Sex, Gender and the Sacred

The road to the sacred runs through the carnal. Not only the Bible but Life itself reveals that sexuality is more spiritual than biological. The erotic is God's poetry of love calling us out of ourselves to awareness of beauty and to an expansive creativity and giving of ourselves. We go to God through one another, via loving, not apart from one another. --Paschal.

Friday, September 30, 2005

From the Mom of a Gay Son, a Letter in Vermont

A Vermont Mom Speaks Out

By Sharon Underwood

Originally published in the Valley News of Vermont and New Hampshire in 2000, this letter has been extensively re-published in diverse publications and is presented here with permission from the author.

As the mother of a gay son, I've seen firsthand how cruel and misguided people can be. Many letters have been sent to the Valley News concerning the homosexual menace in Vermont. I am the mother of a gay son and I've taken enough from you good people.

I'm tired of your foolish rhetoric about the "homosexual agenda" and your allegations that accepting homosexuality is the same thing as advocating sex with children. You are cruel and ignorant. You have been robbing me of the joys of motherhood ever since my children were tiny.

My firstborn son started suffering at the hands of the moral little thugs from your moral, upright families from the time he was in the first grade. He was physically and verbally abused from first grade straight through high school because he was perceived to be gay. He never professed to be gay or had any association with anything gay, but he had the misfortune not to walk or have gestures like the other boys. He was called "fag" incessantly, starting when he was 6.

In high school, while your children were doing what kids that age should be doing, mine labored over a suicide note, drafting and redrafting it to be sure his family knew how much he loved them. My sobbing 17-year-old tore the heart out of me as he choked out that he just couldn't bear to continue living any longer, that he didn't want to be gay and that he couldn't face a life without dignity.

You have the audacity to talk about protecting families and children from the homosexual menace, while you yourselves tear apart families and drive children to despair. I don't know why my son is gay, but I do know that God didn't put him, and millions like him, on this Earth to give you someone to abuse. God gave you brains so that you could think, and it's about time you started doing that.

At the core of all your misguided beliefs is the belief that this could never happen to you, that there is some kind of subculture out there that people have chosen to join. The fact is that if it can happen to my family, it can happen to yours, and you won't get to choose. Whether it is genetic or whether something occurs during a critical time of fetal development, I don't know. I can only tell you with an absolute certainty that it is inborn.

If you want to tout your own morality, you'd best come up with something more substantive than your heterosexuality. You did nothing to earn it; it was given to you. If you disagree, I would be interested in hearing your story, because my own heterosexuality was a blessing I received with no effort whatsoever on my part. It is so woven into the very soul of me that nothing could ever change it. For those of you who reduce sexual orientation to a simple choice, a character issue, a bad habit or something that can be changed by a 10-step program, I'm puzzled. Are you saying that your own sexual orientation is nothing more than something you have chosen, that you could change it at will? If that's not the case, then why would you suggest that someone else can?

A popular theme in your letters is that Vermont has been infiltrated by outsiders. Both sides of my family have lived in Vermont for generations. I am heart and soul a Vermonter, so I'll thank you to stop saying that you are speaking for "true Vermonters."

You invoke the memory of the brave people who have fought on the battlefield for this great country, saying that they didn't give their lives so that the "homosexual agenda" could tear down the principles they died defending. My 83-year-old father fought in some of the most horrific battles of World War II, was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.

He shakes his head in sadness at the life his grandson has had to live. He says he fought alongside homosexuals in those battles, that they did their part and bothered no one. One of his best friends in the service was gay, and he never knew it until the end, and when he did find out, it mattered not at all. That wasn't the measure of the man.

You religious folk just can't bear the thought that as my son emerges from the hell that was his childhood he might like to find a lifelong companion and have a measure of happiness. It offends your sensibilities that he should request the right to visit that companion in the hospital, to make medical decisions for him or to benefit from tax laws governing inheritance.

How dare he? you say. These outrageous requests would threaten the very existence of your family, would undermine the sanctity of marriage.

You use religion to abdicate your responsibility to be thinking human beings. There are vast numbers of religious people who find your attitudes repugnant. God is not for the privileged majority, and God knows my son has committed no sin.

The deep-thinking author of a letter to the April 12 Valley News who lectures about homosexual sin and tells us about "those of us who have been blessed with the benefits of a religious upbringing" asks: "What ever happened to the idea of striving . . . to be better human beings than we are?"

Indeed, sir, what ever happened to that?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

A Gay Priest speaks out, Commonweal article.

A Gay Priest Speaks Out
the vatican, homosexuals & holy orders
Rev. Gerard Thomas
Commonweal, Lay Catholic Opinion, January 28, 2005.

Sometime in the next few months, the Vatican will issue a much-anticipated document addressing the issue of whether gay men can be ordained priests. The policy is being written by the Congregation for Catholic Education in preparation for the upcoming Vatican “apostolic visitation� of seminaries in the United States, the in-depth review that is part of the Vatican’s response to the sexual-abuse crisis.

Exactly what Rome will say is unclear. Some observers predict an outright ban on admitting homosexuals to seminaries and religious orders; others foresee less drastic restrictions. No one, however, expects the Vatican to issue a warm welcome to gay men who feel called to the priesthood. But while banning or severely restricting gay men in orders would surely delight those U.S. Catholics who blame gay priests for the sexual-abuse crisis or have been railing against the “gay subculture� in the clergy, to a gay priest like myself, the imminent release of this document looms like terrible, if not entirely unexpected, news from the doctor.

It is also represents a serious moral error.

Few doubt that the impetus behind the Vatican’s proposed statement is the sexual-abuse crisis that has convulsed the Catholic Church in America for the past three years. And if American Catholics took note that the crimes overwhelmingly concerned priests preying on young boys and adolescent males, those in Rome drew unwarranted deductions from those facts, prompting some Vatican officials to take aim at all homosexuals in the priesthood. As Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls said in March 2002, “People with these inclinations just cannot be ordained.�

Yet many men with such “inclinations� are already ordained. To be sure, no reliable data exist about the number of gay priests in the United States, and estimates vary widely. Many bishops and religious superiors, who are either embarrassed by the presence of gay priests under their jurisdiction or who deny their existence, are understandably skittish about conducting research that would confirm the presence of homosexual priests in the church. (My completely anecdotal impression is that probably 25 percent of priests are homosexual.) Still, even if research were conducted, it is unlikely that gay priests would feel comfortable participating. Frank answers might jeopardize their ministries, especially since some bishops seem to equate homosexuality with pedophilia. “We feel a person who is homosexual-oriented is not a suitable candidate for the priesthood, even if he had never committed any homosexual act,� said Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, archbishop of Philadelphia, in April 2002.

In addition to the lack of data, a strict code of silence concerning homosexual priests has been imposed. Bishops and religious superiors have forbidden many priests from speaking, writing, or preaching about their homosexuality. (This is the reason I am using a pseudonym for this article: I have been instructed not to speak publicly about my sexual identity.) Thus gay priests like myself are caught in a double bind. If we speak the truth and discuss freely our existence in the church, and, more important, our experience of leading fulfilling lives as celibate men, we will be censured or removed from ministry. If we remain silent, though, we guarantee that the positive example of the celibate gay priest will remain hidden. Voiceless, the gay priest cannot defend himself within the church. Stereotyped, he cannot escape the suspicions of society at large.

Yet on this subject, as in so many other areas, the church needs to embrace more transparency, not more silence. For celibate gay priests, like all of God’s people, have an important story to tell.

To take but one example, I have often wanted to remind my parishioners that media coverage of the sexual-abuse crisis portraying all gay priests as abusers was inaccurate and unjust. But I could not offer convincing arguments or testimony without admitting that I knew gay priests or happened to be one myself. This is all the more frustrating because, while too many Catholic commentators equate “gay priest� with “sexually active,� the overwhelming majority of gay priests, in my own experience, are faithful to their promise to be celibate, and lead lives of healthy service to the church and the community at large. Moreover, despite some predictable misunderstandings and insecurities on all sides, homosexual and heterosexual priests work comfortably together.

Further, it is simply a calumny to say that gay priests are necessarily sexually active, or worse, that they are pedophiles. There are thousands of devoted priests ministering today who are gay and have found healthy ways of living celibately. The uncharitable accusations about the “gay subculture� in the priesthood stems primarily from the stereotype of the gay person as utterly incapable of keeping a vow of chastity or promise of celibacy. That is a falsehood. Moreover, the refusal of the hierarchy to welcome healthy, celibate gay priests as role models perpetuates that falsehood. In such an environment, where celibate gay priests are invisible, the only public examples of gay priests are, by default, notorious pedophiles. Is it any wonder, then, that Rome is busy preparing this new document?

This kind of hypocrisy makes it impossible for American Catholics, let alone the Vatican, to come to a more accurate view of the lives and ministry of gay priests. This, in turn, entails a great spiritual loss.

If the Incarnation shows us anything, it is that God loves us in our humanity, even in our weakness, as St. Paul says-perhaps especially in our weakness. We all have a need to see ourselves as loved by God as we are, even in those parts of ourselves that embarrass or sadden us. Perhaps we think ourselves too plain, too unintelligent, too untalented, or too unsuccessful to warrant God’s love. But God’s love is always far greater than we can imagine, and embraces our entire selves. In my own life, one of the most profound experiences of God’s love came when, after many years, I finally accepted that I could not change myself into a straight man: I was gay and that was simply the way God had created me. Encountering God’s love as I am was a transforming experience, one that I have wanted to share with parishioners not as an example of any personal sexual liberation, but as a sign of God’s infinite, and always surprising, understanding. Does this basic acceptance of God’s love seem like a commonplace sentiment? For most straight men and women, yes. But for gay people, it can be a profoundly difficult proposition to come to believe.

I have long hoped to testify before my parish to this foundational experience of God’s love in my life, but I am of course forbidden to do so. And when a minister of the Word cannot publicly proclaim the freedom that the Word brings to his own life, it is a real loss for a community of faith.

My own path to the priesthood is similar to that of many gay men. In the American Catholic milieu in which I was raised, the pressures against coming to terms with my sexual identity were overwhelming [see Valerie Sayers, page 36].

Growing up, I told no one that I was gay. Entering the seminary in my twenties, I was, as a gay man, fearful of not receiving eventual permission for ordination, so in the initial interviews, questionnaires, and psychological tests required of applicants, I denied my homosexuality. (Later I sought forgiveness for this in the confessional.)

Eventually, though, I came to feel secure enough to reveal this facet of myself to my superiors. Doing so seemed a deepening of my original “call,� an invitation to spiritual growth, and a way to allow God to love me as I am. Further, I realized that my decades spent fearing rejection and feeling marginalized had fostered within me a deep love for the materially poor of this world, who are marginalized and rejected in far worse ways.

Fortunately, and to my surprise, my honesty was welcomed by my superiors and my fellow seminarians. Many conversations about sexuality followed-with seminary rectors, spiritual directors, other seminarians and priests, as well as with psychologists and pastoral counselors. Over the years, my growing understanding of who I was helped me live a life of celibacy with more honesty and comfort. Priestly celibacy, of course, is not easy. Making this total offering to God requires honesty, patience, and sacrifice. It also requires the willingness to engage in an honest and open discussion of one’s sexuality, something a Vatican ban on homosexual priests would make impossible.

Few doubt that priestly celibacy and chastity within religious communities have long appealed to gay men and lesbians. Although the concept of “homosexuality� is a relatively new one, the phenomenon is not. Throughout the history of the church, homosexual men and women have found the priesthood and religious life both a refuge and a fulfilling way of life. As Richard John Neuhaus noted (First Things, June-July 2002): “It would seem more than likely that, in centuries past, some priests who have been canonized as saints would meet today’s criteria as having a ‘homosexual orientation.’� For many Catholics, the only surprising thing about gay priests is that we are still thought to be a source of shame whose existence must be kept secret.

If Rome bars homosexuals from the priesthood, many diocesan seminaries and formation houses for religious orders will undoubtedly lose good men during a time of drastically reduced vocations, while gay men already in orders will be further demoralized. There are other risks. Some priests, both straight and gay, hope that Vatican instructions dictating punitive steps against gay seminarians may be ignored or circumvented by sympathetic seminary rectors and novice directors. But subterfuge will only contribute to an ecclesial culture of hypocrisy. Will religious superiors encourage those to be ordained to practice deception in preparation for the sacrament of holy orders? Will some candidates simply refuse to discuss their homosexuality, closing themselves off to a healthy integration of their sexuality and thus laying the groundwork for spiritual inauthenticity-or worse?

Some have suggested that the Vatican may simply ask gay men to affirm that they have never been sexually active, or sign a document asserting their adherence to the church’s teaching on homosexuality and rejection of the “gay lifestyle,� or pledge never to discuss publicly their experience as gay men. Such restrictions can only be seen as tacit acceptance of the stereotype that homosexuals are inherently less psychologically healthy than heterosexuals-less capable of living celibately, less trustworthy, less valuable as members of the clergy, and, in general, less valuable as human beings. Restrictions would therefore represent an unjust discrimination against gay men. And as the Catechism instructs, concerning gays and lesbians, “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in this regard should be avoided� (2358).

Many years ago I felt the first stirring of a vocation to the priesthood. It was an enormous gift in the order of grace. I believe the priesthood is the vocation for which I have been born, and this belief has been confirmed again and again over my years of active ministry. I am celibate and hardworking and healthy and loving and faithful. I am also a gay man. Why is this wrong?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Disdain the Vatican plan to bar gars as priests, even the conservatives here.

September 25, 2005
New York Times
Admirers of Fallen 9/11 Hero Disdain the Vatican's Likely Plan to Bar Gays as Priests

The Rev. Mychal F. Judge, the Fire Department chaplain who died in the rubble of 9/11, was, and still is, one of the most widely loved Roman Catholic priests in New York City's recent history.

For 40 years, Father Judge tirelessly ministered to firefighters, their grieving widows, AIDS patients, homeless people, Flight 800 victims' families and countless others. At his funeral, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani called him a saint, a sentiment that admirers have followed up by campaigning for his canonization. A simple prayer that Father Judge wrote has been circulated around the world and attached to thousands of donations to the needy. Pope John Paul II accepted the gift of his helmet.

Father Judge was also, according to many of his friends of all sexual orientations, a homosexual. A celibate homosexual, he told friends, but a homosexual nonetheless. And reports last week that the Vatican is likely to try to bar gay men, even celibate ones, from the priesthood stirred anger among those who revere his memory.

The former city fire commissioner Thomas Von Essen, a close friend of Father Judge's, said Thursday that excluding men of his caliber from the priesthood would be simply "a shame."

Mr. Von Essen, a married, practicing Catholic who said that Father Judge came out to him years before his death, added, "To sacrifice your life to God and try to do so much good every day and to be prevented from doing that - it's no wonder they can't get anyone to join the church to become a priest or a nun."

On Thursday, Andrew Sullivan, the outspokenly gay and Catholic journalist, posted on his Web site an oft-reprinted photograph of Father Judge's limp body being carried off by firefighters on 9/11 minutes after he had given last rites to one of their own. Above it was the sardonic headline "Unfit for the Priesthood."

Mr. Sullivan said on Friday that Father Judge's work with the Fire Department mocked the assertion, made by a Catholic official who described the expected new rule, that even celibate gays should not enter the seminary because the temptations arising from being surrounded by men there would be too strong.

"The idea that gay priests somehow cannot serve straight congregants, when you have this priest working with one of the most stereotypically macho organizations - and he gave his life to them - captures some of the cruelty and bigotry we see in the Vatican now," Mr. Sullivan said in a telephone interview.

Father Judge, a gregarious, sandal-shod Franciscan friar who was 68 when he died, was a longtime member of a gay Catholic group, Dignity, and he often spoke up for gay rights. But several of Father Judge's admirers from conservative backgrounds declined on Friday to discuss his sexuality because they said it had no relevance.

A gay man who posted to saintmychal .com, a Web site promoting Father Judge's canonization, said he did not see why anyone would care, either. The man, Ralph W. Vogel, attended Masses that Father Judge offered in the 1990's for gay and lesbian Catholics in a Unitarian church on Staten Island. "I don't know anything personally about his sexual orientation, and it's not really important to me other than 'Wow, he was there,' " said Mr. Vogel, a director of volunteer services at Ronald McDonald House.

In fact, some prominent conservative Catholic commentators said on Friday that the church should not concern itself with the sexual orientation of candidates for the priesthood who honor their vows of celibacy.

"I don't really care, and I don't think most Catholics care if a priest is gay" as long he does not act on his urges, said William Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and a fierce critic of what he has called declining moral standards.

The Vatican document on gay seminarians has not yet been completed, and exactly how the authorities would go about screening out homosexuals remains an open question. The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, a conservative Catholic who edits the religious journal First Things, said that he doubted that the final document would include celibate gays in the ban. Such a policy, he said, "would raise enormous theological and moral problems in the teaching of the church."

Mr. Donohue said that the while the Vatican did need to address the sexual abuses committed by priests and damage they have done to the church, "the answer to the problem is not all of a sudden to roll out of bed and have this universal prohibition."

The founder of the saintmychal Web site, Burt Kearns, suggested that Father Judge himself could help repair the church's public image.

"If you look at the work and life of Mychal Judge, this is a man who should be on the recruiting poster for Catholic priests," Mr. Kearns said. "He was a great priest."

Shadi Rahimi contributed reporting for this article.

Homosexuality and a letter of loving concern

Allow me to suggest that this faith community, scattered and virtual such as it is, might work together to develop a letter of loving concern for our gay brothers and sisters in canonical traces and those preparing for ministry and the vowed life. Here is a first draft. You are invited to comment and edit for this purpose.

Brothers and Sisters:
Pope Benedict XVI has decided to declare your natural homosexual orientation as objectively wrong, and not believing that you can remain celibate, refuse canonical ministry to you. This, I propose, is an insult to many persons, not simply your selves.

We from our own faith gathering reach out to you in loving concern today. What shall we say to speak to your hearts? Let us begin with the gospel of Jesus.

There is no indication in the gospel that Jesus intended this kind of power over others to be given to a single person. To assume that one man in the shoes of the fisherman should or could have this power is an objective disordering of the intent of Jesus. The vast majority of scriptural exegetes and most theologians today would agree.

When the Pope takes it upon himself to decide moral issues without consulting bishops, without listening to papal commissions, without consulting the faithful, this manner of operating is simply not from God, not from the Spirit. There is an objective disorder in the Roman Catholic view and practice that assumes power over others to interpret the gospel without listening. It is faith inside a bubble.

Let us consider what ethical behavior in our times requires. Ethical behavior requires five behaviors to be both authentic and gospel inspired. First, a habit of inner consultation, of listening to oneself. Jesus employed parables to speak to the Inner Authority of each person, their inner teacher. The organized church, organized religion, has long forgotten how to do this via an idolatry of creed, code and cult and obsession with externals, turf, membership and money. The primacy of the individual conscience is saluted but not observed, nor is it honored or respected in practice. Organized religion as a whole spends very little time in helping individuals develop an authentic conscience. This urgency is vastly ignored.

Catholic religious leaders want followers: obedience and submission. To believe you have a direct pipeline to God without the necessity of listening to the community’s own sense of faith is the way to destroy the community. It has happened many times in the past and is happening now

Secondly, there must be loving behavior, the actual practice of the gospel, in loving one another and in welcoming the Stranger. Matthew 25, verses 36 ff is certainly about this ethic, when Jesus tells us how he will separate the “sheep from the goats.� Without loving practice, one has a notional or sterile faith, a faith without works. Churches are full of talk, but little walking of the gospel imperatives.

Thirdly, the practice of faith must be open to listening, to feedback from others, to growing. Otherwise it is faith in a bubble, as has been the sad history of religious persecution down through the ages, and the ecclesiastical support of slavery, abuse of the Jews, the
Crusades and Inquisition, and many religious wars undertaken “in God’s name.�

Too many leaders today practice their faith in a bubble that is closed and isolated from the views of others. When one cannot or will not listen to the views of others with sincere differences, one has their faith in a bubble, protected from challenge, and protected from Otherness.

Aside: If this mystery we call God is inexpressible and can never be captured in words because it is beyond all words, how can one presume that any form of belief is final and complete? Is it not curious that it is faith and love that is healing, not any particular brand of faith? Since it does not matter for your health and longevity what kind of Christian you are, but whether your faith is vital, this suggests that the Christian pre-occupation with Right Doctrine is a fetish of the ego.

Fourthly, faith that does not actively reach out to those who are different, isolated, marginalized, estranged, the outsiders of society, is simply not a gospel faith. The Hebrew prophets continually called the Israelites to the care for the poor. Faith that does not reach out to others, to welcome the stranger is not a gospel faith. It remains faith in a bubble of self concern, careful measurement and protection.

Today this means that we Christians must listen to Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus AND accept the validity of their own self chosen paths to God.

Leaders who aspire to govern and lead without listening are guilty of Faith in a Bubble, inside which they see only their own self-reflection on all sides. We have many examples today of faith in a bubble, of the assumption that faith can be vital without listening to the views of others.

This kind of faith is actually an idolatrous faith, because it places one’s own faith, a received gift, above the faithful views of others, while refusing to listen.

Jesus never summoned or invited us to certainty. Take care, he said, lest the light in you be darkness. Luke 11:35. When he continually faced religious authority which was closed and certain of itself, he found the Kingdom already present, there among the outsiders.

Lastly, the fifth mark of a gospel ethic, the far more difficult one, is that the motive is loving God and neighbor as ourselves, that is, generously. We are asked to act lovingly, not for the sake of obedience or reward or a return on our investment, but for the sake of loving. Therefore, unless loving is in the truth proclaimed, it is not gospel truth. Truth without love is simply not gospel truth and not from Jesus.

Follow the man from Galilee and know that we accept, welcome and love you as you are, in the mystery of your own God given sexuality.

It is the current practice of Roman Catholic authority that is objectively disordered. Authority that cannot accept the erotic poetry of God in in our God-given sexuality and in marriage, leadership which still insists that artificial contraception is an intrinsical evil, that is, objectively disordered, is faith in a bubble.

To use faith and piety to exercise power over others, without listening, is an objective disordering of the gospel of Jesus.

Paschal Baute
Married Priest and Psychologist
September 24, 2005.