Seattle’s Gay Mayor Ed Murray and His Catholic Journey

Back in 2012, when the marriage equality debate was in full swing in Washington State, one of the leading voices in the push for equality was Ed Murray, a gay Catholic state senator.   Murray, the chief senate sponsor of the marriage legislation, was tireless in his campaigning, and often spoke of his faith as one of the reasons he was working for LGBT equality.

Murray, now the mayor of Seattle, was recently profiled by Seattle Weeklyand, interestingly, the focus was not on the fact that he was a gay mayor, but a Catholic one.  As the magazine article points out, Seattle is tied “with San Francisco and Portland for the least religious city in the country.”  Only 13% of residents identify as Catholic, while 37% identify as religiously unaffiliated.

In Seattle during the 2012 marriage equality campaign, Mayor Ed Murray is flanked by New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo and Sister Jeannine Gramick.

While Seattle has had Catholic mayors in the past, what makes Murray’s faith so unusual is that he speaks so openly about it:  he’s an “out and proud” Catholic.  And the magazine finds a particular detail about Murray’s depth of religious commitment very interesting:

“Indeed, Murray’s Catholic faith can seem a study in contradiction. Not only is he a practicing Catholic in a secular city, he is a gay man who has remained in a church that has been outright hostile toward homosexuality.”

So, the reporter set out to gauge “whether Murray was a ‘true’ Catholic—a question that has been raised elsewhere on account of his sexuality and stances on various public-policy issues.”  The answer to that question is the basis of the long, but interesting article which chronicles Murray’s faith development that has led to his “consideration of the priesthood, his decision to leave the Catholic Church, and, ultimately, his return to the fold and how it has helped guide his first term as mayor.”

While the article is well-worth reading for all Bondings 2.0 readers, those who are 55 years of age and older will certainly identify with Murray’s story.  He speaks poignantly of coming of age in the era of John F. Kennedy’s election as President and the transformation of the Catholic Church due to the Second Vatican Council.  Rev. Mike Ryan, the rector of Seattle’s St. James Cathedral who knew Murray as a teenager and who is still a close friend, remembers the adolescent who would become mayor:

” ‘He made an impression, which is unusual,’ says Ryan, who at that time was involved in youth outreach and meeting a large number of young people. ‘Normally you meet high-school kids, they’re not thinking about the big picture. Then here’s someone who cared about issues of justice, peace, world issues, that was not typical of his contemporaries. He took a Catholic point of view [on those issues], the Catholic social teaching, which is some ways is one of the best-kept Catholic secrets.’ “

Ed Murray and his husband Michael Shiosaki at their 2013 wedding.

The article also recounts Murray’s coming out as a gay man, and how Catholic pastoral ministers supported him in that process:

“After graduating from high school, Murray attended St. Thomas Seminary in Kenmore, exploring the priesthood. After a year there, he decided against it, and finished his college studies at the University of Portland, a Catholic institution. There he got to know Trappist monks who introduced him to monastic worship, and counseled him on, among other things, his homosexuality, which he began to acknowledge in college. Far from the pious recriminations one might expect, Murray says that in college he was encouraged by priests to embrace that part of himself, rather that feel shame about it. It was further evidence, for Murray, that the Catholic Church, especially in its social-justice form, was a home for him, rather than the prison many people considered it.”

In the 1990s, Murray was a state representative and working for an LGBT anti-discrimination bill.  The Seattle Archdiocese, under Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, had originally supported the measure.  But in the 1990s, the new Archbishop Thomas Murphy opposed it, causing a crisis of faith for Murray, as he explains:

“After sticking with the Church for years, despite its poor record on many gay-rights issues, Murray says he couldn’t take it any more.

” ‘Most of my friends would die by the time I was 40 of AIDS, [and] we had a pope [John Paul II] who was pretty horrible on the issue of HIV/AIDS,’ Murray says. When the archdiocese reversed its stance on the anti-discrimination bill, “you had a Church that was opposing my civil rights.

” ‘I reached a point where it’s like, this does not work. This does not work for me.’ At 40 years old, he quit practicing Catholicism.”

But that wasn’t the end of the story:

“. . . [F]or Murray, life outside the church proved less tenable that his life within it. Strangely, what brought Murray back to the church was the work of a Protestant, Kathleen Norris. In 1997, during Murray’s second full term in office, the South Dakota author published The Cloister Walk, a memoir of her time spent at Benedictine monasteries. A bestseller, it reminded Murray of his time with the Trappist monks in Oregon. ‘I read it, and it really was like a glass wall shattered. Here was a Protestant woman from the Dakotas introducing my tradition back to me. … I didn’t feel spiritually whole until I came back to the church as a practicing Catholic. There’s no other explanation I can give for it: As a spiritual home and a spiritual experience, it’s where I belong.’ “

Though most of his contemporaries have left the Church because of gender issues, he remains. Faith still presents a challenge to him, and he sees that as a good thing:

“If you read the Gospel, it is not about being together with a bunch of people you feel good about. It’s about being places that are uncomfortable with you. So am I challenging myself more as a Christian if I sit in a congregation where everyone believes the same as I do, or am I being more of a Christian if I’m sitting in the congregation where the nun in the pew ahead of me goes down and testifies against marriage equality and sometimes I want to throw a missal at her head?”

In another interview, Murray acknowledged that, in terms of church, he is “kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop … I always have one foot in the door and one foot out the door. I never know if I’m going to stay or if I’m out.”  Yet the Pope Francis papacy seems to have given him hope.  The Seattle Weekly  story concludes:

“Murray says he was skeptical of Francis at first as well. But he was soon convinced that Francis was true to his hype—a fact underscored in 2015 when Francis released his encyclical on climate change as a social-justice issue. Shortly after publishing the teaching, Pope Francis invited 40 mayors from across the world to the Vatican to discuss ways to fight climate change. Among them was Murray, the man who had considered the priesthood, left the Church in a rage, and more recently been made to feel like such a pariah that he feared being denied Communion.

“Murray says he was unsure at first whether the Vatican had made a mistake. ‘When they sent the invitation, we had folks call the Vatican and say, “Are you sure you understand who I am, and that you’re inviting me?” ‘ Murray says. ‘They said, yes, they wanted me to come.’ “

On a personal note, I had the pleasure of meeting Ed Murray in Seattle in the summer of 2012, when Sister Jeannine Gramick and I were in Washington State for Catholics for Marriage Equality events (see photo above).   He struck me then as someone whose faith identity was evident in the way he spoke and listened to people.  Reading about his journey of faith gave me a deeper appreciation for the many ways that LGBT Catholics and their allies are using their religious heritage to renew the world and the Church.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 28, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.    

Bondings 2.0  posts about Ed Murray:

February 2, 2012: “N.Y. Times Reports Incorrectly on Catholic Opposition to Marriage Equality

August 26, 2012:  “New Ways Ministry Supports Marriage Equality Efforts in Washington State

October 17, 2012: “Marriage Debate Brings Out Deep Faith and Thought in Catholics

October 31, 2012: “Prayerful Vigils and Reflections Highlight Lead Up to Election Day in Washington State

 

“The Benedict Option” and LGBT People, Part I

A controversial new book comes out this week, Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, which claims so-called orthodox Christians (including those defined, in large part, by a commitment to heteronormativity) should be prepared to withdraw from Western culture.

That proposed withdrawal, in the style of St. Benedict’s 6th-century withdrawal from a collapsing Roman Empire, is due largely to Western societies’ liberalizing views on gender and sexuality. The book’s description calls the social context today “a new, post-Christian barbarism.”

katie2bgrimes2bphoto
Katie Grimes

Theologian Katie Grimes, who teaches at Villanova University, Pennsylvania, anticipates the book with an analysis of the very communities Dreher’s Benedict Option would leave behind, namely LGBT people.

Writing at the blog Women in Theology, Grimes said she neither wants to neither weigh-in on Dreher’s specific vocation nor review the yet unpublished book. Instead, she wants to “alleviate the fears that Dreher has expressed in blog posts and interviews,” where he has suggested LGBT rights threaten the religious liberty of orthodox Christians. Grimes described the author’s  fears:

“Dreher fears that someday Christians who express public opposition to gay marriage will encounter ‘hostile work conditions, including dismissal from your job.’ . . . that someday Christians who express public opposition to gay marriage will incur ‘all the legal sanctions that now apply to people who openly express racist views.’ . . . that orthodox Christians will not be allowed to own businesses unless they submit to serving LGBT customers. . . that someday progressive Christians ‘far in the future [will turn in orthodox Christians who have had to go into hiding].'”

Grimes points out that those very fears expose “the reality that LGBT people have already lived. . . proves much worse than the future Dreher fears.” Grimes continues:

“In addition to being fired, ridiculed, and hunted by state agents, LGBT people continue to endure evils that do not appear even in Dreher’s worst nightmares such as being beaten and killed, ostracized from and even kicked out of their families of origin, denied housing, unable to visit sick partners in hospitals, and disinherited. . .If LGBT people in this country experience less mistreatment today than in years past, it is in large part because they both need less protection from the culture and receive more protection from the state.”

Grimes is clear she does not want Dreher’s Christians, “should they become an endangered minority,” to face such discrimination and violence. They should be, in her words, treated as any other human being “in all its messy and beautiful complexity.”

Thus, she makes a series of solidarity commitments that include protesting if  “an employer fires you upon discovering that you are married to one woman and intend to remain so until death parts you” and defending them if “members of your same sex unleash a campaign of corrective rape aimed at changing your sexual orientation.” But, Grimes continued:

“Of course, Dreher does not fear that orthodox Christians will be in any way harmed for selecting a spouse in accordance with their sexual orientation or participating in a heterosexual, monogamous, and lifelong marriage. He fears only that orthodox Christians will somehow be punished for expressing their opposition to gay marriage in public. Put another way, Dreher resists a future in which orthodox Christians will have to selectively hide their true identity from certain employers, family members, and neighbors like LGBT people do.”

Using divorce and remarriage as an example, Grimes said liberalizing laws on these issues did not threaten Christians because divorced persons were assumed to be safe. Lack of discrimination and violence against them has meant they are not a protected class, unlike LGBT people, and meant further there has not been sharp pushback from divorced persons against Christians with differing views.

But for LGBT people, Grimes said Dreher “implies that orthodox Christian liberty necessarily would come at the expense of LGBT people’s lives. . .that the gay rights movement will inflict a mortal wound upon orthodox Christianity.” This is, however, not the case because “most people have turned towards LGBT people” rather than first rejecting heteronormative claims.

Finally, Grimes affirmed a way forward in which LGBT equality is ensured while right-wing Christians are respected:

“If orthodox Christians begin to treat LGBT people the way they currently treat divorced people, then it seems likely that progressives would treat orthodox Christians the way they currently treat people who condemn divorce.

“Dreher can do even more to secure the liberty of orthodox Christians living in parts of the world in which they no longer comprise the political or cultural majority by working to awaken the consciences of those who still do.  Orthodox Christianity ought to “own up” not just to its anti-gay past, but to its anti-gay present as well. The historical injustices Dreher laments continue to occur still today.  Dreher encourages other orthodox Christians to disengage/pull away from a society that will not let them speak freely, but what about those LGBT people who cannot hide from the orthodox Christians who remain in control?”

Grimes asked in conclusion, “Will orthodox Christians like Dreher pledge to do for LGBT people of all religious backgrounds what I have pledged to do for orthodox Christians?”

41qy2bzzazfl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Rod Dreher’s drastic proposal that Christians withdraw from Western society primarily over LGBT rights is understandably disputed. It will be interesting to see how reactions and responses evolve. But Katie Grimes’ anticipatory article does a good job of grounding the conversation in history and in the realities of LGBT people’s lives.

Later this week, Bondings 2.0 will continue this conversation. In the meantime, whether you have read Dreher’s book or not, let us know what you think about the “Benedict Option” idea or Grimes’ response in the “Comments” section below.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 21, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

Same-Gender Love “Not a Natural Condition,” Says Vatican Official

A senior Vatican official who defended the reception of Communion by divorced and remarried Catholics has said such openness does not apply to same-gender relationships, which he said were “not a natural condition.”

card_francesco_coccopalmerio_at_briefing_on_new_motu_proprio_on_the_reform_for_marriage_annulment_at_the_vatican_press_office_1_on_sept_8_2015_credit_daniel_ibanez_cna_9_8_15
Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, made his comments in a recent interview with Crux.

The cardinal sparked headlines earlier this month for publishing a booklet in which he defended Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Crux reported further:

“Asked if this interpretation applies also to gay couples who live together, some civilly married too, Coccopalmerio said that it’s ‘clearly’ not the same situation because for Church teaching and doctrine, ‘it’s not a natural condition. We can accept them, welcome them, accept their decision, but it’s not [the same].'”

The booklet, titled The Eighth Chapter of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia’, was offered as a “simplification” against claims by more traditionalist Catholics that there was doctrinal confusion, Coccopalmerio said. Though not released in any formal capacity, his comments are especially noteworthy because the Pontifical Council he oversees is charged with interpreting church documents. He is also a member of both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Apostolic Signatura.

Coccopalmerio’s reasoning is worth a closer consideration given his tenuous claim that same-gender couples can not be included in his communion idea. In the booklet, the cardinal explained the conditions under which a Catholic in a “non-legitimate” heterosexual relationship could receive Communion: the person is “conscious of the wrongness of the situation, has the desire to change it but can’t because it would hurt innocent people, such as the children,” and has consulted a priest and/or bishop to find a “common solution” through dialogue. America reported on a case study offered by the cardinal:

“He cited as an example the case of a woman who is free to marry according to church law and decides to enter into a stable relationship and lives with a married man, whose wife had left him with three young children. In such a case, he explained, ‘the children would now consider her their mother and for the man, she is his life,’ as she means everything to him. If she eventually recognizes the problem with her situation and decides to leave, then her husband and children will find themselves in great difficulty. But the cardinal said, ‘If this woman concludes “I cannot leave. I cannot do such harm to them,” then this situation, where she wants to change but cannot change, opens the possibility of admissions to the sacraments.’

“In such a situation, the cardinal said, there is the recognition of sin and the sincere desire to change but also the impossibility of making it happen. In this situation, he would tell her, ‘remain in this situation, and I absolve you.’ While he said that he has never had to refuse absolution to anyone, the cardinal nevertheless insisted that ‘one cannot give absolution except to persons who are repentant and desire or want to change their situation, even if they cannot put their desire into practice now because that would harm innocent persons.’ In this way, he said, ‘the doctrine is safeguarded but takes account of the impossibility.’

Coccopalmerio also said that ideally such a couple should live without sexual intimacy, but also noted that Amoris Laetitia referenced Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, where it is acknowledged that lack of such intimacy could deeply harm relationships. It may be impossible, he admitted, for couples in “non-legitimate” situations to practice complete abstinence. He ultimately affirmed the necessity of Catholics in these situations to make a conscience decision.

amorislaetitia1
Share this graphic on Facebook

I explained his reasoning in such detail above because as I read the interview, I wondered why his reasoning about Catholics who are divorced and remarried cannot, in his estimation, apply to Catholics in same-gender relationships. If his positions are accepted and engaged, then shouldn’t same-gender couples be able to receive Communion after consulting a priest, making penance, and following their consciences, even if they remain in such situations? Granted, given the Magisterium’s present articulations of church doctrine, there are differences between the two groups, but appeals to conscience make no such distinctions. Every person is mandated to follow the decisions of a properly formed conscience.

The reason for Coccopalmerio’s dissonance is his statement about same-gender relationships as “not a natural condition.” Such a statement reveals inadequate knowledge about sexuality, and likely an unfamiliarity with the lives of LGB people. He appears unable to imagine same-gender relationships as loving and generative, and worse yet, he seems to imply LGB people have less moral agency than their heterosexual peers.

Cardinal Coccopalmerio is not the first, and sadly will not be the last, church leader to hold such errant views about sexuality. But I find his remarks particularly disheartening. When news of his booklet first broke, I was glad to see a Vatican official so willing to practice the mercy and respect for conscience called for by Pope Francis. That he could not extend that willingness to include LGBT people greatly undercuts his message. I pray his eyes will be opened to that natural and divine spark found and mixed-gender and same-gender relationships alike.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 24, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Discussion and Diversity Bring Unity, Not Schism

I read a commentary this past weekend about the Anglican Church and marriage equality, and one of the points made has me thinking about why the Roman Catholic hierarchy has been so negative on LGBT issues.

An essay by Alf McCreary in Northern Ireland’s Belfast Telegraph responded to the Church of England General Synod’s recent rejection of a bishops’ report re-affirming marriage is only between a man and a woman.  McCreary’s evaluation of the decision is:

“. . . [T]he Church is in a no-win situation. The latest developments in the Church of England , following a three-year process that had attempted to solve this most divisive issue, merely showed how difficult it is, if not impossible, to satisfy both sides.”

McCreary steps back a bit from the Anglican debate to look, somewhat wistfully it seems, at the Roman Catholic situation in regard to marriage equality:

“This [marriage equality] is one of the most difficult issues facing mainstream churches the world over. With the exception of the Roman Catholic Church – it is still firmly against same-sex marriage and gay ordination, despite the fact that many of its clergy and laity are gay and lesbian.

“The Catholic Church’s attitude is the easier to live with. Its overwhelming opposition to LGBT issues stifles open debate, and it presents on the surface at least a united opposition to change.”

I admit that I chuckled a bit when I read these lines, thinking to myself, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”  But then I wondered if maybe McCreary might be onto something.  Is the Roman Catholic hierarchy just afraid that if they open the discussion on this issue that major confusion will break out in the Church?

I have to admit that I often assume that the reason Catholic leaders won’t discuss LGBT issues is because they believe that they know all there is to know and that they are right in their position. McCreary’s essay has me wondering if perhaps another motivation might also exist:  they don’t want division in the Church, which is what is happening in many other Christian denominations, including the Anglicans, who have had the courage to open a discussion.

The synods on the family in 2014 and 2015 are examples where open discussion was finally allowed in the Church, and bishops spoke their minds.  The world did not end.

Granted, LGBT issues received short shrift at the synods, but other contentious issues like divorce/remarriage did get more comprehensive discussions.  And disagreement was enormous, but the Church, as an institution, stayed strong. No schism happened.  In fact, the unity of the Catholic Church probably was strengthened by the discussion.

If Roman Catholic bishops and Vatican leaders think that they will contain the debate on LGBT issues by not providing it an official forum, they are sadly mistaken.  The discussion is happening in all areas and levels of the Church.  It has been going on for decades, even under the previous two popes who actively tried to silence the debate.  Stifling or ignoring the discussion are the things that endanger the unity of the Church, not participating in free and robust discussion.

The universal Christian Church, born on Pentecost, was born amid a diversity of languages, not a single, authoritative one.  The power of the Catholic Church, which claims to a universal one which embraces all cultures and languages, is in its diversity, not its uniformity.

The Catholic discussion of LGBT issues is blossoming and growing. The Spirit will not be silenced. If bishops choose not to be a part of it, they will be the ones who are diminished by their absence.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 20, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

NEWS NOTES: Peru, Britain, Poland, Virginia

News NotesHere are some items that might be of interest:

  1. In the heavily Catholic nation of Peru, a recent rise in progressive activism for LGBT equality was recently met with conservative groups organizing a “March for Heterosexual Pride,” according to an article on Towelroad.comSimilarly, in protest to a new sex education and gender equality curriculum, a new group called “Don’t Mess With My Children.”  The group opposes what they call “gender ideology,” a term favored by many Catholic conservative bishops and Pope Francis.

2. The British Medical Association’s new set of staff guidelines encourages employees not to use the term “expectant mothers,” but instead should refer to “pregnant people,” according to The Telegraph. The purpose of the terminology change is to not offend transgender and intersex men who can or have been pregnant.  Bishop Philip Egan, the Roman Catholic bishop of Portsmouth, England, predicted that the new terminology would cause “great confusion and harm.”

3. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said that he did not think the predominantly Catholic nation would accept a change in the Constitution to allow for same-sex marriage, according to TheNews.pl. Duda, a member of the ruling Law and Justice party, which promotes traditional Polish values, family and Catholic traditions, stated in an interview: “I do not think that the political majority today would agree to any amendment to the Constitution in this area, water down this clause and open interpretation that marriage could also include other genders.”  Poland is one of seven nations in the 28-member European Union which bans same-sex marriage, and one of six nations in the federation which does not allow civil unions.

4. The Senate of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the U.S.A., has approved a religious liberty bill that would prevent the government from punishing religious organizations which do not allow for same-sex marriage, according to The Christian Times.  The state’s House of Delegates also approved a similar bill.  Both bills appear to be in response to the executive order issued by Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Catholic, that prohibits state contracts from being given to organizations which do not have an anti-discrimination policy protecting sexual orientation and gender identity.  The Virginia Catholic Conference called the two bills “top priority” legislation.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 19, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

 

New Book Examines “Same-Sex Marriage in Renaissance Rome”

A new book by a University of Virginia history professor makes the claim that same-gender marriages existed in the city of Rome during the Renaissance.

Gary Ferguson, the  Douglas Huntly Gordon Distinguished Professor of French at the Charlottesville school, recently published  Same-Sex Marriage in Renaissance Rome: Sexuality, Identity and Community in Early Modern Europe  (Cornell University Press, 2016) in which he displays evidence that, while not commonplace and not legal, the idea of marriages between two men or two women did exist in 16th century, just under the shadow of the Vatican.

In an essay for The Daily Beast, Ferguson begins by noting some literary evidence for the practice of same-gender marriages:

“In the late 16th century, the famous French essayist Michel de Montaigne wrote about two marriages between people of the same sex. The first involved women in eastern France, the second a group of men in Rome. At the time, same-sex marriages were not recognized by religious or civil law, and sodomy—a term that included a wide range of sexual acts—was a crime. As a result, when those involved were discovered they were usually brought to trial and punished, sometimes by death.”

Ferguson’s thesis is that even in the Renaissance, “marriage was a highly contested issue.”  He explains:

“Marriage between two men or two women might seem like a concept that has emerged only in recent decades. For centuries, however, same-sex couples have appropriated marriage in their own ways.”

Using one of Montaigne’s examples as a case study, Ferguson examines the French writer’s story by exploring  “several sources—diplomatic dispatches, newsletters, fragments of a trial transcript, and brief wills. . . ”   The result is a description of a planned marriage, thwarted by authorities:

“On a Sunday afternoon in July 1578, a sizable group of men gathered at Saint John at the Latin Gate, a beautiful but remote church on the outer edge of Rome. Many of them were friends who had met there on previous occasions. They were mostly poor immigrants from Spain and Portugal but included several priests and friars. They ate and drank in an atmosphere that was festive, yet strangely subdued. It turned suddenly to confusion and fear with the arrival of the police, who arrested 11 of those present. The rest fled.

“The Roman authorities had been tipped off about the group’s plans to celebrate a marriage, perhaps not for the first time, between two of its members. In the end, the wedding between Gasparo and Gioseffe hadn’t taken place: The latter—reportedly ill—failed to appear. But Gasparo was among those taken prisoner, and, following a trial that lasted three weeks, executed.”

Ferguson reveals that the marriage which was to have taken place would not have been a traditional one for many other reasons besides gender, including the fact that it may not have been intended as a sexually exclusive arrangement.  But the fact that such ritual practices is still significant, he claims:

“The evidence, then, points to a handful of motivations behind the Roman weddings. Since the friends took the ceremony seriously enough to put themselves at considerable risk, it very likely served to recognize and sanction Gasparo and Gioseffe’s relationship, claiming that such a union should be possible. At the same time, it may also have had a playful element, parodying and subtly criticizing elements of a traditional wedding.”

In fact, because of the greatly different historical situations,  Ferguson says that these unions are not identical to modern same-sex marriages:

“. . . [T]he context for extending marriage rights to same-sex couples today is very different from the 16th century, when most marriages weren’t based primarily on love and didn’t establish legal equality between the spouses.

“It was after the changes effected by the women’s rights movement in the second half of the 20th century to make the institution more equitable that gay and lesbian activists adopted marriage equality as their major goal.”

Yet, their historical significance must still be considered for another reason:

“. . . [T]he stories from the 16th century show that marriage has never been a universal and fixed phenomenon. It has a contested history, one that both excludes and includes same-sex couples, who have claimed marriage on their own terms.”

Ferguson’s case brings to mind John Boswell’s 1994 Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe which made the case that union ceremonies, equivalent to marriage, between two men or two women took place, often in religious settings, during the medieval era.  Some critics of Boswell claimed that the texts he had which described union ceremonies were not analogous to marriage, but represented other forms of friendship.  Boswell, unfortunately, died shortly after the book’s publication so he could not defend his thesis against such attacks.

I hope to get a chance to read Ferguson’s book in the coming months and provide a full review in a later post here at Bondings 2.0.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 17,  2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit http://www.Symposium2017.org.

 

On St. Valentine’s Day: A Romantic Story of Gay Love Fulfilled

Just in time for St. Valentine’s Day, a story of Catholic LGBT love from Ireland!

The Irish press was all abuzz recently with the news that two gay Irish men, one of whom is a Catholic priest tied the knot in County Clare, exercising their right to marry thanks to a national referendum in 2015.

Rev. Bernard Lynch and Billy Desmond at their wedding in Ireland

Rev. Bernard Lynch and Billy Desmond were married in front of 120 friends and family members in a ceremony at a hotel in the Irish town of Spanish Point.  The booklet for the ceremony was titled:  ““Our Right to Love is our Right to Justice – Billy and Bernard.”

The two had already had a civil union over 10 years ago. According to The Irish Sun, Lynch was the world’s first Catholic priest to have a civil partnership.  The couple has been together for 23 years.

Adding to the festivity of this marriage,  the couple met with Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins at Aras an Uachtarain, the president’s official residence in the week following the ceremony.  According to Ireland’s Herald newspaper, the couple received a personal invitation from Higgins.  Lynch described the meeting:

Lynch, President Michael Higgins, and Desmond

“President Higgins could not have been more welcoming. He put his arms around us when we first met. . . . It was the most powerful homecoming Billy and I have ever had in our lives. President Higgins couldn’t have been more gracious and hospitable. . . . We have been brought in from the cold into the hearth of the nation by a man of such heart.”

In the 1990s,  Lynch had been among the first delegation to meet with a president of Ireland (at the time, Mary Robinson) at the Aras an Uachtarain.

While living in New York City in the 1980s, Lynch was a pioneer in Catholic outreach to the LGBT community, particularly to the segment of the population living with HIV/AIDS.

The Irish Times explained Lynch’s clerical status:

“Fr Lynch came out as a gay priest in the 1980s and is no longer allowed to practice on behalf of the Catholic Church, but he said he continues to consider himself an ordained Catholic priest.”

 

In a separate Times article, Lynch explained how coming out as a gay priest was received three decades ago:

“Fr Lynch first came out as a gay man in 1986 when he was ministering in New York City. In a press interview at the time, he said: ‘If I did lie, if I did pretend, I’d have a job. I could even have a lover on the side . . . I didn’t come out publicly until 1986. As soon as I went public, I lost my job.’ “

In a radio interview, Lynch criticized church teaching and practice in regard to LGBT people, saying that he felt the church had God’s message “very wrong”:

“He said the Catholic Church ‘does terrible damage and it is part of the destruction of gay people’s lives and how that can be Godly? How can that be Christ’s message? Who would choose to be gay? It is God given and our choice is to embrace it.’ “

He added that he hoped the wedding ceremony would help future generations of lesbian and gay people:

“Describing last Friday’s wedding as ‘wonderful,’ Fr Lynch said he hopes that the witness that Billy and himself have given through their marriage tells young people that ‘it is okay to be gay. You are part of God’s design, no matter what your Church or religion says. You are normal and what you are called to do is to love and find a person to love.’ “

One participant at the wedding ceremony told a newspaper, “The love in the room was palpable. It was a beautiful ceremony.” And another participant commented, “The love between the two was magic and oozed spirituality.”

It’s very true that all love is magical and spiritual.  That’s what we celebrate today.  Happy St. Valentine’s Day!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 14, 2017