On New Catholic LGBT Book, Jamie Manson and Archbishop Chaput Find Common Ground

Fr. James Martin, S.J. seeks to build bridges with his new book on Catholic LGBT issues. While it may not be a bridge, in two new reviews, he has certainly brought together two very different Catholics: lesbian Catholic advocate Jamie Manson and Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput.

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Jamie Manson

Manson reviewed the book, Building a Bridge, in her column at National Catholic Reporter. She opened by describing the book as a “storybook” which looks inviting but, she added, for LGBT activists it “may also read like fiction.” In the review, she criticized Martin for his more positive portrayal of the hierarchy:

“Martin is hardly the first Catholic, nor the first Jesuit, to write about the LGBT experience in the church. But he may be the first to write about the topic from such a privileged position inside the institutional church. . .His remarkable access to church leaders prompts him to make one of the boldest claims in the book:

‘Many in the institutional church want to reach out to [the LGBT] community, but seem somewhat confused about how to do so. Yes, I know it seems that there are some who don’t seem to want to reach out, but all the bishops I know are sincere in their desire for true pastoral outreach.’

“There are a lot of ‘seems’ in those two sentences, and they seem to suggest that LGBT Catholics, in their lack of access to the power center of the church, are simply ignorant of what’s really going on in the hearts of these men.”

Manson noted evidence to the contrary, including bishops’ silence after the Pulse Nightclub massacre which Martin said in part prompted him to accept New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building award which led to the book’s publication.

Manson also queried Martin’s treatment of homosexuality in the priesthood and religious life. The author sets up what Manson described as a “catch-22” in which he claims both that many priests and bishops are themselves gay, but also that this same group of clergy do not know LGBT people. Manson commented:

“Martin should be applauded for speaking so forthrightly about the prevalence of gay men among the clergy, but he doesn’t really reckon with the fact that it is precisely the clerical closet that makes the hierarchy’s oppression of LGBT people so outrageous and intolerable. So many bishops and priests lie about their own sexualities, some even carry on same-sex relationships, while sitting in judgment over LGBT people who are trying to live their lives honestly.”

She then addressed Martin’s encouragement for LGBT people to improve relations with clergy by  showing church leaders respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Manson responded that church leaders’ actions are too often “an abuse of power” by which, despite LGBT Catholics and their families good faith efforts, bishops have frequently dismissed Catholics’ concerns. She continued:

“More than 40 years of struggle should have taught us by now that compassion, respect and sensitivity are not enough to bring about a truly just relationship between bishops and LGBT Catholics. Even with these three virtues in play, bishops still have the power to judge and negatively impact the lives of LGBT Catholics, while operating in secrecy and lying about their own sexualities. And LGBT Catholics are expected to bear their souls to their religious leaders and beg to be heard, while also, ultimately, remaining voiceless and officially condemned by their church.”

Manson was not hopeful about the proposed bridge because she believes that even though it was most likely unintended to do so, Martin’s book shows “just how radical the lack of mutuality is between LGBT Catholics and the bishops.” She concluded:

“[F]or reconciliation to take place, it would require not simply compassion, respect and sensitivity, but a mutuality of vulnerability, self-disclosure, honesty and authenticity. . .As long as that imbalance persists, it’s hard to imagine how these roads can ever truly meet and how the bridge can possibly hold.”

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Archbishop Charles Chaput

Archbishop Chaput is also critical of Building a Bridge. Though his appraisal is not the same as Manson’s, he likewise questions the text for not dealing more substantively with the what he understands to be the real issues involving homosexuality and the church.

Writing at CatholicPhilly.com, Chaput said the book is “written with skill and good will,” and that Martin’s exhortation for both sides to be respectful “makes obvious sense.” He then explained:

“But what the text regrettably lacks is an engagement with the substance of what divides faithful Christians from those who see no sin in active same-sex relationships.  The Church is not simply about unity – as valuable as that is – but about unity in God’s love rooted in truth.

“If the Letter to the Romans is true, then persons in unchaste relationships (whether homosexual or heterosexual) need conversion, not merely affirmation.  If the Letter to the Romans is false, then Christian teaching is not only wrong but a wicked lie.  Dealing with this frankly is the only way an honest discussion can be had.”

It is safe to say that Jamie Manson and Charles Chaput almost always find themselves on opposite ends of the ecclesial spectrum. What is interesting in these reviews is their agreement that the book has some good points, but also that the book failed to address key substantive issues, thereby weakening any attempt to build bridges.

The similarity between these reviewers raises two questions: Does attempting to build a bridge mean that both opposing camps will be dissatisfied?  How do you build a bridge that makes opposing camps both feel that their concerns are addressed fairly?

Bondings 2.0 will continue to provide more reviews of the book as they appear.

y450-293If you have reading Building a Bridge, what do you think? Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section below. You can read our coverage of previous reviews in the following posts:

Fr. James Martin Responds to Critics of New Book on LGBT Issues

David Cloutier, a theologian, on “The Ignatian Option”

Lesbian Catholic Eve Tushnet’s review in The Washington Post

New Catholic LGBT Book is Praised by High Church Leaders

To read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage about Fr. James Martin’s involvement on LGBT issues, click here.

You can order Fr. Martin’s book by clicking here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 16, 2017

Fr. James Martin Responds to Critics of New Book on LGBT Issues

Amid the flurry of reviews and interviews surrounding his new book, Building a Bridge, Fr. James Martin, S.J. has responded to critics as a way to create greater dialogue. Today’s post features one review along with Martin’s responses. To read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of previous reviews by David Cloutier and Eve Tushnet, click here and here respectively.

y450-293Martin responded to Cloutier’s review in America by addressing the three problems which Cloutier believed makes the proposed bridge “shaky.”

First, Martin argues against Cloutier’s critique that LGBT people are problematically lumped together as a singular group in the book. Cloutier claimed that, in reality, there is tremendous difference among LGBT persons. He also stated that LGBT people differ from other groups in the church because their identities directly challenge church teaching. Martin replied:

“[M]y point was not that L.G.B.T. Catholics are all the same (or that that label is comprehensive) but that many have faced similar problems in the church: prejudice and exclusion based on sexual orientation and identity. . .

“We have an unfortunate tendency to view L.G.B.T. issues purely through the prism of only one of the Catechism’s teachings on homosexuality—its prohibition on sexual expression—rather than through the experiences of L.G.B.T. people as human beings. We tend to view them as a category of people who present a theological problem rather than as individuals with a graced history. I know that Prof. Cloutier does not wish to negate their pain, but it is important to see them as not inherently presenting a ‘problem.'”

Second, against Cloutier’s claim that the book seems more fitting for the LGBT conversation of the 1990s than the 21st century discussion, Martin said what has changed in the church is the number of LGBT Catholics who have come out:

“As more Catholics are affected, more parishes will be. As more parishes are, more priests will be. As more priests are, more bishops will be. And so on. I believe the explosion of L.G.B.T. Catholics ‘coming out’ and claiming their identities will lead to a growing desire among the entire People of God for welcome, and for what Pope Francis calls ‘encounter.'”

Encounter, Martin explained, is the work of the Holy Spirit and has no expiration date. Widespread social acceptance of LGBT persons “has been drive largely by encounter,” and within the church coming out “would still be quite novel, even radical in some circles.”

Third, Martin tackles Cloutier’s critique that the book never addresses sexual ethics. Martin said the omission was “intentional” because church teaching is already quite clear, but:

“At the same time, the L.G.B.T. community’s stance on the matter is clear: Same-sex relations are part and parcel of their lives. (I am leaving out the relatively small portion of the L.G.B.T. community that thinks otherwise.) Theologically speaking, you could say that this teaching has not been ‘received’ by the L.G.B.T. community, to whom it was directed.

“So I intentionally decided not to discuss that question, since it was an area on which the two sides are too far apart.”

Another review came from Sally Kohn, a lesbian essayist writing in The Washington Post, who offered an outsider perspective on the book. A secular Jew, Kohn said the book was “a lovely glimpse at church-community relations buttressed by an enlightening collection of uplifting scripture.” But, she continued:

“The problem is that Martin doesn’t adequately address the deep ecclesiastical and theological roots of the Catholic Church’s anti-gay antagonism. And so his book reads like a solution to a problem he fundamentally misunderstands.”

Kohn also questioned whether the question of homophobia in the Catholic Church could be adequately dealt with if not also addressing misogyny in the church. She added:

“Beyond the most superficial gestures and rhetoric of respect, compassion and sensitivity, Martin doesn’t address the sorts of lives he envisions for LGBT Catholics. Should they be celibate? Not marry? Exactly how welcome does Martin think they should be? Absent these details, Martin risks promising merely the illusion of equal dignity. LGBT Catholics don’t just want the lip service of respect, they want actual equal treatment.”

Martin responded to Kohn on the America website, saying her review “downplays [LGBT Catholics’] religious convictions and the mystical nature of the church.” He continued:

“To be sure, the onus is on the institutional church to reach out, to take risks and to take the first steps along the bridge of reconciliation. Why? Because it is members of the hierarchy who have marginalized the L.G.B.T. community, not the other way around. . .

“Moreover, the question of dialogue between L.G.B.T. Catholics and the institutional church cannot be seen strictly in ‘political’ terms, as Ms. Kohn seems to do in her piece. Granted, our ‘intrachurch’ discussion has ramifications beyond the Catholic world, but the discussion cannot be separated from questions of faith in God, companionship with Jesus Christ and trust in the Holy Spirit. A critique that does not work within this framework is going to come up short.”

Martin has a bigger message beyond answering the specific objections of this first round of reviewers:

“I hope the book shows how much in our Catholic tradition, particularly the Gospels, points us forward to a culture of radical welcome. The central assertion of the book—that for Jesus is there is no us and them, there is only us—does not need approval.

“My overall goal was not to win an argument but to help start a conversation and create a space for church officials who want to reach out to L.G.B.T. people, and for L.G.B.T. Catholics who want to know that they have a place in the church.”

Given the book’s high profile, and how contentious LGBT issues in the church can be, the conversation over Fr. Martin’s work will  surely continue, just as he intended.

Have you read Building a Bridge? What did you think? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below. To read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage about Fr. James Martin’s involvement on LGBT issues, click here. You can order Fr. Martin’s book by clicking here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 12, 2017

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Gay Author Turns Down Catholic School Which Tried to Silence His Identity

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William Kostakis with his book, The Sidekick

An Australian Catholic high school has asked an an author who had been invited to the school to refrain from speaking about his latest novel, which contains a gay character, after the writer came out as a gay man.

De La Salle College, a high school located in the Sydney suburb of Revesby, had invited William Kostakis to speak about his new book, The Sidekicks, in March and in June. But Kostakis withdrew from the engagements after being asked in a staff member’s email to him, that he be silent about his new book, The Sidekicks, which has a gay character in it. According to News.Com.Au, the school leader’s email stated that the institution had:

” ‘. . .a concern about promoting your new book at our school as it is a Catholic school. . .We were reading over your blog and I think it might not be appropriate, and parents might not be happy.’ ”

The school had successfully hosted Kostakis when a previous book of his, The First Third, was published.  Kostakis writes for a teen-age audience.

The school was also concerned about a blog post  Kostakis wrote recently in which he acknoledged his sexual orientation and discussed a former boyfriend’s cancer diagnosis.

The author posted the staff member’s email on his blog, as well as part of his response to the school’s request:

“Coming out publicly was difficult. I feared I would have to choose between doing what I love/earn a living from – engaging kids to read and be truthful in their writing – and not having to hide my partners from colleagues as ‘friends’. I had hoped, having spoken at some Catholic schools, those schools would be comfortable with my revelation knowing what I bring to my presentations and workshops. And that my sexuality, while it informs who I am, is not the subject of my presentations.

“Professionally, it would probably be wise to still present in June, your students were a lovely audience, I have to stick up for my 16 year old self, and say this is personal. . .The First Third was acceptable, but now I have a blog post saying I like men, The Sidekicks is not.

“And that is not something I will accept for the promise of a pay cheque.”

Kostakis mentioned, too, that he is grateful that his high school teachers were courageous enough to have students read diverse literature, even if some people were uncomfortable with those choices, because it made him, a closeted gay student, feel safe. He concluded that he hopes teachers at De La Salle College would have courage to do the same.

The book in question, The Sidekicks, is a novel for young adults that is “mostly a book about the fear of closets, and why teenagers in real life have to stay in the closet,” said Kostakis. The only sexual activity in the book is a kiss, which is far less than his earlier work, The First Third, that the De La Salle official asked him to speak about instead.

This incident occurs as St. Joseph’s College, the nation’s only Catholic high school which chose to participate in Australia’s Safe Schools Program, an anti-bullying effort, faces intensifying criticism from conservatives to withdraw from the program.  Additionally,  Australians are weighing a potential plebiscite this year on marriage equality.

But politics should never dictate students’ well-being. It seems a visit from William Kostakis to discuss his books and his career would have benefited all students at De La Salle College, as it had previously, and particularly those who might be LGBT in and not yet out. It is sad that Kostakis’ coming out was treated as grounds for trying to silence him, rather than as a teachable moment.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

Book’s Re-Release Inspires Debate on Same-Gender Marriages in Church

John Boswell’s 1994 book, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, stirred up controversy when it was first released with claims that Christianity once blessed same-gender relationships. Nearly twenty years later, Boswell’s work has started new conversations in light of shifting Christian opinions on LGBT equality and the book’s re-release in digital form this month.

In Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, Boswell, a history professor at Yale University and a gay Catholic man who died soon after the book’s initial release, claimed that ancient churches included liturgies uniting two men which were essentially same-sex unions. The blog i09 details more about the author’s research:

“Poring over legal and church documents from this era, he discovered something incredible. There were dozens of records of church ceremonies where two men were joined in unions that used the same rituals as heterosexual marriages. (He found almost no records of lesbian unions, which is probably an artifact of a culture which kept more records about the lives of men generally.)…

“Boswell had actually begun his research back in the 1970s, and published an equally controversial work in 1980 called Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century. His Same-Sex Unions book refined and expanded a lot of what he’d learned over a lifetime of research into primary sources in scattered libraries and archives.”

Indeed, Boswell found texts of many of these union ceremonies in the Vatican library itself.

John Boswell

Though Boswell died a year after the book’s publication, debate continues over claims that Christian churches were essentially holding same-gender unions because of the modern implications this might have. With polls consistently showing high Catholic support for same-gender marriage rights, the discussion of sacramental marriage is inevitable. Assuredly debate over finer points in the book will continue, but i09 identifies the larger point about marriage and change that is the reason Boswell’s book has left many optimistic:

“Were these same-sex unions in the middle ages the same thing as today’s gay marriages? Probably not. People at the time may not have viewed two men forming a union as anything out of the ordinary. Marriage itself meant something different thousands of years ago, and social taboos against homosexuality had not yet solidified. Still, in Boswell’s work, we find records of institutions where same-sex couples were honored with the same ceremonies that opposite-sex couples enjoyed. Two men could live as ‘brothers,’ sharing wealth, home, and family. And yes, they could love each other, too.

“Though Boswell died before his country began to allow similar kinds of unions, he could draw hope from knowing something that most people did not. Even the most fundamental kinds of human relationships change over time. Those who have been banished today may be blessed tomorrow — just as they were over a thousand years ago.”

If you wish to read Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, you can find it in digital and hard copy on Amazon.com.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry