By Silvia Lanzi (Progetto Gionata)
Michael Clifton is a member of the French christian LGBT group David et Jonathan, and it is also a member of the organizing commettee of the international conference “The ways of love” setting in Rome on October, 3th. I contacted Michael to ask him a few questions. Below his answers.
Which is the position of French RC Church towards homosexuality, given the centuries-old tradition of secularism and gallicanism?
There is hardly any gallicanism left in France now, except perhaps with some traditionalists and royalists. The French theologians made a big contribution to the Vatican II Council and this has meant that the French church is now in the RC mainstream. Secularism is still very strong in France and any public expressions of Christian faith are seen with distrust by the media, particularly on the left wing.
The RC Church in France is quite ambivalent towards homosexuality, just as is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. On the one hand, they are in favour of “respect” and against “unjust discrimination”, on the other homosexuality is presented as “against the Natural law” and “not part of God’s plan”. When the PACS (Civil Union) was introduced in 1999, the RC reaction was quite hysterical, with demonstrators chanting “Les pédés au bûcher!” (“Burn the faggots!”). When last year (2013) the present government introduced a law allowing marriage and adoption for same-sex couples, there were once again enormous demonstrations, sometimes violent.
The Church paid for special trains and buses to carry demonstrators to Paris and in churches the faithful were asked to pray for the demonstrators. But officially no members of the hierarchy took part in these demonstrations: some of them just went along before the demonstrations to congratulate and encourage the demonstrators.
The archbishops of Paris and Lyon made quite strong public statements, likening homosexuality to, for example, zoophilia. Since the law has been enacted, the climate has become quieter and rumours are going around that a large number of the bishops regret the excessive language of last year.
Even so, the bishop of Bayonne, earlier this year, went to Russia to congratulate Putin on his energetic persecution of homosexuals. On the other hand, two or three bishops have made definite attempts to set up some dialogue with homosexual groups and there is also some contact with influential theologians.
In addition to David and Jonathan, are there other groups of LGBT Christians in France? How long have they been working?
David & Jonathan, founded in 1972, is the oldest Christian homosexual movement in France. It is ecumenical and has no official links with any particular Church. About 30% of its members are non-Christian. David & Jonathan often takes public positions in favour of LGBT legal rights: they were in favour of the new marriage law.
In 1984 the group Devenir Un En Christ or DUEC (Becoming one in Christ) was founded with the aim of encouraging homosexuals to live according to the laws of the RC Church: i.e., in sexual abstinence. This group is now recognised as an official movement of the RC Church. In private, they no longer insist on abstinence and even encourage the formation of stable couples. But in public they still follow the official line of the Church and insist on obedience to the hierarchy: so they will take no public position on any subject.
More recently a group of Protestants founded Carrefour des Chrétiens Inclusifs (Meeting point for inclusive Christians). This group organises a yearly retreat. As it is “inclusive”, it is open to all Christians, not only to homosexuals but also to straight individuals who feel sympathy for LGBTs and their problems; it also has a fairly high proportion of transsexuals. Like DUEC, their aim is more spiritual than political, but its Protestant tone means that only liberal Catholics frequent this group.
Another RC group is the Communion Béthanie (Bethany Communion) founded in 2004 to bring spiritual aid to LGBTs. This is also recognised as an official movement of the RC Church. It offers the possibility of a more intense spiritual life by becoming a member of a circle of prayer, much like the lay Dominicans or Franciscans. Members can take a vow of Charity! There are two retreats held each year in different monasteries.
A local movement was founded in Nantes, Réflexion et Partage (Reflection and sharing). Its original aim was to help parents of LGBT children, but it also welcomes LGBTs. This group has very good relations with the RC hierarchy. The founder of the group Claude Besson has written a book Homosexuels Catholiques: sortir de l’impasse (Catholic homosexuals: out of the dead end, 2012) which was a big success. This group is less timid than DUEC in its relations with the hierarchy.
Is there In France a specific pastoral care for LGBT People?
The RC Church considers that movements like DUEC and Communion Béthanie offer enough pastoral care to LGBTs. Some monasteries are quite “gay friendly” and offer spiritual support to LGBTs without insisting on the official moral precepts of the Church. In the “historical” Protestant Churches (Reformed and Lutheran), many pastors openly welcome LGBTs. The Evangelical Churches are more in favour of “curing” homosexuality.
What is the situation among other Christian Churches?
As said above, there is a big difference between the “historical” Protestants and the Evangelicals. The Protestant Federation is the legal representation for all Protestant churches and so includes all tendencies. Its position on same-sex civil marriage was one of opposition, very close to the Catholic position.
In the Eglise Protestante Unie de France (United Protestant Church = Lutheran+Reformed) there have been discussions recently about the possibility of official blessings for same-sex married couples. This would be a big step as in Protestant churches there is no church marriage, only the civil marriage followed by a blessing. So such a blessing for LGBTs would put them on the same level as straight couples.