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Friday, January 04, 2013

News from Blighty

Our cousins across the pond are having all sorts of ecclesiastical fun this week.

First comes the Church of England, which, having been forbidden by civil authority from even voting on whether or not it would perform the same-sex marriages now available (in theory) to other churches, has decided that it will accept bishops who are openly gay, and even living in covenanted relationships.

It will accept them, that is, with two rather challenging provisos:  first, that they agree to remain celibate; and second, that they formally repent of all previous "homosexual activity."  (This last, we take it, means sex per se, rather than, say, dressing stylishly, shopping for groceries, or doing any of the various other things one might reasonably do while homosexual).

The situation is heavy with irony.  Most obviously, the CofE is making room for gay men to become bishops shortly after having failed to permit women, however sexually conventional.  That's gotta hurt.

Beyond that, the celibacy and repentance requirements point to a very particular understanding of sexuality (homo or, by extension, hetero) as a matter of discrete acts, rather than an ontological condition.  This is no more inherently absurd than the modern effort to divide the human race into separate sexual camps -- homo, hetero and bi -- as though the behavior of the heart and loins could be so easily epitomized.  It is no more absurd to imagine that one's sexuality is merely a series of actions, disconnected from one's character and even being, but it is surely no less so.

The argument between these two theories is old and futile.  Generally, theological conservatives have preferred the "discrete actions" theory, and felt threatened by the idea that homosexuality, much less "gayness," can be claimed as an identity .  The first theory  allows an infinite sequence of lapses and confessions, which is after all a natural part of Christian living.  Unfortunately for them, it is the second theory -- in which one's sexual preferences are an intrinsic part of one's being, and those which harm nobody may be acted upon in good conscience, and even regarded as gifts of God -- which has more or less won the day in the contemporary West.

So it seems that the Anglicans have put themselves in an awkward position here.  They have embraced a theory beloved by their conservative wing, but to an end which may make many conservatives deeply uncomfortable.  Meanwhile, they have done so in a way which liberals will find preposterous, and which simply slaps feminists across the face.  Good show, chaps.

Second, of course, is the Ordinariate of O.L. of Walsingham, which after typing it so many times we now wish were called the Alcuin Club.  Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, has given the Ordinariate (shall we call it O.o.O.L.o.W.?) the use of a lovely 18th-century church in London.  The awkward bit is that, until just recently, that building -- Our Lady of the Assumption, Warwick Street -- was in use by a quite different group.

The Soho Masses community has, for many years, brought together Catholics who identify as "LGBT/queer."  One cannot readily imagine such a community sharing space with a group which has fled Anglicanism, in large part, because of the wrangling over sex.  (It would no doubt do both clans much good to be forced together, but still ....)  So Abp. Nichols has evicted them from Assumption, and they will shortly take up residence with the Jesuits, at Immaculate Conception, Farm Street.

We aren't sure what to make of this.  The Soho Masses website (and the personal blog of its organizer) is quite cheery about the whole thing.  Their community has been growing, and the coffee-hour space at Warwick Street was getting tight, not to mention that the bathrooms were a bit dingy.  The most awkward bit, they say, is that the Soho Masses will now be held in Mayfair.  Publicly, in other words, they treat the affair as a sign of the archbishop's pastoral care.  And so it may be, although we do note that the Jesuits, who stepped in to help, are not under Nichols' authority.

Anyway, it sounds like everybody is having a jolly time over there.

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