Sunday, March 14, 2010

Compassion, and Scandal....Religion In The World Today

No matter your opinions of religion...or if you draw distinctions between religion and spirituality( as this blogger does)....there is no arguing that it has a profound effect on the world. Our spiritual lives can lead us to some incredible heights and some terribly dark human history readily attests. Jay and I often get critiscm for having spiritual beliefs. Their are those who feel that being gay automaticall excludes you from participating in a religion. To which I disagree. My feelings on religion is that it is a related, but separate thing from spirituality...the form that our spirituality takes is of less consequence than what we do with it. This idea extends into all facets of human existance. Give a human being a rock and they can turn to a variety of uses. It can be a tool to create with, or a weapon to harm others with....depending on the individual.

...and then theres the rare man that would turn something as mundane as rock into a thing of Michealangelo's David. Everything has its positive and negative expressions that depend solely on us as people and what we chose do with it. To demonstrate my point... in current news is the story of the recent scandals surrounding the catholic church and Pope Benedict of the most powerfull and outspoken anti-gay voices of our day....with a counterpoint from retired Bishop Desmond Tutu.

The first scandal to hit the church, reported in the Washington Post is the story of a gay prostitution ring being run by the leader of the St. Peter's Basilica choir , the Cappella Giulia, in Rome. 40 year old Ghinedu Ehiem and his assitant Lorenzo Renzi acting as a pimps...arranged encounters with aspiring seminarians, choir members, and others outside the Holy See....from the Vatican.

Of the four men arrested in the investigation for soliciting the services of these men is a member of Pope Benedicts elite ushers "The Gentlemen of His Holiness"....Angelo Balducci. The Gentlemen of his holiness act as ushers for upscale events within the Holy See and serve at important events. Baldacci is also a member of the Italian public works department and a Vatican construction consultant.

Further developments posted by Gay News Watch give details on text messages sent between Ehiem and Balducci...most of which are pretty incriminating. Like this quote from the GNW...

I couldn't help but laugh as I read this. The last time I went to Rome...going to a gay bar was an interesting experience. The Vatican will not allow gay as a work around, gay establishments belong to an organization that grants them the status of a "private club". Tourists and locals who want to attend a bar have to join the club and litterally get a card issued to them. We had to flash this card at every establishment, usually to a pair of eyes peeking out of a small sliding panel in the door. So....going to a gay bar in Rome requires legal acrobatics but solicting male prostitutes was literally happening within the walls of the Vatican....this is one of lifes little ironies I guess.
In one wiretap from last December, Renzi is heard explaining the rules of engagement: "You'll get up to 2,000 euros ... Do not touch his balls. You need the money. Put on some music, take out the [inaudible], swallow the Viagra, and adelante!"

The Vaticans response?....Personal accountability?....transparency?....nope...An joke....Per The Daily Record Father Gabriele Amorth has made claims that the story above is all the work of Evil influence within the Holy See. Amorth had this to say about the recent scandals and how they relate to his line of work as official church exorcist:

Italian priest Fr Amorth said: "His Holiness fully believes in casting out evil.

"The Devil lives in the Vatican. Naturally it's difficult to find proof but the true consequences are visible.

"We have cardinals who don't believe in Christ, bishops connected with demons.

"Then we have these stories of paedophilia. You can see the rot when we speak of Satan's smoke in the holy rooms of the Vatican."

But the trouble for the Catholic Church had only just begun to surface. Pope Benedict XVI is now linked to at least three distinct sex abuse scandals.

The first of the allegations  that involved His Holiness Himself is reported in The Huffington Post. It is a story of child sex abuse and cover up. In 1980, a priest was accused of sexually abusing an 11-year old boy. The Pope, then Cardinal Ratzinger, was head of the Munich archdiocese in which the offense occured. The offending priest, rather than being arrested and dismissed from his post, was sent to therapy. Afterward, he was reassigned to Graffing where he then sexually abused more children under his charge. But Ratzinger claims to have no knowledge of this occuring.

The Vaticans official line is that handling of the case and transfer of the priest was undertaken by a subordinate and that then Cardinal Ratzinger had no direct involvement in the case...or as the vatican explains...any idea what was going on. In a statement to the New York Times the Vicar General claimed full responsibility for returning the priest to pastoral duties....even though Cardinal Ratzinger approved of the reassignment. I'm sorry...but does Ratzinger seem like the kind of man that would not know something like this was going on? I don't believe so. But hey...if you can miss a whole prostitution ring, I guess anythings possible. which brings us to our next scandal linking the Pope.

Second on our list of Papal troubles is reported in the same Huffpost article regarding a Vatican Document penned by his holiness in 2001 instructing Bishopes to keep a lid on abuse cases. Thats the Catholic Church's response to the overwhelming number of cases emerging not only in the United States...but around the world....Don't acknowledge anything is wrong within the church...just keep attacking gays, abortion, and contraception and turn a blind eye to everything else and hope no one notices.

Incidence number three involves Pope Benedict XVI and his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger. Msgr. Ratzinger was Choir master of the Regensburger Boys Choir at a religious school in Bavaria that his brother, then the Archbishop, led. According to the article:

All there is as of now is allegations..this in no way  counts as a smoking gun....yet. But even allegations are an unwelcome event to a Pope who is also fending off charges of covering up abuse in his other assignments within the church. In addition, The station of Pope brings with it a sense of infallability to those of the Catholic Faith. If the Pope is shown to have actively covered up the abuse of children..not just in some far way land (America) but also from the Vatican itself..this could cause another serious blow to the credibility of the Church's moral authority....or, we could just call in a few more exorcists.
there was, according to one of the accusers, an “elaborate system of sadistic punishments combined with sexual lust.” Indeed. While Msgr. Ratzinger, now 86, professes to have no knowledge of the lust, he is now apologizing for slapping students: “I, too, slapped people in the face, but I always had a bad conscience about it.”

On the flip sid of these events comes a man using his faith and his voice to stand up for those who...right now...have no one to stand up for them....African Gays. In a stunning Washington Post article, Retired Bishop Desmond Tutu wrote an article meant to be a firm statement rejecting the religious fervor against gays , now sweeping through Africa. What he wrote stopped me in my tracks because, even though it was meant for those in Africa, it felt like his message was delivered for all of us. It is a beautifull message of support for the gay community from a man with a history of standing for the courage of his convictions. (emphasis mine)

Hate has no place in the house of God. No one should be excluded from our love, our compassion or our concern because of race or gender, faith or ethnicity -- or because of their sexual orientation. Nor should anyone be excluded from health care on any of these grounds. In my country of South Africa, we struggled for years against the evil system of apartheid that divided human beings, children of the same God, by racial classification and then denied many of them fundamental human rights. We knew this was wrong. Thankfully, the world supported us in our struggle for freedom and dignity.

It is time to stand up against another wrong.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are part of so many families. They are part of the human family. They are part of God's family. And of course they are part of the African family. But a wave of hate is spreading across my beloved continent. People are again being denied their fundamental rights and freedoms. Men have been falsely charged and imprisoned in Senegal, and health services for these men and their community have suffered. In Malawi, men have been jailed and humiliated for expressing their partnerships with other men. Just this month, mobs in Mtwapa Township, Kenya, attacked men they suspected of being gay. Kenyan religious leaders, I am ashamed to say, threatened an HIV clinic there for providing counseling services to all members of that community, because the clerics wanted gay men excluded.

Uganda's parliament is debating legislation that would make homosexuality punishable by life imprisonment, and more discriminatory legislation has been debated in Rwanda and Burundi.

These are terrible backward steps for human rights in Africa.

Our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters across Africa are living in fear.

And they are living in hiding -- away from care, away from the protection the state should offer to every citizen and away from health care in the AIDS era, when all of us, especially Africans, need access to essential HIV services. That this pandering to intolerance is being done by politicians looking for scapegoats for their failures is not surprising. But it is a great wrong. An even larger offense is that it is being done in the name of God. Show me where Christ said "Love thy fellow man, except for the gay ones." Gay people, too, are made in my God's image. I would never worship a homophobic God.

"But they are sinners," I can hear the preachers and politicians say. "They are choosing a life of sin for which they must be punished." My scientist and medical friends have shared with me a reality that so many gay people have confirmed, I now know it in my heart to be true. No one chooses to be gay. Sexual orientation, like skin color, is another feature of our diversity as a human family. Isn't it amazing that we are all made in God's image, and yet there is so much diversity among his people? Does God love his dark- or his light-skinned children less? The brave more than the timid? And does any of us know the mind of God so well that we can decide for him who is included, and who is excluded, from the circle of his love?

The wave of hate must stop. Politicians who profit from exploiting this hate, from fanning it, must not be tempted by this easy way to profit from fear and misunderstanding. And my fellow clerics, of all faiths, must stand up for the principles of universal dignity and fellowship. Exclusion is never the way forward on our shared paths to freedom and justice.

Wow....just...Wow....Faith communities of all stripes should take a page from this mans playbook. How much fear and pain would be lifted from the world if gay and transgendered people could look to religious communities as pillars of support , as this man has demonstrated, rather than the very source of oppression?

And what makes Bishop Desmond Tutu such a remarkably different man than Pope Benedict XVI? Both represent  how men can use their religion for great good or great ill. Is the religious form itself to blame for who these men are and what they have done with their faith? This writer doesn't believe so. Rather, both men had been handed a rock. One man used his to fashion a weapon against others in order to maintain the order of his world. The other man, having been on the recieving end of that kind of oppression used what was given to him to fashion a tool to help create a thing of beauty. The end result was less a consequence of religion, so much as the men themselves and who they are in their deepest selves...and how they chose to use the same set of beliefs in very different ways.

In a time when the gay and transgendered community is suffering so much at the hands of religion. Its important to understand this distinction.  Anger is natural...and understandable under the circumstance in which we find ourselves. To deny that, is to lie that puts us in danger of being ambushed by our own honest reactions to lifes events. However, If we allow ourselves to hate back because we were first hated...we become the beast we fight. Its not my intent to say that my readers need to be religious. Belief in any religion is not the point here....Belief in love, courage, and conscience is. These attributes are larger than any faith. They embrace the whole of humanity and allow us to use what is given to us in life to make it a thing of beauty.


  1. Beautiful Blog, and an amazing article by Bishop Tutu. I think that people see a conflict with religion and being gay because of how they were taught religion. They are taught to fear God. To fear Hell. To fear wrath and sin. I grew up in a Catholic household and was raised to fear God, that anything I did out of sin condemned me to hell. That there was no salvation or absolution and that being gay was borderlined pedophilia/rape. This can change. Like you said, we need to teach from a standing of love, compassion, virtue and truth. People of my church focused moreso on the 7 sins... but forgot the 7 virtues. They were so worried about how much pain their souls will endure in hell, that they condemned others to justify that they aren't as bad in their actions as the gay community. We need to get rid of the hate. Starting now. So thanks Bryan for educating your kids and your family from a stance of love and compassion. You guys are the first step. Daniel and Selena are the next one. Take Care.


    Davis, CA

  2. What a beautifully written post, Bryan. Thanks for all you do!

  3. I saved the Desmond Tutu article when I first saw it, so I would have something to pull out the next time someone jumps to conclusions about what 'Christians' believe.

    I wish my church were more full of men like him!

    Great post Bryan!

  4. Despite my post response about having issues with organized religion, I definitely agree with what you've said. It's not the religion itself that is bad, it's those within the religion that can use it for their own purpose that determine what expression it ends up taking. I try to not making sweeping generalizations when I can, but if I do I always try to preface it with a, "Generally speaking..." or a "usually"

    That's why I said my issue with religion is that it's used as a political vehicle. Of course this goes for almost any educational institution including schools, the family, society and its subsets, etc. Obviously homophobia is not limited to just religion, it just tends to be a very visible example. Of course it depends on the individual whether to interpret and believe in a homophobic way because there are plenty of religious individuals who aren't homophobic or anti-gay

    1 issue I have with religion is that it mixes a lot of different things: spirituality, morality, truth, etc. As you said spirituality =/= religion. Same with the other stuff. People within a religion will be religious for a variety of reasons. Some may encompass parts of it, and some may believe every single tenet of their faith. I just find it really dangerous when morality and truth start mixing. Because like with an atheist, they can believe that they're correct about the world, but there's no kind of moral code attached to how they should live in the world. Whereas with religion, it lays out do's and don'ts along with claiming to know the truth of the world. So a believer possibly might think less critically about reality on their own and just take on the ethical standards of their religion because to them it is truth. And if they happen to interpret their religion in a way that's hateful, unjust, discriminatory, etc. then it becomes very difficult to combat because it's coded in not only "truth" to that individual but "morality". The person is actually convinced they are doing a "good" or "moral" thing by being hateful or judging others or fighting against gay rights.

  5. Great Post, Bryan. I've always loved Desmond Tutu. We need more religious leaders like him. People of all faiths can learn from this article. It's our spiritual duty to stop the hate. Another religious leader I mentioned in a youtube message who's cool with the gays is the Eastern Orthodox Archbishop Lazar. He actually has a youtube channel where he makes videos from his monastery. People like this will change the hearts and minds of spiritual people in generations to come. Great blog!

  6. great post bryan. i couldn't agree more.

  7. Bryan

    Great Job !Well done! I agree with you on this!!

  8. The Catholic Church sexual abuse has hit my country now as well. At least 600 people (mostly men) have come forward in 2 weeks time and it's number is still growing. This mostly happened in 50's/60's but who knows what more will come to light. It happened not only at Catholic boarding schools, but also public Catholic primary and secondary schools, and Catholic sports clubs etc.
    I always wondered after your country, Bryan, and recently in Ireland, if it happened here too. It's terrible.

  9. That is what religion is supposed to be all about, love, compassion, and a helping hand up. Where did all religion get so lost?

    The catholic church has come to a very important crossroads, down one path lies forgiveness, and the other a slow withering death. They need to come clean and start firing priests who are guilty of child sex abuse. Turning over all information to the local police. They need to apologize to their members, and seek public penitence. The pope should take the lead in this, and quit.

    Once again a great post!

  10. You are quite right about Christianity, it can be used for good or bad, depending on who is doing the using.

    That is why I get cross with people on your videos when they say you should abandon your religion as a good cause. People can make of religion what they want and without people like you on the inside what hope does it have?

  11. This is such a great post. I could not agree more. We're doing a roundup on spirituality and children at goodkin next month, so we've been talking about all of this non stop. In Los Angeles, we have a lot of access to alternatives to just the church, temple or mosque, and I am really grateful for that.
    Keep up the great work!

  12. Hi Bryan,
    I would first like to say that I’ve discovered your blog about a week ago and that I’ve enjoyed sifting through your posts tremendously. Your writing exhibits a great sense of purpose and reflection, qualities which are becoming more difficult to find in our Twitter world!

    I’ve been brought up in a Christian family, Catholic to be more precise, but my parents have always been very pragmatic people nonetheless. I remember my father would often cite Galilei and say: "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." That is why I have always been very critical of the Church as well as organized religion in general.

    As a French Canadian, I believe the recent sexual scandals only demonstrated that history repeats itself. Only 50 years ago, Quebecers could arguably be considered the most fervent Catholics in the World but scandals after scandals have disillusioned us toward the moral authority of the Church. As a direct result, gay adoption was legalized in 2002 and gay marriage in 2004. Today I am witness to the long but inevitable fall of the Catholic Church as we know it.

    There is so much talk about the separation of church and state but the reality is that both are hardly divisible since religion has always been nothing more than a political instrument. The Church, monarchs, despots; all have used religion to further both their control over the populace and their political goals. As Frederik the Great would say: “Religion is the idol of the mob; it adores everything it does not understand.”

    The Bible is the greatest example of such a sad reality. This book is an evolutionary work that came into being (with the help of Emperor Constantine) over several years of ecumenical council by bishops of the early Roman church. It was this Emperor, a pagan, who established the need for a unified set of beliefs to unite his empire. Unfortunately, the use of religion as a political tool as forced homosexuals to pay a steep price during the last millennia. As Yale historian John Boswell notes:
    “A campaign to stir up support for the Crusades by vilifying the Muslims with charges of homosexual rape also played a part in Christian Europe's change of attitude toward gay and lesbian sex.”

    Needless to say, I have been disillusioned not only by the purpose but also by the intention of the church as I was growing up. This is why the article by Desmond Tutu inspires me tremendously and reignites my hope in the future. Who would have thought that an African Bishop would pronounce such a sentence: “Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are part of so many families. They are part of the human family.” His intention seems to try and rally us together not by the belief in one true god but rather by our shared faith in humanity. He pushes us not to seek the answers through the divine but to look for it within ourselves. He drives the reflection even further by saying:

    “No one chooses to be gay. Sexual orientation, like skin color, is another feature of our diversity as a human family. Isn't it amazing that we are all made in God's image, and yet there is so much diversity among his people?”

    Contrarily to Mr Tutu, I am not sure if God exist but still, isn’t it amazing to hear this from a Bishop? After all it seems so easy to understand. In Genesis, after God creates the earth and mankind, it is said: "And, the Lord saw that it was good." If a God created us and if everything it created is good, how can a gay person be guilty of being anything more than what that God created him or her to be?

    Well, I think I spoke too much! Thanks again.


  13. @ David

    I think the difference in Bishop Tutu is life experience. The former Bishops has himself been on the recieving end of terrany and suffering. that changes your outlook on the world. In addition he has educated himself on the realities of the world around seems to me...actually gotten out into the world and met a few gay people without the blinders of dogma.

    I don't see that so much in Pope Benedict...there I see a man trying desparatly to reestablish the power of the church...but what can I say, I have not walked a mile in his shoes.

  14. It is true that life experience must have had a deep impact on Bishop Tutu's views. I guess the same can be said for Nelson Mandela. However, I find it sad that sometimes, the only thing which seems to bring us together is common sorrow. Can't we put ourselves in somebody else's shoes even when things are going well?

    As for Pope Benedict, I still don't understand why he was chosen to represent the Church. A aunt of mine is a pious woman who worked all her life for a religious congregation. Yet, when she learned that Cardinal Ratzinger was the new Pope, she was deeply saddened and told me that the Church was alienating itself from the general population and most specifically, youth. Some analyst are suggesting that the next pope might be Cardinal Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec, and thus Primate of Canada. This guy is even more conservative than Pope Benedict...I just don't understand what they are thinking.

    Anyway, have a great wednesday!

  15. @ David

    I'm sorry to butt in here, but I want to correct your history a bit here, David. The little bit you say about the Bible being an evolutionary work put together by an ecumenical council of bishops is plain wrong. The council of bishops that you're referring to is the Council of Nicea. We have all the rulings from that council and the issue of biblical canon never came up. Biblical canon had already been decided much earlier by the church fathers. By the time of the council, canon was already well established by most Christians in the Roman Empire. This video here will clarify:

    Also, Constantine was not a pagan, but had already converted to Christianity by that point. The bishops who formed the Council of Nicea were already established in churches throughout the empire and were gathered at the council to gather support for Constantine as Christians had been persecuted by Rome up to that point, and were skeptical when the emperor converted. The video link above explains it better than I can.

  16. @ Daniel

    Don't feel sorry to butt in!!! Your input is great because I just looked at what I wrote and I completely understand why you would think it is deeply inaccurate: I was lazy and I tried to fuse two different arguments into one. The council I was referring to isn’t the Council of Nicaea but rather the Church Council of Carthage. It is during that meeting that Bishops initially agreed on what books would be part of the New Testament. That being said, I am not a bible expert, far...far from it. I usually look for bible facts from the Bible Society Organization, which says on the subject:

    "There is some debate about how exactly the collection was compiled. In broad terms, it happened in a series of stages. During the 1st century AD, a collection of Christian Scriptures made up of accounts of the life of Jesus and letters of the apostle Paul;

    The 2nd century AD saw a collection develop called ‘Gospel and Apostle’. ‘The Gospel’ was four accounts of the life of Jesus known as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. ‘Apostle’ was the collection of the letters written by Paul and, later, for writings by other apostles. 20 of the 27 books of the New Testament had already been agreed upon by the end of the 2nd century AD;

    In the middle of the 2nd century AD, groups on the fringe of the Christian movement started to come up with their own gospels and letters. This forced the mainstream Church to define which works were part of the New Testament;

    The first official list was insisted on at the Church Council of Carthage towards the end of the 3rd century AD. This list was settled on during the 4th century AD.”

    So yes, what I originally wrote was very poorly phrased!!! Very interesting video by the way.