In what can only be described as patently ridiculous and totally absurd, a Catholic organization whose purported goal is to help lesbian and gay people lead celibate lives, is hosting a sports camp for men this weekend, at the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s seminary.
“This weekend a group of men will gather at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary to how learn to throw a spiral, make a three-point shot and hit a long ball — and to resist homosexual urges.
“Courage, a Catholic group that encourages people with same-sex attraction to remain celibate, is holding its 13th annual sports camp in which “men physically compete on the field while enriching their souls through a daily regimen of prayer, confessions, mass, and the Liturgy of the Hours,” according to the group’s website.”
Members and supporters of Philadelphia’s Peace Advocacy Network planned to protest the program. Ed Coffin, the Network’s director said in the Inquirer article,
“They think that in offering people with same sex attraction the chance to learn how to play sports they will learn to be manlier. . . .It’s a ludicrous assertion. There are many, many out gay athletes and many gay men who play sports.”
The Courage organization has often mixed their message of celibacy with outdated notions that link sexual orientation with gender stereotypes. You can read Bondings 2.0’s critique of the ministry in our January 2012 post, “When Courage Fails.” Courage chapters have sometimes been known to encourage forms of conversion therapy, an approach which the group’s founder, the late Father John Harvey, OSFS, did not promote. When I met Fr. Harvey at a conference in 1997, I asked him if Courage promoted conversion therapy, and he answered with an axiom from traditional moral theology, “You cannot require what cannot be accomplished.”
“The American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association and many other professional mental-health organizations have said not only that conversion therapy doesn’t work but that it can be psychologically damaging. . . .When you’re trying to convert something that can’t be converted, it’s going to have consequences. They’re working to make people feel shameful about what they call a ‘gay lifestyle’ and it’s something that we know can’t be changed.”
A HuffingtonPost article cites testimony posted on Courage’s website from previous sports camp participants. One comment, from a man named Robert states:
“One time a teammate gave me a sweaty celebratory hug. He was humbly secure in himself, just as he was, selflessly and joyfully showing affection to others. I also liked when one man, whom I’d felt intimidated by, gave me a pat on my belly, meaning ‘way to go!’ His touch made me feel accepted as one of the guys.”
If it were not for the potential psychological damage that a program such as a “sports camp” based on bizarre pseudo-scientific premises and outdated stereotypes might cause, this news would be truly laughable. The fact that faith has been added to the mix makes this news all the more serious. What’s next? Baking lessons for lesbians?
The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues. At the end of this posting, you can find the links to previous posts in this series.
St. Nicholas Parish, Evanston, Illinois, recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of their Gay, Lesbian, Families and Friends Ministry. You can read a history of the ministry here. As part of the celebration, David Phillipart, parish director of liturgy, wrote the following blessing prayer for those involved in the ministry. It’s beauty speaks for itself. Parishioner Debbie Winarski commented, “It really was a beautiful moment–the kind that gives one strength to keep going.”
To St. Nicholas Parish’ outreach ministry, we say: “Ad multos annos!”
St. Nicholas Parish Prayer of Blessing
For ten years now, our parish’s Gay, Lesbian, Families and Friends Ministry has worked to provide a place for Catholics who are gay and lesbian, their family members and friends, and our parish as a whole to grown in faith, hope, and love. Today we want to bless the members of this ministry, so I ask you to come now to the place of the blessing before the altar.
You are nurturers and prayers,
Preachers and prophets,
healers and photographers,
you are parents,
you are sisters and brothers,
you are Catholics and you are treasured parishioners.
We honor the decade of your lives spent in this ministry.
[As is our custom I now invite others who wish you join these sisters and brothers to come forward and place a hand on them in blessing, and let us all stand and extend our hands.]
in love you created us: men, women, and children
In your own divine image and likeness
enlivening the universe with our variety of gifts, traits, abilities, skills, and circumstances—
faults and foibles, too.
You created us to love you and to love one another
in many and wonderful ways.
So the love of Abraham and Sarah
brought to birth your people,
Ruth and Naomi’s loving faithfulness
to each other shines as a sign of your love for us,
and the deep devotion of David and Jonathan
to each other reveals how complete
is your commitment to us.
Rising from the tomb and ascending to you,
Christ makes new our capacity to love each other.
No longer merely Jew nor Greek, slave or free,
male or female,
we love each other
as heirs to your promise,
your daughters and sons,
sisters and brothers of Jesus.
Bless all the members of our parish Gay and Lesbian, Families and Friends Ministry.
Give wisdom to their search for ways to tell of your goodness and understand our humanity.
Grant success to their long labors to call your church
to be an ever-more inclusive community.
Magnify their joys and heal the hurts
that prejudice and oppression have wrought.
Empower us to draw all your children
into your loving embrace,
made real in our community and in our commitments.
We ask this in the name of the One
who taught us that you are love,
and what when we live in love, we live in you,
through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Inside and outside the church, the debate on marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples has provided some interesting discussion about the institution of marriage generally. Two recent articles by prominent Catholic thinkers and observers, Garry Wills and Jamie Manson, are two exceptionally good examples.
In “The Myth About Marriage,” published in The New York Review of Books, Wills focuses on whether or not marriage has any religious significance:
“Why do some people who would recognize gay civil unions oppose gay marriage? Certain religious groups want to deny gays the sacredeness of what they take to be a sacrament. But marriage is no sacrament.”
In examining the scriptures used to support a religious view of marriage–such as the Creation story, Jesus’ comments on divorce (Mark 10:8), and the wedding at Cana (John 10:1-11)–Wills finds no evidence of the institution of marriage as a Christian sacrament. He quotes Fr. Raymond Brown, the renowned Scripture scholar on the Cana story:
“Neither the external nor the internal evidence for a symbolic reference to matrimony is strong. The wedding is only the backdrop and occasion for the story, and the joining of the man and woman does not have any direct role in the narrative.”
Wills also relies on Joseph Martos, who wrote the classic text on the history of the sacraments, Doors to the Sacred, for a history of the sacrament of marriage, which begins only in the 12th century, and culminates in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. (An accessible summary of Martos’ scholarship on marriage can be found in Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach, chapter 8.) Wills concludes his argument:
“Those who do not want to let gay partners have the sacredness of sacramental marriage are relying on a Scholastic fiction of the thirteenth century to play with people’s lives, as the church has done ever since the time of Aquinas. The myth of the sacrament should not let people deprive gays of the right to natural marriage, whether blessed by Yahweh or not. They surely do not need—since no one does—the blessing of Saint Thomas.”
While I appreciate Wills’ point, I think he is throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water. Marriage does have both civil and religious dimensions to it. Many marriage equality advocates strongly support this dual dimension to the institution, but equally as strongly advocate for a separation of the dimensions to their proper authorities: the secular, political realm governs civil marriage, while the religious realms govern religious marriage.
Wills is accurate in relating Martos’ history of marriage, however, I came away with a different perspective from Martos than he seems to have done. In my reading, Martos’ history shows that, indeed, marriage is an institution which has evolved over time. It changes with different understandings of human beings, their relationships to one another, their sexuality, and the “contract” that society has with its members in terms of conferring rights and responsibilities.
Marriage also changes with evolving religious understandings of love and its symbolic roles and messages. Religious people and institutions do have the right to determine those roles and messages–within the confines of their institutions. More importantly, those roles and messages, even in religious settings, evolve and change over time, as new understandings emerge.
Marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples is being considered by society now precisely because our society has come to realize the value of the love and commitment between couples who share the same gender. And as polls continue to show, for many Catholics, their is a religious dimension to the quest for securing marriage equality for these couples: Catholics want equal justice for all couples whose love and commitment contribute to the common good.
Jamie Manson, in a National Catholic Reporter column entitled, “Sacramental Marriage Beyond Anatomy,” explores this religious dimension of marriage (applying it to same-gender and different-gender couples). She first recounts her personal experience, first in witnessing difficult marriages, and then witnessing marriages that were life-giving:
“It wasn’t until I attended graduate school, where many of my classmates were married, that I began to see that two people could flourish in a relationship. I realized that the same couples share a love so deep it actually can inspire hope and faithfulness to their larger community.
“Watching these couples, I began to understand what sacramental marriage means. If a sacrament is a sign of God’s grace, it follows that relationships that are signs of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and faithfulness are sacramental. These signs of grace are part of the new life that married couples are called to bring into the world, with or without children.
“I was well into my graduate studies when I realized that I was not heterosexual. I was grateful to have had so many married friends to show me the marks of a good and holy marriage. It helped me to know what to aspire to in my own relationships with women. I also met many same-sex couples during my studies and through them I was able to see that God was present in their relationships in the same way God was manifest in the relationships of my straight friends.”
Manson continues this line of thought by making the sacramental dimension to marriage explicit in her argument, pointing out that anatomical gender is less important that quality of relationship as an indicator of sacramentality:
“What made my straight friends’ marriages sacramental wasn’t the fact that their anatomies matched up in a particular way or that they could procreate. As I learned from my childhood, complementing genders and an ability to reproduce in no way guarantees that a marriage will be graced or sacramental. Their marriage was good and holy because it helped both partners to grow in generosity, compassion, mercy, and faithfulness. . . .
“To make procreation and gender complementarity the criteria for marriage simply does not do justice to the Catholic sacramental imagination. To believe that a sacramental marriage cannot happen between two people of the same sex is to place limits on God’s power to work within the relationships of God’s beloved children.
“If we take seriously the Catholic notion of sacramental love, then our concerns shouldn’t be over the anatomies of a couple, but whether or not the couple, through their commitment, brings the life of God more fully into our world. Is their relationship inspiring others to greater faithfulness? Are they a sign of the power of forgiveness and unconditional love? Are the sacrifices that they make for one another an incarnation of the selfless love to which Jesus calls us? . . .
“Rather than concern over the anatomical reality of a couple, the sacramental nature of marriage should be judged by whether there is equality and mutuality between spouses, whether the relationship helps both spouses to flourish individually and as a couple, and whether their relationship brings the love, mercy, and faithfulness of God more fully into our world.”
Manson makes a convincing case for the fact that marriage does have a religious dimension to it. What I like about her argument is that her view is that the religious dimension comes from the relationship between the partners, not the anatomy of the partners. Is this a development in our understanding of marriage? YES! And a very good one! It reflects both our religious and psychological understanding that sexuality and marriage are about more than just human beings’ potential for procreation.
Manson’s view of marriage not only aids committed same-gender couples who seek recognition of their relationships, but it also can help us to take a different, more compassionate, approach to heterosexual couples whose marriages are marred by inequality, injustice, and abuse. In effect, by recognizing the importance of relationship as an indication of sacramentality, the discussion on same-sex marriage is helping, not hurting, heterosexual marriage to become a better institution in society.
“Love between two persons, whether of the same sex or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected… When two persons love, they experience in a limited manner in this world what will be their unending delight when one with God in the next… To love another, whether of the same sex or of a different sex, is to have entered the area of the richest human experience…” (Cardinal Basil Hume, Note on the Teaching of the Catholic Church Concerning Homosexual People, 1995).
A different translation of Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki’s comments about the equality of homosexual and heterosexual relationships offers a slight shift in the understanding of the Berlin archbishop’s message reported here on May 20th, though, as far as I can understand, it is still a very hopeful message. First, I’ll explain the translation issue and then explain why I think it is still hopeful.
Terence Weldon, who blogs at QueeringTheChurch.com, alerted me to a blog by Daniel Silliman, who posted a variation on the translation of Woelki’s comments. Silliman’s post translates Woelki’s remarks, reported in The Deutche Presse-Agentur, the largest news organization in Germany, in this way:
“The Berlin Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki considers it possible that the Catholic Church will soften its strict position against gays and lesbians in the long term …. It is conceivable that the criteria will be refined. He considers it is imaginable that, ‘where people take responsibility for each other, where they live and practice a longterm/permanent homosexual relationship, that that is to be regarded in a similar way [emphasis mine]as a heterosexual relationship,’ Woelki said on Thursday at the Catholic Congress in Mannheim.
“However, no one can expect a quick change of heart from the Church on this question. There will be no quick fixes, such a process could take a long time. Above all, this would not change it, that the marriage between man and woman for the Catholic church has a special rank, emphasized Woelki. . . .
“The Magisterium of the Catholic Church must deal with such developments. Unfortunately, this often takes a long time, and would not help people living today, said Woelki.”
The biggest difference here is whether Woelki’s comparison phrase is translated “in a similar way” or “in the same way.” While there is certainly a difference between these translations, I still believe that even if the weaker one is more correct, it is still a giant step forward from the usual absolutist approach most church leaders take that no change can ever possibly take place in the area of homosexual relationships.
“Where the government’s policy is de facto tolerance and there is no explicit legal recognition of homosexual unions, it is necessary to distinguish carefully the various aspects of the problem. Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth, which is contradicted both by approval of homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons. Therefore, discreet and prudent actions can be effective; these might involve: unmasking the way in which such tolerance might be exploited or used in the service of ideology; stating clearly the immoral nature of these unions; reminding the government of the need to contain the phenomenon within certain limits so as to safeguard public morality and, above all, to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defences and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon. Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil.”
Cardinal Woelki’s comments (even in the translation which weakens the comparison to heterosexual unions) and the comments of the other bishops cited in my previous post ignore this document’s injunction not to approve of homosexual acts and they certainly do not state clearly “the immoral nature of these unions,” but instead do quite the opposite.
I hope that my post on May 20th did not give the impression that I believed that equality for heterosexual and homosexual relationships in the Catholic Church was just around the corner. That was not my intention. Even without knowing of Woelki’s comments that such a change might take a long time, I was still under the impression that such would be the case. For example, while I rejoice that Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia has called for a re-thinking of the church’s approach to sexual ethics, I am not going to hold my breath until that happens. Yet, it is still a giant step in the rigtht direction that a bishop has issued such a call.
The cause for rejoicing in Woelki’s statement is that a Cardinal of the Church has acknowledged goodness in same-gender relationships and has compared them to marriage–unlike comparing them to addiction, bestiality, and other human frailties or perversions, as some of his brother bishops have been known to do. Knowing that one Cardinal–especially one who may not see full equality between heterosexual and homosexual relationships as ideal–can make such a positive comparison indicates that the hierarchy of the church can indeed work for change in this area of doctrine.
I thank Terence Weldon and Daniel Silliman for their clarifications. I invite readers to offer their thoughts on the Cardinal’s statement, and whether or not this news is seen as a sign of hope.
Catholics for Marriage Equality–Minnesota turned their pro-LGBT message into song recently, when they gathered 300 singers together to do a rendition of “For the Children,” a pro-diversity anthem penned by David Lohman, who works for the Institute of Welcoming Resources, a project of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
You can listen to the fruits of their labors, along with an interview with Lohman, by watching this video:
Catholics for Marriage Equality–Minnesota is working to defeat the proposed constitutional amendment for their state which will be on the ballot in November.
Sometimes the relevant part of a news story is simply a single quotation or two. When that’s the case, we will share those quotes with you through this feature, “QUOTE TO NOTE.”
MARIO CUOMO’S RELIGION
In Maureen Dowd’s New York Times column today, entitled, “Here Comes Nobody,” she laments the narrow approach that Catholic Church leaders have been taking on social and political issues. She turned to former New York Governor Mario Cuomo for advice, and he told her:
“If the church were my religion, I would have given it up a long time ago. . . .All the mad and crazy popes we’ve had through history, decapitating the husbands of women they’d taken. All the terrible things the church has done. Christ is my religion, the church is not.