Another School Exclusion For Lesbian Moms.

“Suffer little children to come unto me” (Luke 18:16) – or just  let them suffer, if the parents are gay?

Jacob Jordaens, 1615: "Suffer the little children ........"

Another Catholic school has withdrawn permission for a child with lesbian parents to attend, this time in Hingham, Massachusetts. Once again, this is apparently at the insistence of the parish priest. The mother says that she and her partner were completely open  in their application, which was accepted by the school. However, after a discussion with the priest about her son’s religious education, it seems the priest put pressure on the school principal to withdraw their original acceptance.  This decision, which has many resemblances to the precedent set in Boulder, Colorado, is appalling in countless ways – but is perhaps welcome in one important respect: it should force discussion of an important issue out into the open.

The Religious Case For Gay Adoption

The case by the religious right against gay adoption generally rests on a single proposition: that children “need” both a Mom and a Dad. The case (it is never an “argument”, just a single unsubstantiated proposition) falls apart when faced with simple real world evidence. A story from York, Pennsylvania of two moms who are raising nine adopted children highlights many of the myths in the case against.

First, these women are Baptists – and attend church regularly with the full brood in tow.  They are well known in the congregation (how could they not be, with a family that visible?), and are fully accepted. Theoretical religious opposition simply melts away when faced with real people in real situations.

Second, it is obvious that these women have adopted so many children not in spite of religion, but because of it. Reading their story, their religious faith shines through. Earlier, I wrote about the Catholic mom who was led to adopt precisely because of Church teaching and encouragement. These women do not put the case quite specifically, but are obviously led by similar principles.

Third, the choice very often just is not one between two moms and “one mom and one dad”, but may be between two moms – or none, or possibly two moms at the cost of splitting siblings. Many of the children who are placed with gay parents are those whom the agencies find difficult to place. They may be older children, there may be behavioural problems, or they may be part of large sibling groups. Often, agencies find that if they do not place the children with gay or single parents, there will be no suitable places at all. In this family, They already had fives kids, and agreed to take two more – until they found that taking two meant splitting four siblings. SO two became four, and at a stroke five kids became nine.

Really, the key question to be addressed is not of the gender of the prospective parents, but the quality of the love and parenting they are able to offer. These two are offering love in abundance.

Here’s the York Post:

The family turns heads in public.

It happens at the store, where grocery receipts ring out in multiple feet, and at restaurants, where hostesses adjust tables to accommodate the brood.

The parents can’t be sure why people stare. Is it because they have eight kids? Because three are of color? Or because there are two moms?

Either way, they pay the gawkers little attention.

“We just try to reinforce with the kids that they’re ours,” said Kay Rainwater.

She and Gail Lee have been together 20 years. In the past nine, they have adopted nine children, now ages 3 to 23. Eight still live in their West Manchester Township home.

“We didn’t want to go outside the U.S. for adoption because there’s so many kids here who need homes,” said Rainwater, 54, who grew up sixth in a family of seven children.

Lee and Rainwater began their adoption classes wanting one baby. Then they learned about the separation many birth siblings suffer when placed in foster care or with an adoptive family. Caseworkers struggle to find homes for older children and those with learning disabilities or psychological wounds that require counseling.

They hoped for four kids younger than 7. But they didn’t stop there.

“We got two the first time, three the second time and four the third time,” Rainwater said of the adoption process.

“I’m afraid to go (through it) again. We’d need a bigger house.”

She and Lee already revamped their three-bedroom rancher to fit six bedrooms. They installed an extra bath and rooms in the basement and moved themselves into the garage.

Most of their furniture is frayed and worn smooth after years of children yanking on cushions and hanging on the arms.

White door frames are smudged gray from tiny fingers gripping the edge. The doorway to the kitchen is marked with pencil, recording the growth of the brothers and sisters.

The kids are home-schooled around a long kitchen table with a laminated world map tacked on the wall at the table’s end. A colorful model of the planets dangles in a corner overhead. “With God, all things are possible,” is stenciled on a living room wall.

Read the full report

What Is A Gay Priest To Do?

James Martin’s question at America last year, “What is a gay Catholic to do?” provoked lengthy discussion, but avoided the more difficult and anguished question, “What is a gay Catholic priest to do?”  It is a question that has been tangential to some of my earlier posts, and has at times been raised by priests in my comments threads, so it is a topic that I have often wondered about, and considered posting on.  It is well known that a significant and rising proportion of priests are “gay” in orientation: a figure of around 50% is widely quoted, but the exact number is not really of any consequence for this discussion. Anybody who has been involved with LGBT Catholic groups for worship or support is likely to know of gay priests. Many gay men have met, or had sex with, gay priests cruising the bars, baths, or on-line chat rooms.  (The Australian theologian and writer Michael B Kelly describes one such depressing on-line chat with a gay priest in his book, Seduced by Grace: Contemporary spirituality, Gay experience and Christian faith.)

So, what are the unique difficulties faced by Catholic priests? I am not speaking from experience, so can only speculate. In the interests of starting a conversation, I offer a few thoughts.

First, there is that vow of celibacy, which hangs impartially over the heads of all priests, gay, straight or asexual. We known that a proportion of priests do not keep that vow, while many do. It is likely that proportions who do keep to the vow are similar for both gay and straight. However, there is a popular assumption that straight priests adhere to celibacy, and that gay priests do not. Further, there is a marked double standard in place concerning expectations. Where it becomes known that a straight priest has succumbed to temptation and had broken this vow, there is often supportive sympathy from his congregation. Where there the same thing happens with a gay priest, outrage and scandal is more likely. The British movie, “Priest” (1994), showed the contrast clearly. The parish priest was conducting a permanent sexual relationship with his female housekeeper, a relationship which was only barely a secret from the congregation. But when it became known that his young curate had a few nights in the sack with a man, fierce hostility from the parishioners ensued.   In many parts of Africa today, it is widely assumed that priests have mistresses or even legally married wives. In the handful of cases where priests are living with husbands, they are under extreme pressure from their diocesan authorities.

But many priests do respect their celibacy. This does not necessarily make it any easier for them. Because their is a widespread assumption that homosexuality child abuse are linked, the current uproar over problems of abuse means that gay priests dare not make their orientation known, for fear of coming under immediate suspicion. Thankfully, there appears to be some backtracking on this assumption on the part of the Vatican, but the belief still remains widespread in the popular mind, and probably too in the mids of some bishops.

So, what in fact is a gay priest to do? When I have attempted to answer the question for ordinary, non-clerical, gay Catholics in the past, one key recommendation I have made  has been was to come out: to be open and truthful, and so offer and receive support in a wider gay Catholic community, and to bear witness to the possibility of authentic gay faith to the rest of the Church. This is not a realistic option for most gay priests, as is shown by the extraordinary difficulties faced by those who have tried it. Unlike the rest of us, a priest needs from the Church far more than just acceptance. He is totally dependent on its good graces for physical survival, in both income and  housing, as well as emotional and psychological needs, which are met in job satisfaction and emotional support from colleagues and parishioners, in lieu of family. Any priest who falls foul of the institution which supports him in so many ways, is going to have a seriously hard time.

So, what is a gay priest to do? Faced with the possibility that any self-disclosure will be met with an assumption that gay = rampant sexual activity or child molester, or both, what priest would want to be open with his bishop, unless there is clear knowledge that the bishop is free of these false assumptions? At the most basic level, the only realistic choice for all but the bravest would appear to be to simply leave the priesthood, or accept a life in the closet: and the closet is a dark and dangerous place.

If it is not feasible to come out to one’s bishop, are there other possibilities for at least partial openness? In the big cities, it should be possible to find and meet with other gay priests for mutual support. In London, the Search group offers exactly that. There will be many more support networks, formal or informal, elsewhere. But that still leaves the question, for those outside the bigger cities, where the formal groups do not exist, how is a gay priest to identify, let alone meet with, others? It’s not as though there is the equivalent of a priests’ gay bar, where you can walk in and hope to find some one to talk to. And what of priests stationed in rural locations, or in communities where the Catholic population is low? I have email correspondence from one priest in just such a location. He has written that he has met precisely one gay priest he could talk to openly: but to meet face to face involves comlicated travel arrangements over hundreds of miles and several hours.

So, what have gay priests done? First, let us honour the few examples of courageous men who have insisted on speaking the truth – and paid the price by being forced out of the priesthood. I think immediately of John McNeill, and of James Alison. Thankfully, both have recovered from initially desperate material circumstances, and have forged fresh careers independently of the church, to the great and continuing benefit to the rest of us. I think also of Bernard Lynch, who remains inside the priesthood, but operates in a state of permanent tension with the diocese of Westminster for his courageous life of honesty with his husband, Billy.

Some others have been able to be open, and even to acknowledge their partners – but usually these have been in positions where they are either no longer in active ministry, or are working in areas completely independent of diocesan structures. I imagine that there may be some few priests in conventional parishes somewhere, who have had the confidence to be fully open and out to all – but I am not aware of a single one.

Then there are the many who have left the church. Daniel Helminiak is one such, who now teaches spirituality in a university department of psychology – and is another who has written useful books for the rest of us.

Life inside the clerical closet also does not answer the other question, for those who are unable or unwilling to live fully under  the regime of celibacy. What are they to do? I once heard one parish priest, who was strictly closeted in his home environment, describe how he had taken his annual holiday in Eastern Europe – with daily enjoyable visits to the saunas.

But none of this resolves the fundamental question: just what is a gay priest, in conventional circumstances such as a parish setting, to do, if he wishes to live a life which is authentic and honest?

Edge Boston has a useful exploration of this. under the title, Behind the Church Scandals: Gay Priests Shoulder Blame, Live in Shame

A Republican, Conservative Case For Gay Marriage.

In Minnesota, marriage, and gay marriage, are in the news. In the state legislature recently, there are moves underway to provide for civil unions (public hearings on marriage equality bills were held in the state Capitol in February and March). In the Catholic Church, last  month Archbishop Niestedt published an opinion piece in praise of marriage, and just yesterday, there was a report of court proceedings by three couples who were denied marriage licences under a 1997, asking to have that law declared invalid in terms of the state constitution.

Also yesterday, there was a reply to Archbishop Niestedt, by one Dale Carpenter.

More DIY Catholicism

As the institutional church moves further and further from appropriate responses to the real needs of people, there have been some important examples of isolated extraordinary congregations  responding to extreme provocation by simply going their own way, doing it for themselves. I think here of the Spirit of St Stephen’s in Minnesota, or of St Mary’s in South Brisbane. Then there are the steady flow of fresh ordinations of womenpriests, and of women deacons. In times when there are dire shortages of priests throughout the developed world, some congregations at least are finding that they can function without professional priests. An article in dot.commonweal has described how a similar independent spirit is now taking root in several more mainstream congregations, which found themselves faced with closure decisions.

For centuries, the Church has operated on a strictly hierarchical, two-caste system: a “superior” caste of nominally celibate, male -only, professional clergy, placed “over” the rest of us, who are expected to accept and follow unquestioningly whatever we are told. The model is completely inappropriate for the modern, democratic world, and the clerical abuse revelations have destroyed for ever any vestigial illusions that the celibate priestly caste necessarily have any moral superiority over the rest of us. Faced with either a shortage of priests or an intransigent, reactionary hierarchy, I would expect that there will be many more of these go congregations asking why they need to depend on professional clergy in the first place – and concluding, as these have done, that they do not.

Back in 2004, the archdiocese of Boston announced the closure in one fell swoop of more than 18% of its parishes . In the midst of all the shock, sadness, anger and dismay, some parishes decided to refuse the order to close, and began to maintain round-the-clock vigils in the churches to keep them open. Saturday’s Boston Globe included a piece from a member of one such church. Money quote:

While the universal Catholic Church seems on the verge of imploding under the weight of its own moral crisis, the weekly gathering of this close-knit congregation generates a palpable spirituality that is rare and unique.
The St. James phenomenon (replicated across sister parishes in Massachusetts that also chose vigil over closure) is changing church culture by pioneering a post-institutional brand of grass-roots Catholicism.

I’m intrigued by this. We all know of situations of priestless parishes still under the auspices of various dioceses: a priest may zoom through to dispense the sacraments, but day-to-day pastoral care is carried out by non-ordained people. One troublesome point in these parishes is the separation of the practice of ministry from the celebration of the sacraments, in which the latter are rare special events run by strangers, not a regular part of the worship life of the community. A second concern is the lack of uniform standards for people running such churches–one parish might be run by a gifted lay minister with an M.Div., but the next might be run by a person without a shred of theological or pastoral training.

But these “Heavens, no, we won’t go” parishes are a different kettle of fish. Instead of divorcing ministry from sacraments, these communities have formed a new model of church with generally egalitarian leadership, continuing to celebrate Eucharist as the “source and summit of the Christian life,” and developing a vibrant sense of community. The divorce here is of the community from the hierarchy of the Church. (I still worry about the theological training of the leadership. But there are lots of qualified people thereabouts–if theologically-literate leadership is important to the community, they can find people with both vocation and education to lead and/or teach.)

See also:

Do It Yourself Catholicism

Starting Young

My granddaughter Claudia comes from a family of enthusiastic and eclectic readers, going back several generations.

Read her mother’s notes on the book, and on the “family” connection, at Spring On Mars

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