08/13/16

Is God Transgender?

By

whichever

In the 1970s a cousin of mine, Paula Grossman, became one of the first people in America to undergo sex-reassignment surgery. As Paul Monroe Grossman, Cousin Paula had been a beloved music teacher in New Jersey. She was fired after her surgery, and she subsequently lost her lawsuit for wrongful termination based on sex discrimination (though a court did rule that she could receive a disability pension). The story was all over the news back then; I’d like to think it would have ended differently today.

Forty years after the Supreme Court refused to hear Paula’s appeal in 1976, the transgender story is still unfolding. This month, a transgender high school student in Virginia lost the right to use the restroom of his choice when the Supreme Court temporarily blocked a lower court’s order. Still, for the first time it is possible to imagine a ruling from a fully seated Supreme Court to comprehensively outlaw discrimination against transgender people. There is real reason to be hopeful, even if social prejudices don’t disappear overnight.

I’m a rabbi, and so I’m particularly saddened whenever religious arguments are brought in to defend social prejudices — as they often are in the discussion about transgender rights. In fact, the Hebrew Bible, when read in its original language, offers a highly elastic view of gender. And I do mean highly elastic: In Genesis 3:12, Eve is referred to as “he.” In Genesis 9:21, after the flood, Noah repairs to “her” tent. Genesis 24:16 refers to Rebecca as a “young man.” And Genesis 1:27 refers to Adam as “them.”

Surprising, I know. And there are many other, even more vivid examples: In Esther 2:7, Mordecai is pictured as nursing his niece Esther. In a similar way, in Isaiah 49:23, the future kings of Israel are prophesied to be “nursing kings.”

Why would the Bible do this? These aren’t typos. In the ancient world, well-expressed gender fluidity was the mark of a civilized person. Such a person was considered more “godlike.” In Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, the gods were thought of as gender-fluid, and human beings were considered reflections of the gods. The Israelite ideal of the “nursing king” seems to have been based on a real person: a woman by the name of Hatshepsut who, after the death of her husband, Thutmose II, donned a false beard and ascended the throne to become one of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs.

The Israelites took the transgender trope from their surrounding cultures and wove it into their own sacred scripture. The four-Hebrew-letter name of God, which scholars refer to as the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, was probably not pronounced “Jehovah” or “Yahweh,” as some have guessed. The Israelite priests would have read the letters in reverse as Hu/Hi — in other words, the hidden name of God was Hebrew for “He/She.” Counter to everything we grew up believing, the God of Israel — the God of the three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions to which fully half the people on the planet today belong — was understood by its earliest worshipers to be a dual-gendered deity.

Scientists now tell us that gender identity, like sexual orientation, exists on a spectrum. Some of us are in greater or lesser alignment with the gender assigned to us at birth. Some of us are in alignment with both, or with neither. For others of us, alignment requires more of a process.

It may come as a surprise that scientists view gender as anything other than a simple binary. But thousands of years ago, as a review of ancient literature makes clear, that truth was known. In court challenges, administrative directives and popular culture, the issue is playing out in real time, before our eyes. But behind the unfolding legal drama lies the reality of human nature: the fact that gender is not, nor has it ever been, a matter of “either/or.”

Gender, as Cousin Paula might have put it, is more like music: Each of us has a key and a range with which we are most comfortable. Attuned to ourselves and to one another, we can find happiness and harmony.

Complete Article HERE!

08/13/16

Reflections at a Funeral

By Gabriel Daly OSA

As we laid Seán Fagan to rest after all the suffering and injustice inflicted on him by the leaders of his own church, it became all too evident how divided the Catholic Church has become in Ireland and how so little is being done to heal the wounds of our internal divisions, and this at a time when the church is in grievous difficulties – many of its own making.

Fr Seán Fagan was widely admired and respected as a courageous theologian and compassionate pastor.

Fr Seán Fagan was widely admired and respected as a courageous theologian and compassionate pastor.

Socio-politically it has fallen from a great height, when it was a power in the land and its authority was unquestioned. However, the Holy Spirit is more likely to be listened to in the Irish Catholic Church now that it has been deprived of its privileged national status and has become a humiliated and insecure organization badly in need of public acceptance.

The presence of a bishop at Seán’s funeral would have been a golden occasion to express metanoia and the readiness to respond more sensitively to the the message of the Gospel. It would have meant so much to his family. It would have given witness to the triumph of Gospel values over institutional church attitudes. Regrettably no bishop was present. I believe that this omission was not personal; it was institutional. There were almost certainly several bishops who would have been glad to be there, but something prevented it. One wonders what and why?

It is highly probable that many bishops knew that the Roman Curia had behaved in a thoroughly unjust and unchristian fashion when it attacked six Irish priests who were giving admirable and enlightened service to God’s People. No bishop expressed public disapproval of what was happening, or came to the defence of priests who were being treated so appallingly by men who would have described themselves, somewhat implausibly, as Christians.

The Second Vatican Council made it very clear that diocesan bishops take precedence over curial bureaucrats, even those of prelatical rank. It would mean so much to many Catholics – to say nothing about the victims of curial injustice – if our bishops and religious superiors were to come to the defence of fellow Catholics being treated with no regard for justice or human rights. It would go far to heal the breach between the bishops and those Catholics who are looking for change in their church and receiving no understanding or encouragement from their pastors.

It cannot be said too often that peace, unity and friendship in the church do not depend on agreement about matters that do not belong to the essence of the faith. What the Gospel prescribes is willingness to live together in peace, friendship and respect for ideas and attitudes that one cannot share, and finally, if possible, even to be open to the desirability of reform.

Could our bishops not respect the value of diversity in the church and whole-heartedly reciprocate the offer of groups like the ACP to work in friendship, rather than to meet in polite formality. Pope Francis is leading with words of mercy and healing. Why are we not following?

Complete Article HERE!

08/12/16

Catholic bishops ‘don’t get it’—the fundamental problem is a corrupt clerical culture

By Phil Lawler

bishops

“Who is going to save our Church? Do not look to the priests. Do not look to the bishops. It’s up to you, the laity, to remind our priests to be priests and our bishops to be bishops.”
– Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Archbishop Sheen was right, as usual. Our pastors cannot lead us out of the current crisis in the Catholic Church, because they, as a group, do not recognize the nature of the crisis. In fact, despite the abundant evidence all around us, they are not prepared to admit that there is a crisis. They do not see the problem, because they are the problem.

The crisis is—let’s speak plainly—a crisis of clerical corruption. Our priests and especially our bishops have failed as Church leaders, because they adopted the wrong standards of leadership. They are using the wrong yardsticks to measure success and failure. And this clerical system tends to perpetuate itself: bishops train and promote priests who adopt the same skewed standards.

(It should be obvious, I hope, that I am making sweeping generalizations. There are many exemplary priests, and some of them become fine bishops. But the most energetic and evangelical clerics, I would argue, rise to leadership despite a system that rewards timidity and complacency. Individual priests may be holy men, but the clerical system is corrupt. By that I mean that while there are both good men and bad men in the system—as in any human institution—the good men are unable to establish control and institute reform.)

In June 2002, I was one of the scores of reporters covering the historic Dallas meeting of the US bishops’ conference. With the sex-abuse scandal at its peak, and ugly new stories exploding across the headlines every day, the atmosphere crackled with a sense of urgency, if not outright panic. The American bishops were under intense public pressure to take decisive action, and they did; the “Dallas Charter” was born. Even before they left Dallas, the bishops were proclaiming the Charter a great leap forward in the handling of sexual abuse, congratulating themselves for their achievement.

But the reporters who covered that event had a very different perspective. Because of the unprecedented media interest, the scores of journalists were set up in a separate hotel ballroom, watching the proceedings of the bishops’ meeting on a video screen. As the bishops’ discussions ran on, reporters naturally talked to each other, exchanging thoughts on the event. We quickly found that we all essentially agreed. Never in my career as a journalist have I seen such unanimity among the reporters covering a controversial event. Writers from conservative or liberal publications, from Catholic or secular media outlets, experienced hands and newcomers to the religion beat—all were saying the same thing. We were all shaking our heads and telling each other: “They don’t get it.”

Now think about that for a moment. Today the Dallas Charter is touted by Church leaders—not just in the US but in Rome as well– as the gold standard for handling sexual abuse. Bishops in other countries are advised to establish similar policies and procedures. The US bishops’ advisers, who framed those policies and procedures, are invited to address international seminars. Yet when the Dallas Charter was being devised and approved, the reporters watching the process were saying, “They don’t get it.”

What the bishops “didn’t get” is the simple, stark reality that they were the problem. Yes, certainly the priests who molested young people were a huge problem. But the secondary shock—the scandal that rattled public confidence in the Catholic hierarchy—was the realization that many bishops had covered up the scandal. Worse: that many bishops had lied to their people. And not just the bishops: during the “Long Lent” of 2002, Americans had learned about a culture of omerta in the clergy, a habit of mendacity. In Dallas the bishops talked about how to discipline wayward priests; they said very little about how to restore trust in their own leadership.

Is it any surprise, then, that the public still has not regained confidence in the Catholic hierarchy? That part of the sex-abuse scandal has still not been addressed. Consequently the rest of the Dallas Charter can be viewed with a jaundiced eye, by cynics who note that the polices and procedures are devised, supervised, and enforced by men who have not proven trustworthy in the past.

Media interest in the crisis of clerical abuse has subsided gradually during the past decade. The stories no longer command front-page headlines. There is no longer a frontal assault on the citadels of the Catholic hierarchy; it is now a cleaning-up operation, with lawsuits and the resulting bankruptcies filling space at the bottom of the news feed.

For the secular media, the sex-abuse scandal has lost its initial excitement since those wild days in 2002; there are no longer Pulitzer Prizes to be won on this beat. For the “official” Catholic media—the diocesan outlets and the publications sold in church vestibules—the topic is an unpleasant one, and prudence suggests adherence to the party line that the Dallas Charter has been a success.

Within weeks after that June 2002 meeting in Dallas, Bishop (now Archbishop) Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, then the president of the US bishops’ conference, placidly announced that the scandal was past history, and unquestioning Catholic journalists have been echoing that claim for years. The clerical culture, though badly shaken by the scandal, regrouped and recovered its own confidence. But the “new normal” is set at a distinctly lower level, as measured by Mass attendance, confidence in the hierarchy, Catholic influence on public affairs, and clerical morale. The events of 2002 are history, but the lingering effects are evident to anyone who looks for them.

Many bishops and priests recognize how far and how fast the situation has deteriorated in recent years. But the champions of what I have called the “clerical culture” do not. As parishes and parochial schools close, as childless families are destroyed by divorce, as prominent Catholic politicians endorse the “Culture of Death,” they continue to insist that the faith is “vibrant,” the future is bright. They will not initiate the needed reforms, because they see no need. They don’t get it.

If reform from within the clerical ranks is improbable, what hope do we have? The hope that Archbishop Sheen offered us: the realization that the future of the Church is in our hands, that the laity must come to the rescue. Earlier this week Jeff Mirus explained how lay people and lay movements have responded to the crisis:

The point is that the crisis of faith experienced by bishops and priests, which made life so difficult for lay people who really care, actually led to an astonishing contribution to Catholic renewal precisely by the laity themselves.

Archbishop Sheen predicted that the laity would save the Church. Jeff Mirus reports that the laity are saving the Church. The reform has already begun.

This does not mean “the fight is o’er, the battle won.” On the contrary, the struggle is only beginning. But loyal lay Catholics, formed in the crucible, have emerged with a stronger faith, a deeper commitment; they will not be satisfied with timid leaders. We will “remind our priests to be priests and our bishops to be bishops.” In the long run, the young bishops and younger priests will be our own sons and grandsons. And you can count on this: they will “get it.”

Complete Article HERE!

08/11/16

Lesbian Nuns and gay Priests: From The Late Late Show to Maynooth

By Páraic Kerrigan

A PhD Candidate in the Department of Media Studies at Maynooth University, suggests the recent Maynooth ‘scandal’ implies that some have not kept pace with changing attitudes to sexuality in wider Irish society.

Maynooth seminary

THE recent Maynooth ‘scandals’, to use the convenient media shorthand, seems to suggest that despite the major progressions surrounding LGBT rights in Ireland some attitudes remain relatively unchanged.

In particular, this remains the case for the more conservative pockets of Irish society and especially the Catholic Church.

Ireland and the Church has been subject to many sex scandals since the early 1990s but it appears that when it comes to members of our clergy and our convents being gay, (or straight for that matter) well, then all hats, or soutanes, are off.

We only have to look to an episode of The Late Late Show from a little over thirty years ago to see the moral panic that can be generated on the acknowledgement that priests and nuns can have a sexuality too.

On the release of their book, Breaking Silence: Lesbian Nuns on Convent Sexuality, Rosemary Curb and Nancy Manahan appeared on The Late Late Show to promote its release in Ireland.

Both Manahan and Curb were ex-nuns and lesbians who had risen to notoriety following the book’s release in the US.

Controversially, the publication contained within it interviews with women who entered convent life, only to later discover that they were lesbians.

Prior to its launch in Ireland, Nell McCafferty correctly predicted the book was ‘enough to create furore and a minor furore there will no doubt be’.

Immediately upon its release, a text acknowledging that nuns also have sexual inhibitions, and gay ones at that, was considered so heinous that the Irish customs authorities seized 1,500 copies on its arrival to the island.

It wasn’t just the customs authorities that were so scandalised. Middle Ireland wanted to have their say too.

In fact, they were so infuriated by both Curb and Manahan, that they mobilised themselves into a picket and protested outside of the Buswells Hotel on Molesworth Street, where the pair had been staying.

When The Late Late Show announced in the RTÉ Guide that same week that the ex-nuns would be making an appearance on that Saturday’s edition of the show, the telephone switchboards at RTÉ lit up with protest calls.

On the night of the broadcast itself, the shocked and appalled members of conservative Catholic Ireland held a vigil outside of the Montrose studios, where they erected a statue of the Virgin Mary, while being led by a priest through decades of the rosary as he was amplified from an ice-cream van on site.

Despite the furore caused during the week, the interview with the nuns ended up being not all that scandalous.

Despite getting one of the highest audience figures for any Irish TV show during the 1980s, the interview was fairly tame by Late Late standards.

Even Sr. Maura, an Irish nun from the Daughters of Sion who was on the panel that night, made the rather progressive comment reminding the Irish audience that the clergy don’t ‘leave their sexuality at the door’ when they enter religious life.

 

“Strange goings on” and “a quarrelsome” atmosphere led to Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s decision.

Perhaps it was this attitude that may have benefitted Archbishop Martin in his recent press statements on ‘the strange goings-ons’ at Maynooth.

Despite major changes to public attitudes since 1985 in wider Irish society, however, homosexuality is still clearly viewed as a problem by the church.

Looking at Late Late incident and the Maynooth story in tandem highlights that the church’s attitude to homosexuality has not changed but at least Ireland’s Catholic elite have not yet descended on St. Patrick’s seminary at Maynooth with an ice-cream van and a statue of the Blessed Virgin.

Complete Article HERE!

08/9/16

‘Spotlight’ sex abuse priest hangs himself in jail

Brazil – A Brazilian priest mentioned in the Catholic clergy sex abuse film “Spotlight” was found dead in a prison cell after he was arrested again for suspected pedophilia, authorities said on Monday.

Father Bonifacio Buzzi, 57, hanged himself with a sheet in a jail in the state of Minas Gerais where he was taken after his arrest on Friday, the state government said in a statement.

Young christian priest in cassock arrested and handcuffed

A decade ago Buzzi was convicted of abusing a 10-year-old boy in Mariana, Minas Gerais and jailed from 2007 to 2015. He was arrested last week following criminal complaints that he had molested two boys aged 9 and 13.

Buzzi was cited among the pedophilia cases listed at the end of “Spotlight,” the Oscar-winning 2015 film based on the Boston Globe newspaper’s investigation of sexual abuses by Catholic priests and efforts by the Boston Archdiocese to cover them up.

Allegations against Buzzi first emerged in the 1990s in his home state of Santa Catarina. In 1995 he was convicted of molesting two boys in his parish near Mariana after their parents accused him of performing oral sex on their children.

Buzzi got a reduced sentence and the Catholic Church obtained a court order allowing him to serve it out at the home of the local archbishop.

Complete Article HERE!