A Brief Ecumenical Note

Alas, Victor is still traveling, but I have found time for a brief note.  One of our readers, Rei, brought this blog post concerning the Orthodox Jewish position on homosexuality to my attention.  Unlike the infamous “Halloween Letter” written by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVIth) when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to Bishops on the pastoral care of “homosexual persons;” the Statement of Principles originates from a Rabbi, who then allowed it to be “commented upon by and revised based on the input from dozens of talmidei chachamim, educators, communal rabbis, mental health professionals and a number of individuals in our community who are homosexual in orientation.” This statement was then signed  by many Rabbis and other prominent Orthodox Jews who agreed with the sentiments espoused therein. Both authorship and audience ought to be kept in mind while drawing comparisons.

The first thing that struck me was that the language of the Statement of Principles was far more welcoming.  Compare, for instance, the first few lines of each:

We, the undersigned Orthodox rabbis, rashei yeshivaramim, Jewish educators and communal leaders affirm the following principles with regard to the place of Jews with a homosexual orientation in our community…

with

The issue of homosexuality and the moral evaluation of homosexual acts have increasingly become a matter of public debate, even in Catholic circles. Since this debate often advances arguments and makes assertions inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church, it is quite rightly a cause for concern to all engaged in the pastoral ministry, and this Congregation has judged it to be of sufficiently grave and widespread importance to address to the Bishops of the Catholic Church this Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.

The disparity in language here cannot be attributed to mere differences in authorship, style, religious structure, or audience (although those do factor in).  The Statement of Principles clearly underlines that there are practicing homosexual Jews within the community, whereas the “Halloween Letter” only speaks of homosexuality in a way that distances its readers, as an abstract concept; the document discusses homosexual acts, not homosexual Catholics.  We are not included in the community.  This is particularly interesting, as the Statement of Principles is not actually any less damning than the Halloween Letter in its moral evaluation of homosexuality.  It affirms that no matter what the cause of homosexuality, such interactions are prohibited:

4. Halakhic Judaism views all male and female same-sex sexual interactions as prohibited. The question of whether sexual orientation is primarily genetic, or rather environmentally generated, is irrelevant to this prohibition.

Interestingly enough, the Halloween letter discusses the possibility that homosexuality is not a choice:

11. It has been argued that the homosexual orientation in certain cases is not the result of deliberate choice; and so the homosexual person would then have no choice but to behave in a homosexual fashion. Lacking freedom, such a person, even if engaged in homosexual activity, would not be culpable.

Here, the Church’s wise moral tradition is necessary since it warns against generalizations in judging individual cases. In fact, circumstances may exist, or may have existed in the past, which would reduce or remove the culpability of the individual in a given instance…

Although, it immediately warns its readers against “the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behaviour of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable,” as

What is essential is that the fundamental liberty which characterizes the human person and gives him his dignity be recognized as belonging to the homosexual person as well. As in every conversion from evil, the abandonment of homosexual activity will require a profound collaboration of the individual with God’s liberating grace.

While both the Halloween Letter and the Statement agree on the unacceptability of homosexual relations, the latter contains something that the Halloween letter lacks:  an awareness that the religious community has a fundamental duty to welcome those within it, even if they are homosexual, and an understanding of the harsh psychological toll well-meaning devout persons may have on those who are LGBTQ.  The Statement clearly addresses this issue immediately:

1.  All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot). Every Jew is obligated to fulfill the entire range of mitzvot between person and person in relation to persons who are homosexual or have feelings of same sex attraction. Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism.

This is reiterated again, and again and again.  The document “affirm[s] the religious right of those with a homosexual orientation to reject therapeutic approaches they reasonably see as useless or dangerous,” and warns against marriages between someone who is gay, to someone of the opposite gender, as “this can lead to great tragedy, unrequited love, shame, dishonesty and ruined lives.”  Furthermore, the document makes it quite clear that the children of homosexual couples, both biological and adoptive, are also to be welcomed into the community.[1] Quite a far cry from what one may see/experience in any conservative Catholic setting.  And who can be surprised, as only once–quite far into the document–does the Halloween letter demonstrate any sensitivity on the part of the Church to such considerations:

10. It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.

This is quickly followed up (lest the reader should forget!) by a reminder that homosexuality is in no way to be condoned.

I am amazed that conservatives of another religion have managed to write a document that is just as hardline on the morality of homosexuality, while simultaneously managing to remind people that GLBTQ are part of their community, and ought to be treated as such, and remaining psychologically sensitive.  I would wish to see similar language from hardliners within my Church.

In Corde Mariae,

Eiluned


[1] One has the sense that this would not happen.

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Published in: on August 5, 2010 at 10:08 pm  Comments (1)  
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Positively Monastic Silence

Just a quick post to apologize for how quiet the blog has been for the past week!  Victor is traveling and working on an article, and my dissertation has attempted to devour me.  We’ll be back next week, with more exciting entries, but in the mean time, click here for a fascinating glimpse into the lives of Victor and Eiluned.

In Corde Mariae,

Eiluned

Published in: on July 30, 2010 at 2:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Gender, Priesthood, and the Church

I’m sure we all remember last October, when the Church welcomed traditionalist Anglicans into the Roman Catholic fold. Perhaps you had a reaction similar to mine:  “Yay!  Anglican-use parishes!  Wait…we’re acting as a refuge for ‘Anglicans uncomfortable with their church’s acceptance of female priests and openly gay bishops?'” [1] Do we need more people like that?  We want people to convert, not because they’ve come to terms with say, the authority of the Pope, or, more importantly—for some Anglicans—transubstantiation, but because of problems with the sexual orientation and gender of those performing the sacraments?

There are those who would argue that the disagreement over the gender/orientation of those performing the sacraments is deeply theological, and not to be taken lightly.  I am not convinced, however, that some are changing their faith due to deep theological convictions.  The conservatively minded sometimes employ theology to justify the disgust they feel at GLBTQ folks or their desire to keep the status quo (as do we all, from time to time).

On the other hand, perhaps I am convinced that these Anglicans have no good reason to leave because I, myself am not particularly moved by arguments as to why women can’t be priests.  Both sides toss well-worn premises around with unfortunate predictability:[2]

Anti:  We can’t have female priests, Christ chose 12 men, and only men even though He had female disciples.

Pro:  This doesn’t tell us anything about his feelings about a female priesthood, He was merely adhering to the social norms of the times.

Anti:  Christ was the Son of God, he can do anything.  If He wanted to make women priests, He would have.  He didn’t.  Clearly, He didn’t want women to be priests.

Pro:  He also didn’t choose Asian, Innuit, or African priests, does that mean that he clearly only wanted people from his portion of the world to be priests?   Furthermore, as an observant Jew, Christ kept kosher, surely that means He wanted us to keep kosher?

And so forth, with variations and discussions about social norms, Christ’s desire to ignore/embrace them in the service of His church, the innate fitness of women for the priesthood, etc.  Arguments frequently descend to people finding parts of the New Testament where Christ is doing something not in current Church teaching and asking why if this has been dispensed with, why not the prohibition on women priests?

On the other hand, we have the more allegorical argument that Church is Mother, and the priest, as Alter Christus, marries the Church, serving as Father to his spiritual children.  As someone deeply interested in allegory, I would probably find this image more convincing, were it not for my gender and orientation convictions.  Not only do I have no problem with the image of a woman marrying a woman, but I also have no difficulty with the idea that a woman can act as a father/fatherly/fathering figure.  Aside from the biological fact that only women can bear children, I don’t see gender as a defining characteristic for the roles of mother- and fatherhood.

On the other hand, being a true believer in my Church, I’m not ready to just start ordaining women without official sanction, as these people have.

Women ordaining women

If anything, I worry that they make the case for woman priests look bad, as, while they claim to be working within the Church, they are actually making a new Church hierarchy for themselves.   While sympathetic with their cause, I am not so sympathetic with their means.

This week, as I’m sure many of you know, the Vatican issued its revised internal laws for the discipline of pedophilic priests.  (The text of the document itself is to be found here).  Article five of that document reads as follows:

Art. 5

The more grave delict of the attempted sacred ordination of a woman is  also reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

1° With due regard for can. 1378 of the Code of Canon Law, both the one who attempts to confer sacred ordination on a woman, and she who attempts to receive sacred ordination, incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

2° If the one attempting to confer sacred ordination, or the woman who attempts to receive sacred ordination, is a member of the Christian faithful subject to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, with due regard for can. 1443 of that Code, he or she is to be punished by major excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

3° If the guilty party is a cleric he may be punished by dismissal or deposition.

The Times suggests that,

“The decision to link the issues appears to reflect the determination of embattled Vatican leaders to resist any suggestion that pedophilia within the priesthood can be addressed by ending the celibacy requirement or by allowing women to become priests.”

On one hand, I’m not entirely sure the analysis is correct.  The document does contain, not merely the rules for dealing with abuse of minors, but also other kinds of abuses associated with sacraments (see, for example, Article 3, which deals with sacrilegious acts against the Eucharist.)  The inclusion of a discussion about female priests takes place in the context of sacramental abuses, not specifically  in a discussion about pedophilic priests.  On the other hand, there is no mention (that I can find, perhaps your eyes are sharper, dear readers) of what action may be taken against priests who attempt to marry, or those who attempt to ordain an already married man, which would also be an abuse of Holy Orders.[3] Thus, only the ordination of women is put on par (in terms of sinfulness) with desecration of the Blessed Sacrament, and abuse of children.  This feels pointed and unwarranted, and I am deeply disturbed that the Vatican seems bent on providing more fodder for those who would portray it as a hidebound misogynistic club of old men.

In Corde Mariae,

Eiluned


[1] Of course, the NYT may overstate what the Vatican  actually said, but the point is still worth observing.

[2] Clearly, I am simplifying the arguments on both sides.

[3] I refer, of course, to cases in which the men in question are Roman Catholic, not converts from other traditions.

Published in: on July 18, 2010 at 3:25 pm  Comments (5)  
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Some thoughts on Pride 2010

Yesterday, I attended the Pride March.  I admit to having been a bit apprehensive about the going.  I’d never been to one before, and from stories that I heard, I expected it to be a bit outside my comfort zone, and was somewhat afraid of seeing a display of homosexuality rather like the one appearing in this satirical article by The Onion.  However, I was pleasantly surprised, for the most part.  Sure, there were about 20 men near the front of the parade, completely nude.  Sure, the Leather Daddys and the BDSM groups made their appearance (more about on the morality and ethics of BDSM in a later (hopefully soon!) post).  But the march was not a warlike assault battering the gates of a hostile and morally superior world; for the most part it was a boisterous show of solidarity, welcomed by cheering supporters all along the parade route.  If there were anti-gay protesters, to my surprise, I didn’t see them.  For the most part, no matter what your orientation or conviction—homo- or heterosexual (or even asexual!), religious or atheistic—you could cheer and feel support for someone in the parade.  It almost felt mainstream:  the Anglicans, Heterosexuals for Same Sex Marriage, even (which shocked me the most) the School Board had a float.  Even more charming was the large group from PFLAG marching with signs such as “I’m proud of my trans son.”  In the Village, one almost had the illusion that Pride is completely mainstream, as even hardware stores demonstrated their support:

Dudley Hardware, Church Street

(Of course, if it were really mainstream, they wouldn’t have to show support, it would just be part of the culture, and we wouldn’t need a Pride Parade, but baby steps…)

That being said, a few things did bother me, most especially the level of other major political issues that people tried to address in the parade.  Sure, everyone has politics, but I feel that a march affirming the existence of and need for GLBTQ rights is not the place to air feelings about Israel, or plug your candidacy for Mayor, because, as the buttons distributed by the Ryerson Student Union remind us, “My Pride is a March not a Parade.”  Pride should not be a place where those with the most amount of money and/ or supporters have the best floats, flashiest costumes, and loudest voices.  It’s a march to remind people that 40 years ago, such an open display of queerness would have been unthinkable, and that in some parts of the world, it still is.  It’s a place to marvel and celebrate how far we’ve come, and remind people of the work still to be done.

But we have come far.  I stood next to an older Filipina, in her 60s.  She wore a conservative long jean dress, with a long sleeved jean jacket, decorated here and there with embroidered flowers.  She could have been any one of the women I meet at church, or even my own mother.  But on her jean hat was a wreath of rainbow flowers, around her neck, rainbow beads.  She cheered as loudly as any of the young short haired dykes, and the boys in heels and eyeliner.   She cheered in joy and solidarity.

Pride 2010

In Corde Mariae,

Eiluned

Published in: on July 5, 2010 at 10:54 pm  Comments (2)  
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Roman Catholic and Queer: An Epistle of Introduction on the Feast of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord

(My introduction is not as detailed as Victor de Villa Lapidis’ but may it serve as a brief window into who I am, and why I care about this blog.)

J.M.J.

July 1st, 2010:  Feast of The Most Precious Blood of Our Lord

(General Roman Calendar of 1962)

For some, the realization of their homosexuality is a major and even traumatic event, one that influences every aspect of not only how they understand the world, but more importantly, how they understand themselves.  This was not my experience.  I had always been aware of my attraction to my own sex, yet I had never put it together with affirmations like “I am queer/lesbian/bisexual/gay.”  Women were intelligent, interesting, and obviously more aesthetically pleasing than men, surely other women saw it that way? It wasn’t until a series of long discussions with a very good, sensible, and open minded friend (you may know him as the blog administrator!) that I began to put my attraction to my sex in this context.  Even then, I felt uncomfortable making the affirmation “I am gay.”  My gay friends had always presented this as a life-altering realization, one which made them feel ostracized; they had become an “other.”  I did not feel other.  I did not feel assailed from all sides.  My friends were still my friends, my significant other, my significant other, and my religion was still my religion.  Sure, I disagreed when people made comments about homosexuality being “disordered,” but I had always found that assertion theologically and intellectually problematic, even before I began identifying as gay.  I still believed that the Host I received on Sundays was the Body and Blood of Our Lord, still followed the commandments and precepts of the Church, still prayed the Rosary, examined my conscience, and went to Confession.  I was still me, I still believed the same things, even if the affirmation I made about my sexual orientation was different.

Why am I here, writing this, you may ask, if my own realization of my Queerness did not majorly affect my devotion to my religion, or my understanding of myself as a Roman Catholic? Recently, I was out with a bunch of friends, and an acquaintance asked whether I could help them show some out-of-towners around on the coming weekend which happened to be Pride:  “You know, all those gays will be running around town, kind of scary.”  I was shocked by how angry the statement made me.  My reaction was no longer one of intellectual detachment, “Well, you think homosexuality is a disease, I disagree with you entirely.”  This was personal; an assumption had just been made, not only that I would agree with the statement, but also that I was not one of “those gays”.  I had just been made other.

This small event encapsulates a series of encounters I have had over recent years.  While I know several other young LGBTQ Catholics, I have been increasingly troubled about the lack of dialogue and support there is not only within the Church hierarchy, but among young Catholics themselves.  We are told by some, that we can be cured, by some that we must subsume our desires; we are “othered” by many.  If people mention us, it is only in a context like the one above.  I would like to encourage you, dear reader, not to assume that just because someone is a devout Catholic, they’re not Queer.

In Corde Mariae,

Eiluned[1]


[1] I realize that some may be curious about my nom de plume; it is inspired by a character briefly mentioned in a Dorothy L. Sayers’ novel, Eiluned Price, who lives with her “close friend” Sylvia Marriot.  While they are never explicitly identified as lesbians, there are one or two hints that certainly suggest so.

Published in: on July 2, 2010 at 3:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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