Last week, I began discussing the theologian Michael B Kelly’s observations on the challenge of being both gay and Catholic. His full exposition approaches the issue along four dimensions, length, breadth, depth and height. Of these, I have previously looked at only his introductory remarks and the first dimension, that of “length”, by which he means the long span of historical time applicable. I now look at the remaining “dimensions”.
Here, Kelly recognises the sheer scale of the Church, and the enormous variety of activities and styles which that size necessarily includes. With just over a billion adherents worldwide, the Catholic Church today is the world’s largest and most tightly organised multinational conglomerate. In America, it includes a quarter of all citizens, while in Australia (Kelly’s base and homeland), it is the country’s largest single employer, and educates a third of all schoolchildren.
This size gives it an enormous potential for good works, much of which is inspiring, uplifting. He notes approvingly of priests and nuns who work with people in African slums living with HIV/AIDS, of Catholic networks offering help to refugees and asylum seekers, of volunteers running marriage preparation classes, of church agencies attending to homeless young people on the streets, and of monks living in quiet seclusion, in lives of work and prayer. I could add from my experience, the work of the Church in South Africa’s apartheid years, with the remarkable contribution of Catholic schools to breaking down racial barriers between young people, of priests and nuns who provided pastoral care (and practical help) to the families of political prisoners, to the many initiatives to build peace in communities wracked by violence in the difficult run-up to the election, and the valuable contributions of Church hospitals and orphanages around the country. I also think of the generosity of the priests and sisters I have known who give so generously of their time in teaching about faith, Scripture and spiritual practice, teaching from which I have learned so much.
However, this sheer size and influence also gives it the potential to do grievous harm, as it has done in different places by lobbying against LGBT rights, or by inappropriate teaching on matters of masturbation or sexual health.
An institution of this size and influence, he argues, demands to be engaged rather than ignored, and engaged from within as well as from outside.
Our Catholicism is not owned by any pope or bishop, and we must not cede it to them.
And so, as a gay Catholic, I claim this broad and rich heritage, and embrace this diverse, quirky, flawed, saintly community. Even more simply, this is my family, this is the language I speak, the culture I know. I take my stand for justice here.
The third of Kelly’s four dimensions may not be easily understood by someone who has not personally had to struggle with the condition of being both gay and Catholic, as it involves a personal response to institutional homophobia and hostility which forces one in response to dig deep inside oneself, seeking personal resources to cope. In doing so, the gay Catholic finds one part of the fundamental truth of Christianity – the freedom that the Lord has brought to us.
So, I find I have to go deep. I have to go to the very core of faith, hope and love, to the roots of the Gospel, to the heart of the liberation in love promised in Jesus.I have to go just as deep into the truth of my own experience, an experience that has been denied me, that I have been taught to condemn, to flee from, to confess as sin. The first time that a gay person begins to just barely suspect that his feelings, his spontaneous attractions and desires might just be – well, okay- he has taken a mighty step on the road to freedom, towards being true to life as he, or she, experiences it as a loved child of God.
The result is that this can force the gay Catholic into a deeper than usual experience of the liberation in love promised by Christ. Instead of experiencing the faith solely through the mediation of the Church and its institutions, Mass and the sacraments, we can end by taking our lives into our own hands, to come into the direct presence of “the God who is love”.
All of the above, I would endorse from my own experience. As Karl Rahner has noted, this direct experience of God is available to us all. When we achieve it, there is nothing in Church teaching that can contradict it.
“The Divine invitation to embrace being a gay Catholic today is a painful, astonishing, frustrating , wondrous, surprising, risky, ,delightful, uncertain and prophetic call to walk a path into full , vulnerable graced humanness.”
Kelly concludes his address by arguing that the need to deal with the depths of the of the homophobia and rejection, forces us also to look up, at the glory that is the “vision of liberation” promised by the Lord.
The reign of God is not ab out Church or piety, or simply saving one’s “individual soul” – the Gospel is meant for the world, for the liberation of all people and especially the marginalized and oppressed. ..We need to look up and see that the Holy Spirit of freedom and justice is binding up the broken –hearted and setting the captives free, as Christ promised, even in the face of the protestations of church officials.
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