Posted in category "Lesbians & Gays"

Ed Murphy: Gay Blackmailer and Activist – Chapter 2: “Villainous Skull” Murphy

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 15, 2021 | Categories: History, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals, Sex

Edward Francis Murphy (1926-1989) was half Irish and half Italian and grew up in New York City in Greenwich Village. Ed Murphy had a long record as a juvenile offender.  He first came to the attention of the police when he attacked the owner of a neighborhood fruit store at Bleeker and Christopher Street and trashed his stand.  He was nine years old.  Ed was thrown out of Catholic school for bad behavior. One day, while shining shoes for money, a nasty Irish cop laced into him and broke his shoeshine box. Ed whacked him over the head with the milk bottle. He was 11 or 12 years old. After that, Ed was packed off to reform school in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.

Ed was released from reform school in 1943.  After a short stint in the gay bar business at the Pink Elephant, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Ed saw combat in France during World War II.  He left the Army in 1946 and went back to Manhattan. Ed started his career as a bouncer/doorman at gay bars. In the late 1940s he worked at a couple of gay bars near Port Authority Bus Terminal. While he was working at the Moss Bar on Eighth Avenue, he got his start as a professional wrestler. Murphy’s aggressive, bruising style made him a natural in the ring. He bulked up his burly physique through steroids and bodybuilding. During his wrestling career he took to shaving his head and adopted the nickname, “The Skull.”  His signature move was a vicious head butt.  “I had a tough top,” Murphy said in an interview.

“Villainous Skull” Murphy, early 1950s

He became known as “Villainous Skull Murphy,” known for his violence in the ring.  He fought the “French Angel,” the “Swedish Angel” and “Gorgeous George.” Village Voice writer Mark Jacobson remembered watching Skull on TV when he was a kid. “Skull was always the bad guy, identified by his special death hold. He’d stomp on a guy’s head when he was unconscious, throw chairs at old ladies who booed him, and rip the microphone from the hands of the announcer. Ed remembered his wrestling career fondly, including Gorgeous George. “The guy was straight, with this fuckin’ peroxided hair and perfume that stunk from here to Canarsie.”

Wrestling money wasn’t enough, so Murphy teamed up with a gay friend to rob dentists, targeting them for shipments of gold from dental laboratories. After 73 dental office robberies, they were caught.  Syndicated newspaper columnist Walter Winchell somehow got wind that the culprits were gay.  He ran an item in his column that “two swishes with blond hair, whoops, are the notorious Toothache Bandits.”  Ed found out who fixed Winchell’s teeth and stole Walter Winchell’s plates.  Ed’s favorite Toothache Bandit story concerns a Brooklyn dentist.  When Ed and his partner held up the dentist, the man had tears in his eyes.  “Don’t take my diamond ring,” he pleaded, “my father gave it to me for my Bar Mitzvah.” Ed let the dentist keep the ring and left with a bag full of gold teeth.  Later that night he saw a headline in the Daily Mirror: DENTIST CONS ROBBERS OUT OF RING.  He returned to the dentist’s office the next day, beat him up, and took the ring.

In 1947, Ed was sentenced to ten years in state prison.  Life was rough in prison.  He wasn’t raped. “I knocked down any bastard who tried to touch me. But I spent plenty of time in isolation. The warden didn’t like gay people. Neither did the other inmates.  If you bothered with a fag, you were considered pussy yourself.”

When he was released, he worked as a doorman/bouncer in a string of Mafia-owned gay bars including the Cork Club, Bali, Mais Oui, Sans Souci, the 415, the Terrace and Artie’s.  “They worked it then that there were three cash registers in the bar,” said Murphy. “Whatever the middle cash register rang up was reported to the government. Some of these spots, like the Pink Elephant, were connected with the Jewish mob. A big owner then was an old politician from Abe Beame’s club. But this was back in the days of Mayor Wagner. Everyone was crooked then…And the cops had their own bag men.  You’d pay them $500 a week to keep your joint open.”

At the bars, Ed was “Mother” Murphy to the young male runaways and prostitutes he cared for and sometimes pimped out for tips. Ever the one to moonlight for more money, in the early 1960s Ed Murphy was hired as a house detective at the New York Hilton doing discreet security work.  It was in this role that he became an active participant in the infamous “Chickens and Bulls” extortion ring.

Coming Tomorrow:  Chapter 3: The Chickens and the Bulls

 

Ed Murphy: Gay Blackmailer and Activist – Chapter 1: Meeting Ed Murphy

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 14, 2021 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Celebrities, History, Lesbians & Gays, Politics, Scandals, Sex

Chapter 1 – Meeting Ed Murphy

The story of Ed Murphy is fascinating, the way scandal, secrets, and evil are fascinating. It is a story with all the best ingredients—lust, betrayal, corruption, powerful men, redemption, and most of all—irony.

Ed Murphy, 1978

Ed “Skull” Murphy, a gay man who preyed on other gay men, was a secret informer for the FBI. He was protected by the FBI in return for the information he provided on Mafia operations and corruption in New York. He was also rumored to have photos of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and other prominent government, business and entertainment figures having sex with male prostitutes. Ed Murphy ran prostitution rings of teenage boys and worked as a bouncer in gay bars. He was the doorman at the Stonewall bar the night of the famous raid on June 28, 1969. At that time, he did not identify himself as a gay man. He “came out” a decade later, at the end of the 1970s, when he said that he wanted to quit working for Mafia associates and stop informing for the police and FBI.

Ed reinvented himself as one of the heroes of the Stonewall raid. He continued to work in gay bars.  He cultivated a tremendous visibility as the head of the Christopher Street Festival Committee, which organized the vendor booths/party/rally at the end of the annual Gay Pride Parade serving hundreds of thousands of people. Ed Murphy rode in a vintage Cadillac convertible near the head of the parade reserved for those who had been at Stonewall the night of the raid and riots on June 28, 1969.  This date is now generally accepted as the beginning of the modern gay and lesbian rights movement.

I met Ed Murphy in the early 1980s when he was working in some bar in the Village, either Stonewall or One Potato, Two Potato. Ed was built like a brick house, stocky and solid, with a body that must have been all muscle in his youth. I was organizing the first group of Conference for Catholic Lesbians (CCL) marchers in New York’s Gay Pride Day parade.  We also wanted to have a booth at the Christopher Street Festival in the Village for marchers to hang out after the parade. A booth on Christopher Street would also give us a great opportunity to hand out literature and meet and connect with other lesbians who had been raised Catholic. When I met him, Ed Murphy, or “Mr. Murphy” as I used to call him, was a leader in Heritage of Pride, the organization that ran the parade, festival, and dance in New York City. As such, he was the person to talk to about getting space.  Ed always gave CCL table space right in front of St. Veronica’s Church.

“My sister is a nun,” he said to me.  “Make sure you take good care of these girls,” he told the guy responsible for assigning spaces.

Our prime location paved the way for many women to find CCL.  Ed Murphy always came by our table to make sure that we were fine, and everything was OK.  That was my key impression of him: we were small and not influential on the gay scene, but Ed Murphy took care of us. That was also the impression of my friend and CCL co-worker, Barbara M. when she took over organizing the Pride Day booth.

“I remember the last time I had seen him; I was down on Christopher Street and found someone else setting up a booth in our space. I found out that Ed was sitting in a nearby bar, and I went in and found him without any trouble. He seemed to have a lot of adoring fans around him.  I told him the story, and he sent out a couple of guys to straighten things out…I thought that they realized Ed was the authority, which prompted them to move, but they may have been afraid of him for all I know…I’d met Ed only three or four times and had short, congenial conversations with him.  He was also middle aged by the time I met him. I found him very pleasant. I remember my last conversation with him was his concern that too many of the young fellas were still going bareback, and this was at the height of the AIDS crisis.  He said much of the same sort of things I would say today: these kids think they’re immortal; you can’t make them see the seriousness of it because they don’t think it will happen to them. I was never sure if his calling me “Sister” had to do with the fact that I look like a nun or ex-nun…” said Barbara M.

When I met Ed Murphy, I was in my early 30s and he was about the same age as my father.  They shared a similar upbringing and formation – the Great Depression and World War II. As boys they were poor, fast with their fists, and nonchalant about thievery.  They grew up with no money – they stole to enjoy things their families could never buy. As men they could be gallant or menacing; fiercely protective or brutal.  Ed referred to the police by the same name that my father did, “The Bulls.”  Big guys with nightsticks that had no hesitancy about using them.

Ed spoke one night to a small group of lesbian and gay Catholics where we met on the Upper West Side in Manhattan.  I was very moved to hear the story of his life and description of gay life in New York pre-Stonewall. Ed served time in jail. He stabbed another inmate in self-defense. Ed also made a point to say that he was proud that he didn’t rat people out to “the Bulls.” I had tears in my eyes at the end of his talk.  He went through a lot of hell to help bring us to a place where we could live and love more freely.  My last memory of him that night was seeing him standing under a streetlight saying goodbye.  He looked like an old ex-fighter, scarred, and beaten up, but never a quitter.

Karen Doherty, 1986

Imagine my shock when, 15 years later, I opened my Wall Street Journal to read an article by William McGowan, “Before Stonewall” which described a vicious extortion ring which targeted prominent and affluent closeted gay men.  The gang was finally exposed and put out of business in 1966, but it ran for several years and netted over two million dollars. One of the major figures in this case was Edward “Mother” Murphy, a “ruthless West Side tough” who worked with a dozen other criminals in New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and a few other cities to blackmail men who picked up a male prostitute for sex during an out-town trip or when their family was away. “The Chickens and the Bulls,” as the case was known to the New York Police Department and District Attorney’s office, centered on “fairy shaking” or exposing men for their “homosexual proclivities” unless they paid well for it to be kept quiet. Over 1,000 men were victimized by the ring, including the head of the American Medical Association, two Army generals, a Navy admiral, several Hollywood celebrities, college professors and trustees and businessmen.

I relayed my discovery to my friend, Barbara M., who also met Ed Murphy, to hear her reaction.  She said,

“To be frank, I’m having a tough time connecting the Ed Murphy I met with the “West Side tough” that he’s described as, or someone who would blackmail fellow gays,” she wrote. “This was in ’65. Ed Murphy was head of security in the Hilton Hotel, and when cornered he cooperated, which is probably why he got the light sentence. Although I think the basic person remains even as the body ages, men mellow. My theory is that the decreased testosterone is a good thing for some of them. Ed may have mellowed a lot and had a metanoia. He struck me as opinioned and forthright, but he didn’t act like a hoodlum. Nonetheless, he might have been. I was just a mere acquaintance; you knew him better.  Can you picture that he was involved in this stuff? Maybe prison changed him. His sentence was rather light, and he didn’t serve the entire five years.  Maybe he was an informant.”

Many years later, I am still trying to sort out my feelings about Ed Murphy. I knew him as a notable figure in the New York gay community in the 1980s. He was a kind, protective man to the less visible in the city–street kids, drag queens, and mentally challenged children. Ed was generous and caring to all those that he took under his wing, including my group of Catholic lesbians.  I am appalled by the image of him as a leader and collaborator in a gay extortion ring, bullying sex and money from vulnerable men and teenagers.  Ed Murphy combined prostitution, blackmail and strong-arm tactics into lucrative enterprises that ran for years.

He was also an informer, the worse type of person to anyone of Irish descent.  It took the combination of a battery of Irish Catholic New York City Police detectives, the FBI, New York District Attorney Frank S. Hogan, and a federal prosecutor, Andrew J. Maloney, to finally knock him down.  But it took the Stonewall raid, a beating by NYC police and a prison rape before he finally had enough and came out as a gay man and activist.  That he ended up the Grand Marshall of the New York City Gay Pride Parade 23 years after his conviction for homosexual extortion is a story that boggles the imagination.  Catholicism features stories of saints whose lives were full of depravity and evil but ended up redeemed through acts of virtue and heroism.  Maybe that is Ed Murphy’s story, or maybe it is just the story he told himself and others.

Chapter 2: “Villainous Skull Murphy” will be posted tomorrow.  You can read the whole article Ed_Murphy_Gay_Blackmailer_and_Activitist

 

A Look Back at Coral Browne and The Killing of Sister George

Posted by Censor Librorum on Apr 27, 2021 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, Faith, History, Humor, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals, Sex

 

Coral Browne (July 23, 1913-May 29, 1991) was an accomplished stage and screen actress. She was also actor Vincent Price’s third wife. She was a woman who enjoyed a varied and robust sexual life. Browne portrayed no-nonsense BBC-executive, Mercy Croft, in The Killing of Sister George, a film depicting a lesbian love-triangle. She is perfect as a smooth, predatory seductress—a role in which she had plenty of experience.

Coral Browne converted to Catholicism shortly after World War II and remained a devout Catholic throughout her life.  As a gift to her, Vincent Price converted to Catholicism. Her friend, Noel Davis, described the melding of her personality and faith: “I’m a Catholic of a sort, and I was always amused by her Catholicism because she was much more devout than fitted in with her obscenities. She never missed Mass on Sunday.” Existing the Brompton Oratory one Sunday morning, salty-tongued Browne was accosted by a theater friend with the latest gossip.  She stopped him midsentence, exclaiming: “I don’t want to hear such filth, not with me standing here in a state of fucking grace.”

Browne did not get along with Vincent Price’s daughter, Victoria Price, but they both shared an interest in women. “Coral lent a sympathetic ear to my romantic troubles. Both were eager to meet anyone I brought home, though my stepmother rarely missed an opportunity to flirt outrageously with my girlfriends or to comment on their looks and style. One woman, she told me with a very knowing smile, “does it very well.” I took that as some kind of compliment.” Coral also told Victoria Price about a five-year relationship she had with a woman. Its dissolution was, according to Browne, the most heart-breaking moment of her life.

In The Killing of Sister George (1968), BBC executive Mercy Croft (Coral Browne) is sent to chastise Sister George/June Buckridge (Beryl Reid) for a drunken incident involving two nuns. Buckridge is a middle-aged soap opera actress, and Alice “Childie” McNaught (Susannah York), her lover, has a minor fashion industry job, writes poetry and collects dolls. George/June is often verbally and physically abusive to Alice, and her treatment of her becomes worse as her character is scheduled to be eliminated on the popular show.  The movie was given an “X” rating because of a two-minute masturbation scene between Coral Browne (Mercy Croft) and Susannah York (Alice “Childie” McNaught). The scene was panned as cold and unsexy—probably because they had most of their clothes on and didn’t writhe and moan continuously. But in 1968 it was revolutionary to see two mature women–McNaught was in her 30s and Croft was in her 50s–having sex to orgasm in a movie.

The movie was also history-making in that the director used a real lesbian bar for the lesbian club scene.  Between June 9-16, 1968, The Killing of Sister George was shot at the Gateways, a lesbian club that operated in London between 1931 and 1985.  Forty members were used as extras, one of whom lost her job when her employer recognized her in a publicity still. George and Alice go to an event at Gateways to which George jokingly invites Mrs. Croft.  Mrs. Croft arrives to tell June in person that Sister George will die by being hit by a ten-ton lorry, eliminating her from the show.  After June storms out, Mrs. Croft invites Alice to meet with her to further discuss her poetry. Alice has found a new lover/provider and June blew her chance with a woman she once desired and adored.

I wonder how Coral Browne reconciled the sexual and religious aspects of her life. She doesn’t strike me as a hypocrite and didn’t feel obligated to “leave” the Church. Browne died in 1991 without expressing a public opinion or statement; so we’ll never know her thoughts and feelings.  The one aspect we do know is that she appeared to value monogamy while married.  She had Vincent Price give up a male friend to whom he was strongly attached. That hurt Price deeply.  It’s my one mark against Coral Browne.

How do you remain as lesbian and Catholic? My stance—perhaps Coral Browne’s—is to embrace the beautiful and positive in both and dismiss the negativity from secular skeptics and religious gatekeepers. The focus on what is most important – our relationship with God – can be difficult to achieve with all the worldly chatter and distractions; but over time we can sustain it through prayer, quiet time, meditation and the Eucharist.

Click here to see a trailer of The Killing of Sister George.

Click here to see a YouTube video of the Gateways club scene in the film.

 

The Passions of Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz

Posted by Censor Librorum on Apr 1, 2021 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, Dissent, Faith, History, Lesbians & Gays

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (November 12, 1648 – April 17, 1695), was passionate about educational access, books, learning, equality and women.  She was a 17th century nun, self-taught scholar and acclaimed writer.  She was born in San Miguel Nepantla near Mexico City on November 12, 1648. Her parents were Isabel Ramirez, a Criolla (native-born Spanish) woman, and Captain Pedro Manuel de Asbaje of Spain. They didn’t marry.  Juana lived a comfortable life on the estate of her maternal grandfather. She educated herself in her grandfather’s library. Juana was a high-spirited girl who loved learning and the life of the mind. She was also very beautiful to which her portraits will attest. She was fluent in Spanish, Nahuatl and Latin.

When she was 16 she asked for her parents’ permission to disguise herself as a youth to attend the university, which did not accept women. Her family sent her to court to meet influential people and find a husband. Instead, in 1669, she entered the monastery of the Hieronymite nuns. She choose to become a nun “to have no fixed occupation which might curtail my freedom to study.”

As a nun, she was free to study the 4,000 books she collected, mostly from her grandfather’s library. Her cell became a salon for the intellectual elite.  She gained the patronage of the viceroy, Marquis de la Laguna, and the vicereine of New Spain, Countess Maria Luisa de Paredes. They supported and protected her, and had her works published in Spain. The two women became passionate friends.  Whether or not a physical relationship existed isn’t clear, but love and desire definitely existed.  In her poem, “My Lady” Sor Juana Inez describes her emotions: 

I love you with so much passion, neither rudeness nor neglect can explain why I tied my tongue, yet left my heart unchecked.

 The matter for me was simple; love for you was so strong, I could see you in my soul and talk to you all day long.

 How unwisely my ardent love, which your glorious sun inflamed, sought to feed upon your brightness, though the risk of your fire was plain!

 Let my love be ever doomed if guilty in its intent, for loving you is a crime of which I will never repent.”

 Sor Juana’s sermons, which were transcribed and widely circulated, paid unusual attention to gender imagery.  She said that she had been conceived as a male but was changed in utero by God to become female. She delighted in Jesus’ self-reference as a mother hen and spoke of the male and female aspects of God. She believed this mixture of identities also resided in the human soul:

“And all those who seek in me a father,” she wrote, “will find me a father. And those who seek in me a mother, will find in me a mother. And those who seek in me a husband, will find in me a husband. And those who seek in me a bride, will find a bride. And those who seek in me a brother, or a friend, or a neighbor, or a companion, likewise will find in me everything they desire.”

In 1692, Church authorities cracked down on Sr. Juana, not because of gossip or lesbian love poetry, but because she openly challenged societal and ecclesiastical values and norms on women. In her most famous work “Respuesta a Sor Filotea” she defends women’s rights to educational access and opportunity to serve as intellectual authorities. Sor Juana argued that women could educate other women.

Threatened by the Inquisition, Sor Juana was silenced for the final three years of her life.  There are documents showing her agreeing to undergo penance.  One such document is signed, “Yo, la Peor de Todas” (I, the Worst of all Women”).  Her books, scientific and musical instruments were confiscated and sold. Sor Juana died three years later nursing her sister nuns during a cholera epidemic. She was 46. Sor Juana is buried in the site of her former convent, San Jeronimo, at the University of the Cloister of Sor Juana in Mexico City.

Sor Juana lay in oblivion for several hundred years until Phoenix-like she sprang into life.  Two of the sparks were books and research done by writers Octavio Paz of Mexico and Dorothy Schons of the University of Texas. 

The relationship between Sor Juana and Countess Maria Luisa is explored in “Sor Juana’s Second Dream” a book published in 1999 by Dr. Alicia Gaspar de Alba.  She also writes about Sor Juana in “(Un)framing the Bad Woman: Sor Juana, Malinche, Coyolxauqui and Other Rebels with a Cause,” published in 2014.  A series of photos inspired by Sor Juana’s life and passions was created by Alma Lopez in 2019. Gaspar de Alba and Lopez, married to each other since 2008, have also explored lesbian connections with Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Maria Luisa Bemberg, one of Latin America’s foremost female directors, imagines the love between Juana and Maria Luisa in the 1990 film, “I, the Worst of All.” The film was Argentina’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film that year.

How far did the passions of Sor Juana go?  My feeling is that she had an unbridled imagination, a tormented yearning and a chaste life. I’m sure she shared some tender, passionate, embraces with Maria Luisa, but a lack of time, privacy and mutual restraint kept a lid on any other expressions. But what a kiss it must have been!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rev. George William Rutler’s Cosmic Retribution

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 14, 2021 | Categories: Accountability, Celebrities, Lesbians & Gays, Pious Trash, Scandals, Sex

Mosaic at the entrance to St. Michael’s Church

In Neil Simon’s 1976 comedy mystery film, Murder by Death, the character Sam Diamond, a parody of the fictional detective, Sam Spade, is played by Peter Falk.  His secretary (and girlfriend) blows his cover as a straight, tough guy when she tells the other detectives and guests that Diamond keeps stacks of naked muscle man magazines in his office.  Diamond counters that they are part of his detective work –“I’m always looking for suspects!” he says. “I hate them queeries!”

The Rev. George William Rutler, 75, hates queeries, too, but must he have needed new material for an article, Eternal World Television Network (EWTN) program, or one of his pounding homilies. On November 4, 2020, he was caught watching gay porn on the rectory TV by Ashley Gonzalez, 22, a security guard, who filmed a 19-second clip of a man who looks like Father Rutler watching two men blow each other. Gonzalez said she started filming after she heard “sexual noises” on the TV and saw the priest masturbating.  Rutler had initially watched election coverage but switched it off around 1:30 am to something more edifying. I think at that point, Joe Biden had beaten Donald Trump for the presidency.
Rev. George William Rutler is one of the most famous conservative priests in the U.S., and a long-time critic of Pope Francis, Democratic politicians and “sodomites.”  According to Rod Dreher of the American Conservative, Rutler “presents himself as a flinty arch-conversative who suffers no fools gladly.”  He is quite explicit on his view of sex: “The only safe sex is real sex, done for the procreation of life and the sanctification of love.” 

When Gonzalez tried to flee the room, Fr. Rutler grabbed her. “He aggressively threw himself on me and grabbed me sexually, aggressively, and I was fighting him off of me,” Gonzalez told News 12, who added that she sent frantic text messages to her mother begging for help.  Gonzalez, who is about five feet tall, got out of the office by elbowing the old geezer in the chest. She made it to the street and called a private detective.

There are a number of weird things in Gonzalez’ story:  why would a man who is getting off on two guys having sex try to grope or force himself on a woman?  And, how can you possibly have time or your hands free to text your mother if someone is trying to rape or molest you?

What seems unequivocal thanks to a cell phone video clip is that Rev. Rutler’s career as a conservative Catholic spokesman and as a liberal and gay basher is washed up. Even though the assault accusation could be a “he said, she said” situation, the video evidence, and the downloads and browser history on the rectory computer will not lie.  Rutler has stepped down as pastor of the Church of Saint Michael Church in Manhattan and has been dropped by EWTN.

One of Fr. Rutler’s quotes on homosexual activity sums up his downfall perfectly: “If people want to engage in aberrant sexual activities, well, by all means then they are free to do so. They are free to pay the penalty.”

P.S. To the Episcopal Church:  STOP sending us your self-loathing, hypocritical homosexual priests!  We have enough of our own.

 

 

 

 

The Catholicism of Radclyffe Hall

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 10, 2021 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Celebrities, Faith, History, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals, Sex

“Then Stephen took Angela into her arms and she kissed her full on the lips.”  That sentence has thrilled tens of thousands of lesbian readers, including me, to finally see, feel, imagine their desire in print. When British novelist Radclyffe Hall (1880-1943) published The Well of Loneliness in 1928, it was the first widely read novel to feature lesbian love. A British court judged the book obscene because of the words “and that night they were not divided.” 

It tells the story of Stephen Gordon, a woman given a man’s name by parents that wanted a boy, who is irresistibly drawn to other women. She was born on Christmas Eve and named after the first Christian martyr. As a girl she had a dream: “that in some queer way she was Jesus.”  Seven-year-old Stephen develops a crush on the Gordon’s maid, Collins. When she discovers that Collins has “housemaid’s knee” she prays that the affliction be transferred to her. “I would like to wash Collins in my blood, Lord Jesus—I would very much like to be a Saviour to Collins—I love her, and I want to be hurt like You were.” Stephen is later devastated when she catches Collins sharing a kiss with the footman.

As a young woman Gordon has an affair when a neighbor’s wife.  After a confrontation with her mother about her “unnatural” love, she retreats to her father’s study and discovers a book by German psychiatrist, Krafft-Ebing, on deviant sexuality. After she reads it, she understands what she is—a female “invert,” a lesbian.  She opens a Bible, and seeking a sign, reads Genesis 4:15: “And the Lord set a mark upon Cain…” Radclyffe Hall used the mark of Cain, a sign of crime and exile, throughout the book for the status of “inverts.”

Stephen meets Mary Llewellyn, the love of her life, in France during World War I. The two set out to build a life together, but Stephen believes that Mary’s life is suffering because as a couple they are an object of scorn and contempt. To “save” her, she feigns an affair with another woman to drive Mary into the arms of a man who admires and wants her.  Mary leaves her and marries.  Stephen is devastated and alone.  She has a vision of being thronged by millions of inverts from throughout time, living, dead and unborn. They beg her to speak with God for them. Possessing her, she articulates their collective prayer: “God,” she grasped. “We believe, we have told You we believe…We have not denied You, then rise up and defend us. Acknowledge us, oh God, before the whole world. Give us also the right to our existence!”

Radclyffe Hall was a pioneer in her efforts to reconcile Christianity and homosexuality. Her defense of gay men and lesbians took the form of a religious argument:  if God created inverts, the rest of humanity should accept them.  Declaring homosexuality to be a “part of nature, in harmony with it, rather than against it.”  She posed the question to her attackers: “if it occurs in and is a part of nature, how can it be unnatural?”  She also knew the price that gay and lesbian people pay to remain in the closet and railed against the “conspiracy of silence” saying, “Nothing is so spiritually degrading or so undermining of one’s morale as living a lie.” 

The controversy over The Well of Loneliness was lampooned in The Sink of Solitude, a satirical pamphlet by Beresford Egan, novelist, and illustrator. One drawing shows an immediately recognizable Radclyffe Hall with her trademark Spanish riding hat nailed to a cross.  A near-nude Sappho leaps in front of the martyred “St. Stephen” and Cupid perches on the crossbeam.  While Egan agreed with Hall’s arguments, he spoofed her piety and moralizing.

Radclyffe Hall is like many Catholic lesbians I have met: conventional, judgmental, spiritual, and often promiscuous.

She was born Marguerite Radclyffe on August 12, 1880 at Christchurch, Bournemouth, England.  In later life she was called John by her friends and lovers, and M. Radclyffe Hall or Radclyffe Hall in her books.  Her mother, Marie, was an American and her father, Radclyffe Radclyffe Hall, was English.  Her parents divorced when she was two and Marie remarried a musician, Albert Visetti.  The young girl never liked him. She reached young womanhood without much education or interests except chasing women. Her specialty seems to be the seduction of married women.

In 1907, at 27, unattached and drifting, Hall made a trip to Bad Homburg, Germany, known for its wellness spas and baths. She became smitten with Mabel (Ladye) Batten, a renowned beauty and amateur singer. Batten’s portraits were painted by John Singer Sargent and Edward John Poynter. The 50-year-old married grandmother had ties to aristocratic society and was rumored to have had an affair with King Edward VII. The poet-adventurer Wilfrid Scawen Blunt was an admirer.  Witty, elegant, cultured, beautiful and worldly, Batten was everything Hall desired. They became lovers and stayed together until Batten’s death in 1915. 

Batten was a major influence on Hall, and encouraged her to write poetry.  Hall’s first book of poems, A Sheaf of Verses, published in 1908, reveals her first, tentative references to homosexuality. A second book of poetry including the “Ode to Sapho” was published later that year. Her third volume came out a year later.  When Batten’s husband died in 1910, the two women made a home together.  Hall’s fourth poetry anthology was dedicated to Batten.

Batten was politically conservative, and Hall adopted her positions.  Ladye was also a Catholic convert, and under her encouragement and influence, Radclyffe Hall was received into the Catholic church on February 5, 1912. She was 32. Her baptismal name was Antonia, and she chose Anthony as her patron saint. Hall and Batten worshiped together at London’s fashionable Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, known as the Brompton Oratory.  In 1913, Hall and Batten made a pilgrimage to the Vatican. They went to Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Pius X blessed them in a semi-private audience with other substantial donors. They returned to London with religious-themed triptychs, gilt angels and an alabaster Madonna.

The refined Ladye was both a maternal and wifely figure for Radclyffe Hall.  The once-feminine Hall, who wore skirts all her life and only had her waist length blond hair cut in her 30s, started to cultivate a more masculine appearance, close-cropped hair, tailored jackets and bow-ties.  Batten gave Hall the nickname “John” after noting her resemblance to one of Hall’s male ancestors. She used this name for the rest of her life.  Was Hall butchy, a butch, stone butch, or these days – a transman?  It’s hard to say. She said that she had a man’s soul in her body.

In 1915, 35-year-old Radclyffe Hall met Una Troubridge (1887-1963), a 28-year-old cousin of Mabel Batten, at a tea party in London. They were immediately sexually attracted to one another and began an affair. Their relationship that would last until Hall’s death in 1943. Troubridge was a sculptor and mother of a young daughter. She was married to Vice-Admiral Ernest Troubridge, a career naval officer who was 25 years her senior. Hall’s affair with Troubridge caused an uneasy situation among the three women. 

In May 1916, Batten suffered a cerebral hemorrhage after a quarrel with Hall over Troubridge.  She died ten days later. Guilty and grief-stricken, Hall believed her infidelity had hastened Batten’s end.  She had Batten’s body embalmed and buried her with a silver crucifix blessed by Pope Pius X. Soon after Batten’s death, Hall and Troubridge developed an interest in spiritualism and began attending seances with a medium, Mrs. Gladys Osborne Leonard.  They believed Batten’s spirit gave them advice.

Most of the stories, poems and novels Radclyffe Hall wrote touched on Christian themes, Catholic imagery, lesbian desire or all three.  In 1924, Radclyffe published The Forge, a fictionalized portrait of American lesbian artist Romaine Brooks, and The Unlit Lamp, a novel about a girl who dreams of going to college and setting up a “Boston marriage” with her tutor, Elizabeth.  A Saturday Life (1925) follows the life of a girl who takes up and discards many artistic pursuits with the support of an older woman who is in love with the girl’s mother. Hall’s fourth novel, Adam’s Breed (1926) centered on the spiritual struggles of a young man over excess consumption by modern society. He becomes disgusted with his job as a waiter and even with food itself, gives away his belongings and lives as a hermit in the forest. The story also reflect’s Hall’s concern about the plight of animals. The book won the 1926 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction and the Femina Vie Heureuse Prize for best English novel.

In early July 1926 Hall completed the short story, “Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself,” which dealt with homosexuality.  Later than month she began writing Stephen, the novel that became The Well of Loneliness (1928). The Master of the House (1932) is an adaptation of the Christ story in a contemporary setting. Christophe Benedict, the main character, is a deeply spiritual and compassionate carpenter who lives in Provence, France. He is born to a carpenter named Jouse and his wife, Marie. Christophe ends up being crucified by Turks in Palestine during World War I. Writing the book was so spiritually intense that Hall developed stigmata on the palms of her hands.

In the 1930s Hall and Troubridge made their home in Rye, a village in East Sussex where many writers lived.  Hall used Rye as the setting for the book, The Sixth Beatitude (1936), her last novel. It is the story of Hannah Bullen, a strong-bodied young woman. Hannah Bullen’s unconventional life (unmarried mother of two children) is beset by poverty and strife within her family. Hall uses the sixth Beatitude to portray Bullen’s purity of heart and mind by sticking with them.  An independently wealthy heiress, Hall gave generously to the local church. Saint Anthony of Padua was constructing a new building when they moved to Rye. Biographer Diana Souhami wrote that Hall “poured money into the church” to bring it to completion and furnish it. “She paid for its roof, pews, outstanding debts, paintings of the Stations of the Cross and a rood screen of Christ the King. A tribute to Ladye was engraved on a brass plaque set into the floor:  “Of your charity, Pray for the soul of Mabel Veronica Batten, In memory of whom this rood was given.” 

What is the attraction of lesbian and gay men to Catholicism? Why did so many late 19th century writers, intellectuals, artists, clergy and bohemians (with gay lovers, tendencies or friends) take the plunge into the faith? Notable converts include Oscar Wilde, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Aubrey Beardsley, lovers Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper, Ronald Firbank, Maurice Baring, Eric Gill, Robert Hugh Benson, John Henry Newman, Frederick Rolfe, Marc-Andre Raffalovich, John Gray; and, of course, Mabel Batten, Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge.

Oscar Wilde opined on the attraction of the Roman Catholic Church for outre artistic figures and rebels.  He said that Catholicism was “for saints and sinners,” while…” for respectable people, the Anglican Church will do.”  Becoming Catholic was an act that allowed one to become both rebellious and steeped in tradition.   Irish playwright and novelist Emma Donoghue observed: “Being Catholic in England meant becoming slightly foreign, aloof from the establishment; as a church it was associated with the rich and the poor, but definitely not the bourgeoisie.” For much of English society, to become Catholic was to cross society’s lines to a suspect, “other,” even deviant, religion.  But the “otherness” may have been a reason behind its attractiveness.

The sensuousness and eroticism present in Catholic art and ritual have a magnetic appeal to lesbian and gay people.  Beautiful men, barely covered; women with their heads thrown back in orgasmic passion—a feast for the eyes and imagination. We can appreciate symbolic and hidden meanings, the emphasis on the body, particularly the Eucharist, where we take the body of Christ into our mouth; and the mystery inherent in ourselves and in the spiritual world. 

Modern scholars have explored the role of religion in Radclyffe Hall’s work.  Catholic Figures, Queer Narratives (2007) includes the chapter “The Well of Loneliness and the Catholic Rhetoric of Sexual Dissidence” by Richard Dellamora.  He explores Hall’s life and work.  Ed Madden, English professor at the University of South Carolina, examines Hall’s use of Christ’s imagery and symbolism in Reclaiming the Sacred: The Bible in Gay and Lesbian Culture (2003) edited by Raymond-Jean Frontain.

Like a bee sipping nectar from flower to flower, Hall’s desire for women never waned. Her indiscretions as “man of the house” could be overlooked as long as they were brief. Una Troubridge and Radclyffe Hall stayed together as a couple until Hall’s death in London from colon cancer in 1943. The relationship survived Hall’s numerous flirtations and Hall’s last torrid affair with her 28-year-old White Russian nurse, Evguenia Souline (1906?-1958). Souline was hired to help care for Hall during an illness, and their relationship blossomed into much more. Despite the initial protests of Troubridge, the three women lived together in Florence, Italy.  At the outbreak of World War II they left and settled in Devon, England.  “Darling—I wonder if you realize how much I am counting on your coming to England,” Hall wrote to Souline, “how much it means to me—it means all the world, and indeed my body shall be all, all yours, as yours will be all, all mine, beloved. And we two will lie close in each others arms, close, close, always trying to lie even closer, and I will kiss your mouth and your eyes and your breasts—I will kiss your body all over—And you shall kiss me back again many times as you kissed me when we were in Paris. And nothing will matter but just we two, we two longing loves at last come together. I wake up in the night & think of these things & then I can’t sleep for my longing, Soulina.” Una Troubridge cannot have been happy reading that note.  Even so, much of Hall’s correspondence to Evgenia Souline has been preserved. Troubridge burned Souline’s letters to Hall.

Radclyffe Hall died at her flat in Pimlico on October 7, 1943. She bequeathed her entire estate to Troubridge. At her request, she was buried in a vault next to Mabel Batten in Highgate Cemetery in London.  Souline was given a small allowance and disappears from the story. At the time of her death, The Well of Loneliness had been translated into 14 languages and was selling more than 100,000 copies a year.  It has never gone out of print. For decades, it was the only lesbian book generally available. 

Troubridge, now a wealthy woman, moved to Italy and died of cancer in Rome in September 1963, at age 76. Shortly before Troubridge died, a woman asked her how she and Hall reconciled their relationship with their Catholic faith. What did they do about confession? Troubridge answered, “There was nothing to confess.”  Troubridge left written instructions that her coffin be placed in the vault in Highgate Cemetery where Hall and Batten had been buried, but the instructions were discovered too late. She was buried in the English Cemetery in Rome, and on her coffin was inscribed, “Una Vincenzo Troubridge, the friend of Radclyffe Hall.” Years later her tomb was removed and her remains were lost.

The Well of Loneliness has been criticized by lesbians for its stereotypical butch-femme coupling, energetic lesbians who are always masculine looking, and requisite unhappy ending of a love affair or relationship between two women. What is totally ignored is Hall’s Christianity and Catholic faith in her life and writing.  A friend once observed to me that it is easier to be a lesbian in the Catholic Church than a Catholic in the lesbian community.  Like 19th and 20th century biographers who often left out, or slyly alluded to their subject’s homosexual life; too many “herstory” archivists, writers and editors deliberately omit lesbian religious faith and commitment.  This bigotry needs to stop.

“Who are you to deny our right to love” – Radclyffe Hall   The Well of Loneliness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pope Francis Comes Out in Favor of Lesbian and Gay Civil Unions

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 13, 2020 | Categories: Bishops, Faith, History, Lesbians & Gays, Politics, Popes

“Homosexuals have a right to be part of a family,” said Pope Francis. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable because of it. What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” he continued.  “I stood up for that.” 

The pope’s remarks were aired in Francesco, a documentary on the life and ministry of Pope Francis which premiered October 21, 2020 as part of the Rome Film Festival.  The film included a story about the pope encouraging two Italian men to raise their children in their parish church.  One of the men, Andrea Rubera, said he gave Pope Francis a letter that described conversations he and his partner were having over whether to take their children to church, fearing they might be subject to unfair judgement as children of a gay couple. Rubera said the pope called him and encouraged them to take their children to church and to be honest with the pastor about their living situation.

The pope’s comments rocked the Catholic world. Pope Francis clearly stated gay and lesbian people have a right to civil unions. They also have a right to be part of a family. This stance put him in direct opposition to many U.S. bishops and pastors who believe gay people should be driven away or at least kept in the closet and silenced.  The Catholic hierarchy and conservative media will continue to campaign against gay marriage and adoption, but they look over their shoulder doing so…they don’t have the full blessing of “truth” and free rein to hurt and slander.  Doing so could really impact their clerical career and prospects while this pope is in charge.

No red hat for culture warriors that focus on gay marriage and abortion but are silent on poverty, prejudice, and environmental degradation. Pope Francis’ statement has reframed the whole discussion of pastoral ministry to gay and lesbian people. In countries where homosexuality is against the law, it has effectively stifled bishops from speaking out in support of these laws.

Contrast the pope’s attitude on civil unions and those of the two previous popes. In 2003, The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) declared in Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons: “The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or  to the legal recognition of homosexual unions…Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behavior, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity.”  The statement was drafted by the future Pope Benedict XVI and approved by Pope John Paul II.

As big a bombshell as this papal turnaround on gay and lesbian rights and relationships is, nothing will ever equal the impact of Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” comment in July 2013.

On a plane on the way home from World Youth Day in Brazil, Pope Francis stood and took questions from reporters.  One of them concerned his hand-picked appointment for the Vatican bank, Italian Msgr. Battista Ricca.  Msgr. Battista had been selected by the pope to help clean up the Vatican bank; a total cesspool of corruption and mob influence. Almost immediately stories about Msgr. Ricca’s lovers and sexcapades began to appear in Catholic media outlets.  In response to a question about his candidate, here is what Pope Francis said: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis told reporters, speaking in Italian but using the English word “gay.

In the 2016 book, The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis elaborated on his history-making remarks: “On that occasion I said this: If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?” the pope says. “I was paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized.”

“I am glad that we are talking about ‘homosexual people’ because before all else comes the individual person, in his wholeness and dignity,” he continues. “And people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love.”

“I prefer that homosexuals come to confession, that they stay close to the Lord, and that we pray all together,” says Francis. “You can advise them to pray, show goodwill, show them the way, and accompany them along it.”

Asked whether there is an opposition between truth and mercy, or doctrine and mercy, the pontiff responds: “I will say this: mercy is real; it is the first attribute of God.”

“Theological reflections on doctrine or mercy may then follow, but let us not forget that mercy is doctrine,” says the pope. “Even so, I love saying: mercy is true.”

There was a huge response around the world to the Pope’s remarks on gay people’s right to a legal recognition of their relationships, and also to participate in society as families. Before these statements are scattered and lost, I wanted to compile a sampling of reactions for a permanent record.

Lesbian and Gay Rights Groups

“This is wonderful news for the LGBT community and for their families. What Pope Francis is telling us is that lesbian and gay people are part of families. He’s holding up family values and this is so important. Progress takes time and this is a step in the right direction. I am elated that Pope Francis is making this public statement. He’s speaking from the heart.” Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, co-founder, New Ways Ministry

“New Ways Ministry gratefully welcomes Pope Francis’ latest support for civil unions for same-gender couples. It is a historic moment when the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, long seen as a persecutor of LGBT people, moves in such a supportive direction for lesbian/gay couples and their families. It signals that the church is continuing to develop more positively its approach to LGBTQ issues.” Francis DeBernardo, executive director, New Ways Ministry

“While pleased with the news reports, we wonder how the Pope’s comments fit with existing Catholic teachings that condemn same-sex relationships as ‘intrinsically evil.’ We hope that Pope Francis will take steps to enshrine support for same-sex couples, LGBTQI individuals, and our families in official Catholic teachings and will work to formally end Catholic teachings that are hurtful to LGBTQI people.” Dignity USA

“Remember, the most important issue there is love. LGBT people hold the blood of the family, so they belong. If you think they are sinners, it’s not your duty to judge the sinners. I think he has given me a reason for not changing my religion or going to any other church. It gives me courage.” Ssenfuka Joanita Warry, Faithful Catholic Souls Uganda

“Pope Francis took a significant step for inclusion and acceptance in the Catholic Church by embracing unions for same-sex couples and affirming that LGBQI Catholics are part of their religious family.” Alphonso David, president, Human Rights Campaign

 Political Leaders

 “Time will tell, but I believe that Pope Francis’ support for same-sex unions will ultimately have a profound impact on how gays and lesbians are treated around the world. The Pope’s views, heard by over one billion Catholics worldwide, have incredible power.” Samantha Power, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations

“The church does not prepare dogma or doctrine via documentaries. That happens when the pope sits down behind his desk.” The pope’s comments “follow years of misery and homophobia suffered by LGBTIQ people who, with Catholic people, have turned the tide. The pope has seen that tide. Let him now follow through.” Mary McAleese, former president, Republic of Ireland

Theologians

“The pope’s statement of encouragement for legal civil unions could very well have a great impact in parts of the world where same-sex relationships are criminalized. In predominantly Catholic nations where homophobia is the law, this statement could undercut anti-gay legislation, and perhaps even lead to its repeal. That would be a great good.” Lisa Fullam, professor of Moral Theology, Jesuit School of Theology, Santa Clara University

 “Pope Francis once again is showing that the heart of the Church must be welcoming. It is a colossal step for the pontiff to endorse civil unions. In doing so, he shows that he, and in turn, the Church, are looking for ways to be a welcoming place for all LGBT Catholics. All Catholics should applaud this advancement.” Aaron Bianco, professor of theology, University of San Diego (Bianco was forced to resign as a pastoral associate at a parish in San Diego after he faced a barrage of attacks from anti-LGBT news sites.)

“Such informal remarks are to be praised as a timely shift in-line with overwhelming theological evidence and a growing acceptance of the lived reality of same sex love and partnership by a majority of Catholics worldwide. It should be noted however, that these personal comments are in direct contradiction with current Catholic teaching, according to which same-sex orientation is “intrinsically disordered,” and same-sex relationships are always “intrinsically evil.” We urge Pope Francis to kick-start a process to revise official Catholic teaching and practice so that his latest overtures towards acceptance are transformed into concrete change.” The Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research

“These words from the pope will inflame many on the Catholic right…but they will be a balm to the vast majority of Catholics and, I daresay, pastors. They don’t want to engage in these ugly culture war battles, especially because gay Catholics are not abstractions—they are in their homes, part of their families, and part of their parishes.” David Gibson, director, Center on Religion and Culture, Fordham University

 “I see this as a necessary step in the evolution of the church’s thinking on same-sex issues… it’s a sign of hope that the church can change. It can grow. It can evolve. I think it’s also a sign of hope that especially in places where LGBTQ persons are more actively persecuted, this is a sign of hope that that kind of persecution cannot be reconciled with the Christian faith.” Bryan Massingale, professor of Theology, Fordham University

 “(It is a big deal) in part because the Holy Father is clearly representing such civil unions as a good and desirable thing, to be actively promoted, rather than a lesser evil.  And second because he affirms the rightness of same-sex couples forming a family and being part of the family of the Church.  This will evidently create waves in countries where homosexuality is illegal, as well as cause heartache to rigorist Americans who have sought legal exemption from employing same-sex couples who have entered into legal unions.” James Allison, author, and theologian

Writers, Commentators, Bloggers

 “The Holy Father has changed the tone, the approach and the conversation around the issue of LGBTQ Catholics.  He is not changing doctrine, but he is changing the conversation, and that is a form of teaching.” James Martin, S.J., writer and editor-at-large, America magazine

“Once again, Pope Francis is spreading confusion among the faithful. How many times must this happen before all good Catholics recognize that we have a serious problem in the Church, and its name is Francis? And radical Catholics, who really do want to overturn established dogma, rub their hands gleefully and seize another opportunity.” Phil Lawler, editor, Catholic World News, and commentator, CatholicCulture.org

“Before I make some pointed remarks about Pope Francis’ latest demonstration of inadequacy, let me make one thing perfectly clear…If we are Catholic but have not prayed regularly for Pope Francis, we have no right to complain. Do we think Satan does not specifically target the successor of Peter?… The latest outrage to the Catholic faith, reason and sensibilities is the Pope’ remarks in a new video documentary in which he insists that homosexual persons have the right to a family, and that the important thing is to establish civil union legislation so they are ‘legally covered.’” Jeff Mirus, founder, Trinity Communications, which runs CatholicCulture.org; co-founder, Christendom College

 “So instead of getting all upset and hysterical about this, we should take that for what it is. It was a mistake by a man with good intentions but who just got it wrong. He was trying to give expression to his long-standing desire that we reach out to and include those who are marginalized or alienated from the Church or society. It was an unforced error, and it will have to be corrected either by the Holy Father, his press team, or our own bishops. It’s an opportunity for all of them to publicly reaffirm the true teaching of the Church, which would at least bring some good out of the situation.” Ed Mechmann, Director of Public Policy and the Safe Environment Program &blogger, Archdiocese of New York

“This little, very possibly perverted, Church-hating, Christ-hating, Catholic-hating bastard…Next on his plate, I suspect, bestiality, incest, and (you guessed it) coprophagia.” Mundabor’s Blog – “This blog’s aim is to allow true, traditional, unadulterated, strictly orthodox Catholic doctrine.”

“Unfortunately, Homosexuals do not have a right to family life since they forfeit family life by mocking and forsaking family life through their LGBT activity. Nor do they have a moral right to be around others as long as they are infected with these sodomite aspirations…Francis calls homosexuals the “children of God” deceptively implying they are affectionately embraced by God as they are when in fact they are children of the devil doing the works of the devil, for which they would be forever banished if someone didn’t come along in true charity to encourage them onto the right and shining path. Unfortunately, the pope’s Trump-bashing/pro-LGBT statements occur just at a time when it could swing the Catholic vote in America over to pro-LGBT Joe Biden and thus help bring about the downfall of America and consequently the world. The devil indeed is playing chess on the political board so we pray the Francis’ anti-family statements do not influence the vote in America but that Americans remain ever resolved to vote for Donald Trump who is committed to preserving traditional family values. David Martin, The Eponymous Flower blog

 Cardinals and Bishops

 “The Pope’s Statement clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching…The Church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships.” Bishop Thomas Tobin, Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island

 “The Holy Father is very aware of the suffering and alienation of homosexual individuals, gay people, who are rejected by family and society. He is also keenly aware of the parents and loved ones who also suffer because a member of their family is bullied or marginalized for being different.” Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archdiocese of Boston, Massachusetts

 “It makes me very happy that a new door is opening in the church for people who still don’t have a place in it because God is going to ask about them. It is very important that we initiate a new stage in the relationship of the Catholic Church with the LGBT family in the world.” Bishop Raul Vera, Diocese of Saltillo, Mexico

The Pope seems to be emphasizing that we are called to find ways of extending a true sense of family to those who find themselves on the margins, so that they might experience the security of belonging and the joy of encountering the life-changing mercy of Jesus Christ.” Archbishop Bernard Hebda, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota

“There are in other countries very strong homophobic tendencies even in church leaders.  And what I find, even here ourselves, we have some people whose frustration with their own gay identity is leading them to be homophobic in ways. So, the first thing I’d say is that the Pope is clearing the air for a further discussion.  After the same sex marriage referendum here in Ireland I talked about the ideas of a reality check. And this again would be an opportunity for people to do a reality check within the church.” Archbishop Diamuid Martin, Archdiocese of Dublin, Ireland

“The Holy Father is calling us as Church, as he has on numerous other occasions, to begin with the human person. Catechesis is important, but no the starting point. Building relationships comes first, then instruction, conversion, and integrating the faith ever more deeply into one’s life. In a real way he is challenging the Church to expand the tent. The Holy Father has from the beginning of his pontificate encouraged the Church to welcome all people as children of God who are deserving of love and respect. Indeed, this is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches. Finally, this is very much in keeping with Pope Francis’ encouragement to be a Church that accompanies one another. Our Holy Father envisions a compassionate Church, one with a maternal heart, willing to overcome insecurity, fear, and a willingness to reject others. Rather, we are called to be a Church that attracts and welcomes others with the love of Christ.” Archbishop Paul Etienne, Archdiocese of Seattle, Washington

 Censor Liborum, Nihil Obstat

 Very few U.S. bishops issued a statement in response to Pope Francis’ statement. A few were negative, some positive, all were nuanced and guarded. No one wants to make waves within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), since conservative bishops still hold a voting edge.  But as more Pope John Paul II and Benedict VI appointees retire or die off—and if Pope Francis can remain pope for another 5-7 years–we can expect a new crop of more pastorally-minded bishops to dominate the USCCB.  They will bring a wider review of social justice issues beside abortion, same-sex marriage, and to a much smaller degree, immigration, and the death penalty. As old bishops depart and modern bishops arrive, I expect more of them to add racism, economic problems, and environmental concerns to their own and the USCCB’s agenda. In the meantime, most bishops will do what they have always done: keep their heads down, try not to notice bad behavior, teach in mild ways, tend to their cash flow, and try to benefit from politics without getting too involved. They also need to weigh how it will affect their career prospects if they publicly agitate against lesbian and gay civil unions. 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

The Catholicism of John Rechy

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jul 21, 2020 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Faith, History, Lesbians & Gays, Sex

A few weeks ago I pulled out my copy of City of Night by John Rechy to reread it. It was Rechy’s first novel published in 1963. It draws on Rechy’s life, starting with growing up in El Paso, Texas, and his vocation as a hustler, starting in New York, and traveling through the very Catholic cities of Los Angles, Chicago, and New Orleans. After years of doing both, he eventually traded hustling for writing and teaching.

John Francisco Rechy was born March 10, 1931 in El Paso, Texas. He was the youngest of five children born to Guadalupe and Roberto Rechy.  Both of Rechy’s parents were born in Mexico; his father had a Scottish ancestor.

He writes about a childhood religious revelation: “Soon, I stopped going to Mass. I stopped praying. The God that would allow this unhappiness was a God I would rebel against. The seeds of that rebellion—planted that ugly afternoon when I saw my dog’s body beginning to decay, that soul shut out by heaven, were beginning to germinate.” (page 17, City of Night)

In City of Night, there are no less than 32 mentions of God or Catholicism in its 380 pages. I found the “indelible mark” of Catholic sacraments and upbringing throughout his writing and statements. The hypocrisy of church offends him, and he believes many clergy are gay, but I was surprised that I did not find a bishop, priest, or seminarian in any of bars, streets, and parks he frequents in City of Night.  Most gay priests I know had boyfriends or sought out casual sex at some point during their careers.  It’s surprising that Rechy didn’t have a sexual encounter with one of them or chose not to write about it.

Moby Dick, Herman Melville’s “quarrel with God,” kept popping up in my head throughout City of Night. The character, “youngman,” observes the world around him; and continually questions and rebels against an indifferent, evil God. “Youngman” searches for salvation the way Ahab searches for Moby Dick.  He did not find it on white sheets (page 367).  He did find love, which might have meant salvation, but chose to walk away. 

I have reread those pages (343-368) to understand why youngman resisted Jeremy’s offer of love.  Was he homophobic?  Was he afraid of a loss of control? Was the habit of resistance to any emotional involvement so strong that he could not overcome it?  I never could figure it out. Whether faith, love, or sex, you must choose to surrender, and if that readiness is not there, the moment is lost.

John Rechy’s Catholicism is revealed in his writing and his interviews. He is remarkably consistent throughout the decades of his use of Catholic imagery and why and how it remains in his life and work.

“I was a late bloomer I think as part of the Catholicism.  Sex was not mentioned, and didn’t exist.  I learned about sex from bestselling novels like Gone With the Wind and Forever Amber. When I was about 15 the sexual urges started coming but without direction. I didn’t know what sexual direction I was going, whether it was men or women. My first (willing) male sexual contact was in the army when I was about 20 in Paris.  There was a lot of sexual conflict that came into play, a lot of ambiguity. I was aware of sex before then, but it was ambiguous if I liked male or female. Finally, one led to the other and finally I identified completely as a gay man.”

 “The Catholic Church profoundly influenced me, believe it or not. I’m fond of saying ‘A lapsed Catholic lapses every day.’ This influence was basically unavoidable with the Mexican background, that’s pretty profound. That accounts for the religious imagery in my books. I like to say, ‘I write in Catholic.’”

 “I dislike religion very much, Christianity in particular (especially Catholicism, which is what I was born into), and find it mean and dangerous—and hypocritical about sex. Those aspects, I intertwine into many of my books.”  

 “Religions, Christian religious, at any rate, do offer redemption, salvation, et cetera—that is at the core of much of it: salvation. But when you finally encounter the hypocrisy and cruelty embedded in every one of those religions, you’re left with a terrible emptiness—no “salvation.” We look for substitutes: often, yes, in sex, lots of sex. Now I can see how intelligent readers might find a sense of spirituality in my writing.  I would say, however, it is, more, the tenacious dregs of early religious attitudes. I use Catholic imagery constantly, and that might lead to a deduction of spirituality.”

 “My mother was deeply religious, and it got her through painful times. Because of that, I often prayed with her, the rosary, et cetera. I would never have done anything to compromise that. Too, looked at objectively, the Catholic Mass is very beautiful, High Mass. On a church that only Technicolor could do justice to; the statues of saints, Mary, and Jesus all look like movie stars. The ritualized services, the changing, the spraying of incense—that provides great theater, of course. It wasn’t until I could see those rituals as such that I could tolerate them. Yes, beautiful drama at the core of which is—alas—suffering and repression and cruel judgments.”

 “Mexican culture adds hateful factors to the forming of a solid homosexual identity, in main part because of the power of the Catholic church, although I would say a majority of priests and high prelates are themselves gay.”

John Rechy absolutely nailed the eroticism in Catholic art and churches.

“The imagery of Catholic art, in its churches, is erotic and—oh, yes—very often powerfully, overtly sexual—the Sistine paintings at times seem to depict orgies.  And a lot of sadomasochism, a lot. Yes, and look at the image of Christ crucified in altars all over the world. What a huge impact that has to have: a beautiful man, a muscular body, almost naked, only a tantalizing covering—and a kneeling audience of priests and congregants.” 

 “I have always been fascinated by the sexual imagery in Catholic churches and religious art, especially depicting Christ.  In representations of his crucifixion he is incredibly beautiful, his body is lithely muscular, perfect, and the loincloth covers him just above the pubic area. It is that figure that congregants are expected to kneel and “adore.” That is the figure that nuns “marry” before…And yet people are aghast to think of Jesus as a sexual figure.”

“In my book, Our Lady of Babylon, there is the most beautiful love scene between Jesus and Judas.  I retell the story of the betrayal. The sex scene is told by Mary Magdalene, who’s looking down on it from a hill. Talk about artistic decision! I know that it would be very difficult to say, “And then Jesus went down on Judas, and Judas went down…” because it would be an outrage. But I wanted a full sex scene.  So it’s Jesus, Judas, and Mary Magdalene. She’s in the middle, and they begin to kiss her, and then she moves slowly away, knowing that this is what it’s all about, and then they come together and kiss, and then Magdalene moves away to a hill. And then from the point of view of Magdalene, so that I don’t have to get vulgar, I describe their movements. So there it is. I’ve done that one.”

“In the novel, Rushes..I write about one night in a leather bar, a night that ends up in an S & M orgy room…The bar is described to look like an altar. The characters locate themselves in the positions of priest and acolytes during Mass. On the walls of the Rushes Bar there are sketchy erotic drawings. These find parallels in the Stations of the Cross, the last panel fading into unintelligible scrawls, to suggest the ambiguity of the possible Fifteenth Station. There is a “baptism” and an “offertory.” At the end of a metaphoric crucifixion and an actual one (gay bashing) occur simultaneously, one inside the orgy room, the other outside. The novel/Mass ends with a surrendered benediction.” 

 “What have I discovered? I guess I’ll go on saying there is no substitute for salvation, a phrase that appears in every one of my books; but what I may have come to believe is that what is required is to redefine the word “salvation,” by pulling it away from any religious context.  Then salvation may be found in living as good a life as the terrifying world allows.”

 “In my teen years, I did write some poetry (in addition to the novels I was writing). The poems were often in rhymed pentameter. I liked epic subjects. “The Crazy Fall of Man” was one, in which, at the end, Judgement Day, outraged people come to judge God, not the other way around; and the last person is Christ, so powerfully accusing God that He—God—throws himself into hell, like this: “And raising his mighty hand in an act of contrition, God said, “Forgive, forgive, forgive,” and flung Himself headlong into the bottomless pit of hell.”

John Rechy’s writing is full of incidents and feelings familiar to many gay and lesbian Catholics. Anger, especially anger at God and the church; loneliness, the ease of slipping into lies and masks, the search for sex, the feeling of empty spaces inside, and finally, the wistful longing to return to the faith of our childhood and youth. How often do we find ourselves feeling abandoned, seeking God who is absent from our life? Our search—or walking away—can go on for many years. Rechy is not indifferent about his Catholicism. Even if you care just a little, the connection is still there.

“And I was thinking that although there is no God, never was a God, and never will be One—considering the world He made, it is possible to understand Him—or that part of Him that had forbidden Knowing, because–Christ!—at that moment I longed for innocence more than anything else, and I would have thrown away all the frantic knowing for a return to a state of Grace—which is only the state of idiot-like, Not Knowing.” (page 379, City of Night)

At parties or receptions throughout the years, various men or women have asked me about my life. When I say I’m a Catholic, and believe and work for change in the Church, I’m often treated to a barrage of abuse by former Catholics.  People feel entitled to rip into a self-identified Catholic in ways that they would never do to anyone else.  Inevitably, three or four drinks later, this person seeks me out for another conversation. They tell me how sad they are about the Church’s rejection of them, and how much they miss the faith that they had when they were younger. I understand. How often I wished I could return to that sweet innocence. There is nothing to do but comfort them and hope they can find their way back.

Books by John Rechy

City of Night (Grove Press, 1963)

Numbers (Grove Press, 1967)

This Day’s Death (Grove Press, 1969)

The Vampires (Grove Press, 1971)

The Fourth Angel (Viking, 1972)

The Sexual Outlaw (Grove Press, 1977)

Rushes (Grove Press, 1979)

Bodies and Souls (Carroll & Graf) 1983

Marilyn’s Daughter (Carroll & Graf) 1988

The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gomez (Arcade, 1991)

Our Lady of Babylon (Arcade, 1996)

The Coming of the Night (Grove Press, 1999)

The Life and Adventures of Lyle Clemens (Grove Press, 2003)

Beneath the Skin (Carroll & Graf, 2004)

About My Life and the Kept Woman (Grove Press, 2008, memoir)

After the Blue Hour (Grove Press, 2017)

Pablo! (Arte Publico Press, 2018)

Books About John Rechy

Outlaw: The Lives and Careers of John Rechy by Charles Casillo (Advocate Books, 2002)

Understanding John Rechy by Maria DeGuzman (University of South Carolina Press, 2019)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Headache of St. Hildegard of Bingen

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 19, 2020 | Categories: Arts & Letters, History, Lesbians & Gays, Saints, Sex

St. Hildegard of Bingen was a mystic, writer, composer, polymath, and Abbess of Rupertsberg Abbey in Germany.  She suffered from migraine headaches. Migraines are often preceded or accompanied by visual hallucinations. In her medical treatise Causae et Curae, Hildegard described the migraine in detail but never connected this diagnosis to herself.  Similarly, Hildegard loved a younger woman deeply, strongly, passionately, but never connected lesbian desire to herself, either in her writing or her art.

The “Egg of the Universe,” an illumination of one of Hildegard’s visions, bears a striking resemblance to a woman’s vulva, but Hildegard doesn’t describe it as such: “By this supreme instrument in the figure of an egg, and which is the universe,” she wrote, “invisible and eternal things are manifested.”  Is it an egg, or is it a celebration of female sexuality?

In the illustration, the outer planets of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn correspond exactly with the vagina, urethra, and clitoris.  The labia is also easy to identify.  While the illustration is egg-shaped, so is the vulva. Didn’t it occur to Hildegard that her holy vision produced a detailed and accurate picture of a woman’s external genitalia? The finger or tongue-like shape in the opening is also revealing.

Hildegard recorded her visions in Scivias, a three-volume work completed in 1151 or 1152 when she was 53.  It took her ten years to complete. Scivias contains 26 visions that she experienced. In each vision, she describes what she saw, and then records explanations that she heard which she believed to be the “voice of heaven.” She had a lot to say about male and female roles and homosexuality. The prescriptions against wearing men’s clothes, lesbian sex and masturbation appear in the Part II, Vision 6, The Sacrifice of Christ, and the Church.

  1. Men and women should not wear each other’s clothes except in necessity.

“A man should never put on feminine dress or a woman use male attire, so that their roles may remain distinct, the man displaying manly strength and the woman womanly weakness; for this was so ordered by Me when the human race began….But as a woman should not wear a man’s clothes, she should also not approach the office of My altar, for she should not take on a masculine role either in her hair or in her attire.”

  1. God will judge all perpetrators of fornication, sodomy, and bestiality.

“And a woman who takes up devilish ways and plays a male role in coupling with another woman is most vile in My sight, and so is she who subjects herself to such a one in this evil deed. For they should have been ashamed of their passion, and instead they impudently usurped a right that was not theirs. And, having put themselves into alien ways, they are to Me transformed and contemptible.”

“And women who imitate them (men) in this unchaste touching and excite themselves to bodily convulsions by provoking their burning lust, are extremely guilty, for they pollute themselves with uncleanness when they should be keeping themselves in chastity.”

I had to wonder what was going on in Hildegard’s mind when she was dictating these passages to her young assistant, Richardis von Stade.   Richardis seems to have been Hildegard’s closest friend and companion. Well educated and a talented writer, she transcribed Hildegard’s visionary writings and prepared them for production as manuscripts. “When I wrote the book Scivias,” Hildegard wrote, “I bore a strong love to a noble nun…who connected with me in friendship and love during all those events, and who suffered with me until I finished this book.”

Were Hildegard and Richardis lesbians?  Did they ever have a physical relationship?  Did they touch or hold one another? Did they lie in bed and imagine physical intimacy? Did they look for one another in the chapel? Did they feel an electricity in one another’s presence? Many people, nuns included, separated their same-sex love and sexual desire from the repulsive view of homosexuality that they were taught and in which they believed. Hildegard may have compartmentalized the prohibition to specific practices (“playing a male role in coupling with another woman”) and seen her own relationship with Richardis as qualitatively different in the way they made love or emotionally interacted. There was certainly a strong erotic component in their relationship and work together. 

When Richardis’ family arranged for her to leave Rupertsberg Abbey to become Abbess of Bassum, Hildegard became extremely upset, desperate, almost unhinged. She wrote letters to the young woman’s family, urging them not to let her leave Rupertsberg, and begged Richardis not to go.  Hildegard wrote to the bishop, her superior and even the pope to no avail. Richardis left Rupertsberg in 1151.  She died a year later October 29, 1152 at Bassum Abbey of an unspecified illness. She was 28 years old. Richardis may have accepted the abbess of Bassum as a position befitting her social rank.

“I so loved the nobility of your character,” Hildegard wrote, “your wisdom, your chastity, your spirit, and indeed every aspect of your life that many people have said to me: What are you doing?”

Richardis’ brother, Hartwig, the Archbishop of Bremen, wrote to Hildegard shortly after Richardis died. Hartwig had been influential in obtaining the Bassum appointment for his sister, Richardis.  “I write to inform you that our sister—my sister in body, but yours in spirit—has gone the way of all flesh, little esteeming the honor I bestowed upon her..I am happy to report that she made her last confession in a saintly and pious way and that after her confession she was anointed with consecrated oil. Moreover, filled with her usual Christian spirit, she tearfully expressed her longing for your cloister with her whole heart…Thus I ask as earnestly as I can, if I have any right to ask, that you love her as much as she loved you, and if she appeared to have any fault—which was indeed was mine, not hers—at least have regard for the tears that she shed for your cloister, which many witnessed. And if death had not prevented, she would have come to you as soon as she was able to get permission.”

Hildegard’s grief produced another sublimated creative masterpiece: Ordo Virtutum (“Play of Virtues.”) Richardis was obviously the inspiration for this musical morality play about a soul who is tempted away by the devil and then repents. 

At her death, Richardis experienced a level of awareness and humility that Hildegard, with all her visions, never achieved. She admitted she made a mistake in leaving the woman she loved.  What is not clear is exactly why Richardis left Hildegard and Rupertsberg Abbey.  Did she capitulate to the social and political maneuvering of her family? Was it a need to assert her own independence after many years as Hildegard’s assistant? Or, was the sexual and emotion tension of in her relationship with Hildegard too hard to endure?