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A Cry of Pain


This message was posted on my email list in May 2005. It expresses very clearly what the Catholic hierarchy is doing to gayfolk.
"I have struggled for some years to remain a Catholic in spite of the pronouncements from the Vatican against gay people. I have recently however come to accept that the church will never accept gay people, and I no longer torture myself hoping that the church ever will! You see, as a gay man I believe in things like gay marriage, equal rights before the law and an equal standing in the Church alongside straights! As a friend pointed out not so long ago, the church will bless two straights in their love for each other, will also bless a house, car, fishing fleet, cats, dogs, birds etc, but two men who want to commit to each other and have the blessing of the church, well the church just spits on us!

So as you see I no longer see myself as a member of the church, and cannot till I am accepted as a gay man. I will however continue to live my life by values such as charity, love and compassion!  I wish you well in your search for peace and for God.

For some time now I have been struggling with my catholic faith, and the need to be true to myself as a gay man! I have been a Catholic for five years now, before that I used to be Anglican. I only read the Church's official teaching on us gay's last year and it has been a real shock! I have also read many documents on the internet from the Vatican and other church writers regarding us gay men! Since then I have only gone to Mass a hand full of times, and the last time I went to confession (around that time) I was told by a priest that I could not go to Holy Communion because I was in a gay relationship and that I had no intention of giving my partner up. You see I had confessed to the priest that I had been unfaithful to my partner!

Pharsea suggested that I join his email group and perhaps get some encouragement or advice. I have considered leaving the church and finding my own way to God.

I am glad that I was brought up a Catholic and taught things like charity, love, compassion etc. But for the future
I feel that I need a spirituality that will help me as a gay man, and will help me in my relationship. Not just tell me that I am "evil" or "disordered" because I am gay and in love with a man! I would like to hear others thoughts about what I'm feeling and how they deal with the churches rules! I'm not a theologian, just a simple pew dwelling gay bloke.

I guess I have a lot of questions about how gay people can continue with the church especially now that Ratzinger is Pope. I was shocked and dismayed but not surprised at his election, especially given that he was a Nazi when he was young! I am sure that I do not need to have to tell you the titles of the homophobic documents he has written, and some of the things he has said in them! That stuff could have been written by Mengeler or Hitler. These are the questions I have for you:

  1. How do you manage to remain active in the church, given that the church will never accept us, or at best we gays will only ever be third class citizens without rights?
  2. I have also been told by a priest during confession that I cannot take holy communion because I am in a gay relationship and don't have any intention of giving him up, so why should I bother going to mass at all?"
This message made me angry. Not with its author, not at all; but with the hierarchy of the Church who are systematically abusing and persecuting gay Catholics, whether lay folk or clerics. They say that they "love the sinner" and simply have to condemn "the sin" because it is "contrary to nature". This is a lie. They simply choose to believe this, for no good reason. In doing so, they show that they do not know the meaning of love: but are motivated by hatred and fear. If they were motivated by love, they would seek to understand. They would listen to what we have to say before - or at least as well as - proclaiming what passes in their blighted minds for truth. The effect of their teaching and the "pastoral care" that they offer is to alienate and marginalize gayfolk, and to repel them from the One True Fold of the Catholic Church.
"I grew up catholic and I haven't been to church in over a year. I have been searching for a Gay-positive religious group for a while. I have not found one that I feel at home in. I wanted to ask others how they handle going to mass knowing that the church does not accept GLBT people?  I used to find a lot of help and solace when I would go to Mass. I have tried to go years ago and I just felt like when I would go there that I was living a lie. How do others go to mass and not feel like an outsider or like they are in the closet again?"
[A lay correspondent]

"Growing up as Catholic, I never questioned my upbringing.  Now, I'm so confused as to why I'm even Catholic. I'm not leaving the Church or anything close to that ... however, I need help in finding a gay-friendly Catholic Church that has Bible studies, support groups, and spiritual (not necessarily religious) retreats.  Please help ... this is usually the time the devil sneaks in: when there's questioning and confusion!"
[A lay correspondent]

Our Blessed Lord fraternized with the outcasts of His society: collaborators with the Roman power and whores. He attracted them, even though they knew themselves to be in the wrong. More importantly He spoke and mixed with them. No Catholic hierarch would even consider fraternizing with me or any other gay man or lesbian: except on the basis that we first declare that we hate ourselves just as thoroughly as they hate us. This is a blasphemous inversion of the pattern and likeness of Our Lord, who would stop at nothing to reclaim a single sheep that was lost, and never made any such demands of self-hatred of anyone.
"Although I'm not the best or most educated Christian, I consider myself a Christian and love God but I'm always being told what a sinner I am for being gay. I can't help being gay! I'm just so sick of being told what a bad person I am. I think a lot about suicide because of it. [A lay correspondent]
We see Popes, Cardinals and Bishops kissing the Koran, praying with witch-doctors and currying the favour of almost every possible heretical and schismatic group: except those associated with the Old Roman Rite of Mass. Yet we are derided and denounced and condemned and demonized and vilified. More importantly, we are instructed to think of ourselves as "intrinsically disordered" and to condemn ourselves to sad lives of loneliness and self-hatred. This is wickedness and the work of the "father of lies".
"I am angry that this Pope [Benedict XVI], who I had hoped would refrain from the regular and outdated yet still infuriating condemnation of homosexual relationships; supposedly said, in connexion with the referendum on artificial insemination, that homosexual relationships are a trivialization of the body.
I wonder often why I even bother! I feel so sad for my lay friends who try so hard to be good catholics and have to put up with this rubbish from the Pope, and the derision of their acquaintances: for adhering to a religion that is run by ancient homo-hating celibate hierarchs, who spare no opportunity to condemn same-sex love.
I hope that at least this pope will restore the Liturgy. Otherwise, his pontificate will have been worthless. Perhaps some future pope will see to it that the whole hierarchy abandon its unhealthy and nearly idolatrous obsession with things sexual." [A Catholic priest: June 2005]
I do not demand that the hierarchy puts aside its present convictions before talking with gay Catholics. In fact I make no demands whatsoever! I do not ask that we be treated with a minimum of Christian charity. I do not even ask that we be treated with the same respect that is today routinely shown towards infidels and heretics. After all, these groups have a Pontifical Council devoted to them, and I do not ask that a Pontifical Council for Homosexuals should be established!

All that I ask is that the hierarchy makes a little space for us, and listens to what we have to say with a modicum of civility and politeness. Let us be thought to be madmen, heretics, deviants and perverts; even as the cause of all the ills of the world: but we should be allowed the possibility of explaining ourselves and defending ourselves against these charges! This as a question of Natural Justice, in accordance with the requirements of the Natural Law. After all, there is the possibility that the charges are false; and if so the hierarchy is going to have to explain before the Throne of Judgement why; when we asked for bread, we were given a stone and when we asked for fish we were given a serpent. Personally, I would not relish having to make such an account.

The following text is typical of the attitude of the hierarchy:

"[Those].... practising or promoting homosexuals .... often begin with an attack against critics of homosexuality, i.e. 'your infantile response.' The appeal to their experience to justify actions in accord with their feelings is common as well: 'If you'd just listen to us! Do you know any gay people?' etc. They don't want dialogue; they just want to present their side of the story. Remember, you're dealing with an adolescent psycho-sexual development here, so don't expect logic .... You'll find the same in arguments of those who are influenced by lust. Homosexuality, for the most part, is a homophobia, a fear of members of the same sex - of relating to them, of competition, of risk, of failure - which led to an escape and avoidance of proper relationships and interaction in youth. Thus, in adolescence, many with same-sex attractions (SSA) unconsciously began to sexualize the gender identity which they did not attain with the resultant SSA. One cannot live in conflict, so a solution is to claim a 'gay identity' and insist others accept this. This puts the problem on others, and offers further avoidance of the steps necessary to mature as a man or woman." [Fr Perozich]
This is truly amazing, and most definitely an "infantile response" to the real situation! If only people like this would "just listen to us", which they never do! Frequently they either know no gay people or know only self-hating gay people. All that gay folk want is dialogue; which involves being allowed "to present their side of the story", which the hierarchy can never countenance. We are quite clear what the other side of the story is, as we now have quite a few official documents and even more off-the-cuff remarks to go on! There is no evidence that senior members of the hierarchy have ever read a single thoughtful pro-gay theological or ethical text and little evidence that they have ever met with anyone who could adequately represent the issues to them.
"I have some of your leanings but I can't accept genital sex between non-married persons since it's a grave sin. Our Lady of Fatima said that most people go to hell because of sins of the flesh .... this is tragic .... whether you are a homosexual or a heterosexual. God doesn't want you to go there so please pray. I too love men .... please pray for me." [A lay correspondent]
It is unbelievably insulting to be accused of "adolescent psycho-sexual development"! It seems to me that very many heterosexuals that I meet - including some in their senior years - could be more adequately so described than the typical gay man or lesbian. Usually, gayfolk have had to do an awful lot more work to integrate their sexual identity with the rest of their personality; simply because there are no conventional packages to lazily opt into.

The character of my website is the only needful response to Fr Perozich's accusation that gayfolk are illogical in their own defence and in their rebuttal of the official teaching of the hierarchy.

His theory that "homosexuals" fear(ed) members of the same sex (in their youth) is so silly as to be unworthy of any response at all. To suggest that Alexander the Great or Oscar Wilde were not competitive or were risk adverse is silly, and any attempt to establish a link between such personality traits (which I certainly observe in many heterosexuals) and "homosexuality" is bound to fail.

As far as the issues raised by my correspondent are concerned:

Another priest friend wrote in reply to the original message:
"My old organ teacher (gay) used to talk to me about the virtue of prudence and discretion. That's the way it is going to be in the future, whether we like it or not. One just adopts a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. It might sound hypocritical, but it's the way to survive. The more gay people campaign to get equal consideration, the more the 'Victorian' reaction[aries] will strike back. Gays have lived good loving relationships for centuries, and in the Christian era, there were times when it wasn't too frowned upon, if it was kept discreet. In other periods, you would get hauled up before the Inquisition and burned at the stake!

My suggestion is do things the '18th century' way. People are very tolerant when they don't know what you're up to, and when you go about life in public in a normal and unnoticeable way. We can't live a 'spiritual' life in isolation. We all need the communion of the Church and the life of the Sacraments.

The best thing I can say is to live your life, and live it in peace and good conscience. When you go to confession, just tell the priest what you have really done wrong. The rest of your life is none of his business. You might find it a good idea to go to a priest who isn't too conservative. Then you can practice your faith and be accountable to God for the good and the evil you do. We all have to live the same drama whether we are celibate or living with someone. Life has to be lived. 'Love and do as you want', wrote Saint Augustine; meaning that if your love of God and other people is true, you will never do wrong.

Some might find the way I write as encouraging people to be 'closeted' when they should be 'coming out'. For me, it all depends if you want to be a martyr or live a peaceful life going about things the way you believe to be right."

I include some other messages that I have received on this theme. It seems to me that they show that the only significant effect of the Church's official teaching is to cause gayfolk to come to either hate themselves or reject the Church.

"I'm 24 years old and have accepted my homosexuality since 1998. I also have been raised a Roman Catholic and have had my ups and downs in the last 5 years.

At the time, I only accepted my homosexuality when I learned about what the Church's stance was: that being homosexual isn't the sin, just homosexual action was the sin. However, in the past few years, I have driven away from that stance. I now have someone in my life who I love with all my mind, heart, and soul and I hope I will be with him for the rest of my life; but since I am sexually active with him, I have also felt guilty because I am going against the teachings of the Church. For the past two years, I have not gone to Mass. I have only gone with my family on Christmas, Easter, etc..

I still believe in the Catholic Teachings; except I contradict them with my lifestyle. This has led to confusion and loss of participation within the Church. I've always wanted to keep God close to my heart; but going by the Church, I feel as though I am not being a good Catholic: because of my sexual life with my partner.

At the time I accepted my homosexuality, I was seeing one of the priests here as a Spiritual Director. He helped me accept myself and even come out to my family. Without his help, I don't believe I would have made it. But recently, I've gone to see him to talk about my current confusing situation. Of course, he did not condone my sexual actions with my partner and he also asked me the following question: 'Think about your relationship with your partner and ask yourself .... do you think that this relationship is blessed by God?' He said that it was only for me to answer the question and I don't ever have to give out the answer. I was kind of upset because I truly love my boyfriend and wish I wouldn't be going against God at the same time.

According to the Catholic Church, I am in the state of having grave sin on my soul where I shouldn't participate in the Eucharist.  I truly believe in the Eucharist and respect it so much that I have not participated in it even when I go to Mass with my family. Right now, I feel as though I am still Catholic, but I don't participate in it.  So I really don't know what I should consider myself."

"I am very much drawn to the Catholic faith, especially the liturgy, the Eucharist and other mystical aspects.

However, I am in a live together relationship with another guy and have lived a pretty "out" existence since I was nineteen. I have a close friend who labels himself as gay and is Catholic, but he is more closeted than I am, especially when it comes to the Church. He is responsible for introducing the Catholic faith to me, but he hasn't been much help with giving me advice about how to deal with the fact that my lifestyle is not congruous with the Church's teaching. He just tells me to not to tell anyone within the Church, except those I trust completely, and it will be okay.

I'm already getting some questions at RCIA about my personal life (not from the class leaders, but from others in the class). I've always been comfortable up until this point with being honest with folks about my life when they ask. Now I'm not so sure I should be honest. I would appreciate some advice from those with more experience as to whether I might be asking for trouble by converting, considering the Church's stance that being a homosexual is not a sin, but acting on it is. Has anyone out there been in my situation? I'd love to hear how it turned out for you."

"Being both gay and Catholic in my corner of the Diocese of North Carolina is not the most ideal situation. The gay-friendly parishes are embarrassingly casual, to the point that one wonders whether Mass has truly been said.  There is one parish in the diocese where the pastor has an indult to celebrate the Tridentine Mass every Sunday, and it is a parish thoroughly devoted to the present and most recent Pontiffs and all their pontifications. I can't exactly call myself traditionalist in that sense, as it is something I've yet to experience. What I have experienced most of my life in the Church, and continue to experience, is the kind of Mass so lacking in devotion and a sense of holy awe that I escaped to the Episcopal (Anglican) communion for a while, where at least the liturgy was somewhat more inspiring. But, of course, I came to accept that the Eucharist was watered down in that barely meaningful, protestant way. I had no choice, I felt, but to return to the banal liturgies where at least our Lord was truly present in the Sacred Mysteries.
It was and remains a very difficult choice to return to the Roman Catholic Church. I believe the Vatican's pronouncements on the nature of who I am have exacted a devastating spiritual toll on me.  It is all I can do some Sundays to get out of bed and to the church where I will find it a struggle to lift my heart to the Almighty, because the liturgy almost fights me every step of the way. I will go in fear of hearing something hurtful proclaimed from the pulpit, which I will suffer in silence because I remain in the closet, in deference to my career (in educational administration) and potential custody issues regarding my children.
Why do I stay? Because I know that Christ waits for me there, and He must be my All. There is no misguided teaching that should prevent me from receiving Him, no matter how much pain it might cause me. I shouldn't have to suffer at the hands of Christ's shepherds, but untold numbers of saints through the ages in fact have. Who am I to complain? In the end, all these things shall pass away. And ultimately, I am living for eternity."

"I keep moving farther and farther from the religion I have been in love with. I cannot stay where I am looked upon as not a whole person. I hear from other gay Catholics I have know for years and their faith in their church is fading. Their feelings are shaken by the doors of the church closing on them fast. I for one think the term "gay Catholics" is an oxymoron. I want to be a part of something where I can help make a difference in peoples lives. I want to worship my God with others who share my belief I am not evil, sick, or not worthy of being a full member of God's community."

Well I feel that the time has finally come to leave the church for good. I cannot support anymore a church that treats gay men the way the R.C church does. To put this in very simple terms, if we as gay men are not good enough to serve as priests, then we are also not good enough to be in the pews putting money in the plate, or volunteering our time and efforts! I will now find my own way to God, and continue to practice charity, love, compassion, forgivness etc.

"It is most certainly the concern of all of us, when, in opportunistic alliance with powerful, wealthy evangelical Protestant forces in the USA, the Roman hierarchy declares the active suppression of homosexuals to be a noble ancient venerable Catholic tradition, and more or less agrees that homophobia is a virtue.
After so many centuries, isn't the world at last utterly disgusted with all this clericalizing, obscurantist, pseudo-traditionalist hierarcholatry? The voices of thoughtful layfolk have never been heard; when we express interest in what is going on, we are told, "It is none of your concern, so go away." These hierarchs dread transparency, and shun accountability. And yet they claim to be the principal ministers of the God who loves humanity."

"I feel abandoned by our Mother the Church, who no longer exists. To me She seems to have become a wicked step mother. I find it sad that the Church which once was known as the haven for gay people, has now become - alongside islam, fundamental protestantism and communism - one of the greatest instigators and perpetuators of homophobia.

This last development - added to the erosion of orthodoxy and thhe senseless and long-lasting oppression of our traditional liturgy and devotions  - causes me to ask myself, whether the official Roman Catholic Church in this present state of affairs can continue make the exclusive claim to be the Church of Christ. In order to reconcile all what is happening in my tortured soul, I am now beginning to think that the Catholic Church is all those particular Churches which still possess the apostolic succession, still offer the Holy Sacrifice, still dispense the seven sacraments, and still confess the orthodox faith. The Roman Curia, the Vatican, the Bishops are just a sick - hopefully, only temporarily sick - part of this wider Catholic Church, with no claim in my mind to any moral authority whatsoever. They serve the solitary purpose to ordain priests and so to perpetuate the catholic religion.

I think that another reason why the Vatican, Curia and Hierarchy in general are speaking out more and more loudly against all things gay - besides to cover up their own un-self-accepted homosexuality, and to produce scapegoats for the pedophile scandals - is to consolidate badly polarized, divided and long disillusioned Catholics the world over around an issue that will easily and immediately work by appealing to deep-seated prejudice, in spite of the dire consequences which might follow, and in spite of how hypocritical it might now sound.

Perhaps this fits handily into a wider scheme of things - to put together a world-wide religious/political coalition between power-hungry anti-gay Vatican fags, Moslem extremists, and US protestant fundamentalists. There exist always those Machiavellian personalities who await the moment to abuse religion, seeking to further personal ambition, to gain political power, and to control peoples personal lives and society!

Yesterday after Mass I had the misfortune of spending several hours as guest in a mans home, who is over 80, and retired politician of a now defunct catholic political party. He is convinced that the main purpose of religion is to control peoples public and private morals. He claims that homosexuality is a plot to undermine society, and that gay-rights will destroy the Catholic Church, and thus gays must be fought now with all possible means. Even at his old age, he is obsessed  with sex and political power. It made me think, just how many old prelates are infected with these two spiritual diseases: sexual obsession and political power. These things can be latent for decennia till they resurface when the conjunction is ripe. That moment is now. It is the wrong moment for us gays - the usual scapegoats - beside the jews, wrong for mankind; but the right moment for those who possess the two
combined evils: obsession with sex and lust for political power.

I had a long talk, last week, with a priest from Opus Dei who is my own age. I had not seen him for a year. He made
the mistake of asking me how my spiritual condition was.

When I was done with my monologue, he rose and said that he found it very painful to hear what I had said. So I apologized, but he added, that he found it painful because he agreed that I was right on most of the points that I had raised. I was surprised, but glad to have spoken to him, and to realize that in private, even a priest of Opus Dei can admit and regret the human failures of the magisterium."

"I believe - and it's been confirmed by my experience - that I have a call to the priesthood. So, I do not want to leave the priesthood. I have to make a decision as to whether I will speak out. So far, I have been forbidden by my bishop to speak out. I'm going to have to decide if my conscience takes precedence over my promise of obedience. Catholic tradition teaches us that the conscience is final arbiter of what's to be done in a person's moral life. I can say though that it's been an extremely painful time since the sexual abuse crisis to be implicitly blamed for this and told people like me should never enter and to know individuals, friends of mine, who live celibate and holy lives that will probably leave because of this. It's been devastating."

"If we aren't called to marriage (with a woman); we can't be priests or - I assume by extension - consecrated brothers; we can't express physical love with a man; and can't be 'turned loose' on unsuspecting children: where exactly is our place? In the vestibule with the pamphlets? Scrubbing the front steps or polishing father's shoe's? I thought the Catechism of the Catholic Church says we are to be welcomed and allowed to give what talents and blessings we have be given to the work of the church? We aren't to be discriminated against or mistreated. What!

If the Church is the Bride of Christ but is composed of men and women, doesn't that make the men brides too? I would love to betroth myself to Jesus. How can the Church be the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ at the same time? Does Christ marry himself? If the act of marital love between a man and woman 'completes the image of God' Does that mean if we don't do that we are less than complete images of God? Isn't that saying that God is incomplete because we as His reflections are incomplete? If we are no longer male and female, married and given in marriage in Heaven, why does everyone flip over it in this life? If they still had flogging orders maybe we'd be able to join them. By the time we figure all this out it will be over."

"What are we doing? Nothing is getting better, and it seems it is and will be getting worse.  This to me is a distraction to what is the main factor. Our spirituality. All this negativity about the issues of the Catholic church is taking away the joy in recovering my quest for a more meaningful spiritual life. Which was beginning a few years back, then had the door slammed on me by the Catholic church... I wonder why we continue to pursue something we will never achieve with this church anymore.
I need positive reinforcement, I need guidance from a group that supports and understands what it means to be gay and looking for spiritual acceptance. I am not getting any here. I always loved being a Catholic, and thought the sacraments and Mass was a beautiful thing. But I can no longer go to mass because I just feel I don't belong. Not because of the people there, but the whole Catholic church.  I feel I soon will say good by to the church of my life. It has turned it's back on me. Like a bad relationship, you must move on.
I tried everything to make it work, I really have. I leave with fond memories, but there is a new and exciting spiritual world I need to explore."

Unbinding the Gay Conscience

(James Alison: Talk for Quest Conference, London Colney 26–28th July 2002)

Some of you may have known Benjamin O’Sullivan, a Benedictine monk of Ampleforth Abbey who killed himself early in 1996. As far as I can tell, Benjamin was set up by a reporter from the News of the World, and the only thing which prevented his death from being a murder was that Benjamin himself consented to the voice of the lynch mob and became the hand that put him to death. I felt that his death was brought about because this extremely attractive, apparently self-confident, effervescent young man had been unable to stand up as an ordinary gay man to the voice of the lynch mob. And the reason he had been unable to stand up to them was because he was bound in his conscience. Shortly after his ordination he had expressed a fear to me that he wasn't really a priest, because if they had known surely they wouldn't have ordained him. That hardly anyone who knew Benjamin well can have failed to know that he was gay is of course not relevant: the person caught in the trap looks at the world through fear-coloured spectacles, and fear darkens rather than illumines what it projects. But this gives a hint of what I mean by a bound conscience: the sort of person who can't stand up and be what they are, who can't trust in the goodness
of what they are being given to become, whatever the lynch mob may throw at them, the sort of person who labours instead in a world of half-truths, any belonging being a half-belonging, because always feeling that if they knew then I wouldn't really be allowed here. Which translates into a permanent and deep feeling of I'm not really allowed here. It seemed to me, and seems to me, and I told this to Cardinal Hume when I visited him to talk about Benjamin sometime later, that the fact that the Church can no longer easily say, as Peter could to the man lame from birth at the Beautiful Gate in Acts 3, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk is, while sad, something I can live with. But if the Church, and by that I mean if we, cannot even unbind a conscience like Benjamin's, then we really are fit for nothing more than to be thrown out and trodden under foot like the saltless salt we are become.

I realized, after this, that given that our hierarchs were not going to do anything, in fact, probably are not able to do anything, paralysed themselves so often by the same bound conscience which afflicted Benjamin, that I had to write something which would contribute to the unbinding of the gay conscience, try to find the other-given authority to be able to say In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, stand and be. And the result of my failure to do that in a systematic way is the book called Faith beyond Resentment: fragments catholic and gay which I think some of you have read. All I could do in that book was come up with some sign posts to my sense that if the Jesus of the Gospels really is alive and in our midst, and if he really is what Gods self-disclosure to us looks like, then unbinding the gay conscience is very much the sort of thing that he finds himself doing here and now. He is Gods pastoring of the sheep whom the shepherds have abandoned, and it does make sense to work out what
that looks like.

If the question, then, is not what would Jesus do, but what is Jesus doing (and I take it that the latter is the authentically Catholic question, presupposing the Real Presence of Jesus in an ongoing project, rather than a textual presence in a receding past), then it makes sense to spend a little time reflecting on the power of the One who unbinds our conscience. Let me say first that in an ideal world, Peter would realize that he had been given the power to bind and loose specifically so as to be able to open heaven to the gentiles. He would pronounce those words God has shown me that I should not call any human profane or impure, and gay people would find themselves with unbound conscience as brothers and sisters in the Church on the same footing as everyone else, that is to say, as sons and daughters and heirs.

But in fact, it seems to me that we find ourselves in a strange moment in that story from Acts 10. We find ourselves in the tiny gap after Peter has preached to us about Jesus, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, after we have believed that message, and so realize that Jesus is Good News for us, and after the Holy Spirit has come down upon us, so that we are beginning to live the life of loved children and are able to speak well of God. But we find ourselves in the tiny space before Peter has found it in him to declare Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. If you want a reality check on this, then consider what the current teaching of the Vatican Congregations is: the homosexual inclination, though not itself a sin, constitutes a tendency towards behaviour that is intrinsically evil, and therefore must be considered objectively disordered. If you read that phrase in the light of the passage from Acts which I have just recalled, you can see quite clearly that it is a piece of backsliding.

Where Peter said God has shown me that I should not call any human profane or unclean his modern minions say While it is true that gay people are not profane or unclean, they must in fact be considered to be so. So, we find ourselves living at a time of Petrine backsliding from the Gospel, and yet beginning to be aware that the reception of the Good News, and our own unbinding does not come from Peter, but from God, and that Peter later on gets to understand and confirm this. This is a perfectly understandable biblical pattern which we can inhabit while we wait for Peter.

Now what I would like to do today is start to examine the binding and the unbinding. What does it look like? I suppose the first step is to look at what being bound means. A bound conscience is one which cannot go this way or that, forward or backwards, is paralysed, scandalized. In that sense it is a form of living death, and those afflicted by it are living dead, and many of us are or have been such people.

Let me give some examples of what I mean. We are familiar with the notion of a double-bind or a Catch 22 situation. A bound conscience is a sense of being formed by a double-bind or a series of double binds. For instance:

Many of us have been inducted into just such patterns of desire over time. They classically follow the form Imitate me, do not imitate me. If you find yourself gravitationally pulled towards someone, and yet the message given to you is Be like me, do
not be like me you will be scandalized, eventually you will judder to a halt, unable to move forwards or backwards.

What I would like to suggest is that in all these cases we are dealing with a self that has been formed by being given contradictory desires without being given any ability to discern where they might appropriately be applied. In other words, two instructions are received as on the same level as each other, pointing in two different directions at once, and the result is paralysis. This is what "skandalon" refers to in the New Testament: scandal, or stumbling block. Someone who is scandalized is someone who is paralysed into an inability to move. And the undoing of skandala , which means the unbinding of double binds that do not allow people to be, is what the Gospel is supposed to be about.

I want to make it quite clear that we are dealing with something very basic and central to the Gospel here. It is perfectly possible to present the Gospel in such a way that it is a sort of double-bind. Any sort of presentation of the Christian faith which says I love you but I do not love you, or I don't love you as you are, but if you become someone different I will love you is in fact preaching a double-bind, a stumbling block, a pathway to paralysis.

Lets imagine the conversation between a false god and the self:

That's how powerful it is to receive our sense of self, our identity, our desire, in imitation of, through the regard of, eyes which give us a mixed message, a double bind. Now if the Gospel means anything at all it means that the Good News about God is unambivalent, that there are no ifs and buts in God, Gods love is unconditional. And this means, above all, that there are no
double-binds in God. That God desires that our desire should flow free, life-giving and untrammelled, because it is in that flow of desire that we are called into being. Well, if that is the case, imagine then what might be a conversation between the unambivalently loving God and the self: Or to put it in a nutshell, when faced with the standard Irish joke about How do I get to Dublin?, and being told If I were you I wouldn't start from here, the Gospel response, that is to say the regard of Christ, tells us: I will come with you starting from where you are.

Now I put it to you as a question: is the teaching of the Vatican Congregations which I quoted to you before compatible with the Gospel, or is it compatible with the bad Irish joke? I'll quote it for you again: the homosexual inclination, though not itself a sin, constitutes a tendency towards behaviour that is intrinsically evil, and therefore must be considered objectively disordered.

To me at least it is clear. This teaching is interposing itself between the regard of Christ and our own sense of being in a way which tends to pervert the simple regard of one who loves us as we are, and as loved we will find ourselves becoming someone different. It is teaching us instead that God will only love us if we start from somewhere else. That is to say, the teaching is in the technical sense a skandalon, a stumbling block, something which compounds a double-bind rather than undoing it.

It is because I think that the teaching is incompatible with the Gospel
at this very fundamental level that I also think that,
despite the protestations of the current office-holders in the Roman Curia,
it cannot in fact be the teaching of the Church.

A dimension of this which I have brought out more or less strongly, and which may not be obvious when people talk about conscience, is the importance of understanding that our conscience is always related to and formed by what is other than us, prior to us, outside us. It is not as though there is a real private voice somewhere inside us which gives us infallible deliverances which are right. On the contrary, what constitutes our inside is a more or less well-managed conversation between different voices which have called us into being one way or another, through parents, education, Church, politicians, and which often
enough have tied us up. We are called into being as bodies acting in the world through those voices. This means that when it comes to the unbinding of conscience, it is not ever a question of searching back under all the voices for some innocent voice which I know to be a good conscience. That is merely a terrible form of self-deception.

No, both the being given a self and a sense of self through language, and the unbinding of the conscience are always the work of someone else, outside us, and the most important thing is to which other are we listening? Who is the other who can unbind our conscience, who can induct us into desiring without double-binds?

I rather suspect that this helps to bring out part of the impression which Jesus left on those to whom He spoke, and is therefore rather the impression that He leaves when He speaks to us: for He taught them as one who had authority, not as the scribes; for "my sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me".

Speaking with authority means speaking from within the power
of the author, the beginner, the creator
and can be recognized precisely because
it unbinds double-binds and stumbling blocks which cannot be from God
because no good Creator could possibly treat his creatures in this way.

I would like to dwell a little more on the effects on us of this regard, the one which looks at us and says I love you, and as you discover yourself loved you will find yourself becoming something else. I want to say something apparently rather banal here, but I think it is rather important.

I think that we would be wise to send the word love to the laundry and use the word like instead. I say this for the following reason. You have probably met people, as I have, who tell us that they love gay people, and that is why they are so keen to change us. In other words their love does not include the word like. It means something like: I feel that in obedience to God's love for sinners I must stop you being who you are. But in fact the word like is rather more difficult to twist into a lie than the word love, because we know when someone likes us. We can tell because they enjoy being with us, alongside us, want to share our time and company. Well, what I would like to suggest is that

if our understanding of love does not include liking,
or at least being prepared to learn to like,
then there's a good chance that were talking about the sort of love
that can slip a double-bind over us,
that is really saying to us My love for you means that
I will like you if you become someone else.

Well, it seems to me that the doctrine of the incarnation of Our Lord, the image of God coming among us as the likeness of humans, is a strong statement that the divine regard is one of liking us, here and now, as we are. Glad to be with us. And this means that the one who looks at us with love is not just looking at us with a penetrating and inscrutable gaze of utter otherness, but is looking at us with the delight of one who enjoys our company, who wants to be one with us, to share in something with us.

Sure, as we learn to relax into that being loved we are going to find that we are quite different from what we thought we were,
and that our patterns of desire will become quite different, which is what it means to find that the Holy Spirit has come to dwell in us in and through the reformation of our desire. But the regard does not first knock down so as then to build up, as we so often imagine it, rather as though Jesus was a sergeant-major whose job it is to give hell to the recruits and make them feel awful so that later, after they've lost their identities, they'll start to feel good new identities as soldiers, and then they'll discover he has a heart of gold.

No, our faith is that the eyes of God that are in Christ, and thus the divine regard through which we can receive new being, are eyes that like us, from alongside, at the same level as us. Which means, do not control us, do not try to know better than us who we are, but want to participate in a discovery with us of who we are to become. And that means that there is no plot to lose. There is only an adventure of trusting in the goodness of the one who loves us and seeing what we would really like to do.
Our Lord put it this way:

"For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’"
The key feature of this parable is that it is the imagination of the servants as to what their master is like which is the determining factor of their conscience and thus the wellspring of their activity. The first two servants clearly imagined their master being away as an opportunity to do something delightful. Because they trusted that their master was the sort of daring fellow who would do rash and crazy things for which there was no script, would dare, would experiment, would risk losing things and so would end up multiplying things greatly. In other words, they perceived their masters regard for them as one of liking them enough to be daring them and encouraging them to be adventurous, and so, imagining and trusting that abundance would multiply, they indeed multiplied abundance. The third servant revealed exactly what regard he had laboured under: his imagination of who the master is comes out in his own words:
"Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground."
He acted according to his imagination. And his imagination was one of a double bind, perfectly captured in the phrase reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow. His perception of the other was of one who did not like him and thus had put an impossible burden on him, and so all he had done was simply sulk. He had been bound, the living dead, moving neither forward nor backward. It is no wonder that in Luke's version, the master says Out of your own mouth I will condemn you your wicked servant, because it is in fact the servants own perception that has bound him.

Now I put it to you that the Eucharistic presence of Jesus in our midst is the way God constantly reminds us, calls us into mind, of his regard, one of liking us, encouraging us to be daring with him, during the time of the absence of the master, and that our having our conscience unbound means our becoming able to trust in the regard of one who likes us and so is delighted that we will come up with crazy new daring schemes which didn't seem to be part of the programme at all. And it is according to our conscience that we will act. If our conscience accepts the regard of, and wants to be like, someone who likes us, who is daring, creative, innovative, effervescent, unafraid, risk-taking and so on, then we will find ourselves behaving like that, being able to stand up and take the rap, delighting in finding ways of getting people off the hook, never taking no for an answer, refusing to believe that something is impossible for God; and that is who we will become.

Someone of unbound conscience can dare to get it wrong, because they don't have to get it right. If you have to get it right, that means that you don't dare to get it wrong, which means that you are afraid of what will happen to you if you do get it wrong.

But the Catholic and Christian understanding of conscience is that because we know that we are liked we can get it wrong, and it doesn't matter, because we are not frightened of punishment, but able to learn from our mistakes. In fact, if we can't dare to be wrong, then we can't truly get it right, because our being right will be a form of protection against what is other than us, what is unknown, exciting, big and causing us to be bigger-minded, magnanimous.

A good conscience is not a feeling of self-satisfaction at having got it right;
it is much more the underlying excitement of knowing yourself on the way somewhere,
which is perfectly compatible with a deep sorrow of realization at having got something wrong.

This is the excitement of being a son or daughter who is on an adventure, not the contractual precision of a slave who has to get something right because he has no sense of being on the inside of the project of whoever is in charge, and merely senses the other as arbitrary and capricious, as someone who will glower at what is not perfect.

Well, what does it mean to you that God does not merely love us gay people in a clinical, arms-length sense, but likes us, enjoys our company, wants to be in on the adventure with us, see where we can take the adventure of being human? Is it not true that the mere phrase "I like you" gives permission to be, is creative of space, suggests I'm curious to accompany you, means delight? And if that is the case,

why don't we dare to imagine that God does actually want us to be free and happy,
starting exactly from where we are;

that our desire for a loving partner, or to build a crazy community project full of eccentric queens making a difference to society and Church, is something which could well lead to fulfilment, a fulfilment much bigger than we could imagine.

Just because Peter hasn't yet got it, doesn't mean that the Spirit can be stopped from unbinding our desire. Just because our hierarchs seem unable to dare even to offer us the sort of eucharistic space which is our baptismal new-birthright doesn't mean that our consciences need be bowed down by, bound by, all that heaviness of decline management, that defensive bureaucratic inability to negotiate as adults with adults. For that heaviness and that inability says something about them, and
need say nothing about us.

Consciences are unbound for a doing and a becoming, and that, I think is where we find ourselves now: given that the only judgement we will receive will be that of freedom, what do we want to dare to do, starting now?

What would it be fun to present our master with on his return?

One final point. I think we are very privileged to be gay and lesbian Catholics at this time, and this is in part because of the growing sense that we are in on the inner dynamic of the project which is the sharing of the Good News about God with the world. I want to point out that one of the features of the texts of the apostolic witnesses in the New Testament is that they are marked to a very strong degree by the notion of a sort of coming out, a leaving behind something which while theoretically good in itself, had turned into a trap. Sometimes this is presented in a moralistic way as people leaving something bad to join something good.

Well, I think it is much closer to the mark to see it as people leaving something apparently good: whether the Law or the decencies of Roman civil religion, and instead becoming free. Paul is keen that the freedom not turn into licentiousness, but he is much, much more keen that people don't go back into "goodness" with its bound consciences and its comforting dependency on group approval.

Which of the following two propositions do you think is closer to the witness of the New Testament?

Or: What does the teaching about not putting new wine in old wineskins, or about avoiding the leaven of the pharisees, mean if it isn't part of the way the author of all things speaks into being a daring conscience? So, where shall we take it?

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