05/19/17

Catholic School Teacher Says Students Outed Him As Gay — Then He Was Fired

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Former St. Ignatius teacher Matt Tedeschi was fired from the prestigious Catholic high school after students “outed” him as gay.

By Stephanie Lulay

A religion teacher at one of the city’s most prestigious private high schools said he was harassed and threatened by students after they found his online dating profile — and then he was fired by the school.

Matt Tedeschi, who taught religious studies at St. Ignatius College Prep in Little Italy, said students found out he was gay and “outed” him to the rest of the school — then went on to harass him about his sexual orientation in the classroom and on social media. 

Tedeschi, who taught for about four years at the school, said he believes he was then fired because his sexual orientation conflicts with some Catholic teachings, and the incident — and ensuing gossip — embarrassed top leaders at the elite school. He was slated to be considered for tenure in the fall. 

“In this place that prides itself on being a value-based school and teaches us to care for the vulnerable and marginalized, it’s precisely the same religious basis that allows horrible harassment to take place,” he said. 

In a statement released Thursday, St. Ignatius leaders said Tedeschi was not fired from school because of his sexual orientation. Previously, St. Ignatius administrators declined to directly address Tedeschi’s firing and subsequent allegations, but said that the teacher “was treated fairly” by the school’s administrators. 

“Saint Ignatius College Prep must respect the confidentiality of the term of employment of its present and former faculty and staff members,” school spokesman Ryan Bergin said in a statement. “Although I cannot comment on Mr. Tedeschi’s claims regarding his prior employment at Saint Ignatius College Prep, I can assure you that he was treated fairly at all times by the administration of the school, and we wish him all the best in his future career.” 

‘Outed’ by students 

Tedeschi, who was raised in the Catholic faith and graduated from Marist High School, a coed Catholic high school in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood, studied religion at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign before earning a master’s degree in biblical studies from Yale Divinity School. In August 2013, he was hired to teach religious studies at St. Ignatius, the school he had dreamed of going to when he was a teen.  

“In a lot of ways, I fell in love with it all over again when I became a teacher there,” said Tedeschi, 31. “I was really pleasantly surprised by how bright these [students] are.” 

Two years ago, the school expanded Tedeschi’s responsibilities, and he began teaching French classes in addition to religion classes. 

“Matt was known as being a really tough teacher, but he was really good” at his job, a former colleague said. “Most of the kids really enjoyed him — he was very smart, witty.” 

And while Tedeschi described the students as generally “very polite,” his experience at the school changed in February 2016, when a student “outed” him to the student body after finding Tedeschi’s profile on OKCupid, an online dating website. 

Tedeschi had never discussed his sexual orientation in the classroom, he said, and the online dating profile did not list his name or that he was a teacher at the school. The profile, which said he is interested in men, features three photos, including one which portrayed him shirtless. 

There is no explicit content. 

“Never once did I think a high schooler would be on it,” he said of the dating website for those 18 and older. Other teachers at St. Ignatius have online dating profiles, he said, including profiles on OKCupid. 

“Everyone should have the right to a private life,” Tedeschi said. 

After discovering the dating profile, the St. Ignatius student texted screenshots of Tedeschi’s profile to several other St. Ignatius students, and it spread across campus. 

“He ‘outed’ me to a bunch of students. He knew that he was making fun of me and insulting me,” Tedeschi said. “He wanted to embarrass me.” 

Discussing the profile in a group text message that Tedeschi obtained screenshots of, one student wrote: “Wow. This is SOOO juicy.” 

“He was sort of cyberbulled by some of our students,” said one of Tedeschi’s former colleagues who spoke on the condition of anonymity. 

A ‘horrible’ environment 

When Tedeschi found out the student had seen his profile, he said he told two administrators hoping they would take action to stop the bullying from students. At first, the administrators “were supportive,” he said, and brought the issue to St. Ignatius Principal Brianna Latko. Tedeschi talked to the students after the incident, but the students were ultimately not punished, he said. Latko did not respond to emails seeking comment.

“It was a horrible environment for me,” he said, and students continued to harass him. 

In April 2016, one of Tedeschi’s students went on a 16-tweet tirade about him, writing on Twitter: “Let’s not forget I have screenshots that can end you.” The student attached a photo from Tedeschi’s dating profile.

Tedeschi said the student’s tweet was “public blackmail” and “a threat” that declared Tedeschi could be fired because he is gay. 

Tedeschi brought the student’s tweets to the principal, and asked for him to be punished. The student received two Saturday detentions, Tedeschi said.

“It was a slap on the wrist,” he said. 

Tedeschi said administrators could have prevented “the culture of harassment.”

“They were just watching it play out,” he said. “I was having anxiety attacks before I went to class. It just completely undermined my authority as a teacher and made me feel small. … This unnecessarily pitted me against my students, which never should have been the case.” 

The harassment from students continued to happen in his classroom this school year, Tedeschi alleged, but he continued teaching. 

Then, during a class this spring, a student unexpectedly shared sensitive information involving other students. Tedeschi said he didn’t know the student was going to share the information, told her she should report it to the administration and also reported the incident himself to a counselor at the school. 

Latko subsequently called Tedeschi out of class to discuss the incident, and reprimanded him for “allowing the discussion to go on,” he claimed. St. Ignatius administrators declined to answer questions about the incident. 

Later that week, in March, the principal informed Tedeschi that St. Ignatius was not going to renew his contract. 

The school gave him the opportunity to finish out the school year, but after he discussed his departure with a colleague, the school called him to say that his employment was being terminated immediately. In exchange for the rest of his salary he would have earned over the semester, school administrators urged him to sign a nondisclosure agreement, but Tedeschi declined, he said. 

Tedeschi said he was told he was being fired because he showed poor judgment posting photos online and didn’t stop the classroom conversation involving the sensitive information. He said he was also told he was negative and undermined authority — although administrators declined to elaborate to him on these charges or provide further details in writing.

He said that no one told him directly that he was fired because of his sexual orientation.

St. Ignatius administrators declined to answer DNAinfo’s questions about why Tedeschi was fired, but in a statement released Thursday said the teacher was not fired because of his sexual orientation.

Tedeschi contends he received positive reviews from the school’s leaders in his four years at St. Ignatius, and his employee file contained no disciplinary complaints. 

Tedeschi said he believes he was really fired because he is gay and the school was embarrassed by the “outing” and subsequent fallout. He also believes the school administrators fired him “in retaliation” for complaining about the harassment he experienced at the school.  

St. Ignatius administrators declined to answer general questions about the school’s hiring practices, specifically whether they hire, and allow, gay teachers to work at the school. 

“The questions that you raise touch upon issues that are taken seriously by our school,” Bergin said in a statement. “Saint Ignatius College Prep has as its core mission a diverse community dedicated to educating young men and women for lives of faith, love, service and leadership. Through outstanding teaching and personal formation, the school challenges its talented student body to intellectual excellence, integrity, and life-long learning and growth. Inspired by the gospel of Jesus Christ, this community strives to use God’s gifts to promote social justice for the greater glory of God.”

Tedeschi said that he was “outed” to the school through no fault of his own and that if St. Ignatius doesn’t want to hire gay teachers, the school’s policies should explicitly express that. While the Jesuit school is part of a “more open-minded order,” some leaders at the school believe that same-sex relationships conflict with Catholic teachings, he said. 

“It’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, because they are worried about negative fallout,” he said. “I never would have taken this job if I thought this could happen to me.” 

St. Ignatius has other gay faculty members and gay students, but it’s “kind of hush-hush,” Tedeschi’s former colleague said. 

“I don’t think he was necessarily targeted [from the beginning] because he was a homosexual male, but because there was too much attention being called on Matt being gay,” the source said. “It was creating too much trouble” for the administration, the former colleague said. 

“The fact that he was fired still leaves me scratching my head,” his former colleague said. At a school that preaches social justice, “Matt tried to advocate for himself, and he was [reprimanded] for it until he was told to leave.” 

Tedeschi’s firing comes after black students raised questions about “serious racial problems” at the private school last year. 

In September 2015, a St. Ignatius College Prep teacher was placed on administrative leave after allegations of “inappropriate conduct” surfaced at the school. That teacher no longer teaches at St. Ignatius, according to school sources.

Legal action? 

Since his firing, Tedeschi said he is exploring legal options to fight his termination, and he wrote an open letter to the Ignatius community that he posted online.

Juan Perea, a Loyola University law professor who specializes in employment law, said religious institutions are afforded some employment exemptions under the law, including a ministerial exemption that states that churches and other religious institutions can discriminate against others in favor of hiring Catholics over non-Catholics, for example.

Under the exemption, ministers are not protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that an employer can’t hire or fire a person based on an individual’s “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” 

By the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s definition, ministers can include employees “that conduct religious ritual, worship or instruction.” 

Under federal law, it is a relatively new finding that sexual orientation can count as a form of sex discrimination, Perea said. For decades, the federal circuit courts regularly rejected claims of LGBTQ discrimination under Title VI. 

But the U.S. EEOC’s view of sex discrimination began to change under the Obama administration, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit — the court that governs Chicago — agreed last month that a lesbian professor can bring a lawsuit against her former employer Ivy Tech Community College. 

“The law is changing right now on all of these issues,” he said. 

A private, coed Jesuit high school, St. Ignatius College Prep was founded in 1869.

Matt Tedeschi's Open Letter to the St Ignatius Community by DNAinfo Chicago on Scribd

Complete Article HERE!

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04/16/17

Married LGBT older adults are healthier, happier than singles, study finds

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Same-sex marriage has been the law of the land for nearly two years — and in some states for even longer — but researchers can already detect positive health outcomes among couples who have tied the knot, a University of Washington study finds.

For years, studies have linked marriage with happiness among heterosexual couples. But a study from the UW School of Social Work is among the first to explore the potential benefits of marriage among LGBT couples. It is part of a national, groundbreaking longitudinal study with a representative sample of LGBT older adults, known as “Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, Sexuality/Gender Study,” which focuses on how historical, environmental, psychological, behavioral, social and biological factors are associated with health, aging and quality of life.

UW researchers found that LGBT study participants who were married reported better physical and mental health, more social support and greater financial resources than those who were single. The findings were published in a February special supplement of The Gerontologist.

“In the nearly 50 years since Stonewall, same-sex marriage went from being a pipe dream to a legal quagmire to reality — and it may be one of the most profound changes to social policy in recent history,” said lead author Jayn Goldsen, research study supervisor in the UW School of Social Work.

Some 2.7 million adults ages 50 and older identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender — a number that is expected to nearly double by 2060.

Among LGBT people, marriage increased noticeably after a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. A 2016 Gallup Poll found that 49 percent of cohabiting gay couples were married, up from 38 percent before the ruling.

For the UW study, more than 1,800 LGBT people, ages 50 and older, were surveyed in 2014 in locations where gay marriage was already legal (32 states and Washington, D.C.). About one-fourth were married, another fourth were in a committed relationship, and half were single. Married respondents had spent an average of 23 years together, while those in a committed, unmarried relationship had spent an average of 16 years. Among the study participants, more women were married than men, and of the respondents who were married, most identified as non-Hispanic white.

Researchers found that, in general, participants in a relationship, whether married or in a long-term partnership, showed better health outcomes than those who were single. But those who were married fared even better, both socially and financially, than couples in unmarried, long-term partnerships. Single LGBT adults were more likely to have a disability; to report lower physical, psychological, social and environmental quality of life; and to have experienced the death of a partner, especially among men. The legalization of gay marriage at the federal level opens up access to many benefits, such as tax exemptions and Social Security survivor benefits that married, straight couples have long enjoyed. But that does not mean every LGBT couple was immediately ready to take that step.

According to Goldsen, marriage, for many older LGBT people, can be something of a conundrum — even a non-starter. LGBT seniors came of age at a time when laws and social exclusion kept many in the closet. Today’s unmarried couples may have made their own legal arrangements and feel that they don’t need the extra step of marriage — or they don’t want to participate in a traditionally heterosexual institution.

Goldsen also pointed to trends in heterosexual marriage: Fewer people are getting married, and those who do, do so later.

“More older people are living together and thinking outside the box. This was already happening within the LGBT community — couples were living together, but civil marriage wasn’t part of the story,” she said.

The different attitudes among older LGBT people toward marriage is something service providers, whether doctors, attorneys or tax professionals, should be aware of, Goldsen said. Telling a couple they should get married now simply because they can misses the individual nature of the choice.

“Service providers need to understand the historical context of this population,” she said. “Marriage isn’t for everyone. It is up to each person, and there are legal, financial and potentially societal ramifications.” For example, among the women in the study, those who were married were more likely to report experiencing bias in the larger community.

At the same time, Goldsen said, single LGBT older adults do not benefit from the marriage ruling, and other safeguards, such as anti-discrimination laws in employment, housing and public accommodations, are still lacking at the federal level.

Over time, Goldsen and colleagues will continue to examine the influence of same-sex marriage policy on partnership status and health.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Aging. Other researchers were Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, Amanda Bryan, Hyun-Jun Kim and Sarah Jen in the UW School of Social Work; and Anna Muraco of Loyola Marymount University.

Complete Article HERE!

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04/14/17

Glenstal monk urges church to change attitude on sexual ethics

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Fr Mark Patrick Hederman calls for church to modernise its approach to sexuality

Fr Mark Patrick Hederman: “It is surely time to take a more comprehensive approach to the ethics of sexual behaviour.”

The Catholic Church’s “stifling teachings on sex” need to be dramatically modernised, a Benedictine monk has said.

Fr Mark Patrick Hederman, the former abbot of Glenstal in Limerick, said the church also needs to address its subjugation of women and open a national discussion on sex, celibacy and ethics.

He said the progressive attitude shown by the nation in the marriage equality referendum have not been reflected in all parts of society.

“Now that we have legislated for gay marriage and accepted the fact that sexuality does happen for reasons other than procreation; now that we also recognise that some of the most heinous sexual crimes have been perpetrated within the ‘sanctity’ of marriage; it is surely time to take a more comprehensive approach to the ethics of sexual behaviour,” he said.

“Every or any sexual activity can be good or evil, and the act itself right through to the moment of orgasm is always somewhere on a spectrum between selfish egotism and altruistic communion.”

Fr Hederman (72), a former headmaster in Glenstal Abbey, said that for centuries sex in Ireland was only talked about in the context of “the natural law of God and confined to religious discourse”.

Reality check

However, he believes the time has come to have a greater conversation and for the church to have “a reality check” on its ideals.

In relation to a person’s emotional or sexual life, he said in the past it was as if the church felt such a life did not exist.

“It was presumed that it arrived fully fledged in the marriage bed, the only location where its practice was permitted. Even the most basic courses on love-making teach that a man has to train himself to prevent orgasm occurring prematurely before it can be shared with his partner.

“This does not come naturally. On the contrary, the natural orgasm and ejection of sperm for a man is unencumbered and immediate. That is the biological way, the optimum performance in terms of procreation and reproduction of the species.

“Lovers have to learn, discipline themselves, and gain a control which will help them to be sexual in a way that makes them sensitively reciprocal. Otherwise sexuality is the tool of selfish individuality and autistic monologue,” he writes.

Rejected lifestyles

Fr Hederman is a prolific author and his latest book, The Opal and the Pearl, is published this week and calls for a more modernised attitude from the church on sex. The book takes its title from a letter from James Joyce to Nora Barnacle in 1909.

In it, he writes that Catholics who wish to remain “conservative and old-fashioned”, should avoid being “sectarian and supportive of values and lifestyles which have been rejected by the majority of 21st-century families.

“Otherwise we are categorised as out-of-date leftovers from a previous era, such as the Amish communities in America and Canada.”

Fr Hederman said that while he believes in celibacy and the condition of Christian chastity, “I don’t believe that everyone who wants to devote their life to God should be required to be celibate.”
He said the progressive attitude shown by the nation in the marriage equality referendum have not been reflected in all parts of society.

“Now that we have legislated for gay marriage and accepted the fact that sexuality does happen for reasons other than procreation; now that we also recognise that some of the most heinous sexual crimes have been perpetrated within the ‘sanctity’ of marriage; it is surely time to take a more comprehensive approach to the ethics of sexual behaviour,” he said.

“Every or any sexual activity can be good or evil, and the act itself right through to the moment of orgasm is always somewhere on a spectrum between selfish egotism and altruistic communion.”

Complete Article HERE!

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04/10/17

The Queerest Week –Palm Sunday 2017

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By Rev. Dr. Robert E. Shore-Goss

I have written queer theology for the last 27 years, and I now write about a period of 8 days, the queerest days that I can imagine. I am speaking from the moment that Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on a donkey to God’s resurrection of Jesus from the death.

Now let me dispel a notion: I am not writing about LGBTQI concerns, they are included but not the focus this morning. Queer theory and queer stories focus usually on LGBTQI concerns and inclusion in history, but I am speaking about God’s dream for life and humanity, and that dream is very queer. It is God’s unconditional grace and love for creation and all life.

Let me define queer for a moment. To “queer” is to interfere or disrupt. It is to transgress exclusive categories, notions, boundaries, and all boxes. I queer Christianity because it has remained exclusive, often violent and oppressive of someone or some life. Queering exclusiveness is to interfere and spoil exclusiveness and make it more inclusive.

My colleague and friend Rev. Dr. Patrick Cheng, understands queering as eliding dualism. Dualism is a destruction form of binary thinking used by dominant theologies, church leaders and politicians. It separates the world into male and female, culture and nature, the have and have-not, human and non-human, and so. For Patrick, God’s love is queer because it elides such thinking and behaviors. Dr. Justin Tanis comprehends queer as dawn or dusk, that liminal or ambiguous space between night and day. My deceased theologian and friend speaks of indecent and perverse. In Luke’s gospel, the Temple high priests bring a charge against Jesus before Pilate: “This man has perverted the nation.”

I have engaged with God’s Christ in Jesus of Nazareth. God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit have made me “queer” and more so over time. I describe myself as “a queer seeker of God and disciple of an even queerer God.” Jesus laid the foundations of ministry and message of the companionship of empowerment or kindom of God as a “topsy-turvy and upside-down kindom. He opens God’s table to everyone and upsets nearly every religious Jew of his time. Just listen to the parables of Jesus—the Good Samaritan, the prodigal son, the mustard seed, the baker woman who sneaks leaven into 50 pounds of flour, and so on. They provoke and disrupt religious exclusivism that reserves God’s grace and favor for the chosen “holy.”

My often quoted author, Diarmuid O’Murchu, calls the parables as “enlightened confusion.”

The story Jesus told them turned their world upside-down,
Bombarding every certainty they knew.
The boundaries were disrupted,
Their sacred creeds corrupted,
Every hope they had constructed,
Was questioned to the core!
By the story ended,
Stretching meaning so distended,
What they had known for long before.

O’Murchu speaks about Jesus’ parables. But what if we understand the gospel stories of Jesus as a parable about God? God is queering in the story of Jesus on a massive and unprecedented scale, not since the big bang. God has incarnated in a human being—such a queer and scandalous notion. God is queering and communicating a thoroughly queer and radically inclusive love. All are beloved—all humanity, all life, and all creation. No on is left behind or out.

Let me point out the queer highlights of this week:

For Jesus, God was a king unlike all kings and rulers. God’s rule was “queer,” meaning “not fitting in, strange, at odds with, out of place, disruptive, blasphemous, revolutionary, dangerous, outside the box, or my word “mischievous.” It is a topsy-turvy non-ruling but luring us through unconditional gift and love. God’s strategy is never coercive but always luring us through unconditional grace and love.

The Temple high priest and his colleagues brought Jesus before Pilate with the charges: “He perverted the nation.” Here “perverted” means inverting religious values, hierarchies, breaking all sorts of purity codes and religious laws for the sake of compassion. Jesus was always out of place; a peasant was meant to be quiet and subservient to the rulers of the Temple. Jesus spoke out compassion and was not afraid to break religious rules to extend God’s compassion.
Let’s examine today’s gospel a little more carefully. Unfortunately, the distribution of palms on Palm Sunday has become a spiritual blessing for us today. Many Christians tie up their palms into a bow and hang the palm crosses in their homes. And I am not opposed to anyone doing so if you determine to ask God to make you a bit queerer. But Palm Sunday has a deeper meaning than just the palms. Jesus rides on donkey into Jerusalem accompanied by a ragtag group of male and female disciples.

Jesus enters Jerusalem or to use biblical scholar Warren Carter’s phrase “making an Ass of Rome:” The conflict between Jesus and Pilate begins the day that Jesus enters in Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and praised as the “Son of David.”

Roman entrances into city were always triumphant. No red carpets, but soldiers trumpeting, followed by cadence war drums sounding the entrance of the conquering hero. In this case, it was Pilate who represented the triumphant Roman Empire and Emperor Tiberius. Days before Pilate rode on a war horse from the sea resort of Caesarea followed by marching his Roman legionnaires with standards, Pilate entered Jerusalem as conqueror and made it clear to the populace that the Rome was in charge of their city and their lives. They paraded and displayed extravagantly the power of Tiberius Caesar and Rome. It communicates Roman greatness and military power, reminding the crowds that they were conquered by the powerful Roman legions—the greatest power in the world blessed by the Gods. Augustine was the true Son of god Apollo, and the savior of the world.

But Jesus intends to literally make an ass of Pilate and Rome. He choreographs his own dramatic and symbolic entrance into Jerusalem. He queers some of the Roman ritual entry or rather mischievously reframes them as symbolic challenges. His entrance into Jerusalem reminds the Jews of their religious history in which God enters the holy city to serve, not dominate. He chooses an ass, not a war horse in which Pilate rode into the city. Matthew remembers the line from the prophet Zechariah: “Tell the daughter of Zion, your king is coming on an ass”(9:9). The rest of the verse states that your king comes triumphant and victorious, and humble riding an ass.

Jesus is recognized not as a king but more likely anti-king. He teaches humility, non-violence, compassion and love, forgiveness, and peace-making, empowerment through mutuality and service, not conquest and domination. God’s community is constituted by a new a kinship as children of God—not be wealth, prestige, gender, or ethnicity. It is constituted by God as Abba, our parent in love with all and equally. And God lives within us and in our midst.
Another example of this last week of Jesus’ life that reveals God’s queer activity among people as empowering mutual companionship is the Last Supper. Companionship is created when we share food together, and we eat with God in our midst. Companionship was based on exclusion but gathering together to eat with God and one another.

I want you to remember the video from Centering Prayer this morning, Eating Twinkies with God. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9N8OXkN0Rk It expresses the incarnational vision of the Last Supper and Jesus’ ministry of eating together with God and finding God present.

There is no question that for Jesus the Last Supper had to be open and inclusive. I cannot accept the readings of the Last Supper as an exclusive meal. It goes against the very queer nature of who Jesus was and who God is. People from the highways and byways were to be invited into the meals. It was populated with diversity: outcasts, prostitutes, abominable people, tax collectors, those folks that terrify Pharisees and Christians alike. He did not moralize, berate them how to change their lives, or threaten them that could not share the table if they did not change their ways.

In Christianity’s Dangerous Memory, Diarmuid O’Murchu describes Jesus’ parables, healings, and ministry. The description is equally applicable to his meals and his to Last Supper:

They defy the criteria of normalcy and stretch creative imagination toward subversive, revolutionary engagement. They threaten major disruption for a familiar manageable world, and lure the hearer (participant) into a risky enterprise, but one that has promise and hope inscribed in every fiber of the dangerous endeavor.

There were no hierarchies at table, no one in charge and in power. There were only those who voluntarily served others, gladly washed the feet of their companions, who assisted folks at table to heal from the years of religious abuse and oppression. And God was mischievously present through each other. Jesus encouraged them to dream a future with hope, with God with shared resources and the abundance of food created by the companions of the bread and the cup.
Jesus’ Last Supper, like all his meals, undid social ordinary patterns and hierarchical behaviors, introducing people into a new egalitarianism, an equality before one another and God. No Roman official like Pilate would ever serve food to another person, especially with a male lesser of status or serve even his wife. No religious Jew would invite men and women together at table, suspected impurity and sinfulness.

And then there is the radical service of Jesus at table that evening– washing the feet of his male and female disciples. This was the service of only household slaves or women. No free male would do such a washing service because it demeaned his masculinity and patriarchal authority. Jesus turns the social hierarchies inside out, breaking down the gender boundaries and social hierarchies. There is only table fellowship of mutual service and equals, revering those who were the socially least, and inviting the disciples to imitate Jesus in his act of foot-washing.

Finally, Jesus dies a cruel death inflicted by the powers of imperial domination and religious exclusivism, always an unholy marriage of violence. It is an ultimate queering of human expectation, God’s vulnerability and suffering on the cross. God understood vulnerability in the incarnated Christ on the cross, and God identified with the suffering Christ and the least and vulnerable humanity and life in history. We have no comprehension of the depths of God’s suffering for all suffering life, but we do have a window into the depth of God when Jesus told his disciples: “Be compassionate as Abba God is compassionate.” Abba God suffered and died with Christ out of compassion, for God has suffered with all suffering life and human life. God the Creator becomes vulnerable and experience suffering the incarnated Christ on the cross and the Holy Spirit that groans and suffers with all created life. This is the queerest notion of God in history—God who becomes vulnerable and experiencing suffering. God is with us in so many unimaginable ways.

But the queer God surprised all of us. God said “no” to such violence and cruelty, God proclaimed a “yes to unconditional love” on Easter Sunday. Next Sunday I will speak how the queer God queers death for resurrected life!

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03/10/17

The priest who welcomed the LGBT community into his church

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By Michael Cox

Seamus O’Boyle was leader of London’s gay Catholic Mass for six years, until it came to an end under pressure from the Vatican in 2013. Now a parish priest in the borough, Monsignor O’Boyle speaks to Michael Cox about the bittersweet feeling of helping a hurt community which was again cast aside, and the changing attitudes of the Church to LGBT people.

In April 1999 neo-Nazi David Copeland, known as the London Nail Bomber, killed three people in the Admiral Duncan Pub on Old Compton Street, at the heart of London’s gay community.

“After the pub bombing in Soho where people got killed, there was a group of gay Catholic men and women who wanted somewhere to pray,” says Monsignor Seamus O’Boyle. But the Church’s teachings forbade this.

“They started gathering together in an Anglican church to have Catholic Mass. That was a bit of an anomaly really, to put it mildly.”

Eight years later Mgr O’Boyle was Vicar General, a senior position in the Church which made him responsible for every priest in London. He had an opportunity to do something.

He decided that after what the community had suffered, he wanted LGBT Catholics to worship in a Catholic setting.

“The move was to try and make sure this was happening in a Catholic parish instead, and that it was open to everyone.

“We looked for a church and it was decided that we would use Our Lady of the Assumption on Warwick Street in Soho. I was appointed as the parish priest so I was responsible for what went on, in the sense of having an oversight of what was going on there.

“I was blamed for it all, being reported to Rome every five minutes.

The blame came from more conservative Catholics who did not want to see homosexuality being publicly welcomed by the Church. The furore over an officially sanctioned gay Mass began immediately.

“It was a wonderful thing to be able to reach out to that community. It was a very hurt community by the Church, and yet there they were wanting to be part of it. I think we did a very good thing by allowing that to happen, but others didn’t feel that way.

“More traditional Catholics didn’t like it much. There was a group who used to meet outside and protest, saying the rosary. It was just horrendous, really. And then writing every five minutes to Rome to tell them that we were doing this atrocious thing. All kinds of ministry of disinformation, it was awful.

“Sometimes the group didn’t help by reacting in a bad way to some of the criticism and trying to reign them in a bit was not always easy. The group meeting outside was always invited in, you know, ‘come in and see that we’ve not got two heads’.

“Actually it was a very traditional celebration of mass, just that there happened to be a lot of musicians…

“To go to a Mass on a Sunday evening and have 150 people there who wanted to be there and participate in that way was just extraordinary. It was causing more and more trouble, every five minutes there was another complaint so the Archbishop wanted to find a different way of operating it.”

The Archbishop at the time was Vincent Nichols, and as leader of all Catholics in England and Wales he was responsible for dealing with the Vatican and, ultimately, the Pope.

He shut down the Soho Mass in 2013, saying it conflicted with the church’s teachings on sexuality.

Archbishop Nichols told the BBC at the time: “The moral teaching of the Church is that the proper use of our sexual faculty is within a marriage, between a man and a woman, open to the procreation and nurturing of new human life.

“This means that many types of sexual activity, including same-sex sexual activity, are not consistent with the teaching of the church.”

The Mass was moved out of the jurisdiction of the Archbishop into a Jesuit church on Farm Street in Mayfair, where it has continued.

“A number of the Jesuit priests were involved in the Soho masses so it seemed like a natural progression,” says Mgr O’Boyle. “It’s still thriving.

“The problem with Warwick Street was it is a very tiny community, so that particular group swamped it. Farm Street is a much bigger community so to get them to mix has worked well. It means they’re not the only thing that’s happening.”

Mgr O’Boyle believes that despite initial approval from the Vatican, the Archbishop came under increasing pressure from the top of the church to end the LGBT Mass.

“Every step along the way, there was discussion with bishops, then Rome was involved and they were notified about what was going on. They were informed about it, it wasn’t like we were doing anything behind anyone’s back. But it wasn’t appreciated by everyone.

“[Archbishop Nichols] would go to meetings in Rome in all he would hear about was who had written to complain about Soho Mass, it became ridiculous and out of proportion. He was irritated by the reaction from Rome, so it was a neat way to bring it to an end at Warwick Street.

“And then I moved from there to here in Islington.”

Mgr O’Boyle thinks the attitude to LGBT people in the Catholic Church is changing, a shift largely driven by the actions of an unusually liberal Pope.

“Pope Francis has given people hope that the church doesn’t seem quite so judgemental or dictatorial about things.

“He was interviewed [about homosexuality] and famously said “who am I to judge?” To hear a Pope say that when others seem to have been very judgemental and harsh was a real sign of hope for the LGBT community I think.

“He’s trying to modernise the church but he’s up against it. He needs to do it, which I think is why he’s right for his time.

“He doesn’t care what he does really which is great – he’s the Pope isn’t he? He can do what he likes.

“I think there are those who would like to stop him doing what he’s doing – the establishment would. Centuries-old structures of bureaucracy are not easy to break down.

“But I think he’s been a breath of fresh air for the Church.”

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