struck up a friendship.

A quarter of a century later, Mr. McCarrick urged John Paul in a letter not to believe the accusations against him.

Pope John Paul II became “convinced of the truth” of McCarrick’s denial, the report notes, adding that Stanislaw Dziwisz, now a Cardinal, recalled that Pope John Paul II also believed it would be “useful to nominate McCarrick to Washington because he has a good relationship with the White House.”

Those events, as well as others in the report, have led some historians to suggest that the church redirect its canonization energies away from the top of the hierarchy.

“You are pope,” Professor Cummings said. “That should be good enough.”

Complete Article HERE!

In supporting same-sex civil unions, Pope Francis is showing how the Catholic definition of what constitutes a family is changing


Young people at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Philippines, cheer Pope Francis in 2015, following his comments endorsing same-sex civil unions.

By

Pope Francis referred to gay people as “children of God” in a recently released documentary, “Francesco.” He further noted that “a civil union law” needs to be created so gays are “legally covered.” The Vatican later confirmed the pope’s comments, but clarified that the church doctrine remained unchanged.

Public support for civil unions from Pope Francis is not entirely new. When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, and again in a 2014 interview, he spoke about civil unions for same-sex couples.

While the Vatican is right in saying that church doctrine remains the same, as a theologian who has been writing about Catholicism and family for over two decades, I see in the pope’s comments evidence that Catholic understanding of who counts as family is evolving.

From judgment to mercy

Traditional Catholic doctrine holds that marriage between a man and a woman is the foundation of the family. Sex outside of marriage is judged to be immoral and, while gay people are not seen as inherently sinful, their sexual actions are. Same-sex marriages and civil unions, the Vatican says, are harmful to society and “in no way similar” to heterosexual marriages.

Yet in his comments made public on Oct. 21, the pope framed his support for civil unions in the context of family. “They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable because of it,” he said in a news-breaking interview used in the documentary.

In researching for a book on Pope Francis, I found that he has consistently offered compassion for Catholics without traditional families. Soon after becoming pope in 2013, in response to a journalist’s question about a gay person, he famously said, “Who am I to judge?”

Mercy over judgment has been the mark of his papacy. The pope’s priority on extending mercy, theologian Cardinal Walter Kasper explains, especially pertains to families.

Surveys commissioned by the Vatican in 2015 found that Catholics desire more acceptance from the church for people who are single parents, divorced or have live-in relationships. Knowing that people often feel judged because their families aren’t perfect, Francis has tried to make them feel welcome. He has stressed that the doors of churches must be open to all.

When, in discussing same-sex civil unions, Francis said that gay people have “a right to a family,” he seems to have implied that civil unions create a family. Though he is not changing Catholic moral teaching, I argue that he is departing from traditional Catholic rhetoric on the family and offering an inclusive, merciful vision to guide church practice.

From family structure to family action

Changes in Catholic teaching in the 20th century paved the way for Francis’ recent moves.

In a 1930 Vatican document on marriage, Pope Pius XI defended the traditional family structure against perceived threats of cohabitation, divorce and “false teachers” who asserted the equality of men and women.

Three decades later, at Vatican II, a meeting of the world’s bishops from 1962 to 1965 that led to sweeping reforms in the Catholic Church, emphasis shifted to the role families could play in shaping society. Marriage was defined as an “intimate partnership of life and love,” and the family was praised as “a school of deeper humanity” where parents and children learn how to be better human beings.

Pope John Paul II, who was pope from 1978 to 2005, is often viewed as a foil to Pope Francis. In his writings, he defended heterosexual marriage and traditional gender roles, as well as rules against divorce, contraception and same-sex relationships. Yet the former pope contributed to shifting the Catholic conversation to ethical actions families can take.

In this regard, John Paul II’s most important document on the family Familiaris Consortio, 1981, gave families four tasks: growing in love, raising children, contributing to society and praying in their home. He taught that being a family means engaging in actions related to these tasks.

Catholic scholars like Mary Doyle Roche have since built on his framework to urge families to become “schools of solidarity” in which parents and children learn compassion for others.

Though same-sex couples remain excluded from official Catholic teaching, Catholic theologians such as Margaret A. Farley have suggested that these families, too, could prioritize love, social action and spirituality. Gay couples, she argued, “deserve the same protection under the law” as heterosexual couples. They also have the same moral obligations to each other and to the common good.

Pope Francis on inclusion

Pope Francis built on work done at Vatican II and the decades following it. One of his favorite ways of describing the church is as a “field hospital” that goes where people are hurting.

Though he has addressed many important social issues during his papacy, including economic inequality and climate change, he called the world’s bishops to special meetings in Rome only to discuss families. He urged them to find creative ways of ministering to people who feel excluded because they are not living in line with Catholic doctrine on marriage.

Themes of welcome and inclusion for single parents, divorced and remarried people and cohabiting unmarried couples were amplified in the document Francis wrote in 2016, “Amoris Laetitia,” or “The Joy of Love.”

For instance, theologian Mary Catherine O’Reilly-Gindhart sees Francis saying that cohabiting unmarried couples “need to be welcomed and guided patiently and discreetly.” This allows priests to meet couples where they are rather than shaming them or forcing them to hide their living situations.

What’s the future of the church?

Francis’ critics worry that the pope is watering down Catholic doctrine on marriage and family. But what I argue is that Francis is not changing doctrine. He is encouraging a broader view of who counts as families inside and outside the church.

In the same documentary in which Francis made his remarks on same-sex civil unions, he also criticized countries with overly restrictive immigration policies, saying, “It’s cruelty, and separating parents from kids goes against natural rights.” He was referring to the right to family, which “exists prior to the State or any other community.”

The comments in the documentary show a persistent move toward welcoming families in contemporary Catholic thought. Francis proposes that a welcoming church should support all families, especially those who are hurting. Similarly, as he says, governments should do the same – including supporting gay and lesbian couples.

Complete Article HERE!

The Overlooked Queer History of Medieval Christianity

Fourteenth century tombstone relief at a monastery built in 1009 in the Pyrenees

By Roland Betancourt

Today, it would be easy to assume that same-gender desire, particularly among men, is at odds with the history of Christianity. After all, many elements of modern conservative evangelical Christianity, from the infamous campaigns of the Westboro Baptist Church to faith-based pushes for anti-LGBTQ policy, give the impression that the religion is fundamentally opposed to the LGBTQ community.

The division, however, is not as rigid as one might imagine. Historical evidence speaks to a rich tradition of continuity in literature, philosophy and culture that runs from antiquity all the way to medieval Christianity, where same-gender intimacies were able to flourish.

In fact, we can find across the medieval world the potent glimmers of queer community and the role it played in formulating a language for Christian subjects as marginalized and persecuted peoples. Many stories of how queer figures maneuvered across various secular and religious spaces of the medieval world share a jaw-dropping candidness about same-gender intimacies and sexuality, and can provide important evidence about how medieval writers thought about the intersections of gender and sexual desire.

While same-gender relations were not accepted within medieval Christianity the way they are by many today, they also did not elicit the intense disdain that we find within the modern Christian right. Despite evidence of great diversity in sexual practices, same-gender intimacies hardly are the focus of concern for most early-Christian and medieval writers. In fact, prohibitions against same-gender intercourse happened selectively, often motivated by political factors more so than religious ones. For example, in the sixth-century, Emperor Justinian’s historian, Prokopios, tells us that Justinian passed legislation against same-sex relations only so that he could persecute certain political enemies whose sexual histories were known to him.

In addition, across the medieval Mediterranean, we find a series of saints’ lives that tell the stories of individuals who had been assigned female at birth, but became monks in all-male monastic communities. In the story of Saint Eugenia, who briefly lived her life as the male monk Eugenios, the saint is sexually harassed by a woman by the name of Melania. The text is quite clear that Melania is drawn to the monk’s male appearance. This story is important, because it demonstrates to us the need to treat these monks as men and not to misgender them as women. Rich and complex in their own right, these figures allowed medieval authors to tackle difficult questions about community, gender, sexuality and piety.

Since authors did not always know how to grasp and interpret their protagonist’s gender, the stories expose to us the ways in which sexual desire between men manifested itself in religious communities. In the story of the fifth-century saint Smaragdos, the young, beardless monk arrives at the monastery, where he is isolated by the Abbot and placed in a separate cell. The author tells us that he was placed here so that he could not be seen by his brothers, lest he cause them to stumble because of his emerald-like beauty.

We might surmise that the narrator is able to write with such frankness about same-gender desire precisely because the conceit is that this monk, assigned female at birth, is a woman (in some capacity) in his mind. But a familiarity with these texts and a sensitivity to the languages in which they were originally written shows a much more complex reality to this separation and prohibition.

The Abbot is never confused as to how or why a young monk might sexually arouse his fellow monks, nor is there any concern or question of his gender. A similar awareness of same-gender desire in monasteries is evident across a wide spread of early Christian and medieval authors. For example, in Cyril of Scythopolis’ Life of the fifth-century Palestinian monastic founder Euthymios, the monk asks his followers to “take care not to let your youngest brother come near my cell, for because of the warfare of the enemy it is not right for a feminine face to be found in the [monastery].” And such prohibition against “feminine faces” or “beardless men” are found across the rules written to regulate monastic life. Likewise, in his mid-seventh century Heavenly Ladder, John Klimachos praises monks who are particularly adept at stirring up animosity between two others who have “developed a lustful state for one another.”

Yet, despite discomfort about sexual intimacies stirred up within the cloisters, the perceived problem always comes down to the fact that these men are committed to celibacy, not that they are men. This same-gender sexual activity is treated with less concern than instances of monks who are accused of having sex with women outside the monastery. While relations between monks are courteously dissolved and handled internally, intercourse with women often leads to a monk’s expulsion from the community.

In a surprising and telling instance, the seventh-century theologian Maximos the Confessor reflects on what it is that binds communities together, stating that it is “sensual affection” and “desires” (erota) that causes creatures to flock as one. It is from this “erotic faculty” that animals flock together, being drawn “toward a partner of the same kind as one.” Here, his description of conviviality builds on a language of intimacies between similars, providing ample metaphors in Greek for the filiations between men in monastic communities and other social groups.

But, institutionalized spaces for same-gender intimacies were not unique to the monastic world in the Middle Ages. For example, the rite of spiritual brotherhood or adelphopoiēsis (literally, “brother-making”) bound two men in a spiritual brotherhood, echoing certain elements of the marriage rite. The process has been controversially heralded by the late Yale historian John Boswell as a medieval “same-sex union.” We are even told that these spiritual brothers would share the same bed and live closely bound lives.

While scholars over the years have added a great deal of nuance to Boswell’s initial argument, they have also strongly attempted to deny any form of same-gender desire behind the rite. An unpublished manuscript at the Vatican Library, however, tells a very different story. In this text, which can only be consulted in its original handwritten medieval Greek, the 13th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Athanasius I, writing centuries after the inception of the rite, condemns it because it allegedly “brings about coitus and depravity.” In this later period, we see a newfound homophobic resistance to the rite that, in the reaction’s vitriol, speaks to the role this rite could really play for men committing themselves to each other: The Patriarch’s words acknowledge the reality that no matter its intention, the rite enabled the space for sexual intimacies between men. That the “brother-making” rite possibly allowed room to maneuver for premodern queer men, long before that term ever existed, is critical to the history of Christianity.

Narratives like these push us to understand the ways in which intimacies between men existed in various aspects of religious life, even between monks. These relations may not have always been prized or embraced, but they also did not receive the hatred and intensity of vitriol they find in radicalized Christianity today. In fact, the evidence we have suggests that in the privacy of monastic communities and rites like adelphopoiēsis, queer figures had ample room to exist in loving relationships, far beyond what the archive has been able to preserve.

Our written sources point obliquely to the existence of these relations, but detailed stories of these intimacies are left only as an imprint, an outline in the sand of lives now lost that have been forgotten by history. As historians, our role is not simply to regurgitate what was written, but to read between the lines. That’s the only way we’ll unearth the realities of subjects whose lives were either shielded by secrecy or erased, often on purpose, by the history that followed.

Complete Article HERE!

Author of explosive book about gay priests discusses homophobia and hypocrisy in the Catholic Church

Declan Henry shares the journey to creating ‘Forbidden Fruit: Life and Catholicism in Contemporary Ireland’.

by Peter Dunne

Declan Henry’s new book, Forbidden Fruit, speaks to gay priests about the hypocrisy and homophobia of the Catholic Church. It also looks at the issues, which he writes, have led to the crumbling of a once-mighty institution. Declan speaks about the creation of the book, the high percentage of gay priests in the Church and how he, as a gay man and a Catholic, has managed to reconcile his faith.

What was the impetus for writing your book?

“I wanted to explore the changing face of Catholicism in Ireland over the past 30 years post the cleric abuse scandals. I want to find out why the Church has never adequately addressed the reasons why paedophilia occurred among priests – and question if this malaise is still present – and why. I wanted to explore the hypocrisy of the church towards gay people – given that such a high percentage of Catholic priests are gay. I also wanted to explore compulsory celibacy and question if it is emotionally healthy to expect any man – gay or straight – to live a life devoid of intimate personal relationships and sex.”

Did your research surprise you?

“I met two very different – yet both happy priests during my research. One was an openly gay (celibate) priest in Dublin who is much loved and respected by his parishioners for being so honest. The other was a married priest in London (converted from the Anglican Church many years ago). It was so refreshing to be shown around his church and to be introduced to his wife and children. This clearly showed two things – a) that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay and a priest… b) being a married Catholic priest is not the slightest deterrent in fulfilling the role of a priest.”

Declan continued, “Research last year from the French author (Frederick Martel) found that 80% of the Vatican’s top clergy are gay. And yet, despite these high statistics, the Catholic Church is very homophobic. Why?”

How do you balance your affinity for the Catholic Church alongside your findings?

“I believe that most people in the LGBT+ community must transcend their belief system beyond the Catholic Church and find their own faith, their own God, their own Jesus. In the end, this is not too hard to do. Remember that you can read all the Gospels and you will find that Jesus never once condemned homosexuality.”

“In one sense, I smile when I think back about my earlier years growing up gay in Ireland – how vulnerable I was, how naïve I was. In the book, I recall how once I was feeling down and went to see a priest – but he refused to see me because he had just started to prepare his dinner. His dinner was far more important to him than seeing me. And so, I left and never returned. But I’m lucky. I left all that behind. I’ve had a good life, so any bitterness is forgotten. But there was pain and rejection. On one hand you had this unrivalled sense of belonging but on the other hand rejection, fear, shame and guilt for being gay.”

Do you believe the Catholic Church has alienated LGBT+ people to the point of pushing them from their faith?

“Yes, absolutely. Pope after Pope has helped to reinforce this message. Take the current Pope for example – he is not a stupid man, he is well informed and very knowledgeable about what is going on around him, yet he can say the most foolish of things. In December 2018 he stated, ‘There is no place for gay priests in the clergy’. Who is he trying to fool when the horse has well and truly bolted on that one?!”

“The truth is the church is full of homosexuals at every level. But unfortunately, most of these gay priests have a very unhealthy attitude towards their own sexuality – which is not alone very damaging to themselves but damaging to the wider LGBT+ community.”

Complete Article HERE!

Why Bernard Preynat and sex abuse in the Church is a feminist issue

Former French priest Bernard Preynat at his trial on charges of sex abuse of minors in Lyon, France, 13 January, 2020.

by Sarah Elzas

Bernard Preynat, a former Catholic Priest accused of sexually abusing dozens of boy scouts in the 1970s and 80s is on trial. In court he claimed that he himself was a victim. For Catholic activist and journalist Christine Pedotti, this trial, and that of the Bishop who covered up the abuse, reveals a systemic problem in the French Catholic Church, which has its roots in the masculine domination of the clergy.

The trial of Preynat and that of Bishop Barbarin are part of the biggest crisis in the French Church in decades.

Christine Pedotti, the editor of the weekly Catholic newspaper Témoignage Chrétien, was part of a group calling for a commission to look into the wider problem of sex abuse in the Church. The Catholic Church set up an independent commission in February 2019, and has so far collected over 2000 stories.

Q: You are active as a feminist, and have questionned how the Church approaches the issue of women, and sexuality and homosexuality. How is this current crisis of sex abuse a feminist issue?

Christine Pedotti: I see the issue of paedophilia as a symptom of an inward-focused, masculine clerical culture, in which sexuality is always seen as a sin.

What’s terrible is that deep down, some clergy consider that sexual acts with children are less serious than sexual acts with women. This shows there is a very negative view of women.

The Catholic Church doesn’t know how to talk about sexuality, because it’s incapable of seeing women as desirable. That’s where this meets feminism.

Q: How has France approached the issue of sex abuse by priests differently from elsewhere?

CP: France is France, so we think we’re exceptional. This was happening everywhere else: in Canada, in the US, in Australia, Germany, Austria, Ireland, Poland, Chile. France thought the problem would stop at our borders.

The French church had to realize it had a problem, and it wasn’t an exception. That’s a difficult realization. It’s difficult to come to terms that this happened in France just like everywhere else. That four Bishops of Lyon, one after the other, closed their eyes on this priest [Preynat], who everyone knew was a criminal.

Q: Some people have turned away from the Church because of these paedophilia scandals. Have you ever been tempted to give it up?

CP: Many people ask why not become Protestant? First, I don’t think things are any better in that Church. And second, it would be like changing countries or nationalities. That’s not easy to do.

I grew up Catholic, and am imbibed by Catholic history and culture. It interests me a lot. So I stay with it, and try to change it. I created an association whose mission is: “neither leave, nor stay quiet”. And I talk, and I bother the Bishops.

A French newspaper called me a “pain in the ass for church people”. I think it’s rather a compliment!

Christine Pedotti

Q: Preynat is on trial, Barbarin was convicted last year. There is a growing awareness of this problem in the French Catholic Church. Are things changing as a result?

CP: I am hopeful, but Pope Francis has pointed out the main issue, which I agree with (I love saying that the Pope and I agree!). The issue is clericalism and the isolation of the priest, as sacred, and separate. How do we fight against this feeling of exceptionalism that priests have?

This is not just a French issue, it’s an issue for the Catholic Church as a whole. Who are these men – because they are exclusively men, and celibate – who have a special rapport with the divine? It’s very strange, and rather archaic. It puts the Catholic Church in a rather uncomfortable position.

Q: Your work has often been on the margins of the mainstream approach to Catholicism. You have focused on taboos subjects. How have these sex scandals, and the reactions to them, changed the way people see your work?

CP: Today I’m invited to conferences more than before. People are starting to see that that what I’ve been saying for a long time is true. It’s almost an oxymoron to say you’re Catholic and feminist. It seems impossible. Today, some people are saying: Maybe she’s right – not just me, but a certain number of Catholics who take very disruptive positions.

Today I can say that there are points on which I agree with the Pope! Not on the issue of women, but on some issues we have a common analysis – so I’m less marginalised.

I think many people agree with me that there was a real error in what Pope John-Paul II did, to focus the church on the Priest, male, celibate, as sacred. And placing women as mothers, wives, reserved and quiet like the Virgin Mary.

Q: You speak about the lack of credibility in the French church. Will these alternative ways of thinking attract people back to Catholicism in France?

CP: That’s complicated to say. Today the French Catholic Church is fragile. It receives no public funds, and donations have gone down. It’s a complicated crisis, because it comes from inside.

So to know what will happen, is a real question. I still believe in the religion, and there are resources in faith. But we are moving towards a smaller Church. The Church and power went hand-in-hand over the centuries. This was probably an error. Now we have to unlearn what we’ve done since Constantine, which was 16 centuries ago. So there’s a ways to go.

Catholicism counts a lot on its pope. Pope Francis is not young. It will be interesting to see how those in power, across the world, will choose who will replace him. Will they decide on conservatism, to avoid change? Or will they say that in order to announce the gospel in the 21st, we need to change something?

Complete Article HERE!

How the cult of Virgin Mary turned a symbol of female authority into a tool of patriarchy


Madonna with child and angels by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato, 1674. The cult of the Virgin is emblematic of the way the church silences women and marginalises their experience.

By

Belief in the virgin birth comes from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Their birth stories are different, but both present Mary as a virgin when she became pregnant with Jesus. Mary and Joseph begin their sexual relationship following Jesus’ birth, and so Jesus has brothers and sisters.

Catholic piety goes beyond this, with Mary depicted as a virgin not only before but also during and after Jesus’ birth, her hymen miraculously restored. The brothers and sisters of Jesus are seen as either cousins or children of Joseph by an earlier marriage.

In Catholicism, Mary remains a virgin throughout her married life. This view arises not from the New Testament but from an apocryphal Gospel in the second century, the “Protoevangelium of James”, which affirms Mary’s perpetual virginity.

From the second century onwards, Christians saw virginity as an ideal, an alternative to marriage and children. Mary was seen to exemplify this choice, along with Jesus and the apostle Paul. It accorded with the surrounding culture where Greek philosophers, male and female, tried to live a simple life without attachment to family or possessions.

This extolling of virginity, however unlikely when applied to Mary, did have some advantages. The option of becoming a celibate nun in community with other women gave young women in the early church an attractive alternative to marriage, in a culture where marriages were generally arranged and death in childbirth was common.

Yet belief in the eternal virginity of Mary has also inflicted damage over the centuries, particularly on women. It has distorted the character of Mary, turning her into a submissive, dependent creature, without threat to patriarchal structures.

She is divorced from the lives of real women who can never attain her sexless motherhood or her unsullied “purity”.

A strong minded leader

Yet in the Gospels, Mary is a vibrant figure: strong-minded and courageous, a leader in the community of faith.

Simone de Beauvoir, the influential, early French feminist, observed that the cult of the Virgin Mary represented the “supreme victory of masculinity”, implying that it served the interests of men rather than women.

The ever-Virgin diminishes women’s sexuality and makes the female body and female sexuality seem unwholesome, impure. She is a safe and nonthreatening figure for celibate men who place her on a pedestal, both literally and metaphorically.

The contradiction

It is true that Catholic women across the world have found great solace in the compassionate figure of Mary, especially against images of a very masculine, judgmental God, and the brutality of political and religious hierarchy.

But for this women have paid a price, in their exclusion from leadership. Mary’s voice has been permitted, in filtered tones, to ring out across the church, but real women’s voices are silent.

In today’s context, the cult of the Virgin becomes emblematic of the way the church silences women and marginalises their experience.

Marian piety in its traditional form has a deep contradiction at its heart. In a speech in 2014, Pope Francis said, “The model of maternity for the Church is the Virgin Mary” who “in the fullness of time conceived through the Holy Spirit and gave birth to the Son of God.”

If that were true, women could be ordained, since their connection to Mary would allow them, like her, to represent the church. If the world received the body of Christ from this woman, Mary, then women today should not be excluded from giving the body of Christ, as priests, to the faithful at Mass.

The Virgin cult cuts women off from the full, human reality of Mary, and so from full participation in the life of the church.

It is no coincidence that in the early 20th century, the Vatican forbade Mary to be depicted in priestly vestments. She could only ever be presented as the unattainable virgin-mother: never as leader, and never as a fully embodied woman in her own right.

The irony of this should not be lost. A fully human Gospel symbol of female authority, autonomy, and the capacity to envision a transformed world becomes a tool of patriarchy.

By contrast, the Mary of the Gospels, the God-bearer and priestly figure – a normal wife and mother of children – confirms women in their embodied humanity and supports their efforts to challenge unjust structures, both within and outside the church.

Complete Article HERE!

German bishops declare that homosexuality is completely and utterly ‘normal’

In a groundbreaking move, German bishops have revised teachings on sexual morality and said homosexuality is “normal”.

Pope Francis meets with German bishops during their ad limina visit Nov. 20, 2015.

By Josh Milton

As the Catholic Church prepares for its contended review, the Commission for Marriage and Family of the German Bishops’ Conference came to the consensus that being gay is a “normal form of sexual predisposition.”

Moreover, church organisers committed to “newly assessing” topics such as sacraments of ordination and marriage, with another revision being that adultery will not longer “always be qualified as grave sin”, the Catholic News Agency reported.

For centuries, Church leaders have been rattled by the thought of people being sexualities other than heterosexual. But as public attitudes and governments overwhelmingly sway in favour of letting the LGBT+ community exist, the church has steadily caught up to speed.

German bishops call for homophobia to be ‘rejected’ in the church.

The German Catholic Church’s statement comes ahead of a two-year ‘Synodal Process’ by the Germans which will see a national reform consultation. Although, Vatican leaders have warned against this.

In a press release detailing the conclusions of the conference, it detailed how a panel of bishops, sexologists, moral theologians and canon lawyers deliberated how to discuss “the sexuality of man […] scientifically-theologically, and how to assess it ecclesiastically.”

The experts, consisting of bishops from four diocese, agreed in the Berlin conference that “human sexuality encompasses a dimension of lust, of procreation, and of relationships”, the release stated.

“There was also agreement that the sexual preference of man expresses itself in puberty and assumes a hetero- or homosexual orientation. Both belong to the normal forms of sexual predisposition, which cannot or should be be changed with the help of a specific socialisation.”

The panel also said that “any form of discrimination of those persons with a homosexual orientation has to be rejected.”

However, the panel did not reach a consensus across all battle lines. There was no consensus on “whether the magisterial ban on practiced homosexuality is still up to date.”

Furthermore, the experts also disagreed on whether or not both married and unmarried people should be allowed to use artificial contraceptives.

Complete Article HERE!

A Teen Says Her Catholic High School Forced Her Into Counseling For Being Gay.

Her Parents Had No Idea.

By

“They took it upon themselves to parent our daughter, to counsel her, to lecture her,” her mother said.

UPLAND, California — Magali Rodriguez said she didn’t kiss her girlfriend at school.

At Bishop Amat Memorial High School, the biggest Catholic school in the Los Angeles area, it wasn’t against the rules to be gay — Rodriguez at one point checked the student handbook. But she knew not everyone on campus would approve of their relationship, so she said they didn’t go in for the typical high school public displays of affection.

What she said she didn’t expect was for school staff to single her out for her sexuality: She said she was forced into disciplinary meetings and counseling, barred from sitting next to her girlfriend at lunch, and kept under close eye by staff members. If she didn’t follow these rules — which didn’t apply to straight students in relationships — school officials threatened to out her to her parents, she said.

Rodriguez, a high school senior, tried to stay positive and get through it, but after more than three years, she was at breaking point. She was crying every day before school, her grades suffered, and spending time on campus brought intense waves of anxiety. So she decided to speak up — first to her parents and now publicly.

“I really don’t want it to happen to anybody else,” she told BuzzFeed News.

When Rodriguez’s parents heard their daughter’s story, they pulled her out of the suburban LA school known locally for its academics and sports programs. But in spite of its impressive reputation, the way school staff treated the teen was wrong, her mother said.

“They took it upon themselves to parent our daughter, to counsel her, to lecture her,” Martha Tapia-Rodriguez said.

School officials and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles didn’t respond to specific questions, citing student privacy. But a spokesperson disputed the Rodriguezes account, saying it was not “entirely accurate.”

All students are held to the same standards outlined in the Parent/Student Handbook, a school statement said, and Bishop Amat does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, disability, medical condition, sex, or national and/or ethnic origin.

“Any student who is involved in a relationship may socialize appropriately on campus,” the statement said. “However, as stated in the Parent/Student handbook, engaging in excessive displays of affection on campus is not permitted.”

Rodriguez began coming out to friends in middle school, and by the time she started ninth grade, she was dating a sophomore girl. They were the only out couple in the 1,300-coed student body, and while Rodriguez said she knew the Catholic teachings about homosexuality, she initially trusted people would judge her based on who she was, not just her sexuality.

“I was surrounding myself with people that were really involved in their religion, but still accepting,” she said. “So I never thought there was anything bad about it.”

In the second semester of her first year, she said she and her girlfriend were called into separate meetings with their deans of discipline. At first, Rodriguez said she was confused; she’d never been in trouble at school before.

Her dean said there had been complaints about the relationship, it couldn’t happen at school, and it was wrong, Rodriguez said. The teen said she also received a set of rules: No sitting next to her girlfriend at lunch and no meeting up during breaks. The meetings with the dean of discipline would continue, as would sessions with the school psychologist, and staff would be keeping an eye on them. If she followed the rules, Rodriguez said she was told, the school wouldn’t tell her parents.

At that point, she was still figuring out how she wanted to come out to her family. She was scared, so she and her girlfriend agreed.

“We both walked out of that meeting just sobbing,” Rodriguez said.

A few months later, during summer school, the girls were waiting for a ride home when a staff member came up to them. She began berating them, Rodriguez said, telling them they were going to hell, and that she was working to get them expelled. The staff member only left them alone to avoid Rodriguez’s father, Rodriguez said.

The next two years, Rodriguez said she tried to treat her experiences at school as if they were normal. She and her girlfriend attempted to joke to each other about their situation, even as they cried every day before class and when they were summoned to disciplinary meetings. Other students who hadn’t come out noticed, opting to transfer schools or stay in the closet after hearing about what Rodriguez and her girlfriend dealt with, she said.

“We were really afraid on campus,” she said. “We didn’t hold hands, we hardly hugged or anything.”

And they were constantly being watched, Rodriguez said. She recalled a teacher staring them down during a class picnic, even as a straight couple made out nearby. Once, Rodriguez said she dared to move from across the table to sit next to her girlfriend at lunch. A teacher immediately came over to them, taking a position an inch or two away, she said.

“They just had the teachers staked out,” she said.

A friend of Rodriguez’s, Crystal Aguilar, told BuzzFeed News the effect these interactions had on Rodriguez was immense. The girls became friends in middle school, then attended different high schools.

“I [saw] her attitude towards school change drastically. It went from her being motivated to learn and be at school, to her dreading every day she’d go,” Aguilar said. “Her sadness because of it overtook her at times.”

Always proud of her ability to smile through difficult situations, Rodriguez said the daily stress had fully caught up to her when her senior year began in August. She and her girlfriend had broken up, and the older girl — who couldn’t be reached for comment — and other friends had graduated.

Rodriguez’s grades had dropped, and though a bookworm in the past, she was no longer excited to learn and said she felt uncomfortable interacting with teachers who were also keeping watch over her. She’d spend the school day sad and full of anxiety, then come home feeling drained.

“I thought to myself, I don’t know how much longer I can go,” Rodriguez said.

She knew her parents had also seen the change in her, so she penned a letter, revealing to them for the first time what she had been experiencing.

“I’m not OK,” Rodriguez said she wrote. “And I’m not OK being in this type of environment that’s supposed to be lifting me and encouraging me.”

The letter was shocking to her parents, who weren’t surprised she was gay but by how she said she was treated by the school.

“It sounded like a suicide letter,” her father, Nicolas Rodriguez, said. “It was a huge cry for help.”

The way gay and lesbian students are treated at Catholic schools varies across the US, said Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry. The LGBTQ Catholic group offers resources for teachers and administrators, as well as parents on the church’s positive teachings. Simply put, the church says being gay or lesbian isn’t considered a sin, though sexual activity between people of the same sex is, he said.

“Mostly, it says we have to accept people,” he said.

But high schools’ written policies often avoid the issue, and while surveys have shown most Catholics support marriage equality, critical voices can end up being the loudest in a church community, he said. Still, LGBTQ Catholics deserve the support of schools and parishes, he said.

“As a baptized Catholic, they belong to the church community,” DeBernardo said. “They have gifts they can offer to the church community, but unfortunately, not all church community members are going to recognize that.”

It’s reasonable for a Catholic institution to take a stand against sexual activity outside of marriage, he said. But that shouldn’t mean a different set of standards for LGBTQ students, such as who they can take the school dances.

“They should handle it the way they handle any student in a relationship,” DeBernardo said.

Rodriguez is now set to finish the year at another local high school. For the first time in years, she said she feels like she can breathe.

“I wouldn’t be proud if I got a diploma from Bishop,” she said. “What they showed me about what they stand for and their true values isn’t what they really live up to.”

Complete Article HERE!