Deep spirituality underlies gay Catholic's activism

Seduced by GraceMichael Bernard Kelly, Seduced by Grace: Contemporary spirituality, Gay experience and Christian faith. Melbourne: Clouds of Magellan Publishing, 2007, website.

The essays assembled in this book are passionate and prophetic. Kelly must be a man of courage. He undergoes the personal struggle to reconcile his own deep faith with being proudly gay; he then commits to the struggle of achieving a right to an accepted presence for gay people in the church.

Kelly came to prominence within the Catholic Church in Australia, most noticeably, for his part in organising the Rainbow Sash movement, and its contentious attempts to receive communion from bishops in cathedrals. From 1998 he has been the movement's writer, spokesperson and co-convenor.

These essays are both strongly personal narratives, and the proclamation of a manifesto.

In some sense he is not alone. 'Liberal' Catholics have an habitual deep frustration with the managers of the church tradition to which they have a powerful sense of belonging. Women, in particular, have felt marginalised and patronised by the clericalised Church. Kelly experiences this, but not only does he find incomprehension for his point of origin inside the church, he also finds incomprehension from many outside the church in the mainstream gay movement. 'Why would you bother?' is their challenge to him.

This guy is not going to win, you think. You wouldn't volunteer for this role, this multi-focal isolation, unless you were both sincere, generous and prepared for loss. It makes you think of prophets like Jeremiah who knew they were on a hiding to nothing, and begged God for leave to resign from the cause to which God had conscripted them.

Kelly says, 'There are few precedents in Church history for what we are trying to do. This is a radical experiment. It is not surprising that the Churches are unnerved by it — we are as well.'

For establishment Catholics, with maybe a neurotically narrow conception of orthodoxy, with a sense that the tradition is so wise and timeless that nothing new could come along, Kelly's position and advocacy are a frightening challenge. It is a challenge that has emerged and is viable only because of the spread of toleration through modern secular societies.

Kelly has placed first in the book those essays which are more directly spiritual. If we are going to be persuaded by the more declamatory pieces, and those which focus on the minutiae of male to male sexuality, we will need to be convinced by his spirituality.

He describes a strong call to a contemplative spirituality, in a chapter entitled 'On the Peninsula, alone with God'. 'In 1988, exhausted after years of teaching and ministry, I moved down here to rest and live alone for a year. I walked the beaches and sat by the fire, and slowly I fell in love with a contemplative way of being.

'Contemplatives, they say, are not people who have solved the mystery of God. They are those who can no longer keep the mystery at bay.' It is from this silence, he says, that the contemplative speaks when he is called into action, even as a trouble maker.

It is a spirituality within which the erotic has a privileged place. Quite a few of the chapters in the book reference US gay groups and gay rights campaigners. Kelly has built up international links which have obviously given him strength and encouragement. From seminars and conferences he attended in the US he describes the sometimes erotic elements in the pedagogy and activities of sections of the gay movement. Tutorials on the role of the anus in sexual pleasure during male to male sex will not be everybody's cup of tea. But as suggested above, this material needs to be considered alongside the integrity and sincerity of the chapters on spirituality.

There are also chapters which address contemporary issues such as freedom of speech in the church, the proportions of priests who are gay, and the incidence of sexual abuse in the church. His is a call for honesty and justice in church administration.

Church officials clashed forcefully with Kelly and the Rainbow Sash Movement. Some display the same defensiveness in response to the emphasis being given to climate change. They remain sceptics. 2007 saw the challenge to the church from Bishop Geoffrey's Robinson's book Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church. The insistence of Kelly and other gay people in the church, that they are entitled to a public presence, that their orientation is compatible with a full and rich faith, is a challenge not just to the authorities but to most of us who sit in the pews and who would rather duck the harder questions.

Like climate change, this one won't go away.

Terry MonagleTerry Monagle is a writer, farmer and public speaker. His website is at




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Existing comments

Read the book by Anthony Venn-Brown "A life of unlearning" Coming out of the Church: One Man's Struggle - Kelly survived!

Peter Meury | 01 February 2008  

I am awake to an awareness of my being as simply one with all Being. The word "God" refers to that Being. I contemplate my being in that Being. From human perception that is a mystery and human perception is as varied as there are perceivers. The mystery, in that perception, is: How can God love us? From the viewpoint of Reality we awaken to a Being that is but Love which goes beyond human perceptions as it (Love) has extended (overflowed) itself and, even though we see ourselves as separate, we never cease being Love. Whatever perception we have of our nature as humans, heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual, king or peasant, bright or dull makes no difference to the Reality we are in the Mind of God. We are what we are no matter what we think we are. God is not concerned with what we think we are. God knows we are but one eternally with The One and always in one Embrace.

Francis Brown | 01 February 2008  

Thanks Terry. You may remember DP 1964-65. I say Mass each month for Acceptance Sydney and I am really touched by the sincerity and the deep faith of many people who have had to make the journey that Michael Kelly describes. I was also impressed with the video series he did a number of years ago on gay spirituality and its clear foundations in scripture. I do not agree, however, with his methods as demonstrated through the Rainbow Sash movement and I believe that among the broader gay Catholic movement he has done himself a disservice there. I will certainly have a look at the book. Thanks again for your review.

Roy O'Neill MSC | 01 February 2008  

According to Terry Monagle, what Michael Kelly wants is a "public presence" in the Catholic Church and a recognition that his "orientation is compatible with rich and full faith". I have good news for Kelly. He already has those things. Everybody - repeat, everybody - is welcome in the Church. But presence in the Church is also a personal challenge, for all. Kelly misses the point. The issue is not who has or has not a place in the Church. The issue is, once in the Church, is one prepared to meet the challenge of being a follower of Jesus in the Catholic tradition. The challenge for Kelly is that homosexual activity is incompatible with the Catholic philosophy of sexuality. In this perspective, the only authentic sexual act is one which is simultaneously (1) an expression of total interpersonal commitment (2) a reflection of the complementarity of man and woman and (3) is open to the transmission of a new human life. Homosexual activity is capable of fulfilling (1) but is radically incapable of (2) and (3). The challenge for Kelly, as for all of us, is not to reconcile being Catholic with our personal orientations but rather to accept the full implications of being Catholic for our values and the way we live. Admittedly, this is always a struggle, sometimes painfully so.

A footnote - the Church is not "unnerved" by the homosexualist movement but it is upset by the politicisation of the Blessed Sacrament.

Christopher Dowd | 01 February 2008  

You may care to refer to the recent Reform Judaism positions on these matters. They have faced it in the light of modern scientific knowledge.

Trevor Green | 01 February 2008  

Congratulations and thanks are due to both Michael and Terry.

When we get down to basics: "When to our deaths we are led, it's all practice behind, and theory ahead!"

And still we may not know all.

But we must know that "there is no hate in love". All else is dogma, and we must let God, the only Creator, the source of all things, decide on the rest.

We are here on earth to live and to love (to work at loving while living), to reflect the Source within each and every one of us.

Since each and every one of us are uniquely created, within the fabric of the everlasting whole, each one is free to love as they wish, in reciprocated, joy filled joining, whether physical, or mental, or both.

Some may choose physical abstinence, to free themselves from the duties of parenthood, and in order that they may express their loving in other ways. That form of loving is quite alright, as well.

So let us all get down to the basics of loving well.

I thank and congratulate Micheal and Terry for bringing (just) another facet of loving into the open, into the Light.

Donald Chalmers | 02 February 2008  

Thank you for making this available to a wider public. Problems galore! However the gay situation should be aired so that we can learn how to live with it. The spirituality part -v. good.

Mary Jackson | 03 February 2008  

Referring to the mores that existed in 18th century France, the licentious Chevalier de Faublas, also known as 'the exotic voyager' wrote: 'Any idea that has a bit of life to it has the effect of an impropriety here..', whereas any current idea on Australian sexual mores that doesn't contain an impropriety is scoffed at. A man who can 'rest and live alone for a year' is a very fortunate man indeed. Not like us poor mugs who have to take disappointment on the chin and get on with our lives and support others. I feel great sorrow for those who are caught up in the homosexual world, having seen the cruelty, exploitation and betrayal that lurks there.

Claude Rigney | 05 February 2008  

Hhmm...I'm a traditional Catholic liturgically speaking and I too am frustrated by so many of the managers of the church tradition in the Australian local clergy in the "Church of Australia", who make me feel marginalised and patronised and who want to dupe everyone else into thinking that Catholic tradition began in 1969. When asked 'Why would you bother?' seeking to challenge the hierarchy and these priest, I answer "because they aren't doing what the Church asks of them".

ed burnes | 01 March 2008  

I don't understand why gay Catholics always feel obliged to undermine The Church and Her mission. Why can't you live a private life and not bother everyone?

Brent Egan | 05 March 2008  

As a same sex attracted Catholic man, I found this review peculiar indeed.

Certainly, I can agree with Monagle that Kelly writes about a deep spirituality, but as someone constantly engaged with my same sex attracted Catholic brothers and sisters, I have to disagree that Kelly's spirituality is in any serious sense Catholic or prophetic.

Kelly has encouraged, as the founder and driving force behind the Rainbow Sash Movement, protests that not only attempt to besmirch the holy sacrifice of the Mass, but also call for Catholic approval of abortion, sodomy and neo-Pagan idolatry and practices. Kelly's writings on the anus are not just 'not everyone's cup of tea' as Monagle deliberately understates, they directly contradict the humane intellectual tradition of the Church as expressed in natural law and ignore, obscure or deny the Scriptural injunctions against sodomy that most Jews and Christians consider authoritative.

Kelly has repeatedly set himself outside Catholic teaching on faith and morals in his public speaking and conference engagements, indeed he is on the public record as being associated with erotic fire rituals and the construction of a neo-Pagan temple in Upstate New York. The secular media are, increasingly, recognising the fact that such voices are not indeed authentically Catholic, rather (at least) fringe if not clearly extreme.

It is peculiar that a Jesuit publication like Eureka Street would ignore all this, and Michael B. Kelly's consistent public witness against the Church, to publish a relatively glowing review of what is a deeply anti-Catholic, flawed and dated book and ideology.

John Heard B.A., LL.B (Hons) Melb | 19 April 2008  

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