It has been extremely painful for me over the past four decades to watch the Church I love self-destruct. I entered the Jesuit order in 1948 after serving in the combat infantry in WWII and spending the last six months of the war as a prisoner of war in Germany. I pronounced my vows as a Jesuit in 1950. I was ordained to the priesthood at Fordham by Cardinal Spellman in 1959 making this year the fiftieth anniversary of my ordination. I had fifty wonderful years of Jesuit ministry, teaching philosophy and theology at Lemoyne College in Syracuse and later as professor of moral theology at Woodstock seminary in New York City.
Over all that time I was aware of being a gay man. As long as I lived in a loving community I was able to be faithful to my vows. I had hoped to repress any need I had for sexual human companionship. While doing graduate studies at Louvain University my experience of loneliness led me to act out my sexual needs and seek human sexual companionship. This failure on my part led me close to suicide. But at a critical moment while in prayer I received a consoling message from God that I should trust him. All the pain, shame and guilt I was undergoing God would make use of in a new ministry to which God would lead me. From that day to this my primary prayer has been: In te Dominum speravi. Non confundar in aeternam! (In you, Oh Lord, I place all my hope. I will not be let down for all eternity!)
Shortly after returning from Europe to teach at LeMoyne College, I began a research program into homosexuality from theological, scriptural and psychological perspectives. After two years I published the results of my research in a series of articles in The Homiletic and Pastoral Review entitled The Christian Male Homosexual. These articles received an excellent reception. My fellow Woodstock faculty member, Avery Dulles (later Cardinal Dulles), recommended that I major them into a book.
On New Year's Eve of 1965 I met my lifetime partner, Charles Chiarelli, at a gay
bar in Toronto called the Saint Charles bar. I could not have had a lifetime ministry to GLBT people, if it had not been for my first hand experience of the goodness and joy of a loving gay relationship with Charlie for the past 43 years. Charlie and I returned to Toronto to be legally married in September, 2009.
In 1972 together with Bob Carter, S.J. and other priests and lay men I helped found the New York City chapter of Dignity, a support group for gay and lesbian Catholics whose objective was to bring the message of God’s love and acceptance to Catholic gays and lesbians.
In 1976, after years of review and censorship of my manuscript The Church and the Homosexual, I finally received an imprimi potest (permission to publish) from Father General Pedro Arrupé after he personally read the manuscript and I proceeded to publication. It was the first book to pose a direct challenge to church teaching on homosexuality, arguing that gay people were created that way by God and that their love relations could be good and even holy relations. That was a euphoric moment.
The book’s appearance received headlines in the New York Times. I was invited to be the featured interview on the Today Show, that was Tom Brokaw’s first day as host. For almost one year I traveled the country appearing on innumerable television and radio talk shows, helping to found Dignity chapters, giving lectures and workshops on the Theology of Homosexuality. I began a series of retreats on the theme “Experiencing God’s love” for lesbian and gay Christians at Kirkridge, retreats that continued on twice year for the next twenty five years to a packed house every time.
But my euphoria was short lived. Toward the end of that year I was invited by the theology faculty at Xavier University in Cincinnati to give a workshop on the theology of homosexuality. When I arrived at the airport I was surrounded by reporters who wanted to know my response to a press release from Archbishop Bernadine decrying my invitation, accusing me of misleading the public into thinking that the Church had changed or was about to change its teaching on homosexuality. That night the lecture hall was surrounded by conservative Catholics praying the rosary and accusing me of defending sodomy.
A few months later the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith ordered the Jesuit order to silence me and forbid me to speak or write on the issue of homosexuality. I obeyed that order for nine years until my dismissal from the Jesuit order. The Congregation claimed that they were acting as a response to a request from the American bishops and quoted the press release of Archbishop Bernadine. Coincidentally, right at this time Bernadine was accused of sexual impropriety with a young man who later withdrew the accusation.
Several years later Pedro Arrupé was deposed as General by Pope John Paul II and an inquisitor Fr. Dezza was made General by papal fiat. One of the reasons given for that action was Arrupé’s approval of my publication of The Church and the Homosexual.
For those nine years I was able to continue my ministry of retreats and psychotherapy but could not speak or write for the media. In that period, the Vatican became more and more homophobic. They classified homosexual orientation as an “objective disorder” and even on one occasion justified gay bashing. They continued to condemn all gay sexual activity as seriously sinful! They led the political opposition to gay rights and gay marriage throughout the world. They ordered adoption agencies to close rather than allow gay couples to adopt. And most recently they closed seminaries and the priesthood to anyone with a homosexual orientation.
Even after the sexual abuse crisis they refused to allow a married priesthood and denied ordination to all women. The result is a rapid disappearance of celibate priests and a new upsurge of lay ministry. I continued to pray for divine guidance concerning the order to silence in the public media. The aids crisis was in full swing. I felt I could no longer remain silent in good conscience. In 1986 the Vatican gave me an order I could not obey in good conscience: I was ordered to give up all ministry to GLBT people. When I informed General Hans Kolvenbach of that decision, he flew to New York and met me at Fordham University. He told me that if I continued in my gay ministry he was under orders from the Pope and Cardinal Ratzinger to dismiss me from the Jesuits. He also told me how much he admired my ministry and gave me his blessing.
A few months later I published an article calling for full acceptance of LBGT people in all the christian churches in The Christian Century. General Kolvenbach turned over the process of my expulsion to Cardinal Hamer, head of the Congregation of Religious. The final decree of my dismissal from the Jesuits was issued on April 13, 1987.
That decree paradoxically freed me to fully enter once again into the ministry Father Arrupé had assigned me to. From then to today I continued to give retreats and lectures to GLBT Christians. I also was freed to publish once again. In 1988, I published Taking A Chance On God: Liberating Theology for Gays, Lesbians, and their Lovers, Families and Friends. In 1995, I published Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey to the fullness of life for Gays, Lesbians, and Everybody Else. In 1998, I published my autobiography, Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair: My Spiritual Journey. Finally, in 2008, I published Sex As God Intended: A Reflection On Human Sexuality As Play. This book includes a festschrift of 13 essays celebrating my life and work. (A synopsis of these publications and reviews can be found on my web page: www.johnjmcneill.com)
Although I remain a priest in the Roman Catholic Church, awaiting its transformation once again into an instrument of the Holy Spirit, I have been welcomed into the community of love and support at Sunshine Cathedral, a Metropolitan Community Church in Fort Lauderdale. Charlie and I are deeply grateful to that community for providing us a fulfilling and spiritual home.
Brendan Fey, a producer of the documentary Saint of 9/11, has been working for four years now on a documentary on my life and ministry called “Uncommon Jesuit”. The documentary is ready for final editing and, if Brendan receives sufficient funding, should be ready for its premiere in the near future.
On rare occasions in my long life (I just turned 84 on September 2, 2009) I have had what I like to call “The disciples of Emmaus experience,” (Were not our hearts burning within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us. Luke 24: 32). I had that experience over the past several days as I read Archbishop Weakland’s memoirs. These memoirs threw an extraordinary critical analytical light on the status of the Roman Catholic Church which I love and are a source of renewed hope for transformation and restoration of the Catholic Church.
Archbishop Weakland begins his memoirs with an account of the penitential service he held May 31, 2002 in the Cathedral in Milwaukee at the time of his resignation from his role as archbishop after twenty five years:
I was about to face the faithful of the Catholic Church of Milwaukee to make a necessary public apology impelled by my concept of church as a community of loving, sustaining, forgiving believers.
The Archbishop recounts what happened leading to his resignation. Although he was aware that his sexual orientation was homosexual, as long as he had lived as a monk in St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, from 1945 until 1977, Weakland had no problem repressing his need for sexual companionship. However, his election as Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Order required that he make his primary residence in Rome for the next eight years. Because he had felt it was his responsibility to make a pastoral visit to every Benedictine monastery and convent in the world, he spent most of those eight years traveling. During that time he became aware of a painfully growing human loneliness. After his appointment as Archbishop, he continued his pastoral travels trying to visit every parish, religious house and convent in his diocese. The deaths of his mother and his friend Pope Paul VI removed two of his primary supports. The subsequent election of John Paul II, who was nonsupportive if not outright hostile, further isolated him.
He turned to Paul Marcoux, a young man in his thirties, whose companionship the Archbishop sought back in the years around 1979 who shared his interests in theology and sacred music. Weakland wrote love letters to Marcoux which expressed genuine affection for the young man, but broke off the relationship because it was incompatible with his vows and his responsibility as Archbishop. As a result, Paul proceeded to blackmail the Archbishop. After lengthy consultation, Weakland agreed to pay the blackmailer a quarter of a million dollars from a diocesan fund to quiet him. Later, Paul demanded another million. When Weakland refused, Paul released the love letters to the press and went on television accusing Weakland of “date rape” allegedly occurring twenty-two years before. Since at this point in time the media was in full pursuit of priest pedophiles and negligent bishops, they assumed this was another example of the same and condemned the Archbishop. As a result, Weakland was forced to resign in disgrace in the public’s eye from his role as Archbishop after twenty-five years.
However, this disgrace and resignation was the beginning of a new spiritual journey which Archbishop Weakland likens to a pilgrimage. So he set his memoirs in the context of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and named his memoir, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church. “The idea of pilgrimage means that perfection in this life is never achieved, only striven for, where the good and the bad grow up together till the final judgment (p.252).”
Weakland describes this most recent stage of his spiritual journey in these words:
It took time (for me) to understand…that there is a hole, a deep void, an unfulfilled yearning that all human’s possess…and into that emptiness and loneliness no other person can really reach…That void comes from a yearning for the transcendent and will be filled with nothing else. Human love can only be an image, a sign, of the fulfillment that comes from the Divine. I vowed to accept this spiritual restlessness, working around it, not expecting it to go away, but eager to use it to relate more compassionately to others who deeply feel the same void.
Weakland explicitly rejects recent Vatican teaching on homosexuality:
I had rejected as unhelpful, even as harmful, the statement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1986 that this orientation made me “objectively disordered” Since this orientation was not voluntarily acquired, such language was insignificant to me. Either God created me that way or permitted forces beyond my control to make me that way, so I felt no diminution of God’s love. I do not see myself as a person defined by my sexuality (p.18).
The Archbishop talks about a “theology of contempt” aimed at homosexuals similar to the anti-Semitic theology of contempt in the early Church. This theology made it laudatory to commit acts of violence, originally against Jews, today against homosexuals. “To say that homosexuals must be treated with respect even though they are objectively disordered is demeaning, a new form of doubletalk.”(p.18)
Archbishop Weakland then proceeds in a biography of 423 pages to recount his lifetime pilgrimage. That story makes us aware that we are dealing with an extraordinarily gifted and talented gay person. He was born in the town of Patton in the coalmining district of south western Pennsylvania, one of six children. His father, a marine veteran, died when Weakland was five years old. He describes his spiritual life as a constant seeking for the Father figure that had been there so briefly. His mother, despite extreme poverty and hardship, kept the family together. Her background as a school teacher gave all the Weakland children a deep respect and desire for education.
Weakland from earliest childhood showed a remarkable talent for music. He became a masterful pianist and organist. Music was to remain a central feature of his life. in the beauty of music he found his preferred way to encounter the transcendent “I seemed to flow quickly and imperceptibly from an aesthetic experience to a religious one…. I really felt that God was present to me in and through the music (p38).” That love of music culminated in his receiving a doctorate in music at Columbia University. The topic of his thesis was the Ambrosian chant from the Middle Ages.
In 1940, Weakland entered the Benedictine prep school connected to the Benedictine monastery, St.Vincent in Latrobe, Pennsylvania and spent the next six years as a scholastic preparing to join the Benedictine order. He speaks of that period as the time he was “thirsting for knowledge” and developing his extraordinary intellectual skills. He became skilled in Latin and Greek and proficient in German and French. His skill in languages would be extremely helpful to him years later when as Abbot Primate he traveled to Benedictine establishments, over 700 in all, on every continent and dozens of countries, and was able to communicate in most cases to the monks and nun in their native tongues.
At this time, too, he was introduced to Catholic social teachings in encyclicals such as Rerum Novarum. While reflecting on the social dimension of the Gospels, he began to form the ideas that marked his political thinking for years to come. Reflecting on the war going on in the world, WWII, he learned to fear those who claimed so much authority over the lives of others and who were accountable to no one. In an article in America in 1985 writing about the growing tensions between the Church in the United States and Roman officials, he wrote:
I grew up with just as great a fear of Fascism as I had of Communism. Hitler and Mussolini were diabolical figures to me; examples of how single individuals with uncontrolled power over other human beings could cruelly dehumanize people sacred in the eyes of God, and could justify that abuse for the sake of an ideology. I guess I grew up with a fear of absolute power, unfettered and uncontrolled, held by some people over others…I know that this fear also affects my attitude toward church authorities and religious obedience (pp 43-44).
Obviously, Archbishop Weakland thought that the Vatican was moving in a profascist direction under Pope John Paul. A fear which, I think was confirmed by Pope John Paul’s rejection of the Jesuits as his confidants and replacing them with Opus Dei.
This was a period of great fervor and development for Weakland, but it had its dark side. As he put it:
Although successful in my studies, I cannot say the same about acquiring a deeper understanding of myself, psychological or sexual. I lived very much in my head, and my only emotional outlet was my music. Looking back, I was almost certainly oblivious about my sexual development and makeup (p.44).
This failure to provide for psychological development would prove to be Weakland’s Achilles heel that would much later lead him into trouble.
In September, 1946, Weakland entered the novitiate of St Vincent’s Archabbey and took the name of Rembert. He took to monastic life like a duck to water. Among the many things he admired about Benedictine monastic life, the primary thing was St. Benedict’s understanding of authority and governance.
Throughout history Benedictine communities prided themselves on their autonomy and independence, expressed by the free election of their abbots and their vow of stability in a given community. The monastic tradition was the source of my positive attitude toward the concept of subsidiarity in the Catholic Church, with emphasizes the importance of decentralization (p.65).
He believed that the Abbot should make compassion the essence of his authority and rule the monastery as the loving Father of a family, consulting widely and basing every decision on what was the true good of the individual monk.
In 1948, the abbot sent Rembert off to Saint Anselmo, the Benedictine college in Rome to complete his theological and musical education. He received a superb education in theology. He spent his summers continuing his study of music, the first with the monks of Solesmes in France and the second at Ottenkolleg in Germany. In 1951, at age 24 he was ordained a priest at Sacro Speco, the mountain cave behind the abbey of Subiaco in which St. Benedict had spent two years of solitude. Returning from Rome, Rembert spent the years 1952 to 1957 in New York City studying music at Juilliard and serving as a parish priest at St. Malachi’s parish off Broadway on 45th Street called The Catholic Actors Chapel. He would later call these years the happiest years of his life.
My stay there was my 'second novitiate'; the first introduced me to Benedictine life, this second one just to life. I came to learn about the best and the worst of the human condition as it played itself out in the heart of a great metropolis like New York City (p.77).
In 1956, he spent a sabbatical year in Milan where he pursued his studies of Ambrosian Chant. While there he first met Monsignor Montini, the future Pope Paul VI. His greatest success during this period was to revive and produce the early thirteenth century musical, Play of Daniel, which was a great success.
After nearly a decade of studies, in 1957 he returned to St. Vincent Archabbey. This was a time when the abbey was in great turmoil. The community elected the 38 year old Rembert to be Abbot of the community. He held that position very successfully until 1963. Rembert became Abbot during the second Vatican council. It was his responsibility to lead his monastery and later the whole Benedictine order in Pope John’s program of aggiornamento, bringing the Church into the modern world. “The council had a marked effect on me as a member of the Church and how I saw my place as leader of a monastic community.” He hoped the council would move the Church out of the paralyzing stance of seeing itself under siege…to a more open and confident posture.
Sometime during the council, I realized that I had a narrow and restricting understanding of the Spirit’s action. How presumptuous it was to think that any earthly body could control God’s actions – God’s Spirit working in church and world. Discernment became a new word in my vocabulary. God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ promised at Pentecost, blows where it will and is always out ahead of us building the Kingdom. We are but instruments of that Spirit. This was a freeing realization. (p105).
In 1968 at the age of 40 Rembert was elected Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Order in Rome and held that post for the next six years. During those years Rembert describes a growing friendship with Pope Paul VI but simultaneously the development of a serious conflict with traditionalist Cardinals of the Curia, especially Cardinal Antoniutti. Their conflict was primarily over the autonomy and independence from central authority of the Benedictine monasteries. The conflict was also over the role of women in the Church. After visiting the convents of Benedictine nuns all over the world Rembert felt the need to facilitate the way women could use their gifts in the Church. “I had no idea how important it would become and how much opposition it would generate from Cardinal Antoniutti and many members of the curia.” For example, after Rembert organized a summer program for Benedictine nuns at St. Anselmo, Cardinal Antoniutti canceled the program saying the nuns had no need of further formation. Rembert went directly to Pope Paul VI who ordered Antoniutti to allow the educational project to continue. (This same curial opposition to nuns continues today with the appointment of papal inquisitors to rein in the American sisters.)
Following this meeting Rembert wrote in his notes:
The Congregation of Religious wants a primate who will carry out its orders and take the blame if things go wrong. Such a procedure will be out of the question if their decisions go against my judgment. I am afraid they will have to execute them themselves.
I was particularly impressed by Rembert’s reflections on his meeting with the major superiors of religious orders, especially Pedro Arrupé, the General of the Jesuit order (who had assigned me to a ministry to LGBT Catholics and gave me permission to publish my book, The Church and the Homosexual in 1976):
Arrupé resembled perfectly what I imagined St. Ignatius would have looked like. He laughed easily and made us all feel at home. For the next two years I found myself working closely with him. I counted that relationship as one of my great blessings during my years as primate. As I came to know him better and better, I realized he was the most saintly person I had ever encountered – free of all bias, truly compassionate, deeply prayerful, trusting of others, and intellectually very sharp. Perhaps his experiences in Japan during the war, his presence at Hiroshima with the dropping of the atom bomb in August 1945, and his many years as a superior contributed to making such a holy and yet totally human personality. If from all the people I have known in my life in the Church, I had to select only one for sainthood, it would be Pedro Arrupé.
(This was the same superior whom Pope John Paul II at a later date deposed as General of the Jesuits because of his liberal views, substituting an octogenarian famous for his conservative stance. Among those liberal views was the fact that he granted me permission to publish my book The Church and the Homosexual.)
The Benedictine Abbots requested that Rembert as their Primate should have a first-hand acquaintance with life in the monasteries around the world in order to meet the needs of the monks. Over the next six years Rembert traveled all over the world making 598 visits to Benedictine monasteries and convents in practically every country in the world. As a result he became one of the best known and respected leaders in the Catholic church throughout the world.
My travels brought me into contact with many sensitive and remarkable women, and I prized my friendship with them. Their presence was enlivening for me; for the first time I realized how unbalanced my life and circle of friends had become since graduate school, rich with so many different men and women. All of this made me more aware of the lack of the feminine dimension on the Roman scene and especially in the offices of the curia. My travels brought me into contact with women who had a depth of human and spiritual understanding that I had never encountered before (p.199).
Reflecting on his vow of celibacy now that he was aware of his homosexual orientation he wrote these words:
Only now in my mid-forties could I come to terms with my basic orientation, admit it to myself, and then rethink what this meant to me. I never doubted my vocation or the significance of the vows I took; but now I had to see them in a new light, namely, not as the evidence of sin or evil, but as a new way of living the gospel of love that Jesus Christ preached. I wanted to be a person who lived by love not fear (p.199).
During one of his last visits with Pope Paul VI, the Pope told him he was in trouble again with some cardinals of the curia. When Rembert asked why, the Pope responded, “You are very American, you know, You always say exactly what you think, and we are not used to that over here. But you have the complete confidence of the pope so why worry about a little cardinal?" (p.214)
In 1977, Pope Paul VI appointed the fifty year old Rembert Archbishop of Milwaukee. Accepting that position, Rembert spent the next twenty-five years as Archbishop until his resignation in 2002. Following the same process he had followed as Abbot Primate he began a process of visiting every parish and convent in his diocese, meeting every priest and nun personally. As a result he was respected and loved by a majority of the priests and sisters.
If we really believe in the action of the Holy Spirit, received in baptism, working in and through all the members, my vision of the church had to be a vision in which everyone shared and to which everyone contributed (p.250).
For the next twenty-five years there was a constant battle between Archbishop Weakland’s efforts to carry out the reforms of Vatican II and bring about the enculturation of the American Catholic Church; while his opponents in the Vatican curia and a fifth column at home of reactionary Catholics such as Opus Dei and Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) who spied on him, recording every meeting he held, or sermon he gave and sent distorted reports to their allies in the curia. This fifth column was led by a polish monsignor who had many friends in the Vatican. These reports ended up on the papal desk. Every time Archbishop Weakland reported to Rome, he was called in by a series of curia officials who brought in their dossiers of reports demanding that the Archbishop defend himself.
The most notable event occurred with the nomination of Father Sklba as Archbishop Weakland’s auxiliary. The appointment was approved in Rome, but when the Pope was informed that Father Sklba held the theological position that there was no biblical basis to deny ordination to woman, the pope cancelled the ordination. The archbishop flew to Rome with Sklba to plead his cause and, finally, the pope withdrew his objections. Commenting on that process Weakland wrote:
The process was impersonal, demeaning, unjust, and, most of all, lacking in any human sensitivity or concern for the life and reputation of Father Sklba. Moreover, the event confirmed a growing tendency in Rome to give credence to a powerful network of unofficial complaints that were influencing papal decisions (p.247).
Many curial officials had a pervasive negative feeling – almost a disdain – toward the Church in the United States. Americans were considered intellectually inferior, without an appreciation for the arts: we were pragmatic and superficial, traditionless and without any reverence for historical treasures (p211).
Recognizing his intellectual gifts and skills as a leader, the American National Bishops asked Archbishop Weakland to chair the committee that would draw up a document on the economy, seeking ways to implement gospel social values within the capitalism of the American economy. Weakland spent five years of incredible efforts from 1981 to 1986 to accomplish that project. He spends the whole of Chapter 12 of his memoirs outlining the extensive consultations on every level that went into writing the encyclical, as well as the enormous political effort on the part of the wealthy to try to offset what they perceived as the “socialist” bent of the encyclical, (the same critique now being leveled against Obama’s healthcare reform.) The final draft of the letter carried the title Economic Justice for All: Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy. At the same time, he collaborated with Cardinal Bernadin in producing the American bishop’s letter on peace and nuclear warfare. In my mind these two encyclicals were the most important contributions of the American bishops in the history of the Catholic Church in America.
The letter on the economy seemed to be the last straw for Pope John Paul. He totally disagreed, if not with the content, with the process of widespread consultation that went into the writing of the letters on peace and the economy, seeing that process as a democratization of authority and a serious threat to his exercise of centralized autocratic leadership. He secretly appointed an apostolic visitor to question how Archbishop Weakland governed his diocese. One of the issues raised was Weakland’s outreach to homosexual Catholics:
On the issue of homosexuality, they wanted to discuss the group called “Dignity” and the fact that this group was attending a Sunday evening mass in one of the churches. I smiled that I was being criticized because people were attending mass on Sunday. (p. 322) (Shortly after, the Vatican issued an order forbidding any Catholic organization to allow Dignity to meet on its premises.)
Discussing the great exodus of heterosexuals from the priesthood, Archbishop Weakland made the following observation:
When the great exodus came, fewer priests with a homosexual orientation left the priesthood. Thus, the proportion of gays in the priesthood became larger than that found in the general male population, creating in some places signs of a visible gay clerical culture. As experience has shown, large numbers of gays exhibit deeply spiritual sensitivities that have made them effective priests. Moreover – I give here a personal opinion – many gay clergy were key players in keeping the Catholic Church in the United States alive and vital in that difficult period of transition. They carried the burden of overwork while they confronted the challenges stemming from the dramatic changes that the Church was undergoing. For all this –I am sure—they will receive no praise, only the admonition to remain closeted (p.339).
Weakland frequently urged the Vatican to consider the possibility of ordaining married men to no avail.
Another neuralgic point was the Archbishop’s effort to reach out to the women in the Church. He held hearings throughout the diocese to give women a voice. As a pastor he invited those women who had had an abortion to talk to him about their experience. Of course he was falsely reported to Rome as lax on the abortion issue.
The Archbishop writes a lengthy and enlightening discussion of his strenuous efforts to deal with the clergy abuse crisis (pp.347-365, 409-414). He reflects on his own learning process, his successes and failures in dealing with pedophiles and the misrepresentation of his efforts in the media. He also discusses how frequently his efforts to deal with priest pedophiles were hamstrung by the Vatican which refused to allow American bishops the right to dismiss pedophiles from the priesthood.
In his last correspondence with the Vatican, Archbishop Weakland made this extraordinarily accurate prophetic statement about the Catholic Church in America:
I feel that this is an important moment for the church in the United States….I expect that the moment will be lost in arguing over unimportant matters and that the future does not look bright. I fear, most of all, the vitality of the church in the United States – that I now see diminishing -- will disappear (as it did in the Dutch church) and give place to a greater indifferentism and personalism, so that the church will be more and more marginalized in American culture (p. 386).
Toward the close of his memoirs Archbishop Weakland does a critical assessment of the pontificate of John Paul II. He ended a lengthy assessment with these words:
He (John Paul II) did not read the signs of the times, namely, the openings of Vatican II toward more participatory government on all levels of church life…Discerning the action of the Spirit in the whole Church was not on his agenda. This failure was probably the most important lost opportunity in the post-conciliar period (PP. 407-408).
In the epilogue of the book called “Final Reflections,” Archbishop Weakland recalls a sermon he gave in 2007 at a retreat for priests of the Milwaukee diocese five years after his resignation. He had spent those five years primarily in contemplative prayer and reflection, while he wrote his memoirs. One thing stood out most clearly for him from his eighty year pilgrimage:
I believe that God uses humans, with all our foibles and warts, to bring about a kingdom of mutual love and service. I believe that we are a communion of saints, but also, in the here and now, a communion of sinners. When the organizational structure doe not serve or facilitate these relationships but instead becomes an end in itself, it needs to be reformed, not abandoned.
In his homily to the priests, he addressed the question -- what had he learned over 80 years?
I believe the Catholic Church I loved and had served for many years was in denial….I realized that the Church had to do more dying before it could fulfill the mission given it by Christ. I was distressed that Church leaders, myself included, tended to blame everyone but themselves for the crisis in which the Church finds itself – the dearth of vocations to priesthood and the religious life, the rise of secularism in countries once Christian, the shifting of many in countries once Catholic to other Christian groups, the deaf ear given to the Church’s teachings on moral issues by many practicing Catholics, and the inability to deal adequately and in a gospel fashion with problems like sexual abuse.
We are in a lifelong spiritual search to become more Christ-like through dying and rising to a new life. We had to die to our old selves as church and as individuals in that church. Our conversion is a slow, lifelong process.
To what should the Church be dying today? Weakland answers that from his own experience. The first and most serious fault the Church should die to in our day is its arrogance. Arrogance is defined as ‘overbearing pride evidenced by a superior manner toward inferiors’. I tended to be too arrogant, too cocky, too dismissive of other points of view. Along with arrogance goes a claim of perfectionism. The Church is not as the Vatican claimed a perfect society, but a 'society of struggling sinners.' We tend to confuse the ideal with the reality; we like to give the world the appearance of being the perfect model. In this, we deny the sinful reality that lies beneath and in our day has become ever more visible. Priests and bishops are also sinful and need the same kinds of spiritual supports as the laity.
The Church must also die to its pretense at omniscience, which led bishops and priests to think the faithful are so ignorant that we must give them all the answers, that they really want to be led and not take responsibility for their own spiritual life (421-422).
The sum of these failings has led to what Archbishop Weakland calls “the neo-Pelagianism of our American culture," i.e. the belief that we can solve any problem with our own ingenuity and skill (p.422).
All the great spiritual leaders of the past recognized the spiritual need of a fundamental experience of our powerlessness on the human level to experience redemption. This experience of powerlessness is at the center of all twelve step spiritual programs to escape addiction. We must Let go! Let God! A striking example of that redemptive process was revealed in the life of Senator Ted Kennedy.
If we can undertake this spiritual transformation, then the recent disgrace of the Catholic Church can become a moment of redemption and transformation and a sign of hope. “Our dying does not of itself create new life, but the wearing away that comes from our dying to our corroding attitudes and actions permit the image of Jesus Christ to shine through. If this is true of us personally, will it not be true of the Church as well?”
A final reflection on this remarkable autobiography: I am struck by how all the special qualities Archbishop Weakland manifested during his long career were connected, even if unconsciously, to his homosexual orientation. Close to a century ago Karl Jung wrote these words about his homosexual clients:
If we take the concept of homosexuality out of its narrow psychopathological setting and give it a wider context, we can see that it has positive aspects as well….This orientation gives the homosexual a great capacity for friendship, which often creates ties of astonishing tenderness between men, and may even rescue friendship between the sexes from its present limbo of the impossible.
He may have good taste and an aesthetic sense which are fostered by the presence of a feminine streak.
Then, he may be supremely gifted as a teacher because of his almost feminine insight and tact.
He is likely to have a feeling for history, and to be conservative in the best sense and cherish the values of the past.
Often he is endowed with a wealth of religious feelings which help him to bring the ecclesia spiritualis into reality, and a spirituality which makes him responsive to revelation. (The Collected Works, vol.9, pp, 86-87).
In an extraordinary way Archbishop Weakland’s life manifested every special gift that Jung attributes to the male with a homosexual orientation, especially the final gift of “bringing the ecclesia spiritualis into reality”.
Another remarkable gay spiritual leader in the Catholic church, Matthew Kelty of Gethsemane Abbey, beloved guest master and confessor to Thomas Merton, wrote this about the special capacity of gay men for a contemplative life style:
Sometimes I wish I were more like others. I am aware of a difference; some insight into things, some capacity for the poetic and the spiritual which sets me off from the others. Nor do I hesitate to say that this has some relationship to homosexuality… people of my kind are often so placed, as I have worked it out, that they are more closely related to the “anima” than is usual…What such people yearn for is solace in their solitude, and an understanding of their fate, their destiny….The man with a strong anima will always experience some inadequacy until he comes to terms with his inner spirit and establishes communion – no small achievement…..Perhaps a healthy culture will enable those so gifted by God or nature (i.e. homosexuals) to realize their call and respond to it in fruitful ways (Flute Solo: Reflections of a Trappist Hermit, p.45).
I want to express my deepest gratitude to God and to my gay brother in Christ, Archbishop Rembert Weakland for the hope inducing gift of his remarkable memoirs.
Presented to John J. McNeill on Sunday, October 4, 2009
I want to express my gratitude to Jeannine Gramick, SL., Frank DeBernardo
and the Board and Staff of New Ways Ministry for honoring me with the Bridge Builder Award.
Let us pause for a moment of silent prayer and invite the Holy Spirit to be with us here in this room and touch our hearts with God’s love!
Meister Eckhardt once wrote: If the only prayer you ever said in your whole life was one heartfelt “thank you, God,” that would suffice for salvation!
And Ignatius Loyola in the preamble to his spiritual exercises wrote: All the good things in this world belong to us, but the glory belongs to God. The way we make sure that the glory goes to God, Ignatius pointed out, was by a continuous spirit of gratitude.
I am aware that the Holy Spirit has been with me always over the past 84 years. I would like to reflect with you on some dramatic moments in my life and ministry when the action of the Holy Spirit was palpable and express my debt of gratitude. I hope that you will search for parallel moments in your life.
One of those special gifts of the Holy Spirit over the past few weeks was reading the memoirs of Archbishop Weakland: A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church, an extraordinary book by a gay member of the hierarchy which throws incredible hope-filled light on the future of the church. I emailed Archbishop Weakland and asked him if he had a message for this audience. Rembert wrote to me that his message would be simple: “Be not afraid. Cast out into the deep!”
My text for these remarks today is the words ascribed to Jesus in Mark 12 quoting Psalm 118: The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing and it is amazing in our eyes.
The first moment I want to recall goes back 65 years. Having enlisted in the army when I was 17, I went into combat with General Patton’s third army on the border of Germany. My infantry unit managed to cross the border. The German army counterattacked. My unit found itself surrounded by German tanks. I remember taking off my T-shirt to signal my surrender. A German soldier was assigned to march me back to a prisoner collection point. I was certain that the guard intended to shoot me. As we walked down a country lane we came upon a roadside shrine with a crucifix. I signaled the guard that I wanted to say a prayer. As he leaned on his rifle and smoked one of my Camel cigarettes, I knelt to pray. I remember making an act of contrition. And then saying: Lord I am only 18; I am too young to die!
Well, here I am at 84 still in decent health, so that prayer was certainly answered.
The next event occurred while I was a kriegsgefangenen (prisoner of war). The Germans starved the American prisoners. I went down to 90 lbs. and looked like a skeleton. One day we were sent out to a farm to chop wood where the SS were raising mink. A slave laborer from eastern Europe was mixing a mash of vegetables for the animals. I could not take my eyes off the food. While the guard’s back was turned the slave laborer took a potato from the mash and threw it to me. The guard would have killed him if he saw him feed a prisoner. I made a gesture of thanks and the slave laborer’s response was to make the sign of the cross. That action was like a flash of lightning on a dark night. I date my vocation to religious life to that moment. Here was a man who had the courage to risk his life to feed a total stranger. And he found that courage in his faith and trust in Jesus Christ. I wanted to be able to imitate that man. My prayer from that moment to this is: Lord, grant me the grace to know what your will for me is and grant me the courage to be able to do it.
The next memorable moment was my discovery of the philosophical writings of Maurice Blondel while studying theology at Woodstock seminary. Fr. Sponga, the rector, gave a seminar on Blondel. A whole new world of philosophical and theological thinking opened up to me and filled me with joy and hope. I was set on fire by Blondel’s opening words in his book, Philosophy of Action: “I find myself condemned to life, condemned to death, condemned to eternity, Unless I can choose life, choose death, choose eternity , I am not.” God created us free and will always respect that freedom! I will never forget reading this line in Blondel’s philosophy of action: “Our God dwells within us and the only way we can become one with that God, is by becoming one with our authentic self!” (One of my deepest regrets is not having done more to make Blondel’s thought available to an American audience. My nephew Tim McNeill, the publisher of Dalai Lama’s Wisdom Press is in the process of putting my doctorate thesis, from Louvain University published under the title, The Blondelian Synthesis, on the internet.)
One of the next striking manifestations of the Holy Spirit in my life occurred at one of the darkest moments in my life. I was in France doing graduate studies. In my loneliness, I began to compulsively act out sexually. I was so filled with shame, guilt and self-loathing that I began to contemplate suicide. Right at that moment I felt I heard the Spirit assuring me that I should continue to trust God; that somehow he would make use of this moment in my future ministry. I felt peace flood back into my heart. I did not fully understand what happened until years later when I first read Henri Nouwen's great book, Wounded Healers, with its message that the greatest gift a spiritual healer brings to his ministry is his own experience of having been healed in his woundedness.
The next occurrence was during a trip to Toronto from Le Moyne college in Syracuse, NY, during the Vietnam war, on New Years Eve of 1965. I had been an outspoken critic of the war in Vietnam. So much so that the Democratic party asked me to enter the Democratic primary for congress as a peace candidate against the hawk candidate, James Hanley. When I asked permission to do this from my Jesuit provincial he advised against it pointing out that Fr. Drinan was running for congress that same year in Boston. He felt that if there were two Jesuits running for congress that would be interpreted as a Jesuit conspiracy to take over America.
I had gone to Toronto to try to bolster the moral of my students who fled to Canada because their status as conscientious objectors to the war had been denied. While there, I visited a gay bar called the St. Charles bar and met Charles Chiarelli who has been my life partner since then for the past 43 years. I could never have carried out my ministry if I had not had a deep personal experience with Charlie of the goodness and holiness of gay love.
Another debt of gratitude I owe the Holy Spirit is the support I have received from my sister, Sister Sheila. Sis was a Franciscan nun in the convent of St. Mary of the Angels in Williamsville, NY. Sister had a progressive bone disease for many years and lived in the infirmary of her mother house. When she heard that I was involved in a ministry to gay and lesbians, she prayed to the Spirit for a sign to confirm that my ministry was from God. A fellow nun returned from the missions in Africa asked my sister if the John McNeill who wrote The Church and the Homosexual was her brother. When Sis said yes the nun asked her to thank me. Nearly all her personnel at the hospital she directed were gay men. She did not know how to deal with them until she read my book. That book put her at ease in dealing with the gay orderlies. Sis took that as her sign. She told me whenever I gave a retreat or talked to a gay or lesbian audience to let her know exactly when. She would gather twenty to thirty elderly nuns in the infirmary and they would pray in front of the blessed sacrament that God would use me to bring the message of God’s love to my audience. I was always consciously aware of the spiritual power of those prayers. As a symbol of that spiritual alliance, Sis had this beautiful rainbow stole made for me. We continued that ministerial alliance until Sis’s death from bone cancer in 1995. I am sure Sis is still with us with her prayers today.
Several events occurred during the writing of my first book that I ascribed to the Holy Spirit working overtime. After several years of research, I wrote a long article titled, The Christian Male Homosexual and mailed it off to the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, a conservative priests’ journal. The editor wrote back that my article arrived just in time. He had made the decision to resign as editor and enter the Trappist order. So he decided to publish the article over three issues in 1972. The response was so positive that my Jesuit colleagues at Woodstock seminary asked me to major the articles into a book.
While doing research on my book, the librarian at Union Theological gave me a copy of an anonymous research article on scripture and homosexuality which I found out several years later was the first draft of John Boswell’s brilliant book: Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality.
Once the manuscript of the book was completed, I began the process of undergoing censorship within the Jesuit order to receive an imprimi potest. First, on a request from Jesuit headquarters in Rome, I sent it to seven Jesuit moral theologians in the United States. All seven found it a serious theological contribution and approved its publication. General Pedro Arrupé hesitated and requested that I mail the manuscript to Rome where it would be censored by several Roman Jesuit moralists. They also approved publication.
Just as my manuscript arrived on Father Arrupé’s desk, a world famous sculptress named Jacqueline Ziegler arrived from the United States to sculpt the head of Father Arrupé. Jacqueline, several years before, had come to Syracuse, New York, after many years with the peace corps in Africa and joined the faculty of Le Moyne college as the professor of fine arts. We became close friends. Jacqueline made the decision to convert from Judaism to Catholicism and asked me to be her spiritual director. On the feast of St. Ignatius in July 1974, I baptized her in the student chapel at Le Moyne. Jacqueline created a larger than life sculpture of my head which is now with my archives at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley.
Just as Pedro Arrupé began to read my manuscript, Jacqueline began to sculpt his head and tell him about this wonderful Jesuit, who baptized her, named John McNeill at Le Moyne college. I don’t know what effect this had on Father Arrupé’s decision to grant me his imprimi potest. But I am sure it did not hurt. Archbishop Weakland in his memoirs has this to say about Arrupé: If from all the people I have known in my life in the Church, I had to select only one for sainthood, it would be Pedro Arrupé.
The next event was the actual publication of the book, The Church and the Homosexual in 1976. I had prayed to God to act as my public relations agent and God certainly delivered. A major article by the religion editor Kenneth Briggs was on the front page of the New York Times. Special articles appeared in Time magazine and Newsweek. I made three appearances on the Phil Donohue show and several on the Larry King Live show.
The day of its publication I was invited to appear on the Today show. It was Tom Brokaw’s first day as host. He did not feel confident to handle such a hot potato as a theological work on homosexuality, so he invited Russell Barber, the religion editor, to sit in with him for the interview. Russell told me later that he was furious at having to take my book with him for his weekend on Fire Island, but ended up delighted when he read the book and invited me to appear on his Review of Religion show a few days later.
There were innumerable manifestations of the grace of the Holy Spirit over the years. But the one that stands out as most remarkable occurred during a trip to Europe in 1988 after the publication of my second major work, Taking a Chance on God: Liberation Theology for Gays, Lesbians, and Their Families, and Friends. Charlie and I had been invited to do a series of conferences at various universities in Holland. We decided to take a trip to Paris for a few days. On arriving in Paris, I called Jacques Perotti, the assistant to Père André and the founder of David and Jonathan, a gay group for French speaking Catholics. Jacques told me that there was an international meeting of David and Jonathan groups in a monastery outside of Paris and invited me to address the group. I warned him that my French was almost non-existent and I would need a translator. When I arrived I gave a one hour talk in the best French I ever used. I believe that God gave me the gift of tongues that day. As a result David and Jonathon translated my book into French and made it their official manual.
Once again I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit when I faced the choice of giving up all ministries to LGBT people or being dismissed from the Jesuits after 40 years. I went to Gethsemane Abbey to seek God’s help in making that decision. While there, a Trappist monk came to my room and gave me a copy of the Buddist boddisatva vow of universal compassion. As I read that vow it became clear to me what God wanted of me…to continue the ministry and pay the price. I sought the spiritual help of Fr. Matthew Kelty, the guest master at the monastery. I remember him saying to me: “John, God has put you in touch with the suffering of the gay and lesbian community in a special way. Now it is your duty to do whatever you can do to relieve that suffering!”
Shortly after my dismissal from the Society of Jesus, Walter Wink, the biblical theologian and my colleague on the faculty of Union Theological Seminary, wrote me a letter in which he said: “John, when the Vatican imprudently slammed the door on you, it blew open a thousand other doors.” That was a prophetic statement. Bishop Paul Moore, of the New York Episcopal diocese wrote to me inviting me to join his church and carry on my ministry there. When William Sloane Coffin retired as minister at Riverside Church, the Maranatha gay group at Riverside submitted my name as a candidate to replace him as pastor. (I always hoped Cardinal O’Connor got wind of that!) Robert Raines, the Methodist director of Kirkridge Retreat Center organized a letter of protest to Rome signed by several famous protestant pastors and theologians, among them, Paul Moore, Harvey Cox and Sloan Coffin. In the letter, they asked the Vatican to restore me because my ministry to LGBT people was as important to their churches as it was to the Roman church. Scores of gay clergy from all denominations began to flock to my retreats for gay Christians at Kirkridge; among them Gene Robinson, the future openly gay bishop.
I would be remiss today if I failed to pay tribute to Rev. Joseph Doucé. Joseph was a Baptist minister. He was born in Belgium and became a minister in the church in Holland. He opened a specialized ministry in Paris called Christ, the Liberator, to all sexual outcasts, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender and transsexuals. He had a special ministry to pedophiles and the victims of pedophiles.
When Rev. Doucé heard of my work, he came to New York to meet with me. On several occasions I attended and spoke at his Sunday services in Paris. Joseph was responsible for the publication and distribution of my books in French. In 1990, Rev. Doucé invited Charlie and me to come to Strasburg for me to be the keynote speaker at a meeting of all the Christian gay and lesbian groups in Europe. After the conference he and his lover returned together with us to Paris. The next day we flew back to New York. A few days later we received a tearful phone call from his lover. He told us that men disguised as Parisian police came to the center and arrested Joseph. When his lover went to the police station they denied any knowledge of the arrest. We eventually found out that he was kidnapped by secret police who brought him to a secret prison in Paris where they tortured him for several weeks and finally murdered him and dumped his body in a woods outside of Paris. They were acting on a rumor that Rev Doucé had a list of high government officials who were pederasts and they wanted that information at any cost. Later we heard that the murderers of Rev. Doucé were openly bragging about their murder of the pedophile Doucé. To my knowledge they were never brought to justice. Rev. Joseph Doucé is a true martyr in the cause of gay liberation.
To bring this reflection to a close, I believe that we are witnessing an extraordinary transformation of the Church from a patriarchal, authoritative institution into a Church of the Holy Spirit, a democratic Church that recognizes the Holy Spirit dwelling within all its members and sees authority as coming from the ground up.
At his discourse at the last supper, Jesus is reported to have said in the gospel of John: “It is necessary that I should go away before the Spirit can come to you. If I go away I will send the Spirit to you. The Spirit will dwell in your hearts and lead you into all truth.” What was that necessity? Why could the Holy Spirit not come as long as Jesus was alive?
I believe that Jesus was expressing a basic law governing human growth into spiritual maturity. As humans, we must grow from dependence on external authority to dependence on an authority that dwells within us. To achieve that growth we need fallible authorities. If our parents had been infallible we could never develop into mature adults, making our own decisions and taking responsibility for them.
Thank God that Church authorities have proved so fallible. The result has been a maturing of the people of God. This began when the Vatican fumbled the issue of birth control, forcing millions of Catholic to exercise their freedom of conscience, make their own decisions and take responsibility for them. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is what the present Pope is against when he decries moral relativism. Speaking of our last Pope, Archbishop Weakland had this to say:
He (John Paul II) did not read the signs of the time, namely, the opening of Vatican II toward more participatory government on all levels of church life…Discerning the action of the Spirit in the whole Church was not on his agenda. This failure was probably the most important lost opportunity of the post-conciliar period pp.407-408).
One of the greatest beneficiaries of the fallibility of church authorities has been the LGBT Catholic community. We came to realize early on that we could not accept and obey Church teaching on homosexuality without destroying ourselves physically, psychologically and spirituality. Consequently, as a matter of survival we had to take distance from Church teaching, develop our freedom of conscience and learn to hear what the Spirit of God is saying to us through our experience. The result has been that the LGBT community is leading the way to transform the Catholic Church into a Church of the Holy Spirit.
“The stone the builders rejected has become the corner stone! This is the Lord’s doing and it is amazing in our eyes.” THANK YOU!! New Ways Ministry for your many decades of heroic service to the Church and to the Catholic LGBT community. Thank you, God, for all the special maturing graces you are pouring out on the people of God. Thank you especially for the special role you are calling the LGBT community to play in establishing the kingdom of God.
Veni creator spiritus. Mentes tuorum visita; Imple superna gratia quae tu creasti pectora. A special heartfelt thank you, Holy Spirit!
There was and continues to be a profound connection between misogyny and homophobia in our culture. Misogyny is defined as a fear and hatred of woman. It manifests itself psychologically in the repression of everything in the psyche that is traditionally connected with the feminine. Among other things, this includes all emotions, feelings of compassion, all spiritual feelings, all dependency, and all need of community. In the future I would prefer to substitute misogyny with the word "feminaphobia".
Over sixty years ago, G. Rattrey Taylor in his classic book, Sex in History (New York: Vanguard Press 1954, Chap. 4, pp72ff.) attempted to expose some of the culturally conditioned attitudes on sexuality. He found a universal phenomenon in cultures based on a patriarchal principle. These cultures with few exceptions tend to combine a strongly subordinationist view of woman with a repression and horror of male homosexual practices. The institution in today’s culture which continues to hold on to the clearest expression of that form of patriarchy, including its homophobia, is the Roman Catholic Church.
In contrast, those cultures based on a matriarchal principle are inclined to combine an enhancement of the status of women with a relative tolerance for male homosexual practices. Taylor concludes that the tradition of the Christian West has been fundamentally based on patriarchal culture This may help to explain certain striking anomalies from an ethical viewpoint in that tradition.
One of the most remarkable of these anomalies is the almost complete disregard of lesbianism in western Christian tradition. Although the Holiness code, in the Old Testament, for example, explicitly condemns under penalty of death male homosexual practices and female bestiality, no mention is made of female lesbian practices. (This should not be surprising when we recall that King David reputedly had a harem of nearly a thousand women.). Apart from a disputed reference to unnatural female acts by Paul in Romans 1:26, there is no other reference to female lesbian activity in scripture and scarcely any at all in all the other documents of Christian tradition.
There is a marked tendency in all the sources of Christian tradition to condemn sodomy in terms of a man “playing the role of a woman” with another man or using another man “like a woman”. This has led to the cultural tradition of respecting the man who plays the active role of penetration in male homosexual activity and despising the man who plays the passive role of receiver. This tradition is still strong especially in Latino culture. As Taylor remarked, this has been looked upon in tradition not so much as a violation of human nature but rather as a degradation of the male as such.
If there is a certain message in the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, it is the belief of that time in the absolute respect that should be shown to males and the relative lack of concern for the female.
A perfect example of that are Lot’s words to the mob threatening to attack his male guests:
Please, my friends be not so depraved. I have two daughters who never had intercourse with a man, let me bring them out to you that you may do with them what you will, only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof (Gen 19: 7-8).
Every Jewish male in Old Testament times would in his morning prayers “thank God that I was not created a woman!”
To stimulate or encourage or compel another man to simulate the passive coital function represented a perversion intolerable for a society organized according to the theory of the essential subordination of women to men, a society which particularly valued male aggressiveness and dominance. It is my impression that this attitude is still strongly present in certain sectors of Muslim society. Consequently, as Taylor remarks, a man who “acted like a woman" in a sexual act was treated as one who betrayed not only himself but his whole sex, dragging his fellow men down with him in his voluntary disgrace.
Taylor concludes with this statement:
It might perhaps be well for us frankly to face the fact that rationalization of sexual prejudices, animated by false notions of sexual privileges, have played no inconsiderable part in forming the tradition we have inherited and probably controls opinion and policy today in the matter of homosexuality to a greater extent than is commonly realized.
More recently a strong light has been cast on the historical connection of feminaphobia and homosexuality by Richard Tarnas in his brilliant study of the evolution of western culture: Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View (New York: Ballantine Books, 1991).. Tarnas’ basic insight is that the period of the past three thousand years in the development of philosophy, science, religion, and culture has been an exclusively male phenomenon from start to finish. It is my belief that the historical dialectical process that led to the development of the masculine archetype with the repression of the feminine represents the working out of the anima/animus mundi. Its past thesis was the development of the masculine archetype which, for some mysterious reason, had to be accomplished first; its present and future antithesis will be the working out of a feminine archetype, which will not contradict or repress the masculine, but eventually will result in the synthesis of an androgynous fulfillment of all humans, male and female.
I suspect that the historical process given to first of all working out of the masculine archetype creating the separated and independent human individual had to do with the greater power and closeness to life and nature of the feminine. If the feminine archetype had been worked out first, the masculine development, which is much more fragile, could never have occurred or taken place except with extreme difficulty. At this point in the dialectic we can no more simply return to the maternal matrix, than an adult could find fulfillment by returning to the mother’s womb.
The “man” of the Western tradition has been a questing hero, a Promethean biological and metaphysical rebel who has constantly sought freedom and progress for himself, and who has thus constantly striven to differentiate himself from and obtain control over the matrix out of which he emerged. This Promethean hero has been present in both men and women. The evolution of the Western mind has been driven by a heroic impulse to forge an autonomous, conscious, rational self by separating it from the primordial unity with nature. The result of that process has been the transcendent self, the independent individual ego, the self-determining human being in its existential uniqueness, separateness and freedom.
The balancing feminine moment has to do with building a loving spiritual community and achieving a deep passionate relationship of personal love with each other and the divine, a relationship built not on any submersion of our ego and identity into any collectivity or matrix, but built instead on a relationship and a community freely entered into by free, autonomous, independent, and self-determining individuals.
Why, Tarnas asks, has the pervasive masculinity of Western intellectual and spiritual tradition become so apparent to us over the past forty years, when it remained invisible and unconscious in almost every previous generation? It is only through the feminist movement in the last forty years that we have become conscious of how exclusively masculine, for example, our common prayers and liturgies were. Hegel once made the observation: “The owl of Minerva spreads her wings only at the falling of dusk.” Every civilization is unconscious of itself, until it reaches its dying stages; it is only then that it becomes fully conscious of what it is all about. True wisdom and insight can only be reached at the end point. The three thousand year masculine tradition of Western civilization is reaching its apogee; it has been pressed to its one-sided extreme in the consciousness of the late modern mind.
The evolution of the Western mind has been founded on the repression of the feminine, “on the repression of undifferentiated unitary consciousness, of the participation mystique with nature, a progressive denial of the anima mundi, of the soul of the world, of the community of being, of mystery and ambiguity, of imagination, emotion, instinct, body sexuality, nature and women.” (Tarnas: p. 442).
Today men and women face the existential crisis of being solitary and mortal conscious egos thrown into an ultimately meaningless and unknowable universe, an environment that is increasingly artificial, mechanistic, fragmented, soulless, and self-destructive. The evolution of the masculine archetype has reached an impasse. If we continue in this one-sided dialectic the human race faces the real possibility of self-destruction through nuclear warfare or widespread environmental collapse. Human beings are feeling progressively isolated, alienated from their communities, from nature, and from each other.
Tarnas believes that the resolution of this crisis is already occurring in the tremendous emergence of the feminine archetype in our culture. He sees this phenomenon as visible in the rise of feminism, the growing empowerment of women, and the widespread opening up to feminine values by both men and women. He finds further evidence of this in the widespread urge to reconnect with the body, the emotions, the unconscious, the imagination, and intuition.
The deepest passion of the Western mind has been to reunite with the ground of its being. The driving impulse of the West’s consciousness has been its dialectical quest not only to realize itself, to forge its own autonomy, but also, to recover its connection with the whole; to come to terms with the great feminine principle in life; to differentiate itself from but then to rediscover and reunite with the feminine, with the mystery of life, of nature, of soul. And that reunion can now occur on a new and profoundly different level from that of the primordial unconscious unity, for the long evolution of human consciousness prepared it to be capable at last of embracing the ground and matrix of its own being freely and consciously. The telos, the inner direction and goal, of the Western mind has been to reconnect with the cosmic in a mature participation mystique, to surrender itself feely and consciously, in the embrace of a larger unity that preserves human autonomy while also transcending human alienation. (Tarnas: pp 443-444).
Tarnas concludes his great work with the statement that the restless inner development and incessantly masculine ordering of reality characteristic of the Western mind has been gradually leading toward reconciliation with the lost feminine unity, toward a profound and many leveled marriage of the masculine and the feminine, a triumphant and healing reunion. “Our time is struggling to bring forth something new in human history. We seem to be witnessing, suffering the birth labor of a new reality, a new form of human existence, a 'child' that would be the fruit of this great archetypal marriage, and that would bear within itself all its antecedents in a new form.”
This stupendous Western project should be seen as a necessary and noble part of a great dialectic and not just rejected as an imperialist-chauvinistic plot. Not only has this tradition achieved the fundamental differentiation and autonomy of the human which alone could allow the possibility of such a larger synthesis, it has also painstakingly prepared the way for its own self-transcendence. Moreover, this tradition possesses resources, left behind and cut off by its own Promethean advance, that we have scarcely begun to integrate and that, paradoxically, only the opening to the feminine will enable us to integrate. Each perspective, masculine and feminine, is here both affirmed and transcended, recognized as part of a larger whole; for each polarity requires the other for its fulfillment. And their synthesis leads to something beyond itself: It brings an unexpected opening to a larger reality that cannot be grasped before it arrives; because this new reality is itself a creative act (Tarnas: p.445).
The Role of the LBGT Community in the Great Dialectic
Although to my astonishment Tarnas makes no mention of it, parallel to the emergence of woman’s liberation over the past fifty years has been the emergence of a positive gay identity on all levels --- social. political, cultural and spiritual --- all over the world. Jacques Perotti, the founder of the Catholic gay group, David and Jonathon, in French speaking Europe, speaks of this same era as a “declic, a special moment in history, a revelation of the slow emergence of a positive homosexual identity from the heart of the world. After so many ages of rejection, destruction and intimidation, a wind of freedom has begun to blow.” In our day that wind has become a hurricane.
This emergence of a positive gay identity has accelerated in the past few years to a remarkable extent and, I believe it has a teleological purpose in the development of the anima-animus mundi. This presence of a visible gay and lesbian world community, for the first time in the past three thousand years, is an integral part of that dialectic and is another aspect of the recovery of the feminine or, what I prefer to call, the balancing of the masculine and feminine in a new synthesis in the human personality.
Clearly, the dominant dialectic of the masculine archetype in the past with its repression of the feminine has also included the repression of the homosexual. As G. Rattrey Taylor pointed out the patriarchal cultures combine a subordinationist view of women with a strong repression of male homosexual practices. The rise of the feminist liberation movement in recent years gives gay people a reason to hope that GLBT people will be fully accepted in the future human community. At the heart of all homophobia is feminaphobia and the repression of the feminine. Gay men are seen as a threat to patriarchy because they are frequently in touch with and act in accord with the feminine dimension of themselves. It is clear that feminine and gay liberation are so intimately linked that gays should give full support to women’s liberation and vice versa.
No dialectical process can succeed unless it carries within itself the seed of synthesis. That seed of synthesis is to be found in the gay community. The synthesis can only succeed through the emergence of a visible group that can live out fully both its masculine and feminine dimensions without the need to repress either. We need a group that will model the ideal goal of humanity’s present evolution, people who can keep their masculine and feminine dimension in good equilibrium and bring forth a balanced synthesis of the two. This, I believe, is the providential role of the GLBT political and spiritual groups that have come into being over the past fifty years. We who are gay and lesbian need a vision and must be clear about what are the special gifts we bring to this moment in history and the central role we must play in bringing about the fullness of life for all humans. That role is being played out in a special way in the gay setting of a new paradigm for human marriage, replacing the now destructive patriarchal paradigm. In gay marriage both partners relate to each other as equals. Neither party is under pressure to repress a whole dimension of his or her humanity, the feminine for men, the masculine for women. Both parties can relate to each other as full human beings. Seen in this light gay marriage is a gift from God which can rescue all marriages from their present proclivity to failure.
NOTE: A fuller analysis of the masculine - feminine dialectic can be found in my book: Freedom, Glorious Freedom which has been released in a new edition by Lethe Press.
My initial open letter of November 2000 was addressed to the American Bishops at their annual conference. In the past eight-plus years, the contents of the letter have taken on greater relevance and force in the light of new scientific discoveries concerning the nature of homosexual orientation and the psychological and spiritual needs of GLBT people, their families and loved ones, as well as recent statements from the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching authority out of touch with those discoveries.
As a result, I would like to readdress the letter to the following: Pope Benedict XVI; Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF); Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and his fellow American bishops and, finally, to all the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in the world.
Catholic gay and lesbian people demand that, if the Church wants to be seen as their loving mother, mediating to us God’s unconditional love, the Church has no choice except to enter into dialogue with its gay members. In 1974, the delegates of DignityUSA’s first national convention requested in a letter that a dialogue be opened between the American bishops and the members of the Catholic gay and lesbian community. With very few exceptions that letter was ignored.
Now, 35 years later, once again I call for open dialogue. For over 38 years, I have ministered as priest and psychotherapist to lesbians and gays. I helped found Dignity/New York to provide a safe and loving community within the Catholic Church for gay people. For over 33 years, I have given retreats for lesbians and gays at Kirkridge, an ecumenical retreat center.
I have written four books on gay spirituality: The Church and the Homosexual; Taking a Chance on God; Freedom, Glorious Freedom and Sex As God Intended: A Reflection on Human Sexuality As Play. I also published an autobiography on my own spiritual journey as a gay priest, Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair, My Spiritual Journey. As a result of my experience, I have come to the conclusion that what is at stake at this point in time is not only the spiritual and psychological health of many gay and lesbian Catholics and other lesbian and gay Christians, as well as their families and loved ones, what is especially at stake is your moral authority to teach on the issue of homosexuality.
In the past, when the American Bishops undertook a listening process to hear what the Holy Spirit was saying through the People of God, they won our respect. We respected them when they made their statements on the economy, on nuclear warfare and, especially, their aborted effort to draw up a letter on the role of women in the Church. They listened carefully to what women had to say, and drew up their statements responding to what they heard from women. These actions gave us gays and lesbians reason to hope that the Holy Spirit would lead you into a spirit of willingness to listen to us gay and lesbian Catholics. But instead you chastised the American Bishops telling them that their role was "not to listen, but to teach."
Unless we gay and lesbian Catholics receive the message that you take us seriously and are willing to listen carefully to what the Holy Spirit is saying to you through our lives and our experience, your judgments on homosexuality will be ignored, for the most part, and you will lose what authority you have left to deserve to be listened to with respect on this issue.
I have never heard the same level of courage from the hierarchy as that shown by the Major Superiors of Religious Men in response to the egregious document issued by The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, entitled, “Some Considerations Concerning Homosexual Persons” as follows:
“We view (this document) as a hindrance to the Church leaders of the United States in this most difficult and sensitive area of human living. We are shocked that the statement calls for discrimination against gay men and lesbian women. We find the reasoning for supporting such discrimination to be strained, unconvincing and counterproductive to our statements and actions to support the pastoral needs and personal dignity of such persons. Far from a help to the bishops and other religious leaders in the United States Catholic Church, the statement complicates our already complex ministry to all people. Moreover we find the arguments used to justify discrimination based on stereotypes and falsehoods that are out of touch with modern psychological and sociological understandings of human sexuality. We regret such actions by the CDF and we reaffirm our support for the human rights of all our brothers and sisters.”
As a gay Catholic theologian and psychotherapist, I am fully aware of the enormous destruction recent Vatican documents have caused in the psychic life of young Catholic gays, and of the violence they will provoke against all gay people. This was compounded further by the initial Vatican reaction and announced opposition to the United Nations proposal sponsored by France and backed by 27 European Union nations which seeks to end the practice of criminalizing and punishing people for their sexual orientation.
I find myself in a dilemma—what kind of faith and trust can I place in a teaching authority that I see clearly acts in an unloving, hateful and destructive way toward my gay family and is more interested in defending its institutional interest than it is in truth and justice?
In the name of the thousands of gay and lesbian Catholics and other Christians to whom it has been my God-given privilege to minister, I make this statement:
At this point, the ignorance and distortion of homosexuality, and the use of stereotypes and falsehoods in official Church documents, forces us who are gay Catholics to issue the institutional Church a serious warning. Your ignorance of homosexuality can no longer be excused as inculpable; it has become a deliberate and malicious ignorance. In the name of Catholic gays and lesbians everywhere, we cry out “Enough!” Enough! Enough of your distortions of Scripture. You continue to claim that a loving homosexual act in a committed relationship is condemned in Scripture, when competent scholars are nearly unanimous in acknowledging that nowhere in Scripture is the problem of sexual acts between two gay men or lesbian women who love each other, ever dealt with, never mind condemned. You must listen to biblical scholars to find out what Scripture truly has to say about homosexual relationships.
Enough! Enough of your efforts to reduce all homosexual acts to expressions of lust, and your refusal to see them as possible expressions of a deep and genuine human love. You must also listen to competent professional psychiatrists and psychotherapists from whom you can learn about the healthy and positive nature of mature gay and lesbian relationships. They will assure you that homosexual orientation is both not chosen and unchangeable and that any ministry promising to change that orientation is a fraud.
Enough! Enough of your efforts through groups like Courage and other ex-gay ministries to lead young gays to internalize self-hatred with the result that they are able to relate to God only as a God of fear, shame and guilt and lose all hope in a God of mercy and love. What is bad psychology has to be bad theology!
Enough! Enough again, of your efforts to foster hatred, violence, discrimination and rejection of us in the human community, as well as disenfranchising our human and civil rights. We gay and lesbian Catholics pray daily that the Holy Spirit will lead you into a spirit of repentance. You must publicly accept your share of the blame for gay murders and bashing and so many suicides of young gays and ask forgiveness from God and from the gay community.
Enough! Enough, also, of driving us from the home of our mother, the Church, and attempting to deny us the fullness of human intimacy and sexual love. You frequently base that denial by an appeal to the dead letter of the “natural law.” Another group to whom you must listen are the moral theologians who, as a majority, argue that natural law is no longer an adequate basis for dealing with sexual questions. These questions must be dealt with within the context of interpersonal human relationships. Above all else, you must enter into dialogue with the gay and lesbian members of the Catholic community. We are the ones living out the human experience of a gay orientation, so we alone can discern directly in our experience what God’s spirit is saying to us. Today, in life-enriching, supportive environments and networks, you have gay and lesbian Catholic communities of worship and prayer who are seeking individually and collectively to hear what the Spirit is saying to them in their gay experience—what experiences lead to the peace and joy of oneness with the Spirit of God and what experiences lead away from that peace and joy! God gave you the commission of discerning the truth, but there is no mandate from Jesus Christ to “create” the truth. We pray daily that the Holy Spirit will lead you to search humbly for the truth concerning homosexuality through dialogue with your lesbian sisters and gay brothers.
The only consolation I can offer gay and lesbian Catholics in the meantime is the profound hope that the very absurdity and hateful spirit of recent Vatican documents will lead gay Catholics to refuse them and recognize the contradiction of their message, and that of Jesus, who never once spoke a negative word concerning homosexuals. I work, hope and pray that lesbian and gay Catholics and other gay Christians will exercise their legitimate freedom of conscience, discerning what God is saying to them directly through their gay experience. I hope, too, that they will be able to de-fang the poisons of pathologically homophobic religion, accepting the good news that God loves them and accepts them as gays and lesbians and refusing to be caught in the vortex of self-hatred vis-à-vis a God of fear. I believe that we are at the moment of a special “kairos” [ancient Greek for ‘right and opportune moment’] in this matter. The Holy Spirit is “doing something new.” I believe there is a vast reservoir of human and divine love that has remained until now untapped because of prejudice and homophobia. The Spirit is calling on you to help release that vast potential of human and divine love through your actions.
We are encouraged by that part of the Vatican U.N. delegation’s statement of December 19, 2008, which states, “The Holy See continues to advocate that every sign of unjust discrimination towards homosexual persons should be avoided and urges States to do away with criminal penalties against them.” We pray and hope that the same Holy Spirit who has graciously liberated us who are gay to self-respect and self-love will liberate in you, our Catholic leaders, a profound love for your gay brothers and lesbian sisters and melt away all prejudice and judgmentalism in your hearts. May you make us welcome as full members in your family in Christ.
May God bless your efforts!
Plenary Address presented by John J. McNeill at American Association of Pastoral Counselors,
35th Annual Convention, Friday, April 24, 1997, "Spiritual Life and Professional Practice"
First of all I want to say how greatly honored I was to be asked to address all of you here. I always have had a profound admiration and respect for this organization, especially for its effort to cultivate professionally the human skills of its members so that they can be effective instruments of God's healing and compassion. I especially want to thank Margaret Kornfeld and Han van den Blink for the role they played in inviting me here. I hope and pray that I can live up to their expectations.
I chose to center this talk on the interface between psychic growth and spiritual growth. I will base this talk primarily in my own 72 year old struggle to grow more healthy and mature in psyche and spirit. Over the last two years I have been writing my autobiography. I expect a September release from Westminster/John Knox Press and I like the title: Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair: The Spiritual Journey of John McNeill. What I will share with you here will be developed more fully in that memoir.
One key presupposition of this talk is that "grace builds on nature", or in the words of St. Iraneus: Gloria Dei, Homo Vivens, The glory of God are humans fully alive. I'll never forget my great joy many years ago as a novice in the Jesuits when I discovered a book in the novitiate library entitled: "Neurotic Sanctity", I remember thinking: "Maybe I have a chance after all!". While it is true that God's grace can overcome any psychic woundedness to produce a saint, still God's ordinary way of working is by building on a healthy psychic substructure. What is good psychologically, then, will be good spiritually and vice versa. Clearly, a belief system that destroys human psychic health cannot serve the glory of God.
My second presupposition has to do with terminology. I would like to make my own, once again, a famous saying of the French essayist Montaigne: "Words are slippery planks set on a marsh; we must step on them lightly, pass over them swiftly; lest they sink beneath us." I am acutely aware of the danger of a superficial reductionism in an undertaking such as this. I will be passing back and forth between two distinct disciplines of psychotherapy and spirituality, but I do not intend to try to integrate; or reduce one to the other of these two radically different perspectives on the human person. At best we can hope to indicate certain continuities and discontinuities. In both disciplines words are used to point at inner experiences that can not be objectified without distortion.
Both of these disciplines can use the same word with completely opposite connotations, For example, the use of the word "ego" in my topic for today's talk: "The Role of Psychotherapy in Spiritual Journeys: Finding an Ego in Order to Let Go of It." (When I finished writing this talk I realized that my title is misguiding. I will be dealing equally with the subject of how spirituality affects psychotherapy. Therefore, the title should read "The Reciprocal Influence of Psychotherapy and Spirituality."
Freud provided us with two formulations that indicate the direction and aim of psychotherapeutic growth — to make the unconscious conscious, or, more fully "Wo es war soll ich werden." This can be translated literally as "Where it was, let the I become," where "it" signifies the impersonal and the unconscious and "I" signifies the personal and the conscious. As Loewald points out, these formulations imply a conception of human nature, promoting the individual's consciousness, fostering ego development; taking responsibility for one's self and one's unconscious. The soll or "shall" indicates the setting of a goal for growth. The idea of responsibility in its most basic sense refers to the ability of the I or self to transpose the chaos of raw experience, id drives, energies locked into the irrational compulsions of the superego onto a meaningful personal plane.
To shift into a theological perspective and terminology, we can, out of our own freedom be co-creators of our very self in cooperation with the divine spirit dwelling within us. "Veni creator spiritus; mentes tuorum visita. Imple superna gratia quae tu creasti pectora." Come, Holy Spirit, enter into our psyche and fill with divine grace the heart which you have created.
The original translators of Freud's work into English chose to translate "es" and "ich" in the more esoteric Latin words id and ego. Ego became the name of the authentic, free, conscious, personal self and strengthening the ego by giving it control over the energies of the "id" and "superego" became the goal of therapy. (Again a second correction of my title seems in order. We never "let go of" the ego in the Freudian sense. That ego must mature and be transformed in such a way that it can help us in the spiritual journey).
The word ego had close to the opposite meaning in most spiritual traditions. In Western Christian tradition this word was used to indicate the immature, prideful self that will not, acknowledge any dependence on others or on the divine. In Eastern tradition the ego frequently refers to the illusion of a separate self that stands in the way of enlightenment. Spiritual growth consists, then, of breaking through that illusion and experiencing our oneness with the universe. In both Western and Eastern spiritual traditions, having a strong and healthy ego in the Freudian sense of the term is, I believe, essential to having a healthy and mature spiritual life. We must possess our ego before we can freely let go of it (or, preferably allow it to mature and be transformed). Otherwise our relationship to the divine or the universe will not be based on a free participation but on a symbiotic absorption.
A final caution which I wish to raise here at the onset has to do with my understanding of spiritual life. Because of my background, I will be dealing with spiritual life generically from within the Western Christian tradition which envisions spiritual life as the life that comes from the indwelling of the Spirit of God, the Spirit of love, within our psyche (which, I believe using other terminology is a universal experience common to all the great spiritual traditions). Specifically, I will use the tradition of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, in his Rules for the Discernment of Spirits. These rules are based on the belief that God speaks to us from within our psyche and we can tune in to God's voice speaking to us primarily from within our feelings. Whenever we place an action in conformity with the divine spirit of love, we can experience the presence of the divine spirit empowering us from within. That experience will take the form of feelings of deep peace and joy. I shall do my best to deal with insights that are present in a parallel way in all great spiritual traditions.
The original title I gave this talk was "Tapping Deeper Roots." I would like to draw attention to the symbolism of that title. The implication is that there are even greater and more profound resources in the depths of the human psyche than those that can be tapped by a purely secular depth psychology. Those healing depths can be reached only by means of a spiritual discipline. The most effective spiritual discipline that I have discovered personally from within my own spiritual tradition is the practice of centering prayer. (The best book I knows describing this form of prayer is Thomas Keating's "Intimacy with God." (New York: Crossroad, 1996)).
One of the most universal symbols of the spiritual life is the image of a deep well of spiritual energy. In the title of his book on the spirituality of the religious liberation communities of Central and South America, Gustavo Gutierrez used a famous saying of Saint Bernard of Clairveaux concerning the spiritual life: "We must drink from our own wells! Spirituality," Gutierrez says, "is like living water that springs up from the very depths of your own personal experience of faith. To drink from your own well is to reflect on your own unique encounter with the divine at the depth of your psyche."
Possessing an Ego
I first entered into psychotherapy when I began the training program at the Blanton Peale Graduate Institute in New York City in 1976. I was already 51 years old and I had no idea how deeply wounded I was both in my psyche and in my spiritual life, and how much healing therapy could provide. I began training and therapy because I had just founded Dignity, New York, an organization for Catholic lesbians and gays, and I quickly realized that I could not help them without first attempting to heal my own woundedness.
The Institute wisely recognized that the primary path to a deep, personal knowledge of how therapy cures was to personally participate is as thorough a therapeutic experience as possible. For the first time I underwent a treatment of my own. I had the good luck of choosing as my therapist, Arnold Rachman, a brilliant, insightful, compassionate and highly skilled therapist. For the next four years we worked together twice a week on individual therapy and once a week in group therapy sessions. I had no idea how badly wounded I had been in my growing up --- by the death of my mother, by my father’s emotional distance, by the trauma of growing up a self-hating gay man, by my prisoner of war experiences, and by my exposure to pathological religion. With Arnold's skilled help. I was able to raise most of these issues to conscisness and begin the process and with God’s help, of freeing myself from their pathological grip on my life. Through my own therapeutic process I learned firsthand the skills I would need to help my clients, for the most part other gay and lesbian clients.
The first and deepest wound in my psyche resulted from the death of my mother and the emotional withdrawal of my father when I was four years old. I emerged from that experience with my basic trust in the universe and God deeply
wounded. How could I trust a God who would, as I saw it, take away my mother because I was a bad boy. I began at that point to relate to God primarily as an object of fear. "Perfect love," John tells us in his first epistle, "casts out all fear." But I had the experience of near-to-perfect fear casting out all love. I remember as a youth reciting the act of contrition"Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell" The words went on "but most of all because you are all good and deserving of all my love," but I could only identify with the fear of the opening line. Beaver in his book, Psychotherapy and Growth: A Family Systems Perspective, claims there is a direct connection between the kind of parenting and the degree to which one’s religious beliefs are healthy or pathological. Those who had good loving parents will be open to a liberating message of love from their religion, Loving parents can "defang the poisons of religion" and allow the child to receive only its benefits. In contrast, children who did not adequately experience the love of parents will tend to create for themselves an unloving God, whom they obey out of fear. This contradicts Jesus' basic message. As Paul put it, "You were not called to a spirit of slavery to let fear into your life again, you were called to a spirit of adoption. You have the right to call your God 'Abba'," (the infant's word of total trust for a loving mother and father).
Part of my therapeutic process was to bring into full conscious awareness all hidden belief systems with their accompanying feelings of fear, shame guilt and low self-esteem, so that they can be challenged by the healthy religious values of the conscious ego. My favorite prayer at this stage was a collect from the second Sunday in Advent: "Lord, remove the blindness that cannot know you; relieve the fear that hides me from your face,"
The second major wound in my psyche had to do with my homosexuality. Growing up in a homophobic family, church and culture I internalized that homophobia; this resulted in a very low self image, As Winnicott said: "Every child knows in its bones that in its wickedness lies hope, but in its conformity and false socialization lies despair," Because of my gayness I grew up thinking that there was something radically wrong with me and my only hope was to repress that self and conform to the expectations of my family, church and culture.
The first result of that self-hatred was, again, a wound in my ability to trust God and the universe, How could I trust a God who created me in such a way that my desire to reach out in love was fundamentally evil? As a gay man my faith was above all else involved with the virtue of trust. Hans Kung, in his book, Does God Exist? makes the point that the essential psychological foundation and presupposition for faith is trust. Eric Erikson claims that the first task of the human infant is to learn basic trust. This trust is the cornerstone of a psychologically healthy personality; without it a decent human life is impossible. No deep intimacy, no true friendship, no vital faith is possible until we risk trusting.
My primary challenge, then, was to allow myself to experience the ecstasy and blessing that all life is; to experience the goodness of all creation and its essential, ultimate trustworthiness. It is trust that allows us to play all our lives like children in the presence of a loving parent. It allows us to know the joy and ecstasy of creation, nature, friendship, art, poetry, musk, dance, noncompulsiye work, noncompetitive sport, sexuality in the service of love.
Still another wound arose from my internalized homophobia. At an even deeper level all homophobia is, I believe, feminaphobia, a distrust and repression of the feminine dimension of the psyche.. Because of that feminaphobia I distrusted and repressed my feelings and tried to live in my head.( I earned seven academic degrees in that effort!) This seriously wounded my ability to be open to the spiritual life. God speaks to us primarily through our heart, that is to say, through our feelings. As medieval theologians like to put it: "You can grasp God with your mind, never; you can grasp God with your heart, ever!" If we are cut off from our feelings we cannot hear what God is saying to us directly through our experiences and are left dependent on external voices to try to discern what God wants of us. As Maurice Blondel said, "Our God dwells within us and the only way we can become one with our God is to become one with our authentic self." My authentic self was a gay self, so the only spiritual journey I could take was the journey into self-acceptance and take the chance that God could love the authentic me.
John Fortnnato in his classic work on lesbian and gay spirituality, Embracing the .Exile: Healing Journeys of Gay Christians makes the point that there is a special need for a spiritual dimension in the therapy of lesbians and gays. The more they become healthy and accept and love themselves, the more they will want to come out of the closet. But as soon as they come out of the closet they can expect rejection and a deeper experience of exile in a heterosexual world. Fortunate states that the psychological and spiritual growth of a gay or lesbian person depends on being able to let go of wanting to be part of the myth of finding our ultimate meaning in the structures of this world. We must go through a process of mourning and give up the myth of belonging and replace that longing with a deeper personal process of spiritual growth.
What gay people ultimately have to give up is attachment to rejection and the need for people (incapable or unwilling to do so) to affirm their wholeness and lovableness. It works like this: if you can't get confirmation of your wholeness and your rightful place in the universe from people and the myth, you have to look beyond them. You have no choice but to get it from someplace else, someplace deeper, someplace more cosmic.
If you give up denying, fighting, and wallowing in the oppression, you stop being stuck in the mud. Off you go, down the road. You begin to see that freedom and a sense of belonging aren't to be found in the myth at all. They never were. You begin to understand what Jesus meant when he said: "Mine is not a kingdom of this world" (John 18:36).
The spiritual process of accepting our exile status in this world and giving up the myth that we can find our meaning exclusively in this world can result in great spiritual freedom. This freedom can help us to live fearlessly and authentically in this world. By deepening our spiritual life, we can turn what many see as the curse of gayness, the curse of being a social outcast into spiritual gold. Matthew Kelty, a Trappist monk, speaks of this aspect of gayness in his book, Flute Song Solo: Reflections of a Trappist Hermit.
Sometimes I wish I were more like others. I am aware of a difference; some insight into things; some capacity for the poetic and the spiritual which, if not exceptional - and it is not - is still strong enough to set me off from others. Nor do I hesitate to say that this has some relationship to homosexuality. People of my kind seem often so placed, the reason, as I have worked it out, that they are more closely related to the "anima" than is usual... The man with a strong anima will always experience some inadequacy until he comes to term with his inner spirit and establishes communion - no small achievement. Until then he cannot act truly as a complete person, since he is not one. The unhappy experience of many is that they are unable to relate in depth to others, not aware that their problem is a lack of communion with themselves.
Still another level of woundedness that I had to deal with in therapy came from my experience as a combat infantryman in World War II and my six months as a prisoner of war in Germany, These experiences increased my low self image. I felt totally inadequate to the demands put on me as a combat soldier and was badly demoralized by the terror and starvation I lived with in prison camp. But even in the midst of that pain and terror there were moments of awareness of God's presence and love. One example of courage based on faith impressed me so deeply that it influenced the rest of my life. A group of us American prisoners, who were close to starvation were sent out on a work detail to a farm where SS officers where raising mink. Our job was to chop firewood. An Eastern European slave laborer was working close to me, mixing a mash for the animals. The mash included real potatoes and carrots. I could not take my eyes off the food. He must have detected my starving condition, for, when the guard's back was turned, he reached into the mash and threw me a potato. If the guard had caught him, the laborer would almost certainly have been killed. I quickly hid the potato in my jacket and tried to signal a thanks to him, His only response was to make the sign of the cross. That sign of the cross was like a flash of lightning on a dark night, Here was a man who was willing to risk his life to feed me, a stranger, and he found that courage and his freedom from fear in his religious faith. T date my vocation to the priesthood from that moment. My. constant prayer from then on was that God would grant me the courage never to he ruled by fear. I wanted to be free enough to reach out, no matter what the cost, to help someone who needed me. I know that my vocation and ministry would demand of me the fearlessness and courage to reach out and share the suffering of others.
I became intensely aware that evil's primary instrument in this world is fear. If I could attain with God's grace a profound awareness of God's personal love for me, I could be freed from the personal grip that fear had on my life. I made my own the opening prayer of the liturgy of the fifth Sunday in lent: "Help us, Lord, to embrace the world you have given us, and to fearlessly transform the darkness of its pain into the life and joy of Easter."
Letting Go of (Transforming) the Ego
The most perfect expression of a philosophy of spiritual life that I know of is that of The Philosophy of Action of Maurice Blondel. Blonde! defined philosophy as "life itself insofar as it attempts to achieve a clear reflexive consciousness of itself. He took his central insight from a verse in Scripture: "...but whoever does the truth comes out into the light." (John 3:21). Blondel saw human life as a continual dialectic between thought and action. There is a kind of subjective experiential knowing that arises from human choice and action and that cannot be achieved in any other way.
In our search for self-fulfillment, according to Blondel, we come across a category of human choices and actions that are simultaneously "necessary and impossible," necessary if we are to achieve human fulfillment, but impossible by
human means alone. This is a difficult category of action to hold onto. We are tempted to insist that if these choices are necessary for human fulfillment, then they must be capable of being achieved by human means alone. On the other hand, if they are impossible to achieve by human means alone, then they cannot be necessary. Despite this internal contradiction, this category of action spontaneously arises within human consciousness in our striving for fulfillment. The only way to move forward when we encounter this category is to open ourselves to a paradoxically immanent/transcendent source of energy and power.
"We can reach the spiritual depths of our psyche" Blonde! tells us, "by being willing to go deep within ourselves until we reach the point where that which is from ourselves ceases and yet there is a possibility of more". The key member of this category of the necessary and impossible is the action of loving. Genuine human love is essential to human fulfillment but impossible by human means alone. This is why scripture can say,”My dear friends, let us love one another, since love is from God and everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever fails to love does not know God because God is love." (1 John :7-8)
Within the immanent context of the dialectic of human action, the source of the necessary idea of God as transcendent power is understood as our projecting out of all the unused and unusable potentiality of the human spirit. "Humans can never succeed by their own powers alone to place in their willed action all that which is at the origin of their voluntary activity." Thus, God represents that which is necessary for the human, if we are to achieve a state of self-adequation. By self-adequation Blondel understood that we have achieved a harmony between what, we have willed and the deepest longings in our psyche. "What we can know of God is the surplus of interior life which demands its employment; we cannot, then, know God without willing in some way to become God!" As Blondel stated:
"To equal him or her self and to be saved, a human must go beyond him or her self. To consent to an invasion of all that stands for a life that is prior and a will that is superior to ours, is our way of contributing to our own creation. To will all that we will in complete
sincerity of heart is to place in us the being and action of God. No doubt it does cost something, since we do not perceive how profoundly this will is our own. But one must give all for the all. Life has a divine value, despite the weakness of pride and sensuality, humanity is generous enough to want to belong more completely to the one who exacts more of it."
Many traditional analysts would identify any action that is impossible by human means alone as an illusion and see their therapeutic task as disabusing their clients of their illusions. I frequently detect a strong element of Stoicism in secular analytic writing. I am reminded of the Stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius' letters to his subjects: "Citizens, do not fall in love. For everyone who loves desires immortality, but it is not given to the human to be immortal. Remember human, that in a little while you will be nobody, nowhere. Take great consolation in that thought!"
In contrast to that the Christian message is always fall in love, for love participates in the divine and is immortal of its very nature. Sebatian Moore has written a beautiful book entitled, Jesus: Liberator of Desire. "What we learn from Christ", Moore writes, "is the difference between liberation from desire (the latter equated with the insatiable self-promoting ego) and the liberation of desire from the chains of my customary way of being myself. Two contrary views of asceticism present themselves here. The conventional view is that it means denying ourselves things we want. A more discerning and disconcerting view is that it means dropping things we no longer want, admitting to ourselves that we no longer want them, and thus giving our journey, our story, a chance to move on." To say that we are created in the image and likeness of God means that there is a necessary craving in the human heart for intimacy with God by achieving a share in divine life. As we pray in the liturgy: "Grant us, O Lord a share in your divinity, just as you choose to share in our humanity."
My Spiritual Life Today
I would like to bring this paper to a close by saying a few words about my spiritual life today. I am now 72 years old. I have discovered that every decade of my life has been happier and more peaceful than the last. Each decade has brought with it a greater intimacy with a God of mercy and love and a greater trust in God's love for me. As my body grows older, my spirit becomes younger. I know this is a gift from God for which I am grateful.
As the years have gone by my prayer life has undergone a radical change from a prayer of the head — words, concepts, thought processes -- to a prayer of the heart, God has given me the grace to be continuously aware of a longing in my heart for greater intimacy with God. My awareness of God is based on what I am deprived of, what I need and don't have, what I am yearning for, what I have a hunger and thirst for and have not yet achieved.
Privation is a paradoxical concept. Philosophers define privation as "the absence of that which ought to be." Privation then is the experience of absence in presence or presence in absence. To experience God as privation, then, necessarily means that somehow I have already had an experience of God's presence. I like to compare it to a missing piece in a jigsaw puzzle. If I see it, I will know it, because there is only one piece that will fit into the empty space in my heart. "You made us for yourself, Oh Lord, and our hearts will never rest until they rest in you!"
My personal knowledge of God has little to do with intellectual definition. The great mystics recommended in prayer that we should empty our minds of thoughts and concepts and enter the cloud of unknowing. My knowledge of God comes from the hunger and thirst in myself. In the words of Psalm 63:
O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
My prayer life consists, then, in being in touch with that hunger and thirst, not letting anything fill it in or block it off, Rather, I strive to be in touch with that hunger and thirst, to consecrate it by converting it intentionally into prayer and identifying with it. I spend a lot of time just being in touch with that longing, being open to it, and waiting. I continually ask God to come and meet the deep deprivation within me. I am like a desert waiting for the rain to come and soak in. As a result my prayer is continuous. Still I do set aside some time each day to enter into myself, empty out all thoughts and rest in the presence of God and experience the longing for that God.
At a recent Easter vigil I heard this passage from the Psalms: "As a deer longs for the flowing waters, so my soul longs for you, O God." (Psalms 42:1) Suddenly, I was in touch with a profound longing for union with God, a longing that was at the same time painful and pleasurable, and I began to cry. I am grateful to God for that moment and see it as a great grace. Since that time I have an even deeper awareness that what I want is intimacy with God and I will not settle for anything less. I am aware that being in touch with that longing is already a kind of awareness of God through privation. This awareness is God's gift and promise. All other touches of intimacy in my life, intimacies of family, friendships, my intimacy with my lover of the past thirty-two years, Charlie, are foretastes of that ultimate intimacy. But the only intimacy that can ultimately meet my needs and fill my heart is the intimacy with God. (I am certainly not advocating here any form of dualism. Everything that is authentically human plays a role in my journey to God. As Ignatius put it in his Spiritual Exercises: "All the good things of the created world belong to us, but the glory belongs to God!" Or as Meister Eckhart expressed it: "If the only prayer you ever offered in your life was one heartfelt "Thank you, God!" that would suffice for salvation."
I particularly love these words of St. Augustine's prayer:
Late have I loved you, O Beauty, ever ancient, ever new; late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unlovliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.
You were with me, but I was not with you. Created
things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.
You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and now I long for your peace.
Notice that in this prayer God is seen as the one who takes the initiative. The great spiritual leaders of the past have always taught that God in fact nurtures our growth in capacity and potential for a passionate intimate relationship with God. My own experience of spiritual development finds its closest description in the understanding of spiritual growth in the writings of Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory describes beautifully the step-by-step nature of spiritual growth. He says that God always waits on our freedom. Our first serious "Yes!" to God enables divine love to begin to act within us. Our inner space, as a result of that "Yes!" is then ready to receive something of God. God fills that space as fully as we are able to accept. At the same time, this filling enlarges the space, and we long for more. Thus, the lover of God is always filled to her or his capacity and always longs for more of God. Yet this longing does not bring frustration because there is a fullness.
According to Gregory, this process goes on beyond death into eternity because God is infinite and we are always a finite capacity open to further growth in our identity with an infinite God. For all eternity, we continue to grow deeper and deeper in union with a God who is infinite and, therefore, can never be exhausted.
The most difficult spiritual struggle for me is the endeavor to center myself in God and the love of God versus the ravenous hunger in my ego to make itself the center of the universe. I am aware of a very real danger, that if God were to give me even a taste of the joy of God's presence and love, my ego could go completely out of control. I am likely to start searching to experience God's love as an ego fix, trying to use God as an object of my own ego satisfaction and my own feelings of superiority and specialness. Of course God will not let God's self be used in that way. In God's goodness, God allows my spirit to be plunged into the dark night of the soul, until I am ready to experience God's love in such a way that it only contributes to the greater glory of God.
I understand well the Sufi prayer: "Give me the pain of your love, O Lord, and not the joy. Give the joy to others, but give me the pain". The pain of God's love is the longing for that love from a sense of deprivation. That pain purifies me and makes me ready to experience the positive joy of God's presence. So in moments of dark night, I make an act of trust that through this emptiness and privation God is purifying me and making me ready to share in God's joy.
How do I go about lessening the grip of the ego on my life in this second and spiritual sense? The first thing I had to learn is that this process is completely out of my control and power. Trying to loosen the power of my ego is the equivalent of trying to lift myself by my own bootstraps. Only God can lessen the grip of my ego on my life by touching my heart with God's loving presence. One tiny touch of God's presence and I am outside myself in ecstasy and my ego is swallowed up in the glory and goodness of God. The only power I have in all this is out of my freedom to invite God in. I can ask God to come and purify me and make me worthy of the experience of God's love. I have reached the point now where I can invite God in and mean it: Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus Come! As a young man dealing with a God of fear, I use to pray: Wait! Lord Jesus, Wait! One of my favorite prayers at this time are the words we say in the Catholic liturgy after the Lord's Prayer: "Deliver us. Lord, from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ. Come, Lord Jesus, Come! Come Spirit of love and fill my heart!
I find myself, in retirement, daily becoming more fully identified with these words from John of the Cross' Spiritual Canticle:
Forever at God's door I give my heart, and soul, my fortune too. I've no flock anymore, no other work in view, my occupation "Love", it's all I do.
I intend to continue my spiritual struggle to center my life in God. Whatever time and energy I have left I will use to the best of my ability to bring the message of God's love to everybody and especially to gays, lesbians, transsexuals and transgendered people. I hope someday to be united with a vast crowd of colleagues, friends, family and my gay brothers and sisters in heaven, where eternally we will not only celebrate God's goodness but actually share in it. Thanks be to God!