Below is part 3 of a series of posts presenting excerpted videos and transcripts of an interview I conducted October 14, 2012 with my college best friend John Hazlet, whose struggles with doubt and depression were instrumental in my personal deconversion. (The full two part interview is here and here.) At the time of our interview John was a Benedictine monk, publicly discussing his homosexuality and struggles with mental illness. In June of 2013, John left the monastery. He is in a relationship with a man. He remains a Catholic. In the segment of our interview excerpted and transcribed below, John talks about why Anglicanism appealed to him after his period of deep doubts and then what love among celibates looks like.
Dan Fincke: Hmm. Now, when you moved on, you became… you went from your dalliance with Calvin, to becoming more Anglican. And at the time, I remember it being a comfort in the Via Media, the way that Anglicanism allowed for a careful ambiguity that allowed for multiple understandings of issues that other forms of Protestantism or Catholicism were dogmatic about. There was a comfort for your lack of confidence in absolute ability to know everything philosophically and theologically. And then from Anglicanism, I remember you becoming Catholic… or reclaiming your Catholicism as your now understanding it… And then becoming, then going into the seminary. So, then in that… during the seminary period, I remember you being counseled… something to the effect of that you might have… not a homosexual, explicitly, a love affair, but at least sort of, maybe special friendships that were an equivalent to a homosexual love affair… that… where with another seminarian, that maybe you could have the equivalent of a boyfriend, but not a sexual relationship. That they were trying to counsel to kind of have, to turn this into some other kind of constructive homo-romantic love that wasn’t a homosexual love, something like that. Can you talk about, like, what that counsel was, and what you think of that, or how I’ve characterized it badly or well.
Bede (John) Hazlet: Yeah. I want to mention first just a little something about the Via Media. I think that that can come across as kind of an anemic concept. But in some ways what attracted me at the time was… what attracted me to it at the time, was – and still does, on some level, and certainly leads me to respect it – was this sense that I’d always had a kind a of liturgical instinct about things. I’d always had a sense that the liturgy was… and the kind of sacramentality were essential to my faith.
And Calvinism, as I explored it, really doesn’t have a liturgical dimension; it’s very much oriented around the Word and its conception of the Sacraments is somewhat secondary. But [what] I found in the Anglican tradition, in its Anglo-Catholic forms, was an access to both Catholic and Protestant theology. Reformation thinkers, for example. I was very interested in Luther. And a richly liturgical and sacramental dimension.
So it wasn’t just that it gave me a place to stand where I didn’t have to commit to anything. I think that sort of sells the idea short. It’s that it gave me a way to be involved in a richly liturgical tradition, and from the heart of the liturgy to explore this breadth of theology in a way that allowed me to access both the sources of Catholicism in the Fathers of the Church and the liturgy itself, and Reformation thinkers and contemporary Protestant thinkers. So that was a big part of its appeal. I was also brought up in an Anglophile kind of family, and was, at the time, maybe, maniacally Anglophiliac, I don’t know. So its Englishness was a huge part of its appeal, too, though I don’t want to trivialize it, don’t want to trivialize my interest in the tradition, which I still respect highly. But there was… that was kind of a side note… there was … the heart of your question was something else. Could you remind me of…
Dan Fincke: Well, then the advice to kind of have the equivalent of a boyfriend…Bede (John) Hazlet: Right.
Dan Fincke: … but not sexually.
Bede (John) Hazlet: I think you might be conflating two bits of advice I received, but I’m not sure. Because before I entered the seminary, while I was still living in England, one of my friends suggested the possibility as a way for queer Catholics to live, of finding a relationship that was deeply loving, even erotic in the kind of essential sense of that word, but just not sexually expressed, not genitally expressed. Sort of a romantic friendship to the highest degree, I guess. So that was one piece of advice.
But in the seminary, um, there were people that suggested – and I do think that there’s insight into this, still – that if you’re going to live a celibate, a kind of sexually renunciatory life, you need to do it without excising love or intimacy from your life. So, you come to rely on your closest friendships, among other things, as a way of expressing this dimension of love in your life. And some of those friendships might involve an element of attraction, might even involve falling in love, which could be dicey if you’re committed to not being sexually active. But that I think I was… it was suggested to me at the time would be worth pursuing, just being cautious about the risks, because it’s more risky still to try to, kind of, shut down desire and attraction and love in your life. That, I still think is good advice. I think the possibility of falling in love with someone and having someone be a sort of a boyfriend in everything but the sexual sense, is a bit unrealistic, and could end up being quite contorted and tortured.
But I think learning to see the underlying element of Eros in every good friendship is something that’s important not just for those of us that are committed to a life of celibacy, but for everybody. I think that the forces that draw people together have an essentially erotic dimension, whether there’s an expressly sexual dimension to them or not. It’s something that the “Guy” community is fairly uncomfortable with, probably, but I think… I think it’s true. And I think it’s important to recognize that as an aspect of friendship. Not to over-emphasize it or distort it, but to learn to appreciate it and take advantage of it, to appropriate it deeply.
The rest of the excerpted videos and transcripts from the interview:
How My Best Friend Helped End My Faith and then Became an Openly Gay Monk
Out of the Closet for the 1st Time, at Oxford
On Anglicanism and On Celibate Love
How Catholic Moral Teaching On Sexuality Is Evolving
Does A Good God Guide The Catholic Church? A Debate
Is The Catholic Church’s Treatment of Gays Morally Defensible? A Debate
Does Celibacy Infantilize and Create Child Molesting Priests?
A Gay Monk Argues Against Reparative Therapy
On Treating Mental Illness, Rather Than Romantically Theologizing It
How the Catholic Church’s Views on Gays Might Evolve
The transcripts in this series were created this summer by Josiah “BibleName” Mannion. He donated his time to produce the more than 22,000 word transcript of the entire interview. Josiah makes his living as a photographer and currently needs camera repairs done that he cannot afford. If you would like to chip in to this generous man, donate to firstname.lastname@example.org and my friend Sarah Morehead will get the money to him. (UPDATE: The atheist community came through big and Josiah was able to get a new camera!)