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    • Gonna Stick My Sword in the Golden Sand September 15, 2014
      Gonna Stick My Sword in the Golden Sand: A Vietnam Soldier's Story has just been released. The title comes from a stanza of the gospel traditional, Down by the Riverside, with its refrain--"Ain't gonna study war no more." Golden Sand is a bold, dark, and intense retelling of the Vietnam experience through the eyes of an army scout that is […]
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      I am pleased and honored that the UCC has asked me to moderate a symposium during the games entitled Queer Christians: Celebrating the Past, Shaping the Future. [[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]
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    • Where Are You? October 26, 2011
      Greetings to all others who grace these pages! Thank you for stopping by. If you still have a reader pointed here, this blog no longer publishes in this location, but can be found at this new link. Please subscribe to the new feed, get the new blog via email or read us by liking us on Facebook or by following me on Twitter.If you want more, please feel free […]
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    • Prayer of the Week November 24, 2014
      'Mid All the Traffic of the Ways'Mid all the traffic of the ways,turmoils without, within,Make in my heart a quiet place,and come and dwell within;A little shrine of quietness,all sacred to thy-self,Where thou shalt all my soul possess,and I may find myself;A little shelter from life's stress,where I may lay me prone,And bare my soul in loneli […]
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    • The Model of Leadership Offered by Jesus: "More Like the Gardener Than the Owner of the Garden" November 23, 2014
      .I've spent a good part of today shifting and sorting through papers and documents dating back to the mid-1990s. In the process I discovered a piece I wrote for the Dignity Twin Cities newsletter in 1997. It was written in response to then-Archbishop Harry Flynn's remark that "the pastor is the head honcho." It's interesting to read […]
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    • Still alive and kicking November 11, 2014
      Prague Noir on a Wintery NightI'm still alive and kicking, as the saying goes. But I've been putting a lot of time into my new book review blog, Crime Scene Reviews. Check it out if crime novels are your cup of arsenic laced tea. And if you want to help out, please vote in the book poll on the site. Both books up for a vote are based on true life i […]
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    • GAY MYSTIC CONNECTICUT November 2, 2014
      Pequot Woods ParkAnd now for a bit of whimsy:One of the results that pops up for Gay Mystic on Google is one called Gay Mystic Map Listings.I-95 Rest AreaAnd here we can find all of the gay cruising areas in Mystic, Connecticut. I never knew there was such a place. Who knew?  To be honest, I've never indulged in this kind of naturistic activity, though […]
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    • 借入しすぎを防ぎたい February 26, 2014
      自分でこれ以上借りないと思っていても、ついつい借りてしまう浪費癖が治らないそれならいっそのこと、借りれなくしてしまえばいいのです。日本貸金業協会の貸付自粛制度とは貸付自粛制度とは、資金需要者が、自らに浪費の習癖があることその他の理由により、自らを自粛対象者とする旨又は親族のうち一定の範囲の者が、金銭貸付による債務者を自粛対象者とする旨を日本貸金業協会に対して申告することにより、日本貸金業協会が、これに対応する情報を個人信用情報機関に登録し、一定期間、当該個人信用情報機関の会員に対して提供する制度です。登録手数料等の費用はかかりません。貸付自粛情報の登録内容氏名 性別 生年月日 住所 自宅電話番号(または携帯電話番号) 勤務先名 勤務先電話番号 貸付自粛情報の登録内容 氏名 性別 生年月日 住所 自宅電話番号(ま […]
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Catholic Theologians’ Discussion on Sexual Morality (Video)

From Catholic for Choice, an excellent 45 minute film on Catholics and Sexual Morality. Watch it at

http://catholicsforchoice.org/secrethistory.asp

Catholics for Choice

“The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholics” features interviews with leading experts in the fields of theology, philosophy and ethics who examine Catholic traditions, teachings and beliefs on the following key issues:

Abortion & Contraception
HIV & AIDS
Sex & Sexuality
New Reproductive Health Technologies
Religion in Public Policy

Leading American Catholic theologians take part in this discussion: Mary Hunt, Dan Maguire, Anthony Padovano, Rosemary Radford Reuther, and including British-born Sheila Briggs, now working in the USA.

The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholics from Catholics for Choice on Vimeo.

The Lay OBLIGATION to Discuss Women’s Ordination

We are all too familiar with the Vatican insistence that not only is women’s ordination impossible, but that even discussion of the subject is not permitted.

Others disagree. In  a hard-hitting editorial, the National Catholic Reporter argues strongly that not only do we have that right, but lay Catholics at least have an obligation to discuss this, at every possible opportunity, and in every available forum.

We must speak up in every forum available to us: in parish council meetings, faith-sharing groups, diocesan convocations and academic seminars. We should write letters to our bishops, to the editors of our local papers and television news channels.

-   National Catholic Reporter.

How do they get to this unfamiliar conclusion, so at odds with the familiar Vatican line?

The voice of the faithful

The starting point, the spark that lit their fuse, was the Nov. 19 press release announcing Roy Bourgeois’ “excommunication, dismissal and laicization”, for his role in encouraging and assisting the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement, and in particular one notable assertion:

The most egregious statement in the  is the assertion that Bourgeois’ “disobedience” and “campaign against the teachings of the Catholic church” was “ignoring the sensitivities of the faithful.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Bourgeois, attuned by a lifetime of listening to the marginalized, has heard the voice of the faithful and he has responded to that voice.

Bourgeois brings this issue to the real heart of the matter. He has said that no one can say who God can and cannot call to the priesthood, and to say that anatomy is somehow a barrier to God’s ability to call one of God’s own children forward places absurd limits on God’s power. The majority of the faithful believe this.

The voice of scripture

So, one part of the NCR critique rests on the observation that women’s ordination has the support of the faithful. This is important in itself, and I return to it later. But there’s another part to the argument – that the Vatican claim to rest on a firm foundation in Scripture is unsound:

In October 1995, the doctrinal congregation acted further, releasing a responsum ad propositum dubium concerning the nature of the teaching in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: “This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.” The ban on women’s ordination belongs “to the deposit of the faith,” the responsum said.

However, this claim to be based on the “written word of God” is a recent invention, contradicted by earlier  conclusions of the Pontifical Biblical Society

In April 1976 the Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded unanimously: “It does not seem that the New Testament by itself alone will permit us to settle in a clear way and once and for all the problem of the possible accession of women to the presbyterate.” In further deliberation, the commission voted 12-5 in favor of the view that Scripture alone does not exclude the ordination of women, and 12-5 in favor of the view that the church could ordain women to the priesthood without going against Christ’s original intentions.

What were “Christ’s original intentions”? We do not know directly from his words or actions, as he neither spoke of ordination, nor ordained anyone: the practice of formal ordination did not begin until well after New Testament times. Rather, the assertion rests on an interpretation, from the fact that only men were included among “the twelve”. There are two objections to this. First, as the women priests movement and others have noted, there certainly were many women prominent in the service of the Church in other capacities. The only person explicitly described in the New Testament as a “deacon” of the church was Phoebe, a woman. Should we conclude from this that only women should be deacons? Other women are also described as “servants” of the church (which is the meaning of the word “deacon”). More controversially, there is another example, Junia, described as “most famous among the apostles” – and Junia appears to have been female. There’s an even more example of women’s inclusion, familiar to all – but we usually miss its significance. In an article prompted by the Church of England failure to approve woman bishops, Tom Wright (former bishop of Durham) notes that

All Christian ministry begins with the announcement that Jesus has been raised from the dead.  And Jesus entrusted that task, first of all, not to Peter, James, or John, but to Mary Magdalene. Part of the point of the new creation launched at Easter was the transformation of roles and vocations: from Jews-only to worldwide, from monoglot to multilingual (think of Pentecost), and from male-only leadership to male and female together.

- quoted at Face2Face blog

And a contribution in the comments thread to that article, adds the important observation that

In the 2nd and 3rd Century church Mary Magdalene was called the “Apostola Apostolorum” (the Apostle of the Apostles) for that very reason Mr. Wright cites.

So, it is not surprising that the Pontifical Biblical Commission should have concluded “that Scripture alone does not exclude the ordination of women” – and the assertion by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI that it does, is simply false.

We must also consider, when evaluating the Biblical evidence, not only the words, but also the context of the time. It is scarcely surprising that only men were included in the twelve: among Jews of the time, as in other Mediterranean societies, men took leadership roles in almost every aspect of life. The really notable feature of Jesus’ example, was not his exclusion of women, but how easily he included them in his circle, and engaged with them in discussions, to a degree that was far more inclusive than was usual for his day. From that perspective, it is unconscionable that the approach to women’s inclusion by the modern Church is not ahead of secular society, but behind it.

 The voice of tradition

The second part of their assertion is that the exclusion of women is “from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church”. But this too, rests on shaky grounds. There is at least some evidence that just as women were named in the New Testament as “servants” of the Church, from the time that formal ordination began, at least a few women were so ordained as priests: and definite evidence that many were ordained as deacons.

The voice of the Magisterium

The third part of the cIlaim, is that

“it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.” The ban on women’s ordination belongs “to the deposit of the faith,” the responsum said.

It is here that NCR brings out what for me is its strongest, most fascinasting argument. We are accustomed to the Vatican claims about “Magisterium” in support of their pronouncements, but I for one am often unclear on what, precisely, constitutes authentic “magisterium” – and what is at bottom, little more than Vatican assertions. NCR reminds us that there are in fact, three magisteria in the church.

Blessed John Henry Newman said that there are three magisteria in the church: the bishops, the theologians and the people. On the issue of women’s ordination, two of the three voices have been silenced, which is why the third voice must now make itself heard.

-   National Catholic Reporter.

We know that many bishops, and rather more theologians outside the ivory towers of the CDF, do not believe that the door should be closed on discussion of women priests, or of married priests – and some would specifically desire to begin with their ordination, at least to the diaconate. Unfortunately, the unbalanced and unjust power structures currently prevailing in the Church makes it difficult or impossible for these people to speak up freely, without seriously endangering their careers and livelihoods.

That places a particular responsibility on the rest of us, those not beholden to the Vatican in material terms, to speak up on their behalf, as well as our own.

I am publicizing this important editorial as widely as I can. I hope you will do the same.

 

Church Reform: Adapting Hans Kung’s 2010 Letter to Bishops

In the British “Call to Action” Google group, Chris McDonnell posted a useful contribution under the heading “Direction and Purpose“, in which he referred to Hans Kung’s 2010 open letter to the bishops, and asked “Does this help us forward?”.

This was my reply:

Does this help? Yes, I think it does – with one qualification. Kung was writing to the bishops, with respect to the worldwide church, and problems with the Vatican in particular. As Call to Action UK, we need to adapt this to our situation – and, mindful of the words of the “Serenity Prayer”, to be mindful of what we can and cannot do.

From Kung’s complete letter, I have extracted his six core recommendations, with comment on how we can adapt them, within the bounds of the possible, to our situation and competence.

 1. Do not keep silent: By keeping silent in the face of so many serious grievances, you taint yourselves with guilt.

This, to me, is what CtoA is all about. If, as was said at the October launch meeting, we are not an “issue” driven movement we should certainly be talking about “the issues” that concern us. There will certainly be disagreements between us on several of these: but we do need to discuss them, and encourage others to discuss them.

We also need to discuss them publicly – I am saddened that so much useful discussion is taking place here, in a closed Google group, and not publicly, in the forums of the main CtA website. (I will cross – post my own contributions, in both).

 2. Set about reform: Too many in the church and in the episcopate complain about Rome, but do nothing themselves.

It is too easy for us to assume that “reform” can be implemented only from above. The lesson of the Arab Spring, and of many other political transformations of recent decades, is that it often begins from below. Each of us has the capacity to initiate reform at some level – even if it’s only reform our own minds, in overcoming excessive and inappropriate deference to church authority.

3. Act in a collegial way

Collegiality is usually spoken of in terms of collegiality between the Vatican and the bishops, or between bishops and clergy. But we can also insist on collegiality at deanery and parish level. (And where we meet resistance from an unco-operative priest, see (1) and (2) above).

4. Unconditional obedience is owed to God alone

This is fundamental. Growing up in apartheid South Africa, educated in Catholic schools, it was drummed into me that obedience to God, justice and conscience took precedence over obedience to unjust laws. I firmly believe that the same principle applies to unjust laws and regulations promulgated by the Vatican. (Benedict XVI, as a young theologian, has said precisely the same thing).

 5. Work for regional solutions

The October launch meeting was a useful start, notable for two features in particular:

  • a strong attendance, in spite of what was really very limited advance publicity.
  • not surprisingly, there was disproportionately strong representation by the London and other South Eastern dioceses, and much weaker turnout from further afield.

We must each work to continue the process, and develop momentum, within our own regions: in our local dioceses, and taken down to deanery and even parish level.

6. Call for a council

I am certain that many of us would agree that we need another council of the whole church, and will happily call for one – but there is little we can do to make it happen. What we can possibly influence, is the creation of local councils: there is provision within existing church rules for diocesan synods. There may come a time when we are ready, at least in some dioceses, to work with the bishops towards such diocesan synods.

Where we are unable to gain the co-operation of the bishops, there could be another strategy: in Minnesota, where progressive – minded Catholics found themselves faced with a particularly conservative and intransigent ordinary who refused to negotiate with them, a group of Catholics set up an independent “Synod of All the Baptized”, for open and public discussion of matters of concern to the church.

That was clearly confrontational, and not necessarily what we want: but it does illustrate that there are different kinds of “councils” and synods. Where we are unable to set up local synods with formal recognition, there are other kinds of public gatherings that we can arrange for ourselves.

Books:

Links to Amazon.com (USA)

Chronicles of a Vatican II Bishop Remi De Roo, 2012

Why the Catholic Church needs Vatican III T.P.O’Mahony

Living beyond Conformity: An Experience of Ministry and Priesthood Owen Hardwicke

Priestless People? New Vision for the Catholic Church Vincent McLaughlin

Off Beam Off Side Off Menu: An Appeal From the Catholic Pews‘ Kevin Clarke 

‘Quo Vadis’ Collegiality in Canon Law Mary McAleese

What Happened at Vatican II John W O’Malley

Links to Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Chronicles of a Vatican II Bishop Remi De Roo, 2012

Why the Catholic Church needs Vatican III T.P.O’Mahony

Living beyond Conformity: An Experience of Ministry and Priesthood Owen Hardwicke

Priestless People? New Vision for the Catholic Church Vincent McLaughlin

Off Beam Off Side Off Menu: An Appeal From the Catholic Pews‘ Kevin Clarke 

‘Quo Vadis’ Collegiality in Canon Law Mary McAleese

 What Happened at Vatican II John W O’Malley

“Theologians’ Revolt” – International Edition

The Catholic Spring has gone global, with the publication of a notable “Jubilee Declaration on Church Authority”, sponsored by a range of top Catholic theologians, from countries on all continents.

That the institutional Catholic Church is in a state of crisis is surely an understatement. It has been widely castigated and scorned for the disclosures of sexual abuse and its grossly inadequate response, including cover-ups and protection of perpetrators. More recently, Vatileaks has uncovered extensive evidence of widespread corruption and financial shenanigans, alongside evidence of political in-fighting in the Vatican bureaucracy. The Catechism rules on sexual ethics, most notably on contraception, but also on masturbation, sex before marriage or after divorce, and on homosexuality are widely ignored – to such an extent that it can reasonable be asked whether they can truly be said to have been received by the faithful, whether they have the sensus fidelium (and if not, they do not have legitimate status as authentic Church teaching). Attempts by the Vatican and national bishops’ conferences to suppress important books by Catholic theologians (“The Sexual Person“, “Just Love” on sexual ethics), or “Jesus: an Historical Approximation” and “Quest for the Living God” on Christology and the nature of God) have had as their most notable result soaring sales. A common thread running through all of this is an unacceptable abuse of power and lack of accountability, by many of the bishops and Vatican officials, in complete contravention of the decisions and declarations at Vatican II in favour of a collegial church, and a Church of all the people.

The spirit of rebellion is most visible in the public resistance to the bishops’ opposition to gay marriage. It is notable that of the countries that currently recognize same – sex marriage, almost all are either substantially Catholic (Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Canada, Argentina, Brazil), or the Lutheran countries of Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark). In the US, parish priests who have refused to disseminate bishops’ letters in opposition, or who have spoken up in favour, have received standing ovations from their congregations, Catholic politicians have been prominent in passing state laws for marriage equality, and opinion polls show overwhelming Catholic support for some form of legal recognition, either as full marriage, or as civil unions. Even in Italy, in at least one parish, same – sex couples take their place alongside others in marriage preparation classes.

Over the past two years, organized rebellion has been spreading. There was the theologians’ revolt in German – speaking countries, when several hundred professional theologians, representing a significant proportion of the total number, signed a public declaration of the need for fundamental reform – of sexual doctrines, on rules for ordination, and of the pervasive culture of clericalism. That was followed in Austria by a much more radical Catholic priests’ initiative, for a “Call for disobedience”, later repeated in Belgium. In Ireland, the critical Association of Catholic Priests has attracted wide support from the laity, and has since extended its activities to include all Catholics. Here in England, the Call to Action process initiated by a small group of priests and continuing to develop, is not as confrontational as the Austrian initiative, but springs from the same impulse.

But what I see as possibly the most significant development of all, a public declaration on church authority by top level theologians, has had relatively little publicity. All the other initiatives have included the need for a reform of church rules and culture in their list of concerns – but this declaration sees this as so fundamental that it is the only issue they address.  They are right to do so: unless the pervasive abuse of authority is addressed, unless we see proper accountability, all other attempts at reform, are likely to be stillborn.

The second notable feature of this declaration is the stature and impressive credentials of the signatories. Their numbers are relatively low (but constantly increasing), but these are men and women of great seniority and stature: almost all have professorial rank, or even heads of schools of theology, from a wide range of countries on all continents.

The third feature (as one would expect from people of such great scholarship) is how well substantiated is their case. Their website contains a both a clear statement of the problem, and an outline of the necessary steps for improvement, along with resource pages and much more.

Here’s the core of the declaration:

On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, we call on all other members of the People of God to assess the situation in our church.

Many of the key insights of Vatican II have not at all, or only partially, been implemented. This has been due to resistance in some quarters, but also to a measure of ambiguity that remained unresolved in certain Council documents.

A principal source of present-day stagnation lies in misunderstanding and abuse affecting the exercise of authority in our Church. Specifically, the following issues require urgent redress:

  • The role of the papacy needs to be clearly re-defined in line with Christ’s intentions. As supreme pastor, unifier and prime witness to faith, the pope contributes substantially to the health of the universal church. However, his authority may never obscure, diminish or suppress the authentic authority directly given by Christ to all members of the people of God.
  • Bishops are vicars of Christ, not vicars of the pope. They carry immediate responsibility for people in their dioceses, and joint responsibility, with other bishops and the pope, for the world-wide community of faith.
  • The central synod of bishops should assume a more decisive role in planning and guiding the maintenance and growth of faith within our complex world. To execute its task, the synod of bishops needs to be given appropriate structures.
  • The Second Vatican Council prescribed collegiality and co-responsibility on all levels. This has not been realised. Priestly senates and pastoral councils, as envisaged by the Council, should involve the faithful more directly in decision making concerning the formulation of doctrine, the running of the pastoral ministry and evangelization in secular society.
  • The abuse of choosing for leadership offices in the church only candidates of a particular mindset, should be eradicated. Instead, new norms should be laid down and supervised to ensure that elections to such offices are conducted in a fair, transparent and, to the extent possible, democratic fashion.
  • The Roman curia requires a more radical reform, in line with the instructions and vision of Vatican II. The curia should be retained for its useful administrative and executive roles.
  • The congregation for the doctrine of the faith should be assisted by international commissions of experts who have been independently chosen for their professional competence.

These are by no means all the changes that may be required. We also realise that the implementation of such structural revisions will need to be worked out in detail according to the possibilities and limitations of present and future circumstances. However, we stress that the seven reforms outlined above are urgent and their implementation should be started immediately.

The exercise of authority in our church should emulate the standards of openness, accountability and democracy achieved in modern society. Leadership should be seen to be honest and credible; inspired by humility and service; breathing concern for people rather than preoccupation with rules and discipline; radiating a Christ who makes us free; and listening to Christ’s Spirit who speaks and acts through each and every person.

CHURCHAUTHORITY.org

When the Tablet reported on this some time ago, in just a few lines tagged on to another report, they referred to 37 signatories, and a further 115 co-signatories. When I first came across it, the number of primary signatories had gone up to 50. By last night, it was at 60 (UPDATE:  By Nov 21st, it’s at 66). See the full listing, and their impressive credentials, here (A – H) and here (I – K) and here (L -P) and here (Q – Z). Meanwhile, the co-signatories had gone up to 1303 (with myself at that 1128). Add your signature here.

(Originally published on November 5th, at Queering the Church)

Books:

Margaret Farley: Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics

Elizabeth Johnson: Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God

Jose Pagola: Jesus, an Historical Approximation 

Todd Salzmann and Michael Lawler: The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology 

Can Catholics Speak To Each Other?

A striking feature of the modern Catholic Church, from a progressive perspective, is the alarming disconnect between pronouncements and formal doctrine coming out of the Vatican and its claque, and the views and practice of the majority of real Catholics in the pews (or out of them, as so many refuse to participate in a dysfunctional church).

Conversely, from the perspective of traditional Catholics, the striking feature of the church is the audacity of those who seldom if ever attend Church, or make any attempt to follow the Catechism and teaching, in even calling themselves “Catholic”.

The two sides tend to speak only to their own sympathisers, seldom even referring to their opponents except in terms of rancour and / or disdain. Can the two sides learn to talk together constructively, in an authentically Catholic spirit of openness and charity? Phil Tanny is one Catholic who would like to make the effort.

I first came across Phil some months back, when he wrote to me (and many other Catholic bloggers) about his website, “Catholic Talk“, which was an attempt to provide a series of on- line forums for Catholics to debate a range of topical and possibly controversial subjects. He has since written again, to introduce a companion site, Catholic Unity (“Encouraging Healing and Unity Within the Catholic Community”), and  asked me to place a guest post on promoting Catholic unity at my personal blog, “Queering the Church”. That, however, has a specific focus on issues of sexuality and gender, and although  primarily Catholic, is not exclusively so.

It does seem to me that his aims are worthwhile, and so I am instead placing his piece as a guest post here, at The Open Tabernacle – together with extracts from some of his other posts, which will give some flavor of what he is about. (For now, I do so without any comment on, or endorsement of, his substantive proposals, but I do look forward to reading others’ responses. I’ll add my own, later).

At his introductory post, Encouraging Catholic Unity, Phil described the project in this way:

Greetings, welcome to Catholic-Unity.org.

The purpose of this blog is to serve as a resource for those whose primary focus is to encourage unity and healing in a too often divided Catholic community.

This blog, and the parent site  will provide research, articles, projects and tools to serve this mission.

We hope you’ll participate!

The substantive post, which I’ve placed below as a guest post, was originally placed at Catholic Unity as A Simple Plan to Heal the Catholic Community.

Also worth reading, is a follow-up post, “My Education Begins“, in which he describes some of the responses to the hundreds of approaches he made, along with the one to myself.

Yesterday (Nov 19 2012) I mailed this article regarding healing the Catholic community to about 700 Catholic bloggers and organizations.

The replies began flowing in almost immediately, and my education began.

In my email I specifically asked for feedback, pro or con, for or against, and was gratified and grateful that so many (most of whom don’t know me personally) were generous enough to respond to this request from a stranger.

The first response, which arrived within minutes, was brief but quite interesting, and helps to illustrate the evolution I will have to undergo myself if I want to be spokesperson for Catholic unity.

It was a quick email from the office of a very well known Catholic, indicating they would NOT (their emphasis) be publishing my article, and requesting to be removed from my mailing list.

From the tone of the email it seemed clear they wanted nothing to do with this particular Catholic unity campaign, which of course is fully their right.

And so God immediately presented me with the challenge that many of us will have to face if we want a healing of our community.

I find it satisfying and reassuring to know that he has at least a sense of humor. When I replied to his email with an apology for not having replied to some earlier correspondence, he mentioned in passing that he expects to have completed uniting the Catholic Church – in a few days:

You should feel guilty about feeling guilty, :-) as you are not obligated to me in any way.  I’m always happy to hear from you any time, but we’re not on a schedule.   I’ll write again as soon as I’m done uniting the Catholic Church.  Should only be a few days.  :-)

I look forward to following this project, with interest. What do you think?

A Simple Plan To Heal The Catholic Community

(Guest post by Phil Tanny of Catholic-Unity.org).

As you know, the Catholic community has been shaken in recent years by a regrettable wave of debate, discord and division.

This article suggests a way to bring the Catholic community together, a plan which any Catholic interested in unity can begin to implement immediately.

The solution is simple, if not always easy.

When we’re ready to heal and unite our Catholic community we have the choice to…


Shift the focus of Catholic discussions to topics that most Catholics can agree with, and act on, together.


Here are two examples of where we might begin.

Unity Topic #1: Catholic Charities

All Catholics, and non-Catholics too, respect Catholic Charities, the Church’s impressive public service wing.

This wide agreement is ripe ground for a healing, and those serious about unity will grab the opportunity to make Catholic Charities a more central part of our conversations.

The army of Catholic bloggers leading discussions across the Web can help by refocusing much of their writing away from unresolvable divisive topics, and towards celebrating and raising money for Catholic Charities, a very Catholic project that all Catholics agree on.

After all, it’s hard to make a case that arguing with our fellow Catholics is more important than feeding hungry kids, right?

Unity Topic #2: The Tobacco Companies

As Catholics we are drawn to moral crusades, it’s in our DNA.

But too often we have chosen to target each other for judgement, instead of uniting and aiming our considerable moral warfare skills at very real enemies who are far more deserving of our attention.

The tobacco companies kill approximately 100,000 of our fellow Catholics here in the United States each and every year, plus millions more around the globe.

100,000 of our fellow U.S. Catholics killed for profit. Each and every year. By people who are already very rich. And who plan to get even richer by selling us more deadly products deliberately designed to be highly addictive, and…

We ever crusading Catholics seem to have little to say about it.

We should fix that.

Instead of going to rhetorical war with each other, we have the choice to invest that same time, energy, passion and talent in to fighting those who are killing hundreds of our fellow Catholics every day.

Every time we rise to speak, put pen to paper, or type our next blog post, we have a choice.

Fight each other, or fight the devil.

A great many lives could be saved if 77 million American Catholics came together as one to confront the tobacco companies. It could be Catholics that lead the charge, set the example, and celebrate the victory.

None Of Us Need To Surrender

Changing the focus of Catholic discussion to these kind of uniting topics would not require any of us to change our beliefs on controversial issues.

Each of us can still follow our conscience in our personal lives on topics like abortion, contraception, gay marriage, Church leadership issues, and so on. Nothing changes here.

Whether we are traditional or progressive Catholics, none of us have to admit ideological defeat.

We just have to admit that repetitive emotional squabbling with our fellow Catholics on unresolvable hot button topics is not really persuading anybody of anything. Nothing is being accomplished by all the adamant speeches. Nobody is winning.

We just have to admit that endlessly arguing with our fellow Catholics is weakening our ability to address pressing here and now real world problems, where we could achieve impressive victories, by working together as one.

A Healing Solution

If we really want unity and a healing in our Catholic community, we just need to talk about topics that divide us much less, and talk about topics that unite us much more.

It’s the very same common sense plan any of us would use when our relatives arrive for Thanksgiving dinner. On such occasions sensible families try to skip the topics they’ll never agree on, because debating those controversial subjects, yet again, accomplishes little but ruining the dinner.

If it’s Catholic unity and a healing that we really want, it seems we can really have it, any time we’re really ready. Nobody is stopping us but us.

Whether we are traditional or progressive Catholics, we can rebuild our unity by working together to expand our support for Catholic Charities, and by joining forces in a historic moral crusade against the death for profit tobacco companies.

There’s plenty for us to agree on, plenty for us to work on, plenty of dragons for us to slay together. We could soon be so busy serving others that we’ll find we just no longer have time for arguing with our fellow Catholics.

Let’s redirect our considerable moral energy towards fighting those world changing battles that we can only win….

If we fight hand in hand together.

Article by Phil Tanny of http://Catholic-Unity.org.


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What Really Happens at the Soho Masses?

Last night, I was up in London, attending once more one of the bi-monthly Masses in Soho which have a particular focus on the pastoral needs of the community of LGBT Catholics, their families and friends. Once again, I was struck by the remarkable value of these Masses, how strongly they are contributing to the spirit and ideas behind the Year of Faith for our community – and how much we have grown as a parish in the five years since we left behind our earlier base at St Anne’s Dean St, and made our home in a Catholic parish, as part of the pastoral program of the Archdiocese of Westminster.

There is a great deal of misinformation about these Masses out in some corners of the blogosphere, much of it sadly promoted by people who have not actually attended, or joined in serious conversation with the congregation. I, on the 0ther hand, have been attending regularly for a little more than eight years – and if not quite for every Mass, twice a month, then pretty close to it, and have nearly always stayed for conversation afterwards.  A rough calculation suggests that this approximates to something approaching 200 Masses that I have attended personally.

So –  what really happens at these Soho Masses? Sadly for those who like to spread or consume salacious gossip about these Masses, I can reveal, as one who was there these 200 times – much the same as happens at any other Catholic Mass, with one very notable difference: we do it so much better than most.

For instance, let me simply describe “what happened” at Mass yesterday, with a comparison with where we were when I first started attending eight years ago.

First, some raw numbers. By my count (not just a guess, but a rough head count) the total attendance was just shy of 130 people, on a cold and dark November evening, for a Mass which was not any particular special occasion. This was perhaps a little  more than the usual number  of somewhere between 100 and 120. For a congregation that comes together only for two Masses a month, it’s probably fair to put the  average total monthly attendance at about 220 – 230. We know that many of the congregation do not attend every time: some have regular commitments in their home parishes, some travel great distances, others have other reasons. The best estimate from earlier research is that “typical” attendance by the “average” member  of the community is of the order of every second Mass, representing a total nominally “regular” congregation estimated to be of the order of something like 400 – 45o people attending one average once a month.

That congregation is by no means an exclusively “gay” one. Looking at tonight’s congregation, which was fairly typical of those we have seen in recent years, we included substantial diversity, of age, sexuality, gender and ethnicity – including some heterosexual young married couples and older singles, gay men, lesbians, transgender and many others whose sexuality and gender identity are simply unknown to me – which is precisely as it should be.   Also present in the congregation, I spotted four  priests in active ministry of different kinds elsewhere, who had chosen to attend for the personal benefits they experience. As always, some of the congregation had traveled substantial distances to get there: one woman had traveled from Somerset, some others that I knew of had come from Reading, Basingstoke, Haslemere, and from Kent and Essex in addition to a full range of London boroughs.

So, the congregation was substantial, suitably diverse, and highly committed - but the Mass itself is not where it began. Long before the opening hymn, extensive work had gone into planning the Mass, by our liturgist and organist between them, selecting hymns and bidding prayers, and typing and printing convenient Mass sheets and our regular information – packed monthly newsletter.

My own involvement yesterday began well before Mass, with a committee meeting of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council, reviewing recent progress and planning ahead. It would be inappropriate to disclose too much detail of those discussions, but I can reveal that part of it included feedback on a recent Young Adults Group weekend retreat. One of the men who had attended reported that for him, the main value of getting away in a group was just to have the opportunity to discuss the Catholic faith with others of a similar age group. How many regular parishes are able to say they offer such opportunities for their own young adults? And this, the second year in a row that our young adults have arranged such a retreat, was fully booked, with an attendance of about two dozen people. Looking ahead, two developments for next year included confirmation that we will be beginning at least one (possibly more) men’s faith – sharing group, and perhaps initiating adult catechesis, in the form of an RCIA program and / or faith refresher program for those existing Catholics who simply want to know more about the faith.

Meanwhile, simultaneously with the committee meeting, another group of about a dozen people were rehearsing in the basement for our Advent carol service next month. Add in the people who prepared and distributed the hymn books and Mass sheets in welcome, read the lessons and bidding prayers, the cantor, the eucharistic ministers, those who took the collection, and the catering team for refreshments after Mass, and that’s well over thirty people (a quarter of the congregation) who were present not simply as bums on seats (“pew warmers”), but who were participating actively and directly, either in today’s Mass, or in preparation for the Advent carol service. Again I ask – how many more conventional parishes can claim that degree of active participation in the work of setting up a and conducting a Sunday Mass?

What of the Mass itself? One notable feature, familiar to all the regulars and obvious to any newcomers, was the sheer strength of the congregational singing, and participation in the liturgical prayers and responses. The homily, delivered by our celebrant Monsignor Seamus O’Boyle who is both our parish priest and vicar – general for the diocese of Westminster, was as we have come to expect from all our celebrants – thoughtful, intelligent, delivered with clarity and at times a light touch of humour, but on an absolutely orthodox, appropriate Catholic theme for the readings of this November day, on the last things that await us all: death and judgement. The bidding prayers that followed were similarly on completely conventional, appropriate themes for the season and current events: prayers that we should be ready for that day of judgement, for peace in the world , that we may be renewed by the Holy Spirit, for interfaith week, for prisoners and those who work with them, for those who have died,  and for the victims of violence (in particular, the victims of transphobic violence – the only reference in this Mass to the LGBT community specifically, and that because tomorrow is Transgender Day of Remembrance, for those trans people who have been murdered in hate crimes).

After Mass, many of us went downstairs for refreshments – tea or coffee, and biscuits. I did not count numbers, but my guess would be about 40 people – again a substantial proportion of the evening’s congregation. When I left well after seven, an hour and a quarter after the end of Mass, a good number of people were still there, with conversations going strong. I have never seen such a high turnout for tea after Mass in any of the other parishes where I have worshipped, nor have I found people so deep in conversation, for so long after Mass has ended.

But what were they talking about? To believe the rumour mill, you might expect that these notorious homos were looking for sexual pickups, making trysts and the like. I cannot state categorically that this does not happen (just as in any other human gathering, there may be people meeting and making connections that may turn sexual) – but I can state emphatically that in the 200 odd Masses that I have attended, I have never encountered any such sexual conversations or assignations. Instead, the kind of conversations that I have been aware of, are pretty similar to those I have heard after Mass, in all the parishes I have ever been part of.

These are examples of the conversations I remember  personally participating in, or hearing others discuss:

  • Talk about family (in my case, my granddaughter).
  • Talk about our countries of origin – with two others who, like myself, are not British.
  • Talk about travel plans for the month ahead.
  • Talk about work (and for one Religion Education teacher, it’s looming end, as he prepares to  cease his work at school, to start a new life in a Benedictine monastery).
  • Talk about religious books, at our impressive and extensive bookstall – specifically, a book I particularly wanted but was not there tonight, on reflections on the lectionary readings for the coming liturgical year.
  • Talk about the year of faith, available resource materials, and what local parishes are doing
  • Talk about the evening’s homily
  • And continued discussion of some of the business dealt with earlier in the SMPC meeting, especially about plans for faith sharing groups, and possible adult catechesis.

We have then, a vigorous and thriving, personally supportive congregation with a strong sense of community, and an ever expanding range of opportunities to explore and strengthen our Catholic faith, in the context of the Mass – and outside it. Those described above, and the degree of participation, could be the envy of many more conventional parishes of ten times the monthly attendance of our own 220- 230.

Looking back

When I first starting attending eight years ago, typical attendance was about 40, and overwhelmingly white, older gay men. By the time we moved into our new home in Warwick Street, in a Catholic parish and under the auspices of the Diocese of Westminster, attendance had increased to about 60, with just the beginning of some greater diversity. The activities, however, were still largely restricted to Mass twice a month, and conversation afterwards. It is clear from the above description of yesterday’s service, that we have grown and developed over the past five and a half years, as part of a Catholic parish – in numbers, but even more importantly, in depth of involvement, and in exploration of Catholic faith.
But it’s not just our congregation that has benefited. Our presence has invigorated the parish, which without a significant resident population, was low in numbers before we joined them. Three Sunday Masses a week (thirteen, on average, a month) were previously poorly attended, but numbers have been increasing steadily, as some of our community have made this parish their regular Sunday base, in addition to the special Masses on the first and third Sundays of the month. Even so, our attendance of something like 220 – 230 a month at just two Masses represents about half the total monthly attendance from all thirteen Masses: or as much as all the other Masses put together. The indications and expectation for the year ahead, are that our congregation will continue to boost the overall numbers of the parish, as even more of us begin to attend for the second and fourth Sundays, in addition to the first and third, as at present.
Nor is the value of these Masses restricted to enriching and deepening the faith lives of our own congregation, or to the invigorating new life it has breathed into the parish. Over the years I have participated, I have noted a number of people who began attending after long years of absence from the Church, with no participation at all in its sacramental life. By returning to the faith by means of Mass in an explicitly welcoming atmosphere, they have found a measure of reconciliation with an institution that had seemed to them threatening and hostile. Some of these no longer attend – because they now prefer to practice their faith in their own local parishes. Others, like myself and a fair proportion of the most regular participants, do both.
In my own case, I no longer simply attend a local parish, I participate fully in parish life. I serve on the team of readers, I help to gather hymn and Mass books after Mass, join in the tea and discussions after Mass, and participate where I can in social and other functions. For the current activities around the year of faith, I am leading one small group working through the “Radiating Christ” booklet, and have been joining another weekly group, watching and discussing a DVD series on Catholicism. Over the past few weeks, I have had full and frank discussions with both of the priests who serve the parish, in which I described my journey in faith, and also the ways in which I try to promote ministry to LGBT Catholics.  From my perspective, I find it deeply satisfying to be able to participate so fully in parish life in a spirit of full openness and honesty, with no attempt to “pass” as straight – and to note the acceptance and support I have experienced in doing so, from clergy, sisters at the convent, and laity alike. But I could never have found the confidence to be this open and honest in my own parish, without the support of the Soho Masses and its congregation to help me to grow.
“Speak the truth in love”, and “The truth will set you free”, we are told in Scripture – and reminded by Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger at the CDF, in the “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”.  For helping us to grow in truth and honesty, we should be deeply grateful to the Soho Masses. I know I am.
If you agree with me, please write to Archbishop Vincent Nichols, to show your appreciation – and to balance the nonsense and lies he is constantly receiving from our opponents, most of whom have never actually attended one of our Masses, to see for themselves what really happens at them.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols
Archbishop’s House
Ambrosden Avenue
London SW 1P 1QJ
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