Saturday, May 26, 2012

Here's what I think: Rainy Saturday Reflections....

Was Aelred of Rievaulx a gay man?  (Say 'gay-man' like Catherine Tate!)

So let's just get right into it here:  Temptation to sexual sin, such as homosexual acts, is not evidence that someone is gay or has 'innate' homosexual tendencies.  Temptations against chastity take many and varied forms in the lives of celibates, or any person for that matter.  I mention this because the author of Sexual Autheticity, Melinda Selmys claims St Aelred of Rievaulx was same sex attracted.  In a comment she says, "with Aelred of Rivaulx, we know for a fact that he did (have same sex attractions)."*   The author's writing can be at times rather intellectually dense in her definitions of homosexual attraction and gay 'identity'.  Hence I find her statement on Aelred misleading, albeit understandable, since glbtq literature is fairly unanimous when it comes to 'canonizing' gay saints.

In a comment on her post I expressed doubt that Aelred was gay or ssa in the sense we understand homosexuality today, writing: "I'm sorry, but I'm also not sure Aelred of Rievaulx was same sex attracted in the sense modern gay people like to think - his writings on friendship are directed to companions in communities of same sex religious and unfortunately are misinterpreted these days of sexual permissiveness."  

To which the author responded:  "I have it on the authority of an Aelred of Rivaulx scholar (a very straight conservative guy with no agenda to advance) that in his private letters to his spiritual director St. Aelred discusses his temptations to sodomy. These aren't available in English, so I can't quote you chapter or verse, but I think that's prima facie evidence of SSA."

First, I asked for the name and reference, but received no answer.  Secondly, that is not evidence of anything except to document the fact - if it be true - that the abbot disclosed some of his temptations to his spiritual father.  I know elsewhere Aelred discusses his loss of virginity in counseling a virgin (nun), likewise he writes about the infatuation between two young boys/teens.  Reading into this that the monastic culture was gay is absurd, even references to two old monks cuddling and kissing does not constitute a generally accepted sense of approval for homoerotic, or particular/inordinate ssa friendship - especially in the modern sense.  Even the early desert fathers condemn such things - as did Aelred.  These friendships could never be tolerated in an observant monastery, and if they ever were, it just might help explain the demise of certain communities in history and in our day.

Now there is nothing wrong for same sex attracted persons to seek particular saints as their patrons, but it is very wrong to make statements as if they were undeniable fact, such as: "with Aelred of Rivaulx, we know for a fact that he did (have same sex attractions)."  Thus implying Aelred was gay and therefore he is a gay patron saint.  That is a very Boswellian claim.  Other gay Catholic sites claim Joan of Arc as a gay saint, and of course Sebastian, along with many others.  Selmys also said that "it would be a true scandal if the Church had never once managed to lead a single homosexual soul to sanctity."  I'm absolutely convinced that the Church has indeed done so.  Oscar Wilde comes to mind, as does Pier Vittorio Tondelli, the Italian author who died after contracting AIDS.  No doubt there have been others, just as there have been numerous penitent saints who abandoned a disordered life and followed Christ.  Likewise, the Church definitely continues to lead people with ssa to sanctity and salvation, in and through the sacraments, and not without support.  One approved support apostolate is Courage.  Not all may be inclined to a particular group, but the literature and guidance is always there to help the individual, as should be faithful priests for spiritual direction.

I once asked a holy Trappist father if he thought there were any gay saints.  His answer was he did not know of any, although he said something like this, "I'm sure there were saints who experienced temptations to such things, the devil (and our own concupiscence) is very crafty when it comes to sexual temptation."  That said, I expect the variety of sexual temptation could lead to another discussion on 'sexual fluidity' which is a novel concept very much accepted by gay Christians.

Anyway - I have written about this subject in the past, especially concerning the myth of a gay St. Aelred, read that post here: If there ever was a gay saint it may as well be St. Aelred.   Now I'm sorry I titled the post that way.  If you click here you should find a series of posts on the subject of socalled  'gay' saints.  My apologies that some post may demonstrate my exasperation with the efforts of revisionists, I've since tried to change my tone to be more hospitable to everyone.

Let me also make clear that I totally understand that ssa people work through their difficulties and challenges in many different ways, and I understand the variety of spiritual experience can be idiosyncratic at best.  Pier Vittorio Tondelli developed his own gay mysticism based upon the  three Carmelite Doctors, Therese, Teresa, and John of the Cross, before his ultimate conversion.  Though he died a holy death, one couldn't very well appropriate his gay spirituality or promote it as suitable or even in accord with Church teaching; however, it predisposed him to acceptance and reconciliation with the Church.  That said, it would be irresponsible for clergy and even writers to accept uncritically such examples of 'gay spirituality' - chaste or not - and promote their idiosyncratic hermeneutic as unquestionably in accord with Church teaching.

I'll write more on these matters as time goes on.  Obviously I'm not a scholar, much less an authority, but I think I have a legitimate case to question the scholarship and authority of those promoting the chaste/gay Christian thing.  Something isn't right.

That's all.

*To be fair, Melinda says he did have same sex attractions, not exactly claiming he was gay - but the implication is there, as it is on other websites, who do come out and claim St. Aelred was gay.

Photo source.


  1. I- personally- don't understand the need to figure out the sexuality of saints throughout history. I've adopted a few patrons of my own, for many different reasons. My only gay patron is Fr. Mychal Judge, who we all know is not recognized as a saint. But I believe he intercedes for me.

    1. It does seem Fr. Mychal identified as a gay Catholic, so he would qualify as a a gay saint if he were ever canonized. I have no doubt God was pleased with his final sacrfice.

    2. I know it's not quite your cup of tea, but if you have never seen "Saint of 9/11," do yourself a favor and watch it. I've seen it 20 times, and I tear up each time.

    3. I'll try to find it and watch it. I love Fr. Mychal too. I knew several priests/brothers from his province. They are good friars, as was Fr. Mychal.

  2. I'm sorry you have such a hard time accepting that it's okay to be gay, Terry.

    These latest writings of yours on the subject seem so tortured. They also make no attempt to seek, acknowledge or celebrate God's presence in the lives and relationships of gay people. Many other Catholics are able to do this. I wonder what's preventing you.

    Of course, some may claim that the tortured feelings I'm sensing in your writings are signs of a kind of martyrdom, but I don't believe God calls us to live in such a way when it comes to our sexuality. I see God's loving and transforming presence more in those folks who have accepted their sexual orientation and forged relational lives that are are loving, life-giving and expressed in ways that are natural to the gift of their orientation. It's really that simple, being as it is, centered in the realities of love and life.

    Think of the beautiful things you could write and share if you were open to the fullness of such realities!



    1. Thanks Michael. Do I really sound tortured? Even after I have disputed the idea of 'victim spirituality' for gay people?

      I'll try to make myself better understood, if I can.

    2. Oh goodness. Another one of these progressives who have recreated Christ and His Church in *their* own image and likeness. Basically, with these folks, we can do away with Christ's command of denying oneself in order be His disciple. I mean this statement gives it away: "...I don't believe God calls us to live in such a way when it comes to our sexuality."

      From the Gospel of John:
      "As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you."

      Don't fret, Terry. You are the salt in the wounds of these "gay Catholics."

    3. Marian devotee - thanks very much. I'm just fine actually - I appreciate your kindness.

    4. Yeah, c'mon, Ter. Take the wide road - Michael's on it, and golly gee whillikers, it's fun and easy and you'll be filled with the fullness of full realities. Screw carrying the cross - that's for tortured souls and those who wanna be martyred. Michael is so right - stop being so anal about everyth....

      I should be careful about using the word "anal", now, shouldn't I?

  3. I don't think you sound tortured. I think you are just trying to make sense of it all. I'm certain that there were/are holy men (saints) who have struggled/struggle with their same sex attraction but who accept the Church's teaching nonetheless not pretending to understand it but arriving at the point where one can say to holy mother church: "I trust you on this".....I think for most people who self identify as gay (living the gay lifestyle) that this is the lense through which everything is gauged and understood. I think moderns who have been formed in the libertine spirit of the past 40+ years have great difficulty even trying to fathom why a man who has same sex attraction would accept the teaching magisterium of the Catholic Church (which I might add is required of those professing to be Catholic.) Such people are seen by those in the gay community as "self loathing"........ Nonetheless it is no easy task (to live a life in accordance with Church teaching regarding SSA) and it involves a lot of personal sacrifice. One might well say that some souls are tortured trying to find a theology that "speaks" to them and allows them to indulge in disordered behaviour and at the same time practice a form of religion. The Episcopal Church is full of men who at least were honest enough to say that they couldn't live an active gay lifestyle and still be Catholic. As Catholics (whatever one's propensity toward disordered behaviour might be) we are called to think with the Church and not to set up our own "magisterium". I've been there and done that and it left me bankrupt spiritually.

  4. Hi Terry,

    I'm sorry that I didn't reply to your comment -- I'm trying to track down the source on the Aelred of Rivaulx thing, but it might take a couple of days.
    In the meantime, there seems to be some misunderstanding of what I did say: when I say "chaste" I'm not using that word to mean "continent," I'm using it to mean "chaste." I agree that any good monastic superior would seek to prevent his monks from entertaining opportunities for temptation, and while certain forms of physical intimacy between friends are certainly normal, acceptable, and psychologically helpful (people, for the most part, do sometimes need to be touched), there are also kinds of touching that are basically foreplay, and it's just lunacy to try to engage in foreplay if you have no intention of ever having sex. I know that certain groups within the Church (both pro-gay groups, and those who promoted the "third way" of chaste romance for vowed celibates back in the 60's and 70's) have entertained the notion that people could innocently engage in weird Platonic romances, but I suspect that these romances were largely fictional: that a lot of people really sincerely intended to only go as far as making out and sharing the same bed, but...well, human weakness being what it is, I'd have to say that I'd be surprised if anybody was successful at actually carrying out this scheme.

    1. Ah, thanks very much Melinda - I made too big a deal of the matter, please don't go to any trouble - sorry for the misunderstanding.

      God bless you.

  5. Terry

    Your post is a good one. I really have a problem with anyone saying they “know for a fact” something that is most likely merely implicit, if that, in a document written some 850 years ago. As Fr. Groeschel say, “You were there?” It’s impossible and simply wishful thinking to make such statements. It would take a very great body of very explicit evidence, written by the subject himself, to make any kind of statement concerning the sexual preferences of another who lived so long ago. As far a I know, no such evidence exists.

    I think this move to pin the “gay” tag on those who are dead is simply an effort to justify the preferences of those who disagree with the ideal that, not the orientation, but the acting out of disordered sexual desires, be they gay (I hate that term) or straight (ditto).

    Keep up the good work and have a blessed Pentecost.

    1. Thanks Ron - blessed Pentecost to you as well.


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