Vida Dutton Scudder is a rare example of a modern lesbian who is a recognized Christian saint (recognized by the US Episcopal Church, not the Roman Catholics). Her work and message are particularly relevant to the twentieth century, as we grapple with an economic crisis triggered in effect by corporate and consumer greed.
Born in 1861, over a long life Scudder was an educator, writer, and welfare activist in the social gospel movement. Much of her thinking has particular relevance to us today, as we grapple with a financial and economic crisis precipitated in effect by a corporate and consumer culture marked by unrestrained greed. Throughout her life Scudder’s primary relationships and support network were women. From 1919 until her death, Scudder was in a relationship with Florence Converse, with whom she lived.
A suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, she is the first open lesbian to be consecrated a bishop in the Anglican Communion.
Glasspool was born on February 23, 1954, in Staten Island Hospital, New York, to Douglas Murray Glasspool and Anne Dickinson. Later that year the Glasspool family moved to Goshen, New York, where her father served as Rector of St. James’ Church until his death in 1989. She entered the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1976 and was ordained a deacon in June 1981 and a priest in March 1982. In 1981, Glasspool became assistant to the rector at St. Paul’s Church in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, where she served until 1984. She was the rector of St. Luke’s and St. Margaret’s Church in Boston from 1984 to 1992, then the rector of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, Annapolis, from 1992 to 2001, and was called to serve as canon to the bishops for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland in 2001.
Glasspool was elected a bishop suffragan on December 4, 2009, on the seventh ballot at the 115th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles in Riverside, California. On March 17, 2010, the Presiding Bishop’s Office certified that her election had received the necessary consents and she was subsequently consecrated on May 15, 2010, in Long Beach, California. Glasspool is the 17th woman and the first openly gay woman elected to the episcopate in the Episcopal Church. Her election has gained worldwide attention in the context of the ongoing debate about gay bishops in Anglicanism.
Bishop Mary Glasspool has now been consecrated as a bishop in the diocese of Los Angeles, making her the second openly gay bishop in the Episcopal church. Some sources are describing her as the second gay bishop in history” – but that would be pushing it, and is breathtaking in its cultural myopia.
So, for context and a refresher once again of how deeply homoerotic relationships have been embedded in the Christian church, I offer some reminders. Mary Glasspool is the first openly lesbian bishop in the Episcopal church, but not the first lesbian bishop globally: That would be Bishop Eva Brunne, consecrated by the Swedish Lutherans last year (2009).
Popular reports name Bishop Gene Robinson as the first gay bishop, but that’s oversimplifying. He was the first modern bishop in the Anglican communion to be consecrated while openly gay, but there have been others before him who came out openly after being named bishop – for example, Otis Charles, also of Utah, Derek Rawcliffe of Glasgow and Galloway in the Scottish Episcopalian church, and Mervyn Castle of False Bay (part of the Archdiocese of Cape Town in the Anglican, “Church of the Province of South Africa”).
In the days of the early church, Bishop Paulinus of Nola not only had a boyfriend, he commemorated his love in some frankly erotic love poetry. Bishop Venantius Fortunatus was another. Both of these men are canonized saints. Bishop Arno of Salzburg may not have written erotic verse, but he received some, from Saint Alcuin of Tours. (He also had a relationship with Paulinus, as did Alcuin, in some kind of clerical threesome). Bishop Marbod of Rennes (11th century) also wrote erotic verse to a boyfriend, but was not canonized. Other early bishops also had male lovers, but because they are not remembered as saints, and have not left memorable erotic verse, we do not know their details.
We do know about the ordination of one openly gay bishop, John of Orleans, in the eleventh century, at the instigation of his lover Ralph, the Archbishop of Tours, because of the scandal it caused. This scandal was not because John was both gay and famously promiscuous, but because of his youth and Ralph’s obvious nepotism. How many other openly gay bishops were consecrated at that time without the same scandal, we just don’t know.
Clouding the issue of “gay” bishops is one of terminology, especially against a background of monastic celibacy. There are strong grounds for describing another recognised saint, Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury, as “gay”, even if celibate, on the basis of his writing and passionate love letters to his monastic “friends”. He should definitely be remembered as a protector of gays, for rejecting a decision by the London synod to impose harsh penalties for homosexual actions.
Then are the succession of gay popes: Julius II, Julius III, Paul II, and possibly John XII (r. 955-964), Benedict IX (r. 1033-1045; 1047-1048), John XXII (r. 1316-34), Paul II (r. 1464-1471), Sixtus IV (r. 1471-1484), Alexander VI (r. 1492-1503), Julius II (r. 1503-1513) and Leo X (r. 1513-1521) (See Jesse’s Journal at Gay Today).
In the modern Catholic Church , there have been no openly gay bishops or popes, but there have certainly been many in the closet. There are credible claims that that Paul VI may have had his share of boyfriends, at least before becoming pope, and similar suggestions that the “Smiling Pope“, John Paul I, may have been gay. And on Wiki Answers, there is a claim that Pope Benedict himself is gay.
Then there are certainly hundreds of closeted gay bishops in the Catholic Church. The late Cardinal Spellman of New York was notorious in his day. Allegations have been made against Cardinal Wuerl of Washington and others who surround themselves with obviously gay fan clubs – while publicly attacking LGBT equality.
I accept that hard as it is to be openly gay as a Catholic priest, it will be obviously that much harder as a bishop. But I do wish journalists, who undoubtedly have the required evidence, would be less reticent about outing those gay bishops who are publicly hostile. If it is too much to hope that we in the Catholic Church can expect any time soon to see bishops coming out publicly to join their Episcopal and Lutheran counterparts, perhaps the threat of involuntary outing could at least dampen their public hostility to civil rights advances.