My Journey From Emmaus to Rome

As part of its annual conference 2014, “Preparing for a Great Sea – Change”, one full morning was devoted to a workshop on the story of the Emmaus journey, in Luke’s Gospel. This had been prompted by a suggestion by Cardinal Vincent Nichols to Quest chair and vice – chair, Ruby Almeida and Michael Bennet, when they met with him last year. He had suggested to them that a suitable source for reflection for Quest and its relationship with the Church, would be Pope Francis’ words on the subject to the bishops of Brazil last year. As part of that workshop, I offered the following reflection on my own journey, in recent years.

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In his telling of the Emmaus story, Michael B. Kelly describes how it is perfectly understandable that gay Catholics may feel a desire, or even an obligation, to leave the established church (just as the disciples in Luke’s story left Jerusalem, in their own sense of despondency and disaffiliation). Having done so though, it’s possible that they will nevertheless encounter the risen Christ outside the formal church. When they do, he says, they have an obligation to return to the Church, just as the two disciples rushed back to Jerusalem, to share with others the good news of how even though we have felt rejected and excluded by the Church, we have met the risen Christ outside it.

Emmaus, modern dress

As my contribution to the discussion on the Emmaus theme at Quest conference 2014, “Preparing for a Great Sea – Change”, I shared one way in which this cycle has played out in my own life.

Catholic Bishop’s Call for Gay “Dialogue, not Condemnation”

Raul Vera Lopez, the Catholic bishop of Saltillo, Mexico, has criticized homophobes, calling them “sick.”

Mexican Bishop Raul Vera Lopez of Saltillo, Mexico, has a proud record of standing up against injustice of all kinds, whether inflicted by the state, the Mexican druglords – or the Church. Instead of criticizing gay Pride or Pride Mass celebrations, he has in the past celebrated Mass for the diocesan “Communidad San Elredo” (Community of Saint Aelred), complete with prominent rainbow flag.

Raul Vera Lopez

Recently he was in the news for baptizing the child of a lesbian couple, which prompted a direct question about his thoughts on homosexuality, in a wide-ranging interview in El Pais:

Q. Not long ago you baptized the daughter of a lesbian couple. What do you think about homosexuality?

A. That is a topic that we have refused to address. The people who say homosexuals are sick are sick themselves. The Church needs to come to them not with condemnation, but with dialogue. We cannot cancel out a person’s richness just because of his or her sexual preference. That is sick, that is heartless, that is lacking common sense.

El Pais (emphasis added)

That much has been picked up in the gay press, at On Top magazine (where I first saw the report). Similarly,  when he described homophobia a year ago as “mental illness”, Bilerico carried a report. For LGBT Catholics though, the fuller context in the El Pais story reveals much more for us to think about, on three counts.

The call for dialogue.

“Male AND Female”He Created THEM: What is YOUR Gender?

At the “Embodied Ministry” conference sponsored by the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality this week, one of the workshops I found particularly thought – provoking was “Male AND Female He Created THEM”, led by Rev Sharon Ferguson. Below is a personal report on the workshop which I posted at the CSCS website.

The biblical verse “Male and female he created them” is usually taken to mean that humans are created either male of female, and so to justify all that is contained and implied by the binary understanding of sex and gender. However, the simple binary division of biological sex is shown by the modern understanding of intersex conditions to be simplistic. (See for example) Susannah Cornwall’s presentation for this conference).

In another workshop, Rev Sharon Ferguson showed that the standard interpretation of the words may be not the only one. The binary division is even less universally applicable to gender, than it is to biological sex.

Sharon Ferguson, Male AND Female he created THEM

Opening the workshop, which took the form of a genuine interactive workshop rather than a formal presentation, Rev Ferguson put the questions “Are sex and gender equivalent terms?” and “How are they different?” After obtaining agreement from participants that they are not equivalent, that “sex” refers to biological factors and “gender” to how we present ourselves, in dress and in behaviour, we went on to a participatory exercise. We were divided into two groups, and each asked to write down the attributes that people usually associated with females, or with males (one set for each group).

Embodied Ministry Conference Homily: “We Are Vulnerable”

In the communion service for the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality Theological Educators’ “Embodied Ministry” conference this week (July 2014), the communion service homily,  to a passage in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 10, (published below by permission) was delivered by Rev Carla Grosch – Miller, a minister in the United  Reformed Church. (Just a few days before this conference, the URC had come tantalisingly close to approving same – sex marriage in their churches, where local congregations and individual ministers were willing. The proposal fell frustratingly short, by only six votes, of the total unanimity required by Church rules).

Carla Grosch - Miller

Here are the signs that the kingdom of heaven has come near: unclean spirits are cast out; and every disease and sickness is cured. Jesus sent the twelve out to their own people, with authority to cast out, heal disease and sickness, and proclaim heaven’s nearness.

“Embodied Ministry” Conference

Earlier this week, I was one of several participants who gathered at Ripon College, Oxfordshire, for the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality theological educators’ “Embodied Ministry” conference on sexuality, gender and formation. They came from  all corners of England (including among others York in the North East, Kent in the South East, Exeter in the South West, and Manchester in the North West ), as well as one Australian stopping off en route to Sydney, two Ugandan asylum seekers, and a nun who is resident at Ripon College. They came from a wide range of Christian denominations and backgrounds, including Church of the Nazarene, Seventh Day Adventist, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Anglican and United Reform Church. Some were priests / pastors in active ministry, some were academics involved in training aspirant clergy – and some were aspirant ministers in training, or preparing for training, themselves.

Ripon College

Opening the conference, CSCS chair Martin Pendergast noted that this conference was not an end in itself, but the beginning of a process. By the end, it was obvious to all that this optimism was more than justified. It’s safe to say that this conference will probably repeated, possibly on a larger and more ambitious scale.

A press release by Pendergast yesterday, quoted the enthusiastic response of Revd. Dr. Martyn Percy, Principal of Ripon College Cuddesdon and Dean-elect of Christ Church, Oxford, as this major Conference concluded:

It’s rare to say that an event has been truly ground-breaking, but I’m proud that Ripon College Cuddesdon hosted the Embodied Ministry: Gender, Sexuality & Formation Conference, with such a rich, ecumenical breadth and seriously respectful discussions on issues which are often too neuralgic for all our Churches to consider, not least together.”

Civil Unions: “Signs of a Thaw in Vatican City?”

In Italy, there is once again a real possibility of legislative approval for civil unions, if not yet of gay marriage, under that name. There’ve been similar proposals in the past, which have always been scuttled by the strong influence of the Vatican and Italian bishops  over Italian politicians. This time though, could be different. For one thing, the formerly most powerful secular politician against, Silvio Berlusconi, has lost his influence and is now in disgrace (and even he has now acknowledged publicly that in the modern world, gays and lesbians deserve “equal treatment”). For another, the numerous scandals around the Church itself have deprived it of some of the respect and influence it formerly had. But most importantly, especially for LGBT Catholics, is that influential people inside the Church are themselves coming around, to cautious support for civil unions. The latest example among many, is Monsignor Marcel Sánchez Sorondo, who is chancellor of both the the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (PASS), and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. 

Monsignor Marcel Sánchez Sorondo

Monsignor Marcel Sánchez Sorondo

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