Thought for the Day: “Sexual Shame is Sexual Abuse”

BBC Radio 4 Monday 4 March

This morning the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland is waking up to one of the biggest crises in its modern history. A few weeks ago, Cardinal Keith O’Brien was expecting to be in Rome electing the next Pope. Now he’s in disgrace, vowing that he’ll never again take part in public life .

We still don’t know the details of what he did, simply that he’s admitted to sexual misconduct amongst his fellow priests. Charges of hypocrisy have been swift to follow. This month last year, the Cardinal was on this very programme attacking gay marriage as evidence for the “degeneration of society into immorality”. Indeed, he insisted: “if the UK does go in for same sex marriage it is indeed shaming our country.”

So why is it that all the churches – and not just the Roman Catholic church – seem to attract so many gay men who are themselves so virulently hostile to homosexuality? Perhaps it has to do with a misplaced sense of shame about being gay, a sense of shame that they go on to reinforce by being vocal supporters of the very theology that they themselves have been the victims of. As the novelist Roz Kaveney tweeted yesterday: “I feel sorry for O’Brien. I hope one day he realizes that the sense of sexual sinfulness the Church forced on him was an abuse.” And that “O’Brien needs to distinguish between his sexual desires and his bad behavior and not see all of it as sin.” I totally agree.

The election of a new Pope provides an opportunity for real change. The culture of secrecy that fearfully hides this bad behavior – and not least the clerical abuse of children – needs dismantling from its very foundations. Inappropriate sexual relationships, relationships that trade on unequal power and enforced silence, are the product of an unwillingness to speak honestly, openly and compassionately about sex in general and homosexuality in particular. The importance of marriage as being available to both gay and straight people – and indeed to priests – is that it allows sexual desire to be rightly located in loving and stable relationships. I know there are people who see things differently, but I’m sorry: the churches condemnation of homosexuality has forced gay sex into the shadows, thus again reinforcing a sense of shame that, for me, is the real source of abuse.

Things may now be changing. It is encouraging that four priests have had the courage to speak out against a Cardinal – though one of them has expressed the fear that the Catholic church would “crush him” if they could. This is precisely the climate of fear that does so much to create the conditions of clerical abuse.

“It seems to me that there is nowhere to hide now,” said Diarmaid MacCulloch, the professor of the history of the church at Oxford University in a recent interview. He goes on: “We have had two Popes in succession that have denied that the church needed to change at all. The Roman church has to face realities that it has steadily avoided facing for the last thirty years.” And I might add, not just the Roman church, but my own church too.

– Giles Fraser on BBC, reported at Thinking Anglicans

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UK Religious Leaders Launch Campaign to Back Civil Gay Marriage

Religious figures who support gay marriage will today launch a fightback against church leaders who have come out against same-sex marriage.

Representatives from the Church of England, liberal Jews, the Quakers and the Unitarian and Free Church will join forces at Westminster to declare their backing for the Government’s plans to legalise civil gay marriage, which have provoked strong opposition from leaders of the Anglican and Catholic churches.

Some faiths want the Coalition to go further by giving churches the freedom to carry out religious same-sex marriage.

Those attending the conference will include Giles Fraser, a priest who resigned as Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral last autumn following the Occupy protests; Dr Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Albans; Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for the Quakers; Rabbi Roderick Young; Derek McAuley, chief officer of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches; and the Rev Sharon Ferguson, chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.

Mr Parker said the Quakers believe that all committed relationships are of equal worth.

“The new proposals allow civil partnerships in Quaker meeting houses, but that is not a marriage; it is a legal contract, not a spiritual one,” he said. “We don’t seek to impose this on anyone else. For Quakers this is an issue of religious freedom.”

Rabbi Young, who will represent the Movement for Reform Judaism at the conference, said: “The proposal to extend civil marriage to gays and lesbians is greatly to be applauded. However it is not enough. It is a bizarre situation when lesbian and gay rabbis may perform a legal religious marriage for heterosexual couples, but are denied the right to experience that joy for themselves with their partners.”

Today’s meeting has been organised by Labour, which backs David Cameron and Nick Clegg in their efforts to bring in gay marriage, despite vocal opposition from many Conservative MPs. Labour also wants the Government to give churches the freedom to carry out religious same-sex marriages – without forcing them to do so by law.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, said last night: “Many religious organisations and people within different faiths support same-sex marriage.

“Whilst opposition from some church leaders has been strong, other prominent church figures are supporting same-sex marriage. It should be recognised that there are many views within and between different faiths. If you believe in religious freedom, those organisations that do want to offer same-sex marriage ceremonies should be allowed to do so.”

She said Mr Cameron must not be deterred by opposition within his own party and beyond and urged him to call an early debate in Parliament rather than stall on the issue.

The Government is expected to reject the calls to allow churches to “opt in” to religious same-sex marriage, a proposal which could fuel the Conservative revolt on the issue.

But church leaders fear the planned civil marriage law would spark legal challenges in the European Court of Human Rights by gay rights campaigners, which would force churches to conduct religious same-sex marriage against their will.

– more at  The Independent.

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