On Wed, Feb. 23, I did a brief interview with Brian McNeill of Rainbow Sash for a story I'm doing for Our Sunday Visitor. I post it here for your information with but a few of my own comments. I will let you be the judge.
Tom: Your act of protest...Well, I presume you look at this as an act of protest or are you looking at this as an act of protest?
Brian: Yea, right there, I need to clear something up. Our Sunday Visitor, this is St. Cloud?
Tom: No, no. This is Our Sunday Visitor, not the St. Cloud Visitor. Our Sunday Visitor is a national, Catholic, weekly publication.
Brian: Oh, O.K. The diocesan paper in St. Cloud has the same title.
Tom: Right. That’s the St. Cloud Visitor, this is Our Sunday Visitor.
Brian: Well, yes. Starting at the get-go there, the Rainbow Sash, as it was thought up in Australia and then translated to the United States, was always constituted as a celebration and not a protest. So that is how I describe it and really what I try to make the whole event when we attend Mass wearing the rainbow sash.
Tom: But obviously, there are many, many people who do not look at this as an act of celebration but rather as a disruption or of protest.
Brian: You’re right. There are people who look at it that way. I can’t help what meanings people put on the sash. But we who wear it say it is a celebration.
Tom: So you’re saying it’s a celebration of, of what?
Brian: Of our different sexualities, of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender sexualities. We look at this [sic] as gifts from God and it is a celebration of that diversity. And also of our catholocity, our part of the People of God.
Tom: How do you square your understanding of sexuality with what the Church has been teaching for 2,000 years on sexuality?
Brian: The Church has changed its teaching on sexuality a lot over the years. For example, in the Middle Ages you know that Thomas Aquinas taught that women were inferior citizens, they were just deformed males, and the Church held with Thomistic theology that women supplied nothing in the procreative act, that everything came from the male. So the Church’s teaching has evolved over 2,000 years on sexuality and in particular how women are viewed.
Have you ever read John Boswell’s book on homosexuality?
Tom: No, I haven’t.
Brian: Well, I can get you the title, I have it here. It has a good description of how the Church’s teaching and practice on homosexuality have evolved over the years. And his second book, hang on, I’ll get the title for you...(pause) His second book, Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe by John Boswell, he’s a very well-known scholar, he’s since deceased. But Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe describes the earliest marriage liturgies in the Roman tradition since, oh, I think it’s since the 8th century, and there are four that he has found. One of them is blessing for same-sex relationships. It is actually, I would argue, part of our Catholic tradition to celebrate our different sexualities.
Tom: I guess the question people would raise though is, are they simply very strong friendships or were they same-sex relationships in terms of sexual intimacies?
Brian: Reading that book, I don’t see that answered clearly. Primarily these relationships all had to do with property and that’s what marriage was about when it was formulated in the 12th century. It’s basically a property transaction.
To get back to your original question, the history is complicated, it has varied, the Church’s teaching on sexuality has varied over the centuries. The most recent kind of oppression of gays is, is, how do you say, has historical precedence, but is more intense since 1987 than it was in previous centuries.
Tom: When you say the Church’s teaching on sexuality has changed over the years, does that include the Church’s teaching on homosexuality?
Brian: Well, um, I...how do I answer that? I would say it, um (under his breath, How am I going to put this?) It, uh, It has evolved over the years with the understanding of sexuality in general. Where we currently are now is a fundamentalist, literalist interpretation of Scripture, which I would argue contradicts the Vatican’s own teachings on how scriptures are interpreted, should be interpreted based on Pius XII’s 1946 encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritum.
Tom: But it seems to me that if you look through the tradition of the Church, the writings of the various saints, that you’re not going to find any kind of a different teaching, though. I mean, Jerome, Augustine, Aquinas, any of these folks, Peter Damian, whose feast day was the other day, a doctor of the Church from the 11th century who spoke out against homosexual relationships among priests. So it seems to me there’s not a heck of lot of tradition for you to stand on with that kind of a stand.
Brian: Well, I understand where you’re going. But you also have to admit that those authors had no sense of homosexuality as we understand as a psychological, psychiatric construct. Paul, when he was writing, and the other more ancient fathers and mothers of the Church didn’t understand sexuality as we do today. I don’t think you can find anything in Scripture that would be opposed to two men in loving relationships living together. And as I said, there is historical precedent for the Church actually blessing those relationship.
Tom: But again, we don’t know the intimate sexual content of those relationships.
Brian: You don’t know the intimate sexual content of anybody’s relationship. And the Rainbow Sash is not about promoting intimate sexual content. Rainbow Sash is about blessing and celebrating our different sexualities.
Tom: How long is this going to go on? Even Bob Zyskowski is getting irritated and it takes a lot to get him irritated with things from the left.
Brian: Who is Bob Zykowski?
Tom: Bob Zyskowski is the editor, I mean, associate publisher of the Catholic Spirit and wrote the editorial...
Brian: Did you read my reply to his...
Tom: I did not read your reply, no I haven’t had a chance to do that.
Brian: ...criticism. Which he opted not to print, by the way. After doing a long and elaborate criticism of the Rainbow Sash he has opted not to print my response, which makes me question his journalistic integrity. Nevertheless, his opinion was basically, “Go away, leave us alone, we don’t want you here.”
Well, I was born and raised Roman Catholic in St. Paul. I am in a committed relationship with my partner of 17 years, and Dignity Twin Cities, of which I’m a part, has been around 30 years. We’re not going away. It’s going to go on as long as I have strength and breath in my body and there are people who want to do this with me and there are a significant number of people who do.
Tom: One final question. Why do you think the Church needs to conform to how you see things and not the other way around?
Brian: What the Rainbow Sash is about is a call to dialogue. I’m not putting demands on the Church to see things my way, or our way, I would prefer to say. We are asking the Church to come and dialogue with us. The Rainbow Sash asks the Church to honor our experience as GLBT people and its pronouncements, its language, which is insulting, by the way, you haven’t brought that up. The language the Vatican, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith use about gay and lesbian people is insulting. And a Chicago priest two years ago, said that to the Vatican. No other group is spoken to or at or about with the same negativity as GLBT people. And so we are asking for dialogue and that is all that the Rainbow Sash is about.
Tom: But it’s hard to dialogue when the Church, which has always looked at it this way as far as I understand it, has understood living in a homosexual relationship an act of mortal sin.
Brian: I think a good place to begin the dialogue would be the language in many documents of the CDF and in particular the one, the insult that describes us as quote unquote “objectively disordered and oriented towards an intrinsic moral evil” which the Church keeps putting in the Catechism and keeps issuing in its documents, so it’s not distancing itself from that language.
People in the gay community, my friend, hear those as insults. It’s the equivalent of the ‘N’ word to African Americans.
Tom: So basically you’re saying, “Don’t insult us.” But the Church is going to say, “We’re not insulting you, this is an objective reality. It’s not an insult toward you, but simply the fact of how you’re living.”
Brian: Well, the Church has said in the first catechism, they changed it in the second, but in the first Catechism it said, “GLBT people do not choose their orientation.” So this objectively disordered language is a criticism of us as people, as we are created by God.
Tom: What do you mean the first Catechism? Which....
Brian: They have issued a second Catechism which changed the language on the teaching on homosexuality, but in the first Catechism, the one issued in something like 1989 [note: 1992], the first edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church....
Tom: OK, so this is after the revision, you’re talking about.
Brian: I’m talking about...
Tom: Right, yeah I understand what you’re talking about now. There was a first edition and then the revision later on. [Note: I was thinking at first that he meant the Catechism of the Council of Trent, but homosexuality was obviously not dealt with in the same fashion as it is in the current one.]
Brian: The first edition said explicitly gays do not choose to be homosexual, but nevertheless, it is an objective disorder. So that language comes at us, not at our behavior, but at us as people. And the rainbow sash is a request to the Church to honor our experience. And our experience is the Church is insulting us. [Note: The first edition said: “They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial.” The second edition revised that to: “This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial.” Draw your own conclusions.]
The other piece is the rainbow sash, requesting to take it off and requesting us not to come to church in the rainbow sash is essentially saying, “Go back into the closest.” And, you know what? Gay people are not going back into the closet.
Tom: I’m wondering why it is you say you need to stand out when everybody else who has...well, looking at this in the Church’s mind that this is an objective disorder and homosexual acts are wrong, mortally sinful, then if I’m a thief, do I wear some other kind of sash, if I’m a murderer do I wear a red sash, and if I’m a liar, a black sash or whatever?
Brian: Are you equating homosexuality with thieving, lying and murdering?
Tom: Well, that’s the way the Church has taught it.
Brian: And we’re saying we’re asking the Church to honor our experience. We ask the Church to honor our experience and that is we are created this way by God and some of the Church’s documents say that. We do not choose this, we are created this way by God. I think you’d have to admit that theft, lying and murder are, people are not created that way, they choose that. So we are saying that this is actually a gift of God that we are celebrating. It is not a choice that we are making.
Tom: Thank you for your time.