Category Archives: Uncategorized

Harvey Milk, Secular Gay Saint and Modern Martyr

In California, May 22 is officially recognised as “Harvey Milk Day“. The reasons for this secular honour are well-known, and recorded in several books and notable movies.  In 1977, he became the first openly gay man elected to public office as a gay man, but served for only a short term before he was assassinated on  Nov. 27, 1978. Even in that brief term of office, he made his mark with his contribution to San Francisco’s landmark Gay Rights Ordinance, and to the defeat of the Briggs initiative, which would have required California school districts to fire openly gay and lesbian teachers, but was defeated in the November election shortly before Milk’s assassination. Rather than rehashing the bare facts of Harvey Milk’s life and career, which can be read elsewhere, I want to reflect a little on the symbolism and lessons that these have acquired, three decades later.

Although he is best known for his unique position as a trailblazer for out gay politicians, his work was not limited to queer advocacy, as Kittredge Cherry reminds us at Jesus in Love:

Milk (1930-1978) served only 11 months on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors before he was killed, but in that short time he fought for the rights of the elderly, small business owners, and the many ethnic communities in his district as well as for the growing LGBT community.

Continue reading Harvey Milk, Secular Gay Saint and Modern Martyr

Let Us Remember, March 17th: St Patrick of Ireland- a Gay Role Model?

So why should we see St Paddy as a gay icon?

In a notable book on Irish gay history (Terrible Queer Creatures“) Brian Lacey presents some evidence that Patrick may have had a long term intimate relationship with a man:
“St. Patrick himself may have had a relationship tinged with homoeroticism. Tirechan, a late seventh century cleric who wrote about St. Patrick, tells the story of a man Patrick visited and converted to Christianity, who had a son to whom Patrick took a strong liking. Tirechan wrote that “he gave him the name Benignus, because he took Patrick’s feet between his hands and would not sleep with his father and mother, but wept unless he would be allowed to sleep with Patrick.” Patrick baptized the boy and made him his close lifelong companion, so much so that Benignus succeeded Patrick as bishop of Armagh.”
Among the few verifiable facts of Patrick’s life, are that when he was about 16, he was captured from his home and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family. After becoming a cleric, he returned to northern and western Ireland as an ordained bishop, but little is known about the places where he worked. By the seventh century, he had already come to be revered as the patron saint of Ireland.
It is his return to his place of hardship and slavery that should interest LGBT Catholics. Somewhere, I read a report* that after his escape from slavery and return to Ireland, he supported himself by working for a time as a prostitute  – yes, good old Patrick is said to have sold sexual favours.

*  In a comment to an earlier posting of this piece, theologian John McNeill has said that he thinks the book with this story was “How the Irish Saved Civilization“, by Thomas Cahill. “He claims that Patrick paid for his passage back to Ireland by servicing the sailors on the boat.”



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The Non-European Popes

The election of Francis as a Pope from outside Europe is of great significance – not because he was the first non-European in the office, but because it reminds us that he was not. More accurately, as many press reports accurately put it, he is the first non- European pope since 13oo.  Before that, there were many others  – and the first use of the word “pope” was not applied to the bishop of Rome, but to other bishops of the Eastern Church. We have become so accustomed to identifying the Catholic Church with the Roman Catholic Church, that we forget that in its origins, the Church was Eastern, not primarily Roman at all.

The earliest “Christians” did not describe themselves as such, but simply as Jews who were followers of Christ. Later, when Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles took the message further afield, he travelled throughout the Eastern Roman Empire, as well as to Rome.

In addition to his Letter to the Romans, among his extant writings are letters to the church in Corinth, Philippi and Thessalonica on the Greek peninsula, in Ephesus, Colosse, and Galatia in Asia Minor – and to the Hebrews.  So it is not surprising that the earliest leaders of the Church should not have been from Western Europe, at all. The (Catholic) Professor of the History of Christianity at Cambridge University, Eammon Duffy, notes that for the first century of Christian history, there was no clear distinction between “bishops” and presbyters”, and when the bishop’s office did begin to become clearly defined in the early second century, this did not apply to Rome until about the mid- century.

Similarly, when the word “pope” was first used, it did not mean as it does today, a single head of the whole church, but was an honorific taken by a number of bishops.

In the early centuries of Christianity, this title was applied, especially in the east, to all bishops and other senior clergy, and later became reserved in the west to the Bishop of Rome, a reservation made official only in the 11th century. The earliest record of the use of this title was in regard to the by then deceased Patriarch of Alexandria, Pope Heraclas of Alexandria (232–248).


Reference to the Patriarch of Alexandria is important as a reminder that even as Rome did develop as an important centre of church authority, it was only one of five. In addition to the Patriarch of Alexandria, there were patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch and Constantinople – and of Rome. One striking example of to what extent the early church was based iu the East, not in Rome, comes from the record of the ecumenical councils, of which the first eight were held in the East (Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, Constantinople Two, Constantinople Three, 2nd Council of Nicaea). 

Although it for various reasons Rome was accorded particular respect, it was no more than one among equals. Rome was also assisted, in its rise to ultimate dominance, by developments in the Middle East, as the rise of Islam wiped out the influence of Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch. This left Rome and Constantinople in continuous rivalry for superiority, until first the Great Schism, and then the fall of Constantinople, left Rome in control of by far the major part of what was left of  the Christian Church. It was not until after the Schism that an ecumenical council was first held in Rome, with Lateran 1 in 1123.

Michelangelo Buonarotti

b. March 6, 1475

d. February 18, 1564


The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni is considered one of the greatest artists of all time. His art typified the High Renaissance style with use of naturalistic light, depiction of realistic figures and emphasis on the beauty of nature. One of the true “Renaissance men,” his talent encompassed fine art, architecture and poetry. He was referred to as “Il Divino” (“The Divine One”).


Michelangelo was born in the Tuscany region of Italy. At age 13, he started an apprenticeship in Florence with Domenic Ghirlandaio, from whom he learned fresco painting.


He moved to Rome and received a commission from the French ambassador to the Holy See, the central government of the Catholic Church. In 1497, he completed one of Christendom’s most significant artworks, the “Pietà.” The lifelike marble sculpture depicts Mary cradling the body of Christ after the Crucifixion.


His colossal marble statue “David” is considered the masterpiece of High Renaissance sculpture. Completed in 1501, the sculpture is 17 feet tall and is exhibited in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Florence.


Michelangelo was a primary architect of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and the sole designer of its dome. From 1508 to 1512, he painted what would become his most famous work, the ceiling frescoes of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. The frescoes include “The Creation of Adam,” in which God’s finger stretches out to give Adam life. These murals are considered the most magnificent and spiritual art of the Roman Catholic Church.


A lover of male beauty, Michelangelo’s lyrical poetry described his same sex-affection. He wrote: 


            The flesh now earth, and here my bones,

            Bereft of handsome eyes, and jaunty air,

            Still loyal are to him I joyed in bed,

            Whom I embraced, in whom my soul now lives


Let Us Remember, for Feb 14th, Queer Lovers in Church History

SS Sergius & Bacchus, Gay lovers, Roman soldires, martyrs and saints.
SS Sergius & Bacchus: Gay lovers, Roman soldiers, martyrs and saints.


As LGBT Catholics, it is important to recognize that our counterparts have featured strongly in Church history, although modern bowdlerized versions thereof have airbrushed us out.  To redevelop a sense of our rightful place in the church, it is important that we recover and take ownership of this history.From a range of sources, I am assembling a partial roll call of same sex lovers (not necessarily genital, but certainly intimate) in the history of the Catholic Church.  There are many others. These are some that I have come across:

Biblical Lovers:

David the prophet and Jonathan, his lover (10th /11th Cent BC)

The story of David and Jonathan is well known from the Hebrew bible.  It is not explicitly stated that there was a sexual relationship between them but the passionate language  is certainly that of lovers.

“And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soulof Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house. Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. “

Asher & Caleh.

Asher was a son of Solomon, Caleh a shepherd.  By some accounts these were the two lovers in the frankly erotic love poem, the “Song of Songs”, widely used as a metaphor for the love between God and humanity.   Usually presented as conventional heterosexual love, there is increasing recognition that the lovers were probably both men.

A translation by Dr Paul R Johnson directly from early texts includes the frankly homoerotic

“How delightful you are Caleh,My lover-man, my other half.Your pleasing masculine love is better than wine.The smell of your body is better than perfume.Your moustache is waxed with honeycomb.Honey and milk are under your tongue.The scent of your clothing is like the smell of Lebanon.”

A review of this book, posted on the Wild Reed, notes that:

“It gets to the heart of the question of whether the Hebrews and early Christians were fundamentally homophobic, or whether, as John Boswell has maintained, homophobia was a later addition. Johnson has consulted with many Hebrew scholars, who reluctantly concede the validity of his revolutionary word-for-word translation.”

The “Song of Songs” was recommended to me by a retreat director early in  the most important, totally profound, retreat I have ever undertaken.  She made no mention of gender in the recommendation, but I immediately interpreted the texts in same -sex terms.  I believe that such reflections on this book contributed  significantly to the powerful  retreat experience that followed.  I strongly urge my male readers in particular to read and pray over this marvelous homoerotic love poem.

Ruth & Naomi

Naomi was Ruth’s mother-in-law. Some people argue that there was also a lesbian relationship between them (which is not necessarily contradicted by the legal relationship).  What really matters though, is the sheer quality of the devotion. Whether this was in any way physical, or purely emotional, is no the point. Theirs is an inspirational story of devotion and loyalty overcoming enormous difficulties fro women, which many women in our day still find helpful.   

Jesus John, the Beloved Disciple:

We cannot know precisely the nature of this relationship, but it was clearly a close one.  some people find the mere suggestion that this was a sexually intimate one positively offensive; at least one reputable biblical scholar (Kevin Jennings, in “The Man Jesus Loved” argues that it was indeed so).  I find the idea certainly plausible without being offensive, but also irrelevant.  There are other reasons for accepting that Jesus was at least gay – affirming, and that John represents a good role model.

-for more, continue reading at Queer Saints and Martyrs


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Let Us Remember, for Feb 13th, Saints Polyeuct and Nearchos

The Roman soldiers, lovers and martyrs Sergius and Bacchus are well known examples of early queer saints. Polyeuct and Nearchos are not as familiar- but should be.  John Boswell (“Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe“) names the two as one of the three primary pairs of same sex lovers in the early church, their martyrdom coming about half a century after Felicity and Perpetua, and about another half century before  Sergius & Bacchus .

continue reading at Queer Saints and Martyrs


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Holocaust Memorial Day

On facebook yesterday, at the page for the “Soho Masses Community” group, Trish Fowlie wrote:

Let us remember Holocaust Memorial Day tomorrow (that is, Sunday 27th). I attended a service at an Anglican Church today, and was pleased that the minister had responded to my request to include the Men with the Pink Triangle in the prayers.

Let us remember, indeed. I offer for your consideration today, a posts on this theme that I have published previously, and another by Kittredge Cherry, at Jesus in Love.

The Priest With the Pink Triangle.

For the first post in my “queer modern heroes” series, I begin with someone most people have never heard of. (I’m not sure anyone even knows his name.) I begin with him because he represents a double martyrdom, martyred for his orientation, and also martyred for his faith. I choose him also precisely because he is anonymous, reminding us that in our own way, we are all called to our own heroism in the face of persecution, all called to be “martyrs” in the true, original sense – as witnesses to truth. I read this story in John McNeill’s “Taking a Chance on God“: McNeill got the story from Heinz Heger. These are McNeill’s words:

“I would like to end this reflection on the mature life of faith with the eyewitness account of a gay priest who was beaten to death in a German concentration camp during World War II because he refused to stop praying or to express contempt for himself. The story is recounted by Heinz Heger in his book “The Men With the Pink Triangle“, in which he he recalls what took place in the special concentration camp for gay men in Sachsenhausen (Sachsenhausen was a “level 3″ camp where prisoners were deliberately worked to death):

continue reading.


(also at Queering the Church, on a related theme: Lest We Forget: Remember the Ashes of Our Martyrs)


This day is commemorated on different dates in the UK, and the USA. From the other side of the Atlantic, for the American remembrance day in April, Kittredge Cherry reminded us at Jesus in Love:


Holocaust Remembrance: We All Wear the Triangle


Holy Priest Anonymous one of Sachsenhausen
By William Hart McNichols ©

On Holocaust Remembrance Day we recall the genocide of 6 million Jews in state-sponsored extermination by Nazi Germany during World War II. The Nazis also murdered millions of people in other groups, including thousands of gay men and lesbians. Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known as Yom HaShoah, is April 11 this year.

One of those killed was an anonymous 60-year-old gay priest who died at the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, Germany in 1940. Heinz Heger gives an eyewitness account in his book, “The Men with the Pink Triangle.” The priest was brutally beaten and tortured, and yet there was a moment of grace when a narrow beam of sunlight shone on the priest’s face. For a detailed account, visit:

The gay priest is honored in the icon above, “Holy Priest Anonymous one of Sachsenhausen” by Father William Hart McNichols, a renowned iconographer and Roman Catholic priest based in New Mexico.

It is in recognition of the significance of this gay holocaust in our collective memory, that the pink triangle has become such a potent symbol of our continuing struggle for full equality and inclusion in society – and why I developed, as my own symbol of the struggle for inclusion and equality in church, this adaptation:
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Mary Daly, “Radical Lesbian Feminist”, Theologian

Radical feminist philosopher, academic, and Catholictheologian. Daly, who described herself as a “radical lesbian feminist”, taught at Boston College, a Jesuit-run institution, for 33 years. She retired in 1999, after violating university policy by refusing to allow male students in her advanced women’s studies classes. She allowed male students in her introductory class and privately tutored those who wanted to take advanced classes.

Women who are pirates in a phallocratic society are involved in a complex operation. First, it is necessary to plunder–that is, righteously rip off gems of knowledge that the patriarchs have stolen from us. Second, we must smuggle back to other women our plundered treasures. In order to invent strategies that will be big and bold enough for the next millennium, it is crucial that women share our experiences: the changes we have taken and the choices that have kept us alive. They are my pirate’s battle cry and wake-up call for women who want to hear.

As one of the most influential feminist thinkers and theologians of the second half of the twentieth century, Daly had a profound impact upon other feminist writers and scholars. As colleague Mary E. Hunt observed in announcing her death to the Women’s Alliance in Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) email list: “Her contributions to feminist theology, philosophy, and theory are many, unique, and if I may say so, world-changing. She created intellectual space; she set the bar high. Even those who disagreed with her are in her debt for the challenges she offered…She always advised women to throw our lives as far as they would go. I can say without fear of exaggeration that she lived that way herself.”

However, Hunt was also controversial in some feminist and LGBT circles. Audrey Lourde and some other Black feminists accused her of ignoring the contributions of feminists of colour, and she angered the community. In Gyn/Ecology, Daly asserted her negative view of transsexual people, writing, “Today the Frankenstein phenomenon is omnipresent . . . in . . . phallocratic technology. . . . Transsexualism is an example of male surgical siring which invades the female world with substitutes.”[24] “Transsexualism, which Janice Raymond has shown to be essentially a male problem, is an attempt to change males into females, whereas in fact no male can assume female chromosomes and life history/experience.”[25] “The surgeons and hormone therapists of the transsexual kingdom . . . can be said to produce feminine persons. They cannot produce women.”

Daly’s other published books are:

Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Beacon, 1978);
Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy (Beacon, 1984);
Websters’ First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language (Beacon, 1987);
Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage Containing Reflections from My Logbook of a Radical Feminist Philosopher (Harper 1992);
Quintessence…Realizing the Archiac Future: A Radical Elemental Feminist Manifesto (Beacon, 1999); and
Amazon Grace: Re-Calling the Courage to Sin Big (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).



Mary Daly and the Invitation to Explore Wild Ideas about Inclusivity: A Memorial Reflection