I stumbled on the name of Tanchelm thumbing through my copy of Magnificat. He was featured prominently in a story about St. Evermod, a bishop who died in 1178. Evermod was inspired to devote his life to God after hearing a sermon given by Saint Norbert, the founder of the Premonstratensian order. Evermod became a priest of Norbert’s order and was chosen to accompany him on a jorney to Antwerp to counter the followers of Tanchelm, an itinerant preacher who had been murdered a decade before by a priest.
“The city was at the time in a state of ferment due to the heretical preaching of Tanchelm,” the Magnificat huffed, “a man of depraved morals who attacked the hierarchy and the church’s teaching on the sacraments, particularly the Holy Eucharist.”
Evermod remained in Antwerp to combat Tanchelm’s “propaganda.” His apostolic zeal earned him an eventual sainthood, as it did St. Norbert, who is often pictured with a foot on Tanchelm holding a monstrance. Tanchelm’s heresy were his attacks on the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Who was Tanchelm that he made two bishops saints in their attempts to overcome his preaching?
Tanchelm was born around 1070. He might have been Flemish, but was probably a native of the Netherlands. He traveled to France, Germany and Rome. Most of what we know about him came from those opposed to him, for Tanchelm did not leave behind any writing that has survived. Tanchelm began preaching during a time of agitation and pontifical reform, with furious arguments and political maneuvering over clerical marriages and sexual liaisons, simony, and canonical investiture by feudal authorities. He was active in a wave of church reform that started in the High Middle Ages and culminated in the Reformation 400 years later.
Tanchelm was supposed to have been a monk, perhaps a notary or officer from the circle of Count Robert II of Flanders (1092-1111), famous from his crusading days as “Robert of Jerusalem.” The exact relationship between the count and Tanchelm is not clear. Both Count Robert II and his overlord, Louis VI of France. were interested in weakening the ecclesiastical power of the Holy Roman Emperor in the low countries. The power of the emperor rested to a large extent on the support of the bishops, especially Cambrai, Cologne and Utrecht.
In 1111 Count Robert II dispatched Tanchelm and the priest, Everwacher, to Rome to persuade Pope Pascal II to incorporate Zeeland into a French diocese. Frederick I, archbishop of Cologne, caught wind of the plot and intervened. The pope rejected the petition, and Talchem and Everwacher returned home.
After his return from Rome Tanchelm began his ministry. There is no direct knowledge of his motivations, but some authors have speculated that while he was in Rome he absorbed the principals of the Gregorian Reforms, initiated by Pope Gregory VII, circa 1050-1080, which dealt with the moral integrity and independence of the clergy.
Gregory VII attacked the practice of simony – the purchase of church offices. This precipitated the investiture controversy; kings were selling clerical and church offices at great personal gain. In 1074 Gregory VII published an encyclical absolving the people from obedience to bishops who allowed married priests. In 1075, he enjoined them to take action against married priests, and deprived these clerics of their revenues.
Dressed in his monk’s habit, Tanchelm began to preach. Many people came to hear him, and his following grew. People were drawn to him by his compelling personality and oratory. He began preaching in 1112 in the Low Countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, parts of northern France and western Germany).
It was in Antwerp that he made his deepest mark. The spark that set him off was the “concubinage” of a priest named Hilduin with his niece. He stepped into a vacuum of spiritual leadership: people were disgusted with with the morals of their spiritual guides and were drawn to Tanchelm’s criticism of the established church. It was also a time of the first stirrings of social discontent against the feudal privileges of nobles and clergy.
Tanchlem rejected obedience to bishops and priests. He preached against the payment of tithes. Some sources say Tanchelm told people to reject the sacraments, saying they were better named pollutions than sacraments. In another version, he said the virtue of the sacraments depended on the virtue of the minister, and that polluted priests could only administer polluted sacraments. The chapter of Utrecht also reported with horror that Tanchelm had said that “the churches of God are to be considered whorehouses.” It is more likely what Tanchelm really said is that the priests were so impure they turned churches into brothels.
The prime source of information on Tanchelm is a May 16, 1112 letter from the clergy of Utrecht to Archbishop Frederick of Cologne telling him to take Tanchelm into custody and not release him for any reason. He was briefly put under arrest in Cologne in 1113/1114, but released in spite of protests by the cathedral clergy of Utrecht.
The hierarchy of Utrecht circulated many tales about Tanchlem to support their denouncements:
-He dressed in golden clothes, with strands of gold curled in his hair
-Claimed to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and conducted a ceremony in which he “married” the Virgin Mary
-His followers venerated him, and drank his bath water as a blessing or sacrament
-His inner group was a guild of 12 men lead by his blacksmith friend, Manasses. Probably chosen as a bodyguard, they were known as “the Apostles.” Added to this number was a woman named “Blessed Virgin” with whom the Apostles had intercourse as kind of a confirmation ceremony. The Apostles carried his regalia and sword in procession.
-Tanchelm deflowered young girls in the presence of their mothers
-Men offered up their wives and children to Tanchelm’s lust.
To what degree the above accusations have some basis in truth-or are total fabrications–is unknown. It seems clear that Tanchelm was a very charismatic man, and encouraged his personality cult.
In 1115 he was bludgeoned or stabbed to death by a priest during a river trip. One scholar has implicated the Archbishop of Utrecht in his murder.
Tanchelm doesn’t have an exact contemporary in our age, even if the societal unrest, currents of church reform, the involvement of church hierarchy in politics, the attempts by secular rulers to use bishops in their schemes, all have an echo in our era.
St Norbert arrived at Antwerp eight years after Tanchelm’s death to evangelize the city away from his followers. Apparently, he did not censure, judge or condemn when he addressed people, which probably contributed to the success of his mission. “Brothers, do not be surprised and so not be afraid,” he preached. “Unwittingly, you have pursued falsehood thinking it to be the truth. If you had been taught the truth first you would have been found effortlessly tending toward salvation, just as you now effortless lean toward perdition.”
Norbert of Xanten is portrayed as a reformer of the clergy and siding with reformist popes over lay investiture. But his ministry started on a political track opposite Tanchelm’s.
His father, Heribert, Count of Gennep, was related to the imperial house of Germany. Norbert was a secular canon at St. Victor’s Collegiate Church in Xanten and was ordained subdeacon without making an effort to live the clerical life. Somewhere between 1108 and 1109 he became chaplain at the court of Archbishop Frederick of Cologne and already in 1110 he was a chaplain at the court of Emperor Henry V. He accompanied the emperor to Rome in 1111.
In the spring of 1115, while riding to the village of Freden, he was thrown from his horse during a sudden thunderstorm. This event gave Norbert the impetus to change his way of life. He gave up his chaplaincy at the court and dedicated himself to meditation and living a life of poverty. Feeling he was called to priesthood, he presented himself to the Bishop of Cologne, from whom he received Holy Orders.
Norbert would have to have heard 0f, and perhaps even met, Tanchelm in Rome or while he was being held in custody by his patron, Federick, Archbishop of Cologne.
It is interesting to speculate what the men might have said to each other.
I found this prayer and commentary on the blog “Enlightended Catholicism.” I have a copy of it pinned near by my desk. Whenever my soul needs a lift I read it and smile.
Prayer For Catholic Enlightenment by Cardinal Newman
Prayer for the Light of Truth
O my God, I confess that You can enlighten my darkness. I confess that You alone can. I wish my darkness to be enlightened.
I do not know whether You will: but that You can and that I wish, are sufficient reasons for me to ask, what You at least have not forbidden my asking.
I hereby promise that by Your grace which I am asking, I will embrace whatever at length feel certain is the truth, if ever I come to be certain.
And by Your grace I will guard against all self-deceit which may lead me to take what nature would have, rather than what reason approves.
Addition by blog author: Dear God, please help me understand the above prayer. I know you can, if you so will it and haven’t forbidden it. I sort of think so anyway. Seriously.
Is the Devil responsible for turning people gay? A few Catholics may think so.
Massachusetts attorney Daniel Avila, who served as policy advisor for the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), penned an October 28, 2011 column in The Pilot, the Boston Archdiocesan newspaper. His article, “Some Fundamental Questions on Same-Sex Attraction,” was retracted a few days later after a furious storm of protest. Avila resigned his position at USCCB.
Avila ignited a firestorm when he wrote, “the scientific evidence of how same-sex attraction most likely may be created provides a credible basis for a spiritual explanation that indicts the Devil. Any time natural disasters occur, we…people of faith look back to Scripture’s account of…angels who rebelled and fell from grace. In their anger against God, these macontents prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. They continue to do all they can to mar, distort and destroy God’s handiwork.”
Immediately after the article ran, the liberal Catholic Paulist Center of Boston sent The Boston Pilot an open letter asking other Catholics to boycott the newspaper. “The highly questionable theology of this writer…directly and intentionally causes pain for gay Catholics, their families, especially their mothers, their friends and their worship communities. The article has no scriptural basis, vague Catholic theological constructs, and no connection with the Gospel of Christ.”
“We have removed this issue of The Pilot from the Paulist Center and will not be offering part II of this article. We do not want to support Mr. Avila inflicting unnecessary unnecessary and undeserved pain on members of our congregation.”
Daniel Avila began his October 28, 2011 column, “Some fundamental questions on same-sex attraction” – by musing about a situation many gay and lesbian Catholics and their supporters have also articulated: “More than once,” Avila started, “I have heard from or about Catholics upset with the Church for its insistence that sexual relations be limited to marriage between husband and wife. Does not this moral rule force people with same-sex attraction into lives of loneliness? If they are born that way, then why should they be punished by a restriction that does not account for their pre-existing condition? God wants everyone to be happy, and for persons with same-sex attraction is not their happiness to be found in the fulfillment of that attraction? Some seek to change the Church’s teaching on marriage or have left the Church because of it. They believe either that God through the Church ignores the needs of people or that the Church misunderstands what God desires.”
“That is, if God causes same-sex attraction, and yet commands that it not be satisfied, then this is divine cruelty. Or, if God causes same-sex attraction, then it must be the divine will that those with the attraction should act on it and it is the Church that is being cruel in its teaching or at least tragically mistaken about what God wants.”
Then, Avila drops his bomb…..”In either case, the belief that the Church is wrong on this issue starts from a faulty premise. God does not cause same-sex attraction….Disruptive imbalances in nature that thwart encoded processes point to supernatural actors who, unlike God, do not have the good of persons at heart.”
He finishes up: “…whenever natural causes disturb otherwise typical biological development, leading to the personally unchosen beginnings of same-sex attraction, the ultimate responsibility, on a theological level, is and should be imputed to the evil one, not God. Applying this aspect of Catholic belief to interpret the scientific data makes more sense because it does not place God in the awkward position of blessing two mutually incompatible realities–sexual difference and same-sex attraction..Being born with an inclination which originates in a manner outside of one’s control is not sufficient proof that the condition is caused by God or that its satisfaction meets God’s purpose. Further, a proper understanding of who is really at fault should deepen our compassion towards those who experience same-sex attraction and inform our response to the question of loneliness.”
Some ordinary Catholics weighed in on Avila’s remarks. Patrick O’Malley wrote: “Satan isn’t responsible for people being gay. Satan is responsible for:-pedophile priests raping thousands of children (in the United States alone); -bishops moving more pedophiles to places where they raped more children; -bishops covering up; -bishops lying about it; -Catholics shunning the victims. Satan is also responsible for making people think that God hates gays more than God hates child rapists and liars in His church.”
Another writer observed: “He’s (Avila) leading to an eliminationist doctrine. If gay people are created by satan, therefore, satanic, then it is ok to view them as sub-human vermin andfire up the nazi ovens again. Bigots always attempt to dehumanize the ‘other’ by attributing qualities to the ‘other’ the bigot does not himself possess. That makes it easy to justify any form of discrimination to outright killing. What a bigot never comprehends, is that my attempting to dehumanize another, he only succeeds in dehumanizing himself. That might be called a sin. On a positive note, his article many have caused some other heretofore anti-gay catholics to think about the road they are traveling on. It is good to see someone in the catholic organization reaffirm the dignity of all people gay or not, and this guy get the boot.”
However, Avila has gotten to the core of the argument, as David Gibson points out at Commonweal dot com: “On a somewhat more serious note, I wonder if this Avila kerfuffle and the anxious reactions of his defenders is symptomatic of a segment of the church that is painted into a corner on homosexuality. As evidence grows of an innate aspect of being gay, as is being straight, it provides a huge challenge to a church that preaches the innate dignity of each person. The responses from those who cannot square this circle seem to be to make arguments from pseudo-science that attempt to argue away the gay, while another fallback is to say that homosexuality is a thing but homosexuals cannot be themselves in the way every other person can be. They are in a straitjacket of celibacy, rather than receiving that as a gift, and yet for many (in the Vatican and elsewhere) they should not even be ordained celibates. This requires a cognitive dissonance, or understandably leads to a kind of panic, I think, that makes some look foolish when they try to reconcile the churchâ€™s best instincts with its worst, and perforce use bad theology or science or both to do so.”
A statue of the Pope John Paul II is under attack for its purported resemblance to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. “How could they have given such a kind pope the head of a Fascist,” asked one distraught observer.
The 15-foot bronze statue by Roman artist Oliviero Rainaldi, was unveiled May 18, 2011 on what would have been John Paul’s 91st birthday. The statue is displayed outside Rome’s Termini train station.
The Fondazione Silvana Paolini Angelucci, a charitable organization, donated the sculpture to the city to celebrate the beatification of John Paul II. Mr. Rainaldi, the artist, was chosen because he had worked on several ecclesiastical commissions, and the foundation was confident that he could interpret the pope’s spirit. It was designed for the square in front of Termini, Rome’s main train station, which was dedicated to the pope in 2006, a year after his death.
While the statue is hardly as inflammatory as “La Nona Ora”–Maurizio Cattelan’s 1999 sculpture of Pope John Paul II getting hit by a meteor–some people are steadfast in their criticism of Rainaldi’s new artwork, with one Roman cleaning woman pointing out that the sculpture raised practical concerns as well as artistic ones. “With the shape of the cape, sooner or later the homeless people at the station will sleep inside it, and in no time it will be full of bottles of beer,” she said.
“A giant cow bell,” noted one critic referring to its cylindrical shape. “Mussolini,” said others noting the big bald head perched on top of the work, much like that of the fascist leader of Italy in the early 20th century. A few history buffs seemed to see the features of the Emperor Vespasian, the first-century sponsor of the Colosseum. Vespasian persecuted Christians as subversive to the state, and martyred a few at the Colosseum, mostly by hungry lions. A few were shot full of arrows.
But the most scathing review came from the Vatican’s official newspaper, Osservatore Romano. “The statue’s sin
,” the Vatican stated, is that it’s “hardly to be recognized.”
“You know, in Italy everyone thinks they’re the coach of the national soccer team. Now, we have a nation of 66 million art critics,” said Umberto Broccoli, head of the city’s Cultural Heritage Department. “We were happy to accept a statue that cost the city zilch.”
For now, Mr. Rainaldi is taking the criticism in stride. “Usually, I get more compliments,” he said in a telephone interview. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have survived in this business for 40 years; they would have stopped me earlier.”
The sculpture, he added, was never meant to be representational, though he was inspired by a photo of John Paul II enveloping a child in his cloak during a public audience many years ago.
“That gesture seemed to me to be representative of the entire spirit of his pontificate: the meeting of cultures, the idea of dialogue, of offering a hand,” he said. “And if that hand is wrapped in a cloak, it takes on ulterior symbolism, like shelter and protection, an embrace towards and of people.”
Francesco Buranelli, secretary of the Vatican Fine Arts Commission, said the debate should not be reduced to a question of liking or not liking the statue. Contemporary art, regardless of when it was created, “shouldn’t be judged by subjective parameters,” he said. By that measure, he added, an infinite number of works now considered to be masterpieces, like Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement” or Caravaggio’s “Virgin of the Pilgrims,” would have been whitewashed or destroyed.
Via blog sites, a few of the faithful have weighed in on the statue. Here are a few representative comments:
– “Ah! A statue worthy of his pontificate.”
– “This almost makes me want to become a Protestant.”
– “Are they trying to say he was an empty shell of a man? Perhaps they are saying that he was full of hot air?”
-“Please tell us this was a joke; either it is a refrigerator with the door opened or a busted portable toilette, with a disembodied head perched atop. Sad. Or maybe I just do not appreciate “art.”
-“I find the enormous scale of the statue unseemly, to be honest. It reminds me more of Mussolini than it does John Paul II; it has that sort of bleak, intimidating fascist quality about it. I understand the artist’s need to express, somehow, this man’s enormity in history, and this statue certainly does that, but it doesn’t seem to also express anything about the subject that caused the world to love him: the pope’s warmth, humour, compassion, piety, and so on.”
-“If someone said Pope John Paul II liked chocolate, there’d be some bitter fruit here chiming in, trying to make a link, any link, on how he was a bad pope and responsible for every bad thing in the Church today.”
Fr. Maurice Chase died on November 20, 2011 at his Los Angeles home of cancer. He was 92. Fr. Chase started his life as a “society priest” and ended it on Skid Row. “I love it,” he said. “God has given me the happiest part of my life at the end.”
Nearly every Sunday morning, Thanksgiving and Christmas for almost three decades, the man they called Father Dollar Bill, Father Dollar or just D.B. for Dollar Bill showed up on a Skid Row sidewalk. Clad in a Notre Dame hat and a red sweater over his clerical collar, Father Dollar Bill would hand out crisp, new one dollar bills along with a handshake and a blessing. Father Dollar Bill was a hugely popular figure on Skid Row. Hundreds would gather each week to await his arrival, in a line that sometimes stretched for blocks. “He was just a glorious man,” said Beverly Taylor, who lived on Skid Row for decades. “He was just always there.”
Father Maurice Chase didn’t mind what name the destitute, penniless, homeless and addicts called him. He didn’t care how they spent the money. Nor was he bothered by criticism by other Skid Row service providers–that he was a self-promoting publicity hound whose cash assistance had little impact on the people who gathered to receive his dollar, handshake, blessing or hug.
Beginning in the 1980s, Father Chase gave out untold numbers of bills, about $3,000 each week. Almost all of them were ones, although to some he would offer larger notes, especially on holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas. On holidays the total he handed out could rise to $15,000.
Some social service workers critcized Fr. Chase’s brand of charity, saying it had little impact. “I think his desire to bring people love was true, and can certainly be modeled by the rest of us,” said the Rev. Andy Bales, chief executive of the Union Rescue Mission. “But the last thing people on the street need is cash. A lot of people took the money and spent it in unhealthy ways.” People who waited in line for a donation often told Fr. Chase how they planned to spend the money. Many bought hamburgers, ice cream and other treats they couldn’t get at the shelters.
Fr. Chase acknowledge that in a neighborhood where drug abuse and untreated mental illness were common, a single dollar could not get someone off the street. But the money, he said, was not the point. He said what mattered was letting people know they weren’t invisible and that they were loved by God. “I’m out here to tell people I love them and God loves them,” he said. While he wasn’t afraid of potential trouble, a L.A. police officer quietly stood by in case of any problems.
“Maury Chase planted his feet right on the sidewalk, the last place on earth where the poorest of the poor live,” said Alice Callaghan, founder of the Skid Row advocacy center Las Famillas del Pueblo. “He didn’t attempt to single out the undeserving poor from the deserving poor. I’m sure he handed out money to thieves. But it wasn’t the dollar that mattered. It was the gift of human love.”
Fr. Chase began every trip to Skid Row with a prayer about serving the poor: “When you have done it to the least of men, you have done it to me.” Then he prepared the stacks of new dollar bills he had withdrawn from the bank earlier. “Everything is so dirty on Skid Row. I want to give them something new and fresh.” Fr. Chase said he always made sure to look each person in the eye. “By my looking into their eyes, I’m saying you have dignity, you’re a human being, you are made in the image and likeness of God.”
Fr. Maury Chase began his street ministry when he was a fund raising assistant to the president of Loyola Marymount University. His job was to persuade potential donors to write checks to the university. Through his friendship with actress Irene Dunne, he hit the Los Angeles party circuit and became known as “the society priest.” He was frequently mentioned in social columns. He provided photos and information to the editors at the Los Angeles Times to help the paper prepare its society columns.
He came up with his Skid Row charity after contemplating the instructions of Loyola Marymount’s president, Father Donald P. Merrifield, who hired him in 1985. Fr. Merrifield told him, “I’m sending you out among the rich and famous. You better have a balance in your life.”
So, after every society event, Fr. Chase would send letters to potential donors he’d meet, telling them how wonderful the party was. Then he pointed out that many people were less fortunate and needed their help. He often received letters back that included a check for the priest’s Skid Row ministry. After awhile, he began soliciting donations from wealthy benefactors including Bob & Dolores Hope, Frank Sinatra, Merv Griffin, Vin Scully, Bob Newhart, Jackie Autry, Rick Caruso and many others.
At a Thanksgiving dinner on Skid Row put on by the Los Angeles Mission word spread that Father Dollar Bill had died. “Dollar Man is dead,” called out Wendell Harrison, 54, to the other diners.
James Rory, 60, told a reporter his interactions with Fr. Chase had helped him to try to get off the street. “He’s definitely going to be missed,” Mr. Rory added. “Not because of the dollar. Because of what he offered me spiritually.”
Barbara Grier, a founder and publisher of Naiad Press, a much-thumbed lesbian pulp fiction publisher, died of cancer on November 10, 2011 in Tallahassee, Florida. She was 78. Her death was announced by her long-time partner (in work and life), Donna McBride.
Founded in 1973, and with a mailing list purloined from the Daughters of Bilitis, Grier went on to publish over 500 books with unconditionally lesbian themes–romance, erotica, poetry, science fiction and self-help. If you wanted to read a book with lesbian sex, you bought one of the Naiad titles. Like real life, sometimes the sex was great, sometimes not-so-great. The stand-out best book of lesbian awakening, desire, seduction and sex is Katherine V. Forrest’s 1983 novel, “Curious Wine.” Buy it.
The availability of these novels–with lust and sex and a happy ending–was a tremendous service to lesbians everywhere. In lesbian fiction in the 1940s, 50s and 60s the heroine dallied with a female lover but ended up with a man. Barbara Grier flipped this formula around: the women flirted with men or a heterosexual lifestyle, but came to their senses and ended up with a woman.
Many of these early lesbian novels were straight men’s pornographic fantasies: a little girl-on-girl action to get things warmed up, but a man finishes up. Lesbians had to be content with reading to the middle of the book.
Besides an appreciation of some of her romance novels, my acquaintence with Barbara Grier and Naiad Press came through the 1985 smash hit, “Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence.” In 1984 I was asked by Nancy Manahan, one of the editor/authors, if she could solicit stories from the ex-nuns and sisters who were members of CCL – the Conference for Catholic Lesbians. A number of CCL members ended up in the book, including two of the women who were presented as currently belonging to a religious community. One of them still is…although she published her story using her grandmother’s name not her own.
Nancy Manahan did a workshop at the 1986 CCL national conference where she talked about the book and the process of pulling it together. As I remember her, she was soft-spoken, thoughtful, and earnest. She wrote in the forward of the book that its intent was to break the silence about “erotic love between women in religious life.”
The book resonated with a large swathe of Catholic lesbians, especially former women religious, who left their communities because their lesbianism was not compatible with either their vows, or the forced invisibility of homosexuals in the Catholic Church. The spiritual community they experienced in religious life was missed, and it left an ache in some that was never healed.
There is an interplay between sexuality and spirituality in Catholicism especially, with its emphasis on sensuality and the body. Think of the suggestive pose of St. Sebastian, and the orgasmic rapture of St. Theresa of Avila. Even Christ hanging on the cross often has his loincloth positioned in a pretty erotic angle. How can anyone avoid the subtle message of these images or even avoid making them an object of desire?
When a local TV station in Boston promoted an interview with Manahan and her co-editor, Rosemary Curb, archdiocesan officials complained, saying the broadcast would be “an affront to the sensitivity of Roman Catholics.” The station cancelled the program, but the ensuing uproar sent sales of the book soaring. “This is crazy,” Grier told the New York Times , scrambling to fill new orders for the book, which eventually sold several hundred thousand copies. “I’m a mouse giving birth to an elephant!”
A year or two later, a controversy ensured when Barbara Grier sold the rights to some of the lesbian nun stories to Penthouse Forum, a male prono magazine. The CCL board sent an angry letter to Grier saying it was a betrayal, selling these women’s stories for the titillation of male readers. Nancy Manahan and Rosemary Curb protested, too, but to no avail–Naiad Press owned the book.
I can’t remember if Grier replied to us–I think she didn’t bother–but the story goes she did it because she felt she could reach new women readers through Penthouse.
My sense is she did it for the money and publicity it would bring to Naiad Press. She had her mainstream hit, and she wanted to ride it for all it was worth. After all, she labored for many years on the margins with a shoestring budget.
The tremendous irony of the whole thing is that Barbara Grier, who spent a lifetime working hard to publish lesbian literature, had her greatest notoriety from providing lesbian sex thrills to men.
The NY Post headline screamed, “‘Tango’ Sex Bomb Dies.” A little blurb appeared underneath: “Maria Schneider, the French actress who was Marlon Brando’s young co-star in the steamy 1972 film “Last Tango in Paris,” has died, her talent agency said. She was 58.” Maria Schneider died after a lengthy battle with cancer.
A quiet funeral was held at Eglise Saint-Roch on February 10, 2011. Among friends in attendance were director Bertrand Blier, actresses Claudia Cardinale, Andrea Ferreol and Christine Boisson, writer Jean-Henri Servat, and actor Alain Delon. Maria’s partner, Pia, spoke at the memorial. “Ciao Bella, Ciao Maria,” she said, saluting her for bravery in the long illness that took her life. Pia and Maria had been together since 1980. Maria’s ashes were to be taken form Pere Lachaise crematorium to later be scattered at La Roche de Vierge in Biarritz.
Born in 1952, the daughter of French actor Daniel Gelin and Romanian-born Marie-Christine Schneider, who ran a bookstore in Paris, Schneider began her career in the movie “Les Femmes” in 1969, and continued to star in French films until 2008 when she retired for health reasons. It is for her role in the movie “Last Tango in Paris” that she is remembered. This role defined her in a way she never wanted.
“I felt very sad because I was treated like a sex symbol,” revealed Schneider in 2007. “I wanted to be recognized as an actress, and the whole scandal and aftermath of the film turned me a little crazy and I had a breakdown.
In the film, Schneider plays Jeanne, a girl engaged to an annoying filmmaker, Tom, who goes to view an apartment in Paris. There she chances upon Paul (Marlon Brando), an American expatriate whose wife has committed suicide. They start a passionate affair. Paul insists they don’t even reveal their names.
There is ample opportunity throughout the movie to see Schneider’s luscious body, but the scene everyone remembers is when Brando puts Schneider face down on the apartment floor, lubricates her with butter and anally rapes her. “That scene wasn’t in the script. The truth is it was Marlon who came up with the idea,” she said. “Marlon said to me: ‘Maria, don’t worry, it’s just a movie,” but during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears…I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take.”
Maria Schneider provided frank interviews in the wake of Tango’s controversy, claiming she had slept with 50 men and 20 women, that she was “bisexual completely,” and that she was a user of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana.
In fact, bouts of mental instability, drug addiction and even a suicide attempt, prevented Schneider from moving ahead professionally. She also refused to let herself be typecast as a young sexpot ready to get naked on camera. “Never take your clothes off for a middle-aged man who claims that it’s for art,” she would later tell the Daily Mail.
In 1975, when Schneider was 23, she walked off the set of Rene Clement’s La Baby Sitter and signed herself into a Roman psychiatric hospital. Not for treatment, but simply to be with her inseparable companion of the past two years, American photographer, Joan (“Joey”) Townsend, 28, the daughter of ex-president of Avis, Robert Townsend, who also wrote the best-selling book, Up the Organization.
She later told film critic, Roger Ebert, that hers had been a gesture of support to a friend who was locked up at the facility. Townsend had been picked up at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, babbling irrationally. On learning that her lover had been taken to a psychiatric hospital, Maria rushed to join her. “They locked her up, and so I had to do it out of loyalty,” Schneider explained. Paparazzi snapped them in various embraces.
One of these photos appeared in People. Sitting in a dingy airport in Alaska, waiting for the weather to break to depart, I was idly thumbing through the magazine when I flipped to the page with the photo of Schneider and Townsend looking out the window of the hospital. Townsend looked wild-eyed and distraught. Schneider had her head next to Townsend’s, and her arm was around her protectively. Her tousled, curly black hair was a contrast to Townsend’s blonde. I didn’t want people to see me staring, but I couldn’t stop looking at the photo. I pretended to keep reading, but kept going back to that page. I can’t remember what was written, except that Townsend was her lover, and that Schneider had ruined her prospects as an actress by going to her.
I did something I never do–I surreptitiously tore the page out of the magazine and stuffed it in my backpack.
I had obviously seen pictures of other lesbians by then, but nothing made a positive impact until that photo of Schneider holding her lover close and standing by her.
The 1970s were turbulent years for Schneider, marked by drugs and a suicide attempt. “I was lucky–I lost many friends to drugs–but I met someone in 1980 who helped me stop. I call this person my angel and we’ve been together ever since. I don’t say if it’s a man or woman. That’s my secret garden. I like to keep it a mystery. Garbo had the right idea.”
A month after the Schneider obituary appeared the documentary “Making the Boys” was released in New York City. That film was the other gay icon of my youth. Directed and produced by Crayton Robey, “Making the Boys”tells the story of the meteoric impact of “The Boys in the Band,” both the play and the 1970 William Friedkin film. Mart Crowley, the playwright and screen writer, was foundering in Hollywood before he “wrote what he knew” and became a voice for many gay men. The documentary paints a vivid portrait of the era when the closet was the norm. Footage of a CBS report on homosexuality shows Mike Wallace announcing that Americans consider homosexuality “more harmful to society than adultery, abortion or prostitution.”
“I felt Mart had been undervalued,” Robey said wistfully. “His play is a classic–a masterpiece. The revolution of the “Boys” has such a great history in terms of theater and in terms of visibility of homosexuals in mainstream culture, and the mainstream press introducing it to the masses and starting a conversation. His story should really come forward a bit.”
Mart Crowley was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1935. His early life was deeply rooted in the Catholic Church; he attended a Catholic high school, and went from there to The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, graduating in 1957.
He eventually landed a very coveted film job as a production assistant. He worked on such classics as “The Fugitive Kind” and “Butterfield 8” before becoming director Elia Kazan’s assistant on “Splendor in the Grass.” That’s when he met Natalie Wood, the film’s star, who became a close friend. She encouraged Crowley and introduced him to people who helped “Boys in the Band” come to fruition.
First staged on April 14, 1968 at the off-Broadway Theater Four, “Boys” played more than 1,000 performances before heading off to Los Angeles, where it won a Drama Critic’s Award in 1969, and then to London. The film was released in 1970.
Themes include coming out issues, passing for straight, the unrequited love for a straight friend, the man who leaves his wife when he finally accepts the truth about himself, and the “Christ, I was drunk last night” syndrome.
“The Boys in the Band” is set in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where a surprise birthday party is being held for a mutual friend. The host, Michael, is a Catholic with a major drinking and self-image problem. He is in psychoanalysis–to change or come to terms with himself. Other characters include Harold, the birthday boy, who is increasingly morose about the loss of his youth. One of his presents is “Cowboy,” a hunky but not very bright hustler. Donald, a friend, house guest and occasional bed partner of Michael is also conflicted about his homosexuality. He left the city to spurn the homosexual “lifestyle.” Larry and Hank are a couple with monogamy issues. Larry, a fashion photographer, tricks constantly, and Hank is in the process of getting a divorce from his wife. Bernard is an an African-American who still pines for the wealthy white boy in the house where his mother worked as a maid. Emory is a flamboyant queen.
Alan, a surprise guest, was Michael’s roommate at Georgetown. He calls Michael from a pay phone, upset, teary, and asks to see him. He was anxious to tell him something. What that something is we never find out. It could be his sadness about deciding to leave his wife. It could also be that he is questioning his own sexuality. Michael has kept in touch with another friend from Georgetown, Justin, who told him that he and Alan were deeply in love until Alan couldn’t take it, dumped Justin and married a woman. Michael is convinced that is what Alan was crying about on the phone.
Mart Crowley admits that his plays are autobiographical. In his introduction to “3 Plays by Mart Crowley,” he refers to “The Boys in the Band” and says, “There was never a real birthday party attended by nine actual men…However, just before I began to write the play, I had…attended a party for a friend’s birthday and it gave me the idea of how to frame what had already been on my mind…All of the characters are based on either people I either knew well or are amalgrams of several I’d known to varying degrees, plus a large order of myself thrown in the mix.”
Michael: Forgive him father, for he know not what he do.
Harold: Michael, you don’t know what side of the fence you’re on. Say something pro-religion, you’re against it. Deny god, you’re against that. One might say youhave some problem in that area. You can’t live with it, and you can’t live without it. You hang on to that great insurance policy called the Church.
Michael: That’s right, I believe in God. And if it turns out there isn’t one, okay, nothing’s lost. But if it turns out there is, I’m covered. I’m one of those truly rotten Catholics who gets drunk, sins all night, and then goes to mass then next morning.
Michael is the character with whom Crowley most strongly identifies. The witty, self-deprecating, and cynical Michael has also been the focus of detractors of the play. His most famous line, “You show me a happy homosexual, and I’ll show you a gay corpse,” has been used to indict Crowley for promoting self-loathing and negative stereotypes.
Crowley has strongly defended his play. The play’s “self-deprecating humor was born out of a low self esteem, if you will, from a sense of what the times told you about yourself.” The movie came out as gay liberation was just getting going, and any kind of negative sterotyping was not welcome. “But that’s an awful standard to hold to art,” he said. “The curtain can’t just go up on two happy people in rocking chairs saying ‘I love you,’ and the other one saying, ‘No, I love you more,’ and then the curtain coming down! Very positive images are not what dramatic fare is all about.”
“The Boys in the Band” is an honest, funny, gripping, perceptive, and powerful portrait of gay life before Stonewallâ€”one that in many ways remains as true today as it was 43 years ago. “Some things don’t change,” said Crowley. “Not ever. I mean, coming out is hard, even today. Growing old is hard.”
I saw the “Boys in the Band” when I was a freshman at Trinity College, an all-women’s college right next door to Catholic University. I believe the screen was at Catholic University(!), but perhaps it was at a theater close by. I remember I waited all week to see it. I felt a rolling succession of emotions watching the film-most of all–and intense curiosity and a delicious fear of discovery. While I was dating guys at Georgetown, I was also aware my strongest feelings were around a friend at Trinity. What did this mean? On some level I probably knew, and went to see the movie to help me pierce through the walls I set up between who I was, and who I was expected to be. As the feelings got stronger, so did the sense of denial. I did not come out until well after college, two years after my marriage ended, and I was living independently. Like Hank, I finally decided to stop living as a straight person.
The line in the film that resonated the most as I watch the film was Harold’s good-bye to Michael at the end of the party: “You’re a sad and pathetic man. You’re a homosexual and you don’t want to be, but there’s nothing you can do to change it. Not all the prayers to your god, not all the analysis you can buy in all the years you’ve got left to live. You may one day be able to know a heterosexual life if you want it desperately enough. If you pursue it with the fervor with which you annihilate. But you’ll always be homosexual as well. Always Michael. Always. Until the day you die.”
These words chilled me. I was terrified. I had homosexual longings. I wanted to explore them, but I was afraid. I also knew that no matter how many boys I dated, or when I got married, or whatever life I lived, these feelings were a part of me and never go away. When the lights went on I left. I didn’t mention the movie to any of my friends.
In the end, Donald and Michael are left in the living room. Hank and Larry are making love in the bedroom, so Michael can’t go to bed. Donald starts to leave, but Michael breaks down and begs him to stay. Michael wants to walk to clear his head of all the booze he drank. Donald tells him he’s going to finish the brandy but he’ll be back next week. Michael heads out into the night. “…there’s a midnight mass at St. Malachy’s that all the show people go to. I think I’ll walk over there and catch it.” Donald raises his glass and says, “Well, pray for me.”
In the closing scene Michael laments: â€œIf only we didnâ€™t hate ourselves so muchâ€¦if only we could just not hate ourselves quite so very muchâ€¦”
How could we grow up and not have avoided the miasma of anti-homosexual rhetoric, and the brutality and self-hatred that provoked? Family, friends, church, society, media and the arts were the endless source of queer jokes, put-downs and threats. Village Voice columnist Michael Musto reminds us, “Gays were not portrayed in movies generally, unless they were horrible victims or horrible perpetrators of crimes.” Being homosexual in that horrible environment was a terrible fate.
“The Boys in the Band” and Maria Schneider changed how I looked at homosexuals–and ultimately myself. They offered me the first opportunity to see people struggling in their attraction to a friend; who were bonded together in their same-sex attraction, who made a life for themselves as best they could, and took the world on for love.
I read in my local diocesan paper that the Rev. John F. Harvey, the founder of Courage, died on December 27, 2010. He was 92. An Oblate of St. Francis de Sales for 73 years, Father Harvey started Courage, a spiritual support group for homosexual men and women, in 1980 at the request of Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York and served as its national director until his death.
I did not have any contact with Courage myself, so I can’t comment on them from a point of experience. I did meet one or two ex-Courage members at Dignity/New York meetings in the early 1980s. Like Dignity, Courage was 98% men. From talking to them briefly it seemed they tried to abstain from gay sex, but the continual messages they received that homosexuals are immoral and sick drove them away.
The Archdiocese of New York, under Terence Cardinal Cooke, issued “The Rights of Homosexuals vs. Parental Rights” on January 11, 1978. The gist of this document is…”Catholics maintain unequivocally that homosexual activity is immoral and patterns of life that encourage homosexuality are gravely wrong. Without encouraging unkindness towards homosexuals, the Catholic moral position strongly reinforces parents’ and their surrogates’ determination to keep all children in their formative years free of any persons or influences that could draw them into homosexual practice.”
The sentiments behind that statement are the reason Courage has failed to attract most homosexual Catholics: be ashamed of who you are. Your longing and desire is dirty, immoral, disgusting. Hide it, or risk being expelled from the community. Stay in the closet.
Dignity in comparison was like a rush of fresh air: God made you who you are, and loves you as you are. Little wonder gay and lesbian Catholics flocked to Dignity instead.
About two years ago, I received an email from a woman member of the Courage group meeting at St. John the Baptist Church on West 31st Street in New York. She encouraged me to give up my lifestyle and come to the group’s meetings. I can’t recall if I replied or not, but after another note or two she gave up trying to recruit me.
The experience recalled an admonishment my mother gave to me as a little girl: “People who feel bad about something they’ve done want other people to do the same thing so they don’t feel alone and feel better about it.” Although that bit of wisdom was intended to deter me from mischief, it came to mind reading the insistent note from the lady Courage member.
Timothy Kincaid of the gay blog Box Turtle Bulletin posited that Fr. Harvey may have contributed to the Catholic Church’s inching towards tolerance of lesbians and gays by making the distinction between “inclination” and “behavior.” However, he focused his life’s work on counseling homosexuals to make tremendous personal sacrifices in order to maintain the church’s unmoving rejection of homosexuality. Questioning the church’s stance never came into play.
On a page dedicated to remembrances of Fr. Harvey, men and women who claim to “suffer” from same-sex attraction post their thanks. Here’s one woman’s plea: “I love you and miss you so much though I never met you. You are one of my heroes. Please intercede for all of those struggling with same sex attraction especially: J, J, T, L, S, H, S, S, E and M. Please intercede also for our country and all the countries of the world that they will see institutionalizing this behavior through the acceptance of same-sex marriages hurts the individuals involved, children, the family, the society, nations and the world. Help us understand and live and love chastity and purity.”
Timothy Kincaid said – “I have a certain amount of sympathy for those individuals who decide that their religious convictions preclude them from engaging in any form of sexuality that is not within the confines of heterosexual marriage. Each of us must be allowed the space to determine for ourselves what gives us meaning and happiness, and some may choose to prioritize their spirituality over their sexuality…So I am not opposed to ex-gay individuals or groups per se, provided they do not insist that others live according to their values, advocate for discrimination, or propagate lies.”
I agree with Mr. Kincaid. Well said.
I have personal respect for Catholic lesbians and gays who have made the decision to live chastely, but at the same time are out to themselves and others as a gay person.
One such person is Eve Tushnet; fervently Catholic, proudly gay and happily celibate. She does not see herself as disordered; she does not struggle to be straight, but she insists that her religion forbids her a sex life. “The sacrifices you want to make aren’t always the only sacrifices God wants,” Ms. Tushnet wrote in a 2007 essay for Commonweal. While gay sex should not be criminalized, she said, gay men and lesbians should abstain. They might instead have passionate friendships, or sublimate their urges into other pursuits. “It turns out I happen to be very good at sublimating,” she says, while acknowledging that it is a lot to ask from others.
Similar to Eve Tushnet, I am fervently Catholic, proudly gay and happily married..to a wonderful woman. I stopped struggling to be straight many years ago when I came out. And I believe, with my whole heart, God made me who I am. I was not created to suffer through involuntary chastity. Nor was I made to label and think of myself as “disordered.”
I take inspiration from Acts, Chapter 10, where Peter had a vision of the animals being lowered from the sky:
“The next day, while they were on their way and nearing the city, Peter went up to the roof terrace to pray at about noontime. He was hungry and wished to eat, and while they were making preparations he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all the earth’s four-legged animals and reptiles and the birds of the sky. A voice said to him, “Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat.” But Peter said, “Certainly not, sir. For never have I eaten anything profane and unclean. The voice spoke to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.”
Peter’s vision is the pivotal moment in the Acts of the Apostles: he is to be prepared to admit Gentiles, who were considered unclean like the animals of his vision, into the Christian community. Just as the Jewish Christians received the gift of the Spirit, so too do the Gentiles. “You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit, a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should not call any person profane or unclean.”
If Peter could change, why not the Pope?
I love dinosaurs. I love the Bible. Now, I can have them together at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Their motto is: “Prepare to Believe.”
The museum was developed by the Christian evangelical group, Answers in Genesis Ministry. The organization was founded by the Australian-born Reverend Ken Ham. He arrived in the U.S. in 1987.
The state-of-the-art 70,000 square foot museum brings the pages of the Bible to life. Adam and Eve live in the Garden of Eden. Children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden’s rivers.
The scenes remind me a lot of “The Flintstones,” a cartoon series I used to love to watch when I was growing up. Fred and Wilma Flintstone had a pet dinosaur named “Dino,” who barks and generally acts like a dog. A running gag involves Dino knocking down Fred out of excitement and licking him repeatedly.
If you were a kid during the 1960s and 70s, then you probably not only know the melody to the Flintstones song, but all the words as well.
Flintstones… Meet the Flintstones,
They’re a modern stoneage family.
From the town of Bedrock,
They’re a page right out of history.
Let’s ride with the family down the street.
Thru the courtesy of Fred’s two feet.
When you’re with the Flintstones,
have a yabba dabba doo time,
a dabba doo time,
we’ll have a gay old time.”
The museum, which is said to have cost $27 million, is privately funded through donations. The one-millionth visitor was announced on April 26, 2010, just over a month away from the museum’s three-year anniversary.
At Creation Museum, Earth and the universe are just over 6,000 years old, created in six days by God. The museum preaches “Same facts, different conclusions” and is unequivocal in viewing paleontological and geological data in light of a literal reading of the Bible.
In the creationist interpretation, the layers were laid down in one event — the worldwide flood when God wiped the land clean except for the creatures on Noah’s ark — and these dinosaurs died in 2348 B.C., the year of the flood.
“I like the fact the dinosaurs were in the ark,” Ham said. About 50 kinds of dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark, the museum explains, but later went extinct for unknown reasons.
According to Ham, almost every ill of modern society can be traced to the widespread acceptance of evolution. In response, he started his Answers in Genesis (AIG) Ministry in 1994. Soon after coming to Kentucky, he was promoting his plans to build a “creation museum” with numerous dinosaur models. Reverend Ham rechristened dinosaurs as “Missionary Lizards” and claimed to have recruited them to fight the demons of evolution and historical geology.
“For a person to make the claim that humans and dinosaurs did not coexist, they would have to be able to see all history at exactly the same time, which would make that person omniscient and omnipresent, qualities of God. So, when someone says emphatically that humans and dinosaurs did not exist together in the past, that person is claiming to be a god, while calling God Himself a liar, or, at best, deceptive.”
Many of the displays were designed by Patrick Marsh, who had formerly worked for Universal Studios designing attractions such as Jaws and King Kong before becoming a born-again Christian and young Earth creationist.
Among its exhibits, the museum features life-size dinosaur models, over 80 of them animatronic (animated and motion-sensitive). Model dinosaurs are depicted in the Garden of Eden, many of them side-by-side with human figures. In one exhibit, a Triceratops and a Stegosaurus are shown aboard a scale model of Noah’s ark.
Some of the exhibits show modern times and espouse the view that families and society are hurt by a world view which is not Biblically based. In one video, a male teenager is shown sitting at a computer looking at internet pornography and a female teenager speaks with Planned Parenthood about having an abortion.
John Haught, a research professor at Georgetown University who is an expert on science and religion, said it’s “not terribly surprising” that a museum would be created to support creationists’ arguments about the origins of life.
“It’s important for them to deny evolution because…if evolution happened, then there was no original perfection,” said Haught, a Roman Catholic who believes in evolution. “It’s absolutely essential for them that there be some fall. Otherwise the whole significance of Christianity gets lost.”
For his part, Haught doesn’t see much merit in the museum and expects it will cause an “impoverishment” of both theology and religion. “It’s hard for me to come up with a single reason why we should be doing this,” said Haught. “It’s theologically problematic for me, as well as scientifically problematic.”
Next up for Answers in Genesis – “Ark Encounters,” a $150 million Noah’s ark theme park. Among other attractions the park will feature a 500-foot wooden ark complete with live animals. The developers are Christian conservatives who want state government to help subsidize the ark park with as much as $37.5 million in tourism development incentives.
So far, Ark Encounters has the blessing of Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, who said he was elected to help create jobs, not debate religious beliefs. Some other residents, who don’t subscribe to the bumper sticker theology of “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” disagree, so the minute the tax subsidies are requested the court battle is expected to begin.
See Creation Museum here.
See Ark Encounter here. I hope no one looking for Ark Encounter accidentally types Ark Encounters.
A landmark shift in the Catholic church’s hardline position on the use of condoms was published on November 23, 2010.
The pontiff makes the condom comments in a book-length interview with a German journalist, Peter Seewald, in “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times.” In the interview, which took place in July 2010, the pope made clear that he didn’t consider condom use a “moral solution” to fighting the spread of infection, citing statements that put abstinence first.
But, the pope added: “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.”
In his statement on condom use the Pope Benedict infused morality with common sense–use protection to prevent the spread of the disease. Protecting your partner from a deadly and fatal disease is more important than the notion of being “open to life” during the sex act.
Benedict’s statement will save lives, prevent suffering, and help to make the Church relevant in Africa, Europe and North America; where for too long fantastical church statements took priority over the lived experience–and common sense–of ordinary Catholics.
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told a news conference on November 23, 2010 that he conveyed the media’s “perplexity” directly to the pope, asking whether or not it made a difference if the prostitute in question was male or female. He said the pope said his reasoning applied to both sexes.
“The point is to take a step towards responsibility, to take into consideration the risk of the life of the person with whom you have relations whether it’s a man, woman or transsexual,” Father Lombardi said.
Pope Benedict’s decision to articulate his views on condoms to a journalist, rather than formulating a doctrinal document, may be an unusual attempt to stir debate. But it was also a way for the Pope to speak directly to Catholics, health care professionals, and media with his comments being subject to “interpretation” from the Curia and their conservative Catholic allies.
As early as 1988 then Cardinal Ratzinger tried to speed up the process to get rid of sexually abusive and pedophile priests. Ratzinger complained that church law made it exceedingly difficult to remove abusers if they didn’t request to be laicized voluntarily. He asked to get around the problem by finding “a quicker and simpler procedure” than a cumbersome church trial. He was turned down on the grounds that the priests’ ability to defend themselves would be compromised.
Given that, and the ensuing holocaust of sexual abuse revelations he has had to deal with as pope, I am not at all surprised by Pope Benedict’s decision to speak to a journalist rather than formulating a doctrinal document. The pope made “only small corrections” to the text, Mr. Seewald writes in a preface to the book.
Though Pope Benedict did not endorse the general use of condoms, or change official church teaching –which still strongly opposes contraceptives — his words ricocheted around the globe, greeted with anger and dismay from some conservative Catholics and enthusiasm from clerics and health workers in Africa, where the AIDS problem is the worst.
“We’re in a new world,” said the Rev. Jon Fuller, a Jesuit priest and a physician at the Center for H.I.V/AIDS Care and Research at Boston Medical Center. The pope is “implicitly” saying, he said, “that you cannot anymore raise the objection that any use of the condom is an intrinsic evil.”
It took the pope to say what he did to change the debate on the issue of condoms. In 1987, the U.S. bishops’ conference issued the statement, “The Many Faces of AIDS,” that stressed limiting sex to marriage as the best protection against the virus, but said public education “could include accurate information about prophylactic devices” to prevent transmission. The document was criticized at the time by conservatives and some Vatican officials.
Catholic conservatives who believed Catholic teaching against contraception to be inviolable were reeling over Pope Benedict’s remarks. “This is really shaking things up big time,” said Dr. John M. Haas, the president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, who serves on the governing council of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life.
Dr. Haas, a moral theologian, said he had seen an embargoed copy of a new book in which the pope conceded there might be extreme cases in which there were grounds for the use of condoms. “I told the publisher, ‘Don’t publish this: it’s going to create such a mess,'”he added.
The president of “Les Femmes – The Women of Truth,”an independent media apostolate of orthodox Roman Catholic laity in the Diocese of Arlington, VA weighed in on the pope’s condom kerfuffle: “Certainly, a gay prostitute is not using a condom for birth control so that is simply irrelevant,” she said. “On the other hand, homosexual sex is unnatural, degrading, and morally sinful. Can using a condom out of concern for transmitting AIDS make it less sinful? I think I understand the point that it might signal an awakening sense in the sinner of concern for the partner in sin; but what kind of concern is it when one is in the act of buggery? What times we live in! I’d rather debate how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. At least the thought of dancing angels in lovely.”
Lisa Sowle Cahill, a professor of theology at Boston College, said the pope’s new openness about condoms was significant even if it did not change church teaching. “I see it as a shift in attention, so that the politics of AIDS is larger on the radar screen than the politics of contraception, and to me that is a needed and appropriate shift,” she said. She added that the church had held firm against the use of condoms even to prevent AIDS because the birth control issue took so much precedence politically.
Dr. Haas could barely contenance Father Lombardi’s comments that broadened the debate to include women. “I don’t think it’s a clarification; it’s a muddying of the waters,” he said. “My opinion is that the pope purposely chose a male prostitute to avoid that particular debate.” And if Benedict was in fact opening that debate? – “I think the pope’s wrong,” Dr. Haas flatly stated.
“This is a game-changer,” declared the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit writer and editor. “By acknowledging that condoms help to prevent the spread of HIV between people in sexual relationships, the Pope completely changed the Catholic discussion on condoms,” Martin said.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said he asked Pope Benedict why he agreed to the Seewald interview. The pope’s answer was that “obviously it wasn’t just to respond to Seewald’s questions, but because he thought that speaking to people today in a language that was simple, colloquial, on many questions that people pose would be a service he could render.”
“There is a type of magisterium found in official documents that are written, studied and rewritten; there is the magisterium in the homilies and catechesis of the pope; and then there is the communication of Pope Benedict in a colloquial, direct way” found in “Light of the World,” Father Lombardi said.