03/10/17

The priest who welcomed the LGBT community into his church

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.”

Complete Article HERE!

03/9/17

LGBT Catholics — this is our faith, too

Catholics for Fairness and others rally at the Cathedral of the Assumption

By

The Rev. Joseph Fowler has been a priest for 56 years, but he stood with other Catholics on the steps of Louisville’s cathedral again this year to disagree with Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, urging him to change his stance on LGBT rights.

Fowler, along with Catholics for Fairness, gathered Sunday to ask Kurtz to support Fairness laws that would prohibit discrimination in Kentucky on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“It’s not endorsing gay marriage, etc. It’s basic human rights everyone should have,” said Fowler. “I don’t know why our leadership would not be in favor of that.”

This was the sixth annual LGBT Pilgrimage to the Cathedral of the Assumption organized by Catholics for Fairness, a part of the larger Fairness Campaign Coalition. The marchers have varying relationships with the Catholic church, but all want equal treatment and protections for the LGBT community. It is a goal they believe is popular among Catholics, but not among the church hierarchy.

In response to LEO Weekly’s request for comment, the Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville said in a statement that “the Catholic Church is a leading advocate for the dignity of all people,” but has concerns about any legislation that “might go beyond prohibiting unjust discrimination and cause unintended consequences.”

“Concerns could include an inadequate distinction between sexual inclination and behavior and religious liberty protections,” said the statement.

Under Kurtz, the Archdiocese refused to approve a headstone engraved with an image of the Supreme Court building and wedding rings, sought by Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon, plaintiffs in the landmark marriage equality Supreme Court case. In a letter to the couple, the Archdiocese said engravings “are permitted so long as they do not conflict with any teaching of the Church. Your proposed markings are not in keeping with this requirement.”

The Archdiocese also refused to allow Bourke to return as a Boy Scout leader in a local Catholic parish troop, after he was forced to resign in 2012 for his sexual orientation.

On Sunday, De Leon said at the vigil outside the cathedral that people often ask him why he continues to fight for acceptance in the Catholic church, when there are other more tolerant Christian denominations.

“It’s hard to describe that feeling in your heart, when you’re with your brothers and sisters in a faith community, and that’s ours,” said De Leon.

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, said getting the Archdiocese to support a statewide Fairness law could be crucial to its passing. “It would open dialogue and acceptance from a faithful perspective to families and churches that hadn’t existed before,” he said in an email interview.

Hartman is optimistic, even in an overtly religious state like Kentucky, because other Christian denominations have already voiced support. “I think most faith traditions now have broader public support for LGBT people, but church leadership is lagging behind, like our legislature.”

Hartman referenced remarks made by Kurtz’s predecessor, Archbishop Thomas Kelly, who leaned toward a Louisville Fairness ordinance. Kelly said in 1995: “The Catholic Church supports the basic human rights of all persons, and affirms the fact that homosexual persons have the same rights as all persons, including the right to be treated in a manner that upholds their personal dignity … The intrinsic dignity of each person must be respected in word and in action.”

State Rep. Jim Wayne, D-35, who attended the pilgrimage and is a Catholic, also believes support from Kurtz could be instrumental in passing statewide Fairness legislation. “[It] would help convince, especially Catholic legislators and other Christians who base their discrimination on the Bible that you don’t do that.”

Another event attendee, Maria Price, 51, said it isn’t hard for her to reconcile being Catholic and a supporter of Fairness laws. She looks to the Bible for guidance, not the church hierarchy.

“Our call [is] to change unjust systems that make people poor and keep people stuck in poverty,” said Price. “And there is not one word from the lips of Jesus about homosexuality. So really, it’s misplaced energy.”

Susanna Sugrue, 58, said the church hierarchy is losing touch with its parish members.

“They’re not thinking about these issues on a human level, they are thinking about them on a theological level,” said Sugrue. “But we do have a very open pope now, so that is very encouraging.”

Ernesto Flores is also encouraged by Pope Francis, who said the church should ask forgiveness for its treatment of LGBT people. “I can’t walk away from being Mexican, I can’t walk away from being Catholic and I can’t walk away from being gay. Those are intrinsic parts of me,” said Flores. “So I decided to stay and make it a better place for myself.”

Complete Article HERE!

02/17/17

The clergy has moved on. It’s the bishops who are out of touch

Synod’s rejection of the same-sex marriage report shows the problem of having glorified administrators focused on unity at the head of the church

A delegate walks past protesters outside the General Synod at Church House in London on Wednesday. ‘The problem is the bishops themselves, tense with self-imposed anxiety.’

By

It rained in London on Wednesday afternoon. Then the sun came out. And so it was that when the General Synod of the Church of England met to discuss the acceptability of same-sex marriage, a huge rainbow appeared over Church House, Westminster. Even God, it seems, was making his feelings known on this one.

The bishops had produced a report after a three-year listening process. This itself was just another kicking-into-the-long-grass exercise. After all, who can refuse listening? So church reports that seek no change always call for another report and more listening. But had anybody heard anything useful? The report called for a “change of tone” towards LGBTI people – yes, they always do that, and always in the same patronising tone – but no change of doctrine. The bishops refused to budge on the question of same-sex couples getting married in church. And so the clergy of the C of E threw the report out, leaving the bishops angry and embarrassed.

Recalling the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel in the book of Genesis, Canon Simon Butler – gay, out and partnered – told synod: “I will not let go until you bless me.” Those of us wrestling for equal marriage will not stop until gay people are offered the church’s blessing. We bless battleships with missiles. But not the love between two people. And the problem here is not the clergy or the people in the pews. The problem is the bishops themselves, tense with self-imposed anxiety.

On the same day the report was being sunk by synod, a British Social Attitudes survey found that only 17% of Anglicans now believe that same-sex relationships are “always wrong”, the lowest level since 1983 when people started measuring these views. Back then, the figure was 50%. In the intervening years churchgoers, like the population in general, have dramatically changed their mind over homosexuality. And hurrah for that.

But don’t believe that this is all the church wants to talk about. In my parish, it’s a non-issue. We’ve had openly gay clergy ministering here and many gay people in the pews. While the bishops take themselves away to discuss fictional case studies involving problematic gay-related situations (NB don’t say problem gay people – that’s all part of the “change of tone” directive), we in the parish just get on with doing the stuff we’re supposed to. No, the problem is within the episcopate. They voted 43-1 for the report. And the one who voted against wasn’t some brave bishop registering dissent. It was the bishop of Coventry who couldn’t figure out how to work his voting console.

Such is the high degree of corporate responsibility the bishops feel, that even those sympathetic to same-sex marriage voted for a report that condemned it. Thus the bishop of Liverpool wrote: “For some, the sense of betrayal is particularly acute when applied to people like me, who have spoken of the need for change in the church. Where was I? What happened to my voice? How could I have been so weak as to stand with this document?”

The answer is always the same. The job of the bishops, the current lot insist, is to provide a “focus of unity”. That’s why when bishops retire, and are freed from the responsibility of keeping their dioceses together, they write letters to the papers saying how much they disagreed with what they used to have to support. The bishops tell themselves that they sacrifice their personal views for the greater good. And they ask us to feel their pain. Responsibility for the way in which this need for corporate double-speak has blunted the prophetic witness of the episcopate is squarely on the shoulders of the secretive process by which bishops are selected. It’s a process that promotes the same sort of people – glorified administrators who are good at “tone” and are not given to bursts of independent mindedness. None of which are qualities associated with the prophets of the Bible.

What Wednesday’s synod vote revealed was not only that the church continues to move in a progressive direction – though with the engine of a lawnmower and the brakes of an articulated lorry. It also demonstrated the widening gap between bishops and their clergy. The C of E works best at the local level. Head office is out of touch.

Complete Article HERE!

02/15/17

Church of England in turmoil as synod rejects report on same sex relationships

Clergy vote against report by 100 to 93 in blow to archbishop of Canterbury as he tries to chart course between apparently unreconcilable wings of church

A member of the St Anselm community at Lambeth Palace walks past activists from the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement outside the General Synod at Church House in London.

By  

The Church of England has been plunged into fresh turmoil after its general assembly threw out a report on same sex relationships in a rebuff to bishops following almost three years of intense internal discussion and intractable divisions.

The C of E’s synod, meeting in London this week, voted on Thursday to effectively reject the report, which upholds traditional teaching that marriage is a lifelong union of a man and a woman.

Although there was a clear overall majority in favour of “taking note” of the report, it needed the support of all three houses – bishops, clergy and laity. The clergy narrowly voted against, by 100 votes to 93, meaning the motion was lost.

The de facto rejection of the report is a blow to the authority of Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, who pleaded with the synod to accept the report as “a basis for moving on, a good basis, a roadmap”.

Welby presides over the House of Bishops, which has met four times since internal discussion groups wound up last July to chart the way forward between two apparently unreconcilable wings of the church.

Responding to the vote, Graham James, bishop of Norwich, said: “I can guarantee that the House of Bishops will consider carefully and prayerfully all the contributions made in the debate today.”

He added: “We have listened to those who have spoken, and those others who have made contributions to us directly. Our ongoing discussions will be informed by what members of synod and the wider church have said as a result of this report.”

Acknowledging that the next steps were unclear, Pete Broadbent, bishop of Willesden, said: “In this debate, we haven’t even begun to find a place where we can coalesce…. More conversation is needed. We don’t yet know the next stage – nor yet when and whether we can bring any further report to synod.”

The issue has dominated the current four-day session of the synod, and has been the subject of bitter debate within the C of E – and the global Anglican communion – for decades. At the moment, gay clergy are forbidden from marrying or having sexual relationships, and same sex marriage services are prohibited in churches.

In a debate lasting more than two hours, about one in three members of the synod requested to speak from the packed floor of the auditorium. Many contributions included personal testimonies from lesbians and gay men.

Jayne Ozanne of Oxford accused the bishops of putting “political expediency ahead of principle”. Fearing a split, they had “chosen not to lead but to manage”.

Simon Butler of Southwark, an openly gay member of synod, said that “only when fracture comes can new possibilities emerge”, and quoted Genesis: “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

Lucy Gorman of York told the synod that “outside these walls, we are being heard as lacking in love”. No wonder, she added, that fewer young people were coming to church. “Why would people become part of a church that is seemingly homophobic?”

But those on the conservative wing of the church also expressed criticisms and some voted against the report. Andrea Minichiello-Williams of Chichester said: “All sexual expression outside a lifelong permanent union on one man and one woman is sinful.” Sexuality was a “first order issue”, one on which salvation depends. “That’s why it’s so important to speak clearly with regard to sexual sin.”

Paul Bayes, bishop of Liverpool, said: “I honour the anger and, indeed, fury, of the LGBTI community who see in this report hard stones when they looked for bread.” However, he urged the synod to back the report, saying its encouragement for clergy to exercise maximum freedom within existing doctrine “may carry us to places we have not previously gone”. The report, he said, “cannot, will not and should not mark the end of the road” on the issue.

Welby, the final speaker to be called, said “how we deal with profound disagreement… is the challenge we face”. The church needed to be “neither careless in our theology nor ignorant of the world around us”, he added.

Before the debate, both James and Broadbent, who led the bishops’ group which wrote the report, apologised to its critics. “It has not received a rapturous reception in all quarters, and I regret any pain or anger it may have caused. And if we’ve got the tone wrong, we are very sorry,” said James.

Broadbent acknowledged it was “a pretty conservative document”, adding: “I do want to apologise to those members of synod who found our report difficult, who didn’t recognise themselves in it, who had expected more from us than we actually delivered, for the tone of the report. On behalf of the House [of Bishops], and without being trite or trivial, I’m sorry.”

While upholding traditional doctrine on marriage, the report said teaching should be interpreted with “maximum freedom” for same sex couples and called for a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” for lesbians and gays while proposing no concrete change.

Following the vote, Ozanne, a leading gay rights campaigner on the synod, said: “I am thrilled that this report has been voted down. We now look forward to working together to build a church that is broad enough to accept the diversity of views that exist within it, courageous enough to address the deep divisions that exist between us and loving enough to accept each other as equal members of the body of Christ.”

Simon Sarmiento, chairman of LGBTI Mission, said: “I’m pleased the report was not accepted. I am sure the bishops will have learned a lesson from this experience which I know has been painful. I hope they will now consult widely and proceed wisely.”

Andrea Williams, from the conservative Christian Concern, said the report had tried “to straddle positions that cannot be reconciled”. She added: “This shouldn’t be read as a victory for the LGBT activists within the Church. The reason why this happened was because there was no clarity in which direction the church will go.”

LGBTI Christians and supporters of gay equality held a vigil outside Church House in Westminster, the venue for the synod, during the debate.

Complete Article HERE!

01/27/17

C of E bishops refuse to change stance on gay marriage

Report says marriage can only be between a man and a woman but says church must stand against homophobia

Bishops have met four times since last July when the two-year process of ‘shared conversations’ on sexuality ended.

BY

Church of England bishops have upheld traditional teaching that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, in a move that has infuriated campaigners for gay rights and risks further alienating the church from wider society.

After two years of intense internal discussion involving clergy and laity – and at least two decades of bitter division within the church – the bishops have produced a report reaffirming that marriage is “a union permanent and life-long, of one man and one woman”.

The church should not “adapt its doctrine to the fashions of any particular time”, said Graham James, the bishop of Norwich, at a press conference to present the report.

However, church law and guidance should be interpreted to provide “maximum freedom” for gay and lesbian people without a change of doctrine – meaning clergy will have some leeway in individual cases – the report said. “Maximum freedom has no definition but it’s part of this exploration we’re engaged in,” said James.

While calling for a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” for lesbians and gays, the report offered no concrete change.

Gay campaigners within the church denounced the report as “cruel” and an “utter failure” that could herald an increase in clerical disobedience over issues around sexuality.

Bishops have met four times since last July, when the two-year process of “shared conversations” on sexuality ended. Their report will be discussed at next month’s synod but no vote will be taken on its substance.

The report suggests that everyone seeking ordination or appointment as bishops should face questions about their lifestyle, irrespective of their personal sexual orientation. At the moment, gay ordinands and clergy are required to commit to celibacy even if they are in long-term relationships.

James denied the bishops were proposing a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. All ordinands and clergy were expected to commit to “fashion [their] own life … according to the way of Christ” but, James said, current questioning was overly focused on sexual activity, with an explicit expectation that gay and lesbian clergy should be celibate.

Instead, “questioning about sexual morality should form a part of a wider examination” or heterosexual and gay ordinands and clergy.

The bishops also say the church needs to repent of homophobic attitudes of the past and stand against homophobia.

Current advice to clergy, which allows them to provide “informal prayers” to same-sex couples in civil partnerships or marriages, should be clarified, the bishops said. However, the report does not propose official church blessings.

The church said the document represented the consensus of opinion among bishops rather than a unanimous view. The bishops also stressed their report was part of a process rather than an attempt at a final resolution.

However, James acknowledged “it’s possible there will never be an end [to the process]”.

He said: “We hope the tone and register of this report will help to commend it, though we recognise it will be challenging reading for some.

“This is no last word on this subject. For there are very different views on same-sex relationships within the church, and within the house of bishops, mainly based on different understandings of how to read scripture.”

At the press conference, the bishop acknowledged the church faced a tension between “fidelity to the scriptures, the traditions … and the culture of our times. This is why it’s such a testing issue for the church to deal with. But I don’t think that if the church adapted its doctrine to the fashions of any particular time, that would mean it would be expressing the historic faith.”

Jayne Ozanne, a prominent campaigner for equality within the C of E, said the report was “unbelievable, unacceptable and ungodly”.

“Being nice to us whilst hitting us is still abuse,” she said, adding: “The nation will look on incredulous, and yet again will recoil from a church that fails to show love or understanding to those it has constantly marginalised and victimised.”

The report “fails to recognise the mounting evidence that was given of the prolonged and institutionalised spiritual abuse that has been meted out against the LGBT community. To demand that they be celibate for life because of their sexual orientation, and to only recognise one interpretation of scripture on the matter is cruel, unjust and ungodly.”

Andrew Foreshew-Cain, a vicar who married his partner in 2014 in defiance of church rules, said the report was an “utter failure of leadership”.

The trust that bishops had demanded from gay and lesbian Christians had been betrayed, he said, adding: “Now it’s time to get on with it ourselves, to start trying to provide what they have failed to provide: a genuine welcome to gay Christians.”

He anticipated an increase in clergy offering de facto services of blessing to same-sex couples in civil partnerships or marriages.

The church said it recognised that some clergy were defying church rules at the moment. “But there’s much less disobedience than people imagine,” said James. “Rebel clergy” would be dealt with on an individual basis by bishops, the church said.

Simon Sarmiento, the chair of the LGBTI Mission, said the key feature of the report was procrastination. But he added: “The bishops’ intent to change the tone of the C of E debate will be a serious challenge for conservative Christians.”

Reform, a conservative organisation within the C of E, said it was grateful that the bishops were not proposing changes to the church’s doctrine of marriage. But it voiced concern about “permitting maximum freedom within this law. In adopting a framework which seeks to take a middle path between biblical truth and cultural sensitivities, the bishops have ensured theological incoherence and hypocrisy will prevail for the foreseeable future.”

Complete Article HERE!