The Catholic Church and Sexuality: If Only the Hierarchs Would Listen and learn

COMMENTARY — John Falcone

Few Roman Catholic seminaries can boast an active and vibrant GLBT student organization. Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry is one. Since April 2011, the “GIFTS” group (“G/L/B/T Inclusive Fellowship of Theology Students”) has planned and hosted prayer services for the school community. We’ve celebrated the long tradition of believers who have lived their Catholicism through same-sex love, non-traditional gender roles and the quest for social justice. We have also asked some difficult questions: How can GLBT lay people with a proven calling to ministry best serve the Catholic Church? What is our responsibility to a clergy and leadership which is often homophobic and paternalistic, and profoundly conflicted about sex?

Recently, four GIFTS members and I drove to Fairfield University in Connecticut for “The Care of Souls: Sexual Diversity, Celibacy and Ministry” — the last of this autumn’s “More than a Monologue” series on sexuality and the Catholic Church. We went to hear Rev. Donald Cozzens, a respected researcher on the Catholic priesthood and a former seminary president; Mark Jordan, a queer theologian and ethicist at Harvard Divinity School and Jeannine Gramick, a Catholic nun who was silenced by the Vatican for her work with lesbians and gays. We found four themes particularly compelling: the struggles of a closeted clergy, the dynamics of Catholic patriarchy, the troubling theology of priestly vocation and the powerful Christian witness offered by lesbian nuns.

For Cozzens, the Vatican’s prohibition of gay men entering the priesthood has worked much like the (now defunct) policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Gay men have not left the priesthood (Cozzens estimates they make up 30-50 percent of US priests), and they also continue to enter — either by lying about their orientation, or by keeping it under wraps at the direction of seminary directors. Yet gay priests must steer firmly clear of their sexual identity in their preaching and public personas. As GIFTS member Oliver Goodrich asked, “How can so many priests, who preach a gospel of liberation and authenticity, lead such inauthentic lives?”

Jordan was more provocative. In a church that defines “the few and the proud” as its straight male celibate clergy, power gets tangled with maleness. But the clergy’s desire for power animates an unseemly dance of dominance, submission and career advancement. Within all-male hierarchical settings, this can smack of sado-masochist pleasures. Accepting gay men into seminary, or acknowledging same-sex love, shines an unwelcome light on these homoerotic dynamics. To keep this psychology intact and in shadow, the hierarchy must keep gay men (and straight women) out.

The notion that ritual and organizational leadership requires abstinence from sexual love is another problem for Catholic ministry. For almost 2000 years, Catholic monks and nuns have accepted celibacy as a form of spiritual practice. For 1100 years, Catholic priests could marry and raise children. Today, Church officials insist that everyone called to the priesthood automatically receives the “grace” (or spiritual power) to live a celibate life. Why must these two be connected? As Jocelyn Collen, another GIFTS member, remarked, “Grace is not given to someone on command. No one — not even the Vatican — can direct the grace of God.”

Gramick’s reflections were perhaps the most hopeful. Drawing from decades of work with lesbian nuns, she described a non-patriarchal model of ministry in which warm and affirming female friendships support lives of celibacy, service and prayer. For these nuns, the experience of sexual orientation is about the longing for intimacy, the romantic desires that shape personality and interpersonal life. This makes profound psychological sense. Lesbian and gay celibates need intimate same-sex friendships; in the same way, straight men called to celibacy need warm and affirming relationships with women. Without such intimate friendships, frustrations multiply, boundaries decay and ministers tragically act out.

At the end of the day, we drove back to Boston through the worst October snowstorm in years, and a certain chill still remains. I’ve co-written this article with another GIFTS student, whose goal is to teach in a Catholic school. The insights of this minister-in-training are all over this article. But to protect his/her future employment, I cannot disclose a name. Like the prayers that GIFTS has written, and the GLBT saints that we’ve recalled, the insights of marginalized Catholics speak of Spirit, courage and truth. Our hierarchs should listen and learn.

Complete Article HERE!

I’m a Christian, and the Catholic church doesn’t speak for me

COMMENTARY — John Aravosis

I’m getting increasingly fed up with the Catholic church following the lead of the religious right in claiming that a) they’re oppressed, and b) they speak for all Christianity. No you’re not, and no don’t.

I’ll get to the first part later, but let’s start with this notion that the Catholic church speaks for all Christians. I am not a Catholic, yet still, I’m a Christian. Magic! No, not really. Lots of us are Christians and not Catholic, and that’s okay. And lots of us are Americans and not Christians, and even that is okay. Of course, the Catholic church often doesn’t even speak for Catholics, certainly not American Catholics (and I suspect the church leadership’s soft spot for enabling pedophiles isn’t much appreciated by most of the non-American Catholics either).

What has the Catholic church in such an uproar of late is America’s slow but steady march towards civil rights and liberty for all. You see, the Catholic church, like the evangelical far right, believes that common decency is a zero sum game. They actually believe that recognizing the civil rights of all Americans somehow takes something away from the Catholic church – no, strike that, they claim that America’s civil rights laws somehow oppress the religious liberty of Christians, not Catholics, but Christians.

This, in spite of the fact that the Catholic church is exempt from new civil rights laws covering gays, for example, so the church is free to practice as much bigotry and discrimination as it wishes to in the name of Christ. But that’s not enough. The Catholic church thinks that it’s not entirely free unless you’re note entirely free. It’s not enough for them to demand their own followers practice bigotry, they, like the Mormon leadership, or the evangelical far right, aren’t content unless they’re forcing everyone, even those of other faiths or no faith, to live under their rules.

So now the Catholic church is throwing a hissy fit over gay marriages (even though, again, they’re exempt) and state laws governing contraceptives. You see, the Catholic church is happy to feed at the government teat by accepting over $2.8 billion a year from the government at all levels. Yes, you read that right. Sixty-seven percent of Catholic Charities $4.27 billion in annual revenue comes from the government.

Understandably, the Catholic church would prefer that American taxpayers fund them to the tune of over two billion dollars a year and not attach any strings, such as not permitting Catholic charities to discriminate in their charity work against those very Americans who are paying 67% of Catholic charities’ bills. Heck, I’d love two billion a year with no strings attached, who wouldn’t? That’s why Catholic Charities stopped helping a segment of the poor and disadvantaged in Washington, DC and in Illinois – in both states they’re no longer providing foster care and adoption services to needy children – because Catholic Charities couldn’t stand the fact that local laws required them to use state tax dollars in a non-discriminatory manner. So rather than treat all Americans fairly – rather than help needy children – Catholic Charities decided to just pull the plug and stop helping the needy.

Oh, and saw a quick aside, it’s interesting that Catholic Charities is trying to claim that it’s still the Catholic Church, so civil rights laws shouldn’t apply to it. Really? The American taxpayer is funding the Catholic Church’s proselytizing to the tune of $2.8 billion a year? I’m a bit confused about that one. I didn’t think we funded any faith. So how is it that the Catholic church is now claiming that its charity work is somehow its faith, when we’d never fund its proselytizing in the first place?

What’s really going on is that the Catholic Church’s anti-gay animus is deemed more important than the needs of children. (Then again, the Catholic Church doesn’t exactly have a stellar record of late when it comes to giving a lick about the needs of children.)

And now the Catholic Church is becoming increasingly hysterical, screaming about how America is quickly becoming unfriendly territory for Christians (which certainly begs the question of when America will finally have a Christian president, or elect a Christian to Congress).

Maybe, just maybe, this debate isn’t about religion at all. After all, it doesn’t quite make sense, all this talk about America – which is run and ruled by Christians for the most part, and has been for over two hundred years, and whose government regularly nods towards Christianity far more than most modern democracies – becoming “anti-Christian.” So what’s really going on?

Maybe, just maybe, the Catholic Church is more worried about the $2.8 billion it gets every year from the American government (at all levels) than it is about some nonsensical notion of religious freedom when the Catholic church is exempt from every civil rights law its complaining about. Maybe, just maybe, this is all about money, and not about religious freedom at all.

PS I’ve asked it before and I’ll ask it again: What are bigots like this doing on the board of the supposedly progressive Coalition on Human Needs? You have to wonder if CHN would have racist or anti-Semitic organizations on its board. No, you don’t wonder – we all know they wouldn’t. But somehow when the prejudice is against gays and lesbians, some of our top “liberal” organizations find it in their hearts to look the other way.

<em>Complete Article <big><strong><span style=”font-family: arial; color: #ff6600;”><span style=”color: #cc0000;”>HERE</span></span></strong></big>!</em>

Melkite Catholic Church to Ordain Married Men to the Priesthood in the US

The Bishop of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton, Massachusetts announced that the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in the United States would be ordaining married men to the priesthood. These comments raise significant questions of what the consequence of such a move might mean for this Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with Rome.

During an August dinner speech, Bishop Nicholas Samra, Bishop of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton and Eparch of all Melkites in the United States made comments that the Melkite Greek Catholic Church would be ordaining married men to the priesthood.

These comments, recently published in the Melkite journal Sophia, has raised significant questions of what the consequence of such a move might mean for this Church, which is in union with Rome and struggling to maintain sustainable vocations to the priesthood.
Bishop Nicholas, the first American-born bishop in the Melkite Church, emphasized the need for encouraging vocations within the United States:

“We are grateful for our ancestors – priests and laity and bishops who came from the Middle East and brought us to where we are presently. But now we have come of age and we need priests from among our people in this American Melkite Catholic Church”.

“God calls men and women to religious vocations. And I believe he also calls married men to the priesthood. We need to study this situation in our country and develop the proper formation for men who are truly deemed worthy of this call. The Deacon Formation Program is a good program; however is not the backdoor to the priesthood.”

“Married men who are called to priesthood need the same formation as those celibates who are called. I have already discussed this issue with those involved in priestly formation and hopefully soon we can see the growth of properly formed married clergy. Of course there are also major financial issues to be looked at and we will embark on this also.”

On first glance, some might view the Melkite Church as merely following in the same vein as that of the Anglican Ordinariate. However, the key difference with the Anglican Ordinariate in the Catholic Church, which allows for some former married Anglican priests to join the Catholic Church and be ordained to the Order of Deacon and then to the priesthood, is that it is viewed as an exception.

The Melkite Greek catholic Church is simply reaffirming the ancient practice in Eastern Christianity, Catholic and Orthodox, of choosing married AND celibate men for both the order of deacons and the Priesthood. Those chosen for the Episcopacy remain celibate. The practice had been curtailed in the United States.Bishop Nicholas is announcing his intention, after study and preparation, to make the practice normative in the United States.This is not an act of “dissent” of any sort. Rather, a resumption of an ancient practice.

Controversy is likely to arise over this announcement on a few counts. First, the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches has not changed its approach to limiting the priesthood to celibate men as the norm, even in the Eastern Church, in the United States. There were a few past exceptions to the norm, but these have not been an indication of a new process for allowing married men to enter seminary formation on a normative basis. Whether or not this announcement will bring a reaction from the Congregation is unclear.

Similarly, there has been no recently history of previous American Melkite Catholic Bishops in pushing for priestly formation for married men as normative.There were a few controversial exceptions. There is also no clear indication of what Melkite Greek Catholics in the United States think about this recent announcement. However, it appears to be receiving strong support.

As indicated by Bishop Nicholas, other hurdles such as the financial cost of a married priesthood will need to be studied and considered if this new approach is to be successful.

As to a reaction from the Vatican regarding this announcement from the American Melkite Catholic Church, none has been heard yet.

Complete Article HERE!

Father Bob Maguire slams Cardinal Pell

High-profile priest Father Bob Maguire says Australia’s Catholic leader, George Pell, is punishing him for being “open to all” by forcing him to retire from his parish.

The church has ordered Father Maguire to resign after 38 years as South Melbourne’s parish priest.

Father Maguire, 77, said Cardinal Pell considers his parish a “dog’s breakfast” and described his exit as a “dishonourable discharge”.

“George Pell has declared those of us Vatican II-ists to be Cafeteria Catholics whereas he and his lot are authentic Catholics,” Father Maguire said.

“Well, that’s what we’re being punished for, for being Cafeteria Catholics.

“That means that we’re a bit all over the place like a dog’s breakfast, we live in the real world, we’re open to all, we’re not exclusive, not easily offended, we’re sacrificial, we put ourselves at the service of all kinds of people whether they’re church-going or not.”

Father Maguire, widely known as the co-host of the radio show Sunday Night Safran, will finish at Saints Peter and Paul’s Church in South Melbourne on February 1 next year when the Capuchin Order will take control of the parish.

The Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, said Father Maguire will be appointed Pastor Emeritus, saying the position offers him a “broader canvas” to work within the church.

But Father Maguire described the role as a “bullshit title” and said he will seek canon legal advice before considering an appeal to the Vatican.

Archbishop Hart said the parish needed a succession plan and that Father Maguire could still continue to work as a priest in Melbourne.

“We’re not preventing Bob from doing anything, we’re opening out to him possibilities and we are providing the Capuchins who will continue for an extended period … when we’re dead and gone the Capuchins will be there,” he said.

“I am deeply conscious of the day-to-day grinding demands which are there (for a parish priest) and I think that we can best use Bob and his wonderful abilities by providing him with a broader canvas, a bit of freedom, and a broader scope.”

Father Maguire said the move meant he was no longer an active officer within the church.

“Emeritus is the kind of thing where you’re given the flick, I’m taking it as a dishonourable discharge,” he said.

“They use (the title) in academia. It means you are no longer working as an academic, but you still have the title of academic.”

Complete Article HERE!

“Occupy the Church”: Austria’s Catholic Rebellion Gathers Strength


Two recent reports from Austria show clearly that the Catholic rebellion is gathering strength: survey research shows that two thirds of the country’s priests support calls for urgent reform, and that lay Catholics have announced plans to ignore Church rules that restrict the celebration of Mass to ordained priests. Instead, they will conduct worship and communion themselves where priests are not available. Meanwhile, in Australia, a separate story from Melbourne illustrates how on a much smaller scale, Catholics elsewhere are also willing to defy episcopal control.

Survey: Two Thirds of Austrian Priests Back Priests’ Reform Initiative.
When the Austrian Priests’ dramatic “Call to disobedience” hit the news back in June, there was some uncertainty over just how much support they had. We now have a reliable estimate by a reputable, professional research organization. GfK was commissioned by national broadcaster ORF to check how many priests support the group’s ideas. The answer is remarkable:

  • 68% of Austrian priests see “an urgent need for reform”;
  • in spite of the strong, provocative language of the call, 32% back it “unreservedly”;
  • only 28% oppose it.

Detailed figures show that many of those in support were in favour of debating the various points in detail. Around one in three of Austria’s priests are “radical reformers”, according to researchers while four in 10 could be considered as “moderate reformers”.
-Austrian Independent

It’s worth recalling, here, just how far-reaching the proposals are. They want to see women admitted to the priesthood, an end to compulsory celibacy for priests, and for priests to distribute communion to people who have been divorced and remarried. In themselves, these calls are not too extraordinary: many progressive Catholics around the world would agree with the aims. This initiative though, goes well beyond simply pleading for a change in the rules. It is explicitly framed as a “call to disobedience”, and instead urges that where there is a shortage of priests resulting from the continued refusal to ordain women and married men, priests should in effect embark on a work to rule, leaving lay people to fill the gap if necessary, by saying Mass for themselves. They also urge that in the absence of a change in the rules on communion, priests should simply disregard them.

Austrian Lay Catholics Prepare for DIY Mass
In a parallel move, lay Catholics who met over the weekend announced plans to do precisely as the priests’ initiative has urged: for lay people fill the gap in parishes where no priest is available. In support of the plan, they claim that they are placing God’s word in the Bible ahead of mere Church rules.

A manifesto adopted by dozens of activists at the weekend said lay people will preach, consecrate and distribute communion in priestless parishes, said Hans Peter Hurka, head of the group We Are Church.
“Church law bans this. The question is, can Church law overrule the Bible? We are of the opinion, based on findings from the Second Vatican Council, that this (ban) is not possible,” he said Monday.

Austria’s bishops are themselves meeting in a four day session this week. Responding to this will present them with a major challenge. Already, the church is losing members at an alarming rate – last year, over 87 000 Austrian Catholics formally left the Church, an increase of 63% over 2009. The proportion of Austrians who are Catholic is down to just 65%, compared with 89% in 1951. Research earlier this year showed that many of the remaining Catholics admit that they attend Mass only infrequently, and have little or no trust in the Church hiearachy.

  • 41 per cent of Austrians attending mass only on holidays like Easter and Christmas.
  • A further 35% never attend Mass.
  • 45% told researchers that their trust in the Church had been “shattered” by the sexual abuse revelations.
  • A further 27% had no trust in the Church to begin with.

Together with the decline in numbers, will go a decline in revenue. Churches in Austria are funded by the state, in proportion to their signed up members. In 2009, the Church got 395 million euros from the state. To compound further the loss of revenue, an increasing proportion of those funds are being used to pay compensation to the victims of abuse.

The overwhelming majority of Austrians support the priests’ initiative. Attempts by the bishops to stifle it will simply alienate still further an already disaffected Catholic population. Accommodating them, however, is beyond their power, as the rules in question are set by the Vatican, not by national bishops.

DIY Catholicism, elsewhere.
Austria is not unique in facing these conflicts: Dominicans in the Netherlands proposed priestless Mass back in 2007, but were warned by their order not to slide into schism. In country after country, the majority of Catholics do not agree with Vatican rules on sexuality, or on the rules for priestly ordination, or many other matters of church discipline. What sets the Austrians apart, is not the simple desire for reform, but the willingness by laypeople and priests to move ahead on implementing reforms without waiting for institutional approval. On a smaller scale, we have seen this kind of DIY Catholicism elsewhere as well – as in the example of the womenpriests’ movement, and in a handful of parishes which are already hosting their own Masses, independently of episcopal control.

The latest example could be that of a parish in South Melbourne, Australia.
Having been told he must retire, Father Bob McGuire calls for public support in helping him stay on as Parish Priest in South Melbourne, saying ‘we’re like Occupy the Church’.
Despite wanting to stay on and continue his work, Father Bob McGuire has been told by Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart that his tenure as Parish Priest at Saint Peter and Paul’s Parish will end early next year.
The priest, named in July as Victorian of the Year, says he’s concerned that he won’t be able to continue his work with the local community.
“If it was me I wouldn’t give a rats, but it’s not me – it’s us, it’s the village and it’s the church in the village,” says Father Bob.
– ABC, Melbourne

I don’t know too much about the detail of Fr Bob and South Melbourne, but my impression is that there are strong similarities with the case of St Mary’s, Brisbane, and several parishes in the US, where bishops mistakenly thought they could simply silence troublesome priests in the accustomed way, by episcopal decree – and found instead that the congregations themselves chose to relocate to independent premises, with their preferred priest or with none, rather than submit meekly to the unwanted exercise of naked church power.

The Austrian rebellion is not going away any time soon – and may well expand further afield.

Complete Article HERE!