Tuesday, March 31, 2009

In This Example of Dissent I Find Hope

. . . and Evidence of God’s Life-Giving, Transforming,
and, Yes, Trouble-Making Spirit

Here is proof, my friends, that dissent is not necessarily a dirty word and that it can and has an important place in Roman Catholicism: Clerical Whispers is reporting that Roman Catholic Bishop Manuel Clemente of Porto, Portugal, has told reporters that in certain cases the use of condoms is not only recommendable but “ethically obligatory.”

This, of course, contradicts Pope Benedict’s controversial contention that the distribution of condoms increases the problem of HIV/AIDS. In other words, we’re seeing a bishop faithfully and, most encouragingly of all, publicly dissenting from the Pope’s (and by extension, the Church’s) uninformed and impoverished teaching on human sexuality.

But wait, it gets even better! According to Clerical Whispers, Bishop Clemente is the second Portuguese cleric to engage in public dissent: “Armed Forces Bishop Januario Torgal Ferreira said a week ago that to ban condom use was equivalent to consenting to the death of many people. He added that the people giving the pope advice ‘should be more learned.’”

I think it’s great that there are bishops who are speaking out on this issue. Their words are like a breath of fresh air! May more be inspired and emboldened by the example of these two particular prelates. I particularly appreciate Bishop Ferreira’s critique of the lack of informed opinion and knowledge in the Vatican when it comes to issues relating to sexuality.

This situation reminds me of when I interviewed Dr. Simon Rosser for CPCSM’s Rainbow Spirit in the fall of 2004. Toward the end of this interview, Dr. Rosser declares:

I have a lot of hope [for the Roman Catholic Church] because I think the situation is so bad that American Catholics will be forced to think for themselves. And that’s a good thing. Whether it’s homosexuality, contraception, premarital sex, divorce, masturbation, or HIV prevention, the official Church position is now so extreme, so negative, so ultra-conservative, and ill-informed, that I’m confident that less than 5 percent of Catholics actually believe or follow Catholic sexual teaching. In this situation either the church reforms or it dies. . . I’m confident it will reform. But we have to do our part.

In my view the situation has deteriorated further under the pontificate of Benedict XVI. So much so that we’re now seeing not just American Catholics thinking for themselves, speaking out, and doing their part but the Pope’s own brother bishops! What incredibly interesting and exciting times we’re living through as Catholics.

In the realm of the Church’s understanding of gender and sexuality, things are changing and will continue to change. The Spirit is afoot – and is definitely stirring things up!

And when I hear stories of faithful dissent by bishops and by Catholics at the
grassroots level of the Church all around the world, I am compelled to give thanks and praise to God and to recommit myself to embodying God’s life-giving, transforming, and, yes, trouble-making Spirit!

To be honest, as a follower of Jesus - whose life offers the ultimate example of such embodiment - I’m not sure what else I can do.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Pope Accused of “Distorting Scientific Evidence” on Condom Use
The Pope’s Message of Ignorance in Africa
The Vatican Considers the Lesser of Two Evils
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 1)
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 2)

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Mountain Out of a Molehill

Mary E. Hunt on the
Notre Dame brouhaha

Catholic feminist theologian Mary E. Hunt has a piece published at Religious Dispatches on the furor that has erupted in some Roman Catholic quarters with the news that Notre Dame University will have President Obama give this year’s commencement address.

Following are excerpts from Mary’s March 30 commentary, “Pro-Life Tempest Over Obama’s Notre Dame Speech.”


Right-wing Catholics and their blogging companions have their knickers in a knot over the fact that President Barack Obama is scheduled to be the May 2009 Commencement speaker at the University of Notre Dame. Given the virulent responses led by the Cardinal Newman Society, perhaps the Four Horsemen will have to come back to escort the President to the dais.

I tend to agree with the American Prospect’s Sarah Posner that the whole matter has been blown out of proportion by the press who have been taken in by a small group that makes a lot of noise—usually to no avail. Notre Dame needs to act like the university it wants to be, not the glorified catechism classroom the conservatives want.

Presidents Eisenhower, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Bush all spoke at Notre Dame while they were in office; President Kennedy was there for the winter commencement of 1950 while still a senator. So it is in keeping with tradition—and Notre Dame thrives on tradition—to have a sitting president at graduation.

Mr. Obama is struggling valiantly with the worst economic disaster in generations and wars on several fronts. Still, all that matters to his opponents is that he is pro-choice, open to scientific wisdom on stem cell research, and has rolled back draconian public policy on international family planning funding. According to the Cardinal Newman crowd, he should not be permitted to speak to the graduates of a Catholic university, even if many of them are not Catholic, because he does not pass theological muster. That he supports anti-poverty programs, is pro-family, wants to bring about world peace, and works tirelessly to cultivate an ethos of respect for difference, all fades into obscurity when he fails the litmus test of orthodoxy on abortion. And the President is not even Catholic (Vice President Biden, take note).

The noise generated by the nay-sayers sounds like Saturday afternoon in the South Bend football stadium. There, under the watchful eye of “Touchdown Jesus,” the 134 foot mural of Jesus with his arms outstretched on the side of the Hesburgh Library just north of the end zone, Notre Dame fans scream their lungs out at opponents. Some of them are at it again in the press and in the blogosphere. . . . My advice would be to ignore the gnat-buzzing nuisances who traffic in these controversies because we have much larger issues to spend our moral and intellectual capital on these days.

This is a classic example of making the proverbial mountain out of the molehill, a tactic well-known to progressive Catholics. “Founded in 1993, The Cardinal Newman Society is dedicated to renewing and strengthening Catholic identity at America’s 224 Catholic colleges and universities.” Translation: this small group, founded by Patrick J. Reilly, monitors speakers, professors, students, and organizations on all the campuses and squeals every time its version of Catholic orthodoxy is transgressed.

. . . The Cardinal Newman Society generally irritates college administrations by blowing out of proportion issues—most of them having to do with sex, not war, the death penalty, immigration, or other social issues on which Catholic teachings are clear—about which good people disagree. A scuffle ensues. Faculty and staff often become more circumspect. When the semester is over things cool down and the Newman folks move on to the next place and do it all over again.

The question is why Notre Dame took the bait instead of thanking them kindly for their views and getting on with the business of education which includes dealing with people with whom one disagrees. Likewise, why does the big media accord these things such coverage? A quick look at the Newman group’s website with its sign-on petition ticking like a doomsday clock is enough to cast doubt on the veracity of its claims. So what if X number of people say rescind the invitation? Last I heard, Holy Cross Father John Jenkins [pictured above] was hosting the party. Obviously, this is not simply about a graduation speaker. The President of the United States is being instrumentalized in a long Catholic theo-political struggle that will not be resolved on this playing field, though it is a chance for everyone to show which team they are on.

To read Mary E. Hunt’s commentary in its entirety, click here.

Recommended Off-site Link:
Why Notre Dame Should Welcome Obama - Kenneth L. Woodward (Washington Post, March 30, 2009).

For more of Mary E. Hunt at The Wild Reed, see:
Mary Hunt and Richard Rodriguez Headline DignityUSA's 40th Anniversary Celebration
A Time to Re-Think the Basis and Repair the Damage
Crisis? What Crisis?
Beyond Papalism
Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”
CPCSM’s Year in Review (2006)

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
What the Notre Dame Controversy is Really About and What’s Really at Stake
What Does It Mean to Be a Catholic University
A Not So “New” Catholic University

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What the Notre Dame Controversy is Really About and What’s Really at Stake

Note: I wrote the following piece for The Progressive Catholic Voice. If you’d like to comment on it, please do so on the PCV site. Thanks.


Over the past week or so a number of thoughtful responses have been written and shared in relation to the controversy that has erupted over President Barack Obama’s invitation to give this year’s commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, the country’s second largest Roman Catholic university.

Notre Dame has a tradition of inviting new presidents to speak at graduation. Jimmy Carter spoke in 1977, Ronald Reagan in 1981, and George W. Bush in 2001. Yet Obama’s invitation has triggered a furor in some Catholic quarters. And important questions have to be asked: Why is this such an issue? What is this controversy really about? And what’s really at stake for Catholic education and the wider Church?


Chicago Sun Times columnist Carol Marin notes that the heated debate over Notre Dame’s Obama decision stems from the fact that the pro-choice Obama, in the first weeks of his presidency, “reversed Bush administration policy by restoring funding to international family planning groups that provide abortion services and by removing limits on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.”

Various Roman Catholic bishops have voiced their “disappointment” over the decision by Notre Dame’s president Rev. Robert Jenkins’ invitation to Obama. Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, for instance, has accused Jenkins of committing “a public act of disobedience to the Bishops of the United States.”

Renowned Catholic commentator Thomas J. Reese (pictured at left) disagrees. In a piece in the Washington Post he writes:

How do I know that Notre Dame is not violating [the U.S. Bishops’ statement] “Catholics in Political Life?” Because Notre Dame is doing nothing more than what has already been done by Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, who taught canon law and worked as a judge in the Tribunal of the Sacred Roman Rota, a church court based in the Vatican.

If Cardinal Egan can invite Obama to speak at the Al Smith dinner in October of 2008 when he was only a presidential candidate, then there is certainly nothing wrong with Notre Dame having the President speak at a commencement. Other pro-choice speakers at Al Smith dinners included Al Gore and Tony Blair (a Catholic). What is OK for a cardinal archbishop is certainly OK for a university. Or are bishops exempt from “Catholics in Political Life”?


A national protest of Notre Dame’s decision is building – one that is seemingly determined to have the university’s invitation to Obama rescinded. Perhaps the most vocal leader within this protest movement is Patrick Reilly (pictured at right), the president of the Cardinal Newman Society.

Writes Reilly: “It is an outrage and a scandal (emphasis his) that ‘Our Lady’s University,’ one of the premier Catholic universities in the United States, would bestow such an honor on President Obama given his clear support for policies and laws that directly contradict fundamental Catholic teachings on life and marriage.”

Yet other Catholics are supportive of the decision to invite Obama. What concerns many of these Catholics is how the issue of abortion has become the trump card of every moral discussion both within and beyond the Church.

On her blog Enlightened Catholicism, Colleen Kochivar-Baker observes that:

There is absolutely no way this insanity would have occurred thirty years ago. None. That it is happening today is nothing short of embarrassing for American Catholicism. In my opinion our political battles surrounding abortion have made the American Catholic Church a cancerous node in the global Catholic union. The vast majority of abortions are the result of other social problems which President Obama is willing to address. That doesn’t make him a baby killer.

Kochivar-Baker no doubt expresses the view of many Catholics when she declares that she is “really tired of abortion politics.” She goes on to write:

But what I am most tired of is the notion that the only solution to the abortion issue is the criminalization of abortion. This strategy does not stop abortion. Providing women with the resources to raise their children stops abortion. Insisting males take responsibility for their sexual activity impacts abortion, something President Obama has been quite willing to repeatedly and forcefully state. Something I personally have never heard stated in a sermon.

She requests a simple explanation from the bishops: “Why [is it] gravely sinful to operate from the understanding that abortion law in this country isn’t going to change, and that other strategies must be pursued?”

According to Kochivar-Baker, such an explanation is not forthcoming because “the Notre Dame controversy isn’t about abortion. It’s about sabotaging President Obama for the crime of being a victorious Democrat. It’s about fomenting Catholic Republicans to keep flexing their muscle to keep the donations coming, to keep Republican activists in charge of Catholic opinion.”

What’s really going on

Meanwhile, National Catholic Reporter publisher, Joe Feuerherd (pictured at left), pulls no punches when he likens Patrick Reilly, the president of the Cardinal Newman Society, to an “academic ayatollah.” Feuerherd also makes the following observation:

Reilly and the Society, however, were strangely silent when then-Vice President Cheney spoke at the Catholic University of America in January 2005. Cheney (like Obama) opposes a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and has some questionable views on the “intrinsic evil” of state-sponsored torture, but that was apparently of no concern to Reilly. The Society did not protest the vice president’s appearance.

Here’s what is really going on. Ayatollah Reilly searches for hot button issues on Catholic campuses – anything that has to do with gays gets them excited, as do performances of “The Vagina Monologues” and, of course, pro-choice speakers (few of whom actually even discuss abortion in their presentations) - that will energize their base of donors and activists. Then they highlight these offenses on the Web and through direct mail to generate revenue.

Columnist David Gibson notes that “Reilly also didn’t protest when Bush was invited to give the commencement address at St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania, despite Reilly’s admission to Feuerhard that Bush was at odds with the church on some life issues – and, I would add, just about precept of Catholic social teaching.”

What’s really at stake

In her March 28 column, Carol Marin interviews Dick Meister (pictured at right), the former provost of DePaul University – the nation’s largest Catholic university. It’s an insightful exchange.

“The role of a Catholic university,” says Meister, is to “espouse academic freedom where people are allowed to research, teach and hear many voices on campus . . . at the same time manifesting the gospel of Christ and the beatitudes to serve the poor, be the bridge between the haves and the have-nots.”

What about the fear that Notre Dame is compromising its Catholic identity [by inviting President Obama to speak]?

“It epitomizes Notre Dame’s Catholic identity,” he argued. “Hearing many voices is its strength, not its weakness.”

Thomas J, Reese agrees, noting that:

People need to recognize that Catholic universities have to be places where freedom of speech and discussion is recognized and valued. Not to allow a diversity of speakers on campus is to put Catholic universities into a ghetto.

When I was a student in the 1960’s, Jesuit-run Santa Clara University was attacked for performing “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” and for having a Marxist speak on campus. Now we are fighting over the “Vagina Monologue” and pro-choice politicians. If Catholic universities are afraid to have people on campus who challenge our views, then we are not training students to listen and think critically. We are admitting that our arguments are not convincing.

A test of strength

Carol Marin concludes her column by acknowledging that “[Roman] Catholic bishops vehemently disagree” with Notre Dame’s Obama decision.

“Chief among them,” she writes, “is Bishop John D’Arcy [pictured at left] of the South Bend diocese, which includes Notre Dame. He will not attend, saying, ‘A bishop must teach the Catholic faith “in season and out of season,” and he teaches not by his words – but by his actions.’”

It’s a statement that elicits the following response from Marin:

If only Catholic bishops were consistent in their own actions. Haven’t they allowed Cardinal Bernard Law, formerly of Boston, and the prelate who obstructed justice in the investigation of the horrific pedophilia scandal in his own diocese, to remain a member in good standing? Law wasn’t sanctioned but rewarded: He now runs the third largest basilica in Rome.

Does that outrageous Vatican decision mean we shouldn’t listen to what else they have to say? No. Bishops aren’t one-dimensional. And neither is Barack Obama. Commencement will be a testament to Notre Dame’s strength and Rev. Jenkins’ courage.

To view and sign a petition stating your support for Notre Dame and its invitation to President Obama, visit www.WeSupportNotreDame.Catholics-United.org.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
What Does it Mean to Be a Catholic University?
A Not So “New” Catholic University

Recommended Off-site Links:
Notre Dame’s Common Ground - Douglas W. Kmiec (Chicago Tribune, March 29, 2009).
Moving Up the Spiritual Food Chain: Notre Dame Disappoints Cardinal DiNardo - Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, March 29, 2009).
I Voted for Obama. Will I Go Straight to . . . ? - Joe Feuerherd (Washington Post, February 24, 2009).

Friday, March 27, 2009

Wendy Matthews

Tonight’s Wild Reed Music Night highlights acclaimed Australian singer/songwriter Wendy Matthews and the song “Free,” from her 2001 album, Beautiful View.

Free is one cool song -with a positive and proactive message of the need to let go of a lousy relationship so as to move on with life. The music video for the song shows a very classy delivery - both vocally and visually - of this message. It actually looks as if it was filmed at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International Airport - a place I’ve become well familiar with over the years, what with my numerous return visits to Australia.

At any rate, here’s Wendy Matthews and “Free” . . . Enjoy!

. . . Baby, I know
I can’t live another day, sleep another night,
waiting for you to change into something
I wish you could have been.
It’s not what I’m into now.

I’ve done all I can,
I’ve given you every chance
to prove you are my man.
Now there’s nothing left to lose.

I’m free
like the wind,
independent once again.
Yeah I am gone,
I’ve gotta be moving on.

Free, watch me fly
lift your hands and wave bye bye,
cos I’m gone.
Gotta be moving on.

Born in Canada in 1960, Wendy Matthews relocated to Australia in 1983 where she soon began building both a reputation and a career as one of the country’s most popular and well-respected female vocalists.

Career highlights include her 1988 recording (with the group Absent Friends) of “I Don’t Want to Be With Nobody But You”; her 1990 ARIA Award-winning debut album, Émigré, which featured the hit singles “Token Angels” and “Let’s Kiss (Like the Angels Do)”; her 1992 ARIA Award-winning album Lily, which included the hits “The Day You Went Away” and “Friday’s Child”; and her 2004 acoustically recorded covers album, Café Naturale, featuring great renditions of “Early Morning Rain”, “All I Need”, and “Slave (Just for Love)”.

Her latest album is 2008’s She, on which, incidentally, she covers “Fallen Angels,” a song from Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Coincidence and Likely Stories - an artist and album highlighted last Friday night at The Wild Reed.

My parents saw Wendy Matthews in concert last May in Port Macquarie. She actually resides not that far up the coast - where she was living for a time in a tepee!

For the best introduction to her music, I recommend either the 1999 compilation album, Stepping Stones: The Best of Wendy Matthews, or the 2007 compilation album, The Essential Wendy Matthews.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Wendy Matthews’ Official Website
Wendy’s Simple Life - Jill Fraser (Fresh Magazine, January 2005)
Home Sweet Tepee - Deborah Hutton (Australian Woman’s Weekly, October 2005).

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pope Accused of "Distorting Scientific Evidence" on Condom Use

Here’s an interesting news story just out:

PARIS (AFP) – One of the world’s top medical journals accused Pope Benedict XVI on Friday [today in the U.S.] of having distorted scientific evidence in his remarks on condom use and demanded he make a retraction.

“By saying that condoms exacerbate the problem of HIV/AIDS, the Pope has publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine on this issue,” The Lancet said in an editorial.

“Whether the Pope’s error was due to ignorance or a deliberate attempt to manipulate science to support Catholic ideology is unclear.

“But the comment still stands, and the Vatican’s attempts to tweak the Pope’s words, further tampering with the truth, is not the way forward.”

The London-based journal added: “When any influential person, be it a religious or political figure, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record.

“Anything less from Pope Benedict would be an immense disservice to the public and health advocates, including many thousands of Catholics, who work tirelessly to try and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide.”

The pope made the controversial remarks last week when he traveled to Africa, the worst-hit continent for AIDS.

AIDS is a tragedy “that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems,” the pope said aboard his flight to Cameroon.

Image: Demonstrators show condoms on the edge of the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square, in Rome, as Pope Benedict XVI was making his return from a one-week visit in Africa, Monday March 23, 2009. The pontiff on Monday returned from Africa with a final impassioned plea to corrupt leaders to let the poor share in some of the proceeds of the continent’s natural resources. The parting words followed a controversial first pilgrimage to the continent where the growing number of Catholics welcomed his ringing denunciations of corruption - while critics worldwide condemned his rejection of condoms to fight the AIDS epidemic. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Pope’s Message of Ignorance in Africa
Vatican Considers the “Lesser of Two Evils”

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Pope and Condoms - William Crawley (BBC, March 23, 2009).
Catholic Church Should Put Its Own House in Order - Betty Caplan (Daily Nation, March 26, 2009).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Catholic Rebellion?

No, I’m not referring to Robert S. McElvaine’s intriguing call to “impeach the Pope,” but to the publication last December of a pastoral leaflet by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales.

As Peter Tatchell (pictured at left) writes in The Guardian, this particular resource has created “more than a few ripples throughout the Catholic world.” Why? Well, as Tatchell documents in his December 15, 2008, commentary, the bishops’ leaflet is a “marked departure from the constant stream of anti-gay denunciations by the Vatican.” It urges, for instance, “clergy and churchgoers to be respectful and welcoming towards lesbian and gay people.” (Of course, that this kind of sentiment should contribute to an official publication being perceived as “rebellious” is a sad testament to the overall state of the Roman Catholic Church’s (mis)understanding and treatment of gay people.)

That being said, I join with Tatchell in applauding the bishops of England and Wales for the message of acceptance conveyed in their leaflet.

Following is an extended excerpt from Peter Tatchell’s commentary.


The leaflet, which is distributed to dioceses, is entitled “What is Life Like if You or Someone in Your Family is Gay or Lesbian in Their Sexual Orientation? . . . And What Can Your Parish Family Do to Make a Difference?” Unusually for an official Catholic publication, it acknowledges the “oppression” suffered by homosexuals:

As a group that has suffered more than its share of oppression and contempt, the homosexual community has a particular claim on the concern of the church.

Indeed, the leaflet includes a disarmingly honest admission of the role played by the [Roman] Catholic Church in victimization and marginalization of lesbian and gay people. It quotes comments received from lay Catholics during its Listening Day survey:

The continual message from the church is that homosexuality is so, so dreadful. Our gay son just hasn’t stood a chance . . . My brother is gay; the church has been very intolerant of him.

This frank admission of past failings is brave and honorable, as is the suggestion that Catholics should “express appreciation for the gifts that homosexual Catholics bring to their faith community.” Excluding love, compassion and empathy, the leaflet goes on to advise priests and parishioners:

Try not to assume that everyone is heterosexual . . . Avoid stereotyping and condemning . . . Remember that homophobic jokes and asides can be cruel and hurtful; a careless word can mean another experience of rejection and pain.

The leaflet’s suggested reading list of seminal Catholic statements on homosexuality does not, notably, include any statements from the Vatican. It omits all papal documents denouncing homosexuality and endorsing legal discrimination against lesbian and gay people.

Catholic traditionalists have, predictably, condemned the leaflet’s liberal message and accused the English and Welsh church of defying orthodoxy.

One English critic, Father Ray Blake, has described the leaflet as “troubling” because it does not mention the traditional Catholic teaching that homosexuals should live a life of chastity [understood by the Vatican to mean celibacy].

Although I am an atheist and a strong critic of [Roman] Catholic homophobia (and sexism), I applaud this leaflet. It is a welcome, positive initiative which will bring great comfort to gay Catholics and their families. Its sympathetic, understanding message is a huge improvement on the stern, uncompromising homophobia of most Vatican pronouncements on homosexuality.

Indeed, I hope the Catholic Church in England and Wales will encourage the Vatican to adopt this leaflet for use by Catholic dioceses worldwide. Its broader dissemination would help counteract the ignorance and prejudice that exists among many clerics and laity.

But I would also add the following caveat: the loving, respectful tone of this pastoral leaflet is undermined by the homophobic content of the Catholic Catechism and by the Pope’s frequent endorsement of discriminatory, anti-gay laws. In particular, the Vatican policy of condemning loving, stable same-sex relationships is not only ethically wrong; it risks undoing the good, kind intentions of this leaflet.

The Catechism, which sets out the basic doctrines of the Roman church, reflects the pre-scientific ignorance and anti-homosexual prejudice of the medieval era; describing same-sex acts as a “grave depravity” and “intrinsically disordered.” It states that lesbian and gay relationships are “contrary to natural law . . . and do not proceed from genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

The Vatican identifies homosexuality as a deep-seated personality disorder and psychological flaw; variously condemning same-sex acts as “grave sins . . . objectively disordered . . . [and] intrinsically immoral.” Even people who have a gay orientation but abstain totally from sex are condemned by the Pope as possessing a “tendency towards an intrinsic moral evil.” In October, the Vatican ruled that chaste gay men should be barred from the priesthood and this month it again vilified same-sex marriages and announced its intention to oppose a UN general assembly statement calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality worldwide.

The English church’s pastoral leaflet challenges these outdated, bigoted attitudes. It reflects the growing acceptance of loving, loyal, long-term lesbian and gay relationships by grassroots Catholics. It is also a fitting tribute to the late Cardinal Basil Hume [pictured at right] and a continuation of his valiant, but often tortured and incomplete, attempts to move English Catholicism towards the acceptance of gay people and gay human rights.

I know from my personal dialogue with Cardinal Hume in the 1990s that he was personally pained by the Vatican’s intransigent, heartless homophobia. He tried, as best he could, to distance the English church from Rome, with nuanced theological pronouncements that discreetly differed from those of the Pope. Although his distancing was far too subtle for my liking, I appreciated his efforts.

It is good to see Cardinal Hume’s more gay-sympathetic theology reflected in this pastoral leaflet. He would be happy and proud. Congratulations and thanks to the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales. Now please reform the Catechism – or publish your own non-homophobic English version.

To read Peter Tatchell’s article in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
How Times Have Changed
The Pope’s “Scandalous” Stance on Homosexuality
And a Merry Christmas to You Too, Papa
The Vatican’s Actions at the UN: “Sickening, Depraved, and Shameless”
Compassion, Christian Community, and Homosexuality
The Catholic Church and Gays: An Excellent Historical Overview
Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality: Complex and Nuanced
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”
A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Gifts of Homosexuality

Books are definitely one of my weaknesses – or rather, the purchasing of books. I am getting better, but last week I found two books at Magers and Quinn (in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis) that I couldn’t resist – Sheridan Morley’s Dirk Bogarde: Rank Outsider and the latest from Matthew Fox, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine.

Catholic priest and “deep ecologist”
Thomas Berry contends that Matthew Fox “might well be the most creative, the most comprehensive, surely the most challenging religious-spiritual teacher in America.”

Following is an except from that part of The Hidden Spirituality of Men in which Fox talks about honoring and learning from the gifts of homosexuality.


It really is quite astounding to me that nature is so committed to sexual diversity and homosexuality. Studies have shown that about 8-10 percent of any given human population is gay or lesbian, and most of these persons are born from heterosexual parents. What are the odds of this happening randomly? Why does nature insist on homosexuality as an ordinary and persistent sexual diversity? There must be a reason or reasons. My own guess is that homosexuals offer humanity certain vital gifts that society would be foolish to refuse. Here is a list of four:

1. The gift of creativity. No one can look at the work of homosexuals and not be struck by the inordinate amount of creativity that homosexual individuals and communities provide to society. This creativity is evident in the arts as well as the sciences, and it extends to the exercise of sexual practice itself.

2. A flexible perspective on gender provides a kind of bridge between men and women. Heterosexuals in particular can become stuck in their society-created gender roles, and homosexuals remind everyone that sexuality exists in the realm of metaphor and not literalism. When one’s sexual role is not determined by one’s body parts, life, imagination, and passion come alive. David Deida observes that “the gay and lesbian community is acutely aware that the sexual polarity is independent of gender. But you still need two poles for a passionate play of sexuality to persist in a relationship: masculine and feminine, top and bottom, butch and femme – whatever you want to call these reciprocal poles of sexual play.” Gays and lesbians have much to teach the straight world about sexuality and about restoring passion to relationships.

3. Humor. By definition, role-playing does not take things literally. To see gender as a “role” moves us beyond the ego, and it creates a space for fun and humor in sexual play. So often, sexuality becomes burdened with shame, guilt, fear, or self-consciousness, and so it becomes too serious. But healthy spirituality is unselfconscious (as Eckhart pointed out), and so too is healthy sexuality. Yes, sexuality can lead to children, and the Lover becomes the Father (or the Parent), and that is a serious thing with serious responsibilities. But sexuality itself is about process as much as procreation, and the Lover does more than create babies. Sex can be funny, clownish, humorous, and full of laughter. An Inuit saying is that to make love is to make laughter happen. Within homosexual and transgender communities, sexuality and gender roles are sources of humor and play. That is a very important teaching. Don’t take sexuality and gender literally. It is too important for that and too much fun for that.

4. Spirituality. There is a long history in many cultures of homosexuals as spiritual leaders. Many years ago, a Native American woman took me aside and said to me that it is well known among Native Americans that gay persons have always been the spiritual directors to their great chiefs. Homosexuals, it seems, don’t just bridge male and female worlds, but human and spiritual worlds. A homophobic society deprives itself of a deeper spirituality. This same woman (who was also a Catholic sister) said: “When I give retreats to gay people, it is always a deeper experience than just giving a retreat to a mixed and mostly heterosexual crowd.”

. . . For all these reasons I am convinced that there can be no authentic masculine spirituality without exorcising homophobia. In the face of a frequently homophobic society, it takes a spiritual warrior to do so. But every man must refuse to hide and dare to stand up for their homosexual brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, fathers and mothers, children and nephews, nieces and co-workers. The gay liberation movement is everyone’s movement, just as Martin Luther King Jr. taught when he said that justice denied anyone is justice denied us all.

. . . In the realm of lovemaking, what heterosexual man isn’t interested in accessing more of the four gifts of homosexuality I listed above: creativity, role-playing flexibility, humor, and spirituality? Eros wants all that for us. Overcoming homophobia is a way for heterosexual men to become not just better lovers but spiritual and cultural healers. Overcoming homophobia provides gifts for everyone, since it also helps heal the shame, abuse, and marginalization that many homosexual men have experienced, both as boys and as men. It also provides a liberation for gay men and women, and resolving homophobia can heal generational differences. No matter what our parents and grandparents might have believed, we are the parents and grandparents of the next generations, nearly one in ten of whom will be gay. Healing our homophobia helps heal them before they even arrive.

Recently a newspaper article quoted a heterosexual man who was told by a very attractive woman, “I thought you were gay.” About this, the man replied, “I was flattered. Gay men are as a rule smarter, in better shape, and more alive than their heterosexual men I know.” Over the years a number if women I know have told me they kept falling in love with gay men (not knowing they were gay) because gay men understood women so much better and they projected a more attractive interest in life and the arts and their own bodies. As these stories give evidence, a healthy, attractive masculinity and spirituality is more than sexual preference and gender identity, and this is something heterosexual men can learn from homosexuals.

- Excerpted from The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine by Matthew Fox (New World Library, 2008).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Homophobia? It’s So Gay
Human Sex: Weird and Silly, Messy and Sublime
What Is It That Ails You?
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Making Love, Giving Life
The Non-Negotiables of Sex
“Gaydar,” “Gender Maps,” and the “Fundamentally Social Purpose” of Homosexuality
What Straights Can Learn from Gay Marriage
In the Garden of Spirituality: Toby Johnson

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Hidden Spirituality of Men - Matthew Fox (Ode Magazine, October 2008).
The Gay Male Quest for Democratic, Mutual, Reciprocal Sex (Part 1) - The Leveret (August 7, 2008).
The Gay Male Quest for Democratic, Mutual, Reciprocal Sex (Part 2) - The Leveret (August 17, 2008).

One Fearless Kiss

. . . the word is love.
Surely one fearless kiss
would cure the million fevers,
a stroking brush
the insensitive refuse
from the burning core.

W. H. Auden

The following is excerpted from an article by Chip Walter, entitled Affairs of the Lips: Why We Kiss, first published in the January 2008 issue of Scientific America.

Since kissing evolved, the act seems to have become addictive. Human lips enjoy the slimmest layer of skin on the human body, and the lips are among the most densely populated with sensory neurons of any body region. When we kiss, these neurons, along with those in the tongue and mouth, rocket messages to the brain and body, setting off delightful sensations, intense emotions and physical reactions.

. . . Kissing unleashes a cocktail of chemicals that govern human stress, motivation, social bonding and sexual stimulation.

To the extent that kissing is linked to love, the act may similarly boost brain chemicals associated with pleasure, euphoria and a motivation to connect with a certain someone. In 2005 anthropologist Helen Fisher of Rutgers University and her colleagues reported scanning the brains of 17 individuals as they gazed at pictures of people with whom they were deeply in love. The researchers found an unusual flurry of activity in two brain regions that govern pleasure, motivation and reward: the right ventral tegmental area and the right caudate nucleus. Addictive drugs such as cocaine similarly stimulate these reward centers, through the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Love, it seems, is a kind of drug for us humans.

. . . Despite all these observations, a kiss continues to resist complete scientific dissection. Close scrutiny of couples has illuminated new complexities woven throughout this simplest and most natural of acts—and the quest to unmask the secrets of passion and love is not likely to end soon. But romance gives up its mysteries grudgingly. And in some ways, we like it like that.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Quiet Visit and an Exhausting Conversation


(For Part One, click here)


It’s been three weeks since last I wrote in these pages – though that’s not to say I’ve completely ignored this journal. For the last several pages there are little sketches depicting the tell-tale signs of spring’s emergence, observed during my early morning walks. And there are sketches, too, of various aspects and objects from the interior of St. Jerome’s – all from memory, of course, as I haven’t returned there since that Sunday when last I wrote. Actually, that’s not true. I did go there last Wednesday. I was out on assignment for the paper – interviewing for a piece about the impact of the economic downturn on small businesses. And since I was in the neighborhood of the church I decided to see how it felt to be back there. It was really that simple. Of course my biggest fear was of running into Fr. O’Connor, but since I knew that Wednesdays were his days for hospital visitations, I figured that this wouldn’t be likely.

It’s become standard practice now for the doors of St. Jerome’s to be unlocked for about thirty minutes either side of the noon hour. It was 1:05 when I pulled into the parking lot. As I entered the sanctuary an elderly woman whom I recognized from Sundays was shuffling toward the main exit. Though we acknowledged one another with a smile and nod, I sensed no indication of recognition on her part as we passed. Good, I thought, as the heavy door closed behind her, it looks as if I’ll be alone. I was grateful for this.

After lighting a candle, I sat at a pew in front of the statue of the Sacred Heart. For as long as I can remember I’ve always been drawn to this image, this understanding of Christ. A picture of the Sacred Heart – one that, more often than not, hung rather crookedly on a bedroom wall in my grandmother’s house – is one of my earliest recollections. I also recall being yelled at once by my father after climbing precariously onto a wobbly chair to straighten this favorite picture of mine. You see, a railway line ran behind grandma’s house, and pictures and crockery and knick-knacks were forever rattling and losing their bearings on surfaces – whether horizontal or vertical.

In high school I did a project on Sr. Margaret Mary Alacoque, much to the amusement of my classmates, who opted to focus on rappers and baseball players. After a while I learned to keep my interest in religious subjects and themes locked away somewhere deep within. Curiously enough, it was at that same time that I began hiding away – in that same inner closet – my growing realization that I was attracted to boys. It was definitely an oddly stocked closet – holy relics, virgins and saints, and what seemed (and felt) like a strange, relentlessly growing plant-like thing – the “fruit” of which my own body would manifest, swollen and throbbing, each morning and invariably throughout the day, often at the most inappropriate times. At night, the tendrils of this closeted “plant” would often escape and writhe their way, snake-like, into my dreams, conjuring images of naked male bodies. And in the morning I’d wake, exhilarated and guilty, my body sticky with the strange nectar of this living thing deep within me.

I had a picture of Jesus and his fiery heart next to my bed, and to Him I’d turn – confused and questioning. Yet His beautiful countenance displayed not a trace of shame, fear, or condemnation. Rather, what I discerned in time was a shared awareness with Him of the sacredness of the gift that I was discovering, and an invitation from Him to always hold and share this gift lovingly and wisely. It was love, in short, that I saw in His eyes, and which challenged me - and continues to challenge me. And so, looking back, I see now that it was at the age of fourteen that I made the conscious decision, as frightened and confused as I was, to always focus and respond to that unflinching gaze of love.

Years later at college I did clandestine study of that mysterious plant-like thing that I now knew had always been an organic, natural part of me. It was no longer a thing, I discovered, but an orientation – a sexual orientation. And I no longer feared my body’s manifestation of this orientation’s longings, but allowed myself to touch and explore it. I also remember conducting further research into the Sacred Heart – for, as strange as it may sound, my growing awareness and acceptance of my sexuality was bringing me closer to God. In one book I discovered that the Sacred Heart of Jesus was a “mystical symbol of divine love.”

I like that description; I’ve held onto it and treasured it for years. And as I pondered it yet again today, sitting alone in the church of St. Jerome, I smiled and gazed upon the soft yet manly contours of the statue before me. At Jesus’ sacred feet, my candle flickered with numerous others. Together they created a warm golden cloud of light upon which my loving Savior hovered.

Later that night I shared with Jack how much I miss St. Jerome’s. He said I was mad . . . crazy. I just miss the atmosphere of the place, he insisted. I should do what the Hispanics do, he said. I should build myself an altar in my home, a shrine – a shrine to the Sacred Heart, if I must. I laughed, almost spilling my wine. And he laughed too when I told him that I already had one.

And then today I met Jay in the supermarket. He asked me how I was doing and inquired if I had left St. Jerome’s for good. My hesitancy in providing a definite answer, one way or the other, elicited from him an empathetic look, though one tinged with a certain weariness. It made me think of old Joe.

“Look, James,” said Jay, “times are tough in the Church right now. There’s no denying it. I wouldn’t blame you if you decided to leave. I’m thinking of it myself.”

This truly surprised me. Jay saw that it did and smiled.

“Come on, now,” he said, “you must know that it’s been ten times harder for me at St. Jerome’s than it has been for any of you other guys. I have to work there, meet on a regular basis with Fr. O’Connor, stay quiet about Andy. Do you know how hard that is?”

Jay and Andy are the cutest couple you could ever meet. And they’re absolutely crazy for one another – and have been for something like ten years. For a while, Andy and I would workout at the same time at the Y. He was forever talking about Jay and what they were up to for the weekend and what they had gotten up to the previous weekend. I know Jay would have been just as excited and willing to share all of this with the staff at St. Jerome’s. But he couldn’t.

“James, I can’t tell you how much I love Andy. He’s the world to me. He’s my life. You know that. And yet I have to go into work – day in, day out – and never mention him, let alone talk about us. It’s like I’m half a person there – less than half. That wears you down after a while, believe me.”

“But where would you go?” I heard myself asking.

“Oh, don’t you worry about me. I’m ready to head over to Our Savior’s – to work and to pray. The place is booming and my friend, Tracy . . .”

Jay paused, lowered his voice, and leaned in close. “My friend Tracy is willing to put in a good word for me for the position that’s about to open up for director of music.”

I returned Jay’s smile. “Good for you, Jay! I’m really happy for you. But . . .”

“Jay looked at me quizzically. “But?”

“Well, Our Savior’s Lutheran. That’s not an issue for you?”

Jay stiffened a little and became quite serious. “Once, yes. But not anymore.”

He looked quite grim yet I was curious, really curious, and I sensed that Jay knew it. He pushed his shopping cart further to the side of the aisle and gestured for me to do likewise. It was a strange place to hold such a serious and important discussion, I admit. Yet there we were in front of the huge glass refrigerator doors behind which cartons of fish sticks and bags of frozen fries were neatly stacked and piled. Hey, Jesus ate fish!, I found myself absurdly thinking.

“Look, James, my minor in college was Church history. I know where we’ve come from and, unfortunately, I can see where we’re heading.”

“You mean the new bishop?” I inquired rather pathetically.

“He’s part of the problem, yes. But it’s much bigger than that. This pope has a very clear idea of what it means to be Catholic – and it’s all based on his childhood in Bavaria, long before Vatican II.”

My mind was racing. Stay with him, James. Stay with him, I kept telling myself. You know this stuff. Just stay with him.

“Okay,” I managed to say.

“He associates the years after Vatican II with the student uprisings that took place throughout Europe in ’68 and which he witnessed – and, from all I’ve read, was quite shaken by.”

Yes, yes . . . I know all about 1968. Well . . . I’ve seen “The Dreamers” - and that beautiful Daniel Day Lewis in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” Oh, no, wait! That was the Prague Spring!

“He sees much of the changes in the Church after Vatican II as signs of the Protestantization of Catholic thinking and practice. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he did all he could to stop the rot, to restore the Church to the one of his childhood. And now as Benedict XVI he’s a total restorationalist. A restorationalist, James. That’s what excites and motivates him – efforts to restore the Church to the pre-Conciliar period.

“Yes . . . yes of course,” I said. But I wasn’t fooling Jay. He leaned back and moved to one side before leaning forward again. As he resumed his explanation I realized that in more ways than one he was coming at me from a different angle, determined that I “get it.”

“He wants boundaries, James . . . those powerful boundaries, for instance, that set the Catholic Church apart from all those other denominations before Vatican II. That’s why there’s the push to restore the Tridentine Latin Mass. . .”

O-oh, careful James! Don’t give yourself away. After all, I’ve always liked Latin Masses – the few I’ve experienced, that is. But I’m not sure if I’d want every Mass to be in Latin. Couldn’t we have options?

“And he can’t tolerate diversity . . .”

Goodness! Jay’s reading my mind!

“. . . it’s all about rigid conformity. That’s how he understands unity. It’s very sad . . . a travesty, a betrayal. Look at his lenient attitude to those bishops of the Society of St. Pius X . . .”

But by now Jay must have seen I was flagging. He stopped, smiled, and said: “Anyway, you’re a media guy. You don’t need me to tell you all of this.”

Actually, I did need Jay – maybe not to explain every one of these individual pieces but to put them together for me as he just had. For this I was genuinely thankful, and I tried my best to convey my appreciation.

Before we parted Jay suggested I check out either St. Anne’s or the local chapter of Dignity. The former didn’t really appeal to me, and I told him why: too big and too “contemporary.” Jay just laughed.

“Well,” he said, “I haven’t been to Dignity for quite some time, but they were bringing in some local priests to say Mass. And they were more on the traditional side. They meet now over at Southside United Methodist . . . on Sunday evenings. You should check it out.”

And so ended my rather exhausting meeting with Jay today in the frozen food section of our local supermarket. I must admit I’m unsure about the whole Dignity thing. Somehow I can’t imagine it being a very big group – what with St. Anne’s being so popular and all. Still, Jay did say that Mass at Dignity was more “traditional,” and if what he says about the Popes push to stamp out diversity is true, then who knows how much longer a place like St. Annes will be allowed to do the things that it does - including accepting people like us. Perhaps this Sunday I’ll check Dignity out.

NEXT: Part 3: A Journey Begins

See also the previous installment of The Journal of James Curtis:
Part One: A “Bells and Smells” Kind of Guy

Image: Joseph Fanelli.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Buffy Sainte-Marie: “The Big Ones Get Away”

Something really special tonight for this Friday’s “Music Night” at The Wild Reed . . . Courtesy of tinchoguitar5, it’s the promotional video for singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie’s song “The Big Ones Get Away,” from her 1992 album, Coincidence and Likely Stories.

Says Buffy in the short interview preceding the music video:

“The Big Ones Get Away” is the kind of song that you write when someone you care about is about to go down for having told the truth when the society wants to lie – needs to lie. It’s as if a business person requires a courier to deliver something illegal and then when the courier is caught, the company and the business person says, “Well, we didn’t know anything about that.”

Or it can be, on the other hand, about a General who volunteers his testimony to Congress but Congress cannot afford to hear the truth the General tells because if they do they’ll be required to impeach the President and the country would come to a grinding halt. And so instead they sacrifice the General to the press and make him look bad even though he’s the one who told the truth.

It’s a song from a wife’s point of view as she sees her husband about to go down for having been sold out by his boss who he believed in. It’s a song of compassion and love and idealism . . .

And it’s definitely one of my all-time favorite songs – a beautiful, passionate and haunting song from a beautiful, passionate (and often haunting) artist.

(NOTE: The video takes about 12 seconds to start. So be patient! Also, the music video is followed by more interview footage in which Buffy talks about some of the other songs on Coincidence and Likely Stories)

Hey, baby, I just got back from town
where the bribes are paid.
Honey, they turned my offer down,
they say the deal’s already made.
So now I gotta stand and watch
while it all comes down.
And the buzzards and the hawks,
and the judges and the mob,
circle around.

Now if I were the queen of all the world
I would go in chains just to see you free
of the ropes that bind you
and the role you play
and the pride that hooks you
while the big ones get away.

Love junkies wanna change the world,
it quickly stays the same.
Money junkies hire all the smart ones;
Power junkies run the game.
One step at a time, Polarity Hill,
If the bad guys don’t get you, baby,
then the good guys will.
With angels on the take
and the gangsters in the yard,
Hey, don’t the wars come easy,
and don’t the peace come hard.

Now if I had a way to reach the sky
I'd grab that crescent moon,
wield it like a knife,
save you from the lies . . .
From the ropes that bind you
and the role you play
and the game that hooks you
while the big ones get away.

Coincidence and Likely Stories was very much a ‘comeback’ album for Buffy Sainte-Marie, who first rose to prominence in the early 1960s as a folk artist. From 1976 to 1991, Buffy quit recording to concentrate on raising her son. In 1991 she was invited by Ensign Records to re-enter professional recording and, with Chris Birkett as her co-producer, proceeded to make Coincidence and Likely Stories — recording most of the instrumentation herself in her home studio in Hawaii using digital media.

The recording process, however, went even further in terms of innovation, with Coincidence and Likely Stories being the first documented use of the internet to deliver a music CD via modem. It was digitally recorded at Buffy’s home in Hawaii and then delivered from there to Chrysalis Records’ studio in London.

Of the groundbreaking recording process of the album, Buffy says:

It was the first album ever done this way, I’m told. I recorded everything in Hawaii. First we sent the midi tracks—we sent them by modem, bounced them off the satellite, they went on tape in London. Then we did further overdubs in London because the record company was so nervous about doing something like this, they had already booked a studio. They very much wanted to be in on the mixes, so we did the mixes there. But for the most part all of the pre-production was done in Hawaii, almost all of the vocals, some overdubs in Canada, and again we sent it up using the new technology.

In reviewing Coincidence and Likely Stories, one critic notes that Buffy’s “hippy/beatnik folk sound of the sixties and the anti-war movement [has] matured into an eclectic mixture of country, rock, and American Indian music. While New Age flutists and ‘Indian-aware’ grunge artists struggle to appropriate the American Indian musical tradition, Sainte-Marie has integrated the sound into the mainstream of popular music as successfully as Paul Simon brought us the music and musicians of Brazil and South Africa.” Another reviewer remarked on the album’s “classy and discreet treatments [and] bitter lyrics.”

Yet the album also contains lyrics of hope — as evidenced, for instance, in “Getting Started.” On this particular track, Buffy, while acknowledging loneliness and isolation, also sings of the possibility of something “wild and unique” – a journey of human consciousness where “love’s the magic number,” and where together “we’re only getting started.”

Upon its release in 1992, Coincidence and Likely Stories garnered Buffy numerous accolades. France, for instance, named her Best International Artist and presented her with the Grand Prix Charles de Gaulle Award.

Commenting on the album’s lack of success in the U.S., Buffy has simply remarked: “Coincidence and Likely Stories was a big hit in Europe, won best international artist and lots of wonderful accolades, but it was never heard in the U.S.”

I first heard about the album through a British music magazine not long after its release in 1992. I was living in Australia at the time and so special ordered it through my local music store. Upon its arrival I can well remember sitting and listening to it late into the night. I thought at the time it was an incredible album - a great album. I still do.

Since relocating to the U.S. in 1994 I’ve seen Buffy twice in concert – and once even got to meet and talk with her backstage. She is a very warm and engaging person. And of course I still have the program she autographed for me!

Buffy’s latest album is entitled Running for the Drum. It comes with a bonus DVD that beautifully documents her life as an artist, activist, and educator. I highly recommend it.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Official Website
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Mouthbows to Cyberskins
Buffy Sainte-Marie UK
Beyond Images of Women and Indians: Straight-talk from a Cree Icon - Brenda Norrell (Censored News, 1999/2008).