Gay Bishops: How Many?

 

Bishop Mary Glasspool

Bishop Mary Glasspool has now been consecrated as a bishop in the diocese of Los Angeles, making her the second openly gay bishop in the Episcopal church. (There could soon be another Episcopal gay bishop. Rev Michael Barlowe is one of four candidates for a vacancy in Utah). Some sources are describing her as the second gay bishop  in history” – but that would be pushing it, and is breathtaking in its cultural myopia.  So, for context and a refresher once again of how deeply homoerotic relationships have been embedded in the Christian church, I offer some reminders.

 

Lesbian Bishop Eva Brunne GETTY

 

Mary Glasspool is the first openly lesbian bishop in the Episcopal church, but not the first globally: that would be Bishop  Eva Brunne, consecrated by the Swedish Lutherans last year.

Bishop Gene Robinson was the first modern bishop in the Anglican communion to be consecrated while openly gay, but there have been others before him who came out openly after being named bishop – for example, Otis Charles, also of Utah, Derek Rawcliffe of Glasgow and Galloway in the Scottish Episcopalian church, and Mervyn Castle of False Bay (part of the Archdiocese of Cape Town in the Anglican, “Church of the Province of South Africa”).

In the days of the early church, Bishop Paulinus of Nola not only had a boyfriend, he commemorated his love in some frankly erotic love poetry. Bishop Venantius Fortunatus was another. Both of these men are canonized saints. Bishop Arno of Salzburg may not have written erotic verse, but he received some, from Saint Alcuin of Tours. (He also had a relationship with Paulinus, as did Alcuin, in some kind of clerical threesome).  Bishop Marbod of Rennes (11th century) also wrote erotic verse to a boyfriend, but was not canonized. Other early bishops also had male lovers,  but because they are not remembered as saints, and have not left memorable erotic verse, we do not know their details.

We do know about the ordination of one openly gay bishop, John of Orleans,  in the eleventh century, at the instigation of his lover Ralph, the  Archbishop of Tours, because of the scandal it caused. This scandal was not because John was both gay and famously promiscuous, but because of his youth and Ralph’s obvious nepotism. How many other openly gay bishops were consecrated at that time without the same scandal, we just don’t know.

Clouding the issue of “gay” bishops is one of terminology, especially against a background of monastic celibacy. There are strong grounds for describing another recognised saint, Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury, as “gay”, even if celibate, on the basis of his writing and passionate love letters to his monastic “friends”.  He  should definitely be remembered as a protector of gays, for rejecting a decision by the London synod to impose harsh penalties for homosexual actions.

Then are the succession of gay popes: Julius II, Julius IIIPaul II, and possibly John XII (r. 955-964), Benedict IX (r. 1033-1045; 1047-1048), John XXII (r. 1316-34), Paul II (r. 1464-1471), Sixtus IV (r. 1471-1484), Alexander VI (r. 1492-1503), Julius II (r. 1503-1513) and Leo X (r. 1513-1521) (See Jesse’s Journal at Gay Today).

In the modern Catholic Church , there have been no openly gay bishops or popes, but there have certainly been many in the closet. There are credible claims that that Paul VI may have had his share of boyfriends, at least before becoming pope, and similar suggestions that the “Smiling Pope“, John Paul I, may have been gay. And on Wiki Answers, there is a claim that Pope Benedict himself is gay.

Then there are certainly hundreds of closeted gay bishops in the Catholic Church. The late Cardinal Spellman of New York was notorious in his day. Allegations have been made against Cardinal Wuerl of Washington and others who surround themselves with obviously gay fan clubs – while publicly attacking LGBT equality.

I accept that hard as it is to be openly gay as a Catholic priest, it will be obviously that much harder as a bishop. But I do wish journalists,  who undoubtedly have the required evidence, would be less reticent about outing those gay bishops who are publicly hostile. If it is too much to hope that we in the Catholic Church can expect any time soon to see bishops coming out publicly to join their Episcopal and Lutheran counterparts, perhaps the threat of involuntary outing could at least dampen their public hostility to civil rights advances.

See also:

Outing the Church: Gay Popes, Gay Bishops

And, for some historical notes on outing Anglican bishops in the UK, read Peter Tatchell on Media Mendacity

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2 thoughts on “Gay Bishops: How Many?

  1. Nice summary of gay bishops! I live in Los Angeles, so I'm fortunate to be in the territory of lesbian bishop Mary Glasspool. Have their been lesbian bishops hidden in history? Maybe not since they were male… or were some transgender?

  2. Sorry to be so late in replying, Kitt. I am certain that there have been lesbian bishops, but most certainly they have been hidden in history. One possible candidate is St Brigid of Ireland, whom you have written about yourself, and whom some claim to have been a bishop, but the facts of her life are murky and unreliable. Truth though, will out. I am certain that scholars in time will produce evidence of some female bishops, and possibly some who had female lovers. We do know that there were numerous powerful abbesses. Research will surely identify some of them as having been lesbian: just by the nature of their gender defying roles and power, perhaps we can claim then all as at least "queer"?

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