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?


 (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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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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“Out of the Shadows, Into the Light”:Blessed John Henry Newman, Soho "Gay" Masses

Last Sunday I went up to London for one of the regular LGBT – oriented “Soho Masses”. Earlier in the day, Pope Benedict had conducted the beatification service for Cardinal John Henry Newman. Cardinal Newman is now officially Blessed John Henry – and so the liturgy for used our Mass was, quite appropriately, the newly minted liturgy for his festal day.

When I first wrote about Newman a year ago, I wrote that he has particular significance for gay Catholics, on account of his deep commitment to his beloved friend Aubrey St John, and his writing on conscience.  That initial post was simplistic: I did not then realize how sharply opinions on John Henry divide, specifically on his ideas of conscience and loyalty. While some progressive Catholics celebrate and promote (their understanding of) his championing of conscience, some conservatives see this as entirely a misrepresentation of his understanding of conscience, which should rather be read in the context of his parallel championing of church authority and loyalty.
For a long time, I have been wary of writing anything further – although for a time I was trying unsuccessfully to put together something on the “paradox” of Newman. Now, after a flood of information and commentary leading up to the beatification, I stick by my original assertion. Blessed John Henry Newman indeed of great importance for queer Christians, with even more reason than I originally recognized.
Newman’s legacy is paradoxical: he is claimed simultaneously as hero by progressive Catholics for his stout defence of conscience, and by conservatives for his defence of authority. He is touted as a gay saint over his highly publicized deep relationship with Aubrey St John – and “defended” as obviously heterosexual because he was celibate, and so obviously not giving sexual expression to any same- sex attraction.  All of these deserve further consideration, and have received plenty elsewhere.
For now, I want to limit my own observations only to two additional ways in  which Newman’s career is particularly relevant for queer Christians, and especially the LGBT Catholic congregation of the Soho Masses, by prefiguring our own position.
We too live in a paradoxical state, with the official position of the Vatican (and many other leading religious bodies) urging noble ideas of treating us with dignity, compassion and respect – yet in their own actions they frequently do the exact opposite. They urge us to follow and to speak the truth – but when we do, we may find ourselves paying a heavy price. They have attempted to silence people like John McNeill and Jeannine Gramick for their attempts to speak the truth, a Canadian altar server was refused ministry for his, Michael B Kelly and many others have lost their jobs in Catholic schools and colleges, simply for telling the truth of their lives. The CDF reminds us that “the truth will set you free”, but for Catholics in Church employ, too often it simply sets us free of that employment.
Newman spent most of his life as priest under attack from all sides. It was only late in life that he began to receive recognition for his achievements as a theologian, when he was suddenly promoted from parish priest directly to cardinal, and eventually beatification. I believe that we as a queer Christian community are following a similar path, from persecution and exclusion, to ever-increasing inclusion – and even respect for what we can teach the wider church. We see this most clearly in denominations like the mainline Protestant groups that have already accepted the principles of full inclusion and equal treatment for queer Christians and clergy, or who are openly debating these issues – but we are also starting to see some embryonic signs of the same thing in the Catholic Church.
This was most dramatically illustrated for out Soho Masses community by the blaze of media publicity (mostly favourable) we received in the build-up to Newman’s beatification. We have been operating for over eleven years now, and for over three years in a Catholic parish as a formal pastoral initiative of Westminster diocese, and so under the patronage of the head of the Church in England and Wales. We have experienced continuous low level mutterings from some conservative opponents, but otherwise very little publicity, with not even a mention on the diocesan website.
This changed dramatically over the past few weeks. In addition to substantial coverage in BBC television and radio programmes, there were additional British reports in a range of newspapers and magazines. Coverage has since gone global. At last Sunday’s Mass, we had reporters present from Spanish national radio, Croatian radio, Czech Television – and Gaydar radio. (Gaydar is a major UK gay dating website, with an on-line radio service).
“Out of the shadows, into the light”, indeed.
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