On 30th April, 1999, Morley was on duty at the Admiral Duncan pub in London’s Old Compton Street when it was hit by a nail bomb attack, which killed three people and wounded about 70 others. Morley was injured, not killed, and ignoring his own burns, he set about helping others who were more seriously wounded as best he could.
On the day of the attack, Helvey and Vins had purchased (between just two people) two large bottles of whiskey, a bottle of schnapps, a bottle of vodka, orange juice and a six-pack of beer and went drinking in a park, where they saw Schindler, and followed him into a public restroom. In a completely unprovoked attack, Helvey assaulted Schindler with fists and feet, leaving him so badly mutilated that medical evidence described the body as similar in its wounds to those that might be sustained by being stomped on by a horse, or from a high speed car crash, or even in a low speed aircraft accident. The body was so badly mutilated, that Schindler’s family were unable to recognize him, except by tattoo marks on his arms.
During the trial Helvey denied that he killed Schindler because he was gay, stating, “I did not attack him because he was homosexual” but evidence presented by Navy investigator, Kennon F. Privette, from the interrogation of Helvey the day after the murder showed otherwise. “He said he hated homosexuals. He was disgusted by them,” Privette said. On killing Schindler, Privette quoted Helvey as saying: “I don’t regret it. I’d do it again. … He deserved it.”
After his death, the naval authorities that had failed to protect him, continued to behave shamefully, initially denying that they had received any complaints of harassment. They refused to speak publicly about the case or to release the Japanese murder report, and were “less than forthcoming” even to Schindler’s mother.
Truth however, will out. Helvey and Vins eventually faced a trial in open court. Helvey received a life sentence for murder, and Vins served a 78-day sentence before receiving a general discharge from the Navy in plea bargain to lesser offences, including failure to report a serious crime and to testify truthfully against Terry Helvey. The captain who kept the incident quiet was demoted and transferred to Florida.
The case was one of the impulses to the passing of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, which for all its manifest faults, was initially an attempt to provide some form of protection to gays and lesbians in the military (provided they “didn’t tell”.
(Also see Kittredge Cherry’s reflection at Jesus in Love, and a wonderful painting of The Murder of Allen Schindler by Matthew Wettlaufer)
Allen J Schnidler, Wikipedia,
Allen Schindler, in memoriam, at Auschwitz.dk
Allen R. Schindler, Jr.,Petty Officer Third Class, United States Navyat Matt and Andrej Koymasky’s Memorial Hall
For Ash Wednesday, I reminded readers here that the season of Lent is also a “joyful” season, an aspect that should not be ignored. We should never forget though, that it is also a solemn time, above all a time for repentance and renewal, individually and collectively. So, it was entirely appropriate and welcome ten years ago, that at the start of the season Pope John Paul spoke of the horrors that had been perpetrated by the church in the past, apologised for the evils it had done to Jews and Muslims, and asked for forgiveness. This was important and welcome: I do not wish to belittle it in any way. However, there is an important category of offence which was omitted from the list, for which he did not apologise, and for which there has never been any apology: the persecution of “sodomites”.
For the first thousand years of its history, the Church was disapproving of homoerotic relationships, as it was of all sexual expression, but showed varying degrees of tolerance, culminating in what John Boswell described as a flowering of a gay sub-culture in the high medieval period. During the 11th century, Burchard, the Bishop of Worms in Germany,
“classified homosexuality as a variety of fornication less serious than heterosexual adultery. He assigned penance for homosexual acts only to married men. In civil legislation regulating family life in the diocese of Worms there is no mention of homosexual behaviour”
In 1059, the Lateran synod accepted all of the reforms for the church proposed by St Peter Damian – except for his proposal for harsher penalties against monks engaged in homosexual affairs.
All that changed within a few decades. In 1120, the Church Council of Nablus specified burning at the stake for homosexual acts. Although this penalty may not immediately have been applied, other harsh condemnations followed rapidly. In 1212, the death penalty for sodomy was specified in in France. Before long the execution of supposed “sodomites”, often by burning at the stake, but also by other harsh means, had become regular practice in many areas.
Historical research to date has been patchy, and in many places the records have not survived. Even so, the evidence from the modest research we do have is horrifying. In the largest scale, and best known, single incident, over 400 hundred Knights Templar were burned in the early 14th century. This is usually discussed in terms of trials for “heresy”, but in fact the charges were of both heresy and sodomy. (These terms were often associated and confused at the time, but much of the evidence in the Templar trials made it clear that specifically sexual offences were meant).
To modern researchers, it is clear that the trials were deeply flawed, with the procedures seriously stacked against the accused. In marking the 700th anniversary of the trials in 2007, the Vatican explicitly cleared those killed of the charges of heresy – but said never a word about the charges of sodomy.
Elsewhere, the trials and punishments were of individuals, or of small groups – but with equally flawed judicial procedures. (Typically, the prosecutor was also judge; torture was widely used to extract confessions; and church and state benefited by sharing the property of those convicted). These were sometimes under the auspices of the Inquisition, sometimes of the state – but always inspired by church preaching against the “sodomites”.
The severity of the pursuit and punishments varied from place to place. Venice was one of the harshest, with several hundred executions from 1422, until the persecution finally ended. In Spain, it was calculated that in total there were more burnings for homosexuality than for heresy. Executions also applied in the New World – in both North America (where some of the colonists were accused and convicted) and South (where it was the indigenous locals who suffered for the Spanish prejudices) . Altogether, it is likely that executions in Southern Europe, either by or with the collaboration of the Church, amounted to several thousand men.
After the Reformation, the practice of burning homosexuals spread to Northern Europe and some of the new Protestant territories, where the practice was sometimes use as a pretext to attack Catholic clergy: in Belgium, several Franciscans were burnt for sodomy, as was a Jesuit in Antwerp (in 1601).
The persecution finally began to ease from the late 17th century, when some “softening” became evident by the Inquisition in Spain. Nevertheless, some executions continued throughout the eighteenth century, to as late as 1816 in England. The statutory provision for the death penalty was not removed in England until 1861.
Obviously, the Catholic Church cannot be held directly responsible for the judicial sentences handed down by secular authorities in Protestant countries. It can, however, be held responsible for it part in fanning the flames of bigotry and hatred in the early part of the persecution, using the cloak of religion to provide cover for what was in reality based not on Scripture or the teaching of the early Church, but on simple intolerance and greed.
It is important as gay men lesbians and transgendered that we remember the examples of the many who have in earlier times been honoured by the Church as saints or martyrs for the faith. It is also important that we remember the example of the many thousands who have been martyred by the churches – Catholic and other.
- Crompton, Louis: Homosexuality and Civilization
- Greenberg, : The Construction of Homosexuality
- Naphy, William: Born to be Gay: A History of Homosexuality
- Len Evans, Gay Chronicles from the Beginning of time to the End of World War II
- “The Last Judgement”, and the Homoerotic Spirituality of Michaelangelo. (queeringthechurch.wordpress.com)
- Gay Popes: Sixtus IV (r. 1471-1484) (queerhistory.blogspot.com)
- Nov 1st: All (Gay) Saints (queering-the-church.com)
- Celibacy, Homosexuality, Jeffrey John and Cardinal Newman (queertheology.blogspot.com)