Report on the meeting of Stephen Lovatt and David Goodrum with the RC bishop of Northampton

Stephen Lovatt

While we were waiting to meet the bishop I read a short article in the Tablet magazine written by a young catholic woman who – in summary – argued that the path that the Catholic Church had taken from the 1960’s onwards was profoundly mistaken and that it was imperative that the Church returned to its authentic tradition, and that this is what a large proportion of those young people who had persevered in the Catholic faith (in spite of all the terrible liturgy and catechesis that demotivated them from doing so) wanted. I strongly empathised with this message, but was sad (though not surprised) to read that the only issues which this young women could identify as “worth while” in “traditional Catholicism” were what I would regard as reactionary and fundamentally unChristian attitudes towards sex, gender roles, love, procreation and marriage.

We were received by the bishop in a very friendly manner. The bishop said that he didn’t think that the interview he had given to Vatican Radio was anything special, but I assured him that it had been altogether remarkable. I told him that it was also remarkable that he had agreed to meet with me, as my experience over the last twenty years was of the hierarchy having no interest whatsoever in listening to the testimony of LGBT people: hence even if nothing practical came out of the meeting, our encounter was of historic significance. Routinely, the hierarchy has systematically prevented gay Catholics from having any visibility. Systematically, the hierarchy roots out gay clergy, or else seeks to gag them; just as clergy who favoured the Traditional Roman Rite were persecuted – and often still are persecuted.

On my knees I implored him to heed the voices of all the LGBT people that the Catholic hierarchy has been systematically persecuting – especially in Africa – for the last forty years. I told him of a young African man whom I know who claims (truly or falsely I cannot be sure) to have been thrown out of his Catholic family home before he could get a decent education and with no prospect of a job, and no means to support himself at all, simply because he told his parents that he was gay. I said that even if this story was a “scam” that many young people find themselves in this tragic situation. I said that it was a crying shame that the pope hadn’t mentioned the plight of LGBT people once during his visit to Africa.

I explained to the bishop that my short term objective of meeting with him was to make him realise that there is no short-term objective. The issue is really very simple and stark. The official teaching regarding homosexuals is hateful and cannot be justified from Scripture, Tradition or Natural Law. As long as it is maintained there can be no justice, and no attempt to “soften” or “nuance” it can make any difference that matters. Homosexuals require justice not mercy: respect not condescension: truth not hypocrisy. I said that we don’t want a ghetto. We don’t want “gay masses”, we want to be accepted for the human being that in fact we are in every parish.

I explained to the bishop that it was soul destroying to be systematically and relentlessly being told that one is intrinsically and irreformably evil and that any romanto-erotic relationship one might have is fundamentally sinful. I told him of my experience of being excluded from any position of service, influence or leadership in the UGCC parish I was instrumental in founding by the direct intervention of the RC Archbishop of Cardiff.

I told the bishop that in 1960 there were two things seriously wrong with the Church. It was too authoritarian and it was obsessed with sex. These were the only two things which had not changed by 1980. Now, thanks to John-Paul II, these two failings are both very much worse. The Church has become “trendy” and “progressive” in terms of its presentation and aesthetic, and dumbs-down defined dogma. This has not worked, in terms of marketing, and in fact is deeply dishonest. People see through it and perceive there is nothing of substance beneath the surface.
I said that the hierarchy has gotten a terrible reputation for being against everything. It seems like a group of social reactionaries whose main concern is to defend its image – which is being destroyed by the very attempt to defend it. The message the hierarchy is broadcasting is incoherent, and is driving people away. My godson, Philip, and his younger (highly intelligent gay) brother, George, and many friends of mine – some of whom are very educated and intelligent and committed Catholics – have apostatised. I told him that George told me that in all his years at a good Catholic school and in a (very trendy) Catholic parish he had “never heard anyone say anything that made much sense to him,” He also said that as “a true religion would make people happy; but Catholicism doesn’t seem to make people happy: hence Catholicism can’t be true.”

I said that the hierarchy must to get back to the core doctrines of Creation, Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, Justification, Resurrection, Sacraments, and Righteous living; and stop harking on about sex, gender and obedience. The Church needs to engage respectfully and robustly with the modern world, while being faithful to Scripture and Apostolic Tradition; rather than slavishly adopting the latest fashions, trends and views in politics, economics, psychology and sociology.

I told the bishop that the Church must learn to listen to secular wisdom with some humility; as it strikes me that there has been significant progress in the secular understanding of “sex, gender roles, love, procreation and marriage” over the last fifty years and yet the Church’s response has been to simply ignore and discount every aspect of these advances. This stonewalling was detrimental to the hierarchy’s pastoral care of the laity; to the Church’s reputation; and to the Church’s effectiveness in evangelization. I made it clear that I was not advocating a lock-stock-and-barrel acceptance of secular norms or attitudes – in fact the Church had done to much of that in every other field in the last fifty years: I referred the bishop to the Tablet article which I mentioned in the preamble to this report.

I told the bishop that if the hierarchy tries to “dig in its heels” regarding “sex, gender roles, love, procreation and marriage” eventually the dam will burst and the “revolution” which follows will be profoundly damaging to the Church. To avoid this, a process of managed change must be put in place. The hierarchy needs people like myself to help them facilitate this. My book – and others along similar lines – should be promoted not “forbidden”. I – and others – should be asked to speak to the bishops, and also allowed to speak to conferences, synods and parish groups. The SCDF documents “Unpastoral Care”, “No Gay Priests” and “No Same-Sex Marriage” must all be reversed. Representations to this effect should be made to the Pope.

The bishops must stop attacking “gay marriage” and homosexuals. They must stop disciplining, dismissing and excluding teachers, parish workers and clergy for respectfully questioning fallible official teaching regarding moral issues, or simply for getting married! They should start disciplining teachers, parish workers and clergy for denying or misrepresenting infallible defined dogma. Catholic Schools should have proper anti-gay bullying policies. Catholic Schools should have sex and relationship education programs which support, celebrate and nurture pupils who are homosexual as well as those who are heterosexual. Catholic seminaries should have formation programs which allow seminarians to be honest and open about their orientation without any fear of their homosexuality being held against them.

I pointed out that contemporary Catholic doctrine on sex and marriage is entirely different from what it was in the time of Augustine, Chrysostom, and Gregory the Great – and even more so from what it became in Medieval times!

For Augustine, pope Gregory, and their followers:

  1. Coitus is necessarily demeaning and degrading.
  2. Coitus can only be justified when specifically intentioned for procreation.
  3. Any enjoyment of sexual activity (even within marriage) is sinful.
  4. A marriage is a better marriage if the spouses abstain entirely from coitus once they have had children.
  5. Coitus does not have a “unitive end”, only a procreative one. [Except that in one place
    Augustine seems to contradict himself by saying that coitus
    exists for the sake of friendship!]
  6. The female is not “complementary” to the male. The sole way that the female “helps” the male is in bearing children for him.
  7. Pederasty is a great wickedness.
  8. Men engaged in homosexual activity cannot possibly enjoy what they do.

To which the Medievals added:

  1. Male homosexuality has a stench about it. [Albert the Great]
  2. Any spilling of semen is tantamount to murder. It is only because of this that the fact it is “un-natural” has an ethical significance. For something that is “un-natural” to be immoral some “great harm” must accrue. Hence it is not immoral for an acrobat to walk on his hands, though this is plainly un-natural. [Aquinas]
  3. Women are defective males. [Aquinas, following Aristotle]
  4. Women are born when something goes wrong at conception. [Aquinas, following Aristotle]
  5. Male homosexuals are a greater threat to the Church and State than the perfidious Jews. [Peter Damian]
  6. Male homosexuality is one of the greatest sins. [various]
  7. Male homosexuality is so grave a sin that the demons cannot abide it. [Catherine of Sienna]

Nowadays the official line is that:

  1. Coitus can be humane and even dignified.
  2. Coitus is allowable for the sake of confirming the spousal relationship, as long as it is “open to” procreation.
  3. Enjoyment of sexual activity within marriage is fine.
  4. Marriage is made better by coitus.
  5. Coitus has two ends: unitive and procreative. Any sex act must be “open” to both ends, but does not have to fulfil either.
  6. The male and female are complementary, psychologically as well as anatomically. Women are just as worthy of respect as men.
  7. [Until very recently] Priests involved in pederasty should be protected from the law.
  8. Homosexuality is an intrinsic, intransigent disorder simply because it is directed towards genital acts which are not “open to procreation”.
  9. Homosexuals should be respected and not subject to persecution.
  10. Catholic doctrine has always been the same and the present position is what has always been taught and believed.

The bishop found this amusing.

I suggested that the bishop could personally help in the following concrete ways:

  1. Convene LGBT issues discussion/study groups for clergy – formal or informal.
  2. Convene LGBT issues discussion/study groups for laity.
  3. Invite Quest (with which I am not affiliated in any way!) to hold its AGM and conference at a Catholic venue.
  4. Sponsor a conference to study LGBT issues.
  5. Invite me (and other gay-friendly Catholic theologians, thinkers and writers) to speak at any of the above.
  6. Write a review of my book “Faithful to the Truth” and post it on Amazon: anonymously, if necessary!
  7. Help me with clerical networking: put me in contact with deacons, priests and bishops who are at least willing to listen.
  8. Display/sell gay-friendly theology/spirituality books in his Cathedral’s repository, and encourage other parish clergy (and the CTS) to do the same.
  9. Recommend that Quest be allowed to advertise in diocesan yearbooks.
  10. Make it known that clergy will not be disciplined for supporting LGBT people.
  11. Petition the pope and the SCDF to rescind the three infamous anti-homosexual documents and/or to issue a decree re-interpreting them.
  12. Petition the pope to organise a conference in Rome to study LGBT issues, at which self-affirming LGBT people (that is, those who do not accept the idea that “homosexuality is an intrinsic disorder and all homogenital acts are objectively sinful”) and gay-friendly theologians are invited and encouraged to speak.
  13. Recommend that Catholic schools change:
  • their policies on hiring/firing LGBT staff.
  • their policies on homophobic bullying.
  • their sex and relationship curriculum: so that it affirms and celebrates LGBT pupils and offers them coherent, practical and evidence-based guidance in the conduct of their sex- and love-lives.

The bishop listened with great attentiveness and interest to everything which I had to say. He said that the encounter had been illuminating. I directed him to my book “Faithful to the Truth” as a means for him to deepen his appreciation of the issues at stake. He asked for my thoughts on how a wholesome sexual ethic might be constructed if the link between sex and procreation had to be broken. I referred him to pope Pius XI’s “Casti Conubii”, Benedict XVI’s “Deus Caritas est”, Plato’s “Symposium”, “Lysis” and “Phaedrus” and Ch 20 “The Theology of Sex” of “Faithful to the Truth”. It was obvious that this question was of great importance to him, as he has never questioned the official line that “sex and marriage are fundamentally about procreation and that sexual ethics must be derived from this premise.” The bishop and I agreed that it was most necessary for LGBT issues to be properly studied in/at some sort of conference or synod.

At the end of the meeting, the bishop thanked David and me for meeting with him and said that he thought I was “a good person” and that he wanted me to be at peace. I replied that I could not truly “be at peace” while the hierarchy maintained its current evaluation of homosexuality. The bishop said that he thought the whole matter was “difficult”. I contradicted him, saying that in fact it was very simple – but frightening: just as it was frightening for Abram to follow the call of God to leave the familiar life he had in Ur and start an open-ended journey of faith. I said that the Church was currently divided into two camps. The first was a set of people who basically were ruled by their own prejudices and unexamined preferences: the “Progressivists”; and the second a set of people who believed that “obeying the rules” was the solution to everything: “The Conservatives”. Neither group seemed to care overly about truth or justice or the Gospel or Apostolic Tradition; and neither seemed to have any great faith in Holy Spirit’s providential guidance.

David and I then departed and made our way home.

2 thoughts on “Report on the meeting of Stephen Lovatt and David Goodrum with the RC bishop of Northampton

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