Friday, March 13, 2009

Catholic Church Conundrum

Having grown up in the Evangelical Anglican Diocese of Sydney, it was a great revelation when I found a teaching position in a Senior Catholic Boys' College in 1975.

In the years before I went there, my attendance at church was very sporadic. As a teenager and while in my early 20's my life had revolved around church, the Inter-School Christian Fellowship and the Evangelical Union at University. I was in the choir, a leader in the Youth Fellowship, Sunday school teacher, occasional preacher, involved with the Billy Graham Crusades. But after my Engagement was broken in 1971 I gradually gave up church activities and my social life began to revolve around the local hotel. You could count on one hand the number of times I attended church each year. I still had my faith, I prayed and read the Bible. Even while overseas for 4 months in 1974 I attended church services while in England but I was conscious that my sexual desires kept me outside of full acceptance in the church. Attempts to change by prayer and psychiatry had failed and my plans to enter the Ministry were thwarted. I guess I was in a no-man's land as my only homosexual acquaintances were secret meetings arranged by mail and usually one-off.

I did have a full and happy social life revolving around surfing, watching football matches and drinking with ex-students but of course these tended to move on once they developed serious heterosexual relationships and this was never going to lead to long term happiness.

The Catholic priests and brothers provided a totally different view of religious life. At first I was confused because their talks were less biblically based. But I found their thoughts stimulating and nourishing. Although a Protestant, I was accepted as part of their community. Within a few years I had developed more healthy relationships in the gay community and was involved in fighting for gay law reform. I became more open even at school and was not rejected. There was no problem in taking my partner at that time to staff social activities.

When an Anglican priest let it be known that I was not welcome in his church, I began attending Catholic Masses. However I did not feel as comfortable there as I did at the school Masses. I did attend Masses arranged weekly by a Gay Catholic group and was surprised to find priests assisting and even once a bishop.

Their attitude seemed to be the same as the following recent comment at The Wild Reed.

I am a Roman Catholic priest and I want to commend you for your blog. Don't let anyone try to decide your catholicism for you. If the church is truly catholic (universal) then it has no one manifestation or theology. My favorite definition of the church is Here Comes Everybody (James Joyce in Finagin's Wake). The Church is us, It includes the hierarchy but also the faithful. John Henry Newman points out that in the Arian contoversy the bishops turned out to be heretics and the faithful the orthodox. We are all in this together and as we journey through history we are bound to fight over certain matters such as gays. But if we are right, and I think we are, someday the church will acknowlege the gifts and rights of gay people. And of course then it will say, "As we have always taught...." Keep up the good work.

Similar views are also found in other blogs written by Catholics that I read.

I had several doctrinal problems with the idea of becoming a Catholic. Strangely, I have come to disregard most of these now that I worship in an Anglo-Catholic parish. However my greatest obstacle was the position of the Pope. I do not believe that so much authority can be given to one man and I had scant regard for John Paul II anyway. Obviously he did much that was good but he was also a man of his times and as he became older and more frail I had to balance pity for him with anger at some of his views.

I believe his replacement has been an absolute disaster. I refuse to see him as a kind old grandfather, my feelings for him are unprintable.

I do pray for liberal Catholics as they must shudder at the activities of the hierarchy. The recent case in Brazil is just the worst of many in recent times. I applaud the views of a Catholic Mary E. Hunt who writes in religion dispatches

We do not believe in the cruel, vindictive, callous God they cite. Many believers put our faith in a loving, merciful divinity whose response to human tragedy is to weep not condemn, to embrace not exile. That is a Catholic view, well-supported by scripture and life experience. The bishops are welcome to their views, but beware of people who think they know more about God’s will and God’s law than the rest of us. They are selling a product we are not buying.

I live in an Anglican Diocese whose leaders also preach a cruel, vindictive, callous God although I doubt even they would go as far as the Bishop in Brazil supported by the Vatican.
However, I can worship in a parish which preaches a different gospel and can in many ways thumb its nose at the Archbishop and I know that the Worldwide Anglican Communion contains people and leaders of widely different viewpoints.

So, while I am thankful for the ministry of Catholic priests and lay people at a time when my faith was in deep trouble, I am glad I stayed within the Anglican church.


Fran said...

I am floored by all that you say here Brian, and I mean that in the best way.

It is so hard to become something else... Even with all my issues around my church, which as you know is the Roman Catholic church, I can't see myself easily leaving.

BTW, Mary Hunt is brilliant and a friend of Jane R. of Acts of Hope. Her words on that Brazilian debacle got to the heart of the matter.

Thanks for all your wisdom in these posts Brian. Sorry I have not been around as often as usual.

Leonard said...

Dear Brian,

Thank you for telling us more about you...what a nifty, real and onward moving personal spiritual history.

I have a friend who is a RC Priest...he's a very active "mover and shaker" type guy...I was reminded of a comment he made to me near the end of JPII, he said, "Have a bit of pity, he's just a old man"...I agreed, however he was a "old man" who depended on the likes of a Cardinal who now is Pope...that very "closeness" gave extra importance to a papal candidate who really is a harmful shamedriven man who has trouble discerning truth from lies and dark from light...yes, once again, I'm called to "pity" another leader of the RC Church who ought be more alert.