Tag Archives: Catholic Church

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. Continue reading Not so much an earthquake, more an ice-breaking!

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

Catholic Bishops’ “Working Document” on Marriage, Family

In preparation for the October “Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family”, the Vatican has released an “Instrumentum Laboris” (or working document), bringing together the submissions from national bishops’ conferences on their findings from the global consultation on marriage and family that was conducted during 2013. The actual conduct and quality of that consultation varied widely across the world. In the best examples, such as the Swiss, it was conducted by expert practitioners in social research. In the worst, lay people were not in fact consulted at all, with the bishops alone responding on their behalf, in consultation only with their priests. In between, bishops simply asked the people to answer the questions that had been prepared by the Vatican, questions that were not designed for lay people, and that many people in fact found confusing or impossible to answer. Nevertheless, Catholics around the world responded with enthusiasm, and questionnaires were completed in vast numbers.

bishops

When the bishops in some countries began to release their own results, it soon became clear what was already known from prior secular research: in general terms, Catholics as a whole simply do not agree with or comply with Catholic sexual teaching, on a wide range of issues, and particularly not on contraception.

The working document just released, largely corroborates that view – but draws from it the rather simplistic conclusion that the reason is that Catholics don’t understand the teaching, and that the Church must find ways to present its teaching more effectively. There is no recognition at all, that the real problem could be quite different – that perhaps there might be flaws in the teaching itself.

For the full text, see the Vatican website:

For news reports and commentary on the document, see:

Mary McAleese Questions Value of Family Synod

Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland, has described the Catholic Church “Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family” as “bonkers”, as participants will be limited to celibate men who have chosen not to have children or marry. Instead of the complex and confusing global consultation questionnaire that was circulated last year, she says she has only one question: “How many of the bishops who will be assmebling in October have ever changed a baby’s nappy?”

Mary+McAleese

Ms McAleese, a two-term President of Ireland, strongly questioned Pope Francis calling a synod to review the Catholic Church’s teaching on family life.

She won the backing of the Association of Catholic Priests with some of her comments, which demanded a “new theology of women” instead of an “old boys club”.

She said there was “just something profoundly wrong and skewed” about asking clergy for their views when they were all “male celibates”.

And the mother-of-three questioned how many people who would be taking part in the gathering had ever changed a baby’s nappy.

A world synod of bishops to discuss family life, and whether the church should revise its teachings on the subject, is due to be held in Rome this October.

Ms McAleese questioned the idea of people “who have decided they are not going to have any children, not going to have families, not going to be fathers and not going to be spouses” discussing the matter.

Catholic Bishops, on Transgender Equality

In a draft document on British equality legislation and its implications for the Catholic Church, is included a brief but important reference to trans equality.

At the catholic transgender, Anna Magdalena comments:

cbcew

On the subject of gender transition, The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales seems encouragingly positive. A year ago they released a draft of guidelines instructing Catholics on how far to comply with England’s Equality Act 2010, which will provide increased civil protection for a number of minority groups, including transsexuals. Their document says that:

Transsexual people face many difficulties before, during and after transitioning to another gender. As such it is recommended to seek guidance on how to make the transitional process as easy as possible. This could include training for co-workers, as well as reference to medical and social advice.

The implication of this quote seems to be that Catholics in Britain are expected to fully abide by the law’s prohibition of anti-trans discrimination, and more significantly to cooperate or at least be supportive of a transgender person in the process of transitioning.

Read the full text here.

New Ways Ministry has also reported on this document, and says about it

This may be the most positive and pastoral statement about transgender people to come from the Catholic hierarchy.  (If anyone knows anything equally or more positive, please let us know about it in the “Comments” section of this post.)  Let’s hope that it remains in place through the drafting process.

(In fact, nobody has yet noted in the New Ways comments section any evidence of anything similarly positive, from anywhere).

Women Bishops for Wales, Ireland, South India, South Africa – Female Cardinals in Rome?

As we wait patiently for the Church of England finally to conclude its slow progress to the ordination of women bishops, there has been progress, elsewhere. The Church of Wales has voted by unexpectedly large margins to approve women bishops, the Church of Ireland which had previously approved women bishops in principle, sprang a surprise by announcing the first woman bishop for the British Isles, and almost unnoticed by the press, the Church of South India similarly announced its first woman bishop.  In South Africa, their 2013 synod was attended by their first two female bishops. An ever bigger surprise could just be in store from the Roman Catholic Church. In the wake of Pope Francis’ remarkable interview with the Jesuit publication Civita Cattolica, there was speculation in some Spanish and Italian papers that he could be preparing to include women not as priests, or as bishops, but as cardinals.

Such a move would be extraordinary, but is not entirely implausible. Commentary at El País and at Il Messaggero, available in English translation at Iglesia Descalza, notes that there is an inherent contradiction between Francis’ acceptance of the current Catholic orthodoxy that women cannot be ordained priests, and his equally clear acceptance that the Church is impoverished if we do not make adequate provision for full inclusion of women in the life of the Church.  This could be resolved symbolically, by including women as cardinals. Procedurally, this could be achieved in one of two ways, with relatively minor adjustments to current rules of discipline – not doctrine.

The more likely and more significant approach would be by admitting women as deacons. This would not be in conflict with any principle derived from the Bible, as defenders of the male priesthood claim that women priests would be, and there is abundant Biblical and historical evidence that women deacons were active in the early Christian communities. There are some Catholics who argue that their role was different to that of modern deacons, but even Pope Benedict acknowledged that the possibility of female deacons existed. Others believe that the necessary changes to church regulations could be implemented quite quickly. This would send a powerful initial signal of greater inclusion for women, and practice is likely to be taken up by substantial numbers of women religious and lay women. The really intriguing thing, is that it also opens up a path to women as cardinals. This is because although the usual career path to cardinals’ red hats is as priest, to bishop, archbishop and then cardinal, this is not the only one available. It is claimed technically, the minimum requirement for eligibility is no more than ordination as a deacon.

The other possible route to women cardinals, would be to revert to earlier practice, in which even the diaconate was not an essential precondition – there have in the past been laymen appointed as cardinals. If lay men, why not lay women? This too, could be achieved with a relatively simple change to the rules, but by affecting only those individuals so named, and not the much greater number admitted as deacons, would be more purely symbolic in value, and so both less useful, and less likely.

Some of the commentary along these lines has suggested, based on personal acquaintance with Pope Francis,that he is already thinking along these lines. Since this possibility was first mooted in the press, there has been feverish speculation that he could even name the first female cardinal in his first consistory, in February 2014. Such a move, certainly in the short term, would surprise me, and his in fact been flatly dismissed by the papal spokesman, Fr Lombardi. He did however agree that technically and legally, the possibility exists, and did not rule it out for future.This dramatic change will not come as early as next year, but there are good reasons for thinking that tor women, as for gays and lesbians, and for those who are divorced and remarried, under Francis, this is no longer the hostile church that it was under Benedict XVI and John Paul II. For inclusion of all, the tectonic plates of the church have shifted.

We see this most directly in the simple fact that this is being discussed at all. Under the previous two popes, there was a simple claim that women’s ordination was not possible, could not even be discussed, and that was an end of it. Benedict even dismissed Bishop Morrison of Australia, simply for suggesting that we should consider women’s ordination. .Francis has instead acknowledged that there are dangers in this kind of authoritarianism and certainty, that there must be dialogue with the whole church, reverting to the language of Vatican II of the church as “the people of God” and declaring unambiguously that we need to develop a new theology of women that ensure them a rightful place in the church, that we can hear their voices.

Others would respond that there is no need for a “new” theology of women, that outside the ivory towers of the Vatican, a substantial, credible theology of women already exists. What is needed, is simply that the present all-male establishment take proper note. The genie is out of the bottle, and will not return. We know that a substantial proportion of Catholics support married clergy, and want at least to discuss seriously how to create greater inclusion for women, as priests or otherwise. The voices that under Benedict and John Paul were cowed into silence, will hold their tongues no longer. Encouraged by Francis’ call for dialogue, we should now expect to hear a great deal more thoughtful commentary, and proposals, on a stronger place for Catholic women.  Up to now, the Catholic Church has lagged far behind other denominations in this respect, but at last it is at least beginning to catch up.

It may be wishful thinking to hope for women cardinals (or even deacons) any time soon, but it is no longer entirely fanciful to look ahead to some future date when a pope, opening a general council of the church (in Sao Paolo? or Manila?) may be accompanied by her wife.

Terry Weldon

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“Blessed Are the Queer in Faith”

60 years into a modern resurrection for queer Christians.

Terry Weldon

This year’s national conference of  Quest, the British association for lesbian and gay Catholics, had as its theme “60 Glorious Years”, tying in with Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee year. For my presentation, I took as my title, “Blessed Are the Queer in Faith, for They Shall Inherit the Church”, later adding as a subtitle, “60 Years Into a Modern Resurrection for LGBT Christians”. With the word “resurrection”  I was suggesting that by the middle of the last century, the collective body of LGBT Christians had in effect been metaphorically killed off in the name of religious belief. But the past 60 years have seen LGBT Christians move from total invisibility, to substantial progress on the road to full inclusion – the beginning (only a beginning) of a modern resurrection!

The Collective Martyrdom of LGBT Christians

By 1952, just 7 years after the Nazi Pink Holocaust and seven centuries after the Inquisition began to hunt down and burn “sodomites”, it was effectively impossible to be openly gay and Christian – to declare oneself as such, was to announce that one was both a criminal by law, and (supposedly) condemned to eternal hellfire by Scripture.

In the West, sodomy no longer earned the death penalty – but legal penalties could include life imprisonment, or castration (eg Alan Turing, currently widely celebrated for his contribution to computer science, in  1954).  Justification was couched in religious language, social penalties included gay bashing, ostracism, career destruction – and often, suicide (including that of Alan Turing)

The persecution in the name of religion continued well into the twentieth century, promoted by the state in some countries, and by individuals and hate groups in others.

Penalties were no longer imposed by the Church – but were often motivated by an insistence that sodomy was the “Sin that cried out to heaven for vengeance”.

And yet – how far we’ve come!

By 2012, things have changed dramatically – at least in some denominations. In just the past few months, one major Christian church has honoured a modern lesbian by declaring her their equivalent of a modern “saint”, and another has unanimously elected an openly gay man as national moderator.

Five Transforming Trends

In attempting to explain how this remarkable transformation has come about, I have identified five distinct but mutually reinforcing and interacting transformative trends that have taken us over the past 60 years from total invisibility, to where we are now: solidly on a path to full LGBT inclusion in church:

  • The Discovery of a Rainbow Bible
  • LGBT clergy emerging from the closet
  • The development of self – ministry & support groups.
  • Queer Contributions and Challenges to Theology
  • The visibility of queer families.

 The Discovery of a Rainbow Bible.

A fundamental reassessment of the scriptural verdict on same – sex relationships. We have, in a sense, discovered or rediscovered a rainbow bible. If the bible really is “good news” for modern people, that must mean good news for all, including queer Christians. Beginning early in our period, a series of scholars have done work to show first, that the “traditional” interpretations of a handful of clobber texts are at best less secure than previously believed, and possibly deeply flawed, possibly even amounting to spiritual harm or “textual abuse”. Others have moved beyond defensive attempts to counter the texts of terror, to uncover and celebrate the vastly more numerous affirmative texts, and to read affirmative interpretations into others.

 LGBT clergy emerging from the closet

Ever since Rev Troy Perry responded to his expulsion from Baptist ministry for having had a sexual relationship with a man not by meekly accepting the verdict, but by forming instead a new denomination with an explicit welcome for lesbian and gay Christians, a continuing stream of clergy, and those seeking ordination, have come out, insisting that there is no conflict between their sexuality and their religious faith.  Responses from their denominations have differed, from acceptance and accommodation to outright hostility, but several denominations have already made explicit provision to accept openly LGBT clergy, or on course to do so, or accept them informally, in a clerical version of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. The visibility of these queer ministers, in public or in local congregations, makes it much easier for individual Christians to find self-acceptance, and to come out in church themselves.

 The development of self – ministry & support groups.

While Troy Perry’s solution for supportive ministry was to found an entirely new denomination, others have formed support groups and ministry structures within mainstream denominations. In the US, Dignity was started by a Catholic priest, originally as a support group for gay Catholic patients in his psychotherapy practice. Similar organizations later followed for Catholics in Australia and the UK, and for just about all other denominations (including Jehovah’s Witnesses), and on all continents. In many Protestant denominations, there has been a parallel movement aimed not at separate support groups, but at getting local congregations to declare themselves “open and affirming”. This development of an expanding base of straight allies has been key to the succession of LGBT support resolutions adopted, or due to be adopted, at various national assemblies – and to the election of queer candidates to leadership positions.

Queer Contributions and Challenges to Theology

 From about the mid 1970′s, there has been the emergence of an increasing number of openly gay and lesbian theologians, contributing to mainstream theology in all its variety, but also creating the brand new academic sub disciplines of gay and lesbian theology, and later queer theology. While this remains a minority pursuit, it has developed sufficiently that it now has its own academic journals, shelf space in theological libraries, and academic reviews of the literature to date. In her summary of the development, Elizabeth Stuart identified the origins in the early pioneers emphasising theology drawing strongly on personal experience, then developing into gay liberation theology (especially for men), and into a theology emphasising relationships (especially by lesbians drawing on feminist theology).  After discussing the challenge to gay and lesbian theologies presented by the AIDS pandemic, she describes how this led to a shift from gay/lesbian theologies to queer theology. In a later, more exhaustive account of queer theology specifically, Susannah Cornwall describes several “Controversies in Queer Theology”, in which she argues (among other things) that a queer perspective on theology is useful even for heterosexuals such as herself, and that there are many insights from queer theology making valuable contributions to mainstream theology.  At the other end of the academic scale, Patrick Cheng’s text “Radical Love” is described as an introductory text book on queer theology for junior college students.

The visibility of queer families.

 Ever since Stonewall, gay men and lesbians have been encouraged to come out, declaring their sexuality publicly.  Many, growing in confidence from the range of faith – based support groups, revisionist interpretations of the biblical evidence, and the insights from gay/ lesbian or queer theology, have done so in church, as well as in the secular world. With growing social acceptance, people of our community are forming stable relationships and families, and taking their place as families in many congregations. Their increasing visibility, coupled with the expanding availability of legal recognition for same – sex unions, is forcing the churches also to consider ways in which they can celebrate these committed, marriage – like relationships, on a basis of equality and free of discrimination.  This is especially so in those denominations which have come to accept the possibility of ordaining openly gay clergy, in partnerships that are committed, faithful and publicly accountable to the community, in a manner comparable to marriage. This requirement is most easily met by providing opportunities for full marriage for all their clergy, gay or straight, without discrimination. It is not surprising then, that while many religious leaders are actively campaigning against marriage equality legislation, some others are actively promoting, or implementing, same – sex marriage, even in church. This is currently available in some denominations and geographic regions, others are likely to approve it in the next few years, and still more are approving arrangements for church blessings of civil unions.

Conclusion: The Modern Resurrection

While many of the features I’ve listed may seem familiar, we tend to be so overwhelmed by the extent of vocal opposition, especially to recognition for marriage and family equality,  that we tend to lose sight of just how far we have come. From the perspective of the grand sweep of history, the past 60 years is a short time indeed, and yet progress, from near invisibility, has been remarkable. What is more, we must remember that each of these five trends continues, and they mutually reinforce each other. The process, and further progress to full LGBT inclusion in church, will surely continue. We really are, I submit, 60 years into a modern resurrection for LGBT Christians.

(This is a summary of a presentation delivered in September 2012, to the annual conference of Quest, a national association of gay and lesbian Catholics. A longer text of the full presentation is published at “Queering the Church“)

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A Poem: Calling (or how to internalize oppression)

Heather Janet Barfoot 
With your orientation, you have to be celibate.

Who says?

God.

In the Bible? Where?

I’m not quite sure.

My parents are still hoping for grandchildren

and Michael (to my parents ‘Lizzi’)

wouldn’t understand.

What to do?

Celibacy makes me think

of RC priests.

Well, I could wear skirts.

and Michael wouldn’t be so hurt

and the parents would think it an honourable calling.

(“Sad about the grandchildren though”).

I suppose I’d better start studying.

Well, I won’t be alone,

they say there’s quite a lot of us –

don’t tell the Pope…

                               December 2012

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Catholic Theologians’ Discussion on Sexual Morality (Video)

From Catholic for Choice, an excellent 45 minute film on Catholics and Sexual Morality.

 

Watch it at http://catholicsforchoice.org/secrethistory.asp

 

“The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholics” features interviews with leading experts in the fields of theology, philosophy and ethics who examine Catholic traditions, teachings and beliefs on the following key issues:

Abortion & Contraception
HIV & AIDS
Sex & Sexuality
New Reproductive Health Technologies
Religion in Public Policy

Leading American Catholic theologians take part in this discussion: Mary Hunt, Dan Maguire, Anthony Padovano, Rosemary Radford Reuther, and including British-born Sheila Briggs, now working in the USA.

The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholics from Catholics for Choice on Vimeo.

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Reply to the Scottish Consultation on proposed extension of marriage law to gay and lesbian couples

Hugh Bain

I write with 20 years’ experience of heterosexual marriage and 30 years subsequently in a gay relationship. Formerly a Church of Scotland minister, and since 1985 a Roman Catholic layman, I have wide ecumenical work experience and am well informed  concerning recent academic research into sexuality and the varieties of sexual and gender perception, and also patterns of social behaviour found among gay and lesbian couples.

I write to deplore the form of the current campaign by Catholic bishops on the meaning of marriage. The campaign lacks any consultation of the huge lay component with continuing experience and expression of committed sexual relationships and has allowed for no dialogue with the significant number of religiously practising homosexual and lesbian citizens.

While I personally favour full equality for all in terms of Civil Partnership legislation, I also support lesbian and gay encouragement for the category of marriage to be extended to all such persons as want to engage with it. There is no evidence that variation in sexual orientation diminishes in any way the possibility of commitment, love and where possible the good adult care and support of children and adolescents. It is a myth that the proposed extension of marriage constitutes a threat to heterosexuals and their children. I therefore strongly support willingness to respond to the increased tolerance of sexual variation widely shown in most of the UK and elsewhere in Europe, and urge that proposed legislation be enacted. Much good can come from society’s celebration of committed and loving sexual relationships being extended beyond the heterosexual model.

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