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Homosexuality, Sanctity and JPII

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To continue my study and discussion of the Late Pontiff, John Paul II tonight, I am going to touch on some of the inconsistencies between Papal Encyclicals, Christian teachings and beliefs and the movement towards the sacred and holy lives of homosexuals.

In the life of John Paul II, he was faced with very stark realities from around the world based on the historical circumstances of the times, what was going on around the world as his papacy began and flourished. We find in studying the Holy Father’s writings and even including his public speeches and pronouncements that on one hand he wrote one thing and then he said another. He acted one way to his minions at masses and public gatherings, but behind closed doors, he was an angry opinionated and very strict enforcer and disciplinarian. Some of his outwards actions became questionable when visiting Nicaragua and Central America. John Paul did not mince words in any case. He ruled his papcy with a strong hand and a strong voice, although seeming as “the people’s pope” what they did not see may have saved him public ridicule. One must remember though his papacy was bolstered by the men who supported and assisted him. Those who had influence over him, took full advantage of that, even IF John Paul did what he wanted to do and said what he wanted to say to those he needed to speak to.

John Paul’s actions conflicted with his academic writings in his capacity as Pontiff. He missed the mark on several fronts and occasions to really make a difference, where life demanded understanding and logical thought. One must scrupulously interpret the writings of John Paul, because what he wrote spoke to all, yet included few. In retrospect we could say that the heavy hand of the Church, alienated more Catholic’s than united them. As strict as the church was, there was no evolution of thought inside the walls of Holy Mother Church, and that was one of the greatest downfalls of John Paul’s papacy.

He did not build many bridges, yet he burned many. John Paul was the consummate politician behind the scenes, yet he preached against priests and clergy from engaging in political actions or ‘countering’ the Church. John Paul was a huge influence on the fall of communism. He was also a large influence in the fall of the Berlin wall. During the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, John Paul assisted him in many ways, by attaining and passing critical information to government officials. So we must ask about the duplicity of the office of the Pope, when it comes to certain teachings from the halls of Mother Church.

In the ministry of John Paul II, we know that what worked for the church in one “world region” was not necessarily the answer for another. For example, coming from a WWII region in Europe, Poland, to be specific, the Pontiff set out an ambitious plan to liberate Poland from the Nazis’ and then communism. His hard line preaching to his homeland was shaded by his love of country and his devotion to his own.

His hard line in Europe was also the same hard line that was used in other regions of the world, namely South and Central America. John Paul was staunchly against Liberation Theology and made no bones about it. Archbishop Oscar Romero, who preached to his people and was against to the government of El Salvador, Archbishop Romero was shot and killed while saying mass in the chapel at the hospital where he lived on March 24, 1980.

As a Catholic, living in North America, the hard fist of the church was not as strong as it was in mainland European nations, where the church was a solidly entrenched adversary. And that is how many Catholics began to see the church as “adversary” because much of what was written from the Pontiff and the Vatican was so hard lined that the faithful had one of two choices, to follow Holy Mother Church, or find themselves outside the acceptable parameters of proper Catholic adherence to Papal Guidance.

As a young man, growing up under the shadow of Holy Mother Church, I followed the law and had no qualms with what the Holy Father had to say, until I entered seminary and the definition of self and the divining of a vocational calling that I thought I was following took center stage. My only goal at age 19 was to become a priest, to be part of the church and to walk in the good graces of Holy Mother Church and as it happened, I had the opportunity to meet the Late Pontiff twice in my life, which was auspicious.

John Paul believed that “the Catholic priesthood involved heroism, discipline, and ultimate self-sacrifice.”[1]

Continuing with John Paul’s vision of priesthood, “when he came to be Pope, would reflect his mentor’s view (Garrigou-Lagrange) that the priest enjoys supernatural charisms that privilege him and separate him from the rest of humankind. In his book the priest in Union with Christ, Garrigou-Lagrange argued that “ordination is a calling to the highest vocation on earth, higher than the archangels, in union with the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, himself of whom the Holy Father was vicar. Later generations of progressive vocational advisers would question this approach, arguing that it put an unbridgeable gulf between clergy and laity, especially female laity.” [2]

John Paul placed himself and the men in his charge above all others, and therefore were afforded grace and special protection by the church, because of their rite of ordination in the Church.

As Pontiff, John Paul II had much to say about a multitude of subjects. His massive library of books, encyclicals and exhortations and millions of sermons throughout his life, is a historical vision of Church through the eyes and spirituality of the Late Pontiff. As members of Holy Mother Church and maintaining valid “card carrying status” meant that one towed the party line and that was maintained by the threat of loosing ones ability to celebrate with the Church through the reception of the sacraments.

Aside from excommunication, which is the ultimate penalty to be handed down by Holy Mother Church for the most grievous of infringements of the Catholic faith, the Church now practices fully in the revocation of sacraments from those members of Church who step outside the teachings and guidance of the Church. This punishment has been handed down by local dioceses and enforced by local Bishops and Archbishops, as handed down by Holy Mother Church in Rome.

We know that the current Pontiff, Benedict XVI the former Cardinal and keeper of the CDF, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was the main impetus in making sure that John Paul II words were certain, swift and precise.

Of the present Pontiff, Cornwell writes “Thus began a close partnership that would continue into the late years of his papacy (JPII). Small, compact, handsome with silken silver hair (and as imminent British theologian has noted “cruel mouth and bedroom eyes”), Ratzinger was a Bavarian born in 1927 and ordained in 1951. He was an academic theologian who served as professor in several universities in Germany before becoming a theological adviser to the German bishops at Vatican II. In those days, he was a noted progressive and enthusiast for reform. With little pastoral experience, he was appointed to the Archbishopric of Munich in 1977, the year before John Paul was elected and named a cardinal… They agreed the most important task that lay ahead for the governance of the Catholic Church was the protection of the Truth… Over the years, Ratzinger would be accused of discourtesy, lack of charity, and of being a bully in his pursuit of orthodoxy.”[3] This last thought has become very apparent in the present day papacy of Benedict XVI. I make no bones about my disdain for the German Pontiff…

Evangelium Vitae

When one reads any of the encyclicals of any pope, one has to carefully wade through the written word to figure out just who he is speaking to and for what reason. John Paul did a lot of writing, and he spoke about a myriad of topics. I am going to talk about “Evangelium Vitae,” The Gospel of Life. And we shall look at this document through the lens of a gay man, or as John Paul has called us, “homosexuals.” Let us begin with this quote and take this in the spirit that it is written:

“The blood of Christ, while it reveals the grandeur of the Father’s love, shows how precious man is in God’s eyes and how priceless the value of his life. The Apostle Peter reminds us of this: “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your father’s, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1Peter 1:18-19) Precisely by contemplating the precious blood of Christ, the sign of his self-giving love (cf. Jn 13:1), the believer learns to recognize and appreciate the almost divine dignity of every human being and can exclaim with ever renewed and grateful wonder: “How precious must man be in the eyes of the Creator, if he ‘gained so great a Redeemer’ (Exsultet of the Easter Vigil), and if God ‘gave his only Son’ in order that man ‘should not perish but have eternal life!’” (cf. Jn 3:16)”[4]

These words are written by the Late Pontiff, and I take this specific quote from the context of his discussion of abortion, the culture of death and the sanctity of life, and I apply them to present day Christian theology and practice. We take this quote and we read it as it is spoken by the Pontiff speaking to his flock at large, which is a very important message of inclusion, faith, love of the Church for human life, and ultimately, the love of God, as we were created in his image. I continue my vision of Papal writing with my gay filter and I offer this next quote from ‘The Pontiff in Winter,’

“Equally distant from experience are John Paul’s comments on homosexuals, who can never aspire, he declares, to a relationship, or “familial” love, since it is impossible, he says, for two men (or two women) to give themselves physically to each other in genuine love. Hence any attempted union between the ceases to be a total self donation and such acts are “always and in every case sterile, not serving life.” Thus homosexuality can never become more than a way of two persons “using each other.” This denunciatory reflection takes a very narrow and unrealistic view of the circumstances of many homosexual relationships. Nor can he accept that many religious homosexuals see themselves as part of the richness of God’s creation.”[5]

When you see the pope in action, he smiles and hugs and welcomes everybody that he sees in front of him, but in private circles, behind closed doors and in his writings to the people of his ‘Church’ he is not so forgiving or accepting. This is problematic for many Catholics and it has been this way for as long as I can remember. Being Catholic and living a good Christian life, means that one must wade through all the writing and find what works for them and leaving the rest behind, we begin to build a ‘faith of our own.’ Here John Paul is clearly uneducated and speaking from a place of misunderstanding.

John Paul did this countless times, where he writes something in the capacity as Pontiff talking about subjects that he clearly has not life experience with, that he could write a well rounded, informed and logical piece of work. He does this many times in writing to and about women and about AIDS and here, homosexuality. John Paul took certain liberty in his writing to address topics that were clearly ‘outside his personal purview.’ But he believed strongly about many issues, and was passionate about every single topic he wrote about. But to be fair, one must also take into consideration the social atmosphere of the times, and what was acceptable and not. What was normal and what was not. And we must also recognize the narrow vision one has in Rome, versus the rest of the world as a whole. The world that John Paul was born into, raised and educated and the atrocities he witnessed in his homeland and of his people clouded his vision at times, this critical flaw hurt his ministry in other parts of the world.

As a young man I idolized my Pontiff. He was a rock star Pope and he made certain impressions on millions of young people world wide. And as I grew up, I still respected the man for his station, because deep down, I loved the church. I loved my Pope. It was my goal as a young person to serve this man to my dying day, and pledge allegiance to his Church.

Just because I came out of the closet did not change the fact that John Paul was the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church, because the men of faith I grew up with accepted me with all of my flaws and subsequent illness, so I was not affected by Rome on a local level. In University, I learned much about my Pontiff, and I grew to love him more, even if I am critical of his papacy. What Religion Scholar is not critical of their leaders? It is my job as a student to look at all sides of the topic and present my insight as a gay man to others who might need some education on what made John Paul tick, what and who influenced his papacy and in the end, what shaped the papacy and life of John Paul II.

There is so much more we could talk about, and I am moving away from my original topic, so let us return to our discussion and move forward into meditations on Gay Men’s spirituality, we will look at the writing of my mentor and friend, Donald Boisvert.

In Preface Donald quotes Ronald E. Long, “A gay man is one who recognizes and lives by the ‘sacrality’ of masculine beauty and homosex. And ‘coming out’ is a gay man’s refusal to live a life that belies the sacrality of what he holds sacred.”[6] How we see ourselves as gay men, as Catholics and as men of God are as unique as we are individually. Donald believes that “Gay spirituality to be a form of religious expression and a manifestation of identity politics. For me, the two are not mutually exclusive.”[7]

I have cultivated and worked on my gay spirituality for over a decade since I am reaching that point where I can safely say that I have been out and gay for half my life today. It has not been easy and the study of religion with professors that have encouraged me to think ‘outside the box’ has only helped me in my quest for spiritual truth. In further reading of ‘Out on Holy Ground’ Boisvert writes:

“Gay spirituality is characterized by a spirit of defiance. In asserting the truth and viability of the gay religious experience, and in creating the conditions that allow it to assume a meaningful and treasured place in the lives of gay men, gay spirituality situates itself squarely in opposition to the orthodox religious norm. Though some forms of gay spiritual life may be very much tied in with more established churches, gay spirituality, as a whole, is transnormative. It may borrow blatantly and deliberately from a universal storeroom of religious symbols and rituals, but it posits a radically different understanding of the human body and of human sexuality, on the one hand, and of human relationships with the holy or with the sacred, on the other.”[8]

What is it we are called to be, men of faith, men of God, loved by the One who created us, in the face of disinformation and exclusion by Holy Mother Church. This is our ministry to reach out to those who find themselves outside the walls of holy Mother Church trying to find ones way into faith, by any route available. I believe that a faith component is integral to the life of every human being, gay or straight, male or female, young or old. To close out this episode of religious teaching I give you one last quote from ‘Out on Holy Ground,’ Boisvert writes:

“We return to our initial question: What is gay spirituality? In discussing its characteristics, we have examined how it consists of three elements in symbiosis: critical discourse, political action, and sexual affirmation. Gay spirituality reveals the ways by which gay men define, recognize, and assert themselves, not only as individuals having a religious dimension, but as beings whose very difference is the source of their spiritual and historical election.”.”[9]

I may not have agreed with alot of the Late Pontiff’s writing and they way he excluded so many from the ‘flock’ I maintain that there must have been a disconnect within the humanity of John Paul, versus his Pontificate persona of the church. I must believe that he did not want to exclude anyone from God or the sacraments, but I think the establishment forced him against a wall, that he produced some of the most incredibly painful words in his papal encyclicals. Amongst pages and pages of the sweetest poetry John Paul II wrote were the few thorns that put many at odds with the church. We may never know what John Paul thought, humanly, but for me I believe that John Paul was more human than he led on, because I am faithfully sure that whatever he wrote to his church, he took those concerns to his chapel and his God, and I believe that he prayed that God would understand and forgive him for many of the things he wrote. We must remember that the Church is larger than John Paul was humanly. And what came from the “Church” may have been to placate and silence those who would silence him, if he wavered from the party line. If God created us in his image and blessed all of us with life and love, then we need not look any further for God’s love than what is written about God. We do not need a man to intercede for us to God, if we have faith, then we can get to God on our own.

You can take the boy out of the Church, but you cannot take the Church out of the boy. I will be a religious man till the day that I die, my Catholic faith is burned into my soul, however much I criticize and judge it for its flaws and foibles. We each have to find our way into faith by whatever means. And if that means subversion is useful, then so be it. I have been accused by Catholic priests here in Montreal of subverting the teaching of the church to justify my homosexuality, and that is (his) problem, not mine.

What’s done is done, and in the end, on that last moment of my life, I will stand before God and He and I will have a discussion, and you know what, nobody else will be privy to that conversation.

That is my sermon for this week. Stay tuned, I know I will have more to say about John Paul II.

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O Holy Trinity,
we thank you for having given to the Church
Pope John Paul II,
and for having made him shine with your fatherly tenderness,
the glory of the Cross of Christ and the splendor of the Spirit of love

He, trusting completely in your infinite mercy
and in the maternal intercession of Mary, has shown himself
in the likeness of Jesus the Good Shepherd
and has pointed out to us holiness
as the path to reach eternal communion with You.

Grant us, through his intercession,
according to your will, the grace that we implore,
in the hope that he will soon be numbered among your saints.
Amen.

Can you tell I am missing academic writing, in presenting this paper for your reading pleasure, I hope that it stirs some discussion and maybe some of your own writing and reflection on this topic.

[1] John Cornwell, The Pontiff in Winter, Double Day Press, 2004, pg. 21

[2] John Cornwell, The Pontiff in Winter, Double Day Press, 2004, pg. 25

[3] John Cornwell, The Pontiff in Winter, Double Day Press, 2004, pgs. 94-95

[4] John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, Daughters of St. Paul, 1995, pg. 46

[5] John Cornwell, The Pontiff in Winter, Double Day Press, 2004, pg. 141

[6] Donald Boisvert, Out on Holy Ground, Pilgrim Press, 2000, Pref: xi

[7] Donald Boisvert, Out on Holy Ground, Pilgrim Press, 2000, pg. 3

[8] Donald Boisvert, Out on Holy Ground, Pilgrim Press, 2000, pg. 10

[9] Donald Boisvert, Out on Holy Ground, Pilgrim Press, 2000, pg. 18