Mar 30, 2013


As we await Easter dawn, I thought I would share these wonderful paintings on the Paschal Mystery by Italian artist, Bruno Grassi (not to be confused with the 25 year old Brazilian football player). I saw a stunning  exhibition of his work four years ago in the ancient church of Santa Maria del Angeli in Rome, just opposite Termini Train station. That exhibition focused exclusively on his Christian work, but as you can see from his website here, he also has a strong interest in women couples (among other secular subjects). I hesitate to call them 'lesbian,' though they do appear to be lovers of sorts. Very moving and interesting portraits. What must they mean? Unfortunately, not being able to speak or read Italian, I can't explicate the arcane symbolism in some of his work, particularly the interesting figure on the guard's breastplate in the Resurrection painting above. I can't recall any religious art of the last 50 years that captures the Christian mysteries with such evocative power and contemporary resonance. He brings the ancient  Christian symbols alive once again.

 A haunting crucificion

The Wedding Feast of Cana = with only female guests surrounding the Master. 

Two stunning Annunciation's, but is the second one supposed to mean what I think it means?


Click HERE to view Bruno Grassi's You Tube Channel. 

Note in particular his stunning frescoes for the Church of Madonna del Buon Consiglio. This appears to be a small run down church in an Italian village, which Bruno restored and then enlivened with his magnificent paintings.


Needless to say, this is not the work of Bruno Grassi.
From Thailand. 

Mar 28, 2013

Top blogs supporting marriage equality

As we head towards the historic decisions on marriage equality from the US Supreme Court (which will most likely not be definitive - not quite yet) =

Yeshua says to check out these top blogs supporting marriage equality:

Top 100 blogs supporting marriage equality:

For those wishing a more sober, objective opinion as to what may 'go down' this week with the US supreme court, check out Bill Blum at Truth Dig:

Post-Argument Recap: Prop. 8 and DOMA Are Going Down

I recognize the historic important of this weeks debate before the most conservative Supreme Court bench in decades, yet I feel somewhat distant from it all - since after 30 years of life as an expat, I no longer identify as 'an American,' though I continue to hold a US passport. Yet equality for one (country) is equality for all, whether it's the deeply divided US or the tragically compromised Uganda.

Mar 25, 2013

Gaymystic to be archived in US Library of Congress.

I've just been informed that Gay Mystics has been chosen to be archived in the US Library of Congress, for my coverage of the resignation of Pope Benedict and the election of Pope Francis. Of course most - or much of - that coverage is in response to more in depth coverage at Enlightened Catholicism, On Bilgrimage, Queering the Church. Still, it's nice to be noticed, and gives me incentive to keep developing the blog. I tend to be sporadic in my attention to it, since I'm also trying to write a Christian centered gay teen love story/murder mystery/espionage thriller centered in Prague. Nothing like trying to do too much at the same time in the same book!

Meanwhile, I was gratified to read at Clerical Whispers that a young Catholic high school girl in Philadelphia has won her fight to be allowed to play football in the CYO 'all-male' CYO football league. After sputtering a bit about the girl's contacts with the media-including Good Morning America and The Ellen DeGeneres Show (that lesbian person, gasp, horror,) Archbishop Chaput of the Capa Magna fame, relented and gave the girl -and any other girls-permission to play. The Clerical Whispers team suggests that this change of heart on the archbishop's part is due mainly to the election of Pope Francis. And so the revolution has already begun!

As for myself, I'm actually reading Father Francis's sermons for spiritual inspiration, the first time I've been able to do this without cringing since the death of Pope John I of holy memory (Albino Luciani, not his Polish successor!). I'm still waiting for the shoe to drop on the issue of LGBT rights, condoms and AIDS. But I strongly suspect any such utterances from Father Francis will not be accompanied by the beating of the tom toms.

Why "Father" Francis? Because this is how he is addressed by Hebe de Bonafin, the leader of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (who continue to cry out for news of the disappeared during Argentina's "dirty wars"), and one of Cardinal Bergoglio's fiercest critics until he became Pope Francis.  Hebe began hearing many testimonies in his favor from Argentina's poor and says she was deeply moved and impressed. So yet another fierce and determined critic has been won over and now hopes for change from the Vatican. Read the whole story here at Vatican Insider.

For myself, I'm waiting to hear Father Francis' comments to the young at the World Youth Rally to be held in Rio, Brazil in July. I would like to hear him define the "filth of the world" he believes young people should resist. I hope it will not include any direct negative references to gay unions, marriage and such. Hoping he would include homophobia as one of the filthy ills of the world is probably hoping for too much.

However, we already know he is on record as saying the church should not be attacking the civil rights of minority groups like LGBT folks (he's in favor of civil unions, but was overruled by Argentina's bishops in making that public) and he's come out in favor of gays adopting children, in certain circumstances. So a man of contradictions and only time will tell. However, he has already popped the balloon of papal mystagogy, and whatever pronouncements he may make on sexual and ethical issues, he's really only making them as Father Francis, one voice among many.  "The pope needs to be put in his place," my revered professor of sacred scripture, Father Edward Malatesta, S.J., said many years ago (43 years ago to be precise). Father Francis, as can be seen from this marvelous photo from Whispers in the Loggia, has already decided to ride in the back of the bus.

Meanwhile, life goes on and I'm back to doing my own work writing for gay  teens, which in part includes providing them with the spiritual resources to establish their own lived connection with the Divine in their hearts, a living Presence who loves them unconditionally and who blesses their attempts to love each other in a sexually expressive way. We simply can't wait around for any religious figure-however benign-to experience a conversion of heart, though Father Francis remains in my prayers in this regard, and I continue to experience deep peace and joy in my heart at the wondrous mystery of his election. I doubt few of the Cardinal electors fully realized what they were unleashing on the Church.

Mar 22, 2013

Pope Francis to canonize Oscar Romero?

(Apologies for the tabloid headline. I couldn't resist. If anyone doesn't know Bishop Oscar Romero, there is good reason. A sadly neglected saint and martyr to injustice in El Salvador, assassinated by hit men hired by military extremists trained and indoctrinated in the US at the School of the Americas. Only one kind of figure in one kind of mould has reached the altars in the RCC under the past two papacies. Perhaps now things might change. )

Spending a few days in retreat for the beginning of Holy Week in the Unesco World Heritage site of Cesky Krumlov, considered the finest, best preserved Renaissance township in existence-dating back to the 13th century. There is a fine Jesuit College here among other sites, and the town breathes the atmosphere of a long forgotten Catholic Europe, when the medieval Christian world view was the only conceptual and spiritual space the majority of human beings could inhabit. Crosses by the roadside, small statues of Mother and Child by the wayside, images of Saints over the door frames, the guiding, protecting spirits of the Church spiritual make their presence felt as part of one seamless, living whole. It reminds me so much of the atmosphere of Buddhism mixed with animism one breathes every where in Thailand, with so many wayside shrines to the Buddha and the Spirits popping up everywhere. An invisible world of the spirit, made tangible and real, yet ever mysterious and elusive. It is here and still alive in this tiny but radiant alcove of a now secularized, post Christian Europe. 

I'm only just now coming to terms with my own deeply joyful, astonished, yet peaceful reaction to the election of Cardinal Bergoglio to the papacy. So I was deeply moved to read at Colleen Colkcoch's blog, Enlightened Catholicism, her recent discoveries that Pope Francis is on record as saying-twice-that if he were elected pope (which he considered to be impossible at the time of these utterances), he would make it a top priority to push for the canonization of Martyred archbishop Oscar Romero.  Colleen very wittily suggests that Bergoglio's election to the Papacy, against his expectations, may very well be Bishop Romero's first miracle. I concur. While it is still too early to tell-much too early to be anything but heartfelt wishful, thinking-this papacy is already beginning to look more and more like the surprise appearance in the Church of Angelo Roncalli as Pope John XXIII, a man considered by the Cardinals who elected him to be a benign but harmless doctrinally conservative interm pope. However, there are considerable signs that the men who elected this present pope did have hopes he would reform the Curia, refresh the image of the papacy and restore the tarnished image of the church in general. A very smooth PR move. Is it just possible that they may have - very unwittingly- released the genie out of the bottle? OH the best laid plans of mice and men. Oh again-all those political machinations and behind the scenes maneuverings - and the end result is the paradoxically gentle detonation of a hidden unsuspected bomb. 

Colleen also quotes from Vatican Insider:

Paolo Mastrolilli - Buenos Aires - Vatican Insider - 319/2013 Francis’ first saint will be a martyr of Argentina’s military dictatorship, if the wish he expressed before he became Pope is respected. Carlos de Dios Murias, a young Franciscan friar who was tortured and brutally murdered by a military death squad in the province of La Rioja, in 1976.

“Bergoglio himself signed Murias’ canonization cause in May 2011. He did so with discretion, so as to prevent other Argentine bishops “who are still opposed to initiatives based on priests’ social commitment” from stopping the canonization. 

Colleen's commentary needs to be read in full, but it appears that the doubts about Francis' behavior during Argentina's dirty war have finally been laid to rest. This fact also highlights the testimony of many that Francis is more open and liberal than he seems. He is simply discrete about it.

I found this statement by Fr. Miguel Civita to be very significant (with Colleen's editorial comments in italics):
I met him when we were students.  A few days after the assassinations took place, he took our Seminarists and hid them in the Jesuit Collegium Maximum he headed. These are not just stories I heard somewhere: I actually experienced these events in person. And let me make one thing clear: I was the archetypal third world priest, as they were called back then: liberation theology. The College used spiritual retreats to help the persecuted: it gave them a place to hide, had false documents made and helped them flee abroad. Bergoglio was adamant the military would never muster up the courage to invade the College.”(This is very reminiscent of Angelo Roncalli's actions during WWII.  The man we now know as Pope John XXIII.)

One now begins to understand the depths of humility of this man, Francis I, and the gentle, unobtrusive, discrete way he operates. Colleen suggests that this might just be his proven method of reform, indirectly through stealth rather than direct confrontation. And she then made the observation that was so startling and surprising that I laughed out loud while reading it in bed at 5am in the morning in the medieval Christian outpost of Cesky Krumlov. One of those original insights that one would never have made oneself, but once someone else expresses it , seem so obvious and right. Francis' most effective way of reform might just be through personal example, leading to a deep metanonia or conversion of heart, something his predecessors could not accomplish, for all of their dictatorial top down methods of coercion.

Is it utopian to hope for this, a reform through conversion of heart. Perhaps, but it is a significant fact that this man,  Francis, has made such speculation possible. That in itself is a signifier of hope and transformation, and a remarkable miracle in itself, however small. One doesn't wish to get too carried away here, however, as I have little hope for any significant, public change in the church's position towards gay people, yet even there one can hope. All I know is that I feel such an enormous interior sense of relief, as if a heavy burden has been lifted off of my own shoulders, a burden I didn't even know I was carrying, until its absence revealed itself.  Out of love for the church and for its  Risen Lord, I have always felt, unconsciously perhaps, that as a believing Christian, albeit one among many, I must DO something to heal the many wounds of the Church, that a moral obligation of great weight was pressed upon me continually, like the call of the Beloved within one's heart, and unless this obligation was lifted, I could not be at peace. I had no idea the burden was so heavy until now. It is as if I can finally breathe again. The church is finally in the hands of a genuinely good and humble man, after such a long, difficult drought. And yet, it isn't in his hands really, is it? It is in our hands, and the pope is  only a figurehead of unity and should not be the final, absolute arbiter of change and transformation. He should be a servant by example,and so far Francis' example has been inspiring. Let us hope this example continues and that Francis has the strength and grace to face his opposition, which is going to be formidable. There is no way forward without the Cross. Part of that Cross may be that Francis is forced to face his own need for growth and evolution in the area of sexual ethics and the rights of LGBT people. Our task as witnesses to the beauty and dignity of being gay - and gay in a sexually expressive way- is far from over, and the Cross awaits us as well. But I am so relieved that I can finally breath again.

Mar 21, 2013

More endorsements of Pope Francis from key Latin American liberationists

Another significant figure from Liberation Theology's glorious past, the great bishop of the Amazonia, Dom Pedro Casadaliga, has come out with a ringing endorsement of Pope Francis. His statement can be read at Rebel Girl's great blog, Iglesia Descalza.

Dom Pedro said he felt relief when Bergoglio was chosen, fearing that another more conservative pope would be elected. He said he feels the choice "means a change in the figure of the Pope. Obviously, the Pope alone isn't the Church -- it's everyone's responsibility," the bishop said.

Casaldaliga praised Pope Francis' simplicity, his evangelizing spirit, and the symbolism of his first gesture, bowing before the people gathered on St. Peter's Square to receive their blessing before bestowing his. "It's a different style," Dom Pedro said.

The previous posting at Iglesia Descalza is yet another highly supportive statement from Leonardo Boff, one of the legendary founders of Liberation Theology. 

Leonardo Boff: "What matters isn't Bergoglio and his past, but Francis and his future"

Brazilian theologian Leonard Boff, a proponent of the progressive line in the Latin American Catholic Church, doesn't believe the denunciations that describe the new Pope Francis as a collaborator with the last Argentina dictatorship.

In an interview with IPS, Boff admits that it's a "controversial subject," with contradictory versions. But he prefers to trust the outpourings of notorious defenders of human rights in Argentina, who are denying any link between Jorge Bergoglio, who was elected pope by the Vatican, and the military regime that Argentina endured from 1976 to 1983.

Mar 19, 2013

Francis Installed: Pointy Hats, Altar Boys, Gays?

Well, I watched the ceremony at St. Peter's this morning, with BBC commentary. I was far less moved than I was by Francis' unannounced Parish mass last Sunday, which seemed so much more authentic, simple and pastoral. 

This time, all of the creaky anachronisms of the Catholic hierarchical world view were on display in all their absurdity, foremost among them being the rickety, feeble old men, ALL men, in their pointy hats taking their positions at the head of the cue, so to speak. Francis himself looked simple, uncomplicated, unpretentious, benign, but steely in his determination. But the whole spectacle is woefully out of date. All those old men. Don't they realize what that looks like? And let us not forget the beautiful altar boys, I'm talking boys in their teens, all chosen obviously for their stunning beauty. Reminds me of the words from Irish author Colm Toibin I quoted several weeks ago:

“I remember being at the Vatican at Easter 1994,” he recalled, “and watching all the cardinals and bishops, wonderfully powerful old men with great chins, sitting nobly with a long row of extraordinarily beautiful young seminarians standing behind, shading them with different colored sun umbrellas, some of which were pink.

“It was remarkable that none of them seemed to know what it looked like, and I watched it thinking, somebody must tell them.”
Really, it gives one a chill to see how the perfect young specimens on display (from teens to twenties) have been so carefully chosen for matchless physical beauty. In light of the abuse scandal, doesn't anybody understand how this looks? Guess not. But it gave me the shivers. 
It sets up an unequal hierarchy all its own. Where are the ordinary looking boys and young men (god forbid any girls would be allowed to serve), the goofy boys with buck teeth and pimples who don't fit the mold. Shame on me for being distracted from the sublimity of the moment by this trivial observation, but it's all just so...well, in a word ... GAY.

(To be fair, a year ago I was in Jerusalem for Holy Week and, by some miracle, actually managed to squeeze into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and  find a seat right within the sanctuary of the Greek Orthodox Church. At precisely 3pm, with the mournful tolling of the bell, the Greek Patriarch and his ministers in shimmering gold vestments,  processed into the sanctuary, accompanied by a long line of stunning altar boys, who were shocking in their physical beauty. It was rather distracting, also, and disconcerting. Where were the ordinary looking kids in lace, and why was appearance so important?) 
Francis' sermon, as translated by BBC commentators, was inspiring in its simplicity, compassion, and ecumenical flavor (pleasing to Leonardo Boff, no doubt) - as we have come to expect over the past few days. It was most moving in it's call to protect the weak, the marginalized, the forgotten on the margins. But there was a sting at the end, and thanks to Historian Eamon Duffy for pointing this out. Francis mentioned the necessity of "following God's plan as revealed to us through nature," which Eamon took to be an indirect reference to Francis' opposition to gay marriage. Here is where we must hope Francis is capable of listening to wiser heads than himself on this issue, as to just what nature in the guise of the social sciences and psychology truly reveal about "God's plan in nature." Otherwise his moving words about protecting the marginalized will ring hollow.
And then the spectacle was all over and the ancient men tottered back into the Vatican with their pointy hats, followed by their beautiful altar boys. I felt a twinge of sympathy for Francis the man, having to deal with all of this. But that is the tragic absurdity of all of this. Despite the folly and the sin, the Catholic Church still manages to give off a profound sense of the Sacred, hidden behind the tarnished images. So far, Francis has managed to purify quite a bit of dross from off of the image of the Petrine office. Time will tell if this cleansing is more than just skin deep. I continue to hope.  

Mar 17, 2013

Pope Francis Approved Adoption by Gay Couple/Hans Kung Overwhelmed with Joy

Following a link from Colleen Colkcoch at her superb blog, Enlightened Catholicism, I wound up at the blog Rorate Caeli, not my usual stopping off place. This blog has posted (disapprovingly, I presume) selections from a recently published interview In Der Spiegel with Leonardo Boff. The comments singled out by Rorate Caeli are shocking enough, so I'll let them speak for themselves.

"Pope Francis is more liberal than what is supposed" 
The Brazilian former priest Leonardo Boff, one of the most preeminent representatives of the so-called Liberation Theology, believes that Pope Francis will surprise many by heading a radical move in the church.

"He now is the pope and he can do whatever he wants. Many will be surprised with what Francis will do. In order to do this, a rupture with traditions will be needed, to leave behind the corrupt Vatican curia to give way to a universal church," Boff said in an interview published by German magazine Der Spiegel in its edition for the upcoming week.

Boff also says that, even though in many aspects - as those referring to contraceptives, celibacy, and homosexuality - Bergoglio followed a conservative line, as a cardinal, that was due solely to pressure from the Vatican, and maintains that there are elements that indicate that the new pope is much more liberal than that.

"A couple of months ago, for instance, he expressly approved that a homosexual couple adopt a child. He is in touch with priests who have been repudiated by the official church because they got married. And, most importantly, he did not let himself be separated from his conviction that we must be on the side of the poor," the former priest says.

Approval of gay adoption? That is the most controversial aspect of gay marriage/coupling. Could this story really be true, because it would portend an earthquake of seismic proportions. (thanks to Colleen Colkcoch for the image).

I presume this story is going to get a lot of press, if true! A lot of flutter going on at conservative Catholic blogs at the moment, with many predictions that liberals will soon turn on Pope Francis with a vengeance. We will see, we will see. I don't usually dip into those kinds of blogs (don't have the necessary moral courage or intestinal fortitude.  A lot of truly nasty stuff being spewed.)

And then it just gets more and more interesting: This comment from the BBC today, that Pope Francis as Cardinal said the Ordinariate for ex Anglicans 'was unnecessary.'

Bishop Venables, who is the Anglican Bishop of Argentina, told the BBC News website that Cardinal Bergoglio, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, had invited him to breakfast in 2009 when the Ordinariate was first suggested.

In Bishop Venables' words as published by the Anglican Communion News Service, "he called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the Ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the Church needs us as Anglicans."

Bishop Venables told the BBC News website that the quotation of him was accurate, but had not been meant for publication and had appeared on the Anglican Communion website without his consent.

The Church needs Anglicans as Anglicans? Wow. This just underscores Boff's comments that Pope Francis is a lot more liberal than people suppose.

Wooosh can't keep up with all of this:

CBC Radio has just posted a ten minute radio interview with Hans Kung on the election of Francis.
Here is my rapid, shorthand transcription

(The election of Cardinal Bergoglio) was a very positive surprise for me. When I looked over the list of papabile mentioned in the media from other countries, I thought not good candidates.

When I heard the news of Cardinal Bergoglio's election I was overwhelmed with joy because that is a good man.

I am happy he is a real Christian person, he presents himself not simply as the Vicar of Christ but as a humble Christian person.

He is not just a man of the Roman curia.

I was happy he was a Jesuit.

We are in a very good position to have hope in this man.

I think it is a very good comparison to make between him and John XXIII. Already his appearance is in humility and simplicity, but even more his pastoral intentions...not just following the law of the curial methods and so on.

He will certainly not be a man of pomp and circumstance, like his predecessor. He will follow his namesake, St. Francis.

Certainly he is a person who is conservative in his mind, but he has made a good start.

There is always the danger he might be coopted by the curia.

When I look at Benedict's secretary, Monseigneur Ganswein, I think that is not right that he (Francis) should have the same secretary.

About his involvement during the ' dirty war' in Argentina:

Let us not have a long conversation about his role in Argentina, but focus on the present problems facing the Church. Not concentrate on Francis's past, but on his future.

His first vital task is to choose the right person for secretary of state - will he be a man of the curia or a man of the Catholic Church.

And then there is this:


Mar 16, 2013

Pope Francis, Muslims and Gays

(This looks like a fun ride. Reminds me not so much of John Paul I as of John XXIII.)

Finally, the story I was looking for. UK's Daily Telegraph has just reminded us that when Benedict made his infamous remarks about Muslims some years ago, then Cardinal Bergoglio issued a sharp rebuke to his pontiff, saying "Benedict's statement doesn't reflect my own opinions. These statements will serve to destroy in 20 seconds the careful construction of a relationship with Islam that Pope John Paul I built up over the past twenty years." Bergoglio then encouraged his subordinates to do the same. When Rome reacted swiftly to the negative criticism,  removing a subordinate Bishop from his position and threatening Bergoglio's own position, the Cardinal chose to boycott Pope Benedict's second synod, remaining in Argentina.

This, in my opinion, is a very telling incident. It demonstrates without ambiguity that Bergoglio does not consider the pope above criticism and sharp rebuke from his fellow Bishops/Cardinals. No absolutism here, and that is a very healthy sign. This is the kind of demythologized approach to the papacy I was praying for in the election of a new pope. I don't believe any pope, however openminded, can do much to effect substantial change in doctrine within the Roman Catholic Church, not in the short term at this point in history. What a humble pope can do, however, is reduce the aura of infallible mystagogy that surrounds the Papacy as it has evolved over the past 150 years, thereby making it easier for Catholic bishops in particular to raise their timid voices suggesting change. The gordian knot of Papal authority has to be unraveled before change swelling up from the grass roots can be accepted at the top. I believe the church has just taken - wily nily - a step in that direction. Hang onto your hats, this is going to be a very interesting ride, no matter what traditional pronouncements may be made on sexual, gay and feminist issues.

Secondly, and more obviously, Bergoglio's sharp rebuke to Benedict shows how open to other faith communities he truly is. His favorite painting is Chagall's White Crucifixion, which is coincidentally part of my side bar on the right here at Gay Mystic (look down below). The painting imagines the Crucifixion as a symbol of the suffering inflicted on the Jewish people over  the centuries, with Jesus clearly depicted as  Jewish sufferer of injustice - wearing a Jewish prayer shawl. It's now known Bergoglio has had a very close relationship with the Jewish community in Buenos Aires. From the Muslim incident, we can now be reassured his Jewish sympathies do not preclude openness to the Muslim community as well.

I have just breathed a three day sigh of relief at the election of this man, not because I believe a pope alone can do much difference, but because of the evident goodness of the man and my own peaceful, joyful interior response, a response that does not feel like it is of my own making, but seems like a gift of the Spirit within. Walking humbly out onto a balcony is not enough to convince. When that is coupled with a deep interior joy and peace within oneself, then it feels like the Holy Spirit is encouraging one to trust in this interior disposition as a sign of authenticity. My interior sense is telling me something wonderful has just happened to the Roman Catholic Church. It will not be the end of all problems, far from it, and the man himself may have to be sharply rebuked in turn down the road.  But a small step has been taken in the right direction and we are all the richer for it. The pope has to be put in his place, and Pope Francis may be just the man to do it.

I have tried to bring this same spirit of discernment to the issue of his behavior during Argentina's dirty war and the conclusion is the same, a deep sense of inner peace that whatever faults he may have committed during those years, they were not egregious crimes, and he has somehow learned from the experience.

However - to come down to earth a bit - I've just finished Alex Sanchez's marvelous gay teen Christian novel, The God Box  (part of my required reading for a gay teen novel I'm working on). Without a doubt, this is the finest young adult novel out there for struggling, doubting, searching gay Christian teens. A beautiful, heart-wrenching gay love story, which also includes a horrible life threatening incident of gay bashing, the novel successfully interweaves into the narrative a series of brilliant investigations of the key 'anti-gay' passages in the Bible, giving young gay Christian teens the very best in progressive, enlightened biblical exegesis. The novel also ends on a high note of true and passionate love between two gay teens, but only after taking us through a valley of Christian fueled homophobic hate. This is a classic.

Finishing this right at the 'end' of the hoopla surrounding the election of Pope Francis, I felt sharply reminded that however good a man the present pope may be - and I believe him to be very very good - he is going to have to be challenged down the road on his own attitudes towards the LGBT community. The psychological, moral and spiritual well being of young gay teens is at stake - not to mention their very physical survival in some cases. The church which has probably caused the most damage of all organized religions to gay people throughout history  has to be held to account, and good Pope Francis is now the central symbol of unity of this Church. Get ready, Pope Francis, we demand to be heard.

Mar 15, 2013

Leonardo Boff responds to election of Francis I

Many thanks to Iglesia  Descalza's blog for this beautiful reflection from Leonardo Boff, which deserves to be read in full. 

Pope Francis called to restore the Church

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

On the social networks, I had proclaimed that the future pope would be named Francis. And I was right. Why Francis? Because Saint Francis's conversion began when he heard the Crucifix in Saint Damian's Chapel say to him, "Francis, go and restore my house, which as you see is falling into ruin." (St. Bonaventure,Legenda Maior II, 1).

Francis took these words literally and rebuilt the Portiuncula Chapel in Assisi which still exists inside a huge cathedral. Then he realized that restoring the "Church that Christ saved through his blood" (ibid) was a spiritual matter. It was then that he started his movement for renewal of the Church that was presided by the most powerful pope in history, Innocent III. He began to live with the lepers and arm in arm with one of them, he went along the way preaching the gospel in the vernacular and not in Latin.

It's good to know that Francis was never a priest but just a layman, Only at the end of his life, when the popes forbade lay people to preach, did he agree to become a deacon, on the condition that he not receive any kind of remuneration for the post.

Why did Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio choose the name Francis? I think it's because he realized the Church is in ruins because of demoralization due to the various scandals that have affected the most precious thing it had: morality and credibility.

Francis isn't a name; it's a plan for a Church that is poor, simple, gospel-centered, and devoid of all power. It's a Church that walks the way together with the least and last, that creates the first communities of brothers and sisters who recite the breviary under the trees with the birds. It's an ecological Church that calls all beings those sweet words "brothers and sisters". Francis was obedient to the Church and the popes and at the same time he followed his own path with the gospel of poverty in hand. So theologian Joseph Ratzinger wrote: "Francis' 'no' to this imperial type of Church couldn't be more radical; it's what we could call a prophetic protest."(in Zeit Jesu, Herder 1970, 269). Francis doesn't talk; he simply inaugurates something new.

I think Pope Francis has in mind a church outside the palaces and symbols of power. He showed it when he appeared in public. Normally the Popes and mainly Ratzinger would put over their shoulders the mozzetta, that short capelet embroidered in gold that only emperors could wear. Pope Francis came dressed only in white. Three highly symbolic points stand out in his inaugural address.

First: He said that he wants to "preside with charity", something that has been called for since the Reformation and by the best theologians of ecumenism. The Pope should not preside as an absolute monarch, clothed in sacred power, as provided for in canon law. According to Jesus, he should preside in love and strengthen the faith of the brothers and sisters.

Second: He gave a central place to the People of God, as Vatican II highlighted but which had been left aside by the two previous popes in favor of the hierarchy. Pope Francis humbly asked the people of God to pray for him and bless him. Only afterwards would he bless the people of God. This means that he's there to serve and not be served. He asked them to help him build a path together and called for brotherhood for all humankind, where human being don't recognize each other as brothers and sisters but are tied to economic forces.

Finally, he avoided all spectacle in the figure of Pope. He didn't extend both arms to greet the people. He remained still, serious and sober, even frightened, I would say. One only saw a white figure who greeted the people affectionately. But he radiated peace and confidence. He showed his mood by speaking without official-sounding rhetoric, like a pastor speaks to the faithful.

It's worth mentioning that he's a pope who comes from the Great South, where the poorest of humankind are and where 60% of Catholics live. With his experience as pastor, with a new view of things, from below, he will be able to reform the Curia, decentralize the administration, and give the Church a new and credible face.

Mar 13, 2013

A Holy Pope

Wow! What can one say.

This morning the new Pope opted to join the Cardinals on their Conclave buses rather than ride in the official papal motorcade, which was ready and waiting. We are already watching the beginnings of a revolution, as the Spirit has brought us a genuinely holy man. Watch out, things are going to get really interesting from here on in. 

Leaving Sistina for Domus, papal motorcade was ready for Pope Francis, but new pontiff opted to join cardinals on their Conclave buses....

He may be staunchly conservative regarding sexuality morality, but this is a Pope capable of listening, without the hysterical edge to Benedict's obsessive rantings against gay marriage. (But see different reactions below.)

Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia has said it well for many of us:

To no small degree, having come close to facing the "guillotine" last time, Jorge Mario Bergoglio has had almost eight years to prepare for this. Yet even beyond the first notes he struck as Pope Francis I, a Page Three note in the moment seemed to sum up the ecclesial significance best....

To be sure, that was down to the vesture – the simple white cassock, shirking the ermine mozzetta that was supposed to be worn with it. 

And now, we'll get to see what those 33 Days would've looked like, if they had had the chance to play out.

I was in St. Peter's Square those many years ago, on 27th of August, 1978,  when Albino Luciani walked out onto the balcony as Pope John I and startled all of us with his gentle but radiant smile. Pope Francis is not quite as radiant, but the humility, warmth, friendliness and deep spirituality are only too evident. I was shocked by the resemblance and it's the very first thing I noted about him. We have - after a long desert - been given a genuinely holy pope. Will it make a difference to LGBT people? That is the question, but my sense is that, all appearances to the contrary, this is a significant step forward, and possibly the only step possible in this deeply entrenched institution. A man who seems to mirror the standard prejudices of his Cardinalate class, but watch out when a holy man is elected. 

I've read through a few of the bios of the man, some of the disturbing things he's said about gay people (led by the devil) and the questionable actions during Argentina's dirty war in the 70's. His defenders say it is his humility that prevents him from giving a defense of his actions during these years, so I'm waiting with suspended judgement on this one. Holy people can be almost as intransigent on certain issues as the rest of us, so it remains to be seen how far this Pope will journey regarding gay rights and the place of women in the church. But I am shocked by the change that we've just witnessed. There is a certain psychological threshold that a person has to cross before you sense you are in the presence of a holy woman or man and neither Karol Wojtyla, for all his charisma, nor Benedict for all his learning gave one the sense they had crossed over into genuine wisdom, in which the obsessions of the ego have been substantially purified. With Francis I,  we are in holiness territory and its anybody's guess as to what is going to happen next. Be prepared to be surprised, very surprised. 

Riding with the Cardinals in their conclave buses? This is a man who is going to listen. It just depends how many diverse and varied voices reach his ear. 

p.s. for those who want a quick survey of LGBT responses to the election here is GAY CITY NEWS which heads its article with a sensational Headline, but ends with some cautiously optimistic responses from gay activists;

Francis ‘Inflammatory’ in Opposition to LGBT rights. 

BY ANDY HUMM | Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, was elected Pope Francis I on March 13 despite his failure to stop the progressive government of President Cristina Kirchner from opening marriage to same-sex couples –– the first Latin American country to do so –– and from making contraceptives available to all.
He also presided over the Church in a country where two-thirds of the people are Roman Catholic but just 10 percent attend Mass regularly.
Bergoglio condemned opening adoptions and marriage to gay couples as a threat to children, writing, “At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother, and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”
President Kirchner condemned his pronouncements as reminiscent of “medieval times and the Inquisition.”
“Simple” man, shadowed by role in Argentine “Dirty War”
The greatest controversy surrounding him, however, is his role as leader of the Jesuits in Argentina during the “Dirty War” there beginning in the late 1970s, when a repressive junta murdered thousands and cracked down on dissent, including Catholic liberation theologian priests. Just as Pope Pius XII disgraced himself by not speaking out against Nazi barbarism during World War II, Bergoglio was silent during the junta and Church leaders supported it. It was not until 2010 that the bishops of Argentina apologized for the Church’s role in that period, but while doing so they attacked the leftist guerillas along with the right-wing military oppressors.
Like Pius, he is credited with quietly saving some lives behind the scenes, but he was extremely uncooperative with a 2010 investigation into the crimes of the junta.
Francis is the first pope from Latin America and the first Jesuit, but took his name as pope from St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscans, rather than Francis Xavier, a fellow Jesuit.
Initial press reports have focused on the new pope’s commitment to the poor and to living a simple personal life — riding the bus, cooking his own food, and living in an austere apartment rather than the opulent official cardinal’s residence in Buenos Aires.
His biographer, Sergio Rubin, told the Associated Press that the pope is not “a progressive” or “a liberation theologist,” but that he “does criticize the International Monetary Fund and neoliberalism” and does “spend a great deal of time in the slums.”
Father Bernárd Lynch, an out gay Catholic priest persecuted under Pope Benedict XVI for his advocacy for LGBT rights in the Church and the larger society, told Gay City News from his home in London, “He’s a very interesting choice. I don’t know a lot about him. The impression is that he is indeed a holy and humble man — my sources say a simple man — and all that speaks well for those like me who believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. But he is vehemently anti-gay.”
Lynch, who served Dignity/ New York, the gay Catholic group, and ran a groundbreaking AIDS ministry in New York in the 1980s, said, “Homophobia is a litmus test of orthodoxy” for Catholic prelates these days. He also cited Bergoglio’s conflicts with Kirchner on LGBT issues, though he understands that they have “made up in a sense” since the fight over same-sex marriage.
Benedict XVI, who as the #2 to Pope John Paul II and as pope himself had responsibility in picking all the current cardinals who elected Francis, made sure every one of them was strongly against any softening of the Church’s stands against homosexuality, artificial contraception, and women’s ordination.
Lynch said, “It could be more difficult for us because he is a champion of the poor. And we say that’s the way we want it, but where do we fit in? Are we not poor in how we have been treated by the Church? Can you not make space for us at the table? I don’t see any light in terms of us. I’m tired of asking for bread and getting a stone.”
Brendan Fay, an Irish Catholic gay activist and Dignity/ New York member, said, “My first impression is hopeful,” given the pope’s humble style and concern for the poor, “but we need to continue to work for change at the grassroots level. We can’t have a naïve expectation that there will be any leadership from a pope on the ordination of women or the recognition of marriage equality.”
John Allen, a veteran Vatican correspondent, said on CNN that when it comes to issues such as gay marriage, “you are not going to see reform,” but cited the new pope’s pastoral concern by noting that he “went to an AIDS hospice and washed the feet of a person with AIDS.”
Dignity/ USA executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke said in a written statement, “We applaud the cardinals for their recognition of the rising energy of the Catholic Church in the global South” and are “encouraged by Pope Francis’ clear commitment to the poor.” But, she added, “We acknowledge that as archbishop and cardinal the man who is now Pope Francis has made some very harsh and inflammatory statements about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. We recognize that sometimes this new job on which he embarks can change the man called to it.”
Duddy-Burke invited the new pope to “learn about our lives, our faith, and our families before he makes any papal pronouncements about us.”