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Benedetta Carlini – First Lesbian Nun Story

Posted by Censor Librorum on Oct 13, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Celebrities, History, Lesbians & Gays, Politics, Scandals, Sex

Benedetta Carlini (1590-1661) was a mystic, seductress and nun. Dr. Judith C. Brown chronicled her life in the 1986 book, Immodest Acts. The book came on the heels of Rosemary Curb and Nancy Manahan’s bestseller, Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence, which was published in 1985. Benedetta was Abbess of the Convent of the Mother of God in Pescia, Italy when she was accused of heresy and “female sodomy.” Her story is important not only as a documented lesbian relationship in the convent, but how an intelligent, persuasive woman gained, experienced and exercised power and celebrity within Catholicism’ male-dominated structure.  In the end, she was brought low by jealousy and her own excesses. She also had miscalculated the tectonic shift in the Church from the Counter Reformation: principally an emphasis on correction of clerical abuses, and more emphasis on intellectual understanding vs. supernatural manifestations of divine favor.

The story of Abbess Benedetta Carlini was discovered by accident by Dr. Brown, a historian at Stanford University while she was researching the economic history of the region and the Medici rule.  “I found Benedetta Carlini by chance, by leafing through an inventory of nearly forgotten documents in the State Archive of Florence.  The entry in the inventory read: ‘Papers relating to a trial against Sister Benedetta Carlini of Vellano, abbess of the Theatine nuns of Pescia, who pretended to be a mystic, but who was discovered to be a woman of ill repute.’”  This discovery of an ecclesiastical investigation contained what is probably the earliest account of a sexual relationship between two nuns. The documents concerning Abbess Benedetta Carlini consisted mostly of transcripts of a series of inquests between 1619 and 1623.

In 1986, Dr. Brown published her book about Benedetta’s life, investigations, and trials.  Titled Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy.  It was widely reviewed in both scholarly and popular journals and publications.  I talked to Dr. Brown about speaking at the Conference for Catholic Lesbians (CCL) West Coast conference in May 1986.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t available to participate.  Too bad, because many scholars are dry and pedantic, and I found Dr. Brown to be both engaging and knowledgeable. She was one of a handful of women at that time to write an even-handed account of lesbianism who was not a lesbian herself.  The book served as a prop in Su Friedrich’s sensational 1987 film, Damned If You Don’t.  

Benedetta’s parents brought her to the convent in 1599 when she was nine years old. She entered the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, more commonly known as the Theatines. The order was founded in 1583 by the Venerable Ursula Benincasa, who was famous for her visions and piety. The fame she gained from her visions led some to accuse her of being possessed by a devil. In 1617, Ursula had her most famous vision, where Jesus (in some versions, Mary) appeared to her. In the vision Jesus praised her order and promised them salvation.  Ursula died in 1618 at the age of 71. Benedetta grew up learning about Ursula’s visions and the fame and power that proceeded from them.

Like the Venerable Ursula, Benedetta had visions.  In 1613, when she was 23, she reported visions to the mother superior and her confessor. A young boy helped her climb the “Mountain of Perfection;” she was surrounded by wild animals, only to be saved by Jesus.  In another vision, while praying one morning, she found herself “in a garden, surrounded by fruits and flowers.” Male figures came to dominate her visions—a beautiful youth, young men who beat her with sticks, chains, and swords; a handsome guardian angel named Splenditello, and Jesus himself.  Over time, the visions increased in intensity and detail, and Benedetta became well known for them.  Fearful that Sister Benedetta was being harassed by demonic forces, Sister Bartolomea Crivelli was assigned to share her cell, observe her, and help her if possible.

On the second Friday of Lent 1619, Benedetta received an unmistakable sign of divine favor, the stigmata.  Prior to this event Benedetta and others in her community were unsure if her visions were divine or diabolical in origin; but by manifesting the wounds of Christ she proved their divinity.

Her celebrity as a mystic blossomed.  That same year the Theatine nuns elected her as their abbess.

Shortly after her election, she began to deliver sermons to the other nuns.  She spoke in a trance, an angel speaking through her, exhorting the nuns to purify themselves, and be grateful for Benedetta’s presence in their midst. In the months that followed, there were more trances and visitations: from St. Catherine of Siena and an angel—a beautiful youth in a white robe named Splenditello, even Jesus himself.  They spoke from within Benedetta, at times with loving praise, other times harshly or issuing commandments, such as a ban on eating meat, eggs, and dairy products.

On May 20, 1619, Jesus appeared to Benedetta and told her he wanted to marry her in a special ceremony.  He had specific ideas for the procession, the chapel decorations, list of guests and the ceremony itself. At the wedding, while the other nuns watched and listened, Benedetta claimed the Blessed Mother looked on benevolently while Jesus placed a gold ring on her finger. Speaking through her, Jesus said, “I would like that this, my bride, be empress of all the nuns.” He added that the Great Duke of Tuscany should be informed of her greatness. All those who did not obey, believe, and cherish her would be punished.

Although the nuns had gone along with Benedetta’s visions, the self-flagellation during trance-sermons and even a ban on salami and cheese; the wedding with Jesus and his dictate that they should obey her or face divine punishment was a step too far. They reported her to the ecclesiastical authorities, who investigated her twice between 1619 and 1623. They discovered that she had faked the stigmata by pricking herself with a needle; secretly ate salami and mortadella during her “ban” on meat and dairy and painted on her miraculous wedding ring with saffron.

But the most damning, was the confession of Sr. Bartolomea Crivelli, Benedetta’s assigned companion.  She described her two-year affair with the abbess.  The women met for sex at least three times a week.  “Embracing her, she would put her under herself and kissing her as if she were a man, she would speak words of love to her. And she would stir so much on top of her that both of them corrupted themselves.” They also masturbated each other and had oral sex to orgasm.  Mutual fondling carried a relatively light penalty—two years of penance, plus the loss of Benedetta’s status as abbess. The fact that Benedetta claimed “Splenditello” the angel committed the sexual acts allowed clerical investigators to classify all of Benedetta’s supernatural visions as diabolic in nature. In their report, investigators criticized Benedetta’s “immodest and lascivious language,” and “the great display of vanity” of her mystical marriage with Jesus. 

Benedetta, 36, was condemned to involuntary hermitage and spent the remaining 35 years of her life in solitary confinement.  The only other mention of Benedetta is an August 1661 entry in an unnamed nun’s diary stating that Benedetta Carlini died at age 71 of fever and colic pains. The nun added that Benedetta was “always popular among the laity.”  For her confession, Sr. Bartolomea Crivelli was spared any punishment. She died in 1660, a year before Benedetta.

Why the long solitary confinement?  I suspect jealousy, anger at her duplicity, and fear that her charm and intelligence could help her reclaim a leadership position led some nuns to promote her isolation within the community. She would feel her losses every day.  Church authorities wanted to discourage her dangerous popularity with the laity. Her supernatural claims were unwanted in the new age of science and Counter-Reformation.

There is no record of what Benedetta thought and felt after she was led to her lonely cell. Did she have any regrets? Did she revisit her visions– real, imagined or devised? Did her thoughts ever stray to Bartolomea, lying in her bed nearby?

Benedetta Carlini has been the inspiration or subject of films, plays and articles.  They include:

Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy by Judith Brown, Oxford University Press, 1986

Damned If You Don’t – a film by Su Friedrich in 1989.  If you want to see the film, below are the links for streaming and for DVD

Damned If You Don’t

Vimeo streaming for $3.99
DVD for $24.99

Discourses of Desire: Sexuality and Christian Women’s Visionary Narratives,” by E. Ann Matter, Journal of Homosexuality, 1989-1990

Big Gay Portal to Hell, a podcast by Catherine Clune-Taylor on Caveat

Stigmata, a 2011 play by Carolyn Gage

Vile Affections: Based on the True Story of Benedetta Carlini, a 2006 play by Vanda

Benedetta Carlini: Lesbian Nun of Renaissance Italy, a play by director and playwright, Rosemary Rowe.

Benedetta, an upcoming film directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Virginia Efira as Benedetta.  The film is scheduled to premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

 

 

 

 

Looking Back 35 Years: Barbara Grier, Catholic Lesbians, and the Lesbian Nuns Book

Posted by Censor Librorum on Mar 29, 2020 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, History, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals

In 1985 the book, Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence, was published by Naiad Press. It was an explosive best-seller, thanks to the Boston Archdiocese and Cardinal Bernard Law, who complained about a local television interview with the book’s two editors. The archdiocese described the program as “an affront to the sensitivity of Roman Catholics.” The station cancelled the segment, and sales soared.  “This is crazy,” Barbara Grier, a founder of Naiad Press told The New York Times, scrambling to fill orders for the book, “I’m a mouse giving birth to an elephant.” The editors, Rosemary Curb and Nancy Manahan, did have a successful appearance on the Phil Donohue show in April 1985 and went on a national tour for the book.  Naiad Press went through four printings of the book, and eventually sold the mass distribution and paperback rights to Warner Books in 1986. Lesbian Nuns eventually sold several hundred thousand copies. 

Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence included stories by 42 former nuns and women religious, and nine women still in religious life.  Most used pseudonyms.  All of them wrote about either discovering or acting on their lesbian identity while still in religious life.  While there were very few detailed descriptions of sex and seduction, Naiad’s marketing promised to reveal what really goes on behind convent doors, breaking the silence “about erotic love between women in religious life.” While the lesbian religious in the book had affairs or relationships with other sisters, they also fell in love or lust with lay women, married and single.  Often the love affair or sexual relationship was the cause of them leaving the convent: it was too hard to maintain a lover relationship and live a religious life.  Sometimes the relationships continued but often they did not. I met and knew several of the contributors:

Nancy Manahan, one of the co-editors, worked with the Conference for Catholic Lesbians (CCL) to solicit contributors to the book.  She also did a workshop on the book at our 1986 conference. I found Nancy to be a lovely, gracious, caring person.

Susan Weaver was an elegant, elderly woman. We got together several times during my visits to my parents home in Vermont. She made me a beautiful Christmas ornament that I put on my tree every year in memory of her.

Pat O’Donnell was a Dominican sister working at Picture Rocks Retreat house in Tucson, Arizona.  She lost her job as the result of her coming out in the book.  Pat continued to live and work in Tucson doing spiritual direction.

“Kate Quigley” lived in Montreal and had a long-term relationship with a married woman. The woman’s husband was aware of it. The three of them would go away on vacation together.

Charlotte Doclar worked with Sr. Jeannine Gramick at New Ways Ministry to outreach to lesbian nuns.  I met her at a retreat for Catholic lesbians in 1981. Charlotte was friendly, jocular and good-natured. Her story is on the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network.

Dianne Weyers entered her community when she was 14.  She left when she was in her late 30s or early 40s with a mysterious back ailment no doctor was able to diagnose but had a crippling effect on her.  Since she could not sit upright for long, I typed her manuscript for the book.  She felt very unwanted and persecuted by her community, particularly one sadistic superior. I never quite knew what to make of her.

“Sister Maria Nuscera” was a very vivacious lesbian religious in the Midwest. She fell in love and had an affair with a parishioner.

Margaret “Peg” Cruikshank was not one of the lesbian nuns but was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the book.  Rosemary Curb and Nancy Manahan, the book’s co-editors, had previously published their own stories as lesbian religious in The Lesbian Path. Peg edited that book and introduced the pair in June 1981. She suggested to Barbara Grier that Manahan and Curb edit a book about lesbian nuns.

The nun on the cover of the book with the “come hither” look was Jean O’Leary, who left the convent and went on to become a co-director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. 

The Conference for Catholic Lesbians (CCL), was a group founded in the early 1980s to promote Catholic lesbian visibility and community.  Beginning in 1982, the group had advertised and promoted the Lesbian Nuns book project to its members and readers, many of whom were lesbian religious and ex-nuns.  CCL’s newsletter editor at that time, a wonderful woman named Pat, knew of Barbara Grier through the Daughters of Bilitis. DOB or Daughters was the first lesbian rights organization in the United States. Pat had been one of the editors of its newsletter, The Ladder.  She described Grier as an aggressive, single-minded butch.

The unthinkable happened shortly after the publication of Lesbian Nuns.  Barbara Grier, working to maximize income and visibility, offered excerpts of the book to gay and women’s publications like Philadelphia Gay News and Ms. Magazine. She also offered excerpts to Forum magazine; a men’s soft-core porn magazine published by Penthouse. The lead headline in the June 1985 Forum blared in capital letters:  SEX LIVES OF LESBIAN NUNS. The lesbian nun stories that Forum bought included “They Shall Not Touch, Even in Jest,” “Finding My Way” and “South American Lawyer in the Cloister.”

Grier justified the decision by stating it would help the book reach a wider audience. She claimed that many women, some of them closeted lesbians, read their male family members’ copies of the magazine. An estimated 15% of Forum readers were female.  In an interview with WomaNews, she expressed surprise about the outrage her Forum sale generated— “I had no idea anyone would object.”  Even if you are a huge Barbara Grier fan, these two assumptions are hard to accept.

Since CCL had helped to solicit contributors to the book, personally, and through our conferences and newsletter, the organization sent a letter to Barbara Grier protesting the sale of the stories to Forum.  We did get a letter back from her a few weeks later.  The letter is now lost, but I remember what she wrote. The tone was matter of fact, no apology. She sold the rights to Forum to try to reach as many lesbians as possible.  I don’t know if the tiny sliver of lesbian Forum readers would even be interested in the book, but the ensuing controversy certainly helped sales and attracted new customers to Naiad Press.  Lesbian Nuns was their greatest publicity tool and best-selling book ever.

Naiad Press was founded in 1973 by Barbara Grier, her partner, Donna McBride, and another couple, Anyda Marchant and Muriel Crawford. The business began with $2,000 provided by Marchant, their first author. She wrote under the pen name, Sarah Aldridge. Over the years Naiad published over 500 books on unconditionally lesbian themes.  Mostly romance novels, they included erotica, mysteries and science fiction. Naiad also reprinted some of the most important lesbian pulp novels of the 1940s and ‘50s, including the Beebo Brinker Chronicles by Ann Bannon. Their authors included Jane Rule, Katherine V. Forrest, Claire McNab, Lee Lynch and Karin Kallmaker.  Cartoonist Alison Bechdel used to lampoon Naiad books by giving them bar code covers. Grier told Bechdel when she met her that she always loved seeing Naiad jokes in her comic strip. The founders fiercely disagreed over the Forum sale and it precipitated a split a few years later.

In 1973, no bookstores would take lesbian themed books, so Naiad started as a mail order business. Its initial list of 3800 names was the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), membership list that Grier purloined when the organization folded in 1970.  Grier used it to keep publishing The Ladder, DOB’s newsletter, for another two years until funding ran out. Many DOB activists felt Grier stole the list, but she defended her action as necessary for the magazine’s continued existence: “DOB was falling apart—we wanted The Ladder to survive.”

Grier got her start at DOB in 1957 as a book reviewer.  Her reviews were written under the pseudonym Gene Damon. She wanted to “nourish all lesbians with books.” In 1968 she became editor of The Ladder.  The magazine increased from 25 to more than 40 pages and tripled in subscriptions.  She removed the word “Lesbian” from the front cover in order to reach more women. Her makeover was successful but not without conflict.  She increased coverage of feminist news, but some DOB members wanted the focus to remain exclusively lesbian. In the late 1960s, the Daughters of Bilitis finally broke under the stresses and conflicts surrounding the political vs. the social aspects of the group; and whether to align with male-dominated gay rights groups, or lesbian separatist feminists. Grier was in the latter camp. The founders of DOB, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, leaned more toward acceptance and assimilation. 

I skimmed my copy Lesbian Nuns a few months ago, and it spurred me to reflect on what I thought about Barbara Grier now, 35 years after I helped draft CCL’s protest letter to her.  I also revisited my 2011 post on Grier, written shortly after she died.

In 1985, I thought Grier was a crud. How could a lesbian publisher sell personal, and often sad and painful coming out stories to a men’s sex magazine? Her goal–to reach as many lesbians as possible- was enough to override every other consideration and objection.

In 2020, my view of Grier is more nuanced. In order to become a successful publisher of lesbian literature in a homophobic world, she needed to be single-minded, relentless and ambitious to endure and prevail. She was a hard worker, tough, and totally dedicated to her ideal of lesbian visibility. “Her goal in publishing,” said Donna McBride, “was to make lesbians happy about themselves.” Books that made lesbians feel secure in their sexual identities were the best. Grier succeeded, and made the world a better place for lesbians.  They could see themselves and their lives in books at last. 

Grier was also blunt, nasty, calculating, and operated with flexible ethics—think of the Forum sale and the DOB membership list theft.  I wonder if she had the idea of starting a book company when she took the list.  I bet she did.

As lesbians and gay men continue to integrate into ordinary life and communities, workplaces, parishes, television shows and elected offices, this quote from Grier in 1968 flashes a warning:  “When we have amalgamated and homogenized and pasteurized ourselves thoroughly, we can become one of the shapeless, formless, meaningless, ‘walk alike, talk alike, think alike’ things that now live in this country—and then who will write our poetry, our novels of intensity, who will burn a futile fire, howl at the moon aimlessly?”

 

 

 

 

 

Pious Trash: Church Militant Comes Out Fighting

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 31, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Celebrities, Faith, Lesbians & Gays, Pious Trash

Bishop Robert Baron, the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, and probably the top social media prelate in the world, floated the idea that bishops should consider an official designation for Catholic teachers on social media. He runs the famously successful Word on Fire ministry.

In a January 24, 2020 interview with the National Catholic Register Baron said he believes it is within the scope of a diocesan bishop’s authority to apply a vetting and recognition process for online teachers of the faith, similar to the mechanism Pope St. John Paul II developed in the 1990 apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae for colleges and universities.

Bishop Baron called the current era “a golden age of evangelization and apologetics” because the internet makes it much easier to access Catholic content. But be also addressed the downside of social media. “There are, to be blunt,” he said, “a disconcerting number of such people on social media who are trading in hateful, divisive speech, often deeply at odds with the theology of the Church and who are, sadly, having a powerful impact on the people of God.”

In order to stop online misinformation from people or groups claiming to represent what the Church teaches, Barron told the Register that perhaps he and his brother bishops could “introduce something like a mandatum for those who claim to teach the Catholic faith online, whereby a bishop affirms that the person is teaching within the full communion of the Church.” 

This suggestion got an immediate reaction from Michael Voris, 58, who runs St. Michael’s Media and its website, Church Militant.  Church Militant is a gossipy, gadfly site with a focus on LGBT issues and personalities, and church officials he doesn’t consider orthodox enough.  These include Pope Francis, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, and Voris’ own bishop, Archbishop Allen Henry Vigneron of Detroit.  Voris’ homosexual past was made public in 2016. He said he is chaste now.

“Now, the latest Barron insanity and legalism comes in the form of his reportedly saying, while on his ad limina visit to Rome, that U.S. bishops need to come up with some kind of list or plan to tackle what he believes is a serious division of faith,” Voris begins.  “That’s rich, coming from a man who shot to instant, celebrity-priest stardom by so nuancing the teaching of the Church on the doctrine of Hell so as to empty it of its content.” 

Voris went on to “out” several bishops that he felt could not be fit as judges of Catholic material.  These included Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Patterson, NJ “involved in more gay crap than a gay bar on a Friday night;” and Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, DC.  “He certainly knows his way around from his days as Bernadin’s gay frontman,” Voris stormed.

But he saved his worst smack for last.

“Or how about Bp. Barron himself, who almost always has in tow a couple of body-builder producers who still to this day have up all over social media some pictures which leave little to the imagination. Hey, the past is the past, but have you ever told them to take them down now, or is that part of the Word on Fire online presence? What would people think if a priest had female workers who had pictures of themselves from a prior life scantily clad? Why does Barron get a free pass on this?”

Stay tuned!

 

 

 

The Church’s Own Gender Bending: The Castrati

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jul 25, 2019 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, History, Popes, Scandals

Many church officials are going nuts over transgender people calling them unnatural, delusional, or a fad.  Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education, was issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education on June 10, 2019.  The document brands changing understanding toward gender identity and sexuality as a cultural and historical trend in “gender theory” that is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

How does the Vatican explain its own “gender theory” creation–the Castrati?  As with most sexual and religious issues in Catholicism, misogyny is at the bottom of it. 

In 1588, Pope Sixtus V banned women from singing on stage in any public theater or opera house.  They were already banned from singing in church by the Pauline dictum “mulieres in ecclesiis tacesant” (“let women keep silent in churches” 1 Corinthians, ch.14, v. 34).  In 1589, in response to a demand for feminine voices to hit the high notes, Pope Sixtus V published the bull Cum Pro Nostro Pastorali Munere, reorganizing the choir at St. Peter’s Basilica specifically to include castrati. The pope was aware the public craved the “voices of angels.”

The process of castrating promising young boys to compensate for the loss of female sopranos became prevalent.  This surgical manipulation of nature preserved boys’ high youthful voices although they had the vocal power of men.  The promise of lucrative careers persuaded many poor Italian parents to castrate their sons if they possessed musical talent. It is believed that many operations to remove testicles were carried out by slitting the groin and severing the spermatic cord.  Some boys could still achieve an erection depending on the age they were castrated.

Castrati were sexually attractive to members of both sexes.  Because male castrati could not procreate, women found them particularly attractive as casual sex partners. Castrati developed the reputation of having enhanced sexual prowess due to their lack of sensation.

According to a story by author Tony Perrottet, even the famous Casanova was tempted. “Rome forces every man to become a pederast,” he sighed in his memoirs. His most confusing moment came when he met a particularly lovely teenage castrato named Bellino in an inn. Casanova was bewitched, going so far as to offer a gold doubloon to see the boy’s genitals. In an improbable twist, when Casanova grabbed Bellino in a fit of passion, he discovered a false penis: it turned out that the castrato was a girl, who historians have identified as Teresa Lanti. She had taken up the disguise to circumvent the ban on female singers in Italy. She later “came out” to perform in other European countries which did not have restrictions on female singers.

In the 17th century thousands of boys between the ages of 8 and 12 were castrated annually. While there is no exact figure, 80% are estimated to have survived the surgery. A lucky few became celebrities. The rest festered in small church choirs or became prostitutes or beggars.  The castrati often grew up with feminine features and smooth, hairless bodies.  Some of them were tall and gangly, others grew breasts and heavy buttocks.  Castration for the sake of art was finally banned in the early 19th century.  However, Italian doctors continued to create castrati until 1870.  The Vatican employed them as singers in the Sistine Chapel until 1903.  In truth, the church condoned—or looked the other way—when adolescent boys were castrated in order to produce males with soprano voices. 

In the 1993 book, Engel wider Willen: Die Welt der Kastraten (Angels Against their Will) German historian Hubert Ortkemper said the castrato Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922) performed in the Sistine Chapel until 1913. Moreschi lived long enough to make recordings in 1902 and 1904.  You can listen to him sing, “Ave Maria” here.

The most famous castrato, Carlo Broschi, was born in a small city in Southern Italy in 1705.  Better known by his stage name Farinelli; he became the greatest opera singer of the 18th century, performing all over Europe.  His stage career lasted from 1720 to 1737.  He outlived most of his contemporaries and died in Bologna in 1782.  In 2006, Farinelli’s remains were exhumed to be moved to another cemetery.  Scientists and antiquarians took the opportunity to study the effects of castration on body development.  They discovered osteoporosis and a condition called hyperostosis frontalis interna in Farinelli’s bones.  These conditions are common in older, post-menopausal women. 

In his mind-blowing article “Some Men Are Born Eunuchs” former Providence College professor, Anthony Esolen, compared the castrati operations to the process of transitioning from male to female (transwomen). His verdict: “However sick it was to do that then; it is far sicker to do what we do now.” According to his reasoning, a castrated boy at least produced a beneficial outcome; a beautiful voice for art or liturgy, financial security, or social status. “He” would still be a “he.” In contrast, the “mutilation” a transwoman endures to achieve feminine characteristics does not produce a beneficial outcome, only a freak who was “troweled out for a mock vagina.” “He” wants to become a “she.” Esolen’s article is obviously meant to defend the Church’s position on gender changes and transsexuals. His loathing of feminists, homosexuals, and transsexuals is evident.  But in his haste to condemn adult males who chemically and surgically transition to female, he ignores the physical changes of the castrati.  They became feminine, too, with high voices, breasts, big asses and soft skin. What is also evident is his delusion that a small boy, 8, 9, or 10 years old could make the choice to be castrated.  It wasn’t a noble gesture. They were pushed into the barbershop by their parents or a priest.

The strong whiff of misogyny in the Esolen article is reminiscent of Pope Sixtus V’s decree to ban women’s voices in church and the stage and substitute them with castrati. It appears that it’s better to have males with no balls in the choir than women. 

 

 

Did Frederic Martel Just Out Cardinal Raymond Burke?

Posted by Censor Librorum on Mar 26, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Celebrities, History, Humor, Lesbians & Gays, Popes, Scandals

I think he did. 

Cardinal Raymond Burke is featured prominently in Martel’s new book, In the Closet of the Vatican – Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy. A central thesis of the book is that cardinals and bishops who make the strongest condemnations of homosexuality are more likely to be gay themselves; Martel describes this as part of their attempt to cover up who they really are.

Chapter 2, “Gender Theory” focuses on Cardinal Burke’s flouting of his extravagant liturgical regalia–the 12 metre/39 ft. red moire silk cape, the “cappa magna;” the velvet gloves, lace and vivid colors. His nickname in the Curia is “The Wicked Witch of the Midwest.” The cardinal’s assistant refers to him in the feminine:  “His Eminence has no office,” the young priest tells me. ‘Elle travaille chez elle.’ (She works at home.)  Julian Fricket, a drag artist the author interviewed, commented on Cardinal Burke’s “Liturgy Queen” appearance:  “What strikes me when I look at Cardinal Burke’s cappa magna, robes or hats topped by floral arrangements, is its overstatement. The biggest, the longest, the tallest: it’s all very typical of drag queen codes.” 

On page 28, Martel describes Cardinal Burke holding court: “How often we see him surrounded by young seminarians kissing his hand–also magnificent in that our Hadrian seems to follow the cult of Greek beauty, which, as we know, was always more male than female.  Winning both the admiration and laughter of Rome, Burke always appears surrounded by obsequious chaperones, Antinous-like figures kneeling in front of him or page boys carrying the long red train of his cappa magna, as choirboys might for a bride.”

“Cardinal Burke is the very thing he denounces,” a cleric close to (Pope) Francis states starkly. The same man believes the pope might have had Burke in mind in October 2017 when he denounced “hypocritical” priests with “make-up” souls. “On the outside,” Pope Francis stated, “they present themselves as righteous, as good: they like to be seen when they pray and when they fast and when they give alms. (But) it is all appearance and in their hearts there is nothing…they put make-up on their souls, they live on make-up, holiness is make up for them…Lies do a lot of harm, hypocrisy does a lot of harm: it is a way of life.”

I thought Pope Francis’ use of “make up” was an interesting choice of words.  Is that “make up” the way a woman will put on make up to make herself more attractive; or is it a clown? an actor? transvestite? Halloween costume? drag queen? They all might apply.

Cardinal Burke was described as “unstraight” in the book (page 29).  This definition describes a person who is a non-heterosexual or one who is sexually abstinent.  I don’t think Burke is sexually active, but I find the absence of females in his life, and his fixation with the sexual morality of homosexuality a little fishy.

In the Closet of the Vatican is the latest in a series of books, articles and published letters to attempt to name without naming closeted prelates in the Vatican and U.S. hierarchy. The authors flesh out their tales with stories of intrigue, corruption and hypocrisy among the cardinals, bishops and Vatican officials.  Some of the most notable include:

2019: In the Closet of the Vatican – Power, Homosexuality, HypocrisyFrench writer Frederic Martel tries to explain why the Catholic Church is filled with closeted, and mostly self-hating, gay men. If I were a gay Catholic man I would be very depressed reading this book.  A few dead prelates are identified, but most in the “Ring of Lust” around Pope John Paul II remain unnamed since they are still alive and politically lethal. The book is rich in rumor, gossip and innuendo. The publication date coincided with the Vatican’s sex abuse summit, officially the “Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church”, that was convened by Pope Francis and ran from February 21-24, 2019. You can bet this book was one of the main sideline conversations. 

2018: “Testimony” – A series of poison pen letters by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States (2011-2016). These letters were released via several U.S.-based and conservatively  biased news outlets on August 22, September 29 and October 19, 2019.  Vigano focused on liberal or moderate prelates insinuating they were gay or soft on homosexual priests.  Vigano blamed the sex abuse crisis on gay priests and bishops.  He accused Pope Francis of protecting homosexual predators–particularly the former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and called on the pope to resign. Archbishop Vigano’s first letter was released during the Vatican’s World Meeting of Families in Ireland; and the 3rd on the observance of the North American Martyrs. The last date struck me as very dramatic and is probably key to Archbishop Vigano’s character.

2013: “The Vatican’s Secret Life, was published in December 2013 in Vanity Fair magazine by Michael Joseph Gross. The opening scene is in a sauna.

2012: His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI by Gianluigi Nuzzi was published in May 2012.  The title of the English ebook is Ratzinger Was Afraid: The Secret Documents, the Money, and the Scandals that Overwhelmed the Pope.  The book is based on confidential memos between Pope Benedict XVI and his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein. The leaked documents ignited the “VatiLeaks” scandal.  The book is full of fractional infighting, jealousies, and bribes and donations made to procure a papal audience. VatiLeaks was also the source for homosexual scandals, including a claim that Gian Maria Vian, editor of L’Osservatore Romano, manufactured evidence that Dino Boffo, editor of L’Avvenire, had an affair with a married man and harassed his wife.  Boffo resigned, but later claimed his ouster was part of a power struggle in the hierarchy.  The fact-finding mission Pope Benedict XVI organized to investigate VatiLeaks produced a 300-page dossier describing a powerful network of homosexual prelates, some of whom were being blackmailed.  The report ultimately led to Pope Benedict’s resignation on December 17, 2012.  He was the first pope in 600 years to resign.

2006: The Rite of Sodomy: Homosexuality and the Roman Catholic Church was written and published by conservative writer Randy Engels.  This 1,282 page tone focuses primarily on dead homosexual bishops and cardinals in the American hierarchy before 2000.  There is a lot of material on John Cardinal Wright and Francis Cardinal Spellman.

2004: Vatican II, Homosexuality and Pedophilia by Atila Sinke Guimaraes.  Guimaraes is a traditionalist Catholic and manages the website Traditional in Action.  The book blames Vatican II and homosexuality for the downfall of Catholicism. He makes some points about the cover-up culture in the Vatican, and the alleged homosexuality of Pope Paul VI.

2003 – BishopAccountability.org – This site is dedicated to the victims and loved ones of clergy sex abuse. Constantly updated with new information, it is a good source of identifying homosexual cardinals, bishops, priests and other religious who were credibly accused of sex abuse or protecting abusers.

2002:  The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism was written by theologian Mark D. Jordan.  This book was published at the time the sex abuse crisis began to break in the U.S. It was also the period when Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) issued hostile and degrading statements about homosexuals, and their visibility in the church and society. In response, Mark Jordan set out to discover why a church filled with gay men was so homophobic and duplicitous. Jordan coined the term, “Liturgy Queen.”

1999: Gone with the Wind in the Vatican was originally published under the pseudonym “Millenari.” Monsignor Luigi Marinelli eventually admitted his involvement and said he had nine or ten other co-authors. The book was published in 200o in English with the title Shroud of Secrecy: The Story of Corruption Within the Vatican. The book offers an insider’s account of sex, corruption and intrigue. This steamy 288-page book describes all kinds of sexual scandals, and a Vatican culture dominated by favor swapping, careerism and back-stabbing. The main characters in the book were given pseudonyms from Margaret Mitchell’s novel, Gone with the Wind (1936).

The granddaddy and most outrageous of all expose writers, French author Roger Peyrefitte, wrote and spoke extensively about homosexuals in the Vatican.  He famously outed Pope Pius XII in his 1955 book, Les Clefs de Saint Pierre (The Keys of St. Peter).  In a 1976 interview with the Italian magazine, Tempo, he commented on a January 1976 homily by Pope Paul VI. Peyrefitte said the pope’s words were hypocritical and made this statement: “The second sin from which I feel I have been freed, after this grotesque papal speech is my homosexuality.  In my last book, Hunting Scenes, and in another, About the French People, I stated with all the respect due a Pope (especially when he is still alive) that he is homosexual. It is amazing that the papal speech (against homosexuality) was published at the same time as my book. Was Paul VI moved by a guilt complex? Buy why should he feel guilty? It is known that a boyfriend of Paul VI was a certain movie star*, whose name I will not give, although I remember him very well. He was an unknown actor when our friend Paul was Cardinal Montini, Archbishop of Milan. (*alleged to be Paolo Carlini)

Lots to ponder.  Especially the stomach-turning notion that most of Catholicism’s anti-gay rhetoric is produced by gay men themselves; with the permission of gay popes, or straight popes that are happy to take the money and men their gay minions raise for their causes. 

 

 

Where is Fr. C. John McCloskey?

Posted by Censor Librorum on May 4, 2018 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, History, Lesbians & Gays, Politics, Popes

Where is Fr. C. John McCloskey III? For roughly a decade, 1997-2005, the handsome, dashing, charming Opus Dei priest was storming the Beltway in his black soutane. 

A 1975 graduate of Columbia University, McCloskey was first drawn to Opus Dei when he was a teenager growing up near Washington, D.C.  During and after college he worked on Wall Street, leaving in his mid-20s to become a priest. Many of McCloskey’s bios note he is also an avid squash player.

Fr. McCloskey was high-profile, with TV commentator spots, prominent news media quotes, and a string of conversions of powerful men. He was groomed by Opus Dei to do exactly what he did so successfully–befriend Republican political and cultural elites; and articulate an orthodox Catholic point of view.  Then, pfft–nothing. Out of sight.

In the years since he left D.C., Fr. McCloskey, 64, has kept a much lower profile.  He’s still writing and doing pastoral ministry, but not on a secular stage.  McCloskey lives in Menlo Park, California, home of Facebook, Kleiner Perkins, Caufield & Byers, Sequoia Capital, Silver Lake Partners, and many Fintech companies.  Perhaps Opus Dei and McCloskey have moved on to the new power elite?

However, the original mystery remains–what happened? Why would Opus Dei transfer Fr. McCloskey out of his Washington, D.C. powerhouse–the Catholic Information Center on K Street–and pack him off to obscurity in Chicago?  

Theory 1: Did he draw too much attention to himself by his high profile converts and media appearances?

Every article about Fr. McCloskey notes with pride his converts to Catholicism.  Most are from Jewish and Evangelical Christian backgrounds, with a sprinkling of Episcopalians.  “A lot of these men had been thinking about Catholicism before,” McCloskey explained, “and it wasn’t just me per se, but the fact a lot of very smart people–senators and judges–were looking for truth in their lives.  It helped quite a bit that many of these men were influenced by men at their level who were Catholics.  In a lot of cases, those friends referred them to me. Then the word got out that I was willing to instruct these sorts of people. It’s just like the brokerage business or any other business of sales,” said McCloskey.  “You get a reputation, you deal with one person and they mention you to another person and they mention you to another person…and all of a sudden you have a string of people.”

Here are the converts cited most:

.  Sam Brownback, former U.S. senator and governor of Kansas; and now United States Ambassador-at-Large for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom,

. Robert Bork, judge and former U.S. Supreme Court nominee,

. Robert Novak, “Crossfire” co-host and columnist,

. Alfred Regnery, conservative book publisher. A revised and updated English edition of The Dictator Popea book highly critical of Pope Francis – was released both in hardcover and e-book formats by Regnery Publishing on April 23, 2018.

. Newt Gingrich, political consultant and former minority whip and speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and former Republican presidential candidate.  His wife, Callista Gingrich, currently serves as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See,

. Lawrence Kudlow, economist and long-time CNBC commentator, now President Trump’s top economic policy advisor,

. Lewis Lehrman, financier and former New York gubernatorial candidate,

. Jeffrey Bell, political consultant and PR guru,

. Maj. General (Ret.) Josiah Bunting III, author, educator, former superintendent of Virginia Military Institute, and currently head of the Henry Frank Guggenheim Foundation,

. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, abortion doctor and one of the founders off the National Abortion Rights Action League,

. Mark Belnick, former Tyco International general counsel.

Two women are occasionally included in this distinguished group:

. Meghan Cox Gurdon, children’s book critic for the Wall Street Journal and Mayflower descendant,

. Laura Ingraham, conservative TV and radio talk show host, author, and Fox News Channel contributor.

Theory 2: Did his emphasis on male friendship as an evangelization tool fall flat?  

In his 2007 book with Russell Shaw, Good News, Bad News: Evangelization, Conversion and the Crisis of Faith, Fr. McCoskey described his theory about American men–they lost the ability to maintain “virile” male friendships. They were victims of a “Friendship Deficit Syndrome.”  In another article, Friendship: The Key to Evangelization of Men, McCloskey described a group of Italian men at lunch in Rome, drinking “vino russo” and having a good time together. “I got the impression that this was not a singular event but rather one of frequent meetings of long-time close friends. For some reason it seemed strange to me, and at the same time appealing.”

McCloskey elaborated, “…in the U.S., men got together to watch sports on TV or in a bar, drank beer instead of wine, ate stacked sandwiches instead of pasta. “More often than not, they are enjoying not each other but the game.” “As things stand today, for many Catholic men “friendship” can mean a largely artificial tie, based on a common interest in beer, cars, sports, hunting, fishing, or even an unhealthy interest in the pursuit of young women. (In fact, I hesitate to use the word “friendship” to describe this relationship; would “acquaintance” be a better term?) A real male relationship is a deep and lasting bond that goes to the very core of what a man is or can be.”

McCloskey blames several things for the lack of male friendships: the loss of exclusively male clubs and schools, moving due to job changes, working women who want their husband’s help, leaving no time for men to socialize together; and finally, “gay culture.” “To complicate matters still further,” said McCloskey, “in today’s society many male relationships are openly homosexual, based on the use of each other as objects of pleasure. Many forms of public entertainment–films, television and the theater–have accepted homosexuality as normal, and begun to portray heterosexual males as fools who live under the sway of domineering women. One of the many unhappy side-effects of this open public perversion,” he goes on, “is the fact that when any small group of adult males is seen together, at least in some urban centers, they are assumed to be homosexual.”

After reading this article, which made a point to disparage traditional male pastimes of hunting, fishing, watching sports and chasing women–I tried to image my father’s reaction: “What would you expect from a priest?” he would have chuckled, with a twinkle in his ex-Marine, Irish eyes. As for people thinking he was a fairy because he was out with a couple of buddies, well, dad wouldn’t have taken that seriously. I would suggest that only closeted, self-loathing homosexuals would be anxious about being perceived as gay. It wouldn’t occur to my father or most heterosexuals to even think about it.

A goal of evangelical friendship is conversion. The use of friendship in a conversion process walks a very fine line between support and manipulation. Men who feel guilty about past acts; men in a mid-life crisis; the lost and lonely are especially vulnerable. Do most men feel they don’t spend enough time with other men? I don’t know. I value women-only activities, dinner parties and events but don’t associate them with my spiritual needs.  My social needs–yes, but I’m a lesbian.

Theory 3: His article fantasizing a U.S. religious civil war made people uneasy about him.

In 2000, Fr. McCloskey published a long essay in the Catholic World Report entitled “2030: Looking Backward.” It is a fictional piece in which his alter ego, Fr. Charles, a 77-year-old priest writes a January 1, 2030 letter to Fr. Joseph, a 25-year-old priest, reflecting on the recent breakup in the the United States and the emergence of the Regional States of North America.

In his essay, McCloskey foresees a smaller Catholic Church in the future. “…the Catholics we do have are better formed, practice their Faith in the traditional sense at a much higher level than ever, and are increasingly eager to share that Faith with their neighbors. Dissent has disappeared from the theological vocabulary.” In addition, hundreds of thousands of Evangelical Protestants convert to Catholicism.  

It sounds like the wishful thinking of a strident, thwarted, orthodox Catholic.  In 2000, in spite of the 21-year reign of doctrinaire Pope John Paul II, moderate and liberal Catholics kept a tenacious grip to their faith. American Catholicism continues to be messy, contentious and organic as different groups within the Church jockey with one another on what it means to be Catholic, and how best to live their faith between the Gospels, the Magisterium and American democratic ideals and culture.

The most controversial paragraph in the essay was the one where Fr. McCloskey appeared to encourage the breaking  apart of the union, and the development of Christian-governed states. As part of the reconstitution of the U.S., he appears to sanction the deaths of many thousands of people.

As he put it, “We finally received as a gift from God what had been missing from our ecclesial experience in these 250 years in North America–a strong persecution that was a true purification for our “sick society.” The tens of thousands of martyrs and confessors for the Faith in North America were indeed the “seed of the Church” as they were in pre-Edict of Milan Christianity. The final short and relatively bloodless conflict produced our Regional States of North America. The outcome was by no means an ideal solution but it does allow Christians to live in states that recognize natural law and divine Revelation, the right of free practice of religion, and laws on marriage, family, and life that recognize the primacy of our Faith.”

McCloskey acknowledged “A goodly number of faithful Catholic writers also found it dark and threatening, although I had intended it to be positive and optimistic.” Would the politicians, elected officials and other prominent people that McCloskey consorted with feel the same way? Probably not.  In the hands of secular media it could be framed as a fanatic’s call to sedition and violence.

Fr. McCloskey did make some accurate predictions in his essay, including the regional splits of “red states” and “blue states”; and the affinity between Evangelical Christians and ultra conservative Catholics on many political issues. This coalition supported Republican party candidates in exchange for their votes on abortion, homosexual civil rights protections, same-sex marriage, religious liberty/conscience rights and federal funding for their institutions.

He also articulated the struggle between Catholicism and secular society. There is an eerie parallel with McCloskey’s essay and the dystopian novel, Lord of the WorldThis obscure, apocalyptic book was written in 1907 by Monsignor Hugh Benson, an Anglican convert to Catholicism.  

It imagines a socialist, humanistic and technologically advanced world where religion has been rejected or suppressed.  It is a story about the Antichrist and End Times–the product of a struggle between a radically secular society and the one alternative to it–the Catholic Church. Most religious leaders have been co-opted by humanist ideals. Belief in God is replaced by belief in man. Only a small remnant of the Catholic faithful remain.  To a certain point of view, this is a chillingly accurate depiction of our present states.

What would Fr. McCloskey’s alter ego, Fr. Charles, say now if he could look back at what’s happened in the years since 2000?

What would he say about the sexual abuse holocaust that engulfed the global church and continues unabated to this day?  A month doesn’t go by without another cardinal, bishop, church official or priest getting dragged into court, or the court of public opinion. What are his thoughts on Pope Benedict XVI, the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who became the first pope in almost 600 years to step down from the papacy.  What horror did Pope Benedict see that caused him to give up and quit? His resignation ended the reign of four decades of conservative popes, and their “reform of the reform” of Vatican II.  Springtime arrived, but it was for liberal and progressive Catholics… Could Fr. Charles ever have envisioned what would follow after Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina was elected Pope Francis in 2013? In his wildest dreams, could he imagine a pope saying, “Who am I to judge?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Book of Matt

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 9, 2014 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, History, Lesbians & Gays, Politics, Scandals

Veteran journalist Stephen Jimenez unearthed a sleazy story in his book, The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard.” An investigative journalist, he spent 11 years researching his story, and had access to formerly sealed court documents.  Book-of-Matt

Matthew Shepard is a gay icon and martyr, allegedly murdered by two men for his sexual orientation. The grisly murder happened in Laramie, Wyoming in October 1998.  Shepard, 21, was a college student, and he was killed by two men he met in a bar. He was pistol-whipped with the barrel of a .357 magnum. Then the two men hung him, barely alive, on a fence, in a pose resembling a crucifixion.

Matthew Shepard died of exposure and his wounds six days later, a victim of homophobia.  Or was he? Here’s an unsettling element: one of the murders, Aaron McKinney, a bisexual hustler, had sex with Shepard weeks before the murder.

Shepard certainly could have been beaten and killed by a man in a homophobic rage…but he may also have been killed in a sex-for-drugs exchange gone badly. His death might not be a hate crime after all, but a drug dealer casualty. In the book Jimenez claims Matthew Shepard was a crystal meth addict, and was killed by McKinney, another dealer and trick strung out on meth and in desperate need of money.

The “gay panic” defense of Aaron McKinney, the killer, was a made-up story in hopes of getting a more lenient sentence.

Jimenez was asked why he dug up the story: “As a gay man,” he said, “I felt it was the right thing to do.” “To understand who Matthew Shepard really was,” said Jimenz, “to alter our perception of him as a martyr and an icon, is not going to be damaging to gay rights.”  stephen-jimenez_200

I agree, and commend Stephen Jimenez coming forward with his story. The real conversation about Matthew Shepard should be about young gay men (and women) who do drugs, and why drug and alcohol use is still so embedded in gay culture. That could save some lives.

 

 

 

 

 

Father Dollar Bill

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 8, 2011 | Categories: Celebrities, Faith, Saints

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’s Lesbian Nuns

Posted by Censor Librorum on Nov 23, 2011 | Categories: Accountability, Celebrities, History, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals

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.

Grier replied. 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.

 

Iconic Images from My Youth

Posted by Censor Librorum on May 11, 2011 | Categories: Celebrities, History, Humor, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals

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 Stonewall—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: “If only we didn’t hate ourselves so much…if only we could just not hate ourselves quite so very much…”

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.