Tuesday, October 31, 2006

All at Sea

Lately I’ve been getting reacquainted with the music of The Cruel Sea, an Australian indie rock band fronted by vocalist Tex Perkins.

Formed in 1988, The Cruel Sea reached its commercial peak with the release of their 1993 album The Honeymoon is Over – an album that garnered three ARIA Awards.

I remember well “Black Stick”, the first single off the album, not only because it was a great song, but also because of its video which prominently featured a bare-chested Tex Perkins - described by one critic as “wolfish, raffish, [and] emanating the look of cool the word charismatic was invented for.”

I bought The Cruel Sea’s The Honeymoon is Over soon after its release, but because 1993 was my last year in Australia before relocating to the U.S., I never really had the time or inclination to get into it. And since I didn’t take the album with me to the U.S., The Cruel Sea and their music soon slipped off my radar.

Lately, though, I’ve been getting back into the band – not only by listening to The Honeymoon is Over, but also to a 1999 compilation album of the band’s greatest hits.

So what’s the music of The Cruel Sea like? Well, I think critic Amanda Brown hits the nail on the head when she relates the following:

“In 1970, whilst mulling over the idea of adolescence and rock & roll being relatively transitional periods in the grand scheme of life and music, rock critic Lester Bangs made what turned out to be an incredibly accurate prediction outlining the future of popular music. He hypothesised that there would be ‘a small island of new free music surrounded by some good reworkings of past idioms and a vast Sargasso sea of absolute garbage.’ The Cruel Sea are definitely on that island of new free music.”

In describing a live performance, another critic has observed that the band’s “rootsy soul captures a spirituality far beyond the narrow parameters of retro-posturing . . . Calypso, flamenco and reggae dissolve into raw country blues as the room lurches to [The Cruel Sea’s] heady aural cocktail”.

In a piece for Juice magazine, Clinton Walker praises the band’s “determined creativity”, noting that “songs are constructed with rhythms as a bedrock – the bottom-line in all music – around which the band swings with a crispness and dynamicism which is possible only due to their individual mastery, their whole empathy and their willingness to experiment”. Their songs, says Walker, are imbued “with a yearning for something, anything, which is fair and true rather than just skin deep”.

As far as I can gather, The Cruel Sea are no more – a fact that has given the band’s lead vocalist Tex Perkins the opportunity to work on various solo and collaborative projects. Recently, for instance, Perkins has teamed up with fellow Australian singer/songwriter Tim Rogers for a tour of the U.S. and Europe, and the recording of the 2006 album, My Better Half.

By chance I recently caught Tex on the cult SBS program, RocKquiz. He comes across as a very down-to-earth, genuine kind of guy. I also think it’s cool that two straight guys like Tex Perkins and Tim Rogers (T’n’T) are comfortable enough with their sexuality to release an album which not only permits their vocals to beautifully harmonize on songs like “Tonight’s the Night” and “Come On and Love Me”, but also sports a humorous cover image depicting the two men in bed together.

A comment left on one Internet site expressed the hope that this image indicates more than a musical collaboration between the two lads. Yet for those unfamiliar with Tim and Tex, any doubts concerning their heterosexuality are firmly (and humorously) dispelled by the album’s hidden closing track.

Reviewing the album,
Peter Strelan notes that, “Perhaps the defining song on the record [. . .] is Perkins’ own song, ‘Half of Nothing’. At one level, the song is sincere and tender; on another level, it’s funny and that’s everything you need to know about the new record.”

Tex apparently agrees: “That’s exactly how I see it!” he tells Strelan. “[Tim and I] have a lot of laughs, but the depth of our relationship is that we speak about things that are very tender and dear to us. We have a great ear for each other.”

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
A Fresh Take on Masculinity

Monday, October 30, 2006

"Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality is Complex and Nuanced", says Theologian

In April of this year, the Minnesota-based Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (the organization with which I serve as executive coordinator), planned and hosted a two-part presentation by renowned theologian and author Daniel Helminiak. This event served as CPCSM's inaugural Bill Kummer Forum, and was entitled “Gay Body, Gay Soul: A Catholic LGBTI Perspective on Sexuality, Spirituality, and Marriage”.

It was a wonderful event – and one which coincided with the publication of Daniel’s latest book, Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth, a book which proved very popular among those in attendance at April’s CPCSM-sponsored presentation.

I brought a copy of the book with me to Australia and have found great wisdom and compassion within its pages. Basically, Sex and the Sacred is an anthology of essays and articles that Daniel has written and published over the past twenty years. As he notes in the book’s preface, “[These] papers are still relevant, perhaps more so today than when I first wrote them. So I took them out and dusted them off. I updated and refurbished them, and I present them in this book.”

Organized into 15 chapters, Helminiak’s highly readable collection of “papers” focus on a diverse range of topics, including “The Spiritual Dimension of the Lesbian and Gay Experience”, “Sexuality and Spirituality: Friends Not Foes”, “Jesus: A Model for Coming Out”, “The Right and Wrong of Sex, Queer and Otherwise”, and “Gay Bashing and 9/11 Terrorism: Religious Perversion”.

Throughout, Helminiak acknowledges and addresses the God-given hunger for spirituality that is found in each one of us, and compellingly makes the case that this intrinsic spiritual dimension needs to be integrated with one’s sexuality.

Recently, I completed chapter 11, “Homosexuality in Catholic Teaching and Practice”, of Helminiak’s latest book. Given my pastoral and educational work with CPCSM, I found this chapter particularly interesting. It’s also a topic that, in Helminiak’s hands, is imbued with positiveness and hope – qualities which, to be honest, are not always readily associated with Church teaching on sexuality, especially homosexuality.

Following are excerpts from chapter 11 of Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth by Daniel Helminiak.


Homosexuality in Catholic Teaching and Practice
Excepts from Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth
By Daniel A. Helminiak
Harrington Park Press, 2006

Overall, the official Catholic position on sex is not what most people think it is. Similar to so much else in the Catholic Church, appearances reign supreme. [. . .] Where does Catholicism stand on homosexuality? Actually, all over the map. Catholic teaching on homosexuality is complex and nuanced, and it allows for differences between teaching and practice. Conscience is supreme in Catholicism: When individuals act for solid reasons and in good conscience, Catholic teaching defends their right to quiet dissent.

[. . .] On the inside, Catholicism is actually a very humane and tolerant religion. [. . .] The Catholic emphasis on sacramentality – the use of water, oil, bread, real wine, music, candles, incense, bells, statues, medals, rosary beads, relics – hallows earthy things, and this “gut” teaching talks better than the heady kind.

[. . .] The official position is tolerant, as well. It does not regard homosexuality as a choice and does not see such an orientation as likely to change. Though it is called an “objective disorder”, simply being homosexual is not, in any way, considered sinful. (Of course, one is not supposed to act on one’s homosexuality.) Moreover, Catholicism condemns prejudice and injustice against lesbian and gay folk.

Catholicism even allows for gay and lesbian sex. The Catholic position includes what is called “pastoral application of official teaching”. The notion is that, in practice, the general principles of official teachings need to be prudently applied to fit individual cases. People are different. No two cases are exactly alike. What is ideally required is not always attainable, so allowances need to be made in pastoral situations, in one-on-one counselling, or in the privacy of the confessional. People can be required to do only what they are able.

The Vatican mentality follows the Roman notion of law. Laws are thought to express ideals that people should strive to achieve. Laws do not, as in English and American traditions, express minimum requirements that must be met. Catholic ethics propose ideals, and these apply variably in individual cases.

Thus, Father Jan Visser, a principal author of the 1975 Vatican document on sexual ethics, could write in the January 30, 1976, edition of L’Europa, “When one is dealing with people who are so deeply homosexual that they will be in serious personal or social trouble unless they obtain a steady partnership within their homosexual lives, one can recommend them to seek such a partnership, and one accepts this relationship as the best they can do in their present situation.” This is authentic Catholic teaching. In practice, for the good of individuals and society, in certain circumstances Catholicism may even recommend lesbian and gay relationships.

The same conclusion can be drawn in another way. For Catholicism, doing wrong is not the same as committing a sin. Wrongs are in the objective order. They are violations of natural law [as understood and defined by the Church]. They represent destructive forces unleashed on our world. However, sin is a subjective thing. It depends on human understanding and free choice. It resides in the human heart. In Catholic teaching, it is fully possible that someone can do something wrong being subjectively culpable.

[. . .] Many lesbian and gay Catholics do not understand what is wrong with their loving one another in sexual intimacy, so they do what, to them, is right. Catholic teachings say they are doing wrong, but it does not accuse them of sinning. [. . .] At stake in this Catholic understanding of wrongdoing and sin is a profound respect for personal conscience. This respect is one of the best kept secrets in the Catholic Church – deliberately so, it seems.

In 1997, the National Conference of [U.S.] Catholic Bishops published Always Our Children, a pastoral message encouraging parents to love their lesbian and gay children. Several lines on personal conscience were deleted from the final draft. The bishops feared that those lines might mislead people. Maintaining the clarity of Catholic teaching was the highest priority. Nonetheless, some Catholics, including bishops, still found the document objectionable and protested it. So the document had to be revised in consultation with – that is, under the scrutiny of – the Vatican.

The Catholic Church walks a tightrope in balancing official teaching against individual conscience and private behaviour. The balance is maintained by giving the official teaching top billing and putting conscience in the fine print. Commitment to public order is paramount. For official Catholicism, obedience is the supreme virtue.

Thus, when DignityUSA – a national network of support groups for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Catholics and their friends – publicly protested Catholic teaching on homosexuality in 1987, bishop after bishop expelled local Dignity chapters from church property. Dignity’s offense was, of course, not so much its endorsement of gay sex, but the public protest, the breaking of ranks, the challenging of authority.

Yet as Dignity saw the matter, the Church’s repeated condemnations were doing severe psychological and spiritual harm to many individuals: teenagers committing suicide, adults repressing their affection and creative potential, people living in unrelenting self-loathing, guilt-ridden compulsives acting out surreptitiously in irresponsible and unsafe sex acts. Counterproductive and downright destructive, the official teaching had to be challenged. Dignity saw itself as prophetic. The situation is symptomatic of tensions within contemporary Catholicism.

[. . .] At the opposite pole from Dignity is a conservative activist organization called Courage, a national network of support groups dedicated to promote celibacy among homosexual Catholics. Of course, unlike Dignity, Courage enjoys the endorsement of the hierarchy. It is built on the assumption that homosexuality is an emotional debility. Based on Alcoholics Anonymous, Courage uses a twelve-step program to help people stop having sex. The ministry may serve a useful purpose for people who want to be celibate or who really are sexually addicted. Yet it can hardly be helpful that Courage, contrary to Catholicism’s official respect for scientific findings, ignores the bulk of scientific evidence and equates homosexuality with psychopathology. In any case, the local Courage groups are small. People are not flocking to this hyper-Catholic association.

Similar to other Christian churches, Catholicism is struggling to develop a new sexual ethic, and inevitably it will accommodate homosexual relationships. Although official Catholicism continues to insist that its sexual ethic is as clear and unchanging as ever, in thinking and practice a shift is occurring. The shape of the new synthesis remains to be seen. In contrast to the old emphasis on procreation, it will probably be built on the interpersonal meaning of sex.

Excerpted from chapter 11, “Homosexuality in Catholic Teaching and Practice”, of Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth by Daniel A. Helminiak (Harrington Park Press, 2006).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Non-negotiables of Human Sex
Reflections on the Primacy of Conscience
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Soul Deep
Somewhere In Between
In the Garden of Spirituality: Daniel Helminiak

Like Father, Like Daughter

My young niece is taking after her Dad and proving to be a talented drummer – as these photos from a recent school event show.

See also the previous Wild Reed post, My Brother, the Drummer.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

In the Garden of Spirituality: Paul Collins

The Wild Reed’s series of reflections on spirituality continues with the following by Australian theologian and author, Paul Collins.


Terribilis est locus iste: hic domus Dei est et porta coeli; et vocabitur aula Dei (“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:16-17)).

The Latin word terribilis here connotes terror, fear and trembling and points to the awe and trepidation required of one who is in the presence of God. It emphasises the fact that God is wholly other, not anthropomorphic, not domesticated. God is ultimately a mysterium in the sense that the divine is a phenomenon to be explored, not a reality to be possessed or defined.

The great Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, picks up this notion of God and prefers to speak of the divine as “absolute mystery”. When we enter into the presence of the numinous transcendence of God, we experience several feelings.

First, there is a deep sense of vulnerability. This is an expression that explicitly describes an existential state of reality; it is not a qualitative judgment about one’s personal self-valuation. In fact, it is really only the integrated person with a strong sense of self-worth who can begin to experience the acute vulnerability that characterises one who begins to perceive something of the mysterious presence of God.

Second, there is the sense that God is terribilis – awe-inspiring. This is the biblical notion of the “fear of God”. But the word “fear” here is ambivalent in English, and probably a word like “wondrous” comes closer to the meaning of the Latin word. The sense of the word is conveyed by Job when he prays: “Do not let dread of you [God] terrify me” (Job 13:21). There is a certain resentment about this among those of us who treasure the autonomy of the individual, but the simple reality is that we are the product of the constant, ongoing creative act of God. It is not so much about self-depreciation as an almost mystic consciousness of the sheer creative potency of God and of our total dependency upon that divine capacity. It is also a recognition of the unreality of so much of human experience.

Third, there is an element of energy or urgency. The mystics experience God as vitality, passion, force, movement. For them God is not the “philosopher king”, but a seething morass of dynamic and passionate creativity. Elements of this are vividly expressed by the later German idealists: Johann Gottlieb Fichte sees the Absolute as a “gigantic, never-resting, active world-stress”, and the German pessimist, Arthur Schopenhauer, as “Will”. Perhaps the greatest artistic expression of this passionate, urgent energy in Western culture is in the music of Beethoven, especially the final quarters (Opus 127 to 132), where he dialectically explores the outer reaches of the struggle with transcendence.

This notion of God as energy is closely related to the daring descriptions put forward by the 6th-century Syrian mystical writer, Pseudo-Dionysius, in The Divine Names. He speaks of God in terms of Eros, of a capacity to effect unity, alliance and co-mingling – a notion of divine and cosmic eroticism quite foreign to the pages of the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church and yet inherited from the early Christian theologian and controversialist, Origen (185-254 AD), in his Commentary on the Song of Songs.

Excerpted from “Imagination Abandoned”, Paul Collin’s contribution to the book, A Long Way From Rome: Why the Australian Catholic Church is in Crisis, edited by Chris McGillion (Allen and Unwin, 2003).

Image: Michael Bayly.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
In the Garden of Spirituality: Rod Cameron
Afternoon, In the Garden of Spirituality: Zainab Salbi
In the Garden of Spirituality: Daniel Helminiak
Paul Collins and Marilyn Hatton

Friday, October 27, 2006

Comprehending the “Fullness of Truth”

I hear that the Office for Family, Laity, Youth, and Young Adults of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis is planning another “Laity Forum”. Let’s hope that unlike last year’s forum, this one actually allows the laity to speak and to share their insights and experiences.

This year the event is being billed as a “Family Forum”, and aims to commemorate Pope John Paul II’s 1981 Apostolic Exhortation,
Familiaris Consortio (“The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World”).

Entitled “Building on the Foundation” and set for tomorrow, October 28, this year’s family-focused forum will feature sessions on marriage preparation, parenting, grandparenting, Godparenting, family formation, domestic violence, and the transmitting of the faith.

Of course, there’s no recognition or acknowledgement in any of the forum's events of Catholic parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons, or of Catholic LGBT couples, their families, and their particular needs in the midst of societal (and, sadly, ecclesiastical) homophobia.

But at least this year’s event doesn’t seem to be being used, as was last year’s, to encourage the Catholic laity to actively support the damaging and unfair “marriage amendment”. If passed, this amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution would have banned not only civil marriage for lesbians and gays in Minnesota, but “all legal equivalents”. Thankfully, the amendment was
defeated earlier this year.

Yet if the archdiocese had had its way, the amendment would have passed and discrimination would have been enshrined into Minnesota’s Constitution. Last November’s so-called “Laity Forum” was but one way by which the archdiocese attempted to rally the laity to support this particular form of discrimination. The forum featured, among others, Fr. Thomas Loya who spoke on the “Theology of the Body” – an impoverished sexual theology championed by reactionary elements within the church, and one that excludes the experiences of many straight people and all LGBT people. There was also a panel specifically designed to instruct the members of the laity on how they could ferment support for the proposed amendment in their parishes.

I attended last year’s November 5 forum, along with other members of the Catholic laity opposed to the amendment, to offer an alternative perspective on issues such as the “Theology of the Body” and gay marriage. The next day I shared, via an e-mail to family and friends, my experience of the forum. Following are excerpts from this e-mail:


I felt it was important to be present at yesterday’s Laity Forum [. . .] Upon arrival, I stood in the lobby of the O’Shaughnessy Education Center with one of the signs [CPCSM co-founder] David McCaffrey and I had made the previous night. The one I held read: “Comprehending the ‘Fullness of Truth’ requires listening to all of our voices – gay and straight.”

Looking around, I was somewhat surprised by the low attendance. At most there were 120 people. Of these 15-20 were there to express their concern, disappointment, and in some cases, outrage, that the archdiocese is so aggressively supporting the proposed state constitutional amendment that would ban civil marriage and all legal equivalents to same-sex couples.

While standing in the lobby I had a good conversation with a guy named Tom who was staffing the Courage table. [Note: Courage is a national network of support groups dedicated to promoting celibacy among homosexual Catholics.] A friend who attended Courage for a while before deciding it wasn’t for him, later told me that Tom was one of the more “healthier” guys he had befriended there.

Tom suggested that Courage and CPCSM co-host an event that would involve representatives from both organizations simply sharing their faith journeys with one another. I readily agreed that this would be a good idea. Yet later, when I approached him to get his contact information so we could meet and talk further about this cooperative endeavor, he backed off and said I’d probably need to talk to Kathy Laird, head of the archdiocesan Office for Family, Laity, Youth, and Young Adults. Somehow I don’t think this particular idea will go down too well with her.

At the last minute I decided to go in and listen to the “marriage amendment” panel. This particular event, we were soon told, was an “informational session”, i.e. no questions were to be asked. That didn’t go down too well with at least one priest of the archdiocese, or with several members of the laity. After all, in the case of the latter, it was suppose to be their forum. Yet everyone who raised a hand or lifted their voice was rebuked and told to be quiet.

The tension produced by this heavy-handed approach by the organizers was palpable. If this “informational panel” was to be followed by a question and answer session, then I could understand why it would be important to let the panelists speak without interruption. But with the awareness that there would be absolutely no opportunity to raise questions or offer comments within the context of the actual event, I could well understand the frustration of several members of the laity.

As this session was ending I exited and resumed my position in the lobby holding my sign. [Catholic Rainbow Parents president] Mary Lynn Murphy was beside me and next to her a young high school student who eyed our signs inquisitively.

The audience filed out of the auditorium, and Mary Lynn suddenly found herself being confronted and verbally assaulted by a heavy-set, red-faced man, screaming that she “needed to know the truth.” Mary Lynn backed away, firmly but calmly informing him that people like him scared her, and telling him that he needed to “get out of my face.”

She raised the palm of her hand as he continued to yell and advance. Her hand may have touched his chest, but it was purely an act of self-defense. He responded by violently shoving her back against some tables.

The mouth of the young male student standing nearby dropped open. “You just hit a woman!” he exclaimed. I pushed myself against the man who had lashed out at Mary Lynn, my hands upon his shoulders, my sign crushed between us. Other men – many of whom clearly knew this particular guy – rushed forward to subdue him. He was still incredibly angry and was screaming at Mary Lynn who, though shaken, was uninjured. In time, the man was escorted away by his friends and a security guard.

Later outside, I overheard an interesting conversation between the woman who had been part of the “marriage amendment” panel and Dr. Simon Rosser. During the panel presentation, this particular woman had made the comment that, “We all know that children flourish better with one mom and one dad.”

Simon noted that such a comment, though appropriate as an opinion, was not actually supported by the current research. This research actually says that there is no discernible difference between children raised by opposite-gender couples and those raised by same-gender couples – with the exception that the latter have been shown to more tolerant of difference.

Overall, it was a very interesting day – though one that was also extremely draining. I’m glad there were members of the Catholic laity present who offered an alternative perspective on issues such as the “Theology of the Body” and the “Marriage Amendment.”

I truly believe in the messages of the sign I held: that “Comprehending the ‘Fullness of Truth’ requires listening to all of our voices” – even, or perhaps especially, those voices that some fearfully and angrily condemn as dissident.

Thanks to all of you who lifted your voice calmly and compassionately at yesterday’s forum.


November 6, 2005

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:

Somewhere In Between
Good News from Minnesota
Vatican Stance on Gay Priests Signals Urgent Need for Renewal and Reform
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
My Rainbow Sash Experience
A Catholic's Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Remnants of a Past Life

Following is a selection of photographs taken during my six years of teaching at Sts. Peter and Paul’s Primary School in Goulburn, New South Wales. I taught fourth class (or grade) from 1988-1990, and fifth class from 1991-1993.

My time at Sts. Peter and Paul’s was one of the happiest and most creative of my life. Paradoxically, it also was one of my most
loneliest and isolating – owing to the fact that I was living a closeted existence as a gay man.

I don’t regret, however, my time as a teacher. One reason for this is that I felt incredibly close to God as I endeavoured to channel my loving and creative energies into my work. Looking back, I can’t believe some of the amazing things I accomplished with the students in my care – the dramatic adaptations of books we staged, the range of interesting topics and themes we creatively explored, and the colourful and stimulating classroom environments we created and sustained. In short, it was a very special time – for me and, I hope, for them as well.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of my files (containing my lesson plans, handouts, plays, units of work, and other resources which I either created or collected) have been lost. When I relocated to the U.S. in 1994, I thought I’d be gone for 2-3 years at the most. Accordingly, I left my files at the school. Of course, a whole new life opened up for me in the U.S., and now, 14 years later, it’s impossible to discover what became of my teaching files.

Some may say, “Well, so what?” And in a way, it’s a fair question, given that I don’t intend ever returning to teaching. Nevertheless, I think it would be great to simply look through these files and be taken back to my past life as a primary school teacher in rural Australia and be reminded again of the creative and happy times I experienced and shared.

The files may be lost forever but I do have the many photographs that I took during my teaching days. They now serve as very special surviving traces, or remnants, of this very special time in my life. It’s these “remnants” that I’m sharing with you today. Enjoy!

Above: The cricket match. I took this photo on the last day of my first year of teaching (1988). On special days like the last day of school, students were able to wear “casual clothes” and not their school uniforms.

Above: From left: Bernard Conroy, Andy Lindner, Tom Coogan, and Neil Gustafson re-enact the execution of Jesus in Sara’s Gift, an Easter play I wrote and which 5B staged for the school community in 1992.

Above: What a great action shot! Skipping from left: Belinda Tooth, Iliana Mylonas, Jacqueline Baird, Sherri Mowle, Keryn Sully, and Megan McKenzie – 1991.

Above: Celebrating Christmas on the last day of school in 1992.

Above: Danielle Lewin and Carl Zmyslawsli at work on a model of an Australian colonial-style building – 1991.

Above: To conclude a 1992 unit of work on the American West, we all came to school dressed appropriately! From left: Tom Coogan, Matthew Knight, Bernard Conroy, James Clifton, and Jason Weir.

Above: The following year the students constructed a tipi in the school playground. From left: Adrian Sheather, Jessica Shoppee, Kylie O’Neill, Adam Phillips, Prue McIntyre, Casey Breeze, Anthony Hutchins, Alana Henry, and (in a cowboy hat in the background) Stephen Polzin.

Above: Megan McKenzie and Danielle Lewin sell cakes and toffees for a 5B fundraiser to help Kurdish refugees in Iraq – 1991.

Above: In 1990 I was asked to accompany Year 6 on their annual camping trip. I’d taught many of these students two years earlier when they were in Year 4. For instance, Neil, the boy on the far right of this photo, is pictured at the far left of the “cricket match” photo at the beginning of this post.

For more “remnants” of my teaching days in Goulburn, click here.

See also the Wild Reed posts:
Goulburn Revisited
Goulburn Landmarks
Goulburn Reunion

A Voice of Reason

Yesterday, Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., was a guest on the PBS program The News Hour with Jim Lehrer.

I’ve met Phyllis a number of times in the Twin Cities and have always been impressed by her extensive knowledge of the workings of the United Nations and of the complex historical and contemporary aspects of the situation in the Middle East.

Two of her books that I’ve read (and highly recommend) are Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict and Before and After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis. Her latest book is Challenging Empire: How People, Governments, and the U.N. Defy U.S Power.

Phyllis is an articulate and passionate speaker on a range of social justice and human rights issues, and her perspective seems to me to be one of great insight, compassion, and plain old common sense. Hers is the voice of reason within important debates often dominated by rhetoric and spin.

In Australia, The Newshour is broadcast weekdays on SBS, and it was by sheer luck that I turned on the TV and caught Phyllis being interviewed by Newhour co-host, Ray Suarez. This particular interview is part of the program’s ongoing conversation on the situation in Iraq. Phyllis spoke from the position that calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Following is the transcript of this interview.


Pulling Out of Iraq
A Conversation with Phyllis Bennis

The Newshour with Jim Lehrer
October 23, 2006

Ray Suarez: What are you suggesting that the United States should do right now in Iraq?

Phyllis Bennis: We should get out. We are making things worse. Iraqis have said that, in overwhelming numbers.

More than two-thirds believe that U.S. troops are making the situation worse; 37 percent of Iraqis want the U.S. troops out immediately, meaning in six months; another 34 percent want them out within a year. That’s not a recipe for the belief that we’re somehow helping the Iraqis.

We’re making things worse. Our troops are part of the reason for the violence. They’re not able to protect people from the violence.

Ray Suarez: Just to clarify, when you say “get out,” you mean withdrawal of all American forces from the entire theater, not in a phased way or not contingent upon certain Iraqi meetings of goals?

Phyllis Bennis: Not contingent on the Iraqis meeting goals that the United States sets, certainly not. We should pull out all of our troops. We should pull out the mercenaries. We should close the bases, something that the Congress already voted for, in fact, to stop funding the creation of permanent bases, but that’s going ahead anyway. And we should end the occupation of Iraq that has become such a disastrous reality.

Ray Suarez: Well, as the debates have gone on certainly here in Washington about what to do next, you hear a lot of discussion of [withdrawal] and the reasons why it wouldn’t be a good idea. Let me tick off some of them: One, that the security situation is so precarious that a strategic country, in a very critical location, could be plunged into chaos by a too precipitous withdrawal.

Phyllis Bennis: The reality is that that strategic country has been plunged into chaos through this invasion and this occupation. The reality is, first of all, no one knows for sure what will happen when U.S. troops leave. It will happen whether it’s right away, as I would hope it happens, or whether it’s five years from now or 30 years from now.

We can’t predict with any specificity, and anyone who says, “I know exactly what would happen,” is lying. But what we think will happen is based on what’s happening now.

And you know, Ray, how the rising violence, the spiking violence that we're seeing on a daily basis with such horror in Iraq, is operating within a much broader framework of resistance, not to another sect or another religion, but to the U.S. occupation, the U.S.-British occupation. If that broad anti-occupation resistance was ended because the occupation ended, there would be no umbrella to provide cover for those terrorist forces that are killing civilians whose agenda has nothing to do with ending occupation.

Right now, they are operating in a very privileged environment. They are operating within that broad umbrella. You know, this recent poll by the University of Maryland that indicated 61 percent of Iraqis now support attacks on American troops, that’s a very serious reality.

And what that means is, if the U.S. troops are gone, that whole sector of broad, popular resistance will be ended. Then it will be possible to do what’s not possible now: to identify the terrorist forces that are operating within that and eliminate them as a fighting force by Iraqis themselves.

Ray Suarez: In response to those arguments, the president in his own speeches around the country has noted that, whether or not Americans want to recognize Iraq as the central front in the war on terror, the terrorists themselves do. And he cites public statements from the leaders of al-Qaida and other associated groups.

Phyllis Bennis: That’s absolutely right. There’s no question that the war in Iraq – the U.S. invasion, the occupation – has made Iraq into what it never was before: a center of this kind of global terrorism.

The question, though, is: How do we stop it? How do we fight it? And it seems to me that, by maintaining an unpopular occupation, we’re making that worse. We’re not giving the Iraqis the tools that they need to fight that kind of terrorism on their own terms.

Ray Suarez: But why wouldn’t Iraq thus become another Afghanistan, a place where a movement that’s non-governmental in nature could use a country as a base to plan attacks on other places in the world?

Phyllis Bennis: Because I think that Iraq is very different from Afghanistan. The people of Iraq have had access to far more education than people in Afghanistan have for the last several generations.

There is a sense of national identity in Iraq, despite all of the claims that everybody in Iraq identifies first as a Shia or a Sunni. That really isn’t always the case. There are enormously powerful imperatives towards national consciousness among Iraqis.

And I think that one of the things that that would lead to is a sense of trying to reclaim their country. The agenda of terrorist organizations like al-Qaida, the agenda of trying to destroy the Arab states, destroy the Arab governments, and replace them with a 7th-century-style caliphate of some sort is not something that ever had any credibility in Iraq.

There are some Iraqis now putting that forward, very few. The problem is, challenging them is something that’s almost impossible to do, because they’re operating in an environment of this massive opposition to the foreign occupations carried out by the U.S. and its allies.

Ray Suarez: The original goal of the U.S. invasion was to achieve regime change, get rid of the Saddam Hussein government, and create a stable democracy in the heart of the Middle East. It's been suggested quite often that leaving now and leaving quickly would negate the value of the thousands of American lives lost and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent toward that end.

Phyllis Bennis: Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives that have been lost, as well. But I think that that really misses the point. It’s true that we were told at the end that the reason for the invasion and the occupation had to do with democracy. That was after the earlier justifications had been proved false – weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons, et cetera, ties with al-Qaida that did not exist at that time.

The problem that we face now, I think, is how to respond to this reality. Killing more people, more young U.S. soldiers, more Iraqi civilians does not give credit to those who have already died; it simply increases the number of victims. And that’s not something that I think anyone in this country should be proud of.

Ray Suarez: The United States has exerted considerable energy holding elections, trying to create the conditions to hold elections, and trying to help a national government of Iraq stand up. Would leaving quickly, in the way that you envision, also threaten that enterprise?

Phyllis Bennis: It’s certainly possible that this government, as currently constituted, might not survive without the U.S. occupation to bolster it. I don’t think that’s evidence that this government necessarily reflects at this time the will of the Iraqi people.

Yes, there was an election, and we all saw the fingers with the purple ink held up with great pride, and with good reason. Iraqis did risk a great deal to vote in that election. But the system for each of these elections was established by the United States.

One of the earliest things that Paul Bremer did was establish, when he took over as the U.S. proconsul, if you will, one of the first things he did was to establish an electoral system that was grounded in giving recognition to sectarian-defined parts of the population. That was something that was not then a common aspect of Iraqi identity.

Only now we see people identifying primarily with parties that are created as Sunni parties, Shia parties. But this is fundamentally a political challenge. The fighting that's going on right now is between Shia militia and Shia militia, as well as between Sunni and Shia, between Shia and Kurd, or whatever else.

This is a fundamentally political crisis in Iraq. And getting the U.S. occupation out, ending the occupation, is the first step. It’s not the last step.

It’s only step one, before we can make good on our other obligations, to support international involvement, both in terms of a regional conference to bring in peacekeepers, to provide real reconstruction, meaning giving money to Iraqis to rebuild their country as they decide, not giving money to U.S. corporations to do it on our terms.

We owe Iraq a great debt, but we can’t make good on that debt as long as the occupation continues.

Ray Suarez: Phyllis Bennis, thanks for being with us.

Phyllis Bennis: Thank you, Ray.

Photo of Phyllis Bennis from Faces of Resistance by Michael J. Bayly.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Reign of Ignorance and Fear in the U.S.
John Le Carré’s Dark Suspicions
When Terror is the Foil
Taking on Friedman
The Exception to the Rulers
An Unholy Alliance in Iraq

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Grandma Knows Best

The following commentary by Scott Mikesh appeared in the October 20 “Faith and Values Forum” of the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper.

As you’ll see, it’s a powerful testimony and one which makes me all the more grateful for my own loving and supportive family, and for all families and friends who love and support their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) loved ones.

This particular testimony also makes me regret never coming out to either of my grandmothers – or indeed to any of my relatives of their generation. Looking back, I think my rationale was that I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable with such a truth. They were, after all, of another generation, I'd tell myself; a generation that didn’t talk about such things.

Of course, such a rationale was bullshit, and cowardly bullshit at that. The bottom line was that I was fearful that my grandmothers and others would be disapproving of me; that I would be a disappointment to them

Yet such a fear was completely groundless. I have no doubt that, given the opportunity, my grandmothers would have accepted me for the person I was and whom they, in their hearts, knew and loved me to be.

My greatest regret, then, is really to do with failing to offer my grandmothers and others an opportunity by which they could choose to express their support and love for me. And don’t ever doubt that this is what ultimately coming out is all about: the expressing of love.

That’s why it is so important for LGBT people to take the risk and not only express their love for their deepest truest selves by coming out, but also give those they love a wonderful gift: the chance to transcend their own fears and uncertainties and to likewise choose to simply embody and express love.


Grandma Knows Best
By Scott Mikesh
Star Tribune, October 20, 2006

As my grandmother knew, being gay does not mean being immoral.

I am a moral gay man. It’s very upsetting to me when people like James Dobson and Michele Bachmann team up to judge me and try to write my hopes and dreams out of our Constitution simply because they can’t accept this fact.

I’m tired of people who don't even know me telling me that I chose to be gay, that I could change if I wanted to, that God does not accept gay people and that I am a threat to marriage, families and children. When I was a boy dealing with the shame of being gay, it was people like them who I was most afraid of. As a proud gay man, I am no longer afraid, and I do not want any other child to feel ashamed or afraid of being who they are.

I stood outside Xcel Center in the misty rain with over 200 others last week, holding a sign that said “Family, Freedom and Fairness,” while around the corner at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, 3,000 others with James Dobson called me immoral, narcissistic and incapable of being a good parent because I am gay.

I believe in God. Above all else I believe God is love, and therefore true love cannot be a sin. I also believe it is one’s character and ability to love unconditionally that makes them a good role model and parent, not simply their gender.

I still want to get married one day in front of my friends, family and God. One day I will, regardless of what Dobson's followers think, because the only people I plan to invite to my wedding are the people who know me and love me.

I have the strength to stand up to the Dobsons and Bachmanns of the world today because I was blessed with family and friends who love me and have always supported me in my pursuit of happiness – some of them Republicans, some Democrats. Even my dear Lutheran, Republican grandmother wrote words of love and encouragement after I came out to my family nearly nine years ago. She was a housewife who lived on a family farm in rural Minnesota with my grandpa. They had been married 61 years when he died in 1996. She passed away a few years later.

Her words say it best:

“I want you to know that I want you to keep being the wonderful person you have always been. You are what you are, and I do hope that talking with your mom has lightened your load. And I appreciate so much my dear one that you wanted your grandma to know. It meant so much to me. God loves you and I do too dear grandson.”

Scott Mikesh lives in St. Louis Park.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts: Catholic Rainbow (Australian) Parents, One of These Boys . . ., A Lesson from Play School, Confronting Classroom Homophobia, Out at a Catholic University, Those Europeans are at it Again, Making Sure All Families Matter, and Remembering Nanna Smith

Monday, October 23, 2006

Boorganna (Part II)

After viewing Rawson Falls from the specially constructed viewing platform (see Boorganna (Part I)), Mum, George, Yonni, and I continued down to the bottom of the gorge so as to take in more of the beautiful views of Boorganna Nature Reserve and explore the area at the base of the falls.

Observing the falls, I couldn’t help but notice how this ever-changing ribbon of water descending from above, seemed to be like some kind of spirit alive and very much present in this special place.

Perhaps it was just the effect of the water falling from such a great height which gave Rawson Falls such a strange and beautiful quality. Or maybe there is another explanation for the other-worldly figures and faces that could be discerned, not only in the wispy plume of cascading water, but in many of the nearby rocks, as the photo below illustrates.

Maybe some people would be freaked out by such things, but I felt quite at peace and safe in this beautiful place. In fact, being there reminded me of the insights contained in two books I've recently completed reading.

In A Short History of Myth, Karen Armstrong notes that, “The earliest mythologies taught people to see through the tangible world to a reality that seemed to embody something else. But this required no leap of faith, because at this stage there seemed to be no metaphysical gulf between the sacred and the profane. When these early people looked at a stone, they did not see an inert, unpromising rock. It embodied strength, permanence, solidity and an absolute mode of being that was quite different from the vulnerable human state. Its very otherness made it holy. A stone was a common hierophany – revelation of the sacred – in the ancient world” (and, I would add, in the spirituality of many contemporary indigenous peoples around the world).

“Trees, stones and heavenly bodies were never objects of worship in themselves”, writes Armstrong, “but were revered because they were epiphanies of a hidden force that could be seen powerfully at work in all natural phenomena, giving people intimations of another, more potent reality.”

In his book Karingal: A Search for Australian Spirituality, Rod Cameron similarly notes that, “Australian Aborigines believe that the Spirit People, the creative spirits of the Dreamtime, still live, [and that] after their epic wanderings during which they blessed the land with fertility, they retired to caves and to other sacred places to die. Their bodies are represented in the features of the sacred sites but their spirits still live and are creatively active.”

Cameron admits that for some people, such beliefs may seem strange. But he is adamant that for Christians, this shouldn’t be the case.

“As Christians we frequently call upon the saints for help,” he says. “We [. . .] live in communion with the saints who are still involved with us in creating a better world. Just as God’s creation is on-going so is that of the saints. The entire action is one single display of creative power emanating from God. It is all within one movement of the Holy Spirit.”

I’ve long believed that all of the earth is sacred, that it is infused with the creative and transforming energy of God. But Boorganna felt especially sacred.

Is it any wonder I that felt compelled to remove my shoes and tread barefoot on this hallowed ground? And, later, to dispense with my outer garments and immerse myself in the holy waters of this place?

Above: Upon our return to the car park of Boorganna Nature Reserve, I was befriended by a dog from a neighbouring farm!

Above: On our way back to Port Macquarie, we paused for refreshments at the Blue Poles Café and Contemporary Art Gallery in Byabarra. From left: Yonni, Dad, George, me, and Mum.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Boorganna (Part I)
Rocky Beach
A Spring Swim
Pacific Skies
Alva Beach
Coastal Views
Bago Bluff
A Solitary Ramble
In the Garden of Spirituality: Rod Cameron.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Who Gets to Be Called “Catholic” – and Why?

Last October I had a commentary published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune which focused on the Vatican’s stance on gay seminarians.

Soon after this commentary’s publication I was contacted by an individual who took issue with my description of the Vatican's approach to gay seminarians as being one of “misguided scapegoating tactics”.

Such language, I was told, was designed to “dismiss and dishonour” other points of view, by which was meant the views of those loyal to the Magisterium, the official teaching office of the Catholic Church.

This individual also asked how I felt justified in using the word “Catholic” in the name of the organization of which I serve as executive coordinator, the
Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM).

Following is my response to this question and various related issues:

[. . .] I’m not alone in labeling the approach of the Vatican [towards gay priests and seminarians] as being one of “misguided scapegoating tactics.” For many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics and the people who know and love them, this is exactly what this approach is.

From our perspective, it’s misguided because it ignores what science tells us about the link between pedophilia and homosexuality. It’s scapegoating because for many of us, it fails to critically look at underlying issues of the sex abuse scandal within the Church – chief among them the clerical/hierarchical culture of the church and this culture's long history of being uncomfortable and hostile to the diverse reality of human sexuality.

I think it’s also important to point out that many of us who declare ourselves Catholic don't recognize the “clerical/hierarchical culture” of the institutional church as being an essential component of the Catholic faith.

I believe we require an institutional church, but it’s not essential that this institution be rigidly hierarchical or dominated by clerics. In fact, many Catholics intuitively sense that such a clerical/hierarchical structure and culture is detrimental to the spirit of the Gospels. Jesus certainly didn’t model such a structure or culture.

With regards to issues of human sexuality, the clerical/hierarchical culture simply does not reflect the liberating, life-giving spirit of the Gospels for many people – gay or straight. This doesn’t mean I’m advocating a big sexual free-for-all. I just think that as Catholics, we can do better at recognizing and articulating a sexual theology/ethic that actually reflects people’s experience of God in their relational/sexual lives; a theology that actually cares for and thus listens to people’s real lives in the real world –a world permeated by the sacred.

Human experience has always shaped theology. Yet in matters of human sexuality, the institutional church seems fearful and hesitant to acknowledge that its sexual theology has been and continually needs to be shaped by people’s experiences.

What is the basis of this fear and hesitation? I recently finished reading a very insightful book entitled The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality by Eugene Kennedy. He powerfully and in my view, courageously, explores the reasons why the institutional Church has failed so miserably in engaging and integrating certain sexual realities.

At one point he notes: “Cure and care share the Latin root of cura, which means ‘care,’ ‘concern,’ ‘attention,’ or ‘management.’ These are in turn related to curiosity, which means to be ‘full of care’ and of course, ‘eager to know.’ Those not eager to learn the truth of the world cannot care for the world, for they are dominated by fear instead of moved by love. Those who love always want to learn more about their beloved. The truly curious take care of the world through learning ever deeply the truths that constitute its truth. . . As Christian Catholics we are not expected to make the world perfect but to help it heal its wounds and achieve holiness by being healthy.”

Elsewhere, Kennedy poses this crucial question: “Can the world really be thought of as secular in itself, or does it only appear that way to those who have lost their sacramental way of seeing things?”

How can I and others – whose views are in opposition to the Magisterium – call ourselves Catholic? Speaking for myself, I take courage from the first principle of Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom:

“In all his activity a person is bound to follow his/her conscience in order that he/she may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he/she is not to be forced to act in manner contrary to his/her conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he/she to be restrained from acting in accordance with his/her conscience, especially in matters religious.”

I have spent most of my life studying, reflecting, and praying about what it means to be both gay and Catholic. And as a result, I feel at the very core of my being, that I am called to do the type of work I’m doing with CPCSM.

I, and many others, are following our conscience after long and painful years of deliberation. We are upfront and honest about where we stand and why we take the stance we do.

We also identify as Catholic as we think there’s a place in the living tradition of the Catholic faith for people like us: people called to stand and work at the growing edge of our tradition. I believe the church is big enough (and catholic enough) to have a place at the table for all of us.

Which brings me to the idea that my labeling of the approach of the Vatican towards gay priests and seminarians as being one of “misguided scapegoating tactics”, is somehow dismissing or dishonoring of those who are called by their experiences and their conscience to be faithful to the Magisterium.

I’m sorry, but there’s no way I can compare such people’s sense of belittlement with the feelings of rejection and dehumanization that many LGBT persons experience as a result of the attitude and language of the institutional church with regards the expression of their sexuality.

In fact, it’s an insult to the pain and suffering of so many LGBT people. I mean, people have killed themselves or lived unfulfilled and miserable lives because of the dismissing and denying of their experiences – their reality – by religious institutions. Families and communities have been torn apart.

In the case of the Vatican, it is a stance that is uninformed by either science or the lived experiences of LGBT people; and it is language that is deeply hurtful to people and which continues to leave deep and painful scars. In contrast, what and where are your scars as a result of my stance and language?

Please tell me: are my commentaries that powerful, that threatening and/or hurtful to you? If you have the “fullness of the truth” behind you, why on earth would you feel dismissed or dishonored by anything I have to say? Why would you feel in anyway impacted by someone who, according to this “truth,” is completely in error?

I have always maintained that if someone feels called to live a celibate life than they need to do so. I support them in their choice. No one should feel pressured by outside entities to be sexually active. Yet no one should feel pressured by outside entities to be celibate either.

I respect and celebrate anyone’s experience of God in their life of celibacy. I also respect and celebrate a gay couple’s experience of God in their loving and committed relationship. Can you? And if not, why not? Because the Church as Institution tells you not to? What about the Church as Mystery? How do you attune yourself to its voice?

I think what’s really at issue here is not that I narrowly select whom I respect and honor, but that I expand that circle of respect and honor; that I and others are willing to expand, in other words, our sacramental view of the world rather than keep it restricted.

I’m sorry if you feel threatened by such an expansive sacramental view, but as I said earlier, that’s what I (and many other Catholics) feel called to seek, participate in, articulate, and celebrate.

In my view and experience, that pan-sacramentality is at the heart of the life and teaching of Jesus, and thus at the heart of an authentic catholic faith.

See also the previous Wild Reed post A Not So "New" Catholic University.

Vatican Stance on Gay Priests Signals Urgent Need for Renewal and Reform

This time last year I had the following commentary published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune .

I must confess that I didn't appreciate the title the paper gave my commentary (see below), preferring instead my original title, "Vatican Stance on Gay Priests Signals Urgent Need for Renewal and Reform".

I should also acknowledge that the cartoon that accompanied the publication of my commentary in the Star Tribune was first published in the Washington Post.


Instead of Scapegoating,
Church Ought to Repent

By Michael J. Bayly

Star Tribune
October 18, 2005

Pope Benedict seems certain to issue a directive barring gay men from ordination as Roman Catholic priests. For the majority of Catholics – and in particular gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) Catholics – such a development is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s a desperate, misguided and futile ploy – and one that signals the need for urgent reform within a Catholic Church rapidly declining in credibility.

For a start, how credible is the Vatican’s appeal to the language of psychology in justifying its ban on “disordered” gay men, when the mental health and medical professional associations do not consider homosexuality to be any type of “disorder”?

The Vatican’s frequent claim of an intrinsic link between homosexuality and pedophilia is similarly devoid of any scientific backing and is thus erroneous. Reactionaries within the church, however, continue to bolster such a claim with “research findings” from groups such as the National Association for the Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH). Yet what isn’t reported is that neither NARTH’s findings nor its methodology are seldom, if ever, offered to peer-reviewed journals for critical analysis. In short, the group lacks any respect from the wider scientific community.

Despite this, the Catholic Church’s official “support group” for GLBT people, “Courage,” often substitutes the word “homosexuality” with the NARTH-coined phrase, “same-sex attraction disorder” – a term unrecognized by any professional health association. Following NARTH’s lead, some members of Courage even consider their “disorder” to be curable, and explain its origin using debunked theories of dominant mothers, distant fathers and abusive family relations.

The quackery of NARTH is clearly endorsed and encouraged by some within the leadership of the church. It’s not surprising, then, that this same leadership fosters the erroneous connection between homosexuality and pedophilia. This is all the more deplorable when one surveys the findings of mainstream scientific studies that refute any link between homosexuality and the sexual abuse of minors. These studies conclude that “the belief that homosexuals are particularly attracted to children is completely unsupported” (Groth and Birnbaum), and that “a gay man is no more likely than a straight man to perpetrate sexual activity with children” (Stevenson).

Yet despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Vatican insists on blaming gay priests for the ongoing sexual abuse scandal within the church. Without doubt such a scandal exists, but who is really to blame? Who should be held accountable?

Pedophile priests must be brought to justice, that's a given, as must members of the church hierarchy who knowingly ignore such priests’ criminal activity and simply transfer them to other parishes or dioceses.

Yet what of the structures and attitudes that surround, enable, and even encourage and reward such deplorable actions?

Could it be that the scandal is so overwhelming because of the church’s dysfunctional hierarchical culture – one more reflective of imperial hubris than of the egalitarian model of community offered by Jesus? It is a culture clearly prone to face-saving silence and conspiratorial efforts at covering up and scapegoating rather than acknowledging and reporting long-term abuse of children and youth.

It is clear that the Vatican has failed in many ways. It has failed in promoting a teaching that reflects the diverse reality of human sexuality; it has failed in encouraging GLBT people, in particular, to celebrate and integrate their God-given gift of sexuality, preferring instead to promote through groups such as Courage, a shame-based preoccupation with sexual repression; it has failed to protect children from sexual abuse by pedophile priests; and it has failed to hold itself fully accountable for its own complicity in this abuse.

It is time for Catholics to publicly and vocally reject the misguided scapegoating tactics of the Vatican and to demand an end to its discriminatory policies preventing not only gay men, but also married straight men and women from entering the priesthood. It is time for Catholics to demand an open and thorough accounting of the real issues behind the church’s tragic sex abuse scandal.

Only then will we see a reformed priesthood and a renewed Catholic Church – one truly universal and open to the gifts of all its members.

Michael J. Bayly is executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, a Twin Cities-based independent coalition.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Remembering Nanna Smith

A year ago today, my paternal grandmother, Belle Smith, passed away.

The woman I grew up knowing as “Nanna Smith” was born Isabel Mary Simmons in Gunnedah on April 29, 1919. She was the youngest child of Jim and Emily Simmons of “Flodden,” a property in the Purlewaugh District of Northwestern New South Wales. Her elder siblings were sister Phyllis and brothers William (Billy) and Harold (Tommy).

After her father’s death in 1934, Belle remained on the family farm until her marriage to Aubrey Bayly in 1937. Their son, Gordon (my Dad), was born that year and the young family moved to the nearby town of Coonabarabran.

When Aub joined the army in 1940, Belle returned to “Flodden.” In 1943, Aub was lost when the hospital ship
Centaur was torpedoed and sunk off the Queensland coast.

At war’s end, “Flodden” was sold and most of the family moved to the nearby village of Tamber Springs.

Above: In 1950, Belle married Leslie (Bill) Smith, a sharefarmer in the Tamber Springs District. Later that year they moved to “Balgowrie,” a property Bill acquired in the Curlewis District. In 1951 they built a home in Gunnedah. They moved into this house on a permanent basis after the Curlewis property was sold in 1960.

Above: Belle (at right) with her friend Midge in 1949.

Above: Belle and her second husband, Bill Smith, at my parents’ wedding in 1959. To my brothers and I, Bill was always “Poppy Smith.” He died in Gunnedah on May 30, 1993.

Above: Nanna was an avid (and good) tennis player. Here she stands (second from left) with fellow players Bernice Pople, Beatrice Noble, and Annie Stewart.

I remember how as kids, my brothers and I asked Nanna about this particular photo.

“Where was it taken?”, we asked.

“At White City [in Sydney] during Country Week,” Nanna replied.

“How did you go?”, we asked excitedly, meaning, “Did you win?”

There was much laughter when Nanna replied, “By train.”

Above: Nanna with her sister Phyllis and mother Emily (Gran) in 1976.

Above: For many years Nanna and her good friend Dawn Weakley (pictured at left) worked as catering managers at the Gunnedah Servicemen’s Club. This photo was taken at the two women's retirement party in the late 1980s.

Above: With my Mum and Nanna and Pop Smith - Christmas 1990.

Above: Dad and Nanna at my younger brother’s wedding in 1990.

Above: Nanna and her first great-grandchild, Ryan, in 1992.

Above: Me with Nanna Smith in 2003. I was back in Australia, visiting from the U.S. where I've lived since 1994. This would be the last time I would see Nanna.

Above and below: Nanna spent Christmas 2004 visiting with her family in Port Macquarie. She died ten months later, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, back in Gunnedah on October 19, 2005. She was 86-years-old.

A few days later I wrote the following to my sister-in-law: “I think [Nanna's death] took everyone by surprise. It’s like she slipped away from us very quietly – not wanting to make a big fuss of it. I’m just thankful that in the days before she passed, she received a letter and some photos I’d sent her from my time with you all [in England]. I’m also grateful for the good conversation we had via phone at the end of July – when Mum and Dad were here visiting [me in the States]. I remember telling her that I believed I had inherited her green thumb, as all my indoor plants were thriving. So my sadness was alleviated somewhat by these opportunities to connect with her before her passing – and by the fact that she didn’t endure a long period of suffering. But I still find it hard to think I won’t see her again, or hear her voice – at least not in this world.”

Nanna was loved by many and is missed by many.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Gunnedah (Part I)
Gunnedah (Part II)
Gunnedah (Part III)
Gunnedah (Part IV)
One of These Boys . . .
A Lesson from Play School
Catholic Rainbow (Australian) Parents
The Bayly Family (Part I)
The Bayly Family (Part II)
The Bayly Family (Part III)
My Brother, the Drummer
A Rabbit’s Tale