A Very Queer History of the Catholic Church: Part 1
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PRIDE

Episode · 1 year ago

A Very Queer History of the Catholic Church: Part 1

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

In honor of LGBTQ History Month, we are revisiting some of our favorite episodes of the podcast. Enjoy our return to Queer Church: Part 1!

When you think about the Catholic church and its relation to the LGBTQ+ community, either as a believer or a non-believer, it likely isn’t as an ally. But the church’s stance on same-sex love isn’t as cut and dry as you might think. Over the span of two millenia, the church has adapted, however slowly, to a changing world. Today, we’ll start part one of our exploration of the history of same-sex love in the Catholic church, and how the church’s perspective and enforcement has changed over 2000 years.

Your host is Levi Chambers, co-founder of Gayety. Follow the show and keep up with the conversation @Pride. Want more great shows from Straw Hut Media? Check out or website at strawhutmedia.com. Your producers are Levi Chambers, Maggie Boles, Ryan Tillotson and Edited by Silvana Alcala Have an interesting LGBTQ+ story to share? We might feature U! Email us at lgbtq@strawhutmedia.com. *This podcast is not affiliated with Pride Media. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

Straw media. The fact of the matter is is that the scriptures have changed an awful lot over the course of over two thousand years of Christianity through translations, through copying and just because we as human beings are social and cultural norms naturally color how we view scripture. The goal is not to disregard scripture or to ignore it, but to understand what the original authors and these original texts were really saying. And the fact of the matter is that when you start digging down into what the Old Testament scriptures like Leviticus and genesis say about same sexuality or, most importantly, don't say the Apostle Paul's letters to the Romans, for example, we find that we have changed the meaning of those scriptures drastically over twozero years. Church policy has changed. The importance of same sex sexuality is so much more intense today, in the twenty one century than it was for the first one fourteen hundred years of Christianity, when it's almost a nonissue. So with all that change, I wanted to write this article to sort of highlight that traject tree that the Catholic Church and the scriptures themselves are understandings of them have changed so much, and for the majority of Christian history, homosexuality just wasn't that big the deal. The Catholic church is the largest Christian denomination in the world. Their intolerance towards same sex love is not a secret. In fact, when you think of the Catholic Church and the relationship they have with the LGBTQ plus community, I doubt the word ally comes to mind. Despite the continuous changes society has made towards the LGBTQ plus community, the churches intolerance has only become more apparent. In March of two thousand and twenty one, the Roman Catholic Church announced they could not bless same sex marriages. They don't view same sex attraction as part of God's plan for families and raising children. It's these church standards that continue to drive their members away because of their own sexuality or, in some circumstances, members are even excommunicated by the church. But what if I told you the Catholic Church wasn't always like this? In honor of LGBTQ history money, we will be spotlighting some of our favorite episodes of the podcast and for this installment we're going back to thousand years to explore how the Catholic Church's perspectives on same sex love has changed over time, will debunk the idea that the church's standards are built on the will of God, not on the will of humanity, and meet historical churchmen who were not denounced for their sexuality. I'm the by chambers and this is pride. My name is Lisa Mcclain. I am a professor of history and gender studies at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho. I first came across Lisa through an article she wrote a couple of years ago for a website called the conversation. In that piece she argued that a thousand years ago, the Catholic Church barely batted an eyelash at same sex attraction. The stringent rules against same...

...sex activity were developed over time and the official stance of the Catholic Church as an institution has always been a reflection of social norms of the time. It's something that the church calls an unfolding of understanding, and if you wants really good examples of how drastic such change and evolution can be, just think about how the Catholic Church has stands on slavery has changed up until the nineteen century, church leaders claimed that slavery three was supported by the scriptures and by church leaders. Another good example geocentrism, as in the belief that Earth is the center of the universe. Galileo was the astronomer in Italy who tried to tell everyone in the early sixteen hundreds that it was actually the earth revolving around the sun and not the other way around. This was in conflict with some Bible passages that, when taken literally, suggested the Earth didn't move. The Catholic Church called Galileo's idea heresy. They forced him to recant his statement under the threat of torture and imprisoned him. It took a couple hundred years for the church to admit that Galileo was right after all. The church may not change quickly, but it does change. I think the danger is when we fail to recognize how things change, when we tellt that, well, I believe in something because it's always been that way. And that's the challenge, isn't it? And it's certainly the church's views on homosexuality that exists today have not always been that way. There is a hidden history of people on the lgbtq spectrum within the history of the Catholic Church, and this ties back into my belief that if you are a practicing Christian, you really need to understand the origin and the history and the beliefs of your faith. I think so many people right now talk about Christian history and Christian scripture as if they are so confident that they that we know what it means, that we know what it's saying. But we don't, at least not with complete certainty. The Bible is a huge document that has been translated and, before the printing press, was copied down by hand. So people might have gotten lazy and just been like, okay, this basically says that's there we go. Not Just Lazy, not just lazy, but sometimes just just tired people recognizing that they are sort of not translating word for work. Well, you never want a word for word translation anyway. Right. If you've ever watch one of those old Hong Kong action flicks from the S or s and you see their word for word translation, it's Word Salad. So every translator, when they translate from one language to another, brings their own social conditioning and attitudes in the choices of word and the different context that they provide for it. So the meanings of the scriptures have changed dramatically over the years. I'm not here to disregard or explain away scripture, because script sure matters. You want to get it right, or at least as close to the original meanings of the authors and texts as you can. And these texts were written in ancient languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, Chaldean, Greek and then eventually the Latin. Before we start getting into things like English translations, and I know this is going to disappoint some of your listeners probably, but the King James version of the Bible, which is the first really widespread, popular English translation of the Bible. It's...

...hugely popular. People hold it near and dear to their hearts. I'm sorry, but it's a poor translation of the texts. So many people speak with such confidence and conviction about what they say the Bible says about same sex sexual activity, but have they ever taught themselves to read Greek or Hebrew so that they can see what the scripture really said? And as Christians, we need to take intentional responsibility for our own faiths and beliefs, especially if they involve judgments and criticisms and what could be interpreted as prejudice. There are specific Christian precepts like the second greatest commandment, which says love your neighbor as yourself, precepts such as don't judge other people as you be judged yourself, and Jesus of Nazareth statement that that which you did to the least of these you did. Unto me, what we do with scripture has consequences how we act based on what we think scripture says. That has consequences spiritually for anyone who identifies as Christian. So you have to take a certain degree of responsibility for this. What I hear a lot in debates about homosexuality within the Catholic community today, and also it in with Evangelical Christian denominations as well, is that the idea that churches should not conform their attitudes about homosexuality to popular social and cultural norms of the twenty one century. Churches are supposed to have a higher standard, to conform to the will of God, not to the will of humanity. But this argument is flawed at its core, and that's because the ways in which biblical text have been interpreted preached and enforced have changed substantially over the last couple of thousand years. What modern believers are missing when they make a statement like that is the fact that the church's views on homosexuality were shaped by society first. They were based on the social and cultural norms present during the first centuries of Christianity. That's where the prejudices started. It was actually civic author these and courts who were persecuting people with same sex desires eventually, and the church only picked them up as church authorities and civil authorities started cooperating a lot, primarily in the Middle Ages. In the Roman Empire, same sex sexual acts were relatively commonplace, and same sex marriage it was an outlawed by the church but by the civil government, and there wasn't any penalty for noncompliance. So even if you got married, it's still going to be okay. In the sixth century a D it's the emperor Justinian in the Byzantine Empire who outlaws same sex sexual activity, and there's no evidence that church supported this or that the majority of Christians supported the outlawing the same sex relations. One of my favorite examples is when you get to the Middle Ages, like an maybe nine through the twelve centuries, priests had to conduct confessions in which they would meet with a parishioner and they would try to ferret out all the sins the parishioner might have committed since their last confession. And it was very important to get to each and every sin because if you were not absolved of all the sins then that was a danger to your salvation if you died, because you would still have those unabsolved sins on your record. So the church put out these little books called penitentials and they were these question books so that the priest,...

...when he has the person Ary Confession, you ask all these detail questions. Have you done this? Have you thought this? And an awful lot of questions revolved around sex. But what's really interesting about this is that not a whole lot of questions are about same sex sexuality. At this point, the church is very concerned about sexual sinfulness, but not necessarily about same sex acts, and this is because back in this era there is no concept of something called homosexuality. Yet you don't have the term gay, you don't have someone whose identity is defined by their sexual orientation. Instead, what you have are sex acts that any Christian might commit, and so you have a few of them, you know, parsed in there, and a lot of times the penalties for them weren't particularly stringent or enforced. So what else is going on in the church at this time? There's a big reform movement starting in the early ten century, and the reform movement really doesn't take on the issue of same sex relations at all as a matter of some of the leading churchmen of the time have writings that are included as part of this debate. Two notable ones are also in of York, and English scholar, clergyman, poet and teacher from York, Northumbria, who lived in the eighth century and outread of revolt, an English monk and Abbot who lived in the twelve century and whose most famous writing on spiritual friendship has led scholars to believe that he had homosexual tendencies. And they are considered part and parcel of society, that they're not like these, these churchmen acting in some rarefied atmosphere that never engages with the Christian community. They're considered to be active parts leaders of the worldly community as well as their church. Once and when they weigh in all these things. They never get accused of any UNORTHODOXY, they're not criticized things like that. It's only in the thirteen century that a crackdown really begins to occur on same sex sexual activity, but between the ten and the twelve centuries it was a very interesting time in Christian Europe. There was what Lisa described as a flowering of a gay subculture, and even though the terms from asexual or gay didn't exist, people were creating new words to describe same sex love and desire. And it's not just the ordinary Christians who are part of it. Some of the clergy are writing about this sort of thing too. We see in these centuries a whole list of gay slang words that became popular. For example, aganamed was the term you would use if someone was gay. The word gaining need comes from Greek myth. It was the name of a prince of Troy who was so beautiful that the God stole him and carried him off to be a cupbearer to zoos, and he symbolized the beloved in Male same sex relationships and sort of. So if you talked about aganity, that was someone who was gay. People talked about the Lewdust, which is the Latin term for game, and it had a specialized social meaning of homosexual acts, and people talked about hunting, which meant that basically you were cruising for a partner at this point, and you even had this very lively debate about the merits of homosexual versus heterosexual love. During this time, people would put out little pamphlets, really cheap handwritten, hand coffee pamphlets, in which each side would debate the merits or demerits of the other side. But each side wins the debate some of the time and the debates are very respectful, showing positives of...

...both types of sexual relationships and not denigrating into things like slams are or slurs against them. Pamphlets like these weren't on paper like we have today. They were likely handwritten on cheap parchment and then passed around and shared. Most people were not literate at the time, but that doesn't mean they weren't exposed to these debates. Instead, what would happen is somebody who was liter it would read to a group and so people would share the ideas and debate about it. It would be a handwritten because you do not have the printing press yet at this time, but they would take the form of debates. So you would likely have one character espousing the merits of heterosexual sexuality in relationships and then you would have another character who comes in to do the same thing for the homosexual point of view, and they'd have a given take back and forth. But, as I said, each side sometimes wins. In the pamphlets they weren't intended to suppress either type of sexual relationship or show any type, say, of sinfulness of same sex relations know that wasn't the point of it. It was which contributes more to the better human being at the time, and so that's what people would see the arguments for and against in and rather in respectful ways. They would be exposed to the idea that there are options for relationships, and I think that's really important because after say, the fifteen century, when people get silenced, many people who have same sex desires think they're the only ones and they do not see positive arguments for same sex sexuality. They only see the negative and the sinfulness and the idea. I think this is really important when you reach the point in the Middle Ages and the renaissance, Reformation Eras, when the church begins to actively get involved in criticizing and especially prosecuting people who engage in same sex acts. Because, remember, my whole point is before that it's mostly the civic authorities, it's the social the church conforms itself to Social Mora's about same sex sexuality over these years. But once the Church hops on this bandwagon, think of how the message changes. Now it's not just that there's a law against it, now it's the church is preaching against it. It is God's will that people not engage in same sex sexuality, and that makes a big difference if you're concerned about your salvation, whether or not you violate your local law or you violate God's law. But this doesn't happen until over a millennia into the history of the Catholic Church. When we come back how and when the Church started cracking down on same sex love, welcome back to they were talking to Dr Lisa mcclaine about the history and changes in the Catholic Church's stance on same sex love. As we said earlier in the show, before the church became involved in policing same sex activity, it was usually a concern of the civil government, but the civil government wasn't regulating and banning same sex love on moral grounds, Lisa says. Instead, they were focused on ensuring procreation and reinforcing gender hierarchies. The ancient world is very hierarchical. Men had authority over women, older people had authority...

...over young people, Masters. Free people had authority over slaves, and the idea was don't rock the boat. Society actively discouraged any deviation from these hierarchies and simultaneously actively rewarded the people who conformed to these. So, in modern terms, we could think of them sort of. There's a lot of gender policing that's going on and same sex sexual acts throw these hierarchies into confusion. It's around the thirteen century when the church seems to change its attitude towards same sex love. People are very conflicted on why, necessarily, it happens this time, but a lot of people think it's because centralized governments, like in the French kingship for example, or starting to come together and the church leaders are cooperating with these new really powerful leaders, and so the Church takes on the worldly concerns of the people of the time and for the first time in history, the Catholic Church has the means to enforce widespread rule. You have a period in the twelve century where the church gets led by popes who are strong administrators rather than spiritual leaders. Their primary interest is to set the church up in the best position legally and administratively, with communications and publishing all the churches dictates, making sure everybody in Europe has the news of what Christians are supposed to do. Think of the time that this is it. You don't have roads and cars and telephones any way to get the news out. The church is really one of the only administrative authorities that spans all of Europe and has the ability to do this. And you have popes who are very concerned with making sure that Catholic Christians are walking the proper path to ensure their salvation, and one way to do this is to have much more strict moral codes about what is proper behavior, what is behavior that will ensure that your soul is not sitting and getting into heaven. So the Church to arts issuing a lot of dictates, all aimed at policing sexuality, but not just same sex sexuality, all kinds of sexuality. And you also have governments you know, kings in England, kings in France, Holy Roman emperors who are having a bit more control over their subjects and they have the ability and they have the wherewithal to remember they are the source of an awful lot of these homophobic type of laws and enforcement of laws and persecutions in civil courts. There's the source of that. They have more ability to sort of start enforcing to and so the church in and and the kings and the emperors, they start teaming up, the church changes its attitude, gets involved and they go from there. Some of the most outspoken voices in the church at the time really exemplify these attitudes. One of the biggest church writers who begins to really criticize same sex acts is sat thims a Coinas, and he uses what's known as a natural law theory, for example, to critique same sex acts. Another churchmen who preached loudly and fervently against same sex love was Bernardino of Sienna. But you have to think of the time period where they're writing. It's the black death, the pubonic plague. It starts sweeping across Europe and it starts decimating populations that are desperate to sort of repopulate Europe, and when they do this,...

...any sex act that doesn't have the potential for procreation is something society wants to discourage at any cost. So people in society or concern we want to build up our families again, we need to build the populations of our towns, of our farms, so we need to discourage same sex x and churchmen are influenced by the social needs of their time, so they start having a greater intolerance speaking against same sex sexuality. Bernardino of Sienna blame same sex love between men for all the ills of society, including floods, plagues and population decline, and his sermons helped shape both official and public opinion on same sex sexuality for years to come. There's this great fresco in an Italian one of those old medieval Italian towns, called San Himignano, and a frescoist, an artist named today O de Bortolo, painted these frescoes about the seven deadly sins, and one of the seven deadly sins is lust, and lust is something any Christian might engage in, but he paints at particular and I'm sorry this is gruesome, he's showing people who have committed seventh, the seven deadly sins, burning in Hell in various ways. And we actually see someone presented in his fresco who committed a homosexual act and he has shown pierced from mouth to anus with a long poker, burning in hell. Later on, I looked up this fresco to get a sense of it. It's pretty horrifying. Dozens of horned demons with pointed ears, wings and scales terrorize people in the panels with whips, sword, Scorpions and, worse, fire and brimstone to the Max. He's painting in the fourteen century. We have gone fourteen centuries before you start seeing these overt negative depictions of Christianity start to come to the majority in people's minds. Now that's not to say that the church was a critical of the sodomy. Of course sodomy was a sit but before this the church had always classed sodomy in in a larger category of sexual misdeeds called lechery, which was also full of a lot of the saves heterosexual sins. At the same time, again, it was a sin any Christian might commit. Up until the twelve, thirteen and fourteen centuries. Any lustful act was a problem. The gender of the people involved was not the concern, but that changed. Once it becomes unacceptable to engage in same sex act then Catholic Christians know they need to hide them, and so the evidence starts coming very, very sparse, and so when you do see a little clue as to what's going on, it really just emphasizes the fact that people who today we would think of as on the lgbtq spectrum were always within Catholic Christianity. There's one story, for example, of how the authorities in Rome in the later part of the sixteen century went into a particular basilica and they found Catholic Christians celebrating a same sex marriage in the basilica at the end of the sixteen century. But the authorities cracked down on them. Some were arrested, some were imprisoned, I believe some were actually executed, and the gossip of Rome just went crazy about this, talking about drunken revels, male promiscuity, all the negative messages of...

...homosexuality that you just don't see earlier. Even though there was a same sex wedding ceremony at this time in history, there's no evidence that the concept of homosexuality as an identity existed. If we skip back a few hundred years, back to all rid of Ravau, whom we mentioned earlier, wouldever I have called himself gay? Of course not, because the concept really didn't exist. Then can we look back at him eight centuries ago and decide are it was gay? No, we really can't because, as I said earlier, it's not until the late nineteen early twenty century that we even have the term homosexual and it gets identified as an identity of a human being rather than the same sex act. What we have from are at of Rivaux is really an interesting body of writings on things like what he called spiritual friendship. Is there evidence that he had close relationships with other men, including other monks, and loved them and was deeply devoted them? Yes, we have that, there's no doubt. Can we say it ever crossed over into the sexual in terms of desire? That's a little trickier. And people who read aret of revose writings like his on spiritual friendship. What exactly does that spiritual friend you know contain? I think it's really open to interpretation. Here is the most quoted passage from all its treaty. It is no small consolation in this life to have someone to whom you can be united in the intimate embrace of the most sacred love, in whom your spirit can rest, to whom you can pour out your soul, in whose delightful company, as in a sweet, consoling song, you can take comfort in the midst of sadness, in whose most welcome, friendly bosom you can find peace in so many worldly setbacks, to whose loving heart you can open, as freely as you would to yourself, your innermost thoughts, through whose spiritual kisses, as by some medicine, you are cured of the sickness of care and worry, who weeps with you in sorrow, rejoices with you enjoy and wonders with you in down whom you draw, by the fetters of love, into the inner room of your soul, so that though the body is absent, the spirit is there and you can confer all alone, the two of you, in the sleep of peace, away from the noise of the world, in the embrace of love, in the kiss of unity, with the Holy Spirit flowing over you, to whom you so join and unite yourself that you mix soul with soul and to become one. Romantic right, but sure open to interpretation. That doesn't mean we don't have more explicit writings from other churchmen about their same sex love. We have the evidence from a bishop of France. His name was Bishop Baudrey of Bourg, we and he was a French Benedictine and he was really blunt about recognizing the need to keep one's same sex sexual activities quiet. A he he. We have letters that he wrote to a young man named Peter, who he refers to as beloved and whose comb he said he always carried about his person as a memento of their love. And he wrote for the need for discretion in the Lewdust the game. Remember, that's the gay slaying I talked about earlier. And he said the prudent lover disguises the deeds of love. Shocked?...

Well, you really shouldn't be, because celibacy for priests wasn't even prohibited until the eleventh century, and then it wasn't even in really worst until the thirteen century. Yeah, cleric said sex, they had wives, they had sexual partners and they use the brothels too. It's a very different I didn't know this. We need to learn the history of what's going on, because the Catholic church is a church that's always been changing and in evolution. Anytime someone tells you it's always been this way, your little red flag should be going up, sirens should be sounding in your head. That's the time to go investigate, because the only constant in humanity is change. The Church's policies on same sex sex are not immutable. They are and have always been, a product of the cultural norms of their time, even cases during the centuries of the reformation, when in there were changing attitudes about the necessity and morality of prostitution, and so they were limiting the people who could use the brawls, and one city's law specifically said the priests were still allowed to use the brawls, but they weren't allowed to spend the night anymore. So what you're saying is at one point in history the Catholic Church didn't explicitly forbid sex work and sex workers. It was considered a necessary evil to preserve the morality of the majority of the population. Over the last two thousand years, the Catholic Church has changed, even though some of those changes seem regressive by current standards. Can we go to the twenty century really quick I would love that. Beginning with the S in Europe and America in particular, social attitudes about same sex desire and love begin to change again, and what's really interesting is how people with same sex desires become so much more visible and people who identify on the LGBTQ spectrum really start to find public voices and the strength of numbers and joining together in communal action. One of the biggest changes that we see among ordinary Catholic lay people and clergy to happens during the AIDS epidemic during the s and the protests that took place in Catholic churches. One of those protests was called stop the church and it took place in New York City at St Patrick's Cathedral in one thousand nine hundred and eighty nine. The cardinal at the time, John O'Connor, was vocally advocating against teaching safer sex in schools and against the distribution of condoms to stop the spread of AIDS, and about forty five hundred protesters came into St Patrick's Cathedral. They laid down in the aisles right in the middle of the celebration of mass and said you're killing us, you're killing us, and this opened a lot of parishioners eyes and a lot of priests eyes. So did anything come of that? Over the last three decades in particular, we've started to see an emerging lgbtq theology where people are really conceptualizing about the doctrines, the Dogma and the scripture, and I think it just has it reached what Malcolm gladwell calls the tipping point. We haven't reached a critical mass yet to create changes higher up in the institution and the doctrine...

...in the dogma, but we're building up a body of knowledge and the connection of the thinkers and the movers and shakers in the Catholic Church. Then your article, you stated that thirty to forty percent of US priests are gay, but sadly the openness that sat ala red's twelve century expressions of same sex love and desire are barely a memory. Pope Francis has encouraged gay priests to be perfectly responsible, as they often work in same sex religious orders under mandatory celibacy. As a scholar and a historian, do you think that the Catholic Church's stance is sustainable or that change is coming. I'm a perfectly sustainable over two thousand years of history of the Catholic Church demonstrates that there are always been priests and monks who have same sex attraction and there have always been priests who minister to Catholics who are closeted gay. In my article I was citing a New York Times article based on the interviews that I mentioned earlier, about priests who identify as gay, who are coming out and talking about their experiences. Is Change Possible? It is possible. There is a difference between the official rules that come out of the Vatican and the way they're implemented at the parish level and interpreted by ordinary Catholics. Tomorrow, in part two of this episode, will look at some of the changes in the Catholic Church in the last century, how people get it wrong when interpreting scripture and what it means for gay men to take up the priesthood. Will be back with Dr Lisa mcclaine and also meet Benjamin Brinkert, whose recent book chronicles his attempt to become the first openly gay Jesuit priest. Pride is a production of Straw hut media. If you like to show leave us a rating and review on Apple, podcast, spotify or wherever you listen to podcast. Then follow us on Instagram, facebook and twitter at pride and tune in weekly for new episodes. Be Sure to share this episode with your friends and subscribe for more stories from Amazing Queer people. If you'd like to connect with me, you can follow me everywhere at lead by chambers. Pride is produced by me, the by chambers, Maggie Bulls, Ryan Tillotson, Caitlyn mcdaniel and Brandon Marlowe, edited by Sylvana, I'll Calla, and Daniel Ferreira. Sound mixing by Sylvana, I'll calla. My background. You can't see my basement. Oh then I'm in my guest room, so you have my bed behind me and I have cats who like to chew on my sheets, so I had to cover it. It's this requires fun production. We're all hanging in it. Now I've got hogwarts. I've always wanted to teach at Hogwarts, so.

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