Terence

Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

Gay Popes, Papal Sodomites

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2010 at 7:24 pm
For the month of Gay Pride (in church), it would be great if we we could simply celebrate a list of unambiguously gay popes – but we can’t. This is not because they don’t exist (there were undoubtedly several popes whom we know had physical relationships with men), but because of the inadequacies of language, and the weakness of the historical record over something so deeply personal, especially among the clergy. Both of these difficulties are exemplified by Mark Jordan’s use of the phrase, “Papal Sodomites”.  In medieval terms, a “sodomite” was one of utmost abuse, which meant far more than just the modern “homosexual”. It could also include, bestiality, or heresy, or withcraft, and (in England, after the Reformation) “popery”, which is deeply ironic, and hence treason.

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

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

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2010 at 5:53 pm
The word “evangelical” is a troublesome one in religious discourse, as it can mean so many different things, and is used indifferent ways.   Polling firms reporting on social policy issues routinely use it as a contrast to Protestants, as in Catholics, Protestants and Evangelicals – by which they really men Mainline Protestants and Other Protestants. Press releases though have never been given to verbal precision, and we have become accustomed to the usage. To complicate matters further, some of the “Mainline” churches, especially the UK Church of England, are described in news reports in terms of their “evangelical” or “liberal wing. In more theological, less politicized terms, there are many in the Mainline churches who would insist that they too are inherently “evangelical”,  in its true sense.
Further complicating the issue is the repeated research finding that it is the “evangelical” wing of Christianity, in the sense of non-mainline Protestant, that is the most implacably opposed to LGBT equality or inclusion in church, which leads to the assumption that one leads necessarily from the other. There is growing evidence though that even in this sense, some evangelical leaders, like many Catholic theologians, are now recognising the fallacies and mistaken assumptions in the Christian opposition of the past few centuries. I have reported on some of these in the past – there are many more.
However, it is the more theological meaning of “evangelical” that Janet Edwards is using when she argues at “Religion Dispatches ” that gay rights  are an “evangelical thing”.

“We need to out-evangelize the evangelists!”

Contrary to popular imagination, which usually places evangelicals strictly within the conservative Christian right-wing, this rousing call to action came from Rev. Jean Southard at a dinner for LGBT advocates during the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly.
In the midst of debates within both the Presbyterian Church and the nation, Rev. Southard’s point was that LGBT-rights advocates in the church should shout from the rafters that their actions are evangelical—in the deepest historical sense of the word—and in so doing, remind evangelicals of Christianity’s fundamental tenet of inclusion. 
Though it has taken on a narrow meaning in American politics today, “evangelical” is actually an ancient Christian term whose roots extend to the earliest days after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. “Evangelical,” or “evangelion” in the original Greek, literally translates as “Good News.” From the women running to tell the others of the empty tomb (Luke 24:1-12), to Paul’s mission to the Gentiles (Acts 15), to John writing his Gospel to make sure the Good News would be there for future generations like us, “evangelical” has always meant sharing Jesus’ Good News with all those who wish to be part of the Church. 
As Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I shall draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). There is no “but” in Jesus’ “all.” And so it is incumbent upon us, as a Church, to extend our full welcome and blessing to all the faithful, including those who are LGBT.
Yet LGBT people are the ones whom many in the Church today judge as beyond the reach of Jesus’ embrace—just as the Galatians and Corinthians were considered beyond God’s love in Paul’s time. 
For those who claim the mantle of the evangelical tradition, it is important to remember what it means that God’s love is available to all of us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It means that LGBT Christians have the same place at Christ’s table as anyone else.
The chorus of the praise song, “We Are One in the Spirit,” echoes Paul (Galatians 5:22) when it repeats the refrain, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” It is in this Spirit that we can “out-evangelize the evangelicals.”
And so, when LGBT people freely embrace and live a Christian life, the Church must recognize such deep faithfulness and open our arms to them as well. At the heart of Jesus’ Good News is this: there is no “but” in “all.”

(Watch Rev Jean Southard speak on Marriage Equality on Youtube: Part 1, and Part 2)

Some Irish Sense On Gay Relationships: Another Bishop Speaking Out.

In Uncategorized on July 24, 2010 at 6:24 pm
Willie Walsh, the retiring Bishop of Killaloe, has some unremarkable but encouraging words on homosexual relationships. Unremarkable, that is, for anybody outside of the Catholic episcopate. Encouraging, given that he is of it. Speaking informally at a civic reception to mark his retirement, he was asked for his views on the Irish Civil Partnership legislation, which was signed into law earlier this week. While making clear his unwavering belief in the traditional support for “family” and marriage, he made two important statements which should give encouragement to all gay and lesbian Catholics.
Referring directly to the civil partnership law, he said he had always been “hesitant” about asking the state to support a particular teaching of the Church. This is a clear distancing from his fellow Irish bishops, who were forthright in their attempts to do just that, with strenuous attempts to derail the bill.

(It is not a coincidence that these remarks were made on his retirement. Could he have been as candid before announcing his departure? ) He also said he “respects” people of homosexual orientation, and was “saddened” by the hurt the church had done to us.

“I’ve always been hesitant about asking civil authorities to support a particular teaching of our church. I do place great emphasis on marriage, I have worked in that area all my life and I place great emphasis on marriage and family life.”

“While I do worry about the apparent breakdown of family life, I equally respect the laws of this country. I have always done so and always will do so.

I respect people who are of homosexual orientation and I would be always conscious of the fact that very often we in the church have hurt them and hurt them deeply and I am saddened by that and saddened by the lack of respect for any human being.

He added: “It is deeply, deeply important and we would be endangering that at our peril. I know and respect many people who are gay. We should always treat them with the deep respect to which every human being is entitled.
The emphasis on “respect” is orthodox teaching – but not heard or seen in practice nearly as often as opposition to equality legislation, or to protection from discrimination, so it is good to  hear it articulated, as it is to read his cautious distancing from opposition to Civil Partnership law.
-Irish Times, July 13.
Still, the words themselves are indeed cautious. What makes them interesting to me, is that this is now the fourth bishop in recent months to suggest or imply a more nuanced stance on gay relationships – and as far as I can tell, not one has been rebuked or repudiated by the Vatican or a single other bishop. First, we had Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna  in late April, who has certainly not been repudiated – I’ve been watching closely. Then there were  Bishops Januario Torgal Ferreira of Portugal, and Francis Quinn, of California. (Note that three of these four are now either retired, or on the point of retirement. How many younger bishops feel the same way, but are more guarded in their words – for now? I suspect it will not take too much for more men too feel that the climate has changed, and so able to speak more freely.)
It is also worth recalling that the last unequivocal denunciation of homosexuality, the “Homosexualitatis Problema” was issued over twenty years ago. Since then, ten countries have approved gay marriage, including four Catholic countries and Canada, which is damn near majority Catholic. Meanwhile, there have been numerous reports of hostile words by Pope Benedict, including a reported attack on gay marriage in Portugal, just before the legislation was signed. But close attention to his actual words has generally shown they were not quite what the press was reporting. Even the Portuguese address, while probably implying a criticism of gay marriage, did not actually use the words.
Are we in the eye of a storm, do you suppose, waiting apprehensively while the Vatican prepares an updated Hallowe’en letter to cope with the new onslaught on “traditional” marriage and family – or is it conceivable that the worst of the storm really has passed, that the Vatican theologians are in fact quietly preparing a discreet, tactical retreat from the excesses of the JP II papacy on sexual ethics, while they attempt to digest and come toe terms with the implications for theology, as James Alison has suggested (Discovery of “Gay” = Good News for the Church“), of what medical science, biology and anthropology have already made plain: homosexuality is not in any sense “unnatural”, and is not diseased?   It is also not “disordered” in any sense except that it is not “ordered” towards procreation -but then, nor is celibacy.

Why Catholics Support Gay Marriage.

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2010 at 5:55 pm
Research results have consistently shown that US Catholics nationally are more supportive of gay rights (including gay marriage), and do not agree with the Vatican teaching that homosexual relationships are morally wrong. What has not been clear from research is why this should be, when the formal Vatican doctrine, and the publicly stated position of the bishops, is so different. The same conundrum was posed even more sharply this month in Argentina, where polls showed that in this overwhelmingly Catholic country, where the bishops very publicly opposed it, 70% of the population supported the introduction of full family equality.
In California, two separate polls released within days, by Field and by PRRI, confirm the patterns we have become accustomed to: over the longer term view, support for equality has grown steadily; Democrats and independents are supportive, Republicans are not; younger voters are strongly supportive – and Californian Catholics narrowly support marriage equality.

The difficulty with most research results for demographic sub-samples, such as “women”, or “Latinos” , 0r “over 50’s” is that without deeper statistical analysis, it is never quite clear whether the differences seen between groups are specific to those groups, or just the result of hidden demographics distorting the groups being examined.

The great thing about the research from PRRI, is that it addresses that problem by taking a two-level split of a large sample, to consider religion within ethnic groups. It thus standardises for ethnicity when considering religion – and the results are truly fascinating, especially against the background of marriage equality in Argentina. It turns out that among all religious groupings, Latino Catholics are the most supportive of marriage equality – and Latino Protestants are the most strongly opposed.  In California, what appears to be Catholic support for marriage equality is specifically Latino Catholic support: White Catholic views are pretty similar to White (mainline) Protestants. Conversely, the strong Latino Catholic support does not show up in overall Latino support, because it is balanced by strong opposition from Latino Protestants.
It gets better. If the report simply left it there, that would be interesting, but would simply beg a couple of further questions. Why should Latino/a Catholics differ so strongly from White Catholics, and even more strongly from Latino/a Protestants? Why are Catholics and Protestants so different to Evangelicals, who are very strongly opposed? Why are Blacks overall less supportive than either Whites or Latinos? So, it is great to report that it does not stop there. There is plenty of real good meat in this report worth chewing over, both theologically and politically, which offers some real insight into the reasons for these discrepancies.
One dramatic impact on thinking about marriage, is what people are hearing from their clergy.  Catholics are more likely than other groups to be hearing anything at all from clergy about homosexuality, and White Catholics less than Latino Catholics.  Both Catholic groups, together with White Protestants, are the least likely to be hearing negative statements. Some Latino Catholics are hearing a message that flatly contradicts the position of the bishops: almost one in ten report they are hearing supportive words from their Catholic priests about homosexuality.
(With the continuing debate in some Protestant groups about gay ordination, it is important to note that a small majority of Protestant clergy seem more likely to support than to discourage gay and lesbian relationships, by 21% to 19% ).
This has huge implications for the push for marriage equality, for inclusion in church, and for the Catholic Church in particular.  First, it confirms once again that religious belief and homosexual relationships are not incompatible. It is simply untrue that “Christians” as a whole reject homosexuality, or same sex marriage. A growing minority of Christians, and some clergy, support such relationships.  This increasing support within the churches will ease the way towards greater LGBT inclusion in church. For the Catholic bishops, the signs are ominous. At a national level, their voices have been among the most prominent arguing against gay marriage, gay adoption, civil unions, and protection from discrimination. But this message from the top of the pyramid does not seem to be getting through on the ground. It is remarkable that Catholics are the least likely of all groups to be hearing negative messages about homosexuality from their priests, and even more so that some Catholics are being told to be supportive, or are hearing messages that are neutral rather than critical.
Why this disconnect? Could it be that the local priests are in closer contact, with real people. both gay and straight, and so more in touch with reality? Another finding in the research is that people’s views on homosexuality will be strongly influenced by the parents of gay men and lesbians. Any priest is likely to have several such parents in his congregation, in addition to some gay people themselves who have not been driven away from the church, or into hiding in a closet. This direct personal knowledge will be showing him the falsity of official discourse, that we are not “disordered”, driven by our sexuality away from God, or interested only in “gratuitous self-indulgence”.  Rather than repeating the lies, many would simply prefer to hold their tongues – and some are taking the remarkable step, given their dependent position, of directly contradicting the bishops’ message.
If the bishops are unable to speak directly to gay men, lesbians or their parents, they would be wise to at least listen carefully to what their priests could be telling them. If they continue to not do so, they will simply continue to lose further credibility, and will suffer greater loss of authority, just as they have already done on contraception, and as the Argentinian bishops have now done on marriage equality.