Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Catholic + Gay: Resources for Discussion (with Reflections on the Church's Capability for Evil)

Andrew Sullivan has continued to update his ongoing series of comments (and reader reports) entitled "They Cannot Even Speak Our Name."  The "they" are the leaders of the Catholic church.  The "our" are gay and lesbian human beings.  As I noted a week ago when I first reported on this series, Sullivan frames this series by noting, 

I have come to realize that the homosexual issue is at the very heart of the church's current crisis - and that the cruelty we see is the kind of cruelty inflicted by closeted gay men on those who have sought an honest life.  This goes all the way to the very top of the church. Its secrecy and hypocrisy and self-hatred all played a part in the cover-up of mass child-rape for decades. 

Sullivan's Daily Dish site has also set up a Facebook page to continue this discussion.  This page invites contributors to respond to the following question: Have you or someone else you know had an experience of blatant homophobia from within the Catholic church?

And since I'm pointing readers now to online resources for discussion of the approach of the Catholic church to LGBT persons, I'd also like to point to a special section of the outstanding journal, U.S. Catholic, on gay and lesbian Catholics.  As I recommend this resource, I also have to say that I haven't yet read any of the material in it.  The indefatigable Jim McCrea recommended it to me and others by email yesterday.

Having just read through the news reports about the castration of young men in Dutch Catholic institutions in the 1950s, I'm not sure, to be honest, how soon I can stomach a discussion of how the Catholic church might or should deal with those who are gay.  I'm stuck at the moment with the reality of how it has dealt and continues to deal with those who are gay.

The reports from the Netherlands come along just as I continue to try to get my mind around the reality that there are not a few Catholics who will hotly defend the choice of a priest who has just met a lesbian woman to deny her communion at her mother's funeral.  That's to say: I'm trying all over again to get my mind around the outright cruelty--there is no other word for it--of some Catholics, and, in particular, of many Catholics who claim to be the purest and most ardent defenders of real Catholicism in the world today.

To cite Andrew Sullivan again (his site has been full of valuable commentary about matters Catholic and political in the last two days), there is a pronounced spiritual and religious cost to the determination of the Catholic hierarchy in the U.S. right now to morph into Republican leaders in their attack on women's right to basic healthcare, and to the choice of British Catholic leaders to mount a "furious campaign to prevent gay couples from having civil marriage licenses."

That cost is, as Sullivan notes, the undermining of the effectiveness of the church's witness in the public square. When people begin to conclude that the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church care almost exclusively about attacking gay and lesbian human beings and excluding them from human rights, or about trying to control the 90%+ of married Catholics who use contraception, they tend to stop listening to anything at all Catholic church leaders might have to say about human rights or moral values.

Especially when this obsessive focus on human sexuality and stopping the forward movement of human rights in the culture at large goes hand in hand with total silence about issues that many of us consider  moral issues of overriding importance--e.g., the exploitation of the poor by the rich, the waging of unnecessary wars and building of unnecessary weapons, the exclusion of many citizens (in the U.S.) from systems of basic healthcare, ongoing discrimination against minorities, women, LGBT citizens, the destruction of the environment, etc.

And so I understand, too, why Catholics like Michael O'Loughlin, who have stuck with the church and continued to search for spiritual fulfillment within the church find the light of faith (in the institution) flickering for themselves today.  As I've been noting recently, I suspect more and more Catholics are going to find themselves in a similar place in the coming days--particularly as the hierarchy continues its monomaniacal focus on blocking gay human rights and on asserting a pelvic morality rejected by a large proportion of the faithful.

As I think through these matters, I remember a line from one of David Tracy's books that I can cite only by paraphrasing, since I'm not sure in what old journal of mine I recorded the line when I first read it.  Tracy says something to the effect that only a fool would look at the history of the Catholic church and conclude that the church cannot be capable of evil--and, often, of very serious evil.

One of the most disconcerting things of all for me (as for Michael O'Loughlin in the statement to which I have just linked) about the Catholic right wing is its fierce, defensive pretense that the church can do no evil.  And that anyone within the Catholic church who wants honestly to admit the wrongs that the church has done, continues to do, and remains capable of doing, is motivated by anti-Catholicism.

And not by a sincere love for the church and a desire to see it fulfill its calling to become a credible embodiment of the reign of God in the world, an effective sacramental sign of God's redemptive love for all.  The obstinate tribalistic refusal of Catholics of the right and centrist Catholics who collude with their brother and sisters of the right to have necessary conversations about the evil we Catholics have sometimes done in the name of Christ, and about those we have harmed in the name of Christ, radically undercuts the ability of the Catholic church to fulfill its mission in the world.

And will continue to do until the conversation of the center is broadened to permit this discussion--and the voices of the many Catholics shoved to the margins in recent years by the brutal behavior of many institutional leaders are allowed to have a hearing at the center of the church and its public conversation.

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