SYNOD: James Alison Explains a Role for LGBT Catholics

October 4, 2014

Saluti da Roma!  Greetings from Rome!  As you may know,  New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick and I are in the Eternal City for several events surrounding the extraordinary synod of bishops on marriage and the family which runs from October 5th-19th.

Yesterday, we attended an amazing international theological conference entitled,  The Ways of Love: Pastoral Care with Homosexual and Transgender People.   Close to 200 people from at least 14 nations attended the meeting. The conference was sponsored by the European Forum for Lesbian/Gay Christians,’ and New Ways Ministry was one of the co-sponsors.

James Alison at the Rome conference, "Ways of Love"

James Alison at the Rome conference, “Ways of Love”

The conference website will soon post the texts of the major speakers, and I will post about their talks when the texts are online so that you can link to the entire manuscript.  America magazine has already posted the text of theologian James Alison’s talk, and I will try to summarize it here, but strongly encourage you to read the entire text here.

Alison used as his Scripture text, Acts 10-11, a section which describes Peter baptizing the first Gentiles, who had been scorned by others in the early Christian community.  He analogized this story to the experience of LGBT people in the modern Church.  After summarizing the Scripture story, he stated:

“But this has been exactly our experience as LGBT Catholics over the last thirty or so years. It has become clearer and clearer, until it is now overwhelmingly clear, that what used to seem like a self-evident description of us was in fact mistaken.  We were characterized as somehow defective, pathological, or vitiated straight people; intrinsically heterosexual people who were suffering from a bizarre and extreme form of heterosexual concupiscence called “same-sex attraction.” That description, which turned us, in practice, into second-class citizens in God’s house, is quite simply false. It turns out that we are blessed to be bearers of a not particularly remarkable non-pathological minority variant in the human condition. And that our daughterhood and sonship of God comes upon us starting as we are, with this variant being a minor but significant stable characteristic of who we are.”

Because the characterization of LGBT people by many, including church leaders, has been incorrect, it cannot be truly Catholic, Alison asserts:

“. . . . the only way a teaching can genuinely be Catholic is if it is bringing to mind something that really is the case about the human beings in question. Thus, the moment it becomes clear that what used to seem like an accurate description of who we are, a description which imagined that it sought our good, is not in fact accurate, but quite simply mistaken, then at that very moment it ceases to be possible to maintain that the teaching that flows from that description is Catholic. For the Catholic teaching follows the discovery of what the Creator shows us really is.”

This reality has an important effect on what it means to be a church, particularly a Catholic church:

“But here’s the trouble: the moment people head down that path they are refusing Catholicity and creating a church in their own image. Because they are turning the Catholic Church into a group defined by certain house rules, which are independent of reality. In other words, they are recreating a form of holiness that is over against others considered to be impure or profane. This is a regression to Second-Temple Judaism. At the very moment people do this, they automatically exclude themselves from the Catholicity of the Church, for they are seeking to turn it not into God’s sign of God’s longing for all humans to be reconciled with God through Jesus, but instead into their own sign of their own longing for a particular group with a strong group identity and carefully defined boundaries concerning who is in and who is out. . . .

“So please, I beg you, don’t, out of some misguided courtesy, think that such people define what Catholicity is. Catholicity is defined by God alone, as God shocks us by breaking down all our socially and culturally constructed barriers, by leading us into truth about our being Jesus’ brothers and sisters, creating equal-heartedly a way of being human together that doesn’t call for any form of comparison, one that flows from the Crucified One who forgives us.”

Alison had strong words for religious leaders who are not defending the human rights of LGBT people in countries around the globe which are enacting repressive laws against them:

“One of the things people say is: ‘“All this about LGBT people is a decadent Western value and we should defend ourselves against it.’ But the people they are defending themselves against are not decadent westerners, but their own brothers and sisters, Ugandans, Nigerians, Iranians, Russians, Saudis, Jamaicans. These are our sisters and brothers who have discovered something true about themselves, and about their capacity for love, and know that what is true makes sense to them. And here is what is remarkable: this discovering of something that is true is working in exactly the way that the Gospel said it would, and following just the dynamic of the Spirit that flows upon us from Jesus. And yet bizarrely, Christian leaders of all denominations are joining together with leaders of other religious organisations, ones that not only do not know of the Holy Spirit, but are in some cases adamantly opposed to the existence and enlivening effect of any such thing.”

He also pointed out the potential harm of the Church’s teaching of mandatory celibacy for lesbian and gay people.  It is no surprise, he points out that such a blanket recommendation can actually lead to promiscuous sexual behavior:

“[T]he debilitating effect of the taboo, as of any infection by idolatry, is that it damages the imagination, making it impossible to imagine the good. When our concupiscence was falsely defined as an objectively disordered form of heterosexual desire, then of course all of our acts were as bad as each other, and we had no incentive to humanize them. ‘No snacking between meals’ might be a useful instruction if it teaches people to prepare for enjoying the next meal better. But “no snacking between meals, and in your case, no meal either” is a sure recipe for binge-snacking.”

Alison also identified a unique and particular role for LGBT Catholics in the Church.  They have a special mission to conduct because they have been treated as outsiders:

“We have found ourselves prepared to be bearers of the Gospel precisely because of this most Catholic of things: we have been intimately part of the process of self-critical correction of culture which is how the Spirit keeps the church faithful and alive. So in each culture in which we live we are thus in a great position to help our sisters and brothers undo the quite local and particular taboos, violence, and structures which masquerade as being of God, but are in fact the work of idols. Who would have thought that it would be LGBT Catholics who could bear witness to the freshness of the Gospel, the way it brings creation alive, even the value of natural law, not as a trap but as an adventure? Talk about the stone that the builders rejected!”

As with much of Alison’s writing, every sentence holds a gem.  Moreover, so much of his richness is in his expansive exegesis of a particular Scripture text.   I have given you some highlights, above, from his talk. If your appetite has been whetted, I highly encourage you to read the entire text by clicking here.

Stay tuned for other “Ways of Love” conference news and other Synod-related events.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


LGBT Advocates Will Explain ‘Ways of Love’ to Synod of Bishops

August 3, 2014

As you probably already know, in October this year, the Vatican will be hosting a world synod of bishops to discuss marriage and family issues.  Just days before that  meeting begins, an international group of Catholic supporters of LGBT people will be meeting in Rome, along with representatives of the Waldensian Church and of the civil society, in order to discuss about how to renew the pastoral care with a view of fully including the LGBT people, and same-gender couples and families.

The conference, entitled “The Ways of Love: International Conference for a Pastoral Care with Homosexual and Transsexual People,” will take place on Friday, October 3, 2014, in Rome.   At the close of the conference, an appeal for appropriate pastoral care for LGBT people will be made to the bishops meeting in the synod.

A keynote speaker at the event will be Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary bishop from Australia who is the author of the book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church.  Bishop Robinson was a featured speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in 2012, where he called for a total re-vamping of the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexuality.

In addition to Bishop Robinson, the other speakers will be:

 James Alison, Catholic theologian and priest. Originally from the United Kingdom, he residesin Brazil and has worked extensively on homosexuality and Catholic faith, in particular on Catholic consciousness and gay consciousness;
Antonietta Potente, theologian and Italian Dominican nun based in Bolivia. She will offer a reflection on a new approach of the Gospel to the LGBT people;
Letizia Tomassone, Waldensian pastor, President of the Commission on Faith and Homosexuality of the Baptist, Methodist, and Waldensian Churches in Italy. She will tell about the path that these Churches have undertaken before openly including the LGBT people and couples;
Joseanne Peregin, President of the Christian Life Community in Malta and mother of a homosexual man. She will tell about the feelings and the fears that Catholic parents may have when it comes to homosexual children.

In anticipation of this conference, the website for the meeting has been posting interviews with some of the conference organizers, an international group of people from five continents.   Below is a sampling from some of those interviews, describing the needs of LGBT Catholics and the hopes for the syond.  Clicking on each name will bring you to the page with the entire interview with that person.

Michael Clifton, David et Jonathan, France:

“When the PACS (Civil Union bill) was introduced in 1999, the Roman Catholic Church’s reaction was quite hysterical, with demonstrators chanting ‘Les pédés au bûcher!’ (‘Burn the faggots!’). When last year (2013) the present government introduced a law allowing marriage and adoption for same-sex couples, there were once again enormous demonstrations, sometimes violent.

“The Church paid for special trains and buses to carry demonstrators to Paris and in churches the faithful were asked to pray for the demonstrators. But officially no members of the hierarchy took part in these demonstrations: some of them just went along before the demonstrations to congratulate and encourage the demonstrators.

“The archbishops of Paris and Lyon made quite strong public statements, likening homosexuality to, for example, zoophilia. Since the law has been enacted, the climate has become quieter and rumours are going around that a large number of the bishops regret the excessive language of last year.

“Even so, the bishop of Bayonne, earlier this year, went to Russia to congratulate Putin on his energetic persecution of homosexuals. On the other hand, two or three bishops have made definite attempts to set up some dialogue with homosexual groups and there is also some contact with influential theologians.”

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, USA

“I think this synod is a great opportunity for bishops to discuss LGBT people, relationships, and families. It is the first time the bishops are covering the topics of marriage and family in a synod since the question of legal marriages for gay and lesbian couples has become a reality. Many bishops from around the world have already publicly acknowledged that most Catholics do not accept the moral condemnation of loving, committed lesbian and gay relationships.

“If these bishops are honest, I think they will realize that this rejection of the church’s teaching is not because people don’t understand it, but because Catholics of good faith have reflected prayerfully on their experiences of lesbian and gay people and couples and have witnessed something holy in their lives and commitment.

“It’s also the first synod under Pope Francis. I think the bishops know that people around the world have responded positively to Francis’ new, welcoming approach to LGBT people. I think they will realize that any negative statements from the synod about lesbian and gay couples will alienate a great number of Catholics in the pews.”

Gianni Geraci, Progetto Gionata, Italy:

“Pointing out new ways where the ecclesial communities and homosexuals can meet and discover a new meaning for the announcement of the Gospel is what is needed. The idea is to follow in Abram’s footsteps, who wasn’t defeated by fear, who didn’t stand still in Harran where his father took him, who didn’t want to know in advance where the Lord was taking him, who didn’t ask for reassurance but only God’s promise to keep him under His blessing. (Gen. 12:1, 2).

“Homosexuals’ experience is deeply connected to Abram’s vocation: just like him, they need to face a horizon they don’t know, go down a road of which the final destination is unknown and the challenge of turning their homosexuality into sanctity without role models or points of reference. Just as happened to Abram, they will hear their old friends ask: ‘Why are you doing this? Live your life and give up unrealistic ambitions. Don’t walk roads you are not familiar with.

“But just as Abram did, they will hear God’s promise echo in their hearts: it is absurd to human reasoning (‘I will make you into a great Nation’, the Lord said to him when he was seventy-five and with no children because of his wife’s barreness) and it is demanding (‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household’). This promise, apart from His blessing (‘I will bless you’), has no warranty (‘Go to the land I will show you’). There is only an undefined destination that the Lord will point out on the way. Yet it is God’s promise.”

The conference is sponsored by the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups and financially supported by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of the Netherlands.  It will be held at the Waldensian Faculty of Theology, Rome.

In addition to the three people quoted abover, other conference organizers include:

Francesco Boschi (REFO, Italy); Michael Brinkschroeder (European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, Netherlands); Marianne Duddy-Burke (DignityUSA, United States); David Musonda (Dette Resource Foundation, Zambia); Innocenzo Pontillo (Progetto Gionata, Italy); Andrea Rubera (Nuova Proposta, Italy); Diane Xuereb (Drachma LGBT, Malta).

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


British Catholic Leaders Support Marriage Equality Legislation

August 13, 2012

The Times of London, England, has published a letter to the editor today from 27 prominent British Catholics expressing support for the United Kingdom’s proposed legislation to legalize same-gender marriage.  (It is not possible to link to the text on the Times’ website because a subscription is required to access letters to the editor.)

The 27 signatories include James Alison (theologian & priest), Tina Beattie (theologian), Mary Grey (theologian), Bernard Lynch (priest), Martin Pendergast (Chair, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality).

The text of the letter reads:

“Sir,  Not all Catholics share their hierarchy’s stated views against proposals to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples. Nevertheless, the submission by the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales  to the Government’s equal civil marriage consultation indicates a growing understanding about legislating for same-sex unions, compared with its 2003 position, when it firmly opposed civil partnerships.

“It seems  to us, as Catholic laity, theologians and clergy, important to uphold some key pastoral care principles used by the Catholic Church in England & Wales. Its 1979 guidelines stated that the Church has a serious responsibility to work towards the elimination of any injustices perpetrated on homosexuals by society.

“In 1997 Cardinal Hume wrote that love between two persons, whether of the same sex, or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected. This respect demands that such loving relationships be afforded social recognition according to social justice principles. He proposed three criteria for considering issues of social policy: are there reasonable grounds for judging that the institution of marriage and the family could, and would be undermined by a change in law? Would society’s rejection of a proposed change be more harmful to the common good than the acceptance of such a change? Does a person’s sexual orientation or activity constitute, in specific circumstances, a sufficient reason for treating that person in any way differently from other citizens? We suggest that it is perfectly proper for Catholics, using fully informed consciences, to support the legal extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples.”

The full list of signers:

James Alison, Theologian & priest
Ruby Almeida, Chair of Quest (LGBT Catholics)
Tina Beattie, Theologian  
Mike Castelli, Educationalist
Mark Dowd, Journalist
Michael Egan, Chair, Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement
Maria ExallChair, Trade Unions Congress LGBT Committee
John Falcone, Theologian
Eileen Fitzpatrick, Educationalist
Kieran Fitszimons, Priest
Mary Grey, Theologian
Kevin Kelly, Theologian & priest
Ted Le Riche, Retired educationalist
Bernard Lynch, Priest
Gerard Loughlin, Theologian
Francis McDonagh, Lay-person
Patrick McLoughlin, Priest
Anthony Maggs, Priest
Lorraine Milford, Lay-person
Frank Nally, Priest                                                                                                                                                                                                       Martin Pendergast, Chair, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality                                                                                         Sophie Stanes, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                                       Joe Stanley, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                                   Valerie Stroud, Chair, Catholics for a Changing Church                                                                                                                                Terry Weldon, Editor, Queering the Church                                                                                                                                            Matias Wibowo, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                           Deborah Woodman, Clinical Psychologist

Congratulations and many thanks for this thoughtful piece.  Let’s hope and pray that Catholic leaders in other countries, particularly the United States, will speak out as clearly and forthrightly.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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