I've had a version of this email a couple of times now:
Dear CYMFED supporter,
Do you know about Fr. Timothy Radcliffe the radical homosexual activist which CYMFED is promoting at Flame 2, the youth event for thousands of young people in the UK?
If not see here and also here.
It is shocking what the organisers were thinking of when they put this event together, have they no shame?
Please protest to CYMFED for promoting this filth to our young people.
It appears James Preece has also received a version of it because he has blogged about it here. And I agree with the broader point he makes in his post:
There are a hundred more worthwhile things you could do for young people than send them along to hear the usual nonsense from the same people who were failing to inspire them two decades ago.
But I can't write a stark condemnation of an event for the reason requested in the email. First of all, I'm not particularly a CYMFED supporter. Certainly when my oldest son went a couple of years ago he was more scandalised than moved in any way. Secondly, I am determined that my blog is for building the faith, not tearing at it. This despite my odd lapses into polemic when extraordinary circumstances arise. As Pope St. Gregory the Great said: “It is better that scandals arise than the truth be suppressed.”

But I struggle with issuing an immediate condemnation of what is a complicated issue, as I have agonised about before. Indeed, Church teaching has treated that matter with great delicacy. Especially today, when this issue is such a big one with which our children are constantly confronted, to approach it with a closed attitude could be considered as ignorance. Instead, I would choose to engage with the issue in an attempt to take take back our social capital. This is what Cardinal Pell has called for us to do; engage with the difficult issues with intellectual rigour in order to re-engage with secular culture and win back our social capital. So rather than just offer a closed condemnation, I choose to try and understand with compassion, and engage with the secular narrative.

I know and agree with what the Church teaches on this issue. I understand the reasoning behind the Church's condemnation of sexual acts between people with homosexual tendencies and I agree with it. I recognise that:
Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder. Source.
The same document states:
Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be directed toward those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not.
This is clear to me and easy to understand, albeit it must be understood in a theological context, it is an expression of the same law for our own benefit which is applicable to all. I come back, once more, to our constant confusion of love and genitals. The two things are not necessarily concomitant.

Discussing this issue with a friend, he offered the following valuable insights for discussion:

I like Timothy Radcliffe; he sometimes phrases things unfortunately when, in effect, thinking aloud, but what he's doing is trying to grapple honestly with certain realities.
Take, for instance, someone like James Alison: James and Timothy fell out many years ago, but I have no doubt Timothy has spent the intervening twenty or more years trying to get his head around what James has to say. James, after all, would have been a devout, erudite, and astoundingly intelligent young Dominican, and then he left and fell out with Timothy at least in part over the very sort of matters James so often talks about.

It is, I think, absurd to call Timothy a radical homosexual activist. A radical homosexual activist would be unlikely to stand with the Church in saying that same-sex marriage is a contradiction in terms. He nonetheless is accused of being one because he has expressed frustration with Vatican statements, because of saying things like how love between committed gay couples should be supported, and because he preaches at the Soho Masses.

Quickly running through these, and allowing that through all this I'm going to end up talking about 'gay people' as though they're 'those people over there'. That's not what I believe, and I think is something we should try to avoid doing. An inclusive Church - indeed, and inclusive society - wouldn't do that. And with that...

Frustration with Vatican statements seems to me to be entirely understandable. Leaving aside how the media can pluck things entirely out of context, making statements seem about something almost if not actually tangential to them, we're saddled with jargon like "disordered". I know what it means, you know what it means, and yes, Timothy Radcliffe knows what it means, but here's the thing: hardly anyone in the Church taken as a whole knows what it means, and basically nobody who isn't in the Church knows what it means. As a phrase it means very little when shorn of an Aristotelian-Thomist context, and simply sounds ugly, offensive, and hurtful. I don't think Timothy should be chastised because he recognises this.

[Excursus: On this exact point, but with regard to the Synod on the Family, Clare Short commented today as follows: Again, no one at the synod has bothered to mention that that most of the stuff the Church teaches simply doesn't make sense outside of a living personal relationship with Christ. Gradualism my arse! They need to start discussing why most Catholics don't have a relationship with Christ - not how they can bend the rules to make people feel more comfortable. Christ never said it was going to be easy, He said "Take up your cross and follow me!" We only do it out of love for Christ. People just don't get this - even the Bishops it seems. Someone knock their heads together please before i do.]

Should love between gay couples be supported? Here it's important to remember that gay people tend to have little choice in their being gay. Whether their sexual inclinations originate in nurture, as, say, Desmond Morris would have said back in the day, or in nature, as, perhaps, due to something happening while they're in the womb or at a genetic level (which I doubt as homosexuality would, I think, be an oddly counterproductive variation for nature to throw up even as often as one case in fifty let alone thirty), what seems clear is that same-sex attracted people have very little say in that fact. They are, I suppose, the eunuchs 'from birth' mentioned in Matthew 19:12. The reality, then, is that the only deep personal love, the only love that can go beyond ordinary friendship for them is the love that subsists within a same-sex couple. I see no reason at all why that shouldn't be supported, nor why any self-giving love within that couple shouldn't be recognised as an expression of Christ's love, though of course, the partners within such a couple would remain called to chastity like everyone else.

And then we have the Soho Masses. That they've been problematic is, I think, clear. That plenty of people at them have been frustrated with the Church as a whole, and that people at them and involved with them have sought to challenge and indeed to subvert Church teaching is hard to deny. That's not to say that they are hotbeds of dissent, but it seems pretty obvious that there are problems with them. I'll grant all that, while quietly pointing out that I have been at far too many Masses over the years where liturgy was thrown out the window and Church teaching was flatly denied: there is a problem that goes far beyond the Soho Masses.

Still, to stick with that substantive point, does Timothy having preached at the Soho Mass give succour to dissenters, or somehow validate them? Maybe it does, but I'm not sure that's the point. Remember, for starters, that those of our gay brothers and sisters who attend the Soho Masses are those who have not walked away. They may have deep issues with the Church, and they may disobey the Church, and they may wish the Church was other than it is, but still, they are those who have no abandoned the Church. I get very tired of people saying how, as Catholics, we're called to love our gay brethren, and to cherish and respect them as we do everyone else, and then, when asked how we should love them, hearing that we should tell them they're living their lives the wrong way. No. As Pope Francis would say, doctrine flows from mercy, from love. If we want to love our fellow Catholics of any shade we have to go to where they are, and we have to help them and listen to them and be with them. As Blessed John Henry Newman put it, we become perfect by changing often. Pauline conversions may be the dream, but for most of us we go step by step, and as long as those steps are in the right direction, I think they should be encouraged. I've no doubt whatsoever that the Soho Masses, to Timothy's mind, offer a way of being with them. 

This, to be honest, is kind of what Dominicans are for. Friars are called to go to the people: they're not monks, settled out in the countryside, waiting for people to come to them and offering the finest and most beautiful of liturgies when they get there. They're meant to be in towns and villages, going to the people and among the people. And that means going to the outcasts, disreputable preachers standing among disreputable people. Whenever I see people attacking Timothy for going to where gay Catholics are, I think, well, Jesus got flack for going among prostitutes and tax collectors. Dominican habits are meant to be white: I don't necessarily think they're meant to be clean.


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