Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride

By Michael J. Bayly

Gay Pride was celebrated this past weekend in the Twin Cities, and, as in past years, I helped staff an informational booth for the organization that I serve as executive coordinator for, the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM).

Above right: Standing second from right with (from left) Paul, Stephanie, and Tom - Saturday, June 26, 2010.

Along with information about CPCSM, we also shared at our booth information about The Progressive Catholic Voice online journal, Catholic Rainbow Parents, and the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, of which CPCSM is a founding member organization.

We don't actually have a CPCSM banner. One reason for this is that "the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities" sounds so official! And we're mindful of not wanting to give the impression that we're in any way endorsed by the official clerical leadership of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis - especially given this leadership's limited and, in large measure, uninformed stance on LGBT issues. And so we opt for the banner at above left - one that succinctly sums up a big part of what CPCSM is all about and what we seek to honor and work to see realized in both the church and society, i.e., compassion and equality for LGBT individuals, couples, and families.

Our banner was very popular with many attendees of Pride. A number of folks wanted to photograph it and its message - one which, let's face it, you don't see everyday! The overwhelming sentiment expressed by those who stopped by our booth was one of gratitude. People were heartened by our presence. And even folks who believe that the situation in the Church for LGBT people is completely hopeless, nevertheless told us that they appreciated and supported our efforts of reform.

Occasionally, of course, one is confronted by an individual who has been so hurt by the insensitive and erroneous words and actions of the official church on the issue of homosexuality that they are hostile toward those of us who, in any way, align ourselves with Catholicism. It's always very difficult encountering and engaging that type of hostile energy, that type of deep woundedness. I simply do my best to empathize with their feelings of hurt, and to support their decision to find spiritual nurturance beyond Roman Catholicism. Yet I also gently maintain that there can be a place for reform from within the church, and that I and many others find it helpful to remember that, as Rosemary Radford Ruether says, "Catholic does not equal the Vatican."

Held amidst the peaceful greenery of Loring Park, on the edge of downtown Minneapolis, Twin Cities Pride is the third largest Gay Pride festival in the United States - after San Francisco and New York.

In the photo above, the Roman Catholic Basilica of St. Mary can be seen looming over the rainbow-hued proceedings in Loring Park. It's an image that makes me smile, as it brings to mind Rev. Irene Monroe's recent article in which she makes the case for the Catholic Church being a gay institution - something that she insists is a good thing.

Left: Tom and Gretchen Murr (co-founders of Catholic Rainbow Parents) and their daughter chat with my friend and CPCSM supporter Paula Ruddy at the CPCSM booth - Saturday, June 26, 2010.

In 2003, Tom, Gretchen, and their gay son David were part of a CPCSM-sponsored "alternative forum" - one that challenged the discredited science and narrow theology of the Courage movement.

Above: CPCSM supporter Mary Jean.

Above: More CPCSM friends: Neil (right), his partner Rick, and the couple's friend Tam.

A popular flyer that we distribute each year at Pride contains a list of local Catholic parishes in which LGBT people have told us they experience hospitality. It's actually quite a long list - and one that many people are always grateful to find.

Above and below: Many young people where drawn to the CPCSM booth, happy and hope-filled at seeing the words "Catholic" and "gay" together. In our main informational flyer that we distribute each year at Pride, we acknowledge that for some people seeing these two words together may seem incongruent, especially given the Church's official condemnatory stance on "homosexual activity." Yet as we go on to explain that:

The Vatican may think this way but we do not believe that being Catholic means unquestioning obedience to every utterance of the Vatican. There's so much more to being a Catholic than that. And the Catholic Church is so much bigger than simply "the Vatican." We understand the Church, not as an exclusive club, but primarily as the People of God. . . . As the Church we are continually living and growing in our understanding of God's presence within and among us. Like many Catholics we therefore believe that hallmark of our Catholic faith is a trusting openness and response to the presence and action of God within all creation and thus the vast and diverse arena of human life and relationships.

One young woman (pictured above center) recognized me from when I spoke four years ago at her Catholic high school. She was pleased to see that the book I had been working on at that time had been published in 2007 as Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective. I had copies of the book, along with this review, at our booth.

One young man was over the moon to be given a copy of the Catholic Rainbow Parents' 2005 Declaration of support for LGBT lives and relationships. He couldn't wait to share this Declaration with his parents who are struggling to reconcile their Catholic faith with their son's sexual orientation. I hope it's of help to them.

I posted the photo above on my blog The Wild Reed on Saturday as my "Photo of the Day." It shows an associate of "Christian missionary" John Chisham preaching an anti-gay message - one that's being met with loving opposition by a gay male couple.

Chisham and his small group of supporters positioned themselves opposite the CPCSM booth on Saturday afternoon, although I doubt their proximity to us was intentional. Rather, the location they chose afforded a convenient open space. The Star Tribune reports, that Chisham's presence and message ensured a volatile situation:

Another protester at Saturday's event, John Chisham of Marshall, Minn., attracted far more attention than the [Bible distributing] Brian Johnson as he stood on a box with a sign that read "You are an abomination to God, You justify the wicked," preaching to a jeering crowd. Chisham attracted shouts of disapproval and arguments from passersby. Eventually, Pride attendees stood in front of him with signs that read, "Standing on the Side of Love."

And then the gay male couple did their thing!

I saw them starting to kiss and immediately knew this would be a photo opportunity too good to miss. In terms of composition, I think the photo I took works very well. I also like what this image conveys symbolically. I mean, one of Chisham's crew is ranting, another is standing isolated and somewhat forlorn. Both are behind the bars of a fence, sectioned off from the love being expressed outside their prison of ignorance and fear! In the distance, beyond the ranting man, rises a church tower. Visually, it's quite powerful, though ironically the tower belongs to St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral - one of the most gay-friendly churches in the Twin Cities!

And in contrast to these two figures are the two men in the foreground. It seems to me that all else fades into insignificance at the authenticity and power conveyed by their loving embrace and passionate kiss. And I love the splash of color provided by the flower in the headband of the guy on the left, and the rainbow colors on this same man's right wrist. On so may levels, this photo just works.

Above: Chris and Steve.

Above: Members and friends of Dignity Twin Cities.

On Thursday, June 24, CPCSM co-sponsored with Dignity a "Catholic Mass in Celebration of Our LGBT Brothers and Sisters." For images and commentary on this Mass, click here.

For more images of Pride 2010, click here to see the original version of this article posted at The Wild Reed.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Many Voices, One Church

Note: Continuing with our series that recognizes and celebrates the contribution of lay preachers within the local church of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the editorial team of the PCV in honored to share the following homily for the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time with its Gospel reading of Luke 7:36 - 8:3, about the woman who washes the feet of Jesus.

(For an introduction to this series, click here. Also, please note that to avoid possible negative consequences, names of preachers and parishes will not be disclosed in this series.)


There is richness in this Gospel story that we could ponder from different angles for weeks. Questions about the role of prophets, the strong statement about the value placed on the roles of women, the erotic overtones to this story . . . there's a lot here. But, God is merciful, and our Worship Committee reflects that mercy by limiting the length of homilies, so I will focus on one theme I hear in this Gospel.

Simon the Pharisee misses the point when he thinks that Jesus doesn't know this unnamed woman touching him is a sinner.

Of course Jesus knew she was a sinner. What else could she be?

When I arrived in our worship space this morning, I greeted many of you, some with hugs, with handshakes. Each one of you I touched this morning was touched by a sinner. I doubt if this information is surprising to you. But I also doubt if any of us here use the term sinner as Simon does. Simon sees people as divided by sin – there are sinners, like this women, and there are good people, like himself.

In the many accounts in the Gospels of Jesus encountering and healing those people outcast as being sinners, Jesus teaches by word and example something radically new. He doesn't deny sin, the failings and wrong doings that build up to hurt us an individuals and as communities. And there isn't much new about in the idea that we all sin and are enmeshed in social sin.

What I hear as wonderfully new is the message to stop fearing sin. Jesus recognizes our failings as part of our common humanity. Jesus does not lecture or prescribe punishments or penances, he calls the person in need to a harder task – to truly desire forgiveness, and then dare to accept and receive it. What I read in this story is not that this woman cries at Jesus' feet because Simon said she was a sinner, but because she believes she was a sinner. Jesus recognizes her as a person experiencing the pain and fear of wanting deep change, someone beginning to recognize and experience God's healing power. Jesus empowers her to see her woundedness for what it is, a wound, yes, but part of her. Not something to be denied or hidden, but something she can learn to recognize as the entry way of true forgiveness, the window through which she can feel God's loving compassion shining in her. Her past is not undone here. What is different is that her present is filled with a new sense of hope. This newfound hope and belief in forgiveness and healing is not just an emotional response . . . the loving way she tends to Jesus shows how she has learned that she too is called to be a conduit of God's love.

A while back at this gathering, I was deeply struck by something community member Anne shared with us about hope being a virtue to cultivate, not a special grace some of us are given. A part of cultivating hope is letting go of the past.

Does anyone not have some shadow, some shame, somewhere is their past? We cannot go back to the past to undo these things. I see Jesus teaching us we have the power to let go of past errors, and the strength to begin again.

I live in a relatively small city flat, but due to an odd design, I have a bizarre abundance of closet space. Before you commit the sin of envying me for this, there is a real danger here – I can stuff a lot in closets and close the door, and pretend that the hidden mess is not there.

Last winter I started sorting through some closet spaces long neglected. Dark, spooky things laying in corners came to light, and became less spooky as I wondered why I had tossed worn out socks in that corner, what was I thinking saving boxes full of packing peanuts. I delighted to find a box with old greeting cards from years ago, with messages I had almost forgotten. I pulled out a sweater a friend had left at my house some five years ago, and sat and mourned a bit remembering how my friend died quite unexpectedly before I saw him again to return it.

The sad things, the happy things, the stupid things in that closet were all part of my past, all part of me. There was nothing to fear, nothing that needed to be hidden away forever. There was nothing there that controlled my present or my future. The only thing that had control over me was my reluctance to open that door and begin. After all, beginning was admitting I had been lazy and neglectful – things my parents taught me very clearly were bad.

Jesus teaches us we have to power to look into our lives, and look at the bad as well as the good, without condemning ourselves. Poor Simon the Pharisee is stuck in the past. After all, he knows what this women did. Jesus is aware of God's eternal present - he knows this woman for who she is. Jesus knows our capacity to grow, to heal, to do good is much greater than we sometimes believe. Jesus also knows we delude ourselves if we believe our past failings are beyond the capacity of God's forgiveness.

And if God forgives us, by what authority can we not forgive ourselves?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Breaking Up is Hard to Do:

The Man at the 10 o’clock Mass

By Paula Ruddy

According to a report in the Catholic Spirit of May 4, 2010, Archbishop Nienstedt told 300 parish ministers that the coming archdiocesan reorganization “will require that weekly routines be altered and, yes, even lives be adjusted. The man who has been going to the same church for the 10 o’clock Mass for 20 years is going to find that Mass at the next parish.”

If the Archbishop’s goal in reorganizing the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis is to serve the Church’s mission, then the reorganization has to preserve and build a sense of belonging in community. Eucharist arises out of community, tradition is carried by community, spiritual growth is supported by community. We don’t have ecclesia-gathering-church unless people feel that they belong with each other and that they have a job to do as a community.

What is the job the community has to do? The Catholic Coalition for Church Reform has recently formulated its understanding of the Church’s mission (see www.cccrmn.org). There are an infinite number of ways to articulate it. The Christian Church, including the Roman Catholic Church, has the same mission as Jesus — to live the belief that human life in all its joy and suffering is destined for glory, union with God, what we have traditionally called “salvation.” The human dream for a universal community of mutual cooperation is an already/future reality for us, something we work toward with hope. Each congregation, parish, or small faith community, believes that and shows its faith by its way of life.

So what about a reorganization plan that breaks up communities? The Archbishop tells us it must be done. There are not enough priests to serve all the parishes in the Archdiocese. There is not enough money to keep the parish plants and the schools in operation.

The Archbishop doesn’t use the word “community.” He uses the word “communion.” He says in his Pentecost letter to parishes that the changes “are meant to proclaim and promote this local Church as a more dynamic and effective communion of faith, hope and love.”

Is “communion” the same thing as “community”?

There is no question that communities will be broken up. The Archbishop is pre-empting the response to the break up of communities by a steady stream of articles in the Catholic Spirit giving notice of the coming pain, warning against selfishness, trying to temper the “potential for hurt and anger that so often accompanies change.”

The way the Archbishop has the situation framed, it is a human weakness for people to resist and be pained by change. If they are dismayed by the break up of their worshiping communities, they should look to some greater good, i.e., communion within the Archdiocese. He says in his Pentecost letter to parishes that the changes “are meant to proclaim and promote this local Church as a more dynamic and effective communion of faith, hope and love.” He has it framed as an either/or. Community must go in favor of communion.

But here’s the question: How does human social/cultural formation happen?

Keeping the faith, feeling belonging and joy in belonging, growing in spirit — these happen in a daily life of interactions with caring others. Does “communion” at the archdiocesan level produce the same good effects as “community” at the parish level?

I think communion is very important. I understand it as the experience of unity in wider and wider circles of moral awareness, like the love we feel at higher stages of development for our fellow humans, or the solidarity we experience even when worshiping in a church full of strangers. It is more abstract than community, which requires direct communication and interaction.

We need both communion at the archdiocesan level and community at the parish level. We do care for our brothers and sisters in the Archdiocese, the local church, but where do we discuss our ideas, get our bonding and our support for living justly? What unit do we belong to that manifests the belief that Jesus taught? Is it the archdiocese? Is it the worship service center in the quadrant of the archdiocese we live in?

When the man from the 10 o’clock Mass has to adjust his life, he will, as the Archbishop says, “find a Mass at the next parish.” It will be with believing people with whom he is in communion. But will he have the history of sharing he has had with others for 20 years and all that means to him? It isn’t selfishness and lack of flexibility that make him grieve. He will be losing something important and he may well ask why it is necessary for him to lose it. Why is a celibate male clergy more important than the experience of community for Catholics?

Can a reorganization plan that destroys community hope to further communion or the mission of the Church? Is there testimony to what community is like 20 to 50 years after sacramental services are centralized? Maybe we need a reorganization plan that provides for smaller communities with their own ministries and leadership while at the same time providing the larger framework of communion at the archdiocesan level.

What we most certainly need is conversation between Catholic people and their leadership about it.

What do you think? We would like to hear your opinions.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sex: Obedience and Disclosure

By A.W. Richard Sipe

Editor’s Note: This commentary was first published in the June 1 issue of the National Catholic Reporter.

Theologian Yves Congar once said, “In the Catholic Church it has often seemed that the sin of the flesh was the only sin, and obedience the only virtue.” This dynamic dichotomy forms the linchpin to the structure of the entire clergy sexual abuse crisis currently embroiling the Catholic Church.

But the sexual abuse of minors by clerics vowed to celibacy is only the symptom of a system desperately in need of fundamental reconsideration.

Human sexuality is the core of the whole Catholic upheaval that the Pope and the Vatican still refuse to face and discuss realistically.

In 1990 a bishop returning from Rome told me that Pope John Paul II personally instructed every new bishop that he “should not discus in public” birth control, a married priesthood, women’s ordination, abortion and the host of celibate/sexual issues that constitute an agenda that theologians have pointed out for decades are precisely the “tangle of issues that clog up” the Catholic agenda.

Roman Catholic leadership has failed to deal credibly and openly with all of human sexuality. William Shea outlined the challenge most elegantly already in 1986 when he listed the issues that need discussion: “divorce and remarriage, premarital and extramarital sex, birth control, abortion, homosexuality, masturbation, [women’s ordination, mandated celibacy] and the male monopoly of leadership.” He opined that the fear and perhaps hatred of women could be at the bottom of the ecclesial hang up.

It would be disingenuous to protest that the Church has discussed these issues or invites dialogue about human sexuality. True enough, the Vatican has made pronouncements and declarations on every item on the list, but none invite dialogue. Congar’s observation is validated; sex is all sin virtue is submission and obedience to authority and its dictates.

Despite Pope John Paul’s four-year effort to define a Theology of the Body he never transcended some of the basic constraints of church teaching that sex is sin. Sex remains permissible and holy only within a valid marriage.

A chronic problem with church pronouncements about sex is their use of the idea of natural law as they define and apply it. The Vatican represents their interpretation of sexual human nature as an absolute determination. They isolate the idea and impose it as an instrument of control. The approach fails to acknowledge that natural law is also the inherent practical and reasonable guide to conscience independent of revelation. Many Catholics use natural law as the road map to guide their sexual behavior. For instance natural law often trumps the dictates of Humanae Vitae in matters of family planning. Some behaviors labeled by the Church “contrary to natural law” (masturbation one instance among many) should be open for examination and dialogue in the minds and hearts of many serious Catholics.

“Intrinsic” is a church-word that seals off any possibility of conversation. Birth control is presented as intrinsically evil; so is abortion; and masturbation. Sex with a minor girl, however, is not considered intrinsically evil only gravely sinful.

Homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” A 1986 document authored by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger declared that homosexual orientation although not sinful in itself, “is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” As if the concept of Original Sin were not sufficient to cover all human beings of any orientation or inclination.

The definition of sex as sin establishes and maintains authoritarian control because bishops and priests (alone) have the power to forgive mortal sin. They are lords over the inner territory of the soul where secret violations are stored. Catholics are required to submit grave sins in sacramental confession for a priest’s absolution at least once a year. All sexual sins, of course, are grave according to Catholic teaching.

The operation of bishops throughout the clergy sex abuse crisis demonstrates their belief that sex with minors by a cleric is primarily sinful and only secondarily criminal. This clerical stance has led to the revelations of monumental harm plus the exposure of unrepentant clerical arrogance.

Within the clerical system the repentant priest-abuser is easily forgiven—repeatedly—by the power of absolution; the innocent child-victim is abandoned with the undeserved psychic burden of guilt and shame. Since 1946 the Church has established a number of treatment centers to comfort and help control abusive clergy. The dismissive attitude toward victims of abuse as bothersome adversaries stands in stark contrast to the protective and tolerant concern for clerics.

Under severe public pressure since 2002 the USCCB instituted measures to educate employees and children about abuse—good and bad touch. Diocesan audits to measure conformity to the Dallas Charter, fingerprints and protocols for church employment and more are now in place. But has the Church really altered any of its understanding of human sexual dynamics in response to the evidence of clergy sexual activity and celibate miscreants? Is church authority transparent and accountable in these regards?

Not withstanding current concessions about reporting clergy crimes to civil authorities clerical power over sexual sin remains constructed and executed with the conviction that the Church’s determination encapsulates God’s own knowledge and immutable law about human sex. In their estimation bishops still prevail as the final arbiters of their sexual behaviors despite bows to civil law and courts that function only according to man’s inferior laws. Grand Jury reports and depositions of priests and bishops in civil cases of clergy abuse provide glaring examples of this attitude on the hoof.

Church representatives who already declared the sex abuse crisis “history” and their research representatives who estimate that the phenomenon was a time limited phenomenon and “over” understand neither the history of religious celibacy nor the real dimensions of the current crisis. Their callowness does a major disservice to the Church, priests and people.

Woven into the fiber of Catholic sexual teaching and celibate operation are unresolved factors that make immoral behavior, secret lives, and sociopathic patterns of personality adjustment not only common, especially in the upper echelons of power, but also inevitable across the board in too many clerical lives. The unresolved issues form a sick system.

The Vatican insistence that every question about human sexuality is settled and beyond discourse—it is only for a person to obey and conform—takes important life decisions out of the realm of moral inquisition, responsibility and decision. The refusal of the Pope and Vatican to enter into serious dialogue about the sexual/celibate agenda has stripped the Church its moral leadership and credibility and been an essential component in the worldwide Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis.

It is impossible for Church authority to reestablish even a modicum of respect and believability until it can discuss openly and honestly the full range of sexual issues that so vitally affect human welfare.

Richard Sipe is a mental health counselor and author who earlier spent 18 years as a Benedictine monk and priest.

To view comments to this article by readers of the National Catholic Reporter, click here.

Recommended Off-site Link:
Richard Sipe: Priests, Celibacy, and Sexuality

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Quote of the Day

The claim of many self-professed “orthodox” Catholics nowadays that they have the corner on dogmatic truth and the practice of the spiritual life is astonishingly self-righteous. And like all self-righteousness, it’s woefully oblivious of the manifold ways in which all of us fall short, both in what we know and what we do, in our lives of faith.

It’s absolutely impossible to be informed to the hilt about what the church teaches, and to follow every rubric to perfection. As Jesus himself teaches over and over in the gospels, the point of the spiritual life is not rubristic perfection at all. It’s our disposition of openness to God, our willingness to be led where we do not intend to go.

. . . The claim of today’s self-professed “orthodox” Catholics that they scrupulously adhere to every jot and tittle of church teaching (and that they know each jot and tittle) seems to me spectacularly to miss the point. The point is that church teachings have shifted constantly over the years, in response to new cultural insights and developments. And that any time we’ve chosen to imagine that we can freeze those teachings at a particular moment in time, we’ve been proven wrong. Because cultural development itself does not stop, and along with it, doctrinal development and development of the church’s moral teaching occurs. Because development and change must occur, if the teachings of the church are to reach new generations of believers, or believers in new cultural settings.

. . . Rather than trying to learn and follow everything, it might be wiser for Catholics today to try to focus on what counts above all. I wonder what would happen if we started the catechetical process with the gospels, for instance, as Terry Weldon wisely suggests we might do? With the Sermon on the Mount?

– William D. Lindsey
The Catechism Again: The I-Believe-Everything
Approach to Catholic Orthodoxy
The Open Tabernacle
June 2, 2010