Catholic Magisterial Teaching on Transgender

We tend to speak freely about “LGBT” issues, but in practice, most of the time we’re really thinking “LG”(bt), with both bi- and trans little more than afterthoughts – if we think about them at all. I would imagine that most of us like to think of ourselves as trans allies, but it’s difficult for us actively to promote issues we don’t really understand. Ideally, we need to allow trans activists to speak for themselves.

At “A Catholic Transgender” (Blogging about being transsexual at the intersection of Calvary and Rome), I”ve seen a useful, systematic assessment of what the magisterium says about transgender (i.e., nothing), together with well argued rebuttals of the usual claims that the Church cannot approve or recognize gender transition.


Here’s the opening:

What Does the Catholic Church Actually Say About Transgenderism?

Table of Contents:


Despite what many people assume, the Catholic Church does not have an official teaching on transgenderism or transsexuality. The internet is ripe with very definite opinions from every corner of Catholicism denouncing a certain mythical conception of what transgenderism is, but on the Magisterial level the Church is frustratingly silent. (The Church is also silent about intersexed individuals).

There are three instances where the Church supposedly taught on the issue, and skeptical Catholics put these forward again and again as evidence for what they view as the incompatibility between transsexed individuals and Catholicism. I’ll address each instance separately. They are:

  1. Pope Benedict’s Christmas greeting
  2. The Catholic Catechism verse 2297
  3. “Sub-Secretum” document

via The Catholic Transgender.

Follow the links for her full argument – then read her closing statement, a passionate plea for a Catholic dialogue on the issue – something sorely needed for all matters of sexuality and gender.

The blog appears to be a relatively new one, but I suspect that there will be much more useful material coming out of it.

It’s also worth checking out her sources – the post is clearly well – researched.


Cornwall, Susannah Sex and Uncertainty in the Body of Christ: Intersex Conditions and Christian Theology 

Dzmura, NoachBalancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community (North Atlantic Books)

Guest, DerynMona WestRobert E. Goss, and Thomas Bohache, (eds)The Queer Bible Commentary . London: SCM

Isherwood, Lisa, and Marcella Althaus-ReidTrans/formations  (SCM Press)

McNaught, Brian: “Sex Camp”

Mollenknott, Virginia Ramey Omnigender: A Trans-Religious Approach

Tanis, Justin Edward. Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith . Cleveland, Ohio: Pilgrim Press.



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How Bishops’ Support for Civil Unions is Modifying Church Teaching.

Another Catholic bishop has given support to civil unions for same – sex couples, the fourth to do so in the past month.

Archbishop Piero Marini, currently the President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, has joined the steadily increasing list of Catholic bishops who have now expressed some form of support for the legal recognition and protection of committed same – sex relationships.

Archbishop Piero Marini

Another veteran Vatican figure has signaled openness to civil recognition of same-sex unions, in the wake of similar comments in early February from the Vatican’s top official on the family. It’s a position also once reportedly seen with favor by the future pope while he was still Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

-National Catholic Reporter

That makes four in less than 30 days (Cardinal Theodore McCarrickCardinal Rubén SalazarCardinal Christoph Schonborn and now Archbishop Piero Marini). Earlier this. year, bishops expressing support  included the French Bishops’ Conference’s Family and Society Committee, and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family. There’s a clear trend here: supportive voices are increasing in numbers, but also in importance. When I reported a few years ago on a handful of bishops who repeated Cardinal Schonborn’s earlier and  more cautious words on  respect for the quality of same-sex relationships rather customary obsession with genital acts, it was notable that those expressing support were retired, preparing to retire, or otherwise outside the direct firing line of Vatican censure. Those who have spoken up over the past year, are of substantially greater significance. They include some whose responsibilities are specifically in the field of marriage and family, in the Vatican and for the French Bishops’ Conference, the head of an unrelated department of the Curia, a prominent papabile and two further diocesan cardinal archbishops who participated in last month’s conclave, and several more currently serving as diocesan bishops.

In addition of course, and most important of all, is the support from then Cardinal Bergoglio in Argentina, back in 2010. There’s good reason to be optimistic that with the changed atmosphere in the Vatican, many more will follow. At some stage, this will become the mainstream view:

Speaking today on an Italian cable news network, church historian Alberto Melloni, seen as a voice of the progressive wing of Italian Catholicism, predicted that “sooner or later, this openness [to civil unions] will arrive in the magisterium of the pope.” However, Melloni also said he believes Francis will move with “caution” and “prudence.”

-National Catholic Reporter

This may seem to be far- fetched, but in fact an important shift is already under way – the cardinals and bishops arguing in support of civil unions are acting in contravention of the existing Vatican documents. As I noted last month, the CDF “CONSIDERATIONS REGARDING PROPOSALS TO GIVE LEGAL RECOGNITION TO UNIONS BETWEEN HOMOSEXUAL PERSONS” (2003) is very clear – any form of legal recognition should be fiercely opposed.

In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application.

As QTC reader Chris Sullivan noted, the bishops seem to be interpreting this as opposing those unions which have “been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage”. But that’s not what the document says. The CDF clearly states that any “homosexual unions (that) have been legally recognized”, or those that “have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage”.

“OR”, not “AND”.

This subtle, apparently slight shift in emphasis is typical of the way in which (contrary to popular  belief) Catholic orthodoxy is constantly changing- by the application of what, as Chris Sullivan pointed out, “Francis A. Sullivan once called “creative fidelity”. But that will not be the end of it.

As I read the situation, its clear that the bishops know that voters (including Catholic voters) are simply not convinced by their current arguments against equal marriage, and so are formulating an alternative to avoid accusations of homophobia. But the marriage equality movement continues to gain support all around the world: we can expect many more bishops to follow these trailblazers.

But they will in time face a problem. Some GOP politicians are trying to get out of trouble on gay marriage by arguing to leave the decisions to the states, but that can do no more than buy time. Sooner or later they will have to come down off the fence, and take a stand on the matter in their own states. The bishops are in a similar position. They are attempting to defuse their toxic message on marriage by offering support for purely secular protection of same – sex relationships, in civil unions. But as they face more and more gay and lesbian couples in their congregations who are either legally married or in formal civil unions, they will have to confront what for now, they are avoiding: how to respond to these relationships ,in church Sooner or later, they will have to consider seriously the possibility of offering at the very least, church blessings.

My current list of supportive cardinals and bishops:


(links to, UK)

Boswell, John: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (Harper-Collins, 1994)412 pages

Comstock, Gary David: Gay Theology Without Apology

Glaser, Chris: As My Own Soul: The Blessing of Same-Gender Marriage  (Seabury Books)

Heyward, Carter:   Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love of God

Hunt, Mary: Fierce Tenderness: Feminist Theology of Friendship (Crossroad, 1991)

Jennings, Theodore W. The Man Jesus Loved (Pilgrim Press)

Jordan, Mark:  Blessing Same-sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage(Univ of Chicago Press)

Moore, Gareth OP: A Question of Truth : Christianity & Homosexuality(Continuum Books, 2003) 

Stuart, Elisabeth: Just Good Friends: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Theology of Relationships (Mowbray, 1995)

Sullivan, Andrew: Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality(Picador, 1995)

Sullivan, Andrew: Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival(Chatto & Windus, 1998)

Sullivan, Andrew: Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con 

Vasey, MStrangers and Friends: New Exploration of Homosexuality and the Bible



(links to, USA)

Boswell, John: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (Harper-Collins, 1994) 412 pages

Glaser, Chris: As My Own Soul: The Blessing of Same-Gender Marriage (Seabury Books)

Hunt, Mary: Fierce Tenderness: A Feminist Theology of Friendship (Crossroad, 1991)

Jennings, Theodore W. The man jesus loved (Pilgrim Press)

Jordan, Mark:  Blessing Same-Sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage (Univ of Chicago Press)

Stuart, Elisabeth: Just Good Friends: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Theology of Relationships (Mowbray, 1995)

Sullivan, Andrew: Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality (Picador, 1995)

Sullivan, Andrew: Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival (Chatto & Windus, 1998)

Vasey, MStrangers and friends: A new exploration of homosexuality and the Bible

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Bursting The Vatican Bubble

burst the bubble

Image by Isabel Bloedwater via Flickr

In a comment to my friend Terry’s post Bishops’ Double-Speak: Gay Ministry, Liturgy, a reader who goes by the name PrickliestPear (I just love the name) said the following:

I’m not sure that the majority of Catholics who disagree with the official teaching regarding sexual morality are insufficiently articulate, or loud.
Those in official positions of authority know that some people in the church are willing to stay even though they disagree, and they don’t become unhinged when official documents say something disagreeable. There is a minority, though, who are not like this. They don’t just get angry when official leadership does something they disagree with–their faith is shaken to the very core.

My thoughts and feelings precisely! As I am not quoting the comment in toto, I hope I’m not quoting out of context. Even if that were to be the case, I must admit that in the heart of this comment – the text I have just quoted – there is a very valid point being made. It may or may not be a consolation to a reader like Prickliest Pear, but I must confess that it’s not just lay Catholics who are becoming increasingly disaffected by what is spun by the Church hierarchy. As a priest still in active ministry I know from personal experience the anger, frustration, disgust and many negative reactions that are triggered by what I see and hear. It’s not simply a question of disagreement, or holding a dissenting opinion. The fact is that there are issues that can shake one’s faith to the very core. Yes, even the faith of a priest, despite the training, theological preparation and spiritual formation one receives. Or should I say, precisely because of all this. The way I see it, this need to be open and congruent (the result of the process of self-acceptance as a gay man, as well as of coming out to God and others) makes me all the more sensitive to the “double-speak” of those in high places in the Church hierarchy.

As often happens, certain persons (religious conservatives in all likelihood) make noises whenever a hint of dissent is in the air. They pile on the usual bullshit about loving the Church (often using the nauseating appellative “Holy Mother Church”), accusing those who disagree with the Church’s teaching (“Magisterium”, that’s more high-sounding) as not being loyal and loving towards to the Church, and retorting that those of us who dissent should show proper filial love to our Mother, the Church. Enough of this crap-talk! What these persons should consider is the following: there is a limit to how much one can tolerate the jesuitical twisting of arguments presented as Church teaching. If disregarding one’s conscience is the price one pays for swallowing whole whatever is fed to us, then that’s a recipe for disaster. (more…)

Sexual Ethics, Social Statistics, and the Sensus Fideii

Formal Catholic teaching is clear: in developing moral norms, it is right that we consider  the findings from social science and social statistics. On moral norms around sexuality, however, the Vatican simply ignores its own guidelines.

Whenever I refer to the evidence from social statistics on real – world Catholic belief, and the challenge they present to the sensus fideii on Vatican doctrine,  I know that someone will immediately object, either in a comment to my post, or in an outraged blog post of their own at one of the rule-book Catholic sites. (No, I never have claimed that these polls disprove the SF – just that the present a challenge, a prima facie case that the SF might not exist).

Aphrodite, Goddess of Love

Salzmann and Lawler (“The Sexual Person“) put it like this: (more…)

On Dialogue, Disagreements and Dissent in Church

I frequently come across Catholic writers and commenters (the rule-book Catholics) complaining in horror on-line at the existence of Catholic “dissenters” who insist on calling themselves Catholic, even while flouting the teaching of the church.

As I am one of those who publicly disagree with the teaching on some issues (by no means all) but refuse to deny my Catholic identity, I am directly affected. In my own mind, the position is simple. I am in agreement here with Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, who made clear a few months ago that Catholicism is not in fact about blind obedience to authority, but rather it is a commitment to a search for truth (and with it, in consequence, to service, and justice and the rest). I have stated before that I accept the teaching authority of the Church, but “teaching” does not mean legislating, and any good teacher will fully expect and encourage students to argue a case where they disagree.

A useful article at America magazine by Nicholas Lash makes much the same point, but does so much more effectively than I could hope to do.

When the Second Vatican Council ended, several of the bishops who took part told me that the most important lesson they had learned through the conciliar process had been a renewed recognition that the church exists to be, for all its members, a lifelong school of holiness and wisdom, a lifelong school of friendship (a better rendering of caritas than “charity” would be). It follows that the most fundamental truth about the structure of Christian teaching cannot lie in distinctions between teachers and pupils—although such distinctions are not unimportant—but in the recognition that all Christians are called to lifelong learning in the Spirit, and all of us are called to embody, communicate and protect what we have learned. Much of what is said about the office of “teachership” or magisterium seems dangerously forgetful of this fact.


“The Sexual Person”: Bishops, Theologians Clash on Sexual Ethics

In 2008 two Catholic academic theologians at a reputable Jesuit university published a book, “The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology (Moral Traditions)“,  on the Church’s sexual theology which represented a fundamental critique of its entire foundations. The United States Catholic Bishops have now launched a strong counter-attack, concentrating their fire especially on the authors’ section on homosexuality.

I am grateful to the Bishops for this attack: it has brought to my close attention a book that I was previously aware of, but had not considered too seriously. After reading some reviews and the extracts available at Google Books, I will now most certainly read it in full – and will later discuss its conclusions with my readers. As I have not yet had this opportunity to read the book for myself, I will not attempt in this post  to evaluate the content or conclusions. However, I have read the authors’ intent and methods as presented in the prologue, and can contrast these with the bishops’ disappointing response, which I have read and re-read in full. (more…)

Conscience Formation, Spiritual Formation, and The Holy Spirit

A dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, who is be...

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David Ludescher, a regular reader at the Open Tabernacle , has put to me some important questions on the formation of conscience. These arose in response to my post on empirical research findings on the current state of British Catholic belief, and some observations I made on the implications for our understanding of the sensus fidelium (on sexual ethics and priestly ministry in particular).

These questions were put in a comment box at the Open Tabernacle, where I cross-posted. (I have reproduced his questions in an independent post for easy reference). Just follow the link to read the questions in full. This is my response:


Reading Magisterium Backwards? Paulus, 3rd century.

Modern scholarship has left us familiar with the idea that the standard presentations of Biblical statements on homoerotic relationships are frequently misrepresentations of the texts, and are certainly highly selective cherry picking. Well-known examples are the regular recourse to the story of Sodom, which quite clearly says nothing at all about homosexual relationships, and the constant quotation of males lying with males as an abomination, while totally disregarding the many other Levitical proscriptions that are equally described as “abominations” – but are routinely ignored. It is quite clear that rather than using the Bible to develop their theology, many people have simply formulated a repressive theology, and found the texts to support it.

For some time I have been wondering whether the same process of selective cherry-picking and misrepresentation might have taken place in the development, over many centuries, of the magisterium. Do modern statements of the “magisterium” misrepresent its early development ? At this stage I do not know one way or the other, but a quotation I came across today certainly suggest that some cherry picking and distortion has occurred. Read this quotation carefully:

Anyone who persuades a boy who has been abducted, either who by himself or by his corrupt accomplices to submit to lewdness, or anyone who attempts to seduce a woman or a girl, or who does anything to encourage her to debauchery by paying her money or giving her gifts in order to persuade her, and any of these crime is accomplished, shall be punished with death; and if it is not accomplished, he shall be deported to some island. Their corrupted accomplices shall suffer the same penalty.

This is from the writings of a third century jurist “Paulus”, whom I have not previously come across. I do not yet know how significant his writing has been on the later development of theology of homoerotic relationships, but Michael Goodich states that it was repeatedly cited in both canon and secular law to justify the most extreme punishment of sexual acts. and is a key element in the foundation of the influential “Decretum” of Gratian (1140)/  But who exactly are the offenders being condemned here? Let us read it again, breaking up the identification of offenders into two parts, for two clearly distinct classes of offenders, and adding emphasis to indicate the victims of the crimes:

Anyone who persuades a boy who has been either abducted by him or by his accomplices to submit to lewd acts.

That’s boys (not adult men) who have been abducted (not willing partners, still less regular and committed lovers). This is about child kidnap and rape, then. Yet, if Goodich is right, this has been used repeatedly in later years to justify the severest penalties against sodomites of all shades. In using a statement of a severe penalty against child abductors and rapists to support equally severe penalties against all loving male relationships, this is surely a clear case of distortion of the original text.

Now for the second part.

anyone who attempts to seduce a woman or a girl, or who does anything to encourage her to debauchery by paying her money or giving her gifts in order to persuade her.

A “woman or girl” quite clearly does not refer to homosexual love, but to the standard, heterosexual kind. There is also no question of force being at issue – just common or garden seduction, or payment for sexual favours – prostitution. I would want to know more, but superficially this would seem to prohibit sexual activity with any woman not under a man’s control – in Roman terms, usually his wife concubines and slaves. But has this text also been used to build a harsh and vengeful theology demanding death or banishment for any man having it off with a woman who is not his wife? Quite the contrary – there have been times when the Church has actively promoted the establishment of brothels, sponsoring one of the activities condemned by Paulus, in order to combat the temptation to do it with other adult men – which is not condemned in the text. This is a clear case of selective application, analogous to the  routine ignoring of Leviticus’ horror at eating shellfish, or shaving one’s beard.

Are there other examples where the magisterium has distorted the texts it claims to rest on? Well, that nasty word “sodomy” is one more excellent example – and I am not, here, even referring to the inappropriate hijacking of the name of the city. Ignoring the etymology, the original use of the term to describe a class of sinful actions incorporated a wide range of offences. Various sexual activities were included under its umbrella, including acts with women or alone, but also ideas that today we would treat as entirely independently – heresy and even treason.

Is the misappropriation of the quotation by Paulus an isolated error, or part of a wider pattern? Have I myself misrepresented his meaning, is there perhaps a wider context, to show that his words did indeed have a broader application? Is there, indeed, a case that my initial hunch may have some merit: have  the mainstream theologians of sex been reading the magisterium backwards? I really don’t know: but I hope to find out.

IDAHO London:Panel Discussion.

This evening, the “Cutting Edge Consortium” will be hosting a panel discussion on Religion and Homophobia. I will be speaking from a Christian perspective, two others from Islamic and Jewish ones. The chairman will be from the Humanist association. This is the text of the remarks I have prepared. What I actually say will not be quite the same – never work from a memorised text.

Although we are here tonight primarily to speak about religion and homophobia, I will not be saying too much about homophobia as such. Time is short, and my brief was to concentrate instead on sharing with you some of the strategies that I use to counter the pseudo-religious arguments that fuel homophobia. Perhaps there will be time to talk about more public strategies later, in the discussion. Essentially, the key strategy that I use is to test the religious claims  against some basic fact-checking: what I think of as “reality based theology”. I will illustrate this by applying some fact checking to the three core arguments used by the Church, those of tradition, nature, and Scripture, and also test one of the destructive conclusions drawn by the Catholic church- that homosexual acts lead one away from God. History and the changing tradition First, I want to take you back 1000 years, to 11th Century France, to meet two friends – Ralph and John – and their friend Phillip. Back then Ralph was the Archbishop of Tours, and John was his young lover, his sexual partner. When there arose a vacancy in the bishopric of Orleans, Bishop Ralph thought, it would be quite useful and pleasant if he could get his boyfriend installed as the new bishop. So he called on Phillip, the king of France, who was happy to help out – young John had also been the king’s boyfriend.  In fact, John had rather spread himself around. It was well known that he had been sexually involved with a remarkable number of top Frenchmen. This caused a major scandal, as you would expect – but not for the reasons you might expect.  Another bishop, Ivo of Chrtres, objected strongly, and lobbied Urban II (who was an important church reformer), but the opposition failed, the appointment went ahead. But note, please, that although John was renowned for his affairs with prominent men, the opposition was not on the grounds of his sexuality, or even his promiscuity. They seem to have been accepted as routine. The main objection was simply his youth, and fears that this represented a nepotistic appointment which would leave John too easily influenced by his older and more senior friend. Now I want to go back even further, to a somewhat obscure saint of the 4th century, Paulinus of Nola. He was also a bishop, and is remembered for a number of notable achievements. The standard Catholic reference books include among these some fine Latin religious verse. What they don’t tell you, is that his published verse included some which is frankly homoerotic, addressed to his boyfriend, Ausonius. Some of this is included in a modern anthology – the Penguin book of Homosexual Verse. Now, I think it’s pretty extraordinary that a modern book of homosexual poetry should include erotic verse by a canonised Catholic bishop – but he’s not the only one. Another bishop from the same period, Venantius Fortunatus, also has homoerotic verse included in the same collection. I treasure these people, and think of them as friends. They are a great support and comfort to me in my attempts to resist the lies of homophobes who use pseudo religious arguments to justify their bigotry. As I have investigated these arguments, I have found them to be without foundation. In opposition to these religious “arguments”, I attempt to develop and disseminate a “reality- based theology”: by which I mean, simple fact-checking of the claims. As the examples quoted show, Church practice, if not teaching, has most certainly not always been against such relationships. Many more prominent church men and women, saints and martyrs, are known to have had passionate same sex relationships and love affairs. For many centuries, stretching well over half the span of Christian history, there have been liturgical rites for blessing in church same sex unions. In many churches, in England and elsewhere, there are tombs holding same sex couples who have been buried together, in precisely the same manner that conventionally married couples. Although it is true that medieval penitentials condemned homosexual acts, and specified penances for them, these were not severe by the standards of the day. One example decreed two years penance for a monk guilty of sodomy – but three years penance for a priest who went hunting. When the council of London voted to impose harsher penalties for homosexuality, Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury overruled the decision, saying that the offence was mild, and that in any case it was so common, most men were not aware it was an offence. Anselm, please note, is remembered himself for some passionate love letters he wrote to his monastic boyfriends –yet is today known as Saint Anselm. Natural Law, Natural Families. So the argument based on “traditional teaching” simply doesn’t hold water, at least not on the teaching of the first thirteen centuries. What of the argument based on natural law? The original ideas of animal biology that later gave rise to the ideas of “natural law” were simply bizarre.  But there remains a persistent modern idea that same sex relationships are “unnatural”, because the only “natural” sex is geared to procreation. Here, the proposition is easily refuted, simply by looking at sexual customs and practice in a range of human and animal societies. When I do this, I am amazed at the sheer diversity of the patterns I have found. In practice, “natural” sex is simply what a particular society is accustomed to. In classical Rome, if you were a male citizen “natural” sex meant penetrating for pleasure just about anybody under your control: your wife or concubines, your slaves, or your freedmen, (but not to allow yourself to be penetrated).and for procreation, your wife. If you were growing up male in one of a range of New Guinea traditional communities, “natural” sex was involved having your first experience of sex with an older boy. In these communities, it was important to accepting male semen, orally or anally, because it was believed that in this way you would be ingesting the essence of manly virtue. Sex with women was considered debilitating – and so was reserved for older men, who had acquired the skill and strength to withstand the harm. In parts of the Moroccan mountains, Muslim boys in a similar fashion were required to accept the semen of older men to ingest spiritual virtues. In one part of Central Africa, childhood sexual exploration was considered simply natural play – and was watched with amusement by the adults. In traditional Chinese society, there has always been high priority placed on the importance of marriage and family. However, as long as this obligation to procreation is fulfilled, it was commonplace for men, especially nobles and scholars, to have parallel sexual relationships with men. Their wives were not bothered by this, and may even have watched their diversions for their own amusement. There’s no need to remind you of the many different forms of “Greek love”, usually with an older man and a youth in a relationship that was part sexual and part educational. Similar patterns of relationship have been widely found elsewhere. Another Greek pattern was that of pairs of military lovers fighting alongside each other in battle. A combination of the two ideas was deeply embedded in the Japanese Samurai, where older and experienced warriors would take on younger lovers, to bed and to train. Native American societies did not just recognise the existence of homosexual attraction as natural, they particularly honoured individuals who had this orientation as spiritually gifted. The same practice applied in many traditional societies in Africa. In the animal kingdom too, same sex activity has been observed and described in hundreds of different species, including the full range of mammals, birds, reptiles, fishes and even insects. For bonobo chimps, it seems that the most common form of intercourse is of genital rubbing between females. Among elephants and greylag geese, some same sex couples form relationships that may endure longer than heterosexual counterparts. Animal same sex couples are even known to adopt and raise young. There are also several species in which individuals change gender, either permanently or temporarily. So, the claim from the Churches that homosexual relationships are “against nature” are also entirely without foundation. Whatever meaning we can place on “natural” sex, it clearly does not preclude relationships involving a single sex. (This does not make the opposite case that same sex activity is “good” – but it also does not exclude it. On sex, nature is morally neutral) Once again, fact-checking against reality leaves the church’s case invalid. Scripture and the Gospels Queer Values. So, on to the most frequently heard argument, that the Bible “clearly condemns” homosexuality, right? Wrong. The Vatican document  Homosexualitatis Problema states that it is “undeniable” that Scripture is against it.. Well, there they overstep the mark. Some people may agree that Scripture is opposed, but this is clearly not “undeniable” – many reputable scholars and theologians do indeed deny it. Just consider the Episcopalians and Swedish Lutherans, who have consecrated between them three gay or lesbian bishops, or the ECLA, who have removed their ban on ordaining gay pastors in committed sexual relationships, or the British Quakers who formally asked for approval for blessing civil partnerships in religious premises, or the US Presbyterians and Methodists, who are debating similar measures themselves. None of these would have been conceivable, unless they accepted thatat the very least, the traditional assumption that the bible condemns homosexuality is contestable. The Bible was written in a Mediterranean, and later a Hellenistic culture, in a Roman Empire where sex between men was commonplace. Yet, in over 30 000 verses has only half a dozen that even appear to be admonish homosexuals (and even these are debatable). Against this, there are 362 sexual admonishments for  heterosexuals. (That doesn’t mean that God doens’t love heterosexuals. It’s just that they need more supervision – Lynne Lavner). On the other hand there are many biblical passages that are supportive of homoerotic relationships or queer identity. In the Hebrew bible, the longest love stories are those between same sex couples: David and Jonathan, and Ruth and Naomi. You can even make a case that the very first love story is between two males – God and Adam. The prophets Daniel and Nehemiah were probably eunuchs. The Song of Songs may have been written originally between men, and later had pronouns changed. Especially in the Gospels, I find queer values which contradict the religious right arguments based on Biblical “traditional family values”. There is the well known story of the Roman centurion who asked that his “pais” be healed. This is usually translated as “servant”, but in context it is likely that there would have been a sexual relationship. Certainly, those present would have understood that as at least a possibility, but Christ did not hesitate to go to the house.  He never married, surrounded himself with single men and women, and encouraged his followers to leave their families behind and follow Him. So, Scripture too does not offer the unambiguous condemnation that the homophobes claim. Of the three main strands in the religious argument, the claims that underlie them are deeply flawed. To conclude, I want to consider one final claim of the church, which is not so much an underlying argument, but a conclusion – which is equally destructive. The Test of Experience The Catholic Church says that homosexual expression is mere gratuitous self-  indulgence, when leads one away from God. Once again and characteristically, the statement is made without any substantiation. The evidence that in fact exists, suggests quite the opposite conclusion. Empirical research as well as anecdotal evidence from popular stereotypes shows just how far gay men are more likely than others to be drawn to the caring professions, as nurses, teachers, social workers – and in ministry, both professional clergy and lay ministry. The AIDS pandemic was remarkable for  the extensive support networks and outreach services the gay community developed – far in excess, I suspect, than occurred in those countries where it is primarily a heterosexual disease. In my own life, the central irony of my story is that I grew up in a Catholic family and was educated in Catholic schools. I took it for granted that I needed at least to attempt to live within the given rules for sexual conduct, and made that attempt. The result was an early and injudicious marriage, swiftly followed by two young children. As the marriage slowly disintegrated in disastrous fashion, we both drifted away from church observance, and then from any religious belief at all. Later, after the breakdown of the marriage and after I faced my own reality check and came out, I settled down with a male partner – who in time led me back into the church. Operating as a fully out and open gay couple in parish life, I explored more and more deeply Catholic faith and spirituality, particularly in the tradition of Ignatius of Loyola. Since coming to London and participating actively in the Soho Masses, I have gone ever more deeply into Church history and theology. So for me, my experience of living according to invalid Church rules led me slowly away from the faith and the church. Living authentically an honestly in open but conscientious dissent led me back in. The final irony of my experience is that Catholic schooling and practice over half a century in South Africa gave me a deep sense of the social gospel, of fighting for justice, and the importance of setting conscience before human law. Those principles apply to injustice inside the church as to injustice perpetrated by government. So it is , that in setting myself against the evident injustice of church practice and teaching against homoerotic expression, I am simply following through on the faith as it was taught to me.

See also pPrevious posts at QTC:

The Church’s changing tradition

Gay Bishops: How Many?

Catholic Church Ordains Gay Bishop (in 1098)

Saint Paulinus of Nola Saint

Anselm of Canterbury

Secrets & Lies – and uncovering the truth

Homoerotic Christianity: The Medieval Flowering

Some Cross-Dressing Saints and Martyrs

Lest We Forget: the Ashes of Our Martyrs

Natural Law, Natural Families

The Wildlife Rainbow

Queer Bonobos: Sex As Conflict Resolution

Lesbian Lizards

Bisexual Snails

Exclusive Heterosexuality Unnatural?

Natural Law and Laysan’s Albatross

Africa’s Male Wives: Spiritual Guides

Africa’s Female Kings and Husbands

Natural Families: Acquiring Manly Virtue


The Real Sin of Sodom

A New Reading of Leviticus

The Man That Lies With Mankind: Leviticus in Context

The Queer Bible: Beyond Family Values

The Gospels Queer Values

The Beloved Disciple

Sex v Relationships in the Gospels

The Gay Centurion

Magisterium and Scripture

Lutherans, Gay Clergy: Shifting Theology

Excluded From God’s People?

The Sin That Cries out to Heaven For Vengeance

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What IS a Gay Catholic to do? A Question Comes Out of the Closet.

At America blog last week, the Jesuit priest, Fr James Martin opened up a conversation that is well overdue, but which has up to now been conducted only among those most directly affected, or in obscure specialist theological circles: “What”, he asked, “Is a gay Catholic to do?”

Introducing his question, Fr Martin began by observing five actions that most people would regard as standard life experiences or choices, but which are prohibited to gay Catholics if they wish to conform to standard Church teaching.  Briefly, these actions are:

  • To experience  romantic, sexual love
  • To get married
  • To adopt children
  • To seek ordination
  • To take employment with the church or its agencies.


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