Papal Canonizations, Part 1: Pope John XXIII’s Influence on LGBT Equality

April 26, 2014

On Sunday, April 27th, two recent popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, will be canonized as saints in the Catholic Church.  For many Catholics who support LGBT issues, this double canonization is an occasion of mixed emotions. Though many are happy with the canonization of John XXIII, their joy is tempered by the fact that John Paul II, who was responsible for instituting many anti-LGBT policies and teachings, is being similarly honored.

Pope John XXIII

Today, I’ll review the contribution of John XXIII on LGBT issues in the church. Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at John Paul II’s influence on these matters.  On Monday, we will provide a review of some of the wealth of commentary written recently about these two men.

John XXIII’s greatest achievement in his papacy was convening the Second Vatican Council, which opened up a new era of theological reform in the Church.  Most importantly, for LGBT issues, the theological reform included an important development in the Church’s sexual teaching.  Theologian Lisa Fullam recently offered a succinct description of Vatican II’s development of sexual theology in her essay, “Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation.”  Fullam states:

“The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes identified two ends of marriage: the procreation and education of children, and the intimate union of husband and wife through which ‘they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day.’ (GS 48) Gaudium et Spes eliminated the long-held idea that procreation was seen as the primary end of marriage while the union of the partners was deemed secondary or instrumental to that primary end. The Council insisted that  ‘[m]arriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation’ (GS 50). Instead, it ‘maintains its value and indissolubility, even when despite the often intense desire of the couple, offspring are lacking’ (GS 50). Departing from most previous teaching in which the procreative end of marriage was elevated over the unitive end, the Council refused to prioritize either. However, the Council insisted that childless marriages are still truly marriages, not some lesser partnership, while no such contrary affirmation is made—loveless but procreative unions are not affirmed (or rejected) as true marriage by the Council.”

By displacing procreation from its position of primacy in sexual theology, and by raising the unitive function to a higher status, Vatican II opened the way for theologians to explore the unitive function more deeeply, which allowed them to consider the moral status of relationships which were not biologically procreative, especially gay and lesbian relationships.  So, John XXIII’s Vatican II  opened the way for a new discussion of sexuality in theology, which paved the way for the growing field of lesbian and gay theology.

Vatican II’s emphasis on justice being a constitutive part of the preaching of the gospel also had an effect on the development of LGBT ministry.  Fullam points out that John XXIII’s emphasis on human rights in his encyclical Pacem in Terris provided a new perspective for Catholics:

“The language of rights, then, is how Catholics take our religiously grounded understanding of the common good out into public discourse. With the humility appropriate to fallible human beings, we seek input from all people of good will as we do so. We don’t seek to legislate the whole moral law, but only those rights and duties by which the flourishing of all people is made possible. Our deep commitment to human dignity and the equality of all human persons is the bedrock on which Catholic teaching grounds its social message.”

John’s writings opened the path a more justice-oriented church.  One other outcome of this pope’s approach was the development following Vatican II of liberation theology, which would eventually be applied to the LGBT experience.

Immediately following Vatican II was when Catholics first started taking the human rights and liberation of LGBT people more seriously.  As this blog stated on October 11, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II:

“In one respect,  the movement for LGBT liberation, equality, and justice in the Catholic Church is a direct result of Vatican II.    The Council’s reform of theology, its updating of scriptural interpretations, its openness to scientific knowledge, its invitation for participation by the laity, its clarion call to work for justice in the world and the church–all these things were part of the 1960s Catholic zeitgeist which resulted in a burgeoning movement to be involved with, and work for justice for, LGBT people.

“It’s no accident that both two of the oldest Catholic ministries to LGBT people–Dignity and New Ways Ministry–emerged from this era and as a direct result of priests and religious following the call of Vatican II.  Similarly, it would have been unimaginable that John McNeill’s theological groundbreaking work, The Church and the Homosexual, could have been written before the Council.”

It is no overstatement to say that without John XXIII, the movement in the Church for LGBT equality would have been much delayed and much diminished.  For this contribution of his, and for the many other ways that he ushered in a more compassionate, just, and socially involved church, Catholics who support LGBT equality are rejoicing at his canonization.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


New Film Explores Life of Pioneering Gay Catholic Theologian John McNeill

June 11, 2012

Taking a Chance on God, a new documentary on the life of pioneering Catholic gay theologian, John McNeill, will have its New York debut on Saturday, June 16th, 7:00 p.m., at the School of Visual Arts Theatre, 333 West 23rd St., Manhattan, NY.

The film’s screening, sponsored by Dignity/New York, in honor of their 40th anniversary, will feature a panel of distinguished speakers that includes: McNeill himself and his lifelong partner, Charles Chiarelli, Mary Hunt,  James Bernauer SJ,  Bishop Gene Robinson, Kate Clinton, Ginny Apuzzo, Andy Humm, Fr. Dan McCarthy, Fr. Bernard Lynch, Ken Gomolka, Rev. Nancy Wilson.  McNeill is one of the founders of Dignity/New York.  Tickets for the screening are available at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/246908

Brendan Fay and John McNeill

The film’s publicity materials describe the documentary as:

“An inspiring portrait of a pioneer gay priest, Taking a Chance on God follows the extraordinary life of 86-year-old John McNeill from his Buffalo boyhood through his experiences as a POW in Nazi Germany, Vietnam peace promoter, leading gay rights advocate, and loving partner of forty-six years to Charles Chiarelli. McNeill – the author of groundbreaking works of gay spirituality, a founder of the LGBT Catholic group Dignity/New York, and a gay community leader during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s – refused to be silenced by the Vatican on LGBT issues, which resulted in his expulsion from the Jesuit priesthood. Chronicling McNeill’s love for the Catholic Church, the LGBT community, his Jesuit brothers, and his partner, Taking a Chance on God is a powerful story of faith, love and perseverance in the face of oppression and rejection.”

Taking a Chance on God was produced by Brendan Fay, who is also the producer of  The Saint of 9/11, a documentary on Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, the gay NYC fire department chaplain who is died ministering to people in the attack on the World Trade Center.

In an interview with The Miami Herald, Mc Neill describes the film this way:

 “This film is about my partner Charlie and our 46-year love affair. . . . The message is that God loves gay lovers and approves of them. . . . I don’t want any part of the church’s homophobia. . . .I was bringing a message that God brought to me. God’s love is universal and includes both gay and straight people.”

In the same interview, Fay comments on why he made the film:

“John became a hero to me the way Harvey Milk and other pioneers of the gay liberation movement had. . . .John is often a hidden figure. An unknown pioneer. There are not many who are aware of the dramatic impact and significance he had on the movement for change in society and the church in the early ‘70s.”

McNeill is best known for his ground-breaking theological work, The Church and the Homosexual, published in 1976.  In 2008, New Ways Ministry presented him with the Bridge Building Award for his life-long contributions to scholarship and pastoral work with LGBT people. You can read his award acceptance speech, which sums up his mission and ministry, here.

Kingston, N.Y.’s Daily Freeman interviewed McNeill and Chiarelli when then documentary was screened in the Woodstock, N.Y. film festival in September 2011.  In that interview, McNeill sums up his life work this way:

“I wanted to take away the guilt and self-hatred of gay Catholics who believed the church’s position on homosexuality.”

For a full listing of upcoming screenings, visit the documentary’s website, www.takingachanceongod.com.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


Transgender Catholic Woman Is Featured in “Queer Catholic Faith” Webinar Series

April 10, 2012

Hilary Howes

Transgender Catholic issues will be the subject of the next installment of  DignityUSA’s webinar series, Queer Catholic Faith, on Tuesday, April 17, 2012, 9:00 pm, Eastern Time.  The featured guest will be Hilary Howes, a Catholic transgender woman living in Maryland.

Hilary’s life journey has been an inspiring one, since she not only transitioned from living as a man to living as a woman, but her previously heterosexual marriage to a woman remained intact through that transition.  Additionally, she is an adult convert to Catholicism, having turned to her wife’s faith after the gender transition process.  The couple are active members of the Greenbelt Catholic Community, an intentional Eucharistic community in Greenbelt, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC.

Ms. Howes has already shared her unique life-story in a variety of Catholic venues.  She authored the article, “To Be or Not to Be: A Catholic Transexual Speaks,” in the September 2010 issue of Conscience magazine, which she concluded with this paragraph:

“I understand that my journey, though personal, touches that which is universal about gender for everyone. Perhaps your notions of father, mother, brother, sister, husband and wife get opened a little by meeting someone who has been all of those at different times in her life. Maybe you can take it from someone who has been there that looking at everything as us and them, black and white, male or female is limiting and dangerous. Ultimately, welcoming the mystery of diversity in God’s plan is the healing for our church for which I most hope.”

In September of 2011, she was a featured panelist at the first conference of the “More Than a Monologue” series, held at Fordham University, New York.  A National Catholic Reporter article on the event noted Hilary’s participation, observing that she offered her message of diversity with a strong dose of humor, with lines such as:

“I remain in my Catholic marriage of 33 years, to the most understanding woman in the world — making ours one of the few same-sex marriages affirmed by the Roman Catholic church.”

Most recently, Hilary, along with her wife, Celestine, were focus session leaders at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium last month in Baltimore, Maryland.  Their presentation is available on CD; click here for the order form.

The DignityUSA webinar series kicked off last month with a conversation with Jamie Manson, an award-winning columnist for The National Catholic Reporter.  It will continue, Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 9:00 pm, Eastern Time, with Rev. John McNeill, theologian, psychotherapist, and pioneer of LGBT rights in the Catholic church.   The series concludes on Tuesday, June 12, 2012, 9:00 pm, Eastern Time, with Dr. Mary Hunt, theologian and co-founder of WATER (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual).

To register for any of these webinars, go to: http://www.instantpresenter.com/PIID=EA55DC818346 or visit DignityUSA’s webpage for this event.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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