Thursday, July 30, 2009


Last night my housemate Brian and I watched Tarsem Singh’s visually mesmerizing and highly entertaining film, The Fall. One particular scene, a wedding scene, featured whirling dervishes, which prompts me tonight to continue my series of posts on Sufism by sharing an excerpt from Neil Douglas-Klotz’s The Sufi Book of Life: Ninety-Nine Pathways of the Heart for the Modern Dervish.

This particular excerpt focuses on the Arabic word bismillah, a word that Sufis often recite when beginning something new, and which may well speak to those of you reading this who feel called to embark on some inner or outer quest.


When we begin anything new, much is unknown. We have plans, but will they work out? Can we be fully ourselves and still connect deeply with others? Is it possible to keep changing and growing, yet still maintain friendships and relationships over time? Each decision to love, to pursue something passionately, means a step into the unknown.

When we take time to meditate, or breathe momentarily in silence at the beginning of each day or year, each new job or relationship, we confront the unknown. This requires courage and heart. The Sufis often begin something new by breathing the Arabic word bismillah, which can be translated poetically:

We begin by remembering
the sound and feeling of the One Being,
the wellspring of love.
We affirm that the next thing we experience
shimmers with the light of the whole universe.

If we look at the world this way, then the reason we exist – and the reason to begin any journey – is to bring out our full humanity, the unique flavor that we alone can offer to the universe’s still-cooking stew. According to the twelfth-century Sufi poet

Every being is born for a certain purpose,
and the light of that purpose is kindled in its soul.

Yet as physicists now tell us, we are inseparably linked to everything in the cosmos. We cannot do without each other. So how do we balance an individual with being in a relationship?

Our individuality is a unique gift. Yet, the Sufi would say that the origin of this gift lies within the heart of the equally unique, divine “I Am” that fills the whole cosmos. Every blade of grass says, “I am!” as it expresses its selfhood. We can affirm that we can become fully integrated, fully human beings, deeply in contact with other people, with nature, and with the ultimate Source. It is yet another way of saying “bismillah!”

To the Sufi, each of these pathways is really like an e-mail address of the Beloved, which all go to the same in-box. Of course, the feelings, names, and qualities of the Sacred are really limitless. But finding ourselves capable of a hundred or so different feelings and responses to life is a good start toward self-knowledge and, ultimately, greater joy and fulfillment.

Interestingly, Douglas-Klotz also notes that:

Traditional translations of bismillah are “in the name of God” or “with the name of Allah.” From its roots, the word means, literally, “with, along with, or within (B) the sound, atmosphere, name, or light (SM) of Unity or the One Being (ALLAH).” In the Aramaic version of the Gospels, Jesus uses a similar expression when he mentions praying “in my name” (b’sheme), which can also mean “with my sound or atmosphere.” He points to a way of prayer native to the Middle East: If I bring myself into the same rhythm of breath or movement as a teacher or guide, that person becomes a door to reconnect me to the remembrance of sacred unity. . . . [And] when we remember to connect our heart to the Heart of the Cosmos, we recall that, as the Sufis say, “God is your lover, not your jailer.”

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
In the Garden of Spirituality – Doris Lessing
The Sufi Way
Oh, Yeah!
A Living Twenty-First Century Tradition
In the Garden of Spirituality – Geoffrey Robinson

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Mysterious Potential Hiding in Our Pain
- Tom Esch (The Progressive Catholic Voice, April 2008).
Pope Quotes Chardin on the Cosmos as Living Host - Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, July 29, 2009).

Images: The Fall.

A Surprising Finding Regarding Catholics and Gay Marriage

States with more Catholics more favor gay rights

Yesterday’s “Faith and Reason” section of USA Today began with the following:

Want to predict which state might move next to legalize same-sex marriage? You might count Catholics. The higher their percentage of the population, the more likely the state is to support gay rights.

Yes, I was surprised too – pleasantly, I should add.

We can thank Mark Silk, a political scientist who mashed together a new study on gay rights and public policy with a statistical breakdown of U.S. religion, for articulating this surprising finding. And, according to Silk, for the finding itself, we can thank the Roman Catholic Church’s “pervasive message of social justice” – an umbrella that many Catholics stand under when they argue for marriage equality.

To read the USA Today article in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Misplaced Priorities of the Catholic Church in Maine
A Call to Emphasize Catholicism’s “Sweet Spot”

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How Walter Cronkite Became a "Bridge Between the Gay Movement and Major Media"

Yesterday, my friend Rick alerted me to an article about the late U.S. broadcaster Walter Cronkite. It’s an article that tells such a great story that it’s worth reprinting in its entirety (complete with video link and a couple of added pictures). Enjoy!


How Do You Turn Walter Cronkite
Into a Friend of Gay Rights? Zap Him.

By Edward Alwood
Washington Post
Sunday, July 26, 2009

Walter Cronkite’s illustrious career is remembered for the historic events he covered, from the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. to the moon landing and the Vietnam War. But Cronkite also reported on burgeoning social movements, including the struggle for gay liberation. After becoming a target of that movement, Cronkite would become a behind-the-scenes ally.

Following the Stonewall [uprising] in 1969, as the nascent gay rights movement became increasingly combative, a gay Philadelphia teenager initiated his own guerrilla war aimed at television, including the CBS Evening News. Nineteen-year-old Mark Segal became angry when he and a male friend were thrown out of a television dance program one August afternoon in 1972 after the program’s host saw them dancing together. In retaliation, Segal barged into the studio of Philadelphia’s WPVI a few days later during its evening newscast. Startled studio personnel wrestled him to the floor, tied his hands with a microphone cable and called the police.

Segal became a walking terror with his “zaps,” as they were called. In 1973, his targets included The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and The Mike Douglas Show. He and a friend staged their last and most notorious zap when they posed as college students and obtained passes for the CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite. Midway through the broadcast on Dec. 11, 1973, as Cronkite began a story about Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Segal darted in front of the camera with a sign reading “Gays Protest CBS Prejudice.”

“I sat on Cronkite’s desk directly in front of him and held up the sign while the technicians furiously ran after me and wrestled me to the floor and wrapped me in wire – on camera,” he recalled in an interview. “The network went black while they took us out of the studio.”

Ever the professional, Cronkite reported on the event. “Well, a rather interesting development in the studio here – a protest demonstration right in the middle of the CBS News studio,” Cronkite told viewers. He later explained: “The young man was identified as a member of something called Gay Raiders, an organization protesting alleged defamation of homosexuals on entertainment programs.” Segal was charged with trespassing.

Cronkite may have been more startled when Segal’s attorney tried to serve him with a subpoena to testify. After CBS attorneys blocked repeated attempts to deliver the document, Segal’s lawyer informed the network of a little-used New York law that made photocopies of a subpoena as valid as an original. He threatened to make copies available to the Hells Angels, with a reward for anyone who served the subpoena. Faced with the prospect of having Cronkite stalked by gay activists and bikers, CBS lawyers relented.

When the trial began in April 1974, Cronkite took the stand, but CBS lawyers objected each time Segal’s lawyer posed a question. During a recess, Segal felt a tap on his shoulder. “Why did you do that?” Cronkite asked about the incident in the studio.

“You’re news censors,” Segal responded. The anchorman was appalled. “If I can prove it,” Segal then asked, “would you do something to change it?” He cited three examples, including a CBS report on the second rejection of a gay rights bill by the New York City Council. “Yes, I believe I wrote that story myself,” Cronkite said.

“Well, why haven’t you reported on the 23 other cities that have passed gay rights bills?” Segal asked. “Why do you cover 5,000 women walking down Fifth Avenue in New York City when they proclaim International Women’s Year on the network news, and you do not cover 50,000 gays and lesbians walking down that same avenue proclaiming Gay Pride Day? That’s censorship.” Genuinely moved, Cronkite shook Segal’s hand and thanked him.

The judge slapped Segal with a $450 fine. At the same time, Segal realized that his celebrity status was becoming a distraction. “I began to wonder if they were using me or I was using them – I was not quite sure,” he remembered. “After the Cronkite zap, the message began to get lost in the commotion. It began to look to me very unsavory.”

Nevertheless, Segal’s tactics paid off. Cronkite arranged meetings at CBS where Segal could voice his complaints to the top management. On May 6, 1974, Cronkite’s newscast featured a segment on gay rights.

“Part of the new morality of the ’60s and ’70s is a new attitude toward homosexuality,” Cronkite told his audience. “The homosexual men and women have organized to fight for acceptance and respectability. They’ve succeeded in winning equal rights under the law in many communities. But in the nation’s biggest city, the fight goes on, with the city council due to vote on the matter again this week.”

Reports on the status of gay rights in various cities followed, with one CBS correspondent pointing out 10 cities that had passed legal protections for gays and reporting that similar laws were under consideration in at least four others. At a New York luncheon 34 years later, I asked Cronkite about the zapping incident. “Oh, yes,” he said with a smile and twinkle in his eye. “I remember that.”

Meanwhile, Segal established his own newspaper in 1975, the Philadelphia Gay News, and remains its publisher today.

“He was the kind of man who believed in human rights for everyone,” Segal said of Cronkite. “I am amazed and humbled by his willingness to reach out to me. He was a bridge between the gay movement and major media. We remained friends, and it was a privilege knowing him.”

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Mainstream Voice of “Dear Abby” Supports Gay Marriage
The Real Gay Agenda
Naming and Confronting Bigotry
Frank Rich on the “Historic Turning Point in the Demise of America’s Anti-Gay Movement”
A Simple Yet Radical Act

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In the Garden of Spirituality – Geoffrey Robinson

“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 religion and spirituality continues with an excerpt from Roman Catholic Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus.


It is God’s will that every single human being, regardless of age, gender, color, race, caste, religion, or sexual orientation, should grow to become all she or he is capable of being. In this way the human race as a whole can grow to become all it is capable of being.

In harmony and to the extent possible for each individual, we are called to develop our potential in seven areas: physical, intellectual, emotional, social, artistic, moral, and spiritual. By doing this, we learn to use to the full all the gifts God has given us to help our world to grow.

To help us to do this, God invites us to share in an eternal plan of life in all its fullness through the reign of God within our hearts.

Which particular path we walk in seeking this eternal plan, Jewish or Christian or Muslim, Catholic or Orthodox or Protestant, is important, but the sincerity of our search is even more important.

We constantly live the tension that we must both walk humbly with others, and at the same time find our individual way to God by taking personal responsibility for the choices we make.

A path to God is authentic if it eventually forces us to find God in the very depths of our own being. Within the Christian community the real authority of any person is directly proportional to the integrity and authenticity of this experience of God within one’s own depths.

It is persons, not religions, that God loves. God is happy when persons of any or no religion do things that help others, saddened when they do things that harm others, and loves all of them always, whatever they do.

For more of Geoffrey Robinson’s insights, see the previous Wild Reed post:
An Australian Bishop’s “Radical” Call for Reform

Others highlighted in The Wild Reed’s “In the Garden of Spirituality” series include: Zainab Salbi, Daniel Helminiak, Rod Cameron, Paul Collins, Joan Chittister, Toby Johnson, Joan Timmerman, Uta Ranke-Heinemanm, Caroline Jones, Ron Rolheiser, James C. Howell, Paul Coelho, Doris Lessing, Michael Morwood, Kenneth Stokes, Dody Donnelly, Adrian Smith , Henri Nouwen, L. Patrick Carroll, S.J., Jesse Lava.

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Misplaced Priorities of the Catholic Church in Maine

In a recent online story, Michael Jones questions if the Roman Catholic Church in Maine would rather spend money to end marriage equality within the civil arena than save its own parishes from financial ruin.

Jones is the Communications Director for the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School, and previously was Communications Director for Pax Christi USA, a progressive Catholic human rights organization.

Following is Jones’
article in its entirety.


In the wake of Maine’s same-sex marriage laws, a handful of anti-LGBT activists have launched a campaign to kill marriage equality, and the state’s [Roman] Catholic Church has taken the lead in these efforts. The Catholic Diocese of Maine, in fact, gave $100,000 toward efforts to defeat marriage equality, and the Diocese’s main communications guy, Marc Mutty, is a leading spokesperson for the anti-LGBT movement in Maine.

Above: Not happy campers: Mark Mutty, director of public affairs for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland (left) and Mike Heath, executive director the Maine Family Policy Council attend a marriage equality press conference in the Hall of Flags at the Statehouse in Augusta - January 2009. (Photo: Joe Phelan)

Here’s an interesting
fact, though: While the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine gave $100,000 to bash the rights of gays and lesbians, they also had to close two parishes in Lewiston, Maine, as well as fire employees at Trinity Catholic School. The reason for the parish closings and the firing of Catholic school employees? Declining revenue.

Maybe, just maybe, the Catholic Diocese of Portland should stop spending money on anti-LGBT campaigns, and instead spend a little money taking care of their own. Instead, they’re hemorrhaging money toward an effort to beat back civil rights, while churches are forced to close and Catholic school employees get fired. Talk about misplaced priorities.

Mutty, the anti-LGBT spokesperson from the Diocese, even seemingly admitted that people might start to question the priorities of the Catholic Church. Here’s a quote from the Sun Journal in Maine from Mutty:

There’s no question that some would say that it’s a shame we have to spend this kind of money on this kind of issue when we should be spending it on the poor or those kinds of things.

Here’s a memo to Mutty: not only would some people say it’s misdirected to spend this type of money on denying rights to gays and lesbians instead of on initiatives for the poor, but Jesus himself would have likely said the same thing, too.

The Catholic Church isn’t the only one guilty of this, either. Focus on the Family, which has already had to lay off more than 20 percent of its staff, has found a way to funnel more than $30,000 into Maine to blast marriage equality.

Despite the fact that the Catholic Church, Focus on the Family, and other national organizations have raised more than $300,000 for their discriminatory campaign, only $400 has been raised from actual Maine citizens to defeat marriage equality. So it sure seems that while national groups throw money into Maine, the state’s actual citizens aren’t backing them up with resources from their own pocketbook. Might that be a sign that these national organizations and the Catholic Church are out of step with Maine’s population on the issue of marriage equality?

Recommended Off-site Link:
Maine Freedom to Marry

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
A Call to Emphasize Catholicism’s Sweet Spot
Maine Becomes Fifth State to Allow Same-Sex Marriage
“We Can Make it Happen” - Sen. John Marty on Marriage Equality in Minnesota
The Same People
Love is Love
The Changing Face of “Traditional Marriage”
Separate is Not Equal
Love and Justice in the Heartland
A Mother’s Request to President Obama: Full Equality for My Gay Son
Marriage Equality in Massachusetts: Five Years On

Robert Caruso's Scholarly Introduction to Old Catholicism

I take the opportunity today to share a review by local writer Elaine Klaassen of my friend Robert Caruso’s recently released book on Old Catholicism.

But first a bit of background information: I first met Robert, who serves as pastor at Cornerstone Old Catholic Community in St. Paul, when he presided at a Dignity Twin Cities liturgy in July 2007. (He’s pictured at right with Dignity president Brian McNeill, center, and Dignity member Jeanne Cornish.)

Finding myself intrigued by Old Catholicism, I accepted Bob’s invitation to attend, later that summer, both a conference on Old Catholicism in Collegeville, MN, and Cornerstone Old Catholic Community’s annual retreat on the shores of Clear Lake (left). It was around this time that I asked Robert if I could interview him for The Wild Reed. He happily obliged, granting me an extensive and insightful interview (which can be found here). We’ve been friends ever since that summer two years ago.

Earlier this year, Robert and his partner John hosted a wonderful “Passover seder meal for Christians” (right) – to which I, my housemate Brian, and my friend Kay were invited. More recently, Robert shared his thoughts on The Wild Reed about the Rainbow Sash presence at the Cathedral of St. Paul, and presided at a Mass in my home for members and friends of Cornerstone Old Catholic Community.

Robert’s currently completing his Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Religion and Theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, and has just had his first book published, The Old Catholic Church: Understanding the Origin, Essence, and Theology of a Church that is Unknown and Misunderstood by Many in North America (Apocryphile Press, 2009), described as “one of the most well researched and perceptive expositions of Old Catholic ecclesiology in the English language.”

Earlier this month, Bob’s scholarly book was reviewed by Elaine Klaassen for the Minneapolis neighborhood newspaper Southside Pride. Following is Klaassen’s review.


New Book on Old Catholic Church
Explores Nature of Church

By Elaine Klaassen
Southside Pride
July 2009

Bob Caruso, that is Rev. Robert Caruso, or Fr. Bob, has written a book called The Old Catholic Church: Understanding the Origin, Essence, and Theology of a Church that is Unknown and Misunderstood by Many in America. The book, which is part of the Independent Catholic Heritage Series published by Apocryphile Press in Berkeley, California, has been available in bookstores and online since June 1.

In the book, Caruso is not talking about the day-to-day level of church concerns. And he is not interested in church as a sociological or anthropological phenomenon, but rather as a theological and visionary, if not mystical, entity. He is talking specifically about the Old Catholic Church and its vision of what being church means. He’s saying that church mirrors the mystical body of Christ.

The book is scholarly and theological, so don’t feel bad if you need to keep your dictionary handy. Get used to terms like “eucharistic ecclesiology.” Although the book is not easy to read, and you have to use your imagination to envision what would be the tangible manifestation of the theology, it’s worth the trouble. Only briefly does he cite concrete outcomes, such as the ordination of women and the blessing of homosexual relationships. I asked him about the sharing of earthly goods, and he said the theology could easily lead to that. Bob says, “Theology is not understandable except as lived in the church.”

Five short chapters and many pages of footnotes will get you started in your understanding of the Old Catholic Church. Caruso’s ardor is present on every page.

In chapter one, he covers the historical developments that led to the Declaration of Utrecht in 1889, in Holland, a document that describes the theological consensus of a consortium of autonomous Catholic churches who differed with Rome and gradually became known as the Old Catholic Church. One of their main differences was that they rejected the theological doctrine of the pope’s infallibility. They also longed to recapture the theology of the early church, an essence that all Christian bodies could embrace; they fostered an ecumenical consciousness.

Chapter two is a soaring outpouring that outlines what the church truly is. These are the distinguishing characteristics of the Old Catholic Church: The reality of love and freedom that exists in the relationship within the Trinity is present. The body is conciliar (open to discussion in groups, where everyone has a voice), dynamic (nothing is set in stone), relational and organic – the opposite of institutional, imperial, and sovereign. There is shared authority among the laity, clergy, and bishops.

The first two chapters support Caruso’s argument in chapter three that independent Old Catholic groups in North America are not aligned with the Union of Utrecht. He writes, “There are some who still insist that a reliable Old Catholic church in North America exists, however, this claim is not based on reason but exists rather in the realm of illusion. Old Catholicism is fairly new to North America, and its history in the U.S. is complex to state the least.”

Bob discovered the Old Catholic Church online at a time when he realized the Roman Catholic Church, in which he was raised, and with whom he studied for the priesthood, would never accept him as a gay man. The idea for the book came about when he started researching Old Catholicism and became aware of the limited information about it available in English, and the inaccuracy of much of it. According to his perceptions based on his research, only the Union of Utrecht is authentically Old Catholic. “Old Catholic history has been distorted and inaccurately represented for a very long time in North America by many self-published authors,” he writes.

Bob considers his book an introductory work. His goal was to create a foundational book, to present Old Catholicism in an authentic light, paving the way for further scholarship on the subject. “It hasn’t been presented like this in English,” he said. He wants other scholars to “take the work seriously and move it forward.”

He plans to finish his Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Religion and Theology at United Theological Seminary in New Brighton by 2012. He is ordained for the Cornerstone Old Catholic Community in St. Paul, where he presides at Eucharist and makes pastoral visits.

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
The Old Catholic Church: Catholicism Beyond Rome
The Declaration of Utrecht
Robert Caruso on the Pentecost Rainbow Sash Presence at the Cathedral

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Allure of St. Sebastian

I’ve always been intrigued by the appeal of St. Sebastian to some gay men. I mean, I get the whole young, good-looking, male bit, but . . . the guy is being pierced by arrows!

And, yes, I also get the idea that the arrows are metaphors for the penis, but the type of sex that their penetration of poor Sebastian implies is rather brutish and far from mutual. The guy’s basically being raped - gang raped.

Regardless, in his book Sanctity and Male Desire: A Gay Reading of Saints, Donald L. Boisvert claims that aspects of St. Sebastian’s iconography make him a “compelling . . . homoerotic ideal.” To be honest I have issues with aspects of Boisvert’s “reading” of Sebastian - one which by his own admission stems from his “decidedly fetishistic gaze” on the saint.

Boisvert writes, for instance, that:

It is Sebastian’s physicality, above all, that captures one’s attention. Here is the male body at its most beautiful and erotic ravaged by arrows - unambiguous symbols of phallic power and dominance - but still translucent and desirable in its grace and elegance. Here are stark death and sadism, but ennobled to the point of sexual hunger. Here is the martyred military saint who feeds (and affirms) our fantasies about swarthy Roman legionnaires. Here is male desire in its simplest and most eloquent manifestation, at once victimized and glorified. The image of St. Sebastian carries a complex symbolism having to do with hunger of men for men and its necessary corollary of power and pain.

So much of this just causes me to roll my eyes. But hang on a minute . . . power and pain are
necessarily the consequences of gay male sexual desire and experience?

It seems to me that it’s this type of presupposition that undergirds that self-oppressive tendency of many gay men to rigidly separate and define themselves as either a “top” or a “bottom.” Accordingly, it’s also a presupposition that reminds me of the four statements that Carl Wittman, in his 1970 gay manifesto, identified as “anti-gay perversions”:

- I like to make it with straight guys.
- I’m not gay but I like to be “done.”
- I like to fuck but I don’t want to be fucked.
- I don’t like to be touched above the neck.

According to Wittman, these types of statements and the attitudes and presupposition that underlie them collectively comprise “role playing at its worst.” He is adamant that as gay men we must transcend these roles and strive for “democratic, mutual, reciprocal sex.” Such sex, of course, undermines the contention that power and pain are the natural consequences of gay male sexual desire. (A point I attempt to explore in Part 4 of The Journals of James Curtis.)

I’m also troubled when people unquestioningly equate (explicitly or implicitly) the male penis with a phallic symbol of power and dominance. I recall Susan Bordo’s insightful comments on this issue in her fascinating book, The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private:

The erect penis is often endowed with a tumescent consciousness that is bold, unafraid, at the ready. Gay art and literature and both straight and gay pornography are throbbing with such descriptions . . .

[A] lot of our ideas about the penis clearly come not from anatomical fact but from our cultural imagination . . . Most of our metaphors for the penis . . . turn it into some species of dildo: stiff torpedoes, wands, and rods that never get soft, always perform. These metaphors . . . may be a defense against fears of being too soft, physically and emotionally. But at the same time as these metaphors “defend” men as they joke with each other in bars or – more hatefully – act as a misogynist salve for past or imaginary humiliations, they also set men up for failure.

For men don’t really have torpedoes or rods or heroic avengers between their legs. They have penises. And penises, like the rest of the human body and unlike dildoes, feel things. . . .

And, of course, once we become aware of the feeling potential of the whole person (penis included), we’re navigating our lives and relationships into that wonderful territory wherein we’re invited to recognize and integrate both our feminine and masculine energies. The “power and dominance” of the phallus has no place in such an integrated life - a life Lao Tzu described beautifully when he said: “Knowing the masculine and nurturing the feminine you become the river of all beneath heaven.”

Okay, I’m a little bit off track from my focus on St. Sebastian. Accordingly, to conclude, I’ll share an interesting excerpt from Vittorio Lingiardi’s 2002 book, Men in Love: Male Homosexualities from Ganymede to Batman. As you’ll see, Lingiardi offers a somewhat more sophisticated reading of St. Sebastian and his connection and/or appeal to gay men than does Boisvert.


. . . [The] “mystical slaughter of Christ” – an image Pier Paolo Pasolini would have most certainly appreciated – makes its appearance in the homosexual imagination by way of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian, a Christian figure with distinctly pagan aspects. . . .

“Because he waits for them at the doors to Paradise and intercedes for them, gay men depend upon St. Sebastian,” says Dominique Fernandez matter-of-factly of the centuries of homosexual iconography that grew up surrounding this third-century Roman officer. A native of Narbonne who converted to Christianity during Diocletian’s persecution of Christians, Sebastian was sentenced to be killed by the arrows of his fellow soldiers.

In the oldest extant monuments of him, his image resembles Senex, as in the seventh-century mosaic in St. Peter in Chains in Rome, where he appears as a bearded, older looking man wearing a tunic, palatine chlamys, and a bejeweled crown. From the Renaissance on, however, Sebastian would take quite a different appearance, becoming instead a handsome, naked young man, tied to a column or a tree, pieced through with arrows.

The true story behind Sebastian’s legend is, naturally, more complicated, for it seems that he died, not from the wounds of the arrows but rather from a subsequent stoning. One popular image for the plague that struck Rome during the seventh century was that of God unleashing the epidemic upon the world as an archer unleashes a volley of arrows, and so, in this connection, Sebastian, who survived his arrows, came to be used in altarpieces as a sort of talisman against the plague. Whether portrayed as a fragile adolescent, as by Memling and Botticelli or as an homage to a more athletic type of male beauty, as by Mantegna and Titian, Sebastian became an emblem of physical perfection and the redemptive aspect of suffering.

For a depiction of the male form as sacred, the Sebastian of Antonello da Messina [left], Guido Reni, Sodoma, and Perugino are without peer. Transformed thus from robust Pretorian into a guard against pestilence, Sebastian’s physical representation progressively softens throughout the Renaissance until he eventually comes to represent that inevitable, masochistic* connection between beauty, pain, and ecstasy so appreciated by a gay sensibility.

After being released from prison, Oscar Wilde adopted the name Sebastian Melmoth. In Death in Venice, St. Sebastian symbolized “an intellectual and virginal manliness, which clenches its teeth and stands in modest defiance of the swords and spears that piece its side” (Mann 1958, p.11). Throughout Remembrance of Things Past, a number of passages are explicitly inspired by Sebastian, such as the description of Legrandin, “his mouth, set in a bitter grimace, was the first to recover, and smiled, while his eyes, remained full of pain, like the eyes of a handsome martyr whose body bristles with arrows” (Proust 1981, Swann’s Way, vol. 1, pp. 138-39).

In the motif of St. Sebastian, one can perceive an exasperated, “hedonistic pessimism,” an awareness of the precariousness of existence and the fragility of things, all of which are precursors to that mournful, voluptuous abandonment of oneself to ecstasy. In this, Sebastian is the spiritual brother of St. Teresa of the flagellated Christ. . . .

As a means for spiritual elevation, the arrow is an important symbol in many shamic initiation rites. Near the Patwin River in North America, the initiate’s navel had to be pierced by an arrow. In Chile, the initiator pierces the neophyte with a rod that “entering at his stomach, emerged by his spine without drawing blood or causing pain. The Toba shamans receive full in the chest a rod which pierces them like a rifle ball” (Eliade 1964, p. 54). Nor is this motif unknown to Christian mystics. St. Teresa, in her passion for the fiery spear brandished by the Angel, called for her Divine Love with the words, “Kill me, let me die.” . . .

A”homosexual” impulse of sorts runs through all mystics who invoke Christ as lover – Origen and John of the Cross, as well as Genet and Pasolini. Whether in the form of Cupid’s darts, Sebastian’s arrow, the flaming spear that penetrates Teresa, the sharp talons of the eagle who clutches Ganymede, the nail that pieces the hands and feet of Christ, or the torment of the Platonic soul sprouting wings, one insight is clear: blinding pain is unavoidable when God is revealed to us in love.

* Writes Lingiardi: “In the Judeo-Christian tradition, masochism and homosexuality, individually or together, have tended to be the Trojan horses of a sort and have managed to sneak sexuality past the gates of the institutional church. It is not hard to perceive manifestations of what Jung called the ‘religious instinct’ in such literally enacted masochistic behaviors as kneeling, praying, kissing feet, carrying the cross, receiving the stigmata, choosing martyrdom, and dying on the cross.”

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Sometimes I Wonder
Officially Homophobic, Intensely Homoerotic
The Inherent Sensuality of Roman Catholicism
The Archangel Michael as Gay Icon
The Holy Pleasure of Intimacy
Gay People and the Spiritual Life
What Is It That Ails You?

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Gay Male Quest for Democratic, Mutual, and Reciprocal Sex (Part 1) - The Leveret, August 7, 2008.
The Gay Male Quest for Democratic, Mutual, and Reciprocal Sex (Part 2) - The Leveret, August 17, 2008.

Image 1: Rick Herold.
Image 2: A still from Derek Jarman’s 1976 film Sebastiane.
Image 3: Giovanni Bazzi Sodoma.
Image 4: Antonello Da Messina.
Image 5: Guido Reni.
Image 6: Vahan Bego.
Image 7: Oscar Magnan.
Image 8: Another still from Sebastiane.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Catholic Right's Era of "Constructive Schism"

Having recently been labeled a “heretic” by one local blogger, I found Frank Cocozzelli’s recent article about the two main factions of right-wing Catholics and their efforts to “evict those who disagree with them by treating them like unruly tenants,” to be very instructive.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of Part 1 of Cocozzelli’s “The Catholic Right’s Art of Constructive Schism.”


The Vatican has been moving to the right since the ascendancy of Pope John Paul II in 1978. During this time open-mind bishops and cardinals have been replaced by increasingly strident confrontational conservatives and traditionalists. Independent-minded clergy such as the former Bishop Francis Mugavero are replaced by dogmatists such as Archbishop Raymond Burke and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver who do not hesitate to use the sacrament of Communion as a divisive political weapon.

The church that has emerged from this era is more authoritarian, treating new ideas or fresh insights as inherently threatening to faith itself. For example, such matters as women’s ordination, embryonic stem cell research, or the inclusion of the LGBT faithful, are likely to lead to charges of heresy and may lead to excommunication. Even if you write an academic thesis wherein you dare suggest Scripture has a more feminine view of God, you can be fired from your parish job.

This era of constructive schism is the reverse of the great schisms of the Protestant Reformation – where the reformers willfully left and set up their own denomination. Today, the self-appointed landlords of the Catholic Right are attempting to evict those who disagree with them by treating them like unruly tenants.

This is mainly being carried out by two factions of right-wing Catholics, one neo-conservative and the other a more traditional group commonly known as “paleos.” And while they both seek to move the Catholic Church rightward, their political goals significantly differ.

Both factions tend to comprise traditionalists who frequently bemoan the reforms of Vatican II in the 1960s, (and especially pine for the return of the Latin Mass.) They also agree on biological issues: abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality and stem cell research. They derive their views from natural law – but with a slight difference: While Catholic Paleos draw upon certain Enlightenment-era thinkers (Edmund Burke, for example), the Neos will reach further back to the Classic Greek teachings of Plato and others for prescribing societal order.

Cocozzelli then proceeds to describe one of the Paleo faction’s “key players,” Opus Dei’s Rev. C. John McCloskey (pictured at right).

Writes Cocozzelli:

A few years ago, McCloskey wrote about his dream Church of 2030, free of moderates and dissenters:

As you may have learned, there were approximately 60 million nominal Catholics at the beginning of the Great Jubilee at the turn of the century. You might ask how we went from that number down to our current 40 million. I guess the answer could be, to put it delicately, consolidation. It is not as bad as it looks. In retrospect it can be seen that only approximately 10% of the sixty or so were “with the program.” (Please excuse the anachronism, but I am 77 years old!) I mean to say only 10% that base assented wholeheartedly to the teaching of the Church and practiced the sacraments in the minimal sense of Sunday Mass and at least yearly confession. The rest, as was inevitable, either left the Church, defected to the culture of death, passed away, or in some cases at least for a couple of decades, went to various Christian sects, what remained of mainstream Protestantism or Bible Christianity.

Continuing, McCloskey writes of a future Church in which the “Catholics we do have are better formed, practice their Faith in the traditional sense at a much higher level than ever.” He also gleefully notes: “Dissent has disappeared from the theological vocabulary.” And he sees the remaining faithful’s numbers enhanced by “the influx of hundreds of thousands of Evangelical Protestants.”

It is no accident that those who advocate a smaller more orthodox church are closely aligned with movement conservatism. For example, Catholic League President William Donohue is an adjunct scholar with the Heritage Foundation; pizza-franchise magnet Tom Monaghan bankrolls the laissez-faire inspired Acton Institute as well as orthodox Catholic GOP candidates for public office; Catholic neoconservatives Michael Novak; and the late Richard John Neuhaus co-founded the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) and McCloskey has served on the IRD’s Board of Advisors.

The role of McCloskey and other prominent conservative Catholics in this anti-liberal Protestant agency deeply troubled the late Rev. Dr. Andrew Weaver, a prominent Methodist writer, who called it “the most grievous breach in ecumenical good will between Roman Catholics and Protestants since the changes initiated by Vatican II.” Frederick Clarkson aptly described the central tenet leading to the IRD’s formation as one “. . . intended to divide and conquer-and diminish the capacity of churches to carry forward their idea of a just society in the United States – and the world.” In this way, Catholic elements involved in IRD not only sought to hobble the politically and socially more liberal Protestant Churches, but also to divide what they saw as their main competitors for influence and the direction of the culture.

But while Clarkson and Weaver say that the role of these (and other) Catholic Right leaders in disrupting and dividing mainline Protestantism has been overlooked, we could also say that their role in the constructive schism of Catholicism has been overlooked as well.

To read Part 1 of Frank Cocozzelli’s “The Catholic Right’s Art of Constructive Schism” in its entirety, click here.

Recommended Off-site Link:
The Neo and Paleo Wings of the Catholic Right - Frank Cocozzelli (, May 4, 2009).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Shrinking Catholic Tent
The Catholic Challenge
Rome Falling
“The Real Battle”
Benedict’s Understanding of Church
Hans Küng: “We Are Facing a Structural Problem”
Of Mustard Seeds and Walled Gardens
Dispatches from the Periphery
A Time to Re-think the Basis and Repair the Damage
Staying on Board
Mary Hunt: “Catholicism is a Very Complex Reality”

Apostle to the Apostles

Today is the feast of St. Mary of Magdala, the “Apostle to the Apostles.”

We honor you, Mary of Magdala,
Strong Sister, Loyal Leader,
Determined Disciple, Faithful Friend.
Direct the church again
as we seek to announce
a discipleship of equals
and a world renewed
in the Risen Christ!

Writes Janet McKenzie of her painting, “Apostle to the Apostles” (pictured above and the third panel in her Succession of Mary Magdalene series):

The Gospel of John tells us that the Risen Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and told her “Go to my brothers and tell them I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). She is seen here as in medieval paintings of her as preacher with the characteristic gesture of forefinger raised toward the heavens, proclaiming the Resurrection to Peter and “the one whom Jesus loved.” The Beloved Disciple, who is sometimes understood as a symbol for the Johannine community, is listening to her but Peter is not.

Hmm . . . seems to many of us that “Peter” is still not listening.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Mary of Magdala
Thoughts of The Da Vinci Code
Thoughts on Ordination, Intellectual Dishonesty, and the Holy Spirit of which the Prophet Joel Speaks

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Woman from Magdala - James Martin, S.J. (America, July 22, 2009).
Who Framed Mary Magdalene – Heidi Schlumpf (U.S. Catholic).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gay Bishop Feels "No Diminution of God's Love"

Rejects “objectively disordered” language of the Vatican
to describe homosexuality as “unhelpful, even harmful”

I’ve been hearing good things about A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church, the recently published memoirs of Archbishop Rembert Weakland. Following, for instance, are excerpts from William L. Portier’s July 17 Commonweal review.


Lord Jesus Christ . . . look not on our sins, but on the faith of your church.” During his more than half-century as a priest, Rembert Weakland has prayed these words countless times. After May 23, 2002, when Paul Marcoux appeared on Good Morning America accusing him of “date rape,” he no doubt prayed them with new poignancy.

For most of us sinners, our infidelities remain mercifully shrouded. Despite our transgressions, we keep what used to be called our “good name.” On May 31, 2002, in a rite of public penance, Archbishop Weakland apologized to the clergy and people of Milwaukee “for the scandal that has occurred because of my sinfulness.” Though he convincingly denies the charge of date rape, Weakland admits having broken his vow of celibacy. In a legally defensible but morally dubious decision, he also used diocesan funds to pay Marcoux a $450,000 settlement in 1998. “Did I do what was right, or was I only protecting my own hide?” he continues to ask himself. Marcoux claimed damages, not for “date rape,” but for Weakland’s allegedly hindering him-by criticizing his Christodrama video project-from earning a livelihood. Though the settlement arguably saved the archdiocese a lot of money, it also temporarily protected Weakland’s good name. Then, in May 2002, he lost that as well.

The former abbot primate of the Benedictines, who was architect of the 1986 USCCB pastoral letter Economic Justice for All and one of the leading progressive prelates in the U.S. church, was outed as a homosexual and accused of sexual abuse on national television just as outrage over clerical abuse of children was becoming front-page news across the nation. His personal failings, magnified and distorted, became the stuff of public entertainment. The archbishop was brought low.

Weaker men might have been grateful to slink away in quiet shame. Seven years later, Weakland is back with his memoir, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church. A prologue titled “Broken and Re-Glued” recounts the events of spring 2002. Paradoxically, the scandal allowed him to find release and the freedom “to come to terms with my life as a whole in a spirit of truth and sincerity that had eluded me till then.” Tempering his candor about his loneliness as a bishop and “late sexual awakening” with the reserve characteristic of his generation, he nevertheless speaks openly of his homosexual orientation, refusing to describe it as “objectively disordered,” rejecting such language as “unhelpful, even harmful.” Of his sexual orientation, he says simply, “Either God created me that way or permitted forces beyond my control to make me that way, so I felt no diminution of God’s love. I did not see myself as a person defined by my sexuality.”

. . . Weakland writes movingly of his struggles [during the early-mid 1970s] with loneliness, the consciousness of his sexual orientation, and the celibate vocation. He sees the fundamental choice of this crucial period after the council as between pluralism and inculturation on the one side and curial centralization on the other. In the context of the synods, the question of the nature and authority of national episcopal conferences begins to emerge as central. He portrays Pope Paul VI as increasingly fearful of national churches and anxious to avoid schism. Late in 1977, less than a year before his death, Paul VI named the fifty-year-old Weakland archbishop of Milwaukee.

Sure to draw attention is Weakland’s account of his treatment of Milwaukee priests credibly accused of sexual abuse. Throughout the narrative, he offers a “chronological perspective,” one he finds often lacking in the press, on our society’s shifts from moral to medical to criminal categories in understanding sexual abuse. He argues that by the pivotal year of 1985, the Vatican had tied the hands of national bishops’ conferences to such an extent that the U.S. conference could not enforce its own guidelines. He blames East Coast bishops for failing to follow these guidelines and the Vatican for reluctance to laicize priests even when they were known to be abusers. Victims’ advocates, however, blame Weakland for failures to remove such priests from ministry. The substantial settlement he paid Marcoux only made things worse. Currently there are several cases in Wisconsin claiming “negligent misrepresentation” by the Milwaukee archdiocese during Weakland’s tenure.

His relationship with Paul Marcoux looms over Part III, despite Weakland’s attempt to confine him to the prologue. Their sexual encounter took place in 1979, during Weakland’s first years in Milwaukee. In August 1980, after extortion attempts by Marcoux, Weakland wrote him a letter, seemingly bereft of calculation, telling him, in a moving passage, that “I was letting your conscience take over for me.” At this time, Marcoux was in his early thirties. Nearly twenty years later, in 1997, he reappeared offering to sell Weakland the letter for a million dollars. This led to the legal settlement, not for any form of sexual abuse, but as compensation for Marcoux’s claim that Weakland had interfered with his “ability to earn income.” In spring 2002, a Weakland spokesman told a group of victims of sexual abuse that if they wished to disclose the terms of their settlements, the archbishop had no objection. Marcoux then disclosed the terms of his settlement and entangled their adult homosexual relationship with the sexual abuse of children. Weakland’s disentangling of them is persuasive. But the secrecy is the thing. And it remains troubling on many counts.

This book is worthwhile as autobiography, and for the history Weakland has lived through and written about so well. But most of all it is worthwhile because there is a real Rembert Weakland here. For better and often for worse, he comes out from behind his episcopal role and you recognize him. Those who wish Weakland had gone quietly away might find in his memoir more than a trace of pride - the final gesture, both obstinate and desperate, of a disgraced bishop. Others will find a strong but humbled man of God, a man whose confreres did not err when they found in him the qualities St. Benedict asked of abbots. No doubt the archbishop would agree that pride and godly strength are difficult to untangle, and Weakland ends his tale “with a fervent prayer for God’s gracious love and mercy on such a flawed and grateful pilgrim.”

To read William L. Portier’s review of Weakland’s autobiography in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Weakland, the Sex Abuse Scandal, and Homophobia
Weakland and Cutié: Making the Connections
Homosexuality and the Priesthood
Officially Homophobic, Intensely Homoerotic
The Challenge to Become Ourselves

Recommended Off-site Link:
“Spiritual Paternity”: Why Homosexual Men Cannot Be Ordained Roman Catholic Priests – Paula Ruddy (Progressive Catholic Voice, January 13, 2009).