Tag Archives: Pope Benedict XVI

He Who Pays the Piper

… Calls the Tune

Perhaps it’s best to put up a GOVERNMENT HEALTH WARNING: “Too much speculation is bad for your spiritual health!” before going any further. Well, I’ve just done so. Let the speculation begin…
The suspicion is growing on me that the supposedly theological battle – loosely framed as conservative/traditional vs. liberal/modern – for the very heart and soul of the Church is just a red herring. In my view it’s something akin to a conjuring trick, where the conjuror gets you to look in one direction, diverting your attention away from the trick he intends to pull on you. The real issue, in my opinion, is a political one, and is largely determined by what’s happening behind the scenes. Who is taking hold of the reins of power within the Catholic Church? Who is calling the shots? Who is paying the piper, thus deciding the tune?
Illustration from The Pied Piper of Hamelin
There are those of you who are reading this and saying to themselves: Okay, here goes another fancy conspiracy theory. Well, not really. Instead, I would like to point to certain inconsistencies that are, at the very least, a bad PR exercise, but when put together undermine the Catholic Church’s authority and standing. Let’s have a look at the upcoming creation of 22 new cardinals, and the implications of this move. You may follow the link to the article in the Tablet for the statistics.

Whichever way one looks at the figures, it’s becoming pretty clear that Benedict favours a European pope as his successor. Or, not to be so blatant about it, the present pope is ensuring that a well-marked direction is followed. If these 120+ men (no women in this club) are supposed to be representing the 1 billion+ Catholics worldwide, then they are doing a very poor job. What we have instead is a very selective representation: European (especially Italian), and curial. Am I the only one around here who sees a very bureaucratic, conservative type of governance in the near future? Am I the only one to think that the whole act is yet another manifestation of Western colonialism, at a time when the balance of power in the world has moved east and south? Are only white males in Roman offices suitable for steering Peter’s barque?
I think it would be naïve to see the above move in isolation from other actions. Is it unreasonable for me to ask who is pulling the strings in Rome? Who are the persons and groups who are seeking to strengthen their hold on the Church through their jockeying for positions and power in the Vatican? That a majority of cardinal-electors come from a part of the world that represents only 25% of the Catholic Church is a serious matter indeed. It is a big slap on the face for the churches in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The Papal trips and visits to these continents appear more clearly for what they have long been suspected to be: theatrical acts and plenty of pageantry. Perhaps those who are footing the bill for this piper Pope’s voyages (and those of whose predecessor) are really calling the tune after all.

Pure speculation? Let’s pan out a bit. The above is, to my view, of a piece with, for example, the [largely unsuccessful] rapprochement with the SPX society, the equally condescending (and totally unjust) move to win over disaffected members of the Anglican/Episcopalian Church, and the obsession with the Tridentine Mass. I say obsession because they seem to be the workings of a mind obsessed with purity (particularly ritual purity, of which the insistence on celibacy is but a part), idealised in this case in the Latin form. It all adds up, doesn’t it, when one gets to know that the crude translation that passes for the Mass in the English vernacular is also an attempt to totally align oneself to the Latin text, as God wouldn’t have it otherwise. And then there’s that insistence on minutiae, and on certain gestures and movements: sit, stand, kneel, three pats on the chest, sit, stand, prostrate… a textbook case of obsessive compulsive disorder methinks. It’s simply nauseating, if it weren’t also so damaging to the Church’s future. Who is pumping this life-numbing mentality into the Church, I ask? At the behest of who are these controversial moves made?
Isn’t it damaging enough that the Catholic Church worldwide has lost much of its moral high ground in the aftermath of the clergy abuse crisis? Why is the hierarchy (or a section of it, at least) engaged in an ongoing battle with LGBT persons? Any organisation worth its salt would have learnt how to read and interpret the statistics and opinion polls. Failure to do so spells the end of the road for that organisation. Are the Pope and the rest of the hierarchy so far removed from the mass of Catholics worldwide not to realise that the majority of the Catholic membership do not necessarily agree with what the hierarchy teaches on a number of issues, mainly in the area of human sexuality?
It is precisely in the area of moral teaching that the inconsistencies abound. I find slogans like “traditional family values” or “pro-life campaign” to be somewhat overused and disingenuous. It is very unfortunate that Pope John Paul II presented moral issues in absolutist terms, either black or white. He sent into overdrive the “culture of life – culture of death” debate, and even his successor, Benedict XVI, hasn’t been able to fully disentangle himself from this manner of doing moral theology. What’s interesting me right now is how this moral debate is working its way into the run-up for the US presidency elections. How dare the US Catholic bishops talk about “pro-life” or “traditional family values”? Their brass neck leaves me breathless.
Well, Dolan and Co. can’t play that card selectively. Doing so is not only a big failure on their part but goes to prove that they have another agenda. They can’t restrict “pro-life” issues to artificial contraception and abortion (where a majority of Catholics in the country are not in agreement with the official line), and then fail to speak out on issues such as war or capital punishment. How can the bishops be taken seriously about “family values”, or about being pro-life, when they fail so miserably when it comes to protect vulnerable members in their Church – children – from the paedophile clergy within their ranks? And if they were really serious about life issues and human rights, then they would come down clearly on the side of LGBT folk, rather fight them in every forum. Dolan and Co., you should speak out forcefully against hate crimes committed against LGBT persons, and the bullying that has lead to a frighteningly high percentage of teen-suicides. What’s the point of insisting so much about life between conception and birth, and then failing to address the other issues?
I can go on and on. It’s hypocritical to play just the abortion and contraception cards, and hide the rest of the pack. To flare out against Obama before and after 2008 on these and related issues, but not speaking equally forcefully against those who have brought the world economy to its knees because of their recklessness and egoism. Don’t the US bishops have anything to say to the top 1%? Will these honourable gentlemen back persons the like of Gingrich or Santorum just because these politicians claim to have Catholic credentials? What about their values, and their stand on a number of very serious issues? Is it because the Catholic Church in the US has much to gain from backing the Catholic number to the White House? Or at least by backing someone who comes from the top 1%, as long as this individual protects the interests of a very privileged and select club: the “heterosexual”white male? Come on, cough up! Who’s filling your Church’s coffers, [Cardinal] Dolan? Who’s setting the agenda for you?

Rats

 (Originally posted by Bart at Queering the Church)
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Gay Marriage: What Pope Benedict did NOT Say

A number of news reports this week have stated that Pope Benedict has described gay marriage as a threat to humanity:

Gay marriage a threat to humanity’s future — Pope

GMA News – ‎19 hours ago‎
VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict said on Monday that gay marriage was one of several threats to the traditional family that undermined “the future of humanity itself.” The Pope made some of his strongest comments against gay marriage in a New Year address 

Gay marriage is a threat to humanity, claims Pope

Daily Mail – ‎Jan 10, 2012‎
By Graham Smith Gay marriage is one of several threats to the traditional family unit that undermines ‘the future of humanity itself’, Pope Benedict XVI warned yesterday. The pontiff told diplomats from nearly 180 countries that the education of proper 

Liberal family values, same-sex marriage a threat to the future of humanity: Pope

National Post (blog) – ‎Jan 9, 2012‎
Pope Benedict XVI attends his annual meeting with Holy See Diplomats at the Hall of the Throne on January 9, 2012 in Vatican City, Vatican. During his speech the Pope pleaded for religious tolerance and an end to discrimination against Christians 

And plenty more of like ilk. If such a patently and obviously false and malicious statement is really what he said, then the LGBT community, and queer Catholis in particular, would be justified in painting him as public enemy number one.

So – did he say it?

Andrew Brown at the Guardian denies this, and I agree with him.

On Monday, Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech to the diplomatic corps at the Vatican at which he didn’t say a single word about gay marriage. Reuters and, following them, many other people reported that he had denounced gay marriage as a threat to western civilisation.  

So far as I can see, Pope Benedict just didn’t. 

It’s not unusual for news headlines to report as fact statements that the Pope has not made, and I have learned by now that before responding in anger, it is safest first to check his words, reported verbatim at the Vatican website. What did he say?

Well, the first thing to stress, is that  this was just one part of a lengthy, wide-ranging  address on a range of topics. Ignoring the introduction, this address included 2158 words in the English text.  The distinct topics covered were the global economic crisis (164 words), the Arab Spring and its aftermath (314 words), conflict in the rest of the Middle East (160 words), Education of the young (492 words), religious freedom and religious conflict (473 words), and threats to the environment (130 words). So – where was the discussion of “gay marriage”, and its threat to humanity?

As Brown claims, it’s just not there. What is in the text, is a section on the importance of family as the setting for education of the young. There is also an explicit reference to family as “based on the marriage of a man and a woman”. He then went on to the bit that made the headlines:
Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.
It is presumably an assumption that the “policies” that he was referring to, are those to permit same-sex marriage or civil unions that led the press to claim that he said gay marriage is a threat to humanity, but he did not say so. The opportunity was there: he could easily have spoken about political or judicial tussles over marriage, but did not. This is not because he ignored the political process: he made explicit reference to legislative proposals for abortion, and to a court decision on patents for human embryonic stem cells. About comparable legislative or court processes on same-sex unions, and on gay adoption, there was not a word.

We must conclude that while Benedict has clearly expressed concerns about threats to the family, he is not explicitly including gay marriage as one of those threats. He wants to protect the family, which he says is the building block of society. I have no problem there – all societies are built on a fundamental building block of family, but in practice the nature of family is variable, over time and geography. “Family” does not refer only to the modern nuclear family, but in other times and places has also included extended families, polygamous families, religious monastic families and households, and others. There is no reason not to see queer families as included in the general term “family”, as many already do.

But, if I am right, what are we to make of the phrase, “family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman” that introduces the passage on family, and the threats to it?

I think there are two important considerations. I accept that Pope Benedict believes that this is so, and is genuinely thinking of the heterosexual variety, when he talks of marriage. I just don’t believe that he is so concerned about gay marriage, to include it in his “threats to the family”. Those are the threats to unborn life, as in abortion, and stem-cell research. That is what he sees as threatening humanity, not gay marriage.

The second point to bear in mind, when assessing any statement emanating from the papacy, is something I have learned from James Alison. The Vatican is a cauldron of power politics, with many factions constantly jostling for influence and power. Benedict delivers hundreds of speeches a year, but does not write them himself. The speechwriters have to bear in mind the need to balance the demands of all factions, so there are always some things that have to be said, that simply cannot be ignored. There are undoubtedly powerful forces at work strongly opposed to any form of recognition for gay/lesbian relationships, so to simply ignore the topic in a discussion of family is inconceivable – just as it is inconceivable at present for the Pope to publicly approve gay marriage.

US Catholic, focussing on the Reuters wire feed by Philip Pulella which prompted many of the other stories, slams it for sloppy reporting. First, is a discussion of the full content of the papal speech, and then notes:

A lot there, no? He asks for “policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue.” Something in there as well about not patenting human genetic material, as well as opposition against sex-selective abortion, used almost exclusively to choose males over females. It’s true an extensive quote like this isn’t feasible for a wire service story, but how about a qualifying sentence?

Pullella undoubtedly did not write his own headline–nor did he edit his piece–but it is utterly incorrect to say that the pope identifed “gay marriage” was a threat to the future of humanity. He did not. He said certain policies that undermined the family were threats to humanity, but identifying them is left open. There is a reason for that–the pope and the his speechwriters are not idiots–and good reporting should acknowledge it.

Reuters, of course, has to sell stories, and plenty of papers picked this one up. Too bad, because it doesn’t do the pope or journalism justice.

– US Catholic

In context, the simple phrase “family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman” is as mild an endorsement of “traditional” marriage as he could have gotten away with. For that, we should be thankful.

In the midst of strenuous local battles against marriage equality by some bishops, there are many encouraging signs that in some quarters, influential people are rethinking the issue. We are not yet ready for the day when a newly elected pope will introduce her wife to the crowds in St Peter’s Square – but it could still come.

Related Posts:

Pope Benedict’s Strong Argument for Gay Marriage, Queer Families.

Pope Benedict’s Remarkable Silence on Homosexuality

The Return of the Anti-Gay Crusade, or a More Listening Church?

Polling Evidence: The Gay Marriage Conundrum, for GOP and Catholic Bishops

Queer Families: A Personal, Catholic Case For Gay Marriage

Prejudice, Discrimination Are NOT Catholic Values

The Transformation of Christian Responses to Homoerotic Love

 

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My Vatican Dossier, and Papal Backing for the Soho Masses

It’s official. I now have confirmation that somewhere in the depths of the Vatican, someone (indeed, more than one) has a dossier on me. More accurately, the dossier is on the nefarious doings of the Soho Masses, in which I am infamously involved, and the “homosexualist bloggers” (c’est moi!) that it includes and shelters. These dossiers (there seem to be multiple copies of one original) were not put together by a curial official, but by the interfering busybodies who ludicrously believe that in their determination to prevent a few hundred Catholic men and women from attending a Mass of their choosing, a Mass which has the formal approval of the Westminster diocese, and was initiated by the diocese with the full knowledge and co-operation of the Vatican at the highest levels, they are somehow acting “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (PEEP!)

It would be funny, if it were not in fact so sad.

…….two of us decided to go to Rome in October to discuss just these two points and the future appointment of sound bishops in this country. As usual we took dossiers with us illustrating the present position on the SOHO Masses and the officially approved religious instruction in most schools and parishes. We were kindly received in every Curia Office we visited and we went through our dossiers with the officials we met, leaving a set behind for their further study.
SOHO Masses. This dossier contained News Letters from the Church of Our Lady and St Gregory, Warwick Street, which showed encouragement to walk in the GAY PRIDE MARCH carrying banners proclaiming “Proud to be Catholic, Proud to be Gay”; promotion of books, talks and films by advocates of the homosexual lifestyle; the spread of these Masses as they are not being stopped; the recruitment of young Catholics to join them etc. We also included addresses of web-sites run by regular members of this congregation stating their hostility to Church teaching and their programme to spread this practice quite explicitly, with names of priests and bishops who facilitate all this. ……

In the same newsletter, these dear misguided souls are fulsome in their praise for the Holy Father and his triumphant English visit. Their only regret here, is that neither he nor his spokesman, Fr Lonbardi, could bring himself to comment on the Soho Masses. They cling to their delusion that Pope Benedict must be privately opposed to these Masses, but maintains in public only a diplomatic silence.

Sadly, the SOHO Masses where openly practicing homosexuals who flaunt their, objectively, sinful life-style receive Holy Communion every first and third Sunday of the month, were ignored. The reporter John Burke……attended the Press Conference held by Father Frederico Lombardi during the Pope’s visit..and asked him about the SOHO Masses. Father Lombardi obviously knew all about them but he replied that he would not take that question “as they are not on the Pope’s schedule”! Remembering that the Pope is very particular about the reverence due to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, encouraging recipients to kneel and receive on the tongue as we used to, he must be just as unhappy about these openly sacrilegious Communions as the rest of us are.
Diplomacy may be the reason there is no action. Rome lives and breathes a diplomacy which restrains them from interfering directly with a serving bishop unless there is absolutely no alternative. They may instruct a bishop to take certain action and he may diplomatically procrastinate, delay, make excuses and eventually just do and say nothing. Then Rome will wait until he reaches retirement age and they replace him.
The most obvious flaw in these assumptions is that if the Pope had really wanted to replace “on retirement age” the bishop responsible for these Masses, he had a golden opportunity with the retirement of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, who initiated their transfer from an Anglican church to the present home in a Catholic parish. Instead of replacing him with someone wishing to shut them down, he appointed instead Archbishop Vincent Nichols, who has been notably more outspoken in public in favour of the Masses, and in open criticism of those who, like the people of PEEP, stand in judgement over them. (He also appointed to the second most important diocese in England and Wales the man who managed the hands on negotiations, Archbishop Bernard Longley, now in Birmingham).
For more telling evidence of direct papal involvement, we need some inside information. This I now share, as one who was involved in the negotiations that took place before the move, and have served on the Soho Masses Pastoral Council ever since.
Back when the Soho Masses were still operating from St Anne’s Anglican church, the organisers made frequent attempts to engage in direct discussions with the diocese to secure a base in a Catholic parish as a base, and to get formal recognition for the Masses. For a long time, these overtures met with no response. In April 2005, Pope Benedict was elevated to the papacy, and almost immediately appointed Archbishop William Levada, then heading the diocese of San Francisco, to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He took  up his new office later that year, and early in 2006, was appointed Cardinal.
In the context of “gay Masses”, a few things are worth noting about Levada. As head of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, he was closely associated with the gay supportive Masses in the Castro, at the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer. It is inconceivable that in making this appointment, Pope Benedict, the previous head of the CDF, could have been unaware of this. It is also worth reflecting on Levada’s reported views on dissent, and on moral norms. On “dissent” , he very clearly dismisses the validity – but he has a very restricted view of the meaning of the term:

Catholic theology does not recognize the right to dissent, if by that we mean adopting conclusions which are contrary to the clear teachings of the authoritative, infallible magisterium and which are presented to the public in such a way as to constitute equivalently an alternative personal magisterium.[19]
So, what about “dissent” on moral issues, and specifically issues of sexual ethics? To meet his criteria for exclusion, these would need to be seen as “clear teachings of the authoritative, infallible magisterium” Do they qualify? No, clearly not.

“The human process of formulating moral norms is marked by an essential dependence upon the data of human experience…. The variabilities which marked the human process of its discovery and formulation made such particular applications inherently unsuited to be considered for infallible definition…. For such formulations must remain essentially open to modification and reformulation based upon moral values as they are perceived in relation to the data and the experience which mark man’s understanding of himself…. Even though there is nothing to prevent a council or a pope from extending [infallibility] to questions of the natural moral law from the point of view of their authority to do so, nevertheless the “prudential” certitude which characterizes the non-scriptural norms of the natural law argues against such an extension….The Church has never in fact made an infallible declaration about a particular norm of the natural moral law.”[20]
Or, in the words of (then) Cardinal Ratzinger to Sr Jeanine Grammick, “It’s not that order of teaching“.
So, Pope Benedict appointed to the highest doctrinal office in the Church a man who clearly recognised the possibility of disagreement, in good conscience, on matters of sexual morals. Within barely a year of his taking office (the twinkling of an eye in Vatican time), there was a dramatic change in the Westminster diocese and its response to the Soho Masses. Whereas for several years they had avoided our requests for meetings, suddenly it was they who were wanting to speak to us – and fast. When we received the first communication from them, in October 2006, we were startled by the urgency with which the diocesan representatives were treating the matter. When we met, somewhat hurriedly, for the first time, we were even more surprised at how quickly they wanted  not simply to reach an agreement, but to complete the move into a Catholic parish. In the end, we had a series of something like half a dozen meetings, I think at something like fortnightly intervals, stretching over the Advent and Christmas seasons and into January – not usually the easiest times to set up meetings with the clergy. Even then, it was obvious that the Vatican had a hand in this new urgency. It soon became clear to us that this was indeed so, and we later had absolutely solid evidence that Cardinal Levada himself was monitoring the Masses and their progress. We also have anecdotal reports from reliable sources that Pope Benedict may have had direct discussions with Cardinal O’Connor.
I am beginning to see a pattern here. I remember a conversation with James Alison after Mass, some months after Cardinal Ratzinger became pope. He observed that a feature of his then brief papacy was that it was remarkable for what he had not said – nothing at all (up to then) on Humanae Vitae. From there, James speculated that Benedict’s papacy would be characterized not by any marked shift in Vatican doctrine on homosexuality, but by a gradual moving away in silence from the hard-line of Pope John Paul II. This would act as a precursor to a more far-reaching, more sympathetic theology that could then follow.
I now believe that this is precisely what is happening. It is notable that in the five years of his papacy, he has still said very little to directly object to homoerotic relationships. He has very pointedly not repudiated Cardinal Schonborn’s suggestion that it is time to consider the quality of our relationships, and not dwell incessantly on the dreaded acts. His observations last year on condoms highlighted the possibility of a shift, however gradual, in church teaching and the gradualism inherent in his own theology. And just last month, his address on St Joan of Arc included some very clear references to the possibility of error among the leaders of the church, including  a suggestion of clear analogies between the circumstances of Joan’s time and the present.
Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice would be well advised to remember the aphorism, “Be careful what you wish for, as you may get it.” If they were to be granted their fervent desire for Pope Benedict to speak his mind on the Soho Masses, they could get the shock of their lives – they could well find him speaking up in support!
Related articles

Pope Benedict, on the Queer Lessons in the Church’s Martyrdom of St Joan.

At Enhanced Masculinity, I came across a post which reported on an address by Pope Benedict about the martyrdom and later canonization of St Joan of Arc. I was pleased to see this, as I have written before of the importance of Joan as a queer saint who was first martyred by the church, and later rehabilitated and honoured. Much the same will surely occur in time to those modern queer heroes who have been professionally martyred, by the Church which has deliberately destroyed their careers, for the great sin of attempting to speak the truth on sexual ethics or LGBT inclusion.
So, in addition to the significance of this address to my own arguments about the relevance of the queer saints and martyrs, it also relates to the current theological ferment on sexual ethics and widespread criticism of the institutional church. When I then crossed to the Vatican website and read the address in full, I found even more in Pope Benedict’s words that can guide and inspire gay in lesbian Catholics in our struggles to withstand the hostility of the traditional, disordered teaching on homoerotic relationships.

Read more »

Pope Benedict, and the Queer Lessons in the Church’s Martyrdom of St Joan.

At Enhanced Masculinity, I came across a post which reported on an address by Pope Benedict about the martyrdom and later canonization of St Joan of Arc. I was pleased to see this, as I have written before of the importance of Joan as a queer saint who was first martyred by the church, and later rehabilitated and honoured. Much the same will surely occur in time to those modern queer heroes who have been professionally martyred, by the Church which has deliberately destroyed their careers, for the great sin of attempting to speak the truth on sexual ethics or LGBT inclusion.
Benedict’s frank admission of the patent error of the church theologians who presided over Joan’s trial and passed sentence on her, together with his quotation from Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium on the constant need for purification, made a welcome contrast with the usual glossing over of past mistakes and the insistence on a constant and unchanging tradition. His words also immediately reminded me of the words of a much younger man, when he as Fr Joseph Ratzinger he wr0te a commentary on the Second Vatican Council:
“Not everything that exists in the Church must for that reason be also a legitimate tradition…. There is a distorting tradition as well as a legitimate tradition, ….[and] …consequently tradition must not be considered only affirmatively but also critically.”
So, in addition to the significance of this address to my own arguments about the relevance of the queer saints and martyrs, it also relates to the current theological ferment on sexual ethics and widespread criticism of the institutional church. When I then crossed to the Vatican website and read the address in full, I found even more in Pope Benedict’s words that can guide and inspire gay in lesbian Catholics in our struggles to withstand the hostility of the traditional, disordered teaching on homoerotic relationships.

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First, this was Westernstock‘s reflection on the address, in a post called, “Blindness of Men of the Church”:

Pope Benedict in his General Audience yesterday was talking about Joan of Arc. He spoke of the inability of her judges, a body of Theologians of the University of Paris presided over by a bishop and by a member of the inquisition, to see her sanctity and the truth of her cause. He saw this as a significant moment in the history of the Church, illustrating the teaching of Vatican II that the Church is at once holy and in need of purification. I could not help feeling on reading this that this inability of men of the Church to see is with us in these days with regard to attitudes towards homosexuality, or, as I like to call it, Enhanced Masculinity. Thirty years after Joan of Arc’s condemnation by men of the Church a re-habilitation of her was set in motion by the Pope, Callixtus III. Ultimately, she was canonized by Benedict XV in 1920. So Papa Ratzinger shows us that things can change in the Church, mistakes can be recognized, the dominion of sin in the Church is nothing new, and will be present until the end of time. This, if you analyze it, gives us hope for the ultimate recognition in the Church of the good of Enhanced Masculinity, and the sin of homophobia. For the moment, and for centuries, men of the Church have condemned homosexuality, because they are prejudiced, as the Pope says the judges of Joan of Arc were, but what of the future?
This frank acknowledgement by the Pope of the mistakes of the Church in the past, with its implied admission that there could also be mistakes in the church of today, is welcome – but so far, he could almost have been paraphrasing my own observations, that St Joan deserves particular consideration among the ranks of queer saints and martyrs as one who was first martyred by the Church, before later being rehabilitated and honoured as a saint. The same rehabilitation which surely come to some of the others of our own day who have been metaphorically martyred by the Church, by impeding or destroying their careers as theologians.
After I read the commentary at Enhanced Masculinity, I read the full post at the Vatican website, and found the Pope’s reflection bristling with even more relevance for modern gay and lesbian Catholics than I had previously considered. Here are some key passages, together with my commentary

BENEDICT XVI
GENERAL AUDIENCE
Paul VI Audience Hall Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Saint Joan of Arc
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to talk to you about Joan of Arc, a young Saint who lived at the end of the Middle Ages who died at the age of 19, in 1431.  They (Joan and Catherine of Sienna) were in fact two young women of the people, lay women consecrated in virginity, two committed mystics, not in the cloister, but in the midst of the most dramatic reality of the Church and the world of their time. They are perhaps the most representative of those “strong women” who, at the end of the Middle Ages, fearlessly bore the great light of the Gospel in the complex events of history.
(Benedict does not spell out the quality that most directly includes her in my understanding of !queer, her cross dressing, but his description of these two as “strong women” – i.e, in the context of the times,  defying the socially approved gender roles, perhaps qualifies them anyway. Also note his reference to her as a great mystic).
The Church in that period was going through the profound crisis of the great schism of the West, which lasted almost 40 years. …. (and) the protracted Hundred Years’ War between France and England.
(It is possible that future Church historians will see this period as the start of a comparable, protracted schism or reformation)

Joan was born at Domremy, a little village on the border between France and Lorraine. Her parents were well-off peasants, known to all as good Christians. From them she received a sound religious upbringing, considerably influenced by the spirituality of the Name of Jesus, taught by St Bernardine of Siena and spread in Europe by the Franciscans.
We know from Joan’s own words that her religious life developed as a mystical experience from the time when she was 13 (PCon, I, p. 47-48). Through the “voice” of St Michael the Archangel, Joan felt called by the Lord to intensify her Christian life and also to commit herself in the first person to the liberation of her people. Her immediate response, her “yes”, was her vow of virginity, with a new commitment to sacramental life and to prayer: daily participation in Mass, frequent Confession and Communion and long periods of silent prayer before the Crucified One or the image of Our Lady.
The young French peasant girl’s compassion and dedication in the face of her people’s suffering were intensified by her mystical relationship with God. One of the most original aspects of this young woman’s holiness was precisely this link between mystical experience and political mission.
(Like Joan, the greatest weapon that we as gay and lesbians in the church can forge, in our battles with disordered teaching, is to develop a strong spiritual life of our own. “Tale a Chance on God”, John McNeill tells us. To do so in confidence, we need the assurance that comes from spiritual experience and practice).

The years of her hidden life and her interior development were followed by the brief but intense two years of her public life: a year of action and a year of passion.
At the beginning of 1429, Joan began her work of liberation. The many witnesses show us this young woman who was only 17 years old as a very strong and determined person, able to convince people who felt insecure and discouraged. Overcoming all obstacles, she met the Dauphin of France, the future King Charles VII, who subjected her to an examination in Poitiers by some theologians of the university. Their opinion was positive: they saw in her nothing evil, only a good Christian.
Joan’s passion began on 23 May 1430, when she fell into enemy hands and was taken prisoner.
It was a great and solemn Trial, at which two ecclesiastical judges presided, but in fact it was conducted entirely by a large group of theologians from the renowned University of Paris, who took part in the Trial as assessors. They were French clerics, who, on the side politically opposed to Joan’s, had a priori a negative opinion of both her and her mission.
(The “theological” verdict was in fact based in politically motivated a priori convictions. Sound familiar?)
This Trial is a distressing page in the history of holiness and also an illuminating page on the mystery of the Church which, according to the words of the Second Vatican Council, is “at once holy and always in need of purification” (Lumen Gentium, n. 8).
(In this reference to the constant need for vigilance and purification, Benedict here clearly lays open the possibility that the Church may, at times, make mistakes. The German theologians, and many Catholic ethicists elsewhere, would most certainly agree)

The Trial was the dramatic encounter between this Saint and her judges, who were clerics. …These judges were theologians who lacked charity and the humility to see God’s action in this young woman.
The words of Jesus, who said that God’s mysteries are revealed to those who have a child’s heart while they remain hidden to the learned and the wise who have no humility (cf. Lk 10:21), spring to mind. Thus, Joan’s judges were radically incapable of understanding her or of perceiving the beauty of her soul. They did not know that they were condemning a Saint.
About 25 years later the Trial of Nullity, which opened under the authority of Pope Calixtus III, ended with a solemn sentence that declared the condemnation null and void (7 July 1456; PNul, II, pp. 604-610). This long trial, which collected the evidence of witnesses and the opinions of many theologians, all favourable to Joan, sheds light on her innocence and on her perfect fidelity to the Church. Joan of Arc was subsequently canonized by Benedict XV in 1920.
Dear brothers and sisters, the Name of Jesus, invoked by our Saint until the very last moments of her earthly life was like the continuous breathing of her soul, like the beating of her heart, the centre of her whole life. The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc which so fascinated the poet Charles Péguy was this total love for Jesus and for her neighbour in Jesus and for Jesus. This Saint had understood that Love embraces the whole of the reality of God and of the human being, of Heaven and of earth, of the Church and of the world. Jesus always had pride of place in her life, in accordance to her beautiful affirmation: “We must serve God first” (PCon, I, p. 288; cf. Catechismo della Chiesa Cattolica, n. 223). Loving him means always doing his will. She declared with total surrendur and trust. “
Virginity of soul is the state of grace, a supreme value, for her more precious than life. It is a gift of God which is to be received and preserved with humility and trust. One of the best known texts of the first Trial concerns precisely this: “Asked if she knew that she was in God’s grace, she replied: ‘If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there’” (ibid., p. 62; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2005).
Our Saint lived prayer in the form of a continuous dialogue with the Lord who also illuminated her dialogue with the judges and gave her peace and security. She asked him with trust: Sweetest God, in honour of your holy Passion, I ask you, if you love me, to show me how I must answer these men of the Church” (PCon, I, p. 252). Joan saw Jesus as the “King of Heaven and of the earth”. She therefore had painted on her standard the image of “Our Lord holding the world” (ibid., p. 172): the emblem of her political mission. The liberation of her people was a work of human justice which Joan carried out in charity, for love of Jesus. Her holiness is a beautiful example for lay people engaged in politics, especially in the most difficult situations. Faith is the light that guides every decision, as a century later another great Saint, the Englishman Thomas More, was to testify.
As we learn, together with McNeill and following the example of Joan,to take a chance on God, we must never forget that the message of Jesus is a liberating one, for ourselves and for the other oppressed groups with whom we must identify. Growth in this personal relationship with the Lord is our greatest asset as we withstand the hostile forces in the Church.  Many of us would find it more difficult though, to go along with Benedict’s remarks on Joan and the Catholic Church:)

In Jesus Joan contemplated the whole reality of the Church, the “Church triumphant” of Heaven, as well as the “Church militant” on earth. According to her words, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing” (ibid., p. 166). This affirmation, cited in theCatechism of the Catholic Church (n. 795), has a truly heroic character in the context of theTrial of Condemnation, before her judges, men of the Church who were persecuting and condemning her. In the Love of Jesus Joan found the strength to love the Church to the very end, even at the moment she was sentenced.
But perhaps Benedict is right. The Church after all is much more than some misguided and distorted teaching, much more than an autocratic, out of touch bureaucracy, although those are what catch the public eye. Alongside these there are many treasures. Among the greatest of these is the Mass and its central celebration of the Eucharist, or communion. I have a growing conviction that regular communion is one of the best routes to growing in that personal growth with the Lord that is so important.
I also take great and perverse satisfaction in knowing that in the Mass, so central to Catholic tradition, there are at least three clear reminders that whatever may be the impression given by the modern institutional Church, the  Gospels themselves and church history are truly inclusive:

  • The Mass itself is a celebration of Christ’s marriage to the Church, symbolized as Jesus as the bridegroom in the wedding at Cana – and just possibly, John the Beloved Disciple as the bride (making it a gay wedding at Cana’)
  • The Eucharistic Prayer, with its listing of several same-sex pairs of saints, is a direct echo of the liturgy for blessing same-sex unions in the early church
  • The prayer before communions, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you”, is almost a direct quotation of the words of the Roman centurion, “Say but the word, and my servant will be healed”. Always remember as you join in this prayer, that the (male) servant in question will also have been a sexual partner.
And so, I urge: even if you are unable to follow Joan in loving the hostile elements in the Catholic Church – try at least to love the Mass.
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Pope Benedict’s Strong Argument for Gay Marriage, Queer Families.

Last Sunday, I picked up a little book at the Soho Masses bookstall called “Christians and Sexuality in the Time of AIDS“, a useful little book, which I bought at a ridiculously low bargain price. Some of the insights have little to do directly with the main theme, and it is one of these that is relevant here, an observation made by James Alison in his introduction, writing about Pope Benedict XVI and the nature of his theology.  James has frequently observed that when we respond too quickly or too superficially to the pope’s reported remarks, we often underestimate his thinking, which is substantially more nuanced than we usually recognize. In his position, he argues, Benedict cannot do other than repeat the well-worn, established magisterial positions on topical issues.

The really interesting questions surrounding what a pope is doing are never the politically immediate headline grabbers, but always the small, apparently insignificant tinkerings around the edges which are either going to make change possible over time, or try to block it.
When I read these words, they brought into focus for me the speech that Benedict  gave to a group of Italian politicians and public officials last Friday, which has been widely interpreted as an attack on gay marriage. This is not the way I interpreted the speech: instead, I wrote (in the post below) that the reference to “marriage between a man and a woman”, and to the forces undermining it, were curiously minor. The main thrust of the speech was more usefully seen as in praise of strong families – which could equally well apply to the families of same sex parents as to any other.   After reading James Alison, I thought how perfectly his warning applies to the present case: well, of course he made the obligatory noises about marriage between a man and a woman (how could he not?) – but the headline writers have missed the main points. With just a little “apparently insignificant tinkerings around the edges”, this attack on gay marriage can instead be read as a statement in praise of all families – including those which are queer. 
I submit my original post below, just as I wrote it Sunday — with profound apologies to my colleague Bart, who very generously responded to my request for preliminary comment with some very useful and helpful suggestions, which I have duly ignored. This is not in any way a reflection on his contribution – but just on my acute lack of time this week.  (I am writing this close to midnight, as it is). I will revise and refine this text later, to incorporate the additional links, Bart’s contribution – and possibly later thought as well (both my own and that of readers’ comments).

No, Pope Benedict didn’t come right out and say he supports gay marriage and adoption – nor did he even intend to imply it (quite the reverse). As usual, many headline writers will have a field day stating unequivocally that he has opposed same sex marriage. EWTN, for instance has a headline proclaiming that

Push for same-sex ‘marriage’ perverts essence and goal of family, says Pope

and continues:

As efforts to legalize same-sex “marriage” proceed in the United States and countries around the world, Pope Benedict issued strong remarks on Jan. 14, saying that gay “marriage” perverts the “essence and goal of the family.”  
Addressing officials from the city of Rome and the Italian region of Lazio, Pope Benedict said that legislation and policies that promote same-sex unions end up “penalizing” heterosexual couples,  “who, not without effort, seek to maintain stable emotional ties which are juridically guaranteed and publicly recognized.”
In fact, he did not say explicitly anything of the sort, although it was the superficial implication. To get to the real significance of the words, we need to get to what he said, not just to what was reported. A close reading of his actual words shows that indirectly, he has contributed to the case in favour.

Thee are the key passages:

the Pope noted how “it is in the family that children learn the human and Christian values which enable constructive and peaceful coexistence. It is in the family that we learn solidarity between generations, respect for rules, forgiveness and acceptance of others”. In this context he also noted how “the family must, then, be supported by policies … which aim at its consolidation and development, accompanied by appropriate educational efforts”.
the Church looks with favour upon all initiatives which seek to educate young people to experience love as a giving of self, with an exalted and oblational view of sexuality. To this end the various components of society must agree on the objectives of education, in order for human love not to be reduced to an article of consumption, but to be seen and lived as a fundamental experience which gives existence meaning and a goal”.

How is this an attack on gay marriage? Well, to be fair, I have so far omitted two key statements of Benedict:

on the subject of the family, which he described as the “the primary cell of society, … founded on marriage between a man and a woman”,
“The approval of forms of union which pervert the essence and goal of the family ends up penalising those people who, not without effort, seek to maintain stable emotional ties which are juridically guaranteed and publicly recognised.

So, the reasoning goes, society is founded on strong families, which spring from marriage between a man and a woman, and that other forms of union pervert the goal and essence of the family, and so must be opposed. This appears to be a case against same sex marriage, but to accept the conclusion, we must also accept all the premises – some of which are patently false. But note how the reference to “a man and a woman” is almost a throwaway line. The bit about other forms of union “penalizing” those who seek to maintain stable emotional ties appears highly offensive and unjustified, unsubstantiated – but wait: are the “other forms of union” necessarily marriages of same-sex couples? Could they not also refer to heterosexual cohabitation, or to conventional civil marriage? And those who seek to maintain stable emotional ties: could they not include some who happen to be of the same sex? Do not we too, aim to maintain stable ties for the good of our children, and wish to have them strengthened by judicial, public (and ecclesiastical) approval?
I accept without reservation that always and everywhere, strong societies have depended on strong families. However, it is simply not true that these are necessarily founded on marriage  between “a man and a woman”. That is the primary model in the modern West, but it has not always been so. In earlier times, and in many non-Western societies still, family structures take on a bewildering variety of forms. Polygamous marriages between a man and several women are the best known, but many others are known – including same sex marriages (in classical times and traditional cultures as well as the modern variety), extended families, and gender separated social structures, with young boys and men living separately from the females, and boys receiving their first sexual experiences from older males.  When Benedict says that marriage is between a man and a woman, he is stating a social pattern from a single culture (albeit a dominant one), not a fundamental, inviolable rule. Even in Western Europe and associated cultures, forms of marriage have evolved constantly over the centuries, and will no doubt continue to evolve.
Continuing the assumption that Benedict’s statements make a case against marriage for same sex couples, we need to accept also that other forms of union for such couples pervert the essence and goal of the family. Do they?  Apart from the false assumption that the essence of the family includes marriage between a man and a woman, he does not spell out quite what this essence is, but from his observations about children, I assume that he is thinking of marriage as an institution in which two adults give each other in mutual love and support, for the purpose of raising children. Does this exclude other forms of union?
The orthodox Catholic view of course, is unequivocally “yes”, because it is obsessed with homosexual acts, which it sees as nothing more than indulgent self-gratification, and is completely blind to the reality of peoples lives, in which same – sex couples are as capable of mutual self-giving in loving commitment as any others. (This was confirmed in recent neurological research, which showed that brain responses of research subjects to their loved partners were essentially the same, irrespective of the gender variations of the couples). There is also an assumption in the orthodox reasoning that same – sex couples are somehow unsuited to raising children. This is hogwash. Adoption and child welfare professionals overwhelmingly agree, and empirical research confirms, that the crucial factor in the quality of childrearing is the quality of the love, not the gender or orientation of the parents. In a recent interview, one noted adoption expert put it succinctly. Those who argue that gay men or lesbians are unsuited to parenthood are either ignorant, or homophobic.
We are repeatedly told by the opponents of gay marriage and gay adoption that the interests of the children must come first. Well, quite. In matters of adoption, the professionals tell us, the beneficiaries of gay adoption are the children. But queer people do not becomes parents only by adoption. Many (like myself) are parents by traditional means. Here, I want to introduce the view of my daughter Robynn, taken from her post on the subject here at QTC:

I was raised mainly by my mother. However, I spent a lot of time (including one full year as a teenager) with my father and his then partner, Bruce, with whom he shared an 18-year relationship. I consider myself entirely unscarred by the experience. In fact, to confirm Dad’s report, I do feel that I was privileged to be part of this unusual family.
It’s hard to explain why, without sounding terribly patronising – not my intention. But in high school, particularly, I was very aware of having a different perspective to my peers. I enjoyed this and I believe it was very valuable in forming my worldview, a view perhaps less limited than that of many suburban kids. My family was unusual, but stable, and very supportive. Gay parents: I recommend them.
(Follow the link for her full post).
So the facts of gay families do not support, but completely contradict the assumptions in Benedict’s thesis that permitting same sex marriage will undermine society. This is the first part of my conclusion that Benedict’s observations on family make a case for, not against, gay marriage. It’s in the best interests of the children, and by supporting the moral formation and education of children, will strengthen society. 
There is another strand to the argument which also follows from his observations. To see this, we first need to step back. In the Garden of Eden, we read in Genesis 2, the Lord saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone, and so he made for him a companion: “I will make him a helper as his partner” (2:18 NRSV). In the 3rd century, Augustine agreed, and described two of the three goods of marriage as the mutual help and support given to each other by the spouses, and the sacramental value that this represented, as reflecting the marriage between God and God’s people. Much later, Aquinas said much the same thing. In the twentieth century, Pope Pius XI and then Vatican II confirmed that procreation is not the only, nor even the primary reason for marriage: the benefits of marriage are explicitly stated not to form a hierarchy of value. This is confirmed in practice by the encouragement of the early church of virginity even within marriage, and in modern times by the  obvious willingness of the church to celebrate marriages of the elderly or sterile, for whom reproduction is impossible.
Mutual love and support – essential human needs of us all, and especially as we grow old and infirm, which the orthodox rules would exclude for gay men and lesbians by denying them the possibility of marriage (even the strictly orthodox Catholics no longer recommend that we should enter heterosexual marriage. It may even be grounds for annulment of a marriage that has been contracted).
In the same audience in which Pope Benedict spoke about the importance of family, he also spoke about other social issues, including the plight of the elderly:
Benedict XVI then went on to explain how
“the ageing population raises new problems. … Although many old people can reply on the support and care of their own families, growing numbers are alone and have need of medical and healthcare assistance”. In this context he also expressed his joy at the collaboration that exists “with the great Catholic healthcare institutions such as, for example, in the field of paediatrics, the ‘Bambino Gesu’ hospital. I hope these structures may continue to collaborate with local organisations in order to guarantee their services to everyone who needs them, at the same time renewing my call to promote a culture of respect for life until its natural end”.
He has noted here the “problem” that growing numbers of people are facing the difficulties of ageing alone, without the benefit of family. Can he not see that he is exacerbating that problem by depriving gay men and lesbians of the possibility of marriage and family?
So it is that I conclude: although the orthodox Catholic commentariat will rejoice at Pope Benedict’s apparent attack on same sex marriage, I welcome his actual words. He will not have intended it, but he has in fact made a strong case in favour of gay marriage and gay adoption. They are  in the interests of the children and strengthens families – and so will help to support the elderly in their time of need.

Queer families: they strengthen society.

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Pope Benedict, on "Homosexuals".

When I wrote earlier about Benedict and gay priests, I was responding to some commentary by Andrew Brown, without access to the complete book from which he was quoting. Now that I have my own copy, I have found that my post inappropriately combined two independent responses by the pope to two different questions by his interviewer: one question on homosexuality, and one on gay priests.
I now revisit my original post to disentangle them into the two separate issues that they are, and expand on my original thoughts.
(The complete question and answer I reproduce at the end of this post. Later, I will revisit the section specifically on gay priests).

On homosexuality, Seewald’s question referred to the Catechism statement on “compassion, respect and sensitivity“, and its counterpart on “grave depravity” and “intrinsically disordered“. Seewald asked if these statements were contradictory.
I responded yesterday to Brown’s extracts from the pope’s response, noting in particular his complete misrepresentation of evolution as ordered to heterosexuality, and his entirely mistaken belief that “deep-seated homosexual inclinations” are a trial. I will say no more on these. Instead, I want to pick up on some other themes, identified in the French Jonathan & David press release:

Proclaiming himself the interpreter of God, he claims that homosexuality “is opposed to the essence of what God originally intended,” without knowing whether it is innate or acquired (p. 200). If by any chance, homosexuality was innate, how could God create some of his creatures in a condition so contrary to his will?

Indeed. It’s time for Benedict and his advisors to leave their theological ivory towers and enter the real world of human experience.

My own life, like that of the testimony of countless people I have spoken to or read, and the conclusions of professional psychotherapists and spiritual directors, is that when we who have what he persists in calling these “deep-seated homosexual inclinations” cease the attempt to bury them and come out to ourselves, and then to others, the experience is of an extraordinary feeling of honesty and truth, of having found who we truly are – as God made us. Benedict insists on the importance of the intrinsic truth of sexuality at the core of our being – but he is badly mistaken as to the nature of that truth. The fundamental problem with Benedict’s thinking here is that he shows absolutely no sign of ever having listened to the truth as spoken by real people in their real lives.
As I was re-reading the question and response today, I was struck by a new observation. In the often repeated Catechism command for “compassion, dignity and sensitivity”, Church spokesmen frequently talk around the first two – as Benedict does here, expanding on our right to respect. What tends to get overlooked is the third word, “sensitivity”. It is impossible to be sensitive to another’s concerns without having taken the trouble to understand them, to listen to them. Our priests and bishops may have all the good intentions in the world to offer compassion and respect, but how many of them have ever taken the trouble to listen to us, and our sexual experiences, outside the one-sided environment of the confessional? If they ever did, they would discover that the “trial” of a homosexual orientation is not the condition itself, as Benedict so arrogantly and mistakenly proclaims.
Rather, one part of the trial comes from the frequent experience of bigotry, discrimination and violence in the world at large, but also from the absence of dignity and compassion we so often experience in the Church. Most startling to me, is the realization that precisely while claiming to affirm the Catechism’s insistence on compassion, respect and sensitivity, he displays a flagrant disregard for the last of the three. As my reader Mark observed,

I think the Pope Benedict really needs some instruction on this topic. This is somewhat depressing. God give me strength.

It is fundamental to scripture, to the Catechism, and to Benedict’s own theology, that we must live and proclaim the truth. It really is important that we as gay men and lesbians should speak the truth to Benedict and to others: for some of us, the attempt to live within Catholic orthodoxy is to deny the truth. The deliberate decision in conscience to deny that orthodoxy is not a sign of weakness, or sin, or of caving in to modern fads – but a basic act of honesty.

If they really want to display the sensitivity to which they pay lip-service, they need to find ways to listen.

********

The complete question was:

Homosexual practice has the status of a widely accepted form of life in the West today. Modernists even publicize its approval as a measure of a given society’s degree of progress. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was promulgated under your responsibility as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, we read that “the number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible…. They must be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s in their lives.” And yet the same Catechism contains the following statement:” Basing itself on the Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered”. Doesn’t this second statement somehow contradict the respect for homosexuals expressed in the first one?
Benedict’s full response on homosexuality, outside the context of the priesthood :
No. It is one thing to say that they are human beings with their problems and their joys, that as human beings they deserve respect, even though they have this inclination, and must not be discriminated against because of it. Respect for man is absolutely fundamental and decisive.
At the same time, though, sexuality has an intrinsic meaning and direction, which is not homosexual. We could say, if we wanted to put it like this, that evolution has brought forth sexuality for the purpose of reproducing the species. The same thing is true from a theological point of view as well. The meaning and direction of sexuality is to bring about the union of man and woman and, in this way, to give humanity posterity, children, a future. This is the determination internal to the essence of sexuality. Everything else is against sexuality’s intrinsic meaning and direction. This is a point we need to hold firm, even if it is not pleasing to our age.
The issue at stake here is the intrinsic truth of sexuality’s significance in the constitution of man’s being. If someone has deep-seated homosexual inclinations–and it is still an open question whether these inclinations are really innate or whether they arise in early childhood–if, in any case, they have power over him, this is a great trial for him, just as other trials can afflict other people as well. But this does not mean that homosexuality thereby becomes morally right. Rather, it remains contrary to the essence of what God originally willed.

Recommended Books:
McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended

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