Friday, August 31, 2007

Out and About - August 2007


Above and below: Snapshots of a Minnesotan summer.

Above: Throughout the summer I’ve organized and participated in a number of energizing and productive meetings with the wonderful folks who comprise CPCSM and Catholic Rainbow Parents.

As I think most readers of The Wild Reed know, I’m honored to serve as the executive coordinator of CPCSM. One of my self-appointed tasks is to maintain a photographic record of our work – including the more behind-the-scenes events such as board meetings, “visioning circles,” and various strategizing and event planning meetings.

Pictured in the photograph above are (from left): Beverly Barrett (CPCSM secretary), Mary Lynn Murphy (CPCSM president and Catholic Rainbow Parents coordinator), Paul Fleege (outgoing CPCSM treasurer), Gerry Sell, Susan Kramp, Mary Beckfeld, David McCaffrey (CPCSM co-founder), Rick Notch (incoming CPCSM treasurer), and Paula Ruddy.

Above: The ordination of Roman Catholic Womenpriests in Minneapolis – August 12, 2007.

For more images and a commentary on this historic event, click here.

Above: On Friday, August 17, Roman Catholic theologian and author Fr. Ron Rolheiser (center) was a guest at St. Martin’s Table Bookstore and Restaurant, where he read from a number of his books, including the spiritual classic, The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality. Ron also responded to audience questions and shared his thoughts and insights on a range of issues facing the contemporary Church. He was in the Twin Cities as part of a weekend-long conference at the University of St. Thomas that explored the phenomenon of small Christian communities – in particular their unique gifts and challenges.

For a sample of Ron Rolheiser’s writings, click here.

Above: Standing second from right with members of Corner Stone Old Catholic Church. I was honored to have been invited to join the community for its annual retreat on the shores of Clear Lake, Minnesota, on Sunday, August 19, 2007.

Standing at far left is the Right Reverend James R. Judd, Bishop of Heartland Old Catholic Church, while standing next to me is Rev. Robert Caruso, Pastor of Corner Stone Old Catholic Church in St. Paul.

Recently, I interviewed Robert about the history and spirituality of Old Catholicism. This interview will be posted on The Wild Reed in the first week of September. (9/5/07 UPDATE: This interview can be found

Above: A not so old member of the Old Catholic Church!

Above and below: Some of the young guests of the Families Moving Forward program at Union Congregational Church in St. Louis Park, during the week of August 19-25.

Families Moving Forward (FMF) is an emergency housing program for families in the Twin Cities. It’s a model that uses one facility for the Day Center, and churches for the overnight hosting of homeless families. FMF is a free service – one that as well as providing emergency shelter for homeless families, also offers support and counseling in setting goals, getting jobs, finding affordable housing, locating household furnishings, and developing family budgets.

For more about my experiences with the Families Moving Forward program, click here.

Above and below: Fun at the fair – the Minnesota State Fair, that is! – Saturday, August 25, 2007.

And, yes, as you can see from the photo above, we do have somewhat of a giant rodent problem in Minnesota. But, hey, at least they’re snappy dressers!

Above: Even Canadians are welcome at our State Fair!

Above and below: Celebrating long-time justice and peace activist and organizer Marv Davidov’s 76th birthday – Saturday, August 25, 2007.

In the photo above, Marv is treated to a song in his honor, specially written and performed by three of the McDonald sisters. From left: Rita, Brigid, Marv, and Kate.

My friend Marv was the founder of the Honeywell Project, a Freedom Rider during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, and a participant in the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride of 2003.

Currently, Marv teaches in the University of St. Thomas’ Justice and Peace Studies Program, heads the Minnesota War Resisters League, and is working on his autobiography.

One of the Minnesota War Resisters League’s current projects is the planning and organizing of a General Strike for Peace for September 21, 2007.

Above: Susu, Marv, and Dee – August 25, 2007.

On Sunday, August 26, the McDonald sisters, along with a number of other Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, organized a fund-raising breakfast at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Minneapolis for the nonpartisan unarmed peacekeeping force known as Nonviolent Peaceforce.

In the photo above, Mel Duncan, executive director of Nonviolent Peaceforce, sits with my friends Kathleen and Pepper.

Nonviolent Peaceforce is a nonpartisan unarmed peacekeeping force composed of trained civilians from around the world. In partnership with local groups, Nonviolent Peaceforce members apply proven nonviolent strategies to protect human rights, deter violence, and help create space for local peacemakers to carry out their work.

Above and below: Summer blooms.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Back in the USA
It Sure Was Cold!
An Energizing and Spirited Weekend
Out and About - April 2007
Out and About - May 2007
Out and About - June 2007
Out and About - July 2007

Thursday, August 30, 2007

In the Garden of Spirituality: Ron Rolheiser


“We are not on earth to guard a museum,

but to cultivate a flowering garden of life.”

- Pope John XXIII

The Wild Reed’s series of reflections on spirituality continues with an excerpt from an essay by author and theologian Ron Rolheiser – whom I had the honor of recently sharing a meal with and hearing speak at St. Martin’s Table in Minneapolis.

This particular essay is entitled “A Heart with One Room,” and explores the “fundamentalist heart” – a way of being that Rolheiser contends is anti-Catholic, as true Catholicism “speaks of a comprehensive embrace.”

According to Rolheiser, “the opposite of Catholic is not Protestant,” but rather “narrowness, pettiness, lack of openness, sectarianism, provincialism, factionalism, fundamentalism and ideology.”

Following is an excerpt from Fr. Rolheiser’s essay, “A Heart with One Room.”


Our age is witnessing an erosion of Catholicism. The consequence of this, besides our drab somberness, is a polarization which, both in the world and in the church, is rendering us incapable of working together against the problems which threaten us all. Let me explain.

We are, I submit, becoming ever less Catholic. What is implied here? What is slipping? What does it mean to be Catholic?

The opposite of Catholic is not Protestant. All Christians, Protestants or Roman Catholics, characterize their faith as Catholic – as well as one, holy and apostolic.

The word Catholic means universal, wide. It speaks of a comprehensive embrace. Its opposite, therefore, is narrowness, pettiness, lack of openness, sectarianism, provincialism, factionalism, fundamentalism and ideology.

To my mind, the best definition of the word Catholic comes from Jesus himself, who tells us: “In my Father’s house there are many rooms” (John 14:2).

In speaking of the Father’s house, Jesus is not pointing to a mansion in the sky, but to God’s heart. God’s heart has many rooms. It can embrace everything. It is wide, unpetty, open and antithetical to all that is factional, fundamentalistic and ideological. It is a heart that does not divide things up according to ours and theirs.

Nikos Kazantzakis wrote: “The bosom of God is not a ghetto.” That is another way of saying that God has a Catholic heart.

To affirm this, however, is not to say that, since God is open to all and embraces all, nothing makes any difference; we may do as we like, all morality is relative, all beliefs are equal, and nobody may lay claim to truth.

There is a false concept of openness which affirms that to embrace all means to render all equal. Jesus belies this. He affirms the universal embrace of God’s heart without affirming, as a consequence, that everything is OK. His Father loves everyone, even as he discriminates between right and wrong.

Catholicism can be spoken of as slipping, in that, unlike God’s heart, more and more it seems, our hearts have just one room.

Today we are seeing a creeping narrowness and intolerance. Fundamentalism, with its many types of ideology, has infected us. This is as true in the secular world as in the church. Fundamentalism and the narrowness and consequent polarization it spawns are everywhere. But this needs to be understood.

We tend to think of fundamentalism as a conservative view which takes Scripture so literally as to be unable to relate to the world in a realistic way. But that is just one, and a very small, kind of fundamentalism. We see fundamentalism wherever we see a heart with just one room.

The characteristic of all fundamentalism is that, precisely, it seizes onto some fundamental value, for example the wisdom of the past, the divine inspiration of Scripture or the importance of justice and equality, and makes that the sole criterion for judging goodness and authenticity.

In that sense, the fundamentalist’s heart has just one room – a conservative, liberal, biblical, charismatic, feminist, anti-feminist, social justice, anti-abortion or pro-choice room. It judges you as good, acceptable, decent, sincere, Christian, loving and worth listening to only if you are in that room. If you are not ideologically committed to that fundamental, complete with all the prescribed rhetoric and accepted indignations, then you are judged as insincere or ignorant, and in need of either conversion or of having your consciousness raised.

In the end, all fundamentalism is ideology and all ideology is fundamentalism - and both are a heart with one room, a bosom that is a ghetto.

That is the real un-Catholicism.

Excerpted from “A Heart with One Room,” an essay in Ron Rolheiser’s book, Forgotten Among the Lilies (Image Books, 2007).

Recommended Off-site Link:
Ron Rolheiser’s Official Website

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Stumbling Block of Fundamentalism
Praying for George W. Bush
In the Garden of Spirituality: Zainab Salbi
In the Garden of Spirituality: Daniel Helminiak
In the Garden of Spirituality: Rod Cameron
In the Garden of Spirituality: Paul Collins
In the Garden of Spirituality: Joan Chittister
In the Garden of Spirituality: Toby Johnson
In the Garden of Spirituality: Joan Timmerman
In the Garden of Spirituality: Uta Ranke-Heinemanm
In the Garden of Spirituality: Caroline Jones

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Tragedy of Homophobia

Associated Press writer David Crary has written an informative article documenting both the tragedy and hypocrisy that’s part and parcel of Republican Senator Larry Craig’s recent “I’m not gay” claim.

As I’m sure most of you know, Craig (pictured above) made the claim yesterday at a news conference concerning his June 2007 arrest and subsequent guilty plea to disorderly conduct over an incident in a public restroom at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport.

With regards to Crary’s article, I particularly appreciate the quotes included from Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. At one point, Foreman makes the observation that “the tragedy of homophobia [is that] people create walls that separate themselves from who they really are. . . . When they are found out, their life does come crashing down around them – not because they were gay, [but] because of the way they covered it up.”

Elsewhere in his article, Crary notes that “the Craig case raises questions about the phenomenon of male sex in public restrooms – how prevalent is it, and who participates?” His findings may surprise you.

Following are excerpts from David Crary’s article, “Gays Scornful of Senator’s Statement.”


Sen. Larry Craig’s “I’m not gay” declaration met with disdain Wednesday from gay activists, many of whom knew for nearly a year – long before his recent arrest – of allegations that the conservative Idaho Republican solicited sex from men in public bathrooms.

They view his case as a prime example of hypocrisy – a man who furtively engaged in same-sex liaisons while consistently opposing gay-rights measures as a politician. . .

“He may very well not think of himself as being gay, and these are just urges that he has,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “It’s the tragedy of homophobia. People create these walls that separate themselves from who they really are.”

Craig proclaimed his innocence, and his heterosexuality, on Tuesday after revelations that he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct following his arrest in June at a Minneapolis airport men’s room where an undercover officer suspected him of soliciting sex.

But detailed accusations against Craig had been available since last year through an Internet-based activist who had a hand in outing several Republican politicians, including former Rep. Mark Foley, the focus of a House page scandal, and former Rep. Edward Schrock, linked to a gay dating site.

The activist, Mike Rogers, went public last October with allegations that Craig engaged in sexual encounters with at least three men, including one who said he had sex with Craig twice at Washington’s Union Station.

The Idaho Statesman published a lengthy story Tuesday, a day after the June 11 arrest was first reported, detailing Rogers’ allegations, which Craig has denied.

The newspaper went even further back into Craig’s life, talking to other men who claimed they were solicited by him. It also mentioned a congressional scandal in 1982, in which a male page reported having sex with three congressmen, and Craig – although not named by the youth – issued a statement denying any wrongdoing.

The cumulative weight of the allegations served to convince many conservatives - as well as gay activists – that Craig was being untruthful. . .

Foreman said Craig contributed to his own problems by living in denial.

“For most people living in the closet, and particularly for people in power, they dig themselves in so deeply they can’t see a way out,” he said. “When they are found out, their life does come crashing down around them – not because they were gay, [but] because of the way they covered it up.”

However, Foreman did express some empathy with Craig in regard to the reaction of his GOP Senate colleagues. They have called for an ethics committee review of his case, which they did not do in response to revelations that Sen. David Vitter, R-La., was on the contact list of a Washington-area escort service.

“The double standard is shocking,” Foreman said. “We’ll throw the closet queer under the bus, but if you see a female prostitute, that’s just fine.”

The Craig case also raised questions about the phenomenon of male sex in public restrooms – how prevalent is it, and who participates?

The issue has been a source of controversy this summer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida., where Mayor Jim Naugle has drawn fire from gay-rights groups for suggesting that such bathroom sex is a significant problem and briefly proposing installation of automated, single-user toilets.

After reports of Craig’s arrest, police officials around the country gave widely varying accounts of whether public bathroom sex was a serious problem in their areas.

“My sense is that most of the people who engage in bathroom sex are living closeted lives,” Foreman said. “If you’re open, you can hook up on line, in a bar or even through your church.”

William Leap, an anthropology professor at American University, said his research indicated that up to half of those who engage in male bathroom sex would consider themselves heterosexual.

“You’ve got several groups of folks,” he said. “Happily married men with children who enjoy having sex with men every so often, and also self-identified gay men who enjoy the thrill of anonymous sex.”

He suggested that almost every sizable community nationwide has one or more places where men seek out sex with other men. Whether that location becomes notorious, and the setting for arrests, Leap said, depends largely on whether the men using it create a disturbance that bothers others.

September 1, 2007 Update: I appreciate the editorial in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune, part of which reads:

For gays and others who seek legal recognition of same-sex unions, [the story of Senator Craig] is something deeper [than a political scandal]; if Craig sought homosexual sex, his life story is one of betrayal – of his personal identity, as well as of those who share a sexual orientation that is still taboo in many parts of this culture.

Craig grew up in a society intolerant of homosexuals. A letter published Friday in the Star Tribune expressed a hope for societal change in light of this incident – change that would allow gays to be seen simply as any other human beings, living their lives, as all do, seeking love and fulfillment:

“I have a wonderful partner of many years. My life is good,” reader Ron Anderson wrote. “But I can’t help but think how much happier and healthier we would all be if politicians and religious leaders of all stripes would treat us all as humans instead of political fodder or money-raising devices.”

It is a worthy hope. In many parts of the country the cultural climate for gays and lesbians, as well as for the bisexual and the transgendered, is far more accepting than was the Idaho of Craig’s youth. If he did, indeed, do what was alleged at [Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport], his is a far too common story, the story of a life steeped in fear and characterized by nonacceptance – even by himself.

And that, my friends, is the tragedy of homophobia.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Hypocrisy, Ignorance, Promiscuity, and “the Love that is the Center of Catholic Christianity”
The Gay Old Party Comes Out
A Rich Laugh Fit for a Dame
What the Republican Leadership and the Catholic Hierarchy Have in Common
Introspection: The Remedy for Hypocrisy
A Humorous Look at Internalized Homophobia

Image: AP Photo/Troy Maben.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hypocrisy, Ignorance, Promiscuity, and "the Love that is the Center of Catholic Christianity"

News wires are (belatedly) abuzz with reports of the June 11 arrest of Republican senator Larry Craig at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and his subsequent guilty plea to a charge of disorderly conduct.

I’d like to take the opportunity that this incident affords to discuss hypocrisy, ignorance, promiscuity, and what a number of Catholic gay men have identified as “the love that is the center of Catholic Christianity.”

Are we all sitting comfortably? Good, then let’s begin!


According to the Associated Press, “[Senator Larry] Craig entered his plea several weeks after an undercover police officer arrested him and issued a complaint that said the three-term senator had engaged in actions ‘often used by persons communicating a desire to engage in sexual conduct.’ The airport incident occurred on June 11. Craig signed his plea papers on August 1, and word of the events surfaced Monday. The senator issued a statement Monday night that said, ‘In hindsight, I should have pled not guilty.’”

Why then didn’t he, I wonder?

Now, under fire from leaders of his own party, Craig yesterday said that the only thing he had done wrong was to plead guilty after a complaint of lewd conduct in the airport men’s room. Furthermore, he declared: “I am not gay. I never have been gay.”

Oh, really!? What then to make of Dan Popkey’s investigative piece for The Idaho Statesman – one which unearths some telling insights into the senator’s long rumored closeted sexual netherworld?

According to a recent post at Pam’s House Blend, “the most serious finding by the Statesman was the report by a professional man with close ties to Republican officials. The 40-year-old man reported having oral sex with Craig at Washington’s Union Station, probably in 2004. The Statesman also spoke with a man who said Craig made a sexual advance toward him at the University of Idaho in 1967 and a man who said Craig ‘cruised’ him for sex in 1994 at the REI store in Boise.”

I appreciate blogger Mike Roger’s observations on this whole debacle: “Senator Craig’s situation,” says Rogers, “is exacerbated by the fact that he has a voting record that is counter to the interest of lesbian and gay Americans. All too often, closeted men like Senator Craig use their voting record to hide their truth from the American people.”

“The Minnesota arrest is not a one-time occurrence,” says Rogers. Accordingly, “What’s troubling about this is Larry Craig’s hypocrisy: he repeatedly votes against the gay community during his day job, while engaging in same-sex encounters as extra curricular activity.”


Yes, yes, it’s all very sordid and pathetic, I know. Yet according to Terry Nelson of the Abbey Roads blogsite, Craig’s story also serves to “raise awareness” of “what gay sex is all about,” and what it is that “gays actually do – often in public.”

In the comments section of his post on Senator Craig’s travails, Nelson remarks that “there is no redeeming value to homosexual sex - aside from personal sexual gratification” [What!? Terry Nelson believes personal sexual gratification is “redeeming”? You can be sure he’ll be rewriting that part of his comment]. He goes on to pontificate that “when we support gay marriage, and the gay lifestyle [codeword in Nelson’s world for “promiscuity”], we are in effect supporting aberrant sexual behavior - in public and semi-private spaces.” [So when it occurs in private it’s not “aberrant”?]

My sense is that Nelson considers any sexual activity outside of heterosexual Christian marriage to be morally wrong and largely indistinguishable from promiscuous behavior. If this is the case, why the intensity of his writings on gay men? After all, there’s a lot more straight people engaging in sex outside of marriage then there are gay people doing their thing. Furthermore, within Catholicism, over 90% of heterosexual married couples use contraceptives - another big no-no according to the Vatican. Yet despite this, it’s gays - and gay men, in particular - that are, more often than not, the object of Nelson’s scorn and condemnation. Indeed, like a number of so-called “traditionalist Catholics,” he seems positively fixated on demonizing gay male sexual activity by reducing it solely to acts of desperation and/or promiscuity.

As I’ve noted in a previous post, when it comes to gay male sexuality, Nelson seems only able to think in terms of extremes: celibacy and promiscuity. What he and others seem to conveniently forget is that most gay men (indeed, most people – regardless of orientation) live their lives quite happily and productively somewhere in between such extremes.

Nelson, of course, takes his cues from the Vatican – that bastion of reactionary ideology and hothouse of repressed (and thus distorted) male sexual desire - much of it undoubtedly gay. And according to the Vatican, the sexuality of gay people is “intrinsically disordered,” i.e., ordered by its very nature to chaotic and destructive ends.

I read official church documents that reflect such views and think: are these guys speaking from their own repressed and distorted experience? With whom do the writers of such documents confer so as to come up with such ignorant and dehumanizing statements? Clearly not with actual gay people who are accepting of and at peace with their sexuality.


Promiscuity does, of course, exist in the gay world – just as it does in the heterosexual world. I therefore think it’s worth reflecting on author Thomas Stevenson’s observations about gay men and promiscuity.

Stevenson interviewed a number of Catholic gay men for his book, Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men, and as a result, contends that gay men’s difficulty to love through their sexuality (a difficulty resulting from growing up with their homosexuality unloved), intertwined with a natural sexual desire, may help explain their experiences of promiscuity.

Of course, “promiscuity” is a relative thing. I’m a gay man who respectfully dissents from the Vatican’s claim that all gay people are called to lifelong celibacy, and who, accordingly, is open to experiencing a loving and sexual relationship with another of the same gender and with whom I experience a mutual sense of attraction and connection. Indeed, I have experienced such relationships. As a result, I’d no doubt be considered “promiscuous” by orthodox watchdogs like Nelson. Yet in the eyes of one of my gay friends who is into much more casual (and thus frequent) sexual encounters, I’m practically a virgin!

Clearly, distinctions can be made when discussing sexual activity and “promiscuity.”

In his book, Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men, Stevenson deftly explores such distinctions. Following are excerpts from his book that focus on this exploration:

Some of our witnesses point to situations in which anonymous sex, bathhouse sexual encounters, or one-night stands can be positive. Other of our witnesses emphasize the dangers of losing oneself or disrespecting others in promiscuous sex.

Underlying this apparent conflict on the surface, however, is perhaps a common ground, and that is the concern for sexuality taking place within a personalized context. Perhaps the concern for a personal, rather than impersonal, attitude toward sexuality is voiced more strongly in our witnesses who lean toward being critical of promiscuous behavior. Nevertheless, can we categorically say that all so-called promiscuous behavior is lacking in personal relating?

Can goodness be found in some occasions of casual sex?

Can there be one-night stands where bonding and transcendence occur?

Is there room for choices, which may be more or less personal, within the context of sexual relating in a bathhouse?

No doubt, a greater degree of personal relating can take place more commonly within the context of a growing committed relationship. But that is not to say, categorically, that personal relating can never take place within so-called promiscuous behavior, notwithstanding the very prevalent dangers of depersonalization that so often surround and happen with promiscuous behavior.

Perhaps another way to speak of the distinction being made about promiscuity is to say, in a manner that will appear tautological, that there is a difference between losing oneself and losing oneself. On the one hand, our witnesses are concerned with the ways in which promiscuous behavior can leave one with a sense of emptiness, or destroy one’s self respect or even one’s life. These are very real possibilities of losing oneself. On the other hand, there is the losing of oneself in an ecstasy of giving and receiving persons.

Whereas the first way of losing oneself tends to lead, in matters of degrees, to nothingness, the second tends to lead, in matters of degrees, to fullness and bliss. (But then, approaching things from yet another angle, it can happen that in taking the path of pursuing empty relating, one realizes one’s need for redemptive love. Alas, all roads can lead to God).

Now I realize that, for some, such thoughts and questions are highly controversial. Yet such questions and the discussions they can facilitate arise from human experience – the raw material, if you like, of all theological musings and articulations. Accordingly, they are valid and important questions, though ones that are not being engaged by the leadership of the Catholic Church. Indeed, even the discussion of such questions at the grassroots level of the Church is frowned upon and frequently discouraged.

Why is this the case?

What is it about our Church structure and teaching that discourages and prevents open discussion on such questions?

A Lack of Love

Elsewhere in his book, Stevenson is adamant that the distinction between personal and impersonal forms of sexual behavior alone does not adequately address the ways gay men have so often been bound to or frozen in more impersonal forms of sexual behavior.

He goes on to outline the following theory:

As a direct consequence of the profound lack of love for their homosexuality – lack of love from families, from society, from religions, from other gay people – the spirits and sexualities of gay people are often broken. As a result of this brokenness, I believe there are often two predominant, related, and calcified responses to sexuality in the lives of gay people. These are self-hated and despair.

As a response to the hatred of homosexuality by society, a homosexual person may, at some deep level, hate himself for being homosexual. [See Mitch S.’s and Greg P.’s reflections on page 57] . . . Another complementary turn is that of despair . The despair might be put into words in the following way: I’m not loved in my sexuality and I’m not going to be loved in my sexuality. Hope for the possibility of love is killed. The connection between despair and promiscuity could then be phrased as follows: Since I’m not loved in my sexuality, and I feel no real expectations that I will be loved, then I’ll just settle for less personal forms of sexual relating. [See Max B.’s and Bob S.’s reflections on pages 57-59]

Stevenson also relates social justice to promiscuity. Drawing from the insights of his witnesses, he observes that a lot of homosexual people are uneducated or confused with regard to ways of relating sexually aside from promiscuous behavior; that there are negative effects on gay people as a result of existing within a homo-negative culture; that self-hated and despair affects many homosexual people; and that “gay people have been inflicted with a wound of feeling unlovable around their homosexuality.”

The “impersonal forms of sexual relating that result from all these conditions,” insists Stevenson, “are a social justice issue.”

He goes on to envision the following:

Just imagine how different things might be if, for example, Catholic parishes and schools affirmed the goodness and lovability of people in their homosexuality. Not just religion and parochial education, but laws, public schools, and popular culture could all evolve – or perhaps continue to evolve, since in some respects they already have – in ways that would heal the wound of feeling unlovable and open the lives of homosexual people to more personal forms of relating. And given the naturalness, goodness, and lovability of homosexuality, it is the right of gay people to expect justice.

Love: The Center of Catholic Christianity

In the final chapter of his book, Stevenson offers concluding thoughts on the “sons of the church” – the “witnesses” – he had interviewed. I find these concluding thoughts very affirming and hopeful, and totally at odds with the narrow and ill-informed caricatures of gay men and gay sexuality presented by folks like Terry Nelson.

I’ll finish this post with Stevenson’s “concluding thoughts,” and a prayer that the love that is “the center of Catholic Christianity,” and which has been experienced and embodied by these gay men in their lives and relationships, may be recognized and celebrated by all within our Church.

Our gay Catholic witnesses speak of a love that frees them from the vicious circles of death and destruction for more life-affirming ways of being homosexual. Love is the animating principle for the ways of life. Love is the center of Catholic Christianity – the love of God for us and our love for others. When asked to encapsulate what is essential about their Catholicism, several of our witnesses speak of this love.

Our witnesses speak of how loving, compassionate affirmation of their homosexuality . . . frees them from the destructive denial, hiding, or fighting of their homosexuality. This freeing of themselves as homosexual opens up to new life that is marked by honesty, peacefulness, wholeness, and the experience of the naturalness, goodness, and giftedness of their homosexuality.

Our witnesses speak of how love enters into their sexual relationships. They speak of the tendencies toward destruction in impersonal sexual relationships and of being freed from such destructiveness for a new life of personal relationships marked by joy, sacrifice, commitment, loyalty, prayer, forgiveness, and a sense of giftedness.

Our witnesses speak of being freed from bracketed, isolated gay communities. Our witnesses are freed for an experience of community, Christian community, where there are no divisions of gay versus straight, or gay versus Catholic, or at least where they can meet the challenge of struggling for the healing of such divisions and for a justice that breaks down such divisions.

At the center of Catholicism is the love of God for us, this love of God in Christ and through the Holy Spirit for us that in turn transforms us for loving others and returning love to God.

Our witnesses return again and again to this Center, and in their consciences make distinctions about what is not essential in Church teaching, what, according to their lights, is not loving. They do not give up on this Center; rather they challenge from it. To give up on this Center, this Love which is salvific, would itself be destructive.

Image 1: Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, is seen during a hearing Thursday, May 25, 2006, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Craig pleaded guilty on Aug. 8, 2007, to misdemeanor disorderly conduct after being arrested at the Minneapolis airport. A Hennepin County court docket showed Craig pleading guilty, with the court dismissing a charge of gross misdemeanor interference to privacy. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Image 2: “Coming or Going” by Steve Walker (1996).
Image 3: “Street Scene” by Steve Walker (2004).
Image 4: “A Matter of Taste” by Steve Walker (2003).

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
In the Garden of Spirituality: Toby Johnson
Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men – A Discussion Guide
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection
The Many Forms of Courage
Thoughts on Celibacy
The Gay Old Party Comes Out
A Rich Laugh Fit for a Dame
What the Republican Leadership and the Catholic Hierarchy Have in Common
Introspection: The Remedy for Hypocrisy
A Humorous Look at Internalized Homophobia

Monday, August 27, 2007

An Australian Bishop’s “Radical” Call for Reform

Why is it so often that it’s retired Roman Catholic bishops who make the most sense?

I know, I know . . . it’s a bit like retired military generals. Once free from the threat of censure or firing, they often find the courage to speak truthfully about the realities of war – often to the chagrin of political leaders.

So too with Roman Catholic bishops, and their willingness to speak truthfully about the state of the Church. Case in point: recently in Australia, Retired Bishop Geoffrey Robinson (pictured above) has made the rather obvious observation that “the [Roman] Catholic Church needs to reverse 2,000 years of teaching on sex and power.”

I’m glad the bishop refers to his call for reform as “radical.” All too often people mistake this word for meaning “extreme.” That’s not what “radical” means. It means to go to the root, to recognize and address the underlying issues and/or problems. As you can see, I’m all for reclaiming the word “radical.”

Anyway, Barney Zwartz of The Age of Melbourne reports on the bishop’s radical and prophetic call, ahead of the publication in Australia of a new book by Bishop Robinson entitled, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus.

Following are excerpts from Zwartz’s August 25 article, “Bishop Calls for Catholic Reform.”


The Catholic Church is still not serious about confronting sexual abuse, only “managing” it, according to the Sydney bishop who headed Australian efforts to tackle abuse.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson says the Catholic Church needs to reverse 2000 years of teaching on sex and power as part of radical reforms from the Pope down.

While it refuses to look at some fundamental teachings — including sex outside marriage, women priests, homosexuality and papal power — the culture that produced and protected abusers will continue, he says.

These explosive claims — unprecedented for a bishop — are in a book to be launched tomorrow: Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church.

Bishop Robinson, 70, who was abused as a child, headed the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference professional standards committee for a decade until he retired because he was so disillusioned in 2004.

Calling for the most radical changes since Martin Luther started the 16th century Protestant Reformation, Bishop Robinson says the Pope has failed the church, and the church has failed its members.

“I’m aware of how radical the call I’m making is. I’m looking for a very different church,” he told The Age.

He said the response of the church, especially the Vatican, to the sexual abuse crisis did not go deep enough. “The most profound factor about sex is that the church has had a morality for 2000 years based on offences against God and I find that quite inadequate. I ask if we should move to a morality based on relationships, on good and harm to people.”

[. . .] He suggests there is “a crying need” in the Catholic Church to reconsider such issues as sex outside marriage, contraception and homosexuality. “The responsibility appropriate to adults must not be reduced to the obedience appropriate to children, and too often that happens in the church. I don’t think God does that.”

To read “Bishop Calls for Catholic Reform” in its entirety, click here.

To read the introduction to Bishop Robinson's book Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus (in PDF format), click here.

Recommended Off-site Links:
An Australian Luther? - The Age, August 25, 2007. (Includes some interesting readers’ comments).
Pope Has Too Much Power, Says Bishop -
Sydney Morning Herald, August 25, 2007.
Revisiting the Darkest Hours - Sydney Morning Herald, August 25, 2007.
Down Under’s Winter of Candor - Rocco Palmo, Whispers in the Loggia, August 24, 2007.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Chris McGillion on the “Exacerbating Actions” of Cardinal Pell
The Two-Sided Catholic Crisis
Beyond Papalism
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
Paul Collins and Marilyn Hatton
Uncle Vince is at it Again
It’s Time We Moved Beyond Theological Imperialism
Pan’s Labyrinth: Critiquing the Cult of Unquestioning Obedience
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
Rita Larivee on Being “Authorized by Baptism”

Oh No! The "Revered" Mary Kostakidis to Leave SBS?

One of the things I miss most about Australian television is SBS – the Special Broadcasting Service, one of two government funded Australian public broadcasting networks (the other being the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, known back home as the ABC).

The purpose of SBS, which was launched in 1979, is to “provide multilingual and multicultural radio and television services that inform, educate and entertain all Australians and, in doing so, reflect Australia’s multicultural society.”

From the start, notes journalist Damien Murphy, this charter “gave [SBS] carte blanche . . . Bankrolled by taxpayers who rarely bothered to watch to check how their money was being spent, the new channel was innovative, risk-taking and exciting, providing a forum for many social issues, such as gay rights and the green movement, long before they entered mainstream debate.” As a result, the station soon began gaining a loyal following.

By far my favorite show on the station is SBS World News – in large part, I must admit, because of the program’s elegant, well-informed, and articulate anchor, Mary Kostakidis, who for the past twenty years has been presenting the station’s prime time evening news bulletin.

Yet according to recent news reports from Australia, Mary Kostakidis, whom viewers consistently rank as SBS’s most trusted news anchor, may soon no longer be working for the station. Indeed, according to columnist Paul Sheehan, she’s already “walked off the job and hired . . . Julian Burnside, QC, as counsel for a reported tilt at her employer for breach of contract.”

In their August 22 Sydney Morning Herald article on this sad turn-of-events, Michael Idato and Sue Wellings note that Kostakidis’ walk-out is “the final chapter in a feud that has been simmering for more than a year in a war that pits SBS’s groundbreaking past against its uncertain future.”

“On opposite sides of the fight,” write Idato and Wellings, “are Kostakidis, who is revered within SBS as something of a people’s monarch – wise, courageous and willing to speak her mind despite a claimed culture of fear and silence – and a corporate bureaucracy installed in 2006, whose attempts to homogenise, commercialise and Anglicise the multicultural broadcaster have been frustrated by the power of the Kostakidis aura.”

“Kostakidis,” Idato and Welling report, “is a staunch traditionalist who wants SBS to remain true to the spirit of its charter – that foreign language should not be considered a barrier to television. ‘Mary really does represent the one remaining link to the original idea of SBS,’ an insider said.”

A friend of the newsreader and journalist has told Fairfax media that Kostakidis is “personally offended by the money-grubbing commercialisation of the [recently revamped SBS World News program], and feels management are abandoning the kind of principles with which SBS was set up, and she personally helped devise.”

Idato and Welling also note that the “dignified” Kostakidis “has made her dissatisfaction with the commercialisation of the SBS news well known for some time, speaking publicly of her concern over the introduction of commercial breaks in the news.”

Recently, things came to a head on-air with the broadcasting of an “entertainment story” about Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. While co-anchor Stan Grant, brought in earlier this year as part of the “revamping” of SBS World News, was clearly willing to make light of the story, it was clearly all too much for Kostakidis, compelling her to remark after the segment that it was “a silly story about a silly bloke.”

The contentious “introduction of commercial breaks in the news” actually took place during my sojourn in Australia earlier this year, and I can well recall my anger and disappointment. It seemed as if SBS was selling-out, was becoming like the commercial networks, becoming that little bit more Americanized. I wondered at the time what Mary thought of it all. Now I know.

Mary Kostakidis on the way to a meeting with SBS lawyers on August 23.
The television station said discussions would continue into next week.
(Photo: Peter Rae)

I hope this issue can be resolved in such away that the station can return to its roots and Mary Kostakidis to Australian television screens. This seems unlikely, however, as the Sydney Morning Herald reports one insider saying that “SBS is slowly being transformed from a TV station into a website . . . Where it was run by people who really were passionate about the content, it is now ruled by accountants and driven by profit.”

Another SBS insider has observed that “most of the people who represented [the station’s] traditions have been forced out and the audience hasn’t increased much at all . . . There is no upside to the story.”

How depressing!


On a lighter note: During my teaching days in Goulburn, Australia, it was common knowledge that “Mr. Bayly” was a fan of Mary Kostakidis. Whenever I used a news clip to introduce and facilitate discussion on a topical issue, it would always be a clip from SBS World News.

And in 1991, when my Year 5 class role-played a confrontation between loggers and environmentalists, I had one of the students, Danielle Lewin, play Mary Kostakidis reporting (and thus introducing) the issue. And yes, she did a great job!

Recommended Off-site Links:
Mary Kostakidis Walks Out on SBS - Sydney Morning Herald, August 21, 2007.
The Abdication of Queen Mary – Kostakidis Walks - Sydney Morning Herald, August 22, 2007.
Mary Kostakidis Engages Top QC in SBS Row -, August 22, 2007.
Kostakidis in Bitter SBS Sign-off - The Australian, August 22, 2007.
Boys Society Sunk Kostakidis’ Charter -, August 23, 2007.
After the Separation, Crisis Talks Begin - Sydney Morning Herald, August 24, 2007.
Face of a Network Falls Silent - Sydney Morning Herald, August 25, 2007.
There Has Been a Cultural Genocide at SBS - Margaret Pomeranz (, August 27, 2007).
In TV’s Graveyard of Broken Dreams - Sydney Morning Herald, August 29, 2007.
Larvatus Prodeo (for some interesting comments from Australians about Mary’s “walk-out”).
Bring Back the Goddess (views from readers of The Australian newspaper).
Queen Mary and the Tabloid Hack (a commentary by OnePlanetMikey).
Don’t Mess with Mary Kostakidis (a commentary from the Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe blog).
To Grey or Not to Grey (for yet another reason for why I think Mary Kostakidis is so cool).
Support Mary Kostikidis (an online petition).

November 2007 Update:
Kostakidis Strikes “Amicable” Deal with SBS - Dylan Welsh, Sydney Morning Herald, November 23, 2007.

December 2007 Update: Mary Kostakidis’ former co-anchor, Stan Grant has resigned from SBS to “further his opportunities.” On December 17,
Anton Enus became the lead anchor of the SBS World News program.


Postscript: Since posting this story I’ve found in my files an issue of the SBS magazine, Aerial, from April 1993.

In this particular issue there is an insightful interview with Kostakidis, in which she talks about her history with SBS, the role of women in television and the news, the image she seeks to project as a newsreader, her status as a role model for young people, and why she thinks it’s reasonable for news coverage to be graphic when it comes to the issue of war.

Following are excerpts:

Mary Kostakidis: Changing Views

By Danny Vadasz
Aerial, April 1993

Mary Kostakidis is the woman behind the news behind the desk
at SBS.
She agreed to step out of her role as impartial communicator
long enough
to tell Danny Vadasz what she really thinks
television, the world, and one woman’s role.

Danny Vadasz: What was the process by which you became a newsreader?

Mary Kostakidis: I’ve had a long term interest in public affairs. Not just public affairs, it’s a broader interest in how societies organize themselves, and a fascination about how we communicate information. Because it’s access to information that empowers people. But I joined SBS as a member of the management team in subtitling.

Danny Vadasz: Doesn’t that sort of interest suggest a career as an anthropologist?

Mary Kostakidis: Well, again with communication it’s language. I’m a linguist by training.

Danny Vadasz: And from there?

Mary Kostakidis: From there I managed subtitling and censorship. We are self regulated so we classify our own material. I did that for a number of years, then a job in news came up.

Danny Vadasz: And you had no “on air” experience before that?

Mary Kostakidis: No, not really.

Danny Vadasz: That’s a pretty bold and dramatic step, wouldn’t you say?

Mary Kostakidis: It’s very important to be bold, wouldn’t you say?

Danny Vadasz: But that’s a risk that takes particular courage because it is so public. It’s one thing to launch into something, fall flat on your face, and then crawl away. But you’re doing it in front of a nationwide television audience. It must have been scary?

Mary Kostakidis: I think once you’ve done something absolutely terrible, devastating on air, and you survive it, then you feel equipped to handle anything.

Danny Vadasz: What was it?

Mary Kostakidis: I don’t remember.

Danny Vadasz: I bet you do!

Mary Kostakidis: I think experiences like that are important. They equip you to deal better with life generally. You need skills for dealing with failure and vulnerability, for exercising the right amount of control.

Danny Vadasz: The question of women’s roles in television and in news. You obviously have a fairly clear philosophy as to what you want to achieve. Do you regard yourself as a feminist?

Mary Kostakidis: I think the label attracts a lot of flak, which is the reason I hesitate. There is no doubt that women have had to fight for what they have achieved. But there comes a point where you no longer want to continually fighting, and you don’t want to be perceived to be continually fighting. There has to be a balance, so that you are comfortable in what you do.

Danny Vadasz: Do you think the word feminist has become too confrontational?

Mary Kostakidis: I think it has always been confrontational. I don’t want to be reacting all the time, and I think that a way of dealing with conflict is to be pro-active, and to determine from the outset the currency of the transaction, whatever it may be.

Danny Vadasz: And sometimes perhaps to step around the hurdles rather than take them front on?

Mary Kostakidis: It depends. Sometimes there’s nothing like taking a hurdle front on.

Danny Vadasz: Labels aside, superficially there have been huge changes in the presence of women in television over the last ten years. Once there were no women anchor presenters, now everybody’s got one. Is that a significant breakthrough? Does it mean women are now considered as credible? Do you have to be pretty to be a news reader?

Mary Kostakidis: I think, unfortunately, the answer to that would have to be yes. I don’t want to make judgment on the way I look, but women in current affairs are judged by different standards; I mean if you’re male you are regarded as effective and analytical or witty. If you’re female you are considered to be an aggressive bitch. . . .

Danny Vadasz: Does the increased presence of women in news reading flow through to other areas of the media, such as positions of management, or in senior production positions?

Mary Kostakidis: I don’t think so. That is largely the problem. We need to have more women in executive positions in the media. Because it is only then they can have an input into decision making. The fact that we have women on television is terrific, because it acknowledges that 51 per cent of the population are women, but the sorts of women, the image of women that is portrayed is still very narrow.

Danny Vadasz: This is very much an image industry. What sort of image do you project?

Mary Kostakidis: I hope when people listen to the bulletin, that I’m able to communicate information rather than have them focus too much on who happens to be presenting the news. I mean, people comment on the way you look, but if I can deliver the news and if people can relate to the humanity of what I have to say, that’s important.

When I first started reading news, there was a lot of emphasis on being a woman. But when you are actually there, your gender or your ethnicity, all those other things recede into the background. It is not to say that people are not conscious of the fact that you are a woman, and they might be distracted by the colour of your hair for an instant, but predominantly it is your credibility they will relate to.

Danny Vadasz: My impression of you is that you are a very private person, and yet you’re in the most public profession possible. Is there a conflict between maintaining your privacy, and yet being in front of everybody every night of the week?

Mary Kostakidis: No, it’s not a problem, because I am not speaking about my private life. It’s not an issue. I find that, working for SBS, there isn’t the same media hype about being on-camera. . . [Also] I don't see why, because you are a news or current affairs presenter, that you automatically have to discuss the ins and outs of your private life.

Danny Vadasz: Are you conscious of creating a role for other women, in particular young women?

Mary Kostakidis: I talk to young people quite a lot. I enjoy going out to schools and speaking to them face to face, because I think it is important for them to see that what you see on the screen is not necessarily what you get. Often television will convey a particular image because that’s what is required. I enjoy the opportunity of talking to the kids about television, and what it is like working in television. You find they are quite surprised to be confronted with a multi-faceted person, who is in fact ordinary in the sense that they can relate comfortably to you . . .

What I want to communicate to these kids is that everyone is special and you need to have the confidence, and the desire to take an enormous leap in life.

Danny Vadasz: What about the amount of violence we see in the news. For instance, the way that during an event like the Gulf War it’s all there in your bedroom as it happens, I suppose ever since Vietnam.

Mary Kostakidis: It’s not really. We didn’t really see people dying in the Gulf War. One hundred thousand people were incinerated, and we did not see one dead body. And that is the point I’m trying to make. I don’t believe we should be protected from what is happening. It is appropriate to be distressed, you can’t gloss things over, which is why coverage of the Gulf War was distressing. Talking about the smart bombs softening up the enemy. They were talking about incinerating people.

Danny Vadasz: Do you think it quite reasonable for news coverage to be very graphics, when it comes to violent issues? Even at an early evening time slot?

Mary Kostakidis: Yes.

Danny Vadasz: At a time where there is a huge push to decrease the amount of violence kids are being exposed to?

Mary Kostakidis: I think the news is an exception. I think parents have a responsibility to watch with their children. For a start, a lot of children are not interested in news, unfortunately, and if they are going to sit and watch a bulletin, then I think it is the parents’ responsibility to exercise control and make a decision on whether they feel it’s appropriate for their child.

Danny Vadasz: But as a working mother you must realize better than most how difficult it is to monitor this?

Mary Kostakidis: I also realize that children don’t elect to watch news. They are watching soaps on the other channels, which does far more damage because they are generally about people who are emotionally stunted and have an extremely limited vocabulary and way of communicating. That is depressing.

Excerpted from the April 1993 issue of the SBS “viewers’ companion,” Aerial.