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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The McCarrick Report Villains

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 19, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, History, Pious Trash, Popes, Saints, Scandals, Sex


The Report on the Holy See’s Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930-2017) was issued by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State on November 10, 2020. The report was authored by U.S. attorney, Jeffrey Lena, who had previously represented the Vatican in several sex abuse cases. The 449-page document is the result of a two-year investigation, prompted by the public demand by Archbishop Carlo Vigano that Pope Francis resign for his alleged leniency to Cardinal McCarrick. Archbishop Vigano’s “testimony” was released on August 25, 2018 and splashed all over ultra-conservative Catholic media outlets.  Gossipy and salacious, he pointed the finger at Pope Francis as the chief villain. Since then, the Vatican had been under heavy pressure to provide an explanation for Cardinal McCarrick’s rise, and his continued influence within the Church after rumors and accusations of sexual activity circulated for several decades.

Before his downfall, Cardinal McCarrick was a star among the U.S. Catholic hierarchy, both for his fund-raising prowess and his sophistication about American and global affairs.  He brought the Vatican millions of dollars from the U.S. for papal charities.

Who are the main villains in The McCarrick Report?

#1 – Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.  A man who used his position, influence, and financial gifts to manipulate or coerce seminarians and altar servers to have sex with him; and protect him from any career consequences. Many of his victims were children of family friends.  All of the seminarians depended on his patronage to be ordained.

#2 – Pope John Paul II (1979-2005) – Pope John Paul II turned a blind eye to clerical sexual activity.  His main concerns were freeing Poland from communism, keeping communism out of Latin American, and stamping out North American and European reformers and dissenters.  His courtiers had free rein, especially after the mid-1990s when he began to suffer from Parkinson’s Disease, and became increasingly incapacitated mentally and physically. His hubris and handlers kept him propped up in Peter’s Throne so the good times could continue to roll. He ignored numerous complains about McCarrick, and continued to promote him from Bishop of Metuchen, NJ (1981), to Archbishop of Newark, NJ (1986), Archbishop of Washington, DC (2000), and finally named McCarrick a cardinal (2001).  The best article I ever read about Pope John Paul II’s culpability in the Church’s sex abuse holocaust is Maureen Dowd’s A Saint, He Ain’t. Poland’s bishops lobbied hard for John Paul II’s early beatification and canonization but were rebuffed in 2019 when they petitioned the Vatican and fellow prelates worldwide to have him elevated still further as a Doctor of the Church and patron saint of Europe.

 #3 – Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz. The McCarrick Report contains 45 references to Dziwisz, who first met McCarrick while visiting New York with the then, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla in 1976.  When Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II in 1978, Dziwisz served as his personal secretary for the Polish pontiff’s entire 27-year reign. Cardinal Dziwisz is accused of covering up sexual abuse in exchange for money. One of McCarrick’s victims, James Grein, said he once accompanied McCarrick on a trip to the Vatican with a briefcase containing envelopes full of money. The envelope addressed to Dziwisz held $10,000.

The role of the former papal secretary in stifling sex abuse claims and protecting clerical abusers as favors or for money has come under recent scrutiny in Poland.  A 90-minute documentary, “Don Stanislao” was recently shown on TVN24 in Poland. The film aired a long list of accusations about Dziwisz, from covering up for his friends in the seminary to the his role in protecting the late Father Marcial Maciel, the disgraced founder of the Legionaries of Christ, and former Cardinal McCarrick. The documentary also detailed how as archbishop of Krakow he ignored complaints against subsequently convicted local priests.

#4 – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI – Pope Benedict asked Cardinal McCarrick to step down as archbishop of Washington, DC in 2006.  Since he was 76, a year past the age of retirement, the request wasn’t extraordinary.  “Over the next two years, Holy See officials wrestled with how to address issues regarding Cardinal McCarrick,” the report’s summary states. “Ultimately, the path of a canonical process to resolve factual issues and possibly prescribe canonical penalties was not taken,” the summary concludes. “Instead, the decision was made to appeal to McCarrick’s conscience and ecclesial spirit by indicating to him that he should maintain a lower profile and minimize travel for the good of the Church.” That didn’t happen; McCarrick continued his global lifestyle and high visibility.

Pope Benedict did and said nothing.  Benedict also gave himself the excuse that McCarrick was already retired in not initiating formal disciplinary proceedings. “God’s Rottweiler” as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1981-2005) silenced and censored numerous theologians, bishops, priests and religious during his tenure.  He decried secularization, liberation theology, feminism, homosexuality, religious pluralism, and bioethics.  He gave clerical sex abuse and rape a pass.

#5 – Four New Jersey Bishops. These men vetted Archbishop of Newark McCarrick for the prestigious Washington, DC appointment—Bishop Emeritus Edward Hughes, Metuchen; Bishop John M. Smith, Trenton; Bishop James McHugh, Camden; and Bishop Vincent DePaul Breen, Metuchen. Of the four, only Bishop Edward Hughes advised that it would be “unwise to consider the Archbishop for any promotion or additional honor.” Even so, Bishop Hughes did not pass on reports from seminarians and priests who told him they had been abused by McCarrick.  Both James McHugh of Camden and John Smith of Trenton witnessed McCarrick groping a seminarian at a dinner party but never reported it. 

All the New Jersey bishops confirmed the rumor that McCarrick persuaded seminarians to share his bed at his New Jersey Shore house. The Vatican report does not explain by these bishops would not regard sleeping with young men—at minimum–as a serious impropriety and lack of judgement. Nor does it indicate why it didn’t raise a red flag for sexual activity for Vatican officials.  The report also included an allegation by an unnamed Metuchen priest who accused McCarrick of having sex with a third priest in June 1987.  The accuser was not originally believed since he “had previously abused two teenage boys.”

As expected, The McCarrick Report has plenty of dirt to throw on the legacy of Pope Saint John Paul II: he didn’t bother to investigate sex crimes. That way, he never had sufficient evidence requiring him to act. Because he chose to look the other way, thousands of children, teenagers, seminarians, and vulnerable adults were victimized by clerical predators. The failure of his moral leadership deeply wounded the Catholic Church and many people of faith.

The Report highlights repeated failures in the processing of vetting bishops, a process that often seems more focused on personal connections and ensuring unquestioned adherence to doctrine rather than raising red flags on inappropriate or criminal behavior.

The system in place where archbishops are expected to police abuse by bishops is totally inadequate.

Finally, it shows how certain Vatican prelates—Cardinal Dziwisz and Cardinal Sodano chief among them—were happy to let crime and sin slide if they were paid.

 

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pious Trash: The REAL Rainbow Plague in Poland

Posted by Censor Librorum on May 16, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Bishops, Faith, History, Lesbians & Gays, Pious Trash, Politics, Scandals, Sex

The 2019 Polish documentary on clerical sex abuse, “Tell No One” highlighted a problem:  Many of the priestly sex abusers and credibly accused child molesters are well-loved and respected national and local figures.  Some people are pushing for a total accounting; others stress individual forgiveness and resumption of public ministry.  Notable figures include –

-Father Henryk Janknowski, one of the founders of the Solidarity union. He had his statue removed in Gdansk.

– Father Eugeniusz Makulski, who oversaw the construction of Poland’s biggest basilica. He commissioned a statue of himself offering the building to St. Pope John Paul II.  I found his kneeling in front of the pope an apt pose, considering what he is. Makulski’s representations have been removed from the shrine. 

-Father Franciszka Cybula, personal chaplain to anti-Communist hero Lech Walesa.  Slawoj Leszek Glodz, Archbishop of Gdansk, lavished praise on Cybula and gave him a grandiose funeral.

– Cardinal Henryk Gulbinowicz, a much-loved figure who helped lead Poland’s anti-Communist movement.

Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, former archbishop of Krakow and papal envoy.  He was quietly recalled from the Dominican Republic in 2013. Wesolowski was accused of possessing child pornography and paying poor boys and teens for sex acts.  Luckily, he died of a “heart attack” before his canonical trial was about to begin.  Wesolowski was also wanted on sex abuse charges in Poland. It seemed to me he had quite a good clerical showing at his funeral. 

On August 1, 2019, Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski of Krakow celebrated a Mass commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the outbreak of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.  Archbishop J?draszewski said in his homily: “The red [communist] plague no longer walks on our earth, but a new neo-Marxist one that wants to conquer our souls, hearts, and minds has appeared. It is not a red, but a rainbow plague.”

Did he mean Poland’s pedophile and sex abuser priests, bishops and cardinals; or, was he referring only to Polish LGBT activists?

 

 

 

 

 

 

LGBTQIA+ Time to Get the “L” Out?

Posted by Censor Librorum on Apr 30, 2020 | Categories: History, Humor, Lesbians & Gays, Pious Trash, Sex

I have seen the abbreviation “LGBTQIA+” and had no idea what all the letters meant.  I googled it and found that it is: “A common abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Pansexual, Transgender, Genderqueer, Queer, Intersexed, Agender, Asexual, and Ally community.”  Is it time to get the “L” out, as some lesbians have suggested?  I’m starting to think so.

What sparked this post was a Covid-19 article on Yahoo – “I am Worried About A Backslide in LGBTQIA+ Rights.” I thought it was a little whiny, self-centered and full of assumptions that all gay/lesbian people will agree with the writer’s fretting and values. I don’t. I want my female pronouns, thank you. I want my lesbian identity.

Our identity politics designation now encompasses splinter groups I personally have no interest in or connection with at all. Pansexual? Intersexed? Genderqueer? Who are these people? How was our movement for dignity, respect and rights hijacked?  How could most lesbian and gay individuals relate to someone who describes themself as “Asexual?”  The whole reason we endured pain, humiliation, rejection and violence was to have sex with the woman or man we desired who was a member of our own sex.

Many trans women are frustrated and angry with lesbians who refuse to have sex with them.  There’s the trans woman with fire engine red lipstick complaining “cis” lesbians don’t respond to her OK Cupid ad! Then there’s trans professor bicycle champ who bitches about sex and sports. The trans woman porn star who coined the term “cotton ceiling,” is miffed that lesbians are happy to have coffee dates but not a roll in the hay. Most lesbians are not interested in dicks—either on a man or woman.  Is that a big surprise?  Anyway, shouldn’t a woman’s choice of whom she wants to sleep with take priority over ideology?

I thought this gay man summed up the situation the best:

“I am a gay man, which means I am attracted to other men, meaning adult human males. This precludes women and females who identify as men. And you know what? That’s okay. I’ve fought since I was 15-years-old — when I first came out — to live this truth. My existence as a gay man matters. Lesbians’ existence matters. And this notion that we can overcome “genital preferences” is homophobic and erases our identities, as homosexual people. It doesn’t just echo the far-right conversion therapies so many of us have fought decades to end, it actively embraces these beliefs, as it implies we could become heterosexual if we just opened our minds and overcame our “preferences” for members of the same sex.”

What do you think?  Should lesbians be forced to sleep with men because that’s what the Church and Society want?  Should lesbians be shamed into sleeping with trans women because that’s what some transgender advocates want?

 

 

The Devil and the Nun

Posted by Censor Librorum on Mar 7, 2020 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Fishy Fridays, History, Scandals, Sex

On the morning of August 11, 1676, a young nun named Maria was found on the floor of her cell.  Her face was smeared with ink.  Her hand held a sheet of paper covered with inscrutable glyphs.  She told the other nuns that the Devil appeared to her in the night and tried to turn her away from her faith. To persuade Maria, the Devil took over her facilities and wrote a letter with her hand.  The writing was not in Latin or any familiar language. It was a mysterious jumble of occult symbols and archaic letters.  No one was able to decipher the letter by the Devil. 

Sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione was 15 years old when she entered the Benedictine convent in Palma di Montechiaro, Sicily. She was 31 at the time of the Devil’s visit.  Maria had a history of struggling against the Devil.  She would scream at him at night. In the convent’s chapel, she would shriek and lose consciousness.  She was convinced that Satan was trying to turn her towards evil.

In 2017, director Daniel Abate and a research team from the Ludum science center in Catania, Sicily cracked the code.  They used an algorithm found on the Deep Web. “We heard about the software,” Abate said, “which is used by intelligence services for coding breaking. We primed the software with ancient Greek, Arabic, the Runic alphabet and Latin to descramble some of the letter.”  The team was eventually able to translate 15 lines, which were certainly devilish for a nun to express:

“Humans are responsible for the creation of God.”

“This system works for no one.”

“God thinks he can free mortals.”

“Perhaps now, Styx is certain.”

“God and Jesus are dead weights.

“We speculated that Sister Maria created a new vocabulary using ancient alphabets that she may have known,” Abate said. “This is a precise alphabet, invented by the nun with great care by mixing symbols that she knew. We analyzed how the syllables and graphisms (or thoughts depicted as symbols) repeated in the letter in order to locate vowels, and we ended up with a refined decryption algorithm.”  Abate thought Sister Maria had a good command of languages, which allowed her to invent the code.  There is no information on what happened to her after the incident.

The letter was an elaborate hoax by Sister Maria. Why did she do it? How was she sure that she would not be found out? If she knew ancient alphabets, didn’t any of the other nuns at her convent know them as well? Abate believes the nun had schizophrenia, which made her imagine dialogues with the Devil.

Here’s my guess across 344 years:  She was frustrated, pent-up, tormented by sexual desires or guilt. She had some doubts about the faith, which bothered her.  Her small stage as a woman and as a nun bothered her. She was conflicted, she wanted attention, and she acted out her doubts and obsessions. The Devil was a good prop.  Once she started with the screams and convulsions, she had to keep it up.  She probably wanted to keep it up; the letter was a good finale.  She won her fight against Satan and became a heroine in the convent.

Sister Maria most likely heard about other demonic possessions and Satanic letters in other convents.  The 17th century was full of them, all featuring young nuns tempted by sex and heresy including Aix-en-Provence in 1611; Lille in 1613, Loudon in 1634 and Louviers in 1647. They are full of real and imagined seductions by priests and other nuns. I am surprised that no one has thought to do a full-blown historical and psychological study on these possessions, and their links with sex, female rebellion, and church politics.

 

 

 

 

The Conundrum of Father Richard Ginder

Posted by Censor Librorum on Feb 20, 2020 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Faith, History, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals, Sex

So I turned to the Garden of Love.  That so many sweet flowers bore.  And I saw it was filled with graves,  And tombstones where flowers should be;  And priests with black gowns were walking their rounds,  And binding with briars my joys and desires.  William Blake (1737-1827)

“Binding with Briars—Sex and Sin in the Catholic Church,” a book by the Rev. Richard Ginder, was published in the United States by Prentice-Hall, Inc. in 1975.  It was seven years after the first Dignity convention in 1968 and six years after the Stonewall Riots.  In other words, very early in the period of gay and lesbian liberation in church and American society.  He begins his book by identifying himself: “I am a Roman Catholic priest.  My diocese is Pittsburgh. I am in good standing and celebrate the Holy Sacrifice every day.”  This statement, like much about Fr. Ginder, poses a conundrum.  It’s true.  But it’s also true that at that time he was on “sick leave” from pastoral assignments, and mid-point in a 10-year probation negotiated by the Pittsburgh Archdiocese. 

In 1969, after an intensive investigation, police raided his apartment in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh and found photographs of teenage boys performing sex acts with Fr. Ginder and possibly other priests from the diocese.  The police also found his diaries, where Ginder detailed his and other clerics homosexual activities with young men over the previous three years.  Fifty-two charges were filed against him and he pleaded guilty to several. The Diocese interceded for Ginder and got him out of jail.

Fr. Ginder was among the priests identified in the now famous August 14, 2019 Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on sexually abusive clergy. While not a pedophile, Ginder certainly approached or had sex with high school and possibly junior high school-aged boys.

“Writing this book has forced me to rethink the whole subject of morality—rather, not to rethink it but for the first time in my life to think it all the way through,” he writes in the Forward. “I have been working on this book for twenty-five years: reading, taking notes analyzing my own inner experience and comparing it to that of others. The seed was planted in 1949 when I first realized my sexual identity.”

Why did Fr. Ginder write this book?  He must have known going public with his opinions was a permanent career-killer.

I think three things happened.  The new Gay Liberation movement inspired him to speak out. He saw people, especially young people, leaving the church in droves because the institution did not address their real-life concerns and questions. That bothered him, because he loved the church and the Catholic faith. Lastly, Ginder was a writer as well as a priest.  He wrote about other controversial subjects but was banned from doing so on homosexuality. The need to express himself blew up the blockade.

The evolution of the book surprised him.  “But once I started writing, I felt the book taking on a life of its own. It began to unfold and grow almost of itself as I thought through this whole matter of sexuality in its relationship to religion. I began the book a conservative and ended a liberal.”

The evolution of this blog post surprised me. I have mixed feelings about Fr. Ginder. I began by despising Ginder as a priestly predator, and ended up admiring him as a complex, prophetic, creative, and flawed man.  He never acknowledged any remorse for the teenage boys he used sexually, or the emotional and psychic damage at least some of them experienced. I wonder if that is who he was as a person, or as a member of a schizophrenic clerical culture where such behavior was widespread and tacitly accepted? There’s no way of knowing.

However, how many heterosexual men ogle, fantasize and bed, if they can, 16 and 17-year-old girls? Growing up female, we learn at an early age how to deflect male sexual interest. It’s just homophobia tinged with misogyny that males become hysterical over sexual interest by other males.

Since Ginder emphasizes his evolution, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to timeline his life, and overlay his writing, arrests, and sexual abuse accusations to see when they occurred and what he was doing at the time.

1914:  Charles Richard Ginder is born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

June 11, 1940:   He was ordained a priest of the Pittsburgh Diocese at the age of 26 by Bishop Hugh Boyle.

8/1940 – 9/1942:   St. Gregory, Zelienople, PA and St. Mathias, Evans City, PA

9/1942 – 2/1946:   Society of the Priests of St. Sulpice (NFI)

Ginder was a Basselin Fellow and held a master’s degree in philosophy and a Licentiate in theology from The Catholic University of America.

2/1946 – 6/1950:  Saint Simon & Jude, Blairstown, PA.

1949 – Ginder discovers his homosexual identity when he was 35-nine years after his ordination. He regretted that over the next 25 years he was never permitted to express himself on the subject of homosexuality in either Our Sunday Visitor or The Priest. 

 In 2007, a 69-year-old male called the Pittsburgh Diocese to report he had been molested by Ginder in the late 1940s. He said that Ginder, who was assigned to a neighboring parish, would wait outside his school to offer him rides. He did not provide specific details.  After a few occasions, he no longer accepted rides from Ginder. He stated that the abuse he had suffered caused his marriage to fail; that he had feelings of guilt, and that he had attempted suicide.

 Late 1940s – Early 1960s:  Fr. Ginder was a widely read priest-columnist. His byline appeared in such prominent Catholic publications as Our Sunday Visitor where he wrote the controversial syndicated column “Right or Wrong.” At that time OSV was the most widely circulated Catholic periodical in the world with close to a million subscribers.  He founded and edited for 11 years My Daily Visitor for shut ins.  He also founded and edited The Priest, a journal for Catholic clergy which he edited for 24 years and The Catholic Choirmaster which he edited for 13 years. Ginder was also an accomplished organist and composer of sacred music. “I have written altogether one hundred twenty-four pamphlets with a total sale of twenty-six million copies. I have spoken and my musical compositions have been performed on all four of the major radio networks and on CBS-TV.” 

6/1950 – 12/1953:  St. George, Pittsburgh, PA (South Side)

12/1953 – 6/1959:  St. Joseph, Pittsburgh, PA (North Side)

12/1954 – 7/1962:  Censor Librorum for the Diocese of Pittsburgh

A male residing in Seattle, WA contacted the Pittsburgh Diocese on a number of occasions. He never provided details of his abuse but threatened to sue the Diocese. The male was advised in 1999 that the records pertaining to Father Charles R. Ginder were destroyed as Ginder had died in 1984. The male subsequently sent a letter wherein he stated that he was taken to New York, NY and Philadelphia, PA by Ginder. He estimated the trips occurred between 1958 and 1961. He said details would be provided in a book he planned to write. The male also advised that he was abused by another priest in Pittsburgh who now lived in Florida. He refused to name the other priest, however, in order to maintain “the element of surprise.”

 Fr. Ginder described himself as an open-minded conservative. His article on “Leftism in the Church” appeared in the March 27, 1960 edition of Our Sunday Visitor: “Right now in America, relativism is what might be called the ‘established’ system of thought. It is supported by the moneyed classes, the secular universities, even—insofar as that is possible—by the Government: which means that it has lavish rewards to confer on its own disciples…Confronted with such a situation, we Catholics can either convert them or join them. But if we join them, we will no longer be Catholic. We have to convert them, for by God’s own definition we are “the salt of the earth.”

6/1959 – 2/1961:  St. Mary, New Castle, PA

In 2013, an adult male reported that he was befriended by Ginder following the death of his brother in 1960. He stated that they often made trips from New Castle to Pittsburgh and had dinner together. The male recalled that on one occasion; he fell asleep in the front seat of the car following dinner with Ginder. He woke to find Ginder putting his hand up his pant leg, touching his thigh. When he asked what he was doing, Ginder explained that he was checking to see if the boy was cold. After this incident, he did not accompany Ginder anywhere else.

 12/1961 – 8/1962:  School Sisters of St. Francis, Bellevue, PA

7/1962 – 7/1963:  Health related leave of absence

8/1963 – 5/1964:  Our Lady of Mercy Academy (NFI)

5/1964 – 6/1964:  St. Januarius, Pittsburgh, PA

5/1964 – 6/1964:  St. John the Baptist, Pittsburgh, PA

6/1964 – 1/1967:  Sick Leave

1/1967 -?         :   St. John the Baptist, Baden, PA

In 2002, a 50-year-old male living in New Jersey reported that he had been abused by Ginder when he was between the ages of 15 and 17. He stated that he and a boy from Denmark would gather at the residence of the Bishop on many occasions. He stated that they would drink alcohol with Ginder and ‘sexual activity would occur there.’ According to the male, the sexual activity occurred with Ginder and the Bishop was aware of it. The male further stated that he lived with Ginder on Murray Avenue for a short time. He stated that the relationship with Ginder and others was ‘out of control.” He described Ginder as a ‘physically abusive monster.’”

 See my recent post on Pittsburgh’s Bishop Wright: “Lip Service: John Cardinal Wright Gives Himself a Celibacy Dispensation.”  Pittsburgh must have been a congenial posting if you were a sexually active homosexual priest in the 1960s.

1969:  Fr. Ginder’s apartment is raided by police.  They discover photos of Ginder and others in homosexual sex acts.  The Diocese negotiates Ginder’s release from jail and he is put on ten years’ probation.

1969:  Bishop John Wright is promoted or “kicked upstairs” to a Vatican appointment.

1970-1984:  Sick Leave.  Ginder lives in church facilities under psychiatric care.  For a time he lived in a Vincentian facility in McCandless, PA.

1975:  Ginder’s semi-autobiographic book, “Binding with Briars—Sex and Sin in the Catholic Church,” is published.

The book argued against Catholic positions on birth control, divorce, premarital sex and homosexuality.  Ginder also clearly came out against abortion, pedophilia, and legalizing homosexual relationships— “…the analogy with matrimony is all wrong. For one thing, it reeks of sacrilege, blasphemy, and bad taste.”

In the book Ginder addressed the nastiness and hostility of some religious people to homosexuals:  “The latent gay is sexually attracted by others of the same sex, but he refuses to admit it to himself and in fighting the tendency he often overreacts by lashing out at overt gays and harassing them as best he can.”  Ginder quoted Winston Leyland, a “priestly dropout” and editor of the Bay area publication, Gay Sunshine, who estimated that 40% of Catholic clergy was gay.

Ginder did touch briefly on Dignity, a newly formed organization for gay and lesbian Catholics.  He was mildly supportive. I think Ginder was less enthusiastic than he might have been, because he believed so strongly that gay people needed to stay in the Church, not go off or segregate themselves in other groups. In Chapter 13, “The Other Love,” he writes: “Now surely this book, especially this present chapter, has given the gay arguments and principles enough to form his conscience on gay sex and still receive the sacraments—so, Mr. and Ms. Gay, spread the word: Gays can be just as good Catholics as the rest and still have their sex. Don’t let them quit the Church, for their own good and ours—because, you see, we need their help in forming a consensus. We need them on the team.”

Fr. Ginder also offers a solution to gay and lesbian Catholics trying to keep the faith: “Keep trying to develop a personal religion, an immediate relationship with our Lord,” he says.  “Use the Church for the Holy Sacrifice, the sacraments, inspiration, and moral instruction; but keep your life centered on Christ. What matters is His, not the churchmen’s opinion of you.  Keep deepening your fundamental option with an intense and unshakeable loyalty to our Lord.”

As a Catholic lesbian who continues to identity herself as such 40 years after coming out, Fr. Ginder’s advice on how to remain in the church is true:  follow your conscience and keep your eyes on Christ.

 In 1975, Ginder was asked if he was sorry about his homosexual activities.  I don’t approve of it but sometimes you’re weak,” he said.

1976:  One year after the publication of “Binding with Briars,” Bishop Vincent M. Leonard, Wright’s successor, stripped Ginder of his priestly facilities.

1978:  Ginder was arrested in the Southside of Pittsburgh and convicted of sodomizing two 16-year-old boys and sentenced up to four years in prison. There was also a report that he attempted suicide.

1980:  Fr. Ginder lived at the One Hundred Acres Trappist Monastery in New Hampshire, not far from Boston, MA.

In 2011, an adult male reported sexual abuse through the Diocese of Manchester in New Hampshire. He stated that in 1980, when he was approximately 15 or 16 years old, he attended an overnight retreat at Hundred Acres in New Boston. Another man, possibly a priest, attempted to assault him in his room. When he screamed loudly, Ginder came into the room. Ginder then offered to drive him home. During the car ride, Ginder pulled over by a river. He then fondled the young man on top of his clothes. The young man got out of the vehicle before it went any further and took a bus home.

 June 7, 1984:  Killed in a car accident. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published his obituary on Wednesday, June 13, 1984. The headline reads: “Priest touched by scandal is quietly buried in city.” 

“The Rev. Richard Ginder, once one of the most influential priests in the Catholic Church in the United States, was quietly buried here Monday.  Father Ginder, 70, removed from his priestly duties in the Pittsburgh diocese in 1976 following a sex scandal and a controversial book, was killed Thursday in a car accident in New Hampshire. At the time he was driving from his brother’s funeral. His brother, the Rev. Edwin S. Ginder, was a priest in Fort Tobacco, MD. Father Ginder’s funeral, was at St. Anne Church in Castle Shannon, PA.  Its pastor, Monsignor Charles Owen Rice, called Father Ginder – prominent editor, author and columnist – “the Andrew Greeley of his day.”

In the Forward to the book he acknowledges, “My opinions may have to travel underground in the Church until popular sentiment is ready to accept them.” That shift of opinion occurred 40 years after the publishing of the book.  It was made possible by the loss of respect and moral authority of the Church for how it handled clerical sexual abuse. Ginder was a part of that chain of abuse, shuffled around from parish to parish, his behavior tolerated and covered up with “sick leave” stays in various institutions and places.  Once the church ceased to protect him, the civil authorities were able to reach him for punishment.

Fr. Ginder did not acknowledge himself as a gay man in his writing, although he may have done so with other gay clergy.  What he did do in “Binding with Briars” was to assert that gay sex—sodomy– is normal to gay people and stated that the Church was out of touch with the sexual morality and lives of many of the faithful, gay and straight. This stance was leading to the marginalization of the Church and the loss of believers.  This loss was very painful to Ginder, and he wanted to stop the hemorrhaging.

“For several years I was the official censor of books for the Diocese of Pittsburgh,” he wrote. “It is with prayer and no little trepidation that I submit my analysis, hoping that it may bring some degree of comfort, however slight, to the reader.  All my life has been a preparation for the writing of this book.”

I wish I had known of Fr. Ginder’s book many years ago.  It would have been a great help to me in negotiating the agonies of faith and desire.  It would have been a great comfort, and is still a comfort today.  Thank you, Fr. Ginder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pious Trash: Gay Lions Shock Kenyan Censor

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 24, 2020 | Categories: Humor, Lesbians & Gays, Pious Trash, Sex

Two lions were photographed after one mounted the other in a secluded bush area of the Masai Mara game reserve in southwest Kenya.  Ezekiel Mutua, the chief executive of the Kenya Film Classification Board said: “These animals need counselling, because probably they have been influenced by gays who have gone to the national parks and behaved badly.  I don’t know, they must have copied it somewhere or it is demonic. Because these animals do not watch movies.” He added, “That is why I say isolate the crazy gay animals, study their behavior because it is not normal.  The very idea of sex even among animals is for procreation.  Two male lions cannot procreate and therefore we will lose the lion species.”  Mutua is known for his anti-LGBT statements and banning  “pro-gay” movies.  He recently banned “Rafiki,” a love story about two teenage girls in Nairobi. 

The “gay lions” photo was taken by wildlife photographer Paul Goldstein, a British guide for Exodus Travels.  Goldstein said the lions first stood side by side, and then one lay down and was mounted by the other.  This isn’t the first time two lions have been seen in a same-sex embrace.  In March 2016, photographer Nicole Cambre snapped a male mounting and humping another male in Botswana. 

Craig Packer, the director of the Lion Center Center at the University of Minnesota observed that this kind of behavior among lions is rare.  “It’s not really sexual and it tells us a lot more about those officials in Kenya and their homophobia than anything else. ” Packer said the photograph captured a moment of social bonding among male lions living in groups of two or three.  These groups are called “coalitions” and members cooperate to drive off rival males and take over prides of females.  Coalition males are typically affectionate, licking and flopping down on each other, Packer said.  On occasion one lion will mount another. Packer speculated that the behavior seems to be a way to smooth over social tensions.  Female lions do it, too, he said.