Kelvin’s Warning – ‘Beware of the Celibate!’

Beware of the Celibate

Posted: 29 Oct 2014 04:44 AM PDT

beware of the celibateThere’s rather a lot of silly talk going on online about celibacy at the moment. This is largely connected to a couple of recent publications, not the least of which is Richard Coles’s new autobiography. Rather a lot of the publicity surrounding the book has made much of the idea of someone moving from a rockstar lifestyle to that of a celibate vicar.

This is connected to the idea that gay priests are OK “so long as they are celibate”, an expectation which seems to have something to do with what gay people (by which we mean men) desire to do with bits of their bodies. (The unspoken and rarely challenged presumption being that straight men don’t do these things with their bodies).

Alongside this, we’ve also got a small number of the usual suspects saying that the churches can’t legitimately adopt a positive attitude to same-sex couples getting married because it would somehow invalidate the experience of those who reject the legitimacy of their own gay desires and have pledged to live without doing anything about them. This is linked with the specious phrase – “same-sex attraction” or even worse, “unwanted same-sex attraction”. This phrase is only ever used by those denying that God might delight in God’s gay children and have given them their desires so that they might delight in one another. Let me be clear – the phrase “same-sex attraction” is intrinsically homophobic and only ever used by those, usually motivated by religion, who have bad news for gay men.

In the midst of all this, it seems important to get back to first principles.

Let us begin with the bible and what St Paul had to say about marriage.

In 1 Corinthians 7 we find Paul saying that it is better to marry than to burn. Now, this is important. Firstly this is not an argument in favour of marriage – it is a rather sniffy comment from someone who thought that Jesus was about to return and turn the world so far upside down that marriage wasn’t really important. Secondly, it is important to recognise that this isn’t someone advocating celibacy as being a higher calling than marriage either. Rather it is someone usefully pointing out that enforced celibacy, particularly celibacy enforced for religious reasons, is a dangerous thing.

Enforced celibacy is something that we should all be wary of. I’m far from being the only person who thinks that all kinds of abusive behaviour can arise from enforced celibacy that is demanded of those who have no sense of vocation towards it.

Many years ago I knew a nun who knew a thing or two about psychology and she used to say, “Wherever you see a virgin, there you see a witch.” Now, virginity is not the same as celibacy but it is a comment that I often have reflected on. All kinds of behaviour are linked to psychosexual hopes and dreams. When we hear people advocating celibacy as a lifestyle we should at least see amber lights before us. It may be the right thing for some people and it quite certainly isn’t the life for everyone.

One of my big reservations at the moment about the current discussions about celibacy is that they seem to settle on the notion of celibacy as being about what one does (or doesn’t do) with bits of one’s body. In fact, Christian spiritual teaching about celibacy was always about something rather more than that. It was (and is) about someone responding to what they perceive to be a call from God to live a life free from distractions not simply for its own sake but so that they are then free in God’s name to love the world. What one doesn’t do with one’s bits is rather a secondary consideration.

The truth is, a couple of people who are living in respectable coupledom with all its compromises, arguments and trips to IKEA are not living in a celebate relationship in the grand scheme of Christian spirituality just because they declare (or are presumed) to be putting limits on what they do with their bodies. Christianity is certainly an incarnate religion and does indeed claim that bodies matter but it is also about more than bodies too.

Some Christians are called to celibacy. All are called to chastity. The trouble is, and it is interesting very interesting trouble indeed, we don’t all agree what chaste living is any more and that applies to straight people (including particularly those not yet married) just as much as it applies to those who are gay.

By all means let us talk about celibacy but let us do so in a grown up way, beginning from being cautious about those trying to argue either by their words or their lifestyles for the enforced celibacy of others. Let us also not confuse the idea of not having sex, with living celibate lives.

These things matter far too much. When you encounter the C word, let it flag up some warnings. Celibacy is a complex, tricky and fascinating thing. If we don’t have any knowledge of that or interest in understanding it then we should beware of the “celibate”.

Living together and not having sex is perfectly legitimate and perfectly uninteresting. Indeed it is no-one’s business but that of the couple themselves. We must ask couples wanting to make much of that way of life why they are doing so.

It doesn’t seem particularly godly to enquire about (or advertise) what is happening in particular bedrooms. That applies whether there is a lot going on there or not much going on at all.

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In his celebrated blog “What’s in Kelvin’s Head”, Fr. Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of Saint Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Glasgow, begs the question: ‘What is celibacy?’ – in terms of its connection to sexuality. In other words: does celibacy require sexual abstinence, yet allowing other types of intimacy in relationships?

In the ‘olden days’ and certainly when I was an Anglican Franciscan Novice; what were called  ‘Special Friendships’ were expressly forbidden. This was in order to prevent any jealousies arising from such exclusive relationships as might be formed between two members of the Community. However, it was very difficult to clearly define the line between what was permitted in the way of  one-to-one relationships that might be thought ‘exclusive’, and the special bond that could indicate the like-minded. A rather difficult path to negotiate for those whose affection might be reserved for a particular brother. In no instance of my experience was there ever a case of explicit sexual relationship with another member of the Community.

However, there can be little doubt that true celibacy is a specific call from God (and a gift of God to the Church) for the individual person to refrain from the physical expression of sexual intimacy. Having said that, it is not impossible for men or women in a religious community to find themselves attracted to another individual – a situation that, in order to comply with the Religious Vow of Chastity, no nun, friar or monk ought give way to, in order to retain their credibility as a Religious, bound by a specific Rule of Life that forbids such a relationship.

One might wonder why anyone – outside of an actual Religious Community, as a member of the Clergy, or in an occupation where personal relationships were  totally contra-indicated and disposed towards a selfless life of oblation – would want to bind themselves to a life without intimacy with another human being; unless their sexual impulses were in some way dormant or inconvenient to express. 

Given that some Religious enter into a monastic community in order to combat their innate homosexuality (or, one must say, even their heterosexuality), the constraints on any exhibition of ‘Special  Friendships’ could, and often do, create an inevitable climate of tension – both for the individual(s) concerned, and for the rest of the Community. This is why the celibate call is best reserved for those who are able – with the help of God – to maintain their Vow of Chastity with an inbuilt determination to abide by it – with the help of God.

My own experience tells me that anyone joining a religious order with the intention of sublimating their sexuality – whether heterosexual or homosexual – will need all the encouragement from God and the Church to overcome what is a natural human sexual inclination towards intimate relationships. That such a discipline is actually possible for a number of people – such as Roman Catholic clergy and Religious – as well as other ascetics in the Christian world – is a matter of God’s call and God’s enabling. To mistake such a call could end in disaster – both for the individual and the Community.

Such outstanding women and men as are called, and enabled by God’s power, into a life-time commitment to celibacy  should be considered a blessing to the Church – and to those to whom they dedicate their life of service. However, it is a very special calling. A calling to which maybe many are called, but few choose to be chosen.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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‘Religion Dispatches’ : Outcome of Roman Synod


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No one tweeted the Protestant Reformation. Pope John XXIII had no Facebook page at Vatican II. The Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, commonly referred to as the Synod on the Family, will be remembered as a postmodern effort at conversation in a church that has a medieval mindset. Tilt!

The theological production was truncated at best. Like any good postmodern drama, it is to be continued, though I expect no earth-shattering changes in October 2015 when Catholics will go through this again. Change requires both new ideas and new methods; one without the other will not get the job done. All the Tweets in the world are no substitute for straightforward acknowledgement of a new reality. Alas, that did not happen and is unlikely to happen in a year.

Let’s belabor the obvious. The 180 or so voting members of the assembly were all male and celibate; none of them have been more than sons, brothers, or cousins in families. They have never been husbands, partners, or fathers who assume adult responsibility. It is one thing to go home to Mom’s for Easter dinner like a good boy priest, quite another to invite the guests, buy the food, cook the meal, entertain, and do the dishes as an adult member of a family.

I am not suggesting that everyone has to live the same way, but I am underscoring that the voters in this case had little standing on the topic they chose to consider. I would hesitate to vote in a parallel synod of priestly celibacy about which I have no experience. Until this unworkable model of church is upended, until those most affected have voice and vote in decision-making, many Catholic groups see no possibility of institutional change. I concur.

The 60 auditors, including married heterosexual couples, a nun, a few priests, and others were invited to add a modicum of diversity but not to share power. But most of them were the “good Catholics” who use Natural Family Planning and were otherwise vetted for line-toeing. Even so, one Australian couple managed to mention the “g” word about a Catholic family that invited their son and his male partner home for Christmas. Some prelates were aghast at the thought of such simple family decency.

As far as I know, no divorced and remarried people were on hand to speak from their experience, no same-sex families were part of the conversation, no folks who are open about their use of many forms of effective contraception, much less any who would receive a sympathetic listen to the story of their abortions were part of the mix. Many will say that expecting such is pie in the sky. But in 2014, I don’t think so. Not expecting what makes rational sense is to concede the terms of discussion before the conversation begins. Why waste the time?

The Synod could have gone on without media glare as similar meetings do except that Pope Francis spells change in the air. Many members of the media cannot resist his charms and seem desperately to want to report on a BIG religion story. One major paper jumped on the interim report that contained some useful language, though by no means the “earthquake” or “revolutionary” theology that some commentators proclaimed, reporting “At the Vatican, a Shift in Tone Toward Gays and Divorce”. A week later the same daily had to concede “No Consensus at Vatican as Synod Ends.” Given the heated debate this was surely an ironic understatement. Many progressive groups from around the world that work on family-related issues were on hand in Rome to provide regular updates and press opportunities, so the clerics and company were not the only show in town.

Dueling hashtags made for a fortnight of Catholic theo-political wrangling for all to see. Initial statements and the first report contained some very promising possibilities. Then the jousting started as blustering bishops panicked at the slightest suggestion that new ideas would gain traction. What survived the onslaught were “timeless truths” about how to exclude people who experience disastrous marriages. Words of welcome and mercy were replaced with tiresome, offensive repetitions of old teachings on same-sex loving people. Such efforts to micromanage the morals of others find scant welcome in contemporary society.

The voting men were ostensibly horrified by the notion that same-sex couples might have any redeeming features, or that there might be “charity in its caring…” rather than “weakening of its faith…” (par. 46 of the early draft) if divorced and remarried people receive communion. Dear God, what crumbs they quibble over and fall on their croziers to defend. Have they missed the fact that the worldwide pedophilia crimes and cover-up on their watch have left them without a fig leaf of credibility? No wonder no one looks to them to be helpful about the moral issues at stake in Ebola, terrorism, or environmental threats.

This kind of meeting is not new in church history. The centuries are replete with tales, usually told years/decades later rather than in the next news cycle, of dueling factions among the bishops, close votes, and dirty tricks. Hey, how about that change in the English, but not the official Italian, version of the first report that toughened up the language on LGBTIQ people before anyone thought they should be welcome? It was as if gay gremlins in the Vatican had inserted it in the first place. It was just like the old days before Google Translate, except now more people can see the shenanigans in real time. While the Vatican claims transparency all of a sudden, I respectfully inquire what their options are in an age when hacking happens and electronic bugs are the order of the day. Surely the Holy Spirit has an iPad by now.

What is new is that the players get photographed and audio-taped as they argue, that the votes on each issue are a matter of the record so where the issues lie is relatively clear. We still don’t know exactly why the three paragraphs on divorce/remarriage and homosexuality (52,53, 55) did not receive the requisite two thirds vote to be approved. Were they too progressive, too conservative, or both? And what were the men thinking in paragraph 56 when they lamented with injured innocence the prospect of international bodies conditioning aid on the basis of not discriminating against equal marriage?

It does not really matter; few people will read the document. They will rather rely on the McNews that told them that there was a little opening, a chink in the armor. I understand why. In the face of a smiling Pope Francis, and after fifty years of terrible theology, they prefer to believe, at least to hope for something better. As it turned out, the final wording was pretty much the same old same old: deeply entrenched anti-body, anti-women ideas that give institutional Catholicism its well-deserved reputation as an unwelcome place for all but the most rigidly observant.

What about the much-vaunted changes in tone? Changes in tone are no substitute for changes in substance. It is as if instead of saying, “Go to hell,” one were to say “Have a lovely, safe trip to your eternal damnation.” This time around, contraception and abortion did not even get a kind word. Tone deaf to women’s lives is how I read the document.

Still, the report of the doomed upbeat first draft gave millions of people a glimpse of what it might be like, what could be, and just how important it would be if the Catholic institution came kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Perhaps one day it will. No human institution, not even the seemingly impenetrable Roman Catholic Church, can withstand the torrent of history, try as it might.

Meanwhile, human civilization runs its course, with or without help from the Roman Catholic Church. Pity in this case, because it would be useful to have some seasoned ethical insight into how to respect African cultures and American mores at the same time, how to repent of the damage done to so many by so few, indeed how to bring diverse people into communion both at the table and in peace.

Fortunately, there are millions of Catholics who are more than willing to join other people of goodwill in these tasks, leaving the bishops to figure out how to tweet their way home.


‘Religion Dispatches’ – a U.S. ecumenical web-site – always has something useful to say about the different religious traditions that percolate their influence in the modern world. This report, on the aftermath and practical usefulness on the recent interim Synod meeting of cardinals and bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome, would seem to have summarised what many observers – not least, Roman Catholics themselves – have taken to be the net result of the discussions, so far, on the chosen topic of ‘The Human Family’. Here is one sentence that might sum up the results:

“As it turned out, the final wording was pretty much the same old same old: deeply entrenched anti-body, anti-women ideas that give institutional Catholicism its well-deserved reputation as an unwelcome place for all but the most rigidly observant”.

However, there is one important factor that commentators around the world may not have given sufficient attention to; the fact that the Leader of the Roman Catholic Church at this point in its long history is, above all, a man of the people; a Prince of the Church – now Pope – who has a special charism of devotion to Christ in the Poor, much like his early predecessor, Saint Francis of Assisi. 

Francis of Assisi and Francis of Buenos Aires are possessed of the same Spirit of Christ that had, and still has, a tendency to alter perspectives in a rigorously conservative church organisation. For Francis of Assisi, the poor and disadvantaged of his day commanded his apostolic endeavours. For Francis, the Roman Pontiff, this may yet become the primary motivation of his pontificate. But will the Roman Catholic Church be ready to open up to new initiatives towards the marginalised (Women and Gays) in today’s society?

Anglican Churches; take note, lest we fall into the same trap of entrenched conservatism!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Same Sex Marriage Vows

Vows in N.C., Wyoming

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry, Bishop of North Carolina, has issued revised guidelines for blessing same-sex couples in churches of the diocese.

A new opening address and a new pronouncement ground the ceremony in state law:

We have gathered together today
to witness N. N. and N. N. [publicly] committing themselves to one another
in marriage according to the laws of the state of North Carolina,
and, in the name of the Church, to bless their union:
a relationship of mutual fidelity and steadfast love,
forsaking all others,
holding one another in tenderness and respect,
in strength and bravery,
as long as they live.

… I now pronounce that they are bound to one another
in a holy covenant,
as long as they both shall live
and united in marriage according to the laws of the state of North Carolina. Amen.

Read the rest.

In a similar development, the Bishop of Wyoming offered brief direction in response to same-sex marriage becoming legal in that state:

With this change in the legal definition of marriage, the process I established for performing the blessing of a same-gendered union is no longer necessary. In the interest of the unity of our churches, I ask that our clergy and lay leadership work together to determine how their congregation will respond to this law. Additionally, I will be issuing a pastoral letter to be read in place of the sermon at all of our congregations on Sunday, Nov. 9th.

Read the rest.


In this proposal for a statement of the intention of life-long relationship for Same Sex Couples, Bishop Michael Curry of the Diocese of North Carolina in TEC appears to be making a subtle distinction between the traditional understanding of Marriage (between two people of opposite gender) and Marriage as defined by the new State Law – which permits the marriage of same-sex couples. This is the wording proposed:

“I now pronounce that they are bound to one another in a holy covenant, as long as they both shall live
and united in marriage according to the laws of the state of North Carolina. Amen.”

This would seem to confine the Church definition to ‘holy covenant’, while yet proclaiming the North Carolina State provision of ‘marriage’ according to law.

This very fine distinction could make all the difference between the acceptance or rejection of the proposed legal marriage of same-sex couples according the state law, while yet upholding the traditional Church understanding of ‘marriage’ as confined to heterosexual unions. Could this be a way through the present controversy over the problem of Church dogma versus pastoral exigency?

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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‘THE TABLET’ – an article on the trajectory of the Roman Synod

Now the talking really begins
23 October 2014 by Christopher Lamb

Pope Francis wanted frankness and openness and that is what he got. But there is also the sense that the real debate in the Church about marriage and families is only just starting

Given the “pastoral earthquake” that took place halfway through the Synod on the Family, perhaps it was inevitable that there would have to be compromise at the end. On one level it is hard not to see the synod and its final document as three steps forward and two steps back, in the words of the German cardinal, Reinhard Marx.

There are no guesses as to where Pope Francis’s sympathies lie. If there could be a theme for his pontificate, then it is his stress on God’s “mercy” – for the Church to stop being a “house of glass to judge or categorise people”. At the same time, he is keen to tread a middle path and in his final address on Saturday he criticised progressives who were tempted to “come down from the cross”. (See box.)

Despite the talk of “setbacks”, the final document should be seen within the context of a reformed and improved synod process that is in itself an achievement. Numerous participants at this gathering commented on how different it was to previous synods.

Media attention at the synod has been intense but, while news cycles change in a matter of hours, the Church tends to think in centuries. According to Cardinal Walter Kasper, who kicked off the synod discussions with his speech to the consistory of cardinals in February, the Pope is also thinking for the long term. In a speech in Vienna last week, the cardinal said Francis’s plans are a “programme for a century or more”. This would not, he explained, satisfy Western expectations for speedy reform, adding that the Pope did not fit into the “hackneyed progressive-conservative blueprint”.

Throughout the synod it was clear that many bishops believe the Church needs to find a new pastoral language when it comes to family life. The mid-term relatio appears to have opened a door to a new approach that for many years seemed impossible.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, speaking at a press conference in London this week, said it was important the synod focuses on the “goodness in every person, whatever their sexuality, whether they’re cohabiting or in a second marriage”. He explained that “their lives continue to carry the hallmark of the work of the Holy Spirit. That’s what the synod is laying down as the starting point of pastoral care.” It should be pointed out that, while the final document could not get the two-thirds majorities on the hotly debated topics, there were significant majorities in favour of those paragraphs.

That 104 Synod Fathers voted to allow communion for divorced and remarried in certain circumstances (74 were against) is noteworthy. Similarly, on the paragraph on welcoming gay Catholics, 118 were in favour while 62 against. It is also being suggested that the reason why that last paragraph did not get more support was that some Synod Fathers were unhappy that it did not go far enough and therefore voted against it.

CARDINAL NICHOLS SAID on Tuesday that this was a plausible hypothesis. He said his intention before the vote was “no, this isn’t good enough”, but then had a second thought. In the end he said because the votes happened so quickly he could not remember which way he had voted. To his credit, Pope Francis insisted that the voting tallies be published for each of the document’s 62 paragraphs in the name of transparency and that the text be published in full.

This Pope is clearly happy with healthy disagreement and sees it as part of the process of discernment in the Church. In this way the synod has been likened to the Second Vatican Council, which saw fierce debates during its sessions and over the documents it produced.

Significantly, Cardinal Kasper said he believed the “spirit of the council is blowing through the synod” – a view also held by other Synod Fathers.

At the council, it was the period between the bishops’ gatherings that was crucial in deciding its direction. In a similar way, the time between now and the next ordinary synod will be critical. It is likely to be a time marked by those with different viewpoints publishing books, pamphlets, holding seminars and giving interviews.
The Pope is undoubtedly conscious that he needs to take the whole of the Church with him and one criticism of the mid-term relatio might be that it was too radical, too soon.

There was concern among a number of Synod Fathers that by emphasising the Church’s pastoral concern for those in unions outside sacramental marriage that somehow the beauty of Catholic teaching on marriage will be lost. Cardinal Nichols has said his hope is that the synod will sound a “trumpet call” for marriage.

But after the mid-term document was released, a fear seemed to overcome some at the synod that the media would present the gathering as the Catholic Church accepting a secular agenda on gays, the divorced and cohabitation. This was clear in the small group discussions – the circuli minores – taking place in the second half of the synod and in their proposed 470 amendments to the mid-term relatio.

“Many in the group felt that a young person reading the relatio would, if anything, become even less enthusiastic about undertaking the challenging vocation of Christian matrimony,” said one of the English-speaking groups, while another expressed surprise that the document had been released to the media (despite the fact that mid-way reports at all synods previously are public documents).

To many, Francis bears a strong similarity to Pope John XXIII, the down-to-earth pastor who called Vatican II. Yet with the faith he has put in the synod process he is also walking in the footsteps of Pope Paul VI, who established the body after the council (some point out, however, that Paul VI did not give the synod the powers Vatican II mandated as it is still purely a deliberative body).

Appropriately, Francis closed the synod by beatifying Paul VI and in his homily pulled out a quote from the late Pope in the motu proprio establishing the Synod of Bishops that said: “By carefully surveying the signs of the times, we are making every effort to adapt ways and methods … to the growing needs of our time and the changing conditions of society.”

Undergirding Francis’s faith in the synod is his experience in Argentina and work with Celam, the Latin American bishops’ conference. He played a key role in the drafting of the landmark 2007 Aparecida document, a blueprint for the how the Church can respond to rapidly changing pastoral contexts.

Francis wants the whole Church to be involved in the synod process in a similar way to Aparecida. In a 2007 interview with the now closed 30 Giorni magazine, the then Cardinal Bergoglio said Aperecida was “work that moved from below upwards, not vice versa”. He also said that celebrating Mass and praying with laypeople at Aparecida, a Marian shrine, during that time “gave us a live sense of belonging to our people, of the Church that goes forward as People of God, of us bishops as its servants”.

Laypeople played an important role at the recent synod, opening the early sessions with their contributions, and Francis said a highlight of the gathering was testimonies of families and those married couples who shared “the beauty and joy of married life”. So where do things go from here?

The final synod document is now to be discussed by local bishops’ conferences as the guidelines (lineamenta) before the synod in 2015. That gathering will be larger, with each bishops’ conference electing representatives to attend (numbers according to size). Also attending will be the prefects and presidents of departments in the Roman Curia along with papal appointees.

In the end the Pope hears recommendations from the synod and reserves the right to make the final decisions. Francis said his duty is to safeguard the unity of the Church and to be a servant leader. It is therefore highly unlikely he will go against the majority and will do all he can to avoid deep divisions. He believes in the synod process and the God of surprises. Who knows where this will take the Church?

Pope francis: ‘I would be worried if there was not this movement of the spirits’

In his final address on 18 October Pope Francis detailed the “temptations” faced by the Synod Fathers

… A temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word (the letter), and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.

… The temptation to a destructive tendency to do-goodism, that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is temptation of the “do-gooders”, of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals”.

… The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Luke 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf John 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Luke 11:46).
… The temptation to come down off the cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

… The temptation to neglect the depositum fidei [“the deposit of faith”], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them “Byzantinisms”.

… Personally I would be very worried and saddened if there were not these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parrhesia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the “supreme law”, the “good of souls” (cf. canon 1752). And this always … without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life (cf. Canon 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et Spes, 48).

… Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront.


The opening paragraph for this article for The Tablet, by Christopher Lamb, speaks volumes:  “Pope Francis wanted frankness and openness and that is what he got. But there is also the sense that the real debate in the Church about marriage and families is only just starting”.

In Pope Francis’ statement after the close of this interim Synod, he detailed the highs and lows – as he saw them – of the outcomes of the conversations. Being, like his illustrious predecessor, Pope John XXIII, a firm believer in the role of the Holy Spirit in such meetings, Pope Francis seems not to have been disappointed in what he could have seen  to be a lack of progress on the issues he had brought before the Bishops on the need for a new openness to homosexual people and divorcees in the Church.

Whatever the eventual outcome of the conversations that are scheduled to continue on these important matters in the ensuing year – before the next meeting of an enlarged Synod in a year’s time –  the Pope shows a trust in the working of the Spirit among those entrusted with the conversations that will have taken place by the end of this period.

There can be little doubt that the conservatives in the Vatican, and in the Church at large, will have been disturbed by the openness with which the topics of disagreement among the members of the Synod were allowed to be broadcast to the wider world. And it was significant that, after the close of the Meetings, Pope Francis took care to thank the assembled media representatives for their part in the dissemination of information proceeding from the sessions. This was surely a signal to the conservatives of a freer and much more open attitude towards the outside world of the goings-on in the Church.

As the largest Christian denomination, the Roman Catholic Church, and its decisions on matters of doctrine and pastoral concern, cannot but have some affect on other branches of the Church around the world. The obvious difference between the culture of the Churches of the Third World, and that of the Churches of Europe and the West – as suggested by none other than the influential Cardinal Kaspar – have been made evident in this Synod, and it remains to be seen over the next twelve months of deliberations, how much they will turn out to have influenced the end result of the suggestions made by the Pope and his more forward-looking advocates of change in pastoral initiatives designed to reach people who have distanced themselves from the Church on account of its perceived disinclination to adapt to change.

Jesu, mercy; Mary, pray!

Read also:

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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MPs vie to have woman bishop in their constituency

Madeleine Davies by Madeleine Davies – Church Times – Posted: 24 Oct 2014 @ 12:37

Reflection: Holy Trinity, Hull​

MEMBERS of Parliament competed to have the first woman bishop appointed in their constituency, as the House of Commons passed the Bishop and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure on Monday.

The debate marked the end of the Measure’s parliamentary journey. It is now set to receive Royal Assent before being promulged at the General Synod in November.

The MP for Kingston upon Hull North, Diana Johnson, put in “an early bid”, describing the bishopric as “an ideal starting-place for the first woman bishop in the House of Lords”. The MP for Gloucester, Richard Graham, then suggested that the Church should not miss the “fantastic opportunity” to appoint a woman in his constituency.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, said that there was “some competition from around the country”, and he referred to the imminent vacancy in the see of Oxford.

MPs who spoke on Monday welcomed the Measure. Frank Field suggested that being able to choose from both sexes would “strengthen our [the C of E's] hand”. In 2012, he suggested that the talent among bishops was “at such a low ebb” that the CNC had had to appoint an Archbishop of Canterbury “who had hardly got his bishop’s cassock on”.

Traditionalists were represented by Robert Neill, who spoke of the “generous” approach of Anglo-Catholics, and the desire to avoid undermining dialogue with “our Catholic and Orthodox brethren”. The Church was committed to providing a place for traditionalists, Sir Tony said, “without a limited time”. Ms Johnson later asked whether such a limit might be considered.

Helen Goodman emphasised that “it is not for Parliament, or politicians, or even the Government, to lay down the theological grounding”; but Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for Worthing West, argued that “We . . . should have forced this change through far earlier.” He asked “all bishops, whether flying bishops or not, to ask every parish that went for Resolution A and B to reconsider”.

Ben Bradshaw suggested that the response of Parliament to the “terrible vote” at the General Synod in November 2012 had “really made a difference”.

Sir Tony reiterated the commitment to introducing a Bill to fast-track women bishops into the Lords, and hoped that it could take place in this parliamentary session.


AFTER promulgation of the new canon at the General Synod on 17 November, each vacancy for a a diocesan or suffragan bishop will be open to women.

A Church House spokesman confirmed on Tuesday that this would include diocesan appoint­ments in Southwell & Notting­ham, Gloucester, Ox­­ford, and Newcastle.

Six suffragan sees are vacant, but, as the diocesan bishop takes the lead on the appointments processes, it is not clear how many of these will still await an appointment after 17 November.

A spokesman for the diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, John Howard, said that a woman could be considered for the see of Dunwich.

The dioceses of Chester and St Albans declined to comment.


This report for the U.K.-based ‘Church Times, by correspondent Madelaine Davies, was written before the Queen confirmed the Measure for the Ordination of Women Bishops in the Church of England by the Royal Assent. The Measure will no be officially promulged at the next session of the general Synod on November 17th, 2014.

The measure of support for Women bishops can be assessed by the enthusiasm of those dioceses that have expressed a desire to welcome a Woman Bishop into their territory. It will be interesting to see who will be the first Woman priest to become a bishop in the Church of England, and how long it will take for Women Bishops to be seated in the House of Lords along with their male colleagues.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Andrew Sullivan’s views on Pope Francis


Untier Of Knots

By Andrew SullivanDec 17, 2013

What Is The Meaning Of Pope Francis?

You don’t have to be a believer to recognize a moment of grace. By grace I mean those precious, rare times when exactly what you were expecting gives way to something utterly different, when patterns of thought and behavior we have grown accustomed to and at times despaired of, suddenly cede to something new and marvelous. It may be the moment when a warrior unexpectedly lays down his weapon, when the sternest disciplinarian breaks into a smile, when an ideologue admits error, when a criminal seeks forgiveness, or when an addict hits bottom and finally sees a future. Grace is the proof that hope is not groundless.


How to describe the debut of Pope Francis and not immediately think of grace? For much of this new century, Christianity seemed to be in close to terminal crisis. Among the fastest-growing groups in society were the nones – those indifferent to religion entirely. Especially among the young, Christians became increasingly identified with harsh judgments, acrid fundamentalism, the smug bromides of the Prosperity Gospel or, more trivially, neurotic cultural obsessions like the alleged “war on Christmas.” Evangelical leaders often came and went in scandal, or intolerance or both. Obsessed with issues of sexual morality, mainstream evangelicalism and the Catholic hierarchy in America entered into an alliance with one major political party, the GOP, further weakening Christianity’s role in transcending politics, let alone partisanship. Christian leaders seemed too often intent on denial of what intelligent people of good will saw simply as reality – of evolution, of science, of human diversity, of the actual lives of modern Christians themselves. Christian defensiveness was everywhere, as atheism grew in numbers and confidence and zeal.

To make matters far, far worse, the Catholic hierarchy was exposed these past two decades as, in part, a criminal conspiracy to rape the most innocent and vulnerable and to protect their predators. There is almost nothing as evil as the rape of a child – and yet the institution allegedly representing the love of God on earth perpetrated it, covered it up, and escaped full accountability for it on a scale that is still hard to fathom. You cannot overstate the brutal toll this rightly took on Catholicism’s moral authority. Even once-reflexively Catholic countries – like Ireland and Belgium – collapsed into secularism almost overnight, as ordinary Catholics couldn’t begin to comprehend how the successors to Peter could have perpetrated and enabled such evil. And meanwhile, the great argument of the modern, post-1968 papacy – against non-procreative and non-marital sex for straights and against all sex for gays – ended in intellectual and practical defeat in almost the entire West, including among most Catholics themselves. American Catholics have long been one of the most supportive religious demographics for marriage equality. And when a debate about contraception and healthcare reform emerged in the U.S. early last year, the Catholic bishops chose to launch a defining crusade against something that countless Catholic women had used at some point in their lives.

And in all this, the papacy was increasingly absent from public debate, focused on building a smaller, purer church in seclusion from what Benedict XVI saw as the moral relativism of modernity. His vision of the church was securing its ramparts to wait out a new, long age of barbarism (as Saint Benedict had done many centuries before as the Roman Empire crumbled), pulling up the drawbridge in rituals, customs and doctrines that became almost ends in themselves. This is what some have referred to as the “Benedict Option” for the church – a term inspired by a powerful jeremiad by the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre,After Virtue, in which he despaired of “the new dark ages already upon us.” What we needed, MacIntyre thought, was another Saint Benedict, the man who gave rise to the church’s monastic system – in other words, the kind of small, pure, separate communities that helped Christianity survive after the decline of the Roman Empire. Gone was the sublime, striding confidence of the charismatic anti-Communist Pope John Paul II in the first years of his papacy; what remained was what his gregarious, powerful personality had for a while obscured – a pinched, arch-conservative Catholicism, more attuned to early twentieth century Poland or Bavaria than to the multicultural 21st Century generations of an increasingly global world. Three decades after his charismatic appearance on the world stage, we can now clearly see that John Paul II and his successor bequeathed a much stronger papacy in a much weaker church.

And then, out of the blue, two remarkable things: the first modern papal resignation, and the whisper of a name emerging from the Sistine Chapel as the conclave of cardinals decided on a successor. The name had always been a sacred one in the long history of Christianity; it was a name no Pope had ever dared to claim before; a name that resonated through the centuries with the possibility of starting from scratch, from the street and the gutter, from the leper colonies and the wildernesses.

That name was Francis.


In the light of the recent mid-term report and final summation of the recent Interim Synod of Roman Catholic cardinals and bishops at the Vatican, this prior assessment of the character of the most recent successor of the papal throne, Pope Francis, would seem to pretty astutely sum up the intrinsic nature of the Third World ‘Prince of the Church’ suddenly thrown into the world’s spotlight as the current Roman Catholic Leader.

With hindsight – from this summary by Andrew Sullivan – one can begin to discern the concern that might be felt by the conservatives of the Curia for what they perceive to be the unprecedented popularity of Pope Francis to the ordinary catholics whose lives are largely unaffected by strict observance of dogmatic pronunciations from the Vatican.

With the Pope’s disdain for the more fussy details of Vatican diplomacy – relinquishing his right to the traditional honorifics that go with the office, such as use of the papal apartment and other perquisites that his predecessor favoured during his sojourn at the Vatican – there has been a hint of unease on the part of Vatican officials, whose life-style generally has been attuned to the benefits of being part of the medieval court ethos that formerly, under previous Popes, was considered right and proper at Headquarters.

In line with his choice of the Franciscan title, in reference to the Little Poor Man of Assisi, Pope Francis has been careful to avoid any accusation of living a luxurious life-style – preferring, rather, to live in the Vatican guesthouse and to drive a more modest vehicle than the pope-mobile made famous by his two predecessors.

In keeping with all of this, Pope Francis has proved himself to be a ‘man of the people’, preferring to spend time with the poor of the Church rather than being preoccupied with the high and the mighty. It is probably this particular characteristic – in the spirit of his chosen paradigm, Saint Francis of Assisi, that Pope Francis seeks to ensure a new openness to people on the margins of the Church – a mission he sees as paramount.

Time alone will tell how far he will be allowed, by Vatican protocols and curial approval, to open up the Church to new initiatives that will broaden the Church’s appeal to the young people whose lives will be profoundly affected by the Church’s openness to their real needs in today’s world. May God richly bless his ministry in and to the world! And may his openness to sinners become a role model for Christians of all denominations.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Report from Conference on ‘The Theology of Marriage’

 to have and to hold flyer

A conference on the theology of marriage in the light of equal marriage was hosted by the LGBT Anglican Coalition in September 2014 at St John’s Waterloo.

Recognising current unease in the Church of England over same-sex marriage, the conference explored whether there is a theological basis for expanding the definition of marriage. If so, what might a theology of equal marriage include?

Resources from the conference can be downloaded here. Resources will be added as soon as they become available.

Professor Adrian Thatcher, University of Exeter:
Adrian’s website has material from the conference – click here
In favour of equal marriage – PDF

Conference Address (follow instructions to download and play in a media player)

Rev Dr Charlotte Methuen, University of Glasgow – Conference Address
(Follow instructions to download and play in a media player)

Marriage in history and tradition PDF

Tina Beardsley & Susan Gilchrist
Workshop: Love’s constancy & legal niceties: transgendered perspectives on marriage PDF

Simon J. Taylor
An invitation to the feast:A positive Biblical approach to equal marriage PDF

Colin Coward

Liturgies for same sex blessings and marriages PDF

Dan Barnes Davies

Digest of Thatcher and Methuen talks PDF


For anyone critical of the movement towards acceptance – or not – by the Church of Same-Sex Marriage, these items, from the web-site of the LGBT Anglican Coalition in the U.K., are well-worth the time and effort taken to examine them in detail.

Especially rewarding are the talks given at various times by Professor Adrian Thatcher, University of Exeter, whose theological interest in the history and aetiology of marriage has produced some outstanding results – in terms of the different cultural settings, circumstances, and understandings within which the institution of marriage has been undertaken.   

When critics of Same-Sex Marriage say that there has been little or no theological examination of the grounds for such a measure, these studies may well prove otherwise.

I suggest that these same critics might learn something useful from these articles on the LGBT web-site – whether or not they are prepared to think outside of the institutional square on such important issues.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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