Monday, 4 March 2013

Thought For The Day by Giles Fraser

BBC Radio 4 Monday 4 March

This morning the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland is waking up to one of the biggest crises in its modern history. A few weeks ago, Cardinal Keith O’Brien was expecting to be in Rome electing the next Pope. Now he’s in disgrace, vowing that he’ll never again take part in public life .

We still don’t know the details of what he did, simply that he’s admitted to sexual misconduct amongst his fellow priests. Charges of hypocrisy have been swift to follow. This month last year, the Cardinal was on this very programme attacking gay marriage as evidence for the “degeneration of society into immorality”. Indeed, he insisted: “if the UK does go in for same sex marriage it is indeed shaming our country.”

So why is it that all the churches - and not just the Roman Catholic church - seem to attract so many gay men who are themselves so virulently hostile to homosexuality? Perhaps it has to do with a misplaced sense of shame about being gay, a sense of shame that they go on to reinforce by being vocal supporters of the very theology that they themselves have been the victims of. As the novelist Roz Kaveney tweeted yesterday: “I feel sorry for O’Brien. I hope one day he realizes that the sense of sexual sinfulness the Church forced on him was an abuse.” And that “O’Brien needs to distinguish between his sexual desires and his bad behavior and not see all of it as sin.” I totally agree.

The election of a new Pope provides an opportunity for real change. The culture of secrecy that fearfully hides this bad behavior - and not least the clerical abuse of children - needs dismantling from its very foundations. Inappropriate sexual relationships, relationships that trade on unequal power and enforced silence, are the product of an unwillingness to speak honestly, openly and compassionately about sex in general and homosexuality in particular. The importance of marriage as being available to both gay and straight people – and indeed to priests - is that it allows sexual desire to be rightly located in loving and stable relationships. I know there are people who see things differently, but I’m sorry: the churches condemnation of homosexuality has forced gay sex into the shadows, thus again reinforcing a sense of shame that, for me, is the real source of abuse.

Things may now be changing. It is encouraging that four priests have had the courage to speak out against a Cardinal – though one of them has expressed the fear that the Catholic church would “crush him” if they could. This is precisely the climate of fear that does so much to create the conditions of clerical abuse.

“It seems to me that there is nowhere to hide now,” said Diarmaid MacCulloch, the professor of the history of the church at Oxford University in a recent interview. He goes on: “We have had two Popes in succession that have denied that the church needed to change at all. The Roman church has to face realities that it has steadily avoided facing for the last thirty years.” And I might add, not just the Roman church, but my own church too.

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Categorised as: Church of England | Opinion

Jack Dominian was saying this (about heterosexual sex) to the RC church 40 years ago. I hope they will listen now. Well said Giles.

Posted by: Anne Peat on Monday, 4 March 2013 at 9:17am GMT

I say this cautiously because we don't yet know the full facts and most probably never will. But Cardinal O'Brien strikes me as a fundamentally decent man who has been broken rottenly by some horrible theology and an abusive institution. It's easy to say he was a senior cleric who should have seen beyond and risen above all that. He's not the first adult victim who has completely identified with his abusers with tragic results. I think those who have brought this to light have done him and the Church the biggest possible favour. I note his very recent comments that priests should be allowed to marry after all. It's possible that this man if he can survive and process what's happening to him now will become an enlightened voice. Either that or he'll be silenced

Posted by: Jane Charman on Monday, 4 March 2013 at 9:29am GMT

"The importance of marriage as being available to both gay and straight people – and indeed to priests - is that it allows sexual desire to be rightly located in loving and stable relationships."

- Giles Fraser -

Sadly, this seems to be a truth that the Church is still unwilling to accommodate. Sexuality is a gift of God. It is not a curse. Rightfully used, with the intention of honouring - and not degrading - another human being, our sexuality can be a definite force for good.

To force our sexuality on others is sinful. To enjoy intimacy with another human being whom we love and who loves us - in the context of a lawful monogamous relationship - can be a valuable building-block of human society. Sexual prurience can be a danger to that society.

This does not preclude the possibility of celibate life - either alone or in a community. However, because one is not sexually active oneself this does not render sexual activity to be a curse outside of heterosexual marriage. The Church's attitude can be very demeaning of God's gift of sexuality. We need to grow up.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 4 March 2013 at 9:36am GMT

Well said, Giles!! It was worth that midnight oil. Today website reports very significant positive response, and even Platitude of the Day (not always your biggest fan!) says it is not platitudinous at all and has these comments:

"That must surely rank as one of the most hard-hitting and uncompromising TFTDs in a very long time."
"Giles Frazer's TFTD was memorable radio..."
"I can almost hear the complaints rolling in from the faithful... "Why was this allowed to be broadcast unchallenged? Who elected Giles as a spokesperson? Where was the balance?" Great stuff - electrifying."

I know our leaders will be keeping their heads down so as not to seem to take any pleasure in someone else's difficulties- but this is an opportunity to do things differently, as Giles says. If only I believed it would happen.

Posted by: Jeremy Pemberton on Monday, 4 March 2013 at 9:38am GMT

This piece sounds like - and the tone in which it was delivered confirmed - the words of an angry young man!!
The tragic sinfulness and guilt of all of us within the Church of Jesus Christ needs to be repented of and with God's gracious forgiveness and strength new beginnings need to take place both individually and collectively [cf Daniel's confessional prayer in Dan 9]. We have sinned against many both within the Church and outwith it, more significantly we have sinned against God as the adulterer and murderer King David came to realise [Psalm 51].
However it will be a great tragedy, notwithstanding all of the above, if the Church concludes that it had a "misplaced" sense of shame about the sinful homosexual behaviour that occurred [occurs] within it. Rather this is one of the areas where the above repentance will need to be focused.
Surely it is not a certain form of theology that some have become the victims of? Is it not the deceitfulness of sin that has ruined so many, and brought dishonour to the Name of our God, within a rightly critical world?
Indeed some extensive "dimantling" needs to take place within the Church, but the wisdom of God which the Church at its best has proclaimed, and the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, which alone can save and renew the human heart and make us 'new creation' pleasing and faithful to our God, must never be abandoned - yet it seems that is the aim in the anger of some 'young men', who think themselves wiser than God!
The Apostle Paul once spoke of those who claiming to be wise had become fools!
May God grant mercy to us all.

Posted by: william on Monday, 4 March 2013 at 9:58am GMT

A brilliant TFTD.
Surely if the Roman Catholic Church is going to launch an inquiry, it needs to launch an inquiry into hypocrisy.

Posted by: Andrew Godsall on Monday, 4 March 2013 at 10:06am GMT

Yesterday, Sunday, I walked down the street in a cassock to take home communion to a sick parishioner. A complete stranger called out in a loud voice several times 'You're nothing but a Roman Catholic pedo!'.

I am in fact neither of the above and I was a victim of what might be termed 'collateral damage' but I sense that in the public mind the entire Church is now dangerously tainted and damaged by precisely what Giles Fraser is talking about.

He is right about the urgent need for a new cultural change in the Church moving towards openness, honesty and a sensible approach to marriage for gay and straight alike.

Posted by: Concerned Anglican on Monday, 4 March 2013 at 1:17pm GMT

Absolutely spot on. This is the product of a sick and deranged institution that has strayed from the gospel of love, and allowed trap itself in it's unattainable dogma. Intrinsically disordered.

Posted by: evensongjunkie on Monday, 4 March 2013 at 1:26pm GMT

Yes,it must be one the best I have ever heard, which is saying something as Rabbi Blue is wonderful.

Fr Fraser really touched the issue with clarity and a kind of loving.

Also Jane Charman here.

I hope a few good mates will uphold Cardinal O'Brien; and sensible people in the Vatican not scape-goat him, but look at the Vatican itself systemically and with humanity.

Maybe Archbishop Nicholls meeting with lgbt Roman Catholics, after the eucharist at Farm St yesterday,is another important step towards honesty - the truth with love.

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Monday, 4 March 2013 at 1:47pm GMT


If you read this, you will know why I simply say Thank you, an excellent positive piece, that all churches and theologians need to read, mark and inwardly digest, and act upon.
Fr John (Scotland)

Posted by: Fr John E. Harris-White on Monday, 4 March 2013 at 3:29pm GMT

A simple word of gratitude to you, Giles, and to ThinkingAnglicans for having printed your words, here. Bravo!

Posted by: James on Monday, 4 March 2013 at 4:46pm GMT

Well done and well said Giles. Thank you. I do hope you do not get too much flack as a result of this brilliant TFTD.....and thank you BBC for not losing your nerve. Prophets are in short supply in the C of E at the moment!

Posted by: Robert Ellis on Monday, 4 March 2013 at 7:04pm GMT

A refreshing antidote to the stream of hate that pours from "Anglican Mainstream". If more priests thought like Giles Fraser I'd be in church every Sunday.

Posted by: Tony B on Monday, 4 March 2013 at 7:27pm GMT

Thank you is all I can say

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Monday, 4 March 2013 at 8:17pm GMT

From your lips to God's ears, Fr Giles. Merciful Lord, REFORM your Church(es)!!!

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 4 March 2013 at 8:25pm GMT

If a person has had a gay experience or exerienced temptations, does that make them gay.

I don't think so.

There are some people who are exclusively homosexual, but that's the tip of the iceberg.

As for gay men seeking a safe haven in the priesthood... what about the thousands hiding in marriages and happy families?

All I can say, until we know the full facts, lets not judge Cardinal O'Brien.At least you knew where you stood with that cardinal, unlike the more wiley individual in Westminster.

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Monday, 4 March 2013 at 8:30pm GMT

We can all "hope" for change within the Roman Catholic Church -- as long as we don't "expect" it.
Something like 70% of all cardinals eligible for voting were appointed by the pope emeritus, who was known for his adherence to Roman Catholic orthodoxy, and insisting on it from everyone else.
Regardless of the particular circumstances of cardinal O'Brien, other bishops and cardinals have found themselves in similar positions -- and have seen nothing wrong with continuing their full clerical functions, including voting for the next pope. One of them has serious explaining to do in Boston, MA and yet enjoys all rights and rites and privileges as a prince of the RCC, safely ensconced in Vatican City, carrying on as if the whole fuss is over the ecclesiastical equivalent of a parking violation.
So, we can all hope and pray that a new man, a strong man, secure in his convictions, open to that "still small voice", opens the shutters and lets in the light and the fresh air -- just don't expect it to happen.

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Monday, 4 March 2013 at 8:42pm GMT

Keith O'Brien is a fellow Christian and gay brother. He is also a victim of the cycle of abuse. I hope one day to meet him and embrace him warmly and kiss him.

God! I bet he could do with a cwtch!!

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Monday, 4 March 2013 at 9:12pm GMT

I knew Thinking Anglicans would sooner or later succumb to the attraction of the lurid news from your sister church!

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Tuesday, 5 March 2013 at 12:13am GMT

Martin, I agree with you and I feel very very sorry for the Cardinal.

But I want to be careful, he is not only a victim of abuse, he has also risen to the top in an abusive organisation and he has perpetuated that abuse.
Whatever his motivation was, there are other victims of abuse who do not spout the kind of venom he is known for, who do not try to curtail my civil rights and who do not actually abuse their power by trying to make passes at those who are junior to them in an organisation that takes hierarchy and obedience very seriously.

Abuse arising out of abuse explains it. It does not excuse it.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 5 March 2013 at 7:34am GMT

Spirit, one of the key points that Giles makes here is that much of this applies to the Church of England too.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 5 March 2013 at 8:16am GMT

I understand your sensitivities and concerns, Erika.

I have argued in the public forum with the Cardinal, some of the advisors he put up for programmes I have been on were very unpleasant, in fact, the worst I have engaged with.

My thought was to be careful for Keith.
I am not ignoring others who have been hurt.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Tuesday, 5 March 2013 at 9:33am GMT


Some years ago I was one of 20 or so priests who are also women invited to a College of Bishops meeting in which Cardinal Kasper went on at length about how upsetting the ordination of women as priests in the Church of England had been to Rome and the prospect of women in the episcopate – well, oh gosh - that was even worse! And there we all were sitting in front of him. He is, of course, entitled to his opinion, but it is evidence of a lack of even handedness in attitudes about which Church may comment on another Church’s affairs, it is fair to say, is it not.

Posted by: Judith Maltby on Tuesday, 5 March 2013 at 10:22am GMT

'much of this applies to the Church of England too'

True. I know a number of people who have been disturbed by the behaviour of certain people in positions of power - this is often gossiped about with a shrug of 'c'est la vie'. 'Fear often lies behind this attitude. I was back in the 80's loudly berated at a dinner party by a Bishop for even being in his company because I was about to go to theological college. I do not wish to relate what he did when he was well into the hard stuff. I just fondly and genuinely imagine his repentant prayers winging their way to all concerned. The hypocrisy of the Cardinal was indeed abusive. However, my prayers go out to him for I tend to believe he confessed independently and in some measure free from the constraints of his superiors. We do well to temper certain gleeful posturing with thanksgiving for what may prove to be his finest statement as far as enlightenment goes. I imagine the 'cloud of witnesses' pray for him and all the victims with a constancy that will bring healing in ways yet to be revealed. This has already begun in a spirit of openness as witnessed by strong words from Giles. This is painful for the moment but then the whip of chords must have created something of a devastating whirlwind effect. We are all caught up in the pain of the cleansing process, all the more so as we are all victims to some degree but hey but for the grace of God we could be over on Anglican Mainstream in strange darkness. 1 cont...

Posted by: Rosie Bates on Tuesday, 5 March 2013 at 10:50am GMT

Cont 2 Peter Ould has posted an article - I am not sure whether he has penned it but it reads that way and it contains these words:-

'Hypocrisy is not doing one thing in private at one point, realising it was wrong and then in the future arguing publicly against the action you have performed.
Of course this gets complicated, because what happens if someone has been sexually active in some form in the past, privately repents but never addresses his misdemeanour with those he abused? Pastorally this is a big deal – if you have a porn habit there are very few people to apologise to, but if you abused your position and “tried it on” with someone, you really do need to go back to that person and apologise.'

'If you have a porn habit there are very few people to apologise to' Oh my God, what planet does the author live on. Could he face a child who had just been rescued and repeat those words? Then how many thousands of hidden hearts and minds and souls are involved and what is the dire ripple effect of this? I am so angry I had better say no more except to comment that the CofE does far too much academic sexual theology and this is the apalling result.

Posted by: Rosie Bates on Tuesday, 5 March 2013 at 10:54am GMT

"Could he face a child who had just been rescued and repeat those words?"

I didn't think Peter Ould was talking about child porn, was he, or have I totally misunderstood?

Posted by: Alastair Newman on Tuesday, 5 March 2013 at 3:57pm GMT

Readers who have not seen it may be interested in this article from Today's Herald Scotland. Colin MacFarlane of Stonewall Scotland is quoted. His views re the issue seem very compassionate by comparison with the rhetoric about same sex marriage that has come from Cardinal O'Brien in the past. The church could learn something from MacFarlane's example in terms of simple charity.

Before sermonizing about "sin, repentance" and the confessional, the first priority of the church, as a matter of genuine repentance and justice, ought to be a word about those who have been the object of sexual misconduct.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Tuesday, 5 March 2013 at 6:05pm GMT

I wish to refer to this theological reflection to be on BBC radio 3 tonight, as it sounds congruent with Giles' reflection the other morning; and how lgbt are left feeling by church power and state power in our islands and around the world. In my opinion.

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Wednesday, 6 March 2013 at 11:42am GMT

Re Laurence Roberts, tks for the link. Note what Benjamin Cohen says in the article “Having feared such abandonment myself, every time I look up at Christ, I’m happy that both our stories are ultimately about embracing love, rather than fear,” What an insightful way to connect with the passion of Jesus!

By Contrast Andrea Williams, director Christian Concern, says in the article “To link this experience to that of Christ is to misunderstand the biggest event in history - it is blasphemous." How harsh. Interesting too, that she levels the same accusation levelled at Jesus--blasphemy. If I had to choose, I would say it is Andrea Williams who misunderstands the crucifixion.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Wednesday, 6 March 2013 at 2:07pm GMT

What a shame there was so little room in Giles' TFTD for compassion for a fellow human being who has been so publicly broken, vilified and humiliated - and not long before Good Friday.

The juxtaposition with Benjamin Cohen's talk is cause for thought.

Posted by: RuariJM on Thursday, 7 March 2013 at 7:06pm GMT


I suggest you re-read Giles' third para and his agreement with the sentiment "I feel sorry for O'Brien...etc."

Where is the lack of compassion?

Posted by: Drew_Mac on Friday, 8 March 2013 at 11:13am GMT
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