Letters to Aelred
Desmond O'Connor S.J.
A.C.T.S. No 1676 (1975)
* * *
These four letters to "Aelred" are enlightening and instructive.
They present the problems of the homosexual person with understanding
They are challenging to us all.
Is our love truly Christian love, "always ready to excuse, to trust, to
hope and to endure whatever comes?"
- THE EDITOR
* * *
BERNARD O'CONNOR, Diocesan Censor
+ T. F. LITTLE, Archbishop of Melbourne
15th June, 1975
During some twenty years as editor of the Messenger of the Sacred Heart it
was part of my task to counsel those who wrote to me for help or
guidance. Much of this was done by printing the readers' letters and my
replies in the columns of "The Editor's Chair".
Besides these "open" letters there was also a great amount of private
correspondence concerning matters which were not suited to open
counselling, or when it was necessary to guard secrecy and the
anonymity of the inquirer.
Many of those who had to be answered privately were men and youths (or
women) with a homosexual problem. It was through them that I learnt how
many there were of such people who were desperate for help and
understanding, and how hard it was for them to seek help in the
Even in the confessional some of them had received such unsympathetic
hearing that they had been alienated from the sacraments. This was for
them often a matter of great hurt because they are, in the main, more
than ordinarily attracted to religious practices and they have greater
need than most for the support of their religious counsellors.
Recalling these difficulties, when I was asked to write a pamphlet for
the A.C.T.S. I decided to do so in the form of letters to an imaginary
homosexual man (or it could be a woman).
Trying to think up a name for my imaginary correspondent, I was
confronted with the fact that every name that occurred to me might have
been a cause of embarrassment to someone. So I called him Aelred.
In the first place I have never known a man with this name, nor do I
expect to. The other reason will be obvious to all who read these pages.
* * *
Letters to Aelred
So you have discovered that you are homosexual!
You are 23. It is perhaps a pity that you did not face this before. At
one time such matters were so little discussed, so little known, so
little understood, that surely many young men who were afflicted this
way entered on a life of bewilderment and frustration without ever
facing the truth about themselves.
Nowadays however, this and all other aspects of the sexual life are
discussed as freely as farmers discuss the weather. It is scarcely
possible for a young man to come to your age without knowing something
about this condition which so intimately affects his own personality
Aelred, I don't believe you! That is to say, I do not believe you when
you say that you did not know until now that you are homosexual. That
is why I used the word "discovered". You have only now discovered it.
It was there all the time, or most of the time, but covered up. At
first it was covered up because our whole sexual consciousness is
covered when we are very young. It emerges slowly as our body develops.
Just as the other instincts begin to make themselves known as they seek
their proper activity - to eat - to move about - to talk - to express
ourselves by drawing, etc. - so the sexual instinct when it is ripe
begins to emerge and communicate its needs. At first, timidly and
superficially, and eventually violently and seeking its fullest
satisfaction. We are then fully aware of it. It is uncovered.
Sex is one of the instincts placed in the animal creation by God, and
therefore in man as part of the animal world. In the earliest chapters
of the Bible we are told of man's instincts to eat, to rule the lower
creation, to offer sacrifice, and to "increase and multiply".
God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very
good." (Genesis 1:31)
So the sex instinct shows itself in us, but we have to look at it,
recognize it, appraise it. We must deal with it in a rational manner
because we are not merely animals; we are rational animals. We must
come to terms with this instinct just as we must come to terms with all
the other instincts. We cannot turn away and pretend it doesn't exist.
We must discover it.
All man's instincts are God given, and good in themselves. Sex is good.
More than that, along with all creation, it is "very good". Anyone who
thinks of it as filthy, degrading, sinful in itself, is despising the
works of God. And if we despise the works of God, we despise God.
There have been people in every age who follow some form of religious
"dualism". That is to say they look on creation as having two sources;
one a good source, God - the other an evil source. Sometimes they
assert that this evil source is none other than the Devil. Often enough
this "dualism" is not expressed or formulated in any way. It must be
judged from their attitude towards, sex, alcohol, money; sometimes
towards all material things; from the Manichees through the Waldensians
and Puritan Protestantism and even into our own time.
This strange deformation of true religion arises frequently from the
enemy of mankind transforming himself into an "angel of Light" as St.
Paul warns us (2 Cor 11:14). This is one of his favourite ways of
leading astray people who want to be good but who are lacking in
prudence and do not seek proper guidance. Because sex, alcohol and so
on so often lead to sin and evil states and unhappiness, they attribute
evil to these creatures themselves rather than to the disordered use of
them wherein lies the evil.
In short they say, "Sex is evil" - "Alcohol is the Devil's gift". If
they do not put it into so many words their conduct shows that this is
the way their minds are working.
In our recent past there were many who acted in this unnatural way.
Some of them were parents or teachers and the effect of their influence
on children was sometimes disastrous. In some it led to the very
behaviour against which they were most anxious to protect them. (This
has commonly been the result of dualism in religion.) In others it led
to an unnaturally inhibited state which resulted in scrupulous fears,
tormented consciences, restricted and marred married life. Often it
prevented marriage altogether.
Those who suffered this kind of thing had a sense of shame concerning
all sexual impulse in themselves. Sometimes it extended itself to the
sex life of others.
This is to fight against the truth. And to fight against the truth is
to fight against the light and the life. Anyone who fights against the
truth, as he finds it in himself, sets his soul out as a battlefield
and his whole life may be spent amidst unnecessary internal turmoil and
You have been in this state for a long while now. That is why I say
that I cannot believe you when you say that you were unaware of this
deviation in your own personality. You have known it for a long time.
The knowledge broke on you slowly over the years. We often give
reluctant admission to knowledge we would rather not have to accept. On
the one hand you were not experiencing those normal attractions which
your companions appeared to enjoy; on the other hand you found in
yourself attractions which they did not seem to share.
You felt shame, inadequacy, isolation and inferiority; so you tried to
behave as if the whole problem did not exist. You put it down to the
fact that physically you were maturing more slowly (as you possibly
were) or that the others were all exaggerating their affairs of the
heart (and there could have been some truth in this too). At the same
time you were not at all happy about this very important part of your
Now at the age of 23 you cannot pretend any longer without danger of
risking your sanity. You have irrefutable evidence that you are
homosexual. The realization which should have come to you slowly has
come suddenly. Naturally enough you feel shock. All the welling-up
shame, confusion, bitterness, has hit you at once. Not because the
knowledge is new, but because you can no longer refuse to admit it.
You are discovered; and not only to yourself, but to another person. As
well as the shame involved, you are experiencing a relief that what was
for so long bottled up in you is released. You can talk about it to at
least one other. At the same time you are embittered. You feel a little
shattered. You are also bubbling over with questions: Why me? Is it
curable? What is the Cause?
Cheer up! Not all is lost. God is in his heaven and watching over you.
He knows your every thought and difficulty. He understands you better
than I or anyone else can ever understand anything. He created you.
Moreover he has given you the grace to discover yourself to a spiritual
guide; something which, if you had done it long ago would have saved
you from much anguish, and perhaps from this recent sin.
Well, I do not despise you. What you tell me does not revolt me in the
least. I accept it as one of the facts of life. In some ways an
inevitable fact in the world in which we find ourselves. My first
reaction is one of great compassion. My earnest wish is to help you as
much as I can; and to hurt you as little as possible in the process.
With God's grace you have done the first thing necessary. You have come
for help. That is the first step. No one can hope for a cure or
treatment if he will not even go to the doctor. But just going to him
is not enough. We must disclose all the symptoms and be honest with him.
It is no use asking the doctor to help if we conceal some of the
important facts. If it is for some bodily illness we have consulted
him, after he has taken the first necessary particulars he will ask us
to strip off so that he may make an examination for himself and perhaps
learn some facts we ourselves are unaware of or have not thought to be
It is the same when we go to a "soul doctor". And you have done this.
You have bared your soul in the self revealing letter you have sent me.
It must have been very hard to write. Possibly when you watched the
letter disappear into the post box you felt some panic and wished you
could recall it. Post boxes are iron hearted things! You were
committed. From then on there was no going back. It may be hard, but it
is at the same time assuring to know that from now you can only go
I do not promise you a soft sell. If surgery is absolutely necessary a
good doctor is not going to let you down lightly with a few pills. That
is only postponing the inevitable and making it worse to boot. Your
condition is unfortunate. Most unfortunate. But it is not at all as bad
as you think, and I hope I shall be able to show you this.
In the first place it will be a great relief to be able to discuss your
problem freely. You mention the relief you experienced at being able to
talk about it with your new found friend. But I detect anxiety that
even he may not be trusted with your secret. Well you may rest assured
that you can speak of your problem with the priest with the utmost
Yes, you may send me the specific questions you want answered.
* * *
I hope that I shall be able to give you some helpful answers to the
questions you have asked. A completely satisfactory answer to every
question I do not think anyone could give.
1. Why am I homosexual?
I doubt if anyone can give a certain answer to that. I can say that
some things are not the cause. For example it is not an inherited
trait. I suppose that should be obvious! I can say with certainty too
that it is not through any fault of your own or because you want to be.
There may be some extreme cases to the contrary, but for most ordinary
homosexuals it is true to say that you are not physically different
from any ordinary heterosexual person.
It would seem that there are various causes. Some homosexuals are
almost certainly such because a mother has wanted to have a daughter
instead of a son (or vice versa). She has by word and conduct, although
unconsciously, deeply impressed this in the young child's mind and
heart. The desire to please mother has been so great that he has from
his earliest years tried to do his best. He cannot ever be a daughter;
but he will be as nearly one as possible. In these cases the boy
generally develops into an effeminate type, in voice, gait, gesture,
interests and various other mannerisms and reactions. It is important
to note however, that many who are like this have no homosexual
tendencies at all.
Another common cause is the absence of a father, or some substitute
male figure such as grandfather, uncle, etc., in the early childhood
years, either because of a death, broken marriage, war or some similar
circumstance. We judge this from the frequency with which this sort of
a background appears and especially its incidence with those from
Unhappy marriages and homes sometimes give such an abhorrence of
marriage that the ordinary sex direction is deviated.
However once again we must be warned that this fear of marriage does
not always lead to homosexuality.
In some cases it is attributed to the condition of having a weak father
and a domineering mother; but on the other hand it is said to arise
sometimes as a result of having an over strict or bullying father who
has driven his son too much into the company of his mother and her
It has sometimes been observed as the result of a mother (usually)
setting the child's mind against marriage for a variety of reasons: she
is possessive; she fears for marriage because of some disease she knows
of or fears.
These are all to a great extent guesswork; and they do not explain why
brothers with exactly the same background have developed differently.
Even if you knew what was the cause in your own case, I do not know
that it would be very helpful. It could be a cause of bitter
2. Can I be cured?
One thing is certain, it is a personality problem; a psychological
psycho-genetic problem. Theoretically it should be curable. I have
never heard of any true homosexual being cured of this condition. The
best that can be hoped for is to be helped to live out one's life
happily along with this disability.
Firstly, it is of the greatest importance to know yourself. Know if you
are truly a homosexual; that is to say one for whom the idea of a
sexual union with a woman is distasteful; even revolting.
If you were a boy I would warn you that some sort of a boyish "crush"
for another boy or a teacher is not even an indication of
homosexuality. This often happens in the lives of boys and girls
without ever meaning anything like this.
There is no doubt that some people are more erotically inclined than
others. Some are less than normally disturbed by sexual desires. Learn
that whatever grade you might place yourself in, in this respect, it
has nothing to do with your homosexuality as such. Sexual indulgence,
of whatever kind it might be, at too young an age usually leads to
greater difficulties in controlling sexual urges later on. Especially
if it is frequently practised. Here no less than anywhere else it is
true to say that the appetite grows on feeding. Many homosexuals who
are very promiscuously inclined think it is a necessary condition of
their homosexuality. This is not so.
Some homosexuals are more inclined towards other men in an aggressive,
male manner; others are attracted to them as a woman might be. These
are variations as it were within the species. To understand them,
especially in so far as they affect your own condition, is part of
knowing yourself. If you have a suitable counsellor invoke his help.
Some of these things may be more easily discernible by another than by
However you arrive at the answers, these are some of the questions you
must ask yourself. Having answered them as well as you can, you must
learn to live with yourself. Remember that good advice that we must try
to change whatever is wrong or evil in so far as it can be changed;
learn to live with what cannot be changed; and learn to distinguish
between the two.
A good psychiatrist or psychologist can help those who are seriously
unable to adjust themselves. And remember, as with so many other
problems - a sense of humour is of inestimable worth.
3. But why me?
One of the impediments to obtaining a healthy attitude and having a
happy life is self pity.
Don't think that you are the only frustrated person in the world. There
are many who are not homosexual, but very actively heterosexual, and
who for one reason or another, cannot without sin, indulge their sexual
appetite. There are many lonely people who for a variety of reasons are
denied the companionship they so earnestly seek or desire.
There are many others who are deformed, deprived of sight or hearing,
suffering great physical disabilities or illness, whose lot is much
worse than yours. And in my experience, most of these are bravely happy
people. So don't whinge. Don't start to blame your parents; or God.
Don't blame yourself either. Learn to accept it as "just one of those
things" which God allows some people to suffer and out of which, with
his grace they can draw great profit.
4. What spiritual advice do you give
The old fundamentals: Prayer, penance and the sacraments. Pray, just as
everyone else has to, for your special needs. I do not say to pray for
a cure, though there is no harm in doing so any more than in praying to
be relieved from any other affliction. But first accept the condition,
lest your prayer grow into an expression rather of rebellion than be a
Penance. Since the only way of life open to a pure homosexual is
generally one of celibacy, this needs special support. It needs a
greater degree of self-control, sexually, than the married state.
Self-control is gained by controlling self. We control self by denying
self. Constant self-control in little things helps us to that degree of
self-control that is necessary in order to resist greater temptations.
Remember too, that "no temptation has overtaken you that is not common
to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your
strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape,
that you may be able to endure it." (1 Cor: 10:13.)
The sacraments are God's chief channels of grace. The Eucharist is the
food of the soul and properly received must nourish us to strength. The
sacrament of Penance, properly used is a great act of humility; it is a
great assurance of good will; above all it is a sacrament, and God
works in us most effectively through his sacraments. Perhaps a
homosexual needs the consolation of the sacrament and compassionate
spiritual direction more than most other people. Try to find a
confessor who has real empathy and stay with him.
5. What about companionship?
The need for companionship is relative. Some are more dependent on it
than others. Homosexuals, more than most people, feel loneliness. They
live at first in a kind of solitary confinement. That is the state you
had been living in until you found your present friend.
Unfortunately many spend their lives making understanding friends, and
each friend is a new danger. In their desperation they begin to find
homosexuals everywhere, even in the most heterosexual acquaintances. If
anyone shows them the least sympathy they take it to be the sympathy of
another homosexual. This can lead to very embarrassing situations.
The great thing is to learn to stand on your own feet and not be too
dependent on human support. But the desire for like companionship is so
great that not all can live out this life of isolation. In that case it
is better to seek out companions who like yourself are battling against
the tide than those who are just drifting with it.
Those who meet this difficulty best are those who devote their lives to
helping others. Frequently their attractiveness for others of the same
sex gives them an almost charismatic suitability for helping them.
This brings me to that other question:
6. What about "Acceptance", etc.
The temptation to form or join groups such as this made up of
homosexuals who feel a need for banding together and think thereby to
help one another is very understandable. Especially when one sees the
success of Alcoholics Anonymous, Recovery, etc. But homosexuals are
quite different in their needs from other people.
The alcoholic may help the alcoholic; someone with a colostomy may
greatly encourage another who is newly suffering this disability. But
asking a homosexual man to help a homosexual man must be likened rather
to asking a match to help a tin of petrol.
Such groups must be groups of prayer. They need the help of
compassionate priests and counsellors. They have great risks but having
regard to the extreme desire for acceptance and for understanding found
in many homosexuals, I could not find it in myself to absolutely ban
such society. But it must be under the same conditions under which one
enters into any other area which presents special spiritual dangers.
There must be due safeguards and all must be of the one mind; and that
is "one mind in Christ".
7. Would you recommend me to become a
priest or a religious?
That depends. In the first place, the fact that you have a sexual
attraction for others of your own sex does not of itself render you any
more or any less suitable for answering such a vocation. It is one
thing to have homosexual tendencies; it is a quite different thing to
be actively homosexual.
A celibate priest or religious has to take special precautions no
matter how he is conditioned. To think that a vowed celibate in his
vigorous years can mix with others and live their kind of life just the
same as one who is not so committed, is to adopt an attitude that is
naive in the extreme and against the lessons of all experience. I am
speaking of men who have a normal degree of sexual urgency.
As for the rest, you must pass the same test as anyone else.
Have you shown by your conduct that you are able to remain chaste,
either because you always have been, or because you have overcome
unchaste habits and shown by a suitable period of testing that you are
quite free from them?
If you have been unchaste, are there things in your past life that
would give a certain notoriety to your conduct? That is to say, have
you been known to have been unchaste? Sinning with another person is
not of itself sufficient to make an act "notorious"; but if this is
known to others it might well be.
8. Would you advise me to marry?
Not without knowing you personally and knowing the whole history of
your homosexual experience. I have known men who seemed to be pure
homosexuals who have married happily, had families and been excellent
husbands and fathers. Their wives have probably never even suspected
their true sexual proclivities.
I have known others who when they were later unfaithful to their wives
in a homosexual way, and their wives found out, their whole marriage
All I could say in a general way is that a homosexual marrying needs
caution and advice to an even greater degree than the normal man.
9. Do you oppose legislation to
legalize homosexual acts in private between consenting adults?
No, I do not. This would be only to put them on the same level as acts
of fornication or adultery; morally wrong, but not crimes punishable by
law. If they offend against public decency because they involve public
indecency, they would still be punishable. If one of those involved was
"under the age", there would be crime.
I do not see that anyone who really understands what is proposed by
such legislation could oppose it. Some benefits would accrue; some
evils, especially the constant fear of blackmail, would be avoided.
This was the view of the commission set up by the English Catholic
Bishops to advise the Wolfenden Commission in England.
Unfortunately, to speak of "legalizing" something suggests to a lot of
people that it is being approved or rendered "not wrong". Sins are
still sins though they are not punishable by law. And where would we
all stand if whatever is sinful before God was also a crime punishable
by the State?
10. Am I always to be a social
Being a social outcast is not an inbuilt thing like being a diabetic or
a homosexual. It depends on whether society casts you out or not.
There is no need for me to tell you that unfortunately this tends to be
so. Therefore what I am writing to you in this regard is meant more for
others than for you.
Whatever the cause of homosexuality is, it is certainly not likely to
be the fault of the homosexual himself. It is scarcely credible that
anyone ever wanted to be twisted in this way. So if it is not
blameworthy, why treat a homosexual person as if it were?
In our society there are many people who have been shown to be guilty
of heinous offences who are fully accepted into that society; some even
lionized. But a known homosexual is often rejected, ridiculed, mocked.
At best he is pitied with a hurtful, patronizing pity. And this may be
so even without any evidence that he is guilty of homosexual acts.
All the evidence points to the fact that the incidence of this
condition is greatly on the increase. We must all accept some
responsibility for this since we all, in some way, contribute to the
building up of a society that is ultimately its cause and nourisher.
With their growth in numbers, homosexuals are being forced into
undesirable publicity in their desire for acceptance. This has been the
ruination of many young men of good families. Suffering from a
desperate isolation, social solitary confinement, unchristian
intolerance, they have been forced into a sort of public commitment;
not only to an admission of their condition but also to a sinful way of
life. They are young and lacking wisdom and are bereft of the help of
those who should be their support - parents, church, civil authorities,
society at large.
If He who should always be in our midst, if we were truly, and not
nominally, gathered in His Name, were allowed to speak through our
lips, (since he must now act through his Mystical Body), the words
would be - "Neither do I condemn you".
To you, Aelred, I would say, you are not an outcast to Jesus, nor to
his Mother. The very fact that so many who claim to be his followers
treat you as they do, should force you even more deeply into their
11. It's not unnatural for me!
I knew you would bring up this argument. I've heard it so often.
Recently I read a "soft sell" theologian who asserted that when we come
to understand homosexuality better the Church may change its mind about
the sinfulness of homosexual acts.
This is rot. It is theological rot and like so much theological rot it
arises from a lack of clarity in thought and expression.
Homosexual acts are always unnatural because they are always contrary
to the nature of man as set by God. When you say that homosexual
attraction is natural for you, what you mean is that it is spontaneous
in you. It is the form of sexual attraction that ordinarily arises in
you. The confusion arises from using the word "natural" in two
different senses; and one of them less correct.
To say that when we come to understand homosexuality better we may
change our ideas about the sinfulness of homosexual acts should demand
as its corollary that those who understand heterosexual acts outside
the married state should reconsider the sinfulness of them!
Understanding these states better makes for compassion and a better
sense of proportion. It should not lead us to say that what is sinful,
Masturbation is an unnatural act; so is contraceptive intercourse.
These acts, like homosexual acts, separate the exercise of a faculty as
a cause from its natural effects. They may be common human behaviour.
Indulgence of this kind may be very ordinary and very understandable.
But natural - never!
What we all need is a very great Christian intolerance towards all sin;
and a very great Christian tolerance towards sinners in their human
weakness. Even when their sinful proclivities differ from our own.
12. In any case I am told it is not
condemned in the Bible.
There is a tendency among those who wish to defend homosexual practices
to underestimate the strong condemnations in the Scriptures. But even
allowing for the fact that the references in the story of Sodom, from
which the sin takes its name, are controverted, there are clear
condemnations in both the Old and New Testaments.
The following texts speak far themselves:
You shall not lie with a male as with a
woman; it is an abomination.
If a man lies with a male as with a
woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to
death, their blood is upon them.
. . . and the men likewise gave
up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one
another, men committing shame less acts with men and receiving in their
own persons the due penalty of their error.
1 Cor. 6:9-10
Do you not know that the unrighteous
will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Neither the immoral, nor
idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the
greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the
Kingdom of God.
There are some other references which either are less clear or only
repeat what is contained in these. But here is clear enough evidence,
if any were needed, that such acts are against the law of God.
Arguments that are adduced to try to interpret these texts in ways
other than their plain meaning are specious and lack any authoritative
support. It is worth noting that St. Paul does not pick out homosexual
acts for any special condemnation, but lumps them in with the other
common failings of mankind.
The greatest sin is to defend sin and pretend it is not sin. Here
surely is a sinning against the Holy Spirit. It is against the light.
God is ever merciful to the sinner. If we can only have the humility to
acknowledge our sin saying "Lord be merciful to me a sinner", we shall
go away justified. But if, after the manner of the Pharisee we say "I
do not need mercy or forgiveness", then we exclude ourselves from the
reach of God's mercy. We do this when we refuse to acknowledge our sin;
or refuse to admit that what we have done is sinful, when we have clear
proof that it is.
* * *
It always intrigues me when people demand a heavenly patron for some
special need. Often enough we hear the Church criticized for its
practice of appointing saints as patrons for various causes, classes or
conditions. But in doing this the Church is only answering a human
need; and sometimes not without humour, as when St. Gabriel was
designated the patron of radio and television announcers because he was
the angel of the Lord who "announced unto Mary".
Perhaps it is that in these days of specialization people are
disinclined to believe that a General Practitioner can manage
everything! Once I was asked about a special patron to be invoked for
protection against atomic warfare. It is not my privilege to appoint
such heavenly patrons, but I did express the opinion that St. Atom
seemed to be an obvious choice. (Yes, he is for real.)
God is the one protector. All power comes from him. The one mediator is
Christ. Nevertheless the Church has constantly held and taught that not
only is the veneration of the saints proper and profitable but it is
good to seek their intercession for us in all our needs.
First and foremost is Mary the Mother of our Redeemer. Immaculately
sinless she is the Refuge of Sinners; but in a special way she is
invoked as the model of chastity to guard and protect us in this
You will say that Mary is just another General Practitioner to be
invoked in every need. She is called the Mediatrix of All Graces. Isn't
there a special saint for this special need?
Well, what about the Ugandan Martyrs? Here are saints right up to date.
They were canonized only in 1964. It is not yet a hundred years since
they were cruelly martyred for their chastity. In fact they were
martyred because some of them refused to consent to homosexual acts.
For some time the Christian converts in Uganda were struggling against
the pagan practices of the country. Superstition, slavery and polygamy
were general. Those who felt the brunt of persecution most were the
pages of the Royal Court into which homosexual practices had been
introduced by Arab traders.
The young king in Uganda in the 1880's was Mwanga. He was weak,
dissolute and a despot in the worst African tradition. He was given to
violent outbursts of rage and cruelty whenever he was crossed or
thwarted in any way. Not that Uganda is unused to such demonic rule!
Yet, in the cesspool of his Court there flourished a band of Christian
pages like the pure lilies we sometimes see floating on some fetid
pond. Some of them were Catholics, others Protestants; but they were
united in their basic Christian beliefs and virtue. They were to be
united also in martyrdom.
The Christians in his kingdom were at once an admonition and an
obstacle to Mwanga. They resisted his orders for indiscriminated
pillage and killing. And those closest to him, his court pages,
resisted his demands for homosexual pleasure.
Joseph Mukara who was the Major Domo of the Court was the kingpin also
of the Catholic Christian Community. He constantly instructed, baptized
and protected the pages. In one of his fits of rage, Mwanga had him
Fortunately, a few months before this happened, the Court was joined by
a young man aged about twenty-two, Charles Luaga (or Lwanga), who had
been attracted by the Christian community there. He was at once put in
charge of the 200 pages and he became a second Mukara. He was baptized
only on the night of Mukara's death and immediately became the strong
leader of the Christian community.
On May 25, 1886 Mwanga had a bad day. He had been out hunting but his
prey had not been co-operative. He was hunting hippopotamus. It was bad
enough noticing that his pages were beginning to find they had
something to do at the other end of the palace whenever he appeared on
the scene; now the hippos were doing the same thing.
Mwanga came home in a fearful mood. He sent for Mwafa, one of his pages
whom hitherto he had always found obliging and compliant. But Mwafa was
no longer on call either. When he screamed for an explanation there was
at hand someone only too ready to tell him that Mwafa had been seen
recently much in the company of the Christian page, Denis.
The young king suspected Denis of instructing Mwafa in the Christian
religion. He was infuriated at the thought that still another of his
"boys" was becoming lost to him. He sent for the two of them and Denis
confessed openly that this was true. Mwanga flew into a passion and
dragged the sixteen-year-old Denis through the palace screaming for
someone to kill him. Denis was hacked to pieces and his remains thrown
into the bush to be eaten by vultures.
Everyone knew that now, it was on. It would not be an exaggeration, not
even a theological exaggeration, to say that Hell broke loose. Mwanga
raved and roared until everyone knew that the pages were in for it at
last. Not least of all did the pages know it. Their first instinctive
reaction was one of panic. But assembling around their leader Luaga the
Catholic pages soon became calm in the presence of his strength and
They knew what was ahead of them, but even when given the opportunity
to escape they stood fast, saying that to run now would be tantamount
to denying their Faith. Some of them were still awaiting baptism.
In another part of the palace the Protestant pages were similarly
gathered together and encouraging one another. They got someone to take
a message to the Catholic pages: "We also are going to be killed; but
do not renounce your religion."
After a fearful night, Mwanga had them all assembled and asked those
who still professed Christianity to stand to one side. Charles Luaga
stood up and said: "A man cannot deny that of which he is fully
convinced. You, Sire, are always telling us that we must do our duty
and you know we have never shirked it, despite the threats of your
enemies. Today then, once again, we follow your counsel."
Taking Kizito, the youngest boy, by the hand he led the group to one
side. Then an incident occurred which takes us right back to the days
of the early Roman persecutions. Bruno Serunkuma, the Palace Guard,
calmly joined them.
Mwanga ordered them all to be tied up and burnt. But before this
happened they were to spend six days during which they were allowed to
watch in awful expectation the preparations for their execution. This
time they spent in joyful prayer together. When the time came, they
were led out to the place of ritual execution.
Charles Luaga was the first. He was burnt slowly from his feet so that
his agony would be all the more prolonged. Calmly he addressed his
torturers: "You are burning me, but it is as if you were pouring cold
water over my body. I am dying for God's religion. But be warned in
time or he whom you insult will one day burn you in real fire."
Then the others being tied were wrapped around in something like reed
mats or blinds and placed side by side on a great pyre of firewood. One
of them happened to be a son of the chief executioner who pleaded with
him to recant and save his life. But the boy would not do so and his
father gave orders to one of the executioners to club him to death
first. He was despatched with one blow from a club and his body was
placed on the pyre with the others.
The great fire was lit and the young martyrs, praising God and calmly
speaking to one another and to their executioners, passed from this
world's suffering to the joy of heaven.
These and others who died in Mwanga's persecution were some of the
twenty-two martyrs canonized in 1964. With them must not be forgotten
the nine Protestants whose names are inscribed in the Namirembe
The story of these martyrs, they were mostly teenagers, fills one of
the most glorious pages of Christian history. We have to go back to the
earliest days of Christianity to find their like.
I think that they might most suitably be suggested to you as patrons in
your need - that through their sufferings and prayers you might have
the strength to imitate them in their chastity.
* * *
So you are not happy with the Ugandan Martyrs? Like so many others you
want a patron saint who actually suffered from the same condition under
which you labour.
This is natural enough I suppose. After all the Second Person of the
Blessed Trinity (through whom we were created and who therefore should
know us very well) came on earth to "bear our infirmities" so that we
might feel more drawn to him and seek his help in our trials. He knew
how natural it is for man to feel this way.
A homosexual saint? That is a tough one. We know of saints who had been
adulterers, fornicators, murderers, thieves, hot tempered, perjurers,
and all manner of sinners. But have we any saint who had that
psycho-genetic condition which- we call homosexual? I think we have;
and he is a very loveable saint too.
You may be glad too to learn that he was an Englishman; not one of
those foreign types. He was one of those clean-cut handsome, blue-eyed,
blond youths whom novelists like to portray as exemplifying the perfect
Englishman. In fact he was more English than the English. He was very
much a Saxon. His name was Aelred. He is known as St. Aelred of
Rievaulx. (Rye Valley.)
He was born in 1110 and from his earliest days he was found to be a
very attractive friend to other boys and men, as he was also greatly
attracted towards them.
This propensity caused the greatest joys and perplexities of his life,
and in great measure provided the stepping stones to sanctity. His life
story is one of a series of strong and wonderful friendships. In an
atmosphere of exterior peace and calm, he walked a dangerous journey,
fighting and battling for the chastity he sought and loved; a romantic,
in his own words "desiring only to love and be loved".
David, brother of Scotland's king at that time, when on a visit to
England saw the then fourteen-year-old Aelred and was fascinated by
him. He arranged to have him sent to the northern court as boy
companion to his son Henry and Henry's half-brother Waltheof. With them
he formed a strong friendship. He couldn't help it. Aelred was made for
friendship. It was his life.
But it was the boy's father, David (who a year later became king) that
drew out all Aelred's capacity for human love. In fact Aelred tells us
that it was only because David was "so humble, pious and chaste" that
his life was not then and there wrecked. (This David was himself the
son of a saint, Margaret of Scotland.)
After some ten years at the Scottish Court, Aelred was sent by the King
on a mission abroad. On his return journey he decided to make a little
side trip on the royal expense account. This was in order to drop in on
another of his worshipped friends, William d'Espec, "huge,
black-haired, long-bearded"; and in most other ways unlike Aelred. They
must have made a strangely contrasting couple, the gentle Saxon and the
trumpet-voiced, commanding Norman.
This same William d'Espec had founded a monastery in the Rye Valley, in
which the newly established Cistercian monks were installed. The two
friends made a journey to visit the monks in their struggling, little
monastery in the valley which was still scarred by the invaders. If
Aelred was capable of any hatred he would have hated the Normans,
because he was a Saxon of the Saxons. But the Normans were people, and
he could not hate anyone. He could not even be unfriendly.
So there he came with his Norman friend. And there they both stayed.
"I was a prodigal son who had wandered; now I came back to my father's
house, leaving behind me the husks of swine." That is how Aelred
described his entering the Cistercians. I am sure he exaggerated
somewhat his sinful past, but that is how he saw it.
The break was not made without some internal struggle: "The chains of
my wretched habits held me; the love of my home held me; the bonds of
good fellowship tethered me; more than all, the knots of a certain
friendship were straitened in me, sweeter to me than all the other
sweetness of my then life."
But his friendships were never over. New ones came to open sweet wounds
while the scars of the old ones remained seemingly fresh.
Of his early years he wrote: "When I was a boy at school and the charm
of my companions much pleased me, I gave myself over to love and
friendship, after the ways and vices with which that stage of life is
threatened, so that I found nothing more pleasurable, more desirable,
more worthwhile, than to love and be loved. Between these foolish
friendships, now for this boy, now for that, my spirit was pulled
hither and thither. Not knowing what real love was like, I was often
deceived by what was false."
His ardent heart troubled him. He recognized the constant yearning for
friendship and its deep consequences for him. Cicero's De Amicitia (Concerning Friendship) came to his
hands and he was in admiration of the pagan writer's analysis of
friendship. But he wondered if a Christian could so indulge. On the
other hand in the lives of the saints he was constantly reading of
It was in this state that he began his monastic life. Moreover he was
thrown into a completely sealed-off, male world. In his early
noviceship days and as yet not drilled in that "custody of the eyes" so
strongly stressed in the monastic training, his eyes wandered and
fastened on the more attractive looking young men around him.
A certain Simon was the first of his monastic heartbeats. Simon came
from a less sophisticated background than the courts to which Aelred
was accustomed and he was seemingly quite unaware of the flutter he
caused in Aelred's little dove-cote. "My son in age, my father in
holiness, my friend in love," Aelred wrote of him. His heart and eyes
went out to Simon, but as so often happened in his life Aelred was
protected by the very chastity of those on whom his loving eyes rested.
He found ,the "most charming" Simon "so radiantly chaste, so silent,
answering my questing eyes with no other answer than a smile . . .
Simon died and Aelred felt almost as if he must die too. But Aelred did
not die for a long while . . . His sweet torment of friendship would
again and again find new sparks.
Besides Simon, there was Hugh, who had been a friend of Simon's before
Aelred had met either of them. Then there was Ivo with his "mild eyes"
and his "pleasant voice". Walter Daniel was another; and the one to
whom we owe much of our knowledge of Aelred.
Aelred opened himself up freely to Walter and he it was to whom, when
he was dying, he spoke of his last and most perfect friendship; one in
which there was nothing but the image of the greater friendship - with
He wrote his Dialogue of Friendship
as well as other works in which he discussed his experiences of
friendship, its dangers and its joys, its goodness as well as its
weakness. In it we trace his own perfecting of friendship within
himself; gradually purifying the carnal in it, but never running away
from it. Friendship he always faced, suffered and enjoyed.
Chaste he was with a beautiful chastity; no less beautiful for being
always like some perfect diamond, ever near to splitting.
Aelred became Novice Master and later Abbot of Rievaulx. He was
entrusted with many delicate negotiations, and more than once was
employed as a peacemaker in those quarrelsome times. He was witty too;
but his greatest quality was his capacity for friendship. He practised
notable austerities, over and above the ordinary severities of 12th
century Cistercian life. But his greatest asceticism was in the control
of his own affections. He would write: "No one has loved perfectly or
truly who in this life passionately yearned for anything or anyone."
In all his friendship he would say: "I hope Christ is in our midst as a
Aelred must have been one of the most loving and loveable men who ever
lived. From childhood till his death his life was a long series of
affectionate friendships with other boys and men, in which there was
always a temptation to a disordered friendship. All his spiritual life
and his writings grow out of and around these friendships. All his
querying was how to enjoy these many associations and not lose the love
He is the saint of friendship - homosexual friendship if you like - and
his sanctity grew from this phenomenon. I commend him to you, for whom
you have been named Aelred. May something of his sweetness descend on
you. May you partake of his great strength. May you find comfort in his
lifelong struggles and grow in imitation of his understanding of the
beauty of true friendship.
Yes, if a patron is asked for homosexuals, I should nominate the gentle
* * *
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