CSCS News: No 50, Autumn 2014


Anthony Woollard

Shortly after CSCS’ highly successful Embodied Ministry conference at Cuddesdon in July, our sister organisation Modern Church ( held its own conference on Liberal Spirituality.  Unsurprisingly, there was some read-across – certainly in the dramatis personae, with Martyn Percy facilitating both conferences, Emma Percy making a most significant contribution to both (including, at the latter, a memorable talk on breastfeeding as a model of spirituality and ministry), and yet more wise words from Carla Grosch-Miller.  But for me one of the less expected links was the showing of an unusual Swedish film called As it is in Heaven.  It showed how an ailing professional musician took a backwoods church choir to international fame, at the cost of his own life.  There were quite a few (not very explicit) sexual awakenings in the film, including that of a pastor and his wife who came to be confronted by the role of Law in their own lives and the need to rediscover Love.  But it was the moment of the conductor’s death which moved me greatly; as he lay stricken by his fatal heart attack, having just impregnated the girl who loved him, he listened to his choir bringing an international audience to their feet – and died with a smile on his face.

CSCS, as I have often reflected, is an ageing organisation. Sometimes we have wondered whether these bones can live, or whether we are a mere leftover from a past age (the somewhat delayed 1960s perhaps) doomed to crumble into the dust.  As individuals, a number of us will be increasingly aware of our mortality, and wonder who if anyone will carry the torch when we depart this life.

That Swedish musician had been brutally bullied at school, perhaps because his aesthetic sensibility had little place in a remote farming village, and this was the source of his weak health.  Yet it was to that same village that he had returned when forced to retire from the podium, and it was there that he faced down some of his still-unregenerate bullies, and other demons.  Are not at least some of us committed to CSCS, ultimately and in some way, because of childhood wounds?  Dysfunctional families (and all families are somewhat dysfunctional, as Philip Larkin reminds us), along with other aspects of our heredity and environment, have helped to shape us into a diversity of sexual beings, a fact which is at once our burden and our glory.   In all sorts of ways, we return to the place from which we started, and face down our demons, and the demons in others and particularly in the Church.  And the most we can hope for, in this life, is to die with smiles on our faces, having released others into creativity as the late Jack Dominian did (see obituary below). But CSCS is not dead yet!

The follow-up to our Embodied Ministry conference is likely to occupy much of our attention over the coming year and beyond.  Materials from that conference are on our website and, in addition, this newsletter includes a highly relevant article by Martyn  Percy.  That article reminds us that life can only be understood backward but must be lived forward – and John Gladwin’s sermon, on the occasion of our own Jane Fraser’s 25th anniversary of ordination, is an excellent example of exactly that.

In the light of that, some of the committee held an away-day in late October to discuss the future of CSCS itself.  A report will be in the next edition – and more to come.

Last but not least, in the “outside world”, we have seen some possible shifting in the tectonic plates of the Roman Church, with the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.  Martin Pendergast’s report gives a well-informed view on the developments here – which could prove to be of relevance to us all. If Rome’s perception of sexuality shifts, in however nuanced a manner, that could have unpredictable effects in all the areas with which CSCS is concerned.

Spartacus: Modelling Rebellion in the Church

The Very Revd Prof Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford

The film, Spartacus (1960; directed by Stanley Kubrick) needs little introduction.  Starring Kirk Douglas as the rebellious slave, it is based on a historical novel by Howard Fast – and inspired by the real life of a Thracian slave who led the revolt in the Third Servile War of 73-71 BCE.  A small band of former gladiators and slaves, perhaps no more than eighty in number, and led by Spartacus, grew to an army of around 125,000, to challenge the might of the Roman Empire.  Kubrick’s film starred Laurence Olivier as the Roman general-politician, Marcus Licinius Crassus.  Peter Ustinov won an Academy Award for best supporting actor as Batiatus, a slave trader.  Jean Simmonds and Tony Curtis also starred. The film won four Oscars.

Less well-known is the film’s own story of rebellion.  The screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, along with several other Hollywood writers, had been blacklisted for his political beliefs, and associations with movements seeking equality for coloured and black people, as well as members of the American Communist Party, some of whom were jailed.  Even though the age of McCarthyism was crumbling, it still took a young aspirational Senator – John F Kennedy – crossing the picket lines to see the film, to help end Trumbo’s blacklisting.  Howard Fast had also been blacklisted, and originally self-published his novel.

Looking back, we can see why Trumbo’s script should perhaps have caused audiences to ponder some potential for subversive political messages.  But there were more obvious, overt challenges to the establishment in the film.  Much of America was still colour-segregated in 1960.  But we are introduced to Draba, a heroic black slave, first overpowering the white Spartacus in gladiatorial combat – and then sacrificing his own life in protest at the oppression of slaves.  Equally unusual, for a Hollywood film of that era, was an ending that was both realistic and tragic – seemingly without hope.

The film also explores different kinds of love between men: rare for the time.  There is the relationship between Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) and Antoninus (Tony Curtis) – made to fight to the death by their Roman captors.  The final words between them are ‘Forgive me, Antoninus’ (Spartacus), to which the dying Antoninus replies, ‘I love you, Spartacus…’.  Earlier in the film, we find Crassus (Olivier), and his then slave, Antoninus (Curtis) in a bathing scene – with the slave gently sponging and washing his master.  The ‘gay subtext’ is pretty clear, Crassus declaring his passion for both ‘oysters and snails’:

Crassus: Do you eat oysters?

Antoninus: When I have them, master.

 Crassus: Do you eat snails?

Antoninus: No, master.

Crassus: Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral?

Antoninus: No, master.

Crassus: Of course not. It is all a matter of taste, isn’t it?

Antoninus: Yes, master.

 Crassus: And taste is not the same as appetite, and therefore not a question of morals.

Antoninus: It could be argued so, master.

Crassus: My robe, Antoninus. My taste includes both snails and oysters.

Here, Trumbo’s screenplay gives us an interesting excursion into moral philosophy.  There is nothing wrong with taste (or orientation) according to Crassus; the ethical issue is the sating, or control, of appetite.  Crassus’ bi-sexuality in this scene – like others – carries subtle, seditious subtexts.  The viewer of the film is being challenged on many levels: issues of race, sexuality, political hierarchy and slavery are all strongly featured in the screenplay.  Yet most cinema-goers at the time would have missed these themes, explicitly.  But they would have perhaps sensed them, implicitly. It was Kierkegaard who opined that ‘life is lived forward, but understood backwards’.  So it is unlikely that cinema-goers in the early 1960’s picked up any subversive sublimation in the sub-plots.  But looking back, we can understand what Trumbo may have wanted to say at the dawn of a new decade, in a repressive social and political climate that was about to become progressively liberal.

So what has Spartacus got to do with the Church of England, perplexed as it currently is (again) by questions of sexuality?  The social changes in the last decade have caught the church off guard, and on the defensive.  It is only just over 25 years ago that Section 28 (of the Local Government Act 1988) stated that a local authority should not intentionally promote homosexuality, or ‘promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’.  Tony Blair’s Labour Government attempted to repeal this in 2000.  But the House of Lords resisted for three years, until Section 28 was finally defeated in 2003 – by a comfortable two-thirds majority.

Last summer (2013), the Archbishop of Canterbury warned that allowing gay couples to marry would ‘diminish’ Christian marriage, and ‘damage the fabric of society’.  In the ensuing debate, the House of Lords voting was sobering: 390 Peers were in favour of the same-sex marriage bill, with only 148 against.  A substantial majority of people in our country are now in favour of affirming the love, and rights, of same-sex couples seeking publicly-recognized and legal life-long union.

This change has been well-tracked by sociologists such as Professor Linda Woodhead.  (See ‘What People Really Believe about Same-Sex Marriage’, Modern Believing, volume 55, issue 1, 2014, pp. 27ff).  Her recent research project shows that attitudes amongst churchgoers have now shifted significantly towards a more liberal and tolerant mindset.  This contrasts starkly with our current church leadership.

Woodhead’s research shows that the country is becoming progressively more tolerant and liberal.  Statistical surveys repeatedly show growing toleration for same-sex unions in congregations and amongst clergy, across the theological spectra.  Recent studies carried out by Gallup (USA) confirm the cultural shifts.  (Clive Field and Ben Clements in ‘Public Opinion Toward Homosexuality and Gay Rights in Great Britain’, in Public Opinion Quarterly, July 2014, also confirm these trends).  In 1977, 56% of Americans thought that homosexual people should have equal rights in the workplace; the figure now exceeds 90%.  One can begin to see why the church, in withholding a licence to officiate from a clergyman who has recently married his same-sex partner, merely looks like petty discrimination to the wider world.

But whilst the nation has turned its face towards justice, integrity and equality, our senior church leaders have turned the other way.  The confident national church of the 1960’s and 1970’s – often producing senior clergy at the forefront of progressive social change on decriminalising homosexuality or divorce laws, for example – gave way to a more circumspect church in the closing years of the 20th century.  As our culture quickly changed, the Church of England busied itself with Issues in Human Sexuality (1991), or keeping elements of the Communion onside with Resolution 1.10 at the 1998 Lambeth Conference.  Meanwhile, our nation offered sanctuary to people, persecuted for their sexuality, seeking asylum from overseas.

We are now witnessing what I term the ‘Soaking-Ceiling-Syndrome’.  Everyone can see the sagging bulge; some puddles are forming on the floor below.   No-one dares to prod.  Some hope it will all dry out, and the problem go away.  It won’t.  Change is here to stay.  Many evangelicals now also understand this, and are quietly adapting.

Yet despite this, the early years of the 21st century have seen our senior church leaders arguing (in the House of Lords) for more exemptions on equality legislation, and taking a continued hard line against homosexual practice and gay marriage.  In the 21st century our senior leaders have slowly kettled the church into behaving like a wary sect on the subject of sexuality.

It’s ironic that this ‘leadership’ largely consists of nervous silence.  Underlying this has been enormous confusion in the church concerning the relationship between secularism and liberalism.  But they are quite different.  Secularism marginalises religion.  Liberalism, however, has deep and profound roots in progressive, orthodox Christianity, which are found in the teachings of Jesus and his disciples – equality, justice and liberation being just some of the values that the early church embodied, and sought to extend to wider society.

The capacity of our church leaders to grasp the opportunities in society today – one for renewed mission and ministry in the context of complex changes within our culture – have been egregiously spurned.  Our crusading conservatism has left the church looking self-righteous, sour, mean-spirited and isolated.

In his prescient Refounding the Church (1993), Gerry Arbuckle argues that dissenters in society not only have rights, but also duties.  He notes with care how Jesus, as a principled dissenter, challenged the status quo with patience, tolerance and love.  He also argues that dissent is an essential component in mission – a mission that witnesses to the world, and also converts the church.

So, is this a kairos moment, or a crisis time for our church?  It’s hard to say, but this may be a good Spartacus-inspired opportunity for some of our gay bishops to become more courageous – to stand publicly, with others, alongside those clergy currently bearing the brunt for having married their same-sex partner.  No point in cowering in the closet, hoping not to be ‘outed’ by a Tatchell or a tabloid.  Anyway, the populace almost certainly regard an openly-declared marriage between two people of the same sex as better and healthier than any secretive praxis.  Morally, the public are ahead of the church on this; marriage is an estate to be honoured.

Returning to Spartacus, as the film closes, Crassus tries to identify his nemesis amidst the slaughtered remains and remnant of the crushed slave rebellion, the surviving comrades of Spartacus stand as one to proclaim, ‘I am Spartacus’.  We all are now.  The human spirit will not be crushed.  Tyranny will not triumph.  There is beautiful, loving solidarity abiding in our shared, deepest dissent.  Surely it is better to die free than live enslaved?  Yet some will point to how the film finishes.  The hero is cruelly forced to take the life of his dearest companion in a hastily-organised duel-to-the-death.  For the ‘victor’, only crucifixion awaits – with thousands of others along the Appian Way.  And there the rebellion ends; as might the story.

But Kubrick’s epic has one more scene.  The slave-woman Varinia (played by Jean Simmonds), the lover of Spartacus, and with whom she has now borne a son, escapes from the clutches of Crassus through the intervention of Batiatus, the former slave trader.  Leaving Rome in disguise, they pass Spartacus, dying on his cross.  Varinia holds up their son to his face, and simply proclaims, ‘he is free, Spartacus; he is free’.  The rebellion, it would seem, is vindicated.  As the film hints, you only truly live by looking forward.  As a church, we’ll only understand how far we have travelled when we look back.  But live forward, we must.

 Not so much an earthquake, more an ice-breaking!

The 14th Extraordinary Synod of Roman Catholic Bishops – October 2014

Martin Pendergast

The 14th Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on Marriage & Family proved to be a barometer of climate-change in the Roman Catholic Church with more ice-breaking than earthquake tremors. It had started with a questionnaire circulated to garner Catholic opinion from around the world on broad family issues. Unthinkable in the immediately preceding papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the pastoral needs of same-sex couples, along with those of children in such families, figured in the Synod’s Working Document setting the agenda for this recent meeting.

Progressive Catholics, sceptical as a result of previous disappointing assemblies, had their worries reinforced when the list of invited ‘special advisors’ was published. This was stacked with those averse to change on artificial contraception, divorce and remarriage, and same-sex unions. For LGBT Catholics there appeared little prospect of much light at the end of this tunnel.

It is often said that the Roman Catholic Church thinks in centuries, and then introduces change, almost overnight. Something like this began to happen in the Synod’s first week as bishops and lay-people began to speak out on lesbian and gay issues. Repeated appeals were made to banish the harsh language used to describe LGBT people. A Cardinal described a same-sex union which he had encountered as having something of the sacred about it. A straight American couple extolled friends as models of evangelisation, because they invited their son’s gay partner home for Christmas. Respect, welcome, and valuing LGBT people’s gifts were the order of the day.

Then panic set in! It looked like an end to the slogans of ‘objective moral evil’, ‘intrinsic disorder’ ascribed to those ‘suffering from same-sex attractions or tendencies’. Opponents of the “Who am I to judge?” Argentinian Pope re-grouped to prevent the theological inheritance of these last thirty years from being cast aside. Perhaps the more pastorally-minded Synod members became complacent as they enjoyed a new atmosphere of open debate.

The Message of the Synod was a warm greeting from the Bishops, in marked contrast to the sharp disagreements evident in their consideration of the Synod’s subsequent Final Report. This backtracked on key issues around admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to the Eucharist, and more LGBT- friendly pastoral strategies. Fear had overcome courage and rigidity had strangled the rights of conscientious dissent with regard to Church teachings – which were not primary level doctrines anyway.

”LGBT Catholics! Why don’t they just pack their bags and leave?” The reason we stay is because our baptism gives us rights, enshrined in Church law, as well as responsibilities to inform our pastors of all that builds us up as mature believers, integrating our sexuality, gender, and personality as ‘the glory of God in the human person, fully alive.’ “But you’re trying to change Church doctrine!” state our opponents, inside and outside the Catholic stable.

Enter Pope Francis, not in the autocratic style of some Popes, but seeking to change pastoral practice and attitudes. His Latin American experience reflects a different approach to doctrine. His smiling image disguises his identity as a canny Jesuit, just the sort the British have mistrusted for four centuries! He starts from where people are, and develops solidarity, particularly with those whom he sees as alienated or marginalised, whether from Church or society. Out of this orthopraxis – consistent action – there is a possibility of developing a rooted theological reflection, orthodoxy – consistent teaching. Such action invigorates reflection – and vice versa. Hence he has strongly insisted on more inclusive practices within the Church, rather than starting from abstract dogmas and attempting to impose them on an unreceptive community.

Another theological approach also came in from the cold at this Synod. The Polish Pope had strongly rejected the notion of ‘gradualism’ applied to personal and sexual ethics. Within moral theology, ‘gradualism’ identifies ideals which for a variety of reasons, people are unable immediately to attain. A new word was coined at this Synod: ‘graduality’, to describe the functional processes in and through which people fulfil their created design. ‘Gradualism’ can smack of an ideological position which establishes an externally enforced end-point, but without the free participation of the person involved. Many bishops adopted this graduality-style as they spoke of the journeys which people make in their faith and human development.

How do we measure up against a social justice ethic, in our personal and social relationships? How do our sexual lives reflect values of respect and trust, doing no harm, recognising the dignity of others, and their uniqueness. A  richer theology of human sexuality, gender, and relationships seemed on the point of emerging.  The Synod has not ended but is a work in progress. In spite of set-backs the vision remains. Pope Francis has clearly not been deflected from his project to reform Church structures and practice. The flawed Final Report, at the Pope’s behest, now forms the starting point for the expanded October 2015 Synod. Look out for more fireworks to come! 

Martin Pendergast was in Rome during the week prior to the Synod for meetings of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups and Catholic Reform Groups International.  A version of this article appeared in the Comment Is Free section of the Guardian website on 23 October.

Service to celebrate 25th Anniversary of Jane Fraser’s ordination

Upton on Severn, June 22nd 2014

Sermon by the Rt Revd John Gladwin 

So Ruth went down to the threshing floor and did just what her mother-in-law had instructed her. When Boaz had eaten and drunk, and he was in a contented mood, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came stealthily and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and there, lying at his feet, was a woman.

I think Jane must be one of a very few priests in the Church of England whose ministry unites in an unbreakable bond, sex and salvation. The church often gives the impression of being not too bad on salvation and hopeless about sex. But Jane, recalling a deep theme in the Biblical story, has flourished in both Eros and Agape – our physical and bodily love and that deep and redemptive love of God for us seen so fully in Jesus Christ. Jane’s filing system used to read – top drawer, GOD, then MAMMON, HOME, and SEX.

But there is nothing new is there? A scheming mother in law, a shrewd young woman, an overfed and wined man, a bed of straw and the rest is history. This is part of the great story that leads us forward to the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. A Moabite woman – an outsider, an immigrant, a refugee. But, as is so often the case, God works from the margins of human experience to bring us the glory of divine love.

Ministry in the Church of England is at its finest when, established as the church is and so much rooted in our culture and history, its ministers work from the outside and make their ministry in places the establishment finds troublesome. That is the pattern of Jesus’ ministry as we find it in the Gospels – a ministry among tax gatherers, prostitutes, gentiles and Samaritans as well as among his own beloved Jewish people.

Jane, seeking to be faithful to that pattern of ministry, travels easily from the margins into the heart of parish ministry uniting in her work those things which our culture and even our church would pull apart.

Sex and salvation have at least one thing in common. They are for everyone.

Professionally, Jane has sought to provide contemporary training for all who work with people with disability that they might find healthy and fulfilling patterns of sexual life. Similarly, at the altar and in the pulpit a message is conveyed that the agape love of God is genuinely for all and not just those whose lives fit what happens to be the predominant religious culture of the time.

Ruth is in the sacred line that leads to David and on to Jesus. So far from her lying with Boaz on that fateful evening being frowned upon in the Old Testament, it is celebrated.

This is the story that brings us to Jesus. So, again, the mysterious story of God’s purposes comes from the fringes of accepted culture opening new doors of understanding for all.

To deepen the theme St Matthew not only has Ruth and Boaz in the genealogy that leads to Christ but he also has Rahab the harlot. You remember the story how Joshua sent two spies into Jericho to ‘view the land’ and what did they do?  They spent the night in the house of the prostitute Rahab.

So they went and entered the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab, and spent the night there.

Matthew tells us that Boaz was her son.

So we see how the Bible finds the work of God in the heart of actual human experience. How different that is to the culture of restriction and of the narrowing of the message to hold it within conservative and culturally comfortable boundaries. Neither of those words – ‘conservative’ and ‘comfortable’ fit what we know of Jane’s vocation, ministry and passion in her heart.

We have a third and delightful element today. The Jazz Festival about to begin in Upton. Jazz was born in the funeral bands of New Orleans. It is the music of the black people in the southern states of the USA. Louis Armstrong and his band played in the clubs that plied the Mississippi. Some of these boat clubs were not desegregated until 1967. So the music reflects the theme – the liberty to which God calls us all and especially those who we so easily keep at a distance or shut out.

Ministry is all about feeding and tending God’s sheep and lambs. Ministry accepts that this bears a cost to it. But that is why God calls people such as Jane to share in it. That in itself is a sign of hope and of resurrection life in a world where division and exclusion still threaten to take away from all of us the love that yields up its life for others and breaks bread with us this morning.

We should expect to find the signs of God’s presence and God’s love in the midst of our earthly bodily living. Ministry is rooted in the pattern of Jesus’ own ministry – sharing fully our human condition. It is not, as some seem to think, a sort of spiritual kamikaze coming from outside and dropping a few spiritual bombs and then departing. Ministry takes place among the people, with the people and for the people.

We should expect to find the signs of God’s presence and God’s love where human beings are being marginalised, discriminated against and excluded by the predominant culture of the time. In this way God opens doors that power shuts and brings into the fold those whose experience of life points to a new and fuller experience of love.

We should expect to find the signs of God’s presence and God’s love in the offering of ministry by those who seek the presence of God on the fringes and among the excluded and the vulnerable. Ruth and Boaz experience points to something new. A Moabite woman and a man among the people of promise. Both find a new liberty in the love they share and in the mystery of the purposes of God being played out in their lives.

In celebrating Jane’s 25 years of ministry here this morning we celebrate a vocation and a ministry rooted in these truths and practised in this pattern.

As we share in the Holy Table and the food of bread and wine let us both thank God for Jane and commit ourselves afresh to this creative and life-giving shape of ministry for our church and for our world today.

A prophet without a question-mark!

Dr. Jack Dominian MBE, 25 August 1929-11 August 2014

Martin Pendergast

An overview of Dr. Jack Dominian’s lifetime’s work, showing how experience of people’s real life problems challenged the very foundations of Catholic teaching on sexuality and marriage, was published in 1995. Jack Dominian – Lay Prophet? by Jock Dalrymple, traced how Dominian’s radical work on marriage confronted official teaching and illuminated people’s lives. At Jack’s funeral in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, 28 August 2014, it was proposed that any future editions should now have the question-mark removed!

Dr. Jacobus (Jack) Dominian MBE died on 11 August 2014, aged 84. He was born in Athens to an Armenian Catholic father and a Greek Orthodox mother. The somewhat smothering dominance of his mother was at the root of his lifelong probing of human relationships. In 1941, the Dominians fled from Nazi-occupied Greece to India, where Jack learned English. After the war, they joined their extended family in Lincolnshire. Jack went on to study medicine at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, then at Exeter College, Oxford. Meeting through the Young Catholic Students, his marriage in 1955 to Edith Smith was the beginning, he so frequently declared, of all that he learnt about love and marriage. She edited his books and brought order to his sometimes instinctive and untamed genius. He was devastated when she died in 2005.

Jack spoke discreetly, but unashamedly, about having a vision of Christ during a childhood illness which left him with “a private passion for Jesus”. Deeply religious, Jack held conservative views on marriage and sexuality for many years, but as a consultant to the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council (now Marriage Care) he found that following Catholic sexual teaching was no guarantee to avoid marital breakdown. This moved him away from a legalistic, contractual view of marriage to one which could only be a relationship of loving partners. He was to become critical of the Church’s teaching on sexuality and of “the gap between the community of love established by Jesus and the reality of the institutional Church”. When proclaiming liturgical readings aloud, those of John the Evangelist on ‘God is love’ would be read by Jack, almost by heart.

Since his youth, Dominian had wanted to become a psychiatrist, but Freudian and other psychiatric theories were far from welcomed by the Catholic Church at that time. Told that if he went into psychiatry, he would lose his faith, he asserted, “If I don’t, I’ll lose my soul!” After postgraduate work at the Radcliffe in Oxford, Stoke Mandeville and the Churchill Hospitals, he studied at the Maudsley Hospital, and in 1963 became the Central Middlesex Hospital’s first Consultant Psychiatrist. Jack recognised that pyschiatrists did not hold all truth, and that input from other disciplines was necessary to support work on marriage and human relationships. His Portakabin-based Marriage Research Centre started with £50.00 in 1971, and in 1988 was transformed into One Plus One, now a leading charity in relationships research and support.

A letter-writer to The Tablet noted that his death “marks the passing of a prophet of our time: a man of holiness, vision and courage who dedicated his life to marriage and human relationships.” (The Tablet, 21 August 2014) Those who followed commentaries on the Catholic Bishops’ 2014 Synod on Marriage & Family, if they shut their eyes, could well have heard Dominianesque phrases tripping off the tongues of episcopal and lay delegates alike. Dominian’s influence on the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales was extraordinary, not least when Cardinal Basil Hume and Archbishop Derek Worlock sought to open up more pastorally sensitive responses to issues of contraception, divorce and remarriage, and Eucharistic hospitality, at a Vatican Synod in 1980. Hume, for one, claimed that his outlook had been changed by listening to Dominian, even if the Vatican’s hadn’t.

In regular articles for The Tablet, as one of its Trustees, he offered a reconstruction of Catholic teaching on sex and marriage. In 1968, having opposed Pope Paul VI’s reaffirmation of the ban on artificial contraception, he argued that the presence of a genuine love between two people – whether they were married or unmarried, gay or straight – validated sex. The ‘domestic church’ was where the gospel of love was lived out; sex was a couple’s recurrent prayer. It was only in later years that he became more articulate about same-sex relationships. He had not wanted his professional discernment on these issues to get in the way of his primary work on marriage and family breakdown. Nevertheless, I found it humbling that he would seek me out to discuss whether what he was writing about lesbian or gay relationships responded to reality, as I saw it.

Dominian recognised marriage as a relationship that reflected God’s love, but also as a forum of love, forgiveness, affirmation and healing as well as the proper place for children to be brought into this world and brought up in the “domestic Church”. His work profoundly influenced the Church’s attitude to marriage but more importantly developed the preparation of couples for marriage which has been adopted in the UK and elsewhere. Jack was a passionate defender of marriage at a time when scepticism about its value, and even hostility towards it, was becoming fashionable. He was prepared to air uncomfortable truths about the havoc and distress caused by marriage breakdown. But while seeming a traditional figure in the world of psychiatry, he was demonised by many fundamentalist Catholics, treating their wild accusations with humour and occasional disdain.

A man of great vision and wisdom, like so many in his profession he had his own moments of depression, identifying his own personality as neurotic, “but then,” he said, “neurotics can be fascinating to live with.” Wounded healer as he was, much time was given to those who had been damaged by the actions of the Church and the ensuing corrosive guilt which could have led many to suicide. He restored a sense of self to clients, helping them realise that they were profoundly loved and accepted by God.

He wrote that “psychologically, the relationship between the hierarchical structure of the Church and laypersons was a continuation of the parent-child relationship”. He called for Catholicism to “come of age”, especially in relation to the expression of human sexuality within marriage. While he was considered by some to be a thorn in the flesh of the hierarchy, he was loved and admired by many senior figures in the Church. He told friends that the then Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Bruno Heim, would sometimes consult him before recommending men for appointment as bishops. Basil Hume and David Konstant were two of the names he whispered in Heim’s ear.

An early book, Marital Breakdown (1968), was reprinted 17 times. More than 30 books followed, including Proposals for a New Sexual Ethic (1977), Marriage, Faith and Love (1984) and One Like Us (1998), a psychological portrait of Jesus in which Dominian suggested that it was Mary’s nurturing in the early years that enabled Jesus to develop the emotional maturity to be fully human and fully divine. There was shock from more sensitive Catholic quarters when he wrote of sexual intercourse as the sign and fulfilment of the Sacrament of Marriage. He questioned church teaching on a range of ethical issues, including sex before marriage, contraception, homosexuality and masturbation.

Jack Dominian was an early member of the Institute for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality, now CSCS, and his memory is now honoured by inclusion of his words on our Membership Leaflet: “Why does sexuality matter so much? The Christian faith is based on love, and one of the commonest expressions of this is through sexuality. It is up to the people of God, single and married, to carry on pursuing the search for truth.” His final years were marked by some physical frailty, not least the loss of sight, making him dependent on readers. As a result he withdrew from the many organisations he supported, so that not accumulating piles of journals etc, he would not heap intolerable reading burdens on his carers. We rejoice that we have been graced by his gifts and we pray that, with his beloved Edith, he may indeed rest in peace and rise in glory.

Our Annual Conference and AGM on Saturday, 14 March 2015

The theme will be, “When sex goes wrong – how do faith, conscience, and justice inform our decisions?” A keynote presentation from a notable expert will help us to look at some ‘hot’ topics such as abortion, IVF, contraception and other reproductive and women’s health issues from the perspective of Christian belief and practice. The conference will take place in London with a central venue yet to be confirmed. Please place this date in your diaries now. We look forward to seeing you there!

This Newsletter is produced for CSCS

The Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality 

Chair and principal point of contact:

Martin Pendergast, PO Box 24632,  LONDON E9 6XF. Phone: 020 8986 0807.




Next issue January 2015 – contributions invited by mid-December

Please send any enquiries about/contributions to the Newsletter to:

Anthony Woollard, 1 Chestnut Walk, STRATFORD-UPON-AVON CV37 6HG

Phone: 01789 204923 – e-mail:

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