Gay Bishops & Gay Marriage in Church History

Many medieval and classical scholars have produced abundant evidence of clearly homosexual clergy, bishops, and even saints, and of church recognition of same sex unions.

With all the current fuss about the decision of the US Episcopal Church to consecrate openly gay bishops, and the Catholic Church’s declared hostility to gay priests and to gay marriage or even civil unions, we forget that in the older history of the church, it is not gay priests and bishops that are new, or gay marriage, but the opposition to them.  Many medieval and classical scholars have produced abundant evidence of clearly homosexual clergy, bishops, and even saints, and of church recognition of same sex unions.

Gay Bishops in Church History

One story is particularly striking.  At the close of the 11th Century, Archbishop Ralph of Tours persuaded the King of France to install as Bishop of Orleans a certain John  - who was widely known as Ralph’s gay lover, as he had previously been of Ralph’s brother and predecessor as Bishop of Tours, of the king himself, and of several other high ranking men. 

This was strongly opposed by prominent churchmen, on the grounds that John was too young and would be too easily influenced by Ralph.  (Note, please, that the opposition was not based on the grounds of sexuality, or even of promiscuity.)  Ivo of Chartres tried to get Pope Urban II to intervene. Now, Urban had strong personal reasons, rooted in ecclesiastical and national politics, to oppose Ralph.  Yet he declined to do so. In spite of well-founded opposition, John was consecrated Bishop of Orleans on March 1, 1098, when he joined two of his own lovers, and numerous  others, in the ranks of openly homosexual Catholic Bishops.

An earlier example was St Paulinus of Nola, whose feast day was celebrated earlier this month. Paulinus was noted as both bishop and poet: his poetic “epistles” to his friend Ausonius are noted in the on-line Catholic Encyclopedia.  What the CE does not remind us, is that Paulinus and Ausonius were lovers, and the “epistles” were frankly homoerotic verse, which may be read today in the Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse.


"grada3784" has reminded me in a comment box of Bishop Longchamps,

".....the bishop that Richard the Lionheart made Regent.  The line on him was that the barons would trust their daughters with him, but not their sons.  No wonder Prince John kicked him out.

Of course, with Richard getting penance requiring him to sleep with his wife, why would anyone be surprised?  Those troubadours of Aquitaine sounded like they were fun."

Church history for its first twelve centuries at least is littered with further stories of male and female clergy, some canonized or popularly recognised as saints, with clear homosexual orientations.  Some of these, as clergy, probably lived celibate lives.  Many clearly did not.

Other gay clergy & saints in Church history

Aelred of Rievaulx (probably celibate, but wrote intensely ardent love letters to male friends);
St Patrick (believed to have worked as a prostitute in his youth, and may have taken a male lover in later life);
SS Sergius & Bacchus, Roman soldiers, lovers & martyrs
St John of the Cross (Well known mystic, whose metaphorical poetry of his love for Christ uses frankly homoerotic imagery)
Cardinal John Henry Newman (soon  to be beatified, was so devoted to his beloved friend Aubrey St John, that he insisted on being buried with him in the same grave.)


"mofembot" has pointed out that Mormons, too, have prominent lesbian & gay figures in their history:

D. Michael Quinn (ex'd both for writing controversial = unflattering but true history and for being gay) has written about 19th-century Mormon homoeroticism. Mormon apologists freak out at the very suggestion that any Good Upstanding Mormon in a Position of Public Responsibility, but here are two whose same-sex relationships seem "strongly suggestive":

• George Careless, who conducted the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and composed  several (truly beautiful) Mormon hymns. A life-long bachelor...

• 19th-century General Primary (children's auxiliary) President Louie B. Felt lived with her counselor in the presidency, May Anderson, and their love for one another was described in terms of "David and Jonathan."
Gay Marriage in Church History

The earliest church, in Rome and in the Slavic countries, recognised some forms of same sex union in liturgical rites of  “adelphopoein” .  It is not entirely clear precisely what was the exact meaning of these rites.  They were clearly not directly comparable to modern marriage – but nor were the forms of heterosexual unions at the time.  Some claim that they were no more than a formalised friendship under the name of  ”brotherhood” – but many Roman lovers called themselves “brothers”.  Some of the couples united under this rite were certainly homosexual lovers, but it is possible not all were.  What is certain, is that same sex marraiges were recognised for a time under Roman law, and that the Church under the Roman Empire for many years recognised and blessed liturgically some form of union for same sex couples.  Much later, from the sixteenth century, there is a clear written report of a Portuguese male couple having been married in a church in Rome.

This recognition also extended to death.  From  the earliest church until at least the nineteenth century, there are examples of same sex couples, both male and female, being buried in shared graves, in a manner exactly comparable to the common practice of married couples sharing a grave – and often with the parallel made clear in the inscriptions.

Church Today and History:

The modern Church likes to claim that in condemning same sex relationships, and resisting gay marriage and gay clergy, it is maintaining a long church tradition.  It is not.  To persist in this claim, in the light of increasing evidence from modern scholars, is simply to promote a highly selective  and hence dishonest reading of history.

Read the original article at Daily Kos

See also:

On Queering the Church:

Gay Saints & Others
Gay Lovers in Church History
The Church’s Changing Tradition

From the Lesbian Gay and Visexual Catholic Handbook

The Calendar of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgendered Saints
The Passion of Sergius & Bacchus (Roman soldiers, lovers and martyrs)
Two Texts for Rites of Same Sex Union
Gay Marriage in 16th Century Rome



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