Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Thanksgiving Open Letter to Catholics of the Crookston, Minnesota, Diocese

To the Catholic People of the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota

Dear Fellow Catholics:

As you know, the day after tomorrow will be the Thanksgiving holiday.  This holiday has become in the American psyche a time to celebrate family, a time when family gathers from far and near to sit around the family table and share a meal of thanksgiving together.  

This is a holiday that evokes for many Americans terms like "family," "home," "welcome," "share," "table," and "love."

Unfortunately, when your good Catholic families gather this Thanksgiving from the four corners of our nation and of the globe, there will be some empty places at many of your tables.  Those places were once occupied by people who thought they belonged to family, who thought they had a home, who imagined they were welcome and that their family wanted them to share a meal around the one table.  

They imagined that they were loved.

The empty chairs at many of your tables Thanksgiving day will belong to gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and aunts and uncles.  These brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, aunts, and uncles will not be at your welcoming family tables for the holiday--they will not come home--because they have been told that they are not loved.

I know this, because I have seen the process of expulsion and the lacerating pain it can create at close hand in the life of my spouse, with whom I have lived 41 years.  He grew up in your diocese.  Along with you, he grew up in a strong Catholic family, one that went to Mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation, to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament anytime this was offered, to weekly confession.  You all prayed the rosary together as a family on your knees many evenings.  His piety was so evident as he was growing up that his parish priest wanted him to become a seminarian.

Steve is a good man.  He is a model of practical compassion.  He is well-loved and admired by many people who know him.  The Catholic values he learned growing up issue in one act of kindness after another to those around him, and in particular, to those in need.  He models a love that acts when he sees someone in need and knows that he can assist.  I have learned much about love--and about peace, another virtue in which he excels--from him.

As you who are his brothers and sisters know, you and he have two aunts who are nuns; you and he had a great-aunt who was also a nun, and one of your and his great-uncles is a monk.  You and he have numerous cousins who are nuns and monks in Minnesota.

My spouse Steve does not come home any longer.  He does not do so for one quite simple reason: he is not welcome.  You--his brothers and sisters--have made him explicitly unwelcome.

And you have done so in the name of your Catholicism and of Jesus himself.

You, his brothers and sisters, have sent birthday cards to him informing him that he and I are sinners who violate the Truth taught always and everywhere by the church.  After having partaken of our hospitality in the not-distant past, one of you sent a "thank-you" card informing your brother that you couldn't stay longer than a day and had to stay in your recreational vehicle rather than in our house because your Catholicism does not permit you to condone "the gay lifestyle."

One of you told him shortly after your father's funeral not to come, with your mother, to visit his house. Another of you has also informed him he must not visit her house.  In all the years in which you have lived in your current house, on any of our visits to see your mother, we have not once been invited to your house and to your table--and you are a leader in the movement to make your parish more authentically Catholic!  If there's a rosary to be said, a pro-life banner to be carried, an adoration ceremony to be attended, you're there.  You now prostrate yourself on the floor prior to communion, a flowing mantilla on your head, though others in your parish do not maintain this practice.

Your practice of Catholicism is all about showing others how it's done--and communicating to others that they are defectively Catholic, in a way you are not.

The upshot of your repeated Catholic messages to your brother is that he simply does not come home again.  He and I make occasional visits to see your aging mother, but, at Steve's choice, we avoid going to the farm home in which you all grew up, because he has been told he is not welcome or wanted there.  We make arrangements to meet your aging mother someplace apart from your Catholic homeplace--at a restaurant in town, or at the parish cemetery as Steve visits his father's and grandparents' graves.

Though I am a complete outsider to your culture, I can still glimpse how painful the treatment you dole out to your brother is, through observing the hurt it creates in him.  And in myself: as your brother's spouse, I have repeatedly been to Mass at your family's parish church, and have had the experience of seeing some of your many cousins (I did say that Catholic families in your diocese are strong families, didn't I: they were historically large Catholic families) pointing and laughing at me after Mass has ended.

After they and I have just received communion.

At your father's funeral, I was introduced to several of his nephews, your cousins.  When I held out my hand for them to shake, they glared at me and refused to offer their hand in return.

They then proceeded in the funeral liturgy to receive communion.

One of you brothers of Steve has treated me precisely the same way, refusing on one occasion to take my hand when I offered it to you at your family home.  The crudeness of this act so shocked a group of German friends who were visiting your family at the time--one of them a theologian--and who witnessed the humiliating treatment shown to me, that they wanted to have a confrontation session with you.  Steve and I talked them out of doing this.

You, Steve's brother who refused to shake my hand in your parents' Catholic household, now have a daughter who refused to invite me to her wedding several years ago.  Through your wife, Steve and I were informed that Catholic weddings are about celebrating the marriage of a man and a woman, and having gay couples at a Catholic wedding dilutes the message they're intended to give to the community.

I myself will not ever go back to your Catholic communities in the Crookston diocese because I find it altogether too heart-rending to celebrate the eucharist with people who can behave this way, and imagine that they represent Catholic teaching and values in some exemplary way as they do so.  Your behavior so grossly belies everything I understand the church teaches about the eucharist that my own belief in the eucharist makes me determined to distance myself from people who tell me you are virtuous and I am a vile sinner, you are Catholic and I'm the opposite, as you deny any connection to me as a brother in Christ in the eucharist itself!

And as you betray the most fundamental values of love, hospitality, and welcome that underlie everything we proclaim about ourselves, about the eucharist, and about the church.

I'm sending you this open letter on the heels of a divisive, hurtful campaign in which the Catholic bishops of your state did everything in their power to pass an amendment that specifically targeted your gay brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles.  That amendment failed to pass, and all the money your bishops and the Knights of Columbus spent to promote this discriminatory act was sinfully wasted.  

But in the process of working to pass this discriminatory amendment, your own diocese gave a large donation to the cause--just as you did several years ago when you sent money to the far-away state of Maine to snatch the right of civil marriage from same-sex couples there.  At the time this took place, some commentators said that, per capita, your diocese contributed more money than any other in the nation to remove the right of civil marriage from gay citizens of Maine.

When time came to vote on the marriage amendment, more than 60% of you voted for the discriminatory amendment.  It failed to pass because the vote against it in your state's large urban areas was heavy, and because many non-Catholics were disturbed by the attempt of the Catholic bishops of your state to dictate to the public at large what should or should not be stated by laws governing a state that is not by any means 100% Catholic.  Many Catholics in your state also voted against the amendment because they considered it to violate their Catholic values about creating a just and inclusive society.

But more than 60% of you in the Crookston diocese voted to target your gay brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, aunts, and uncles.  Six out of every ten of you Catholics of the Crookston diocese have just explicitly communicated to your brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, aunts, and uncles who happen to be gay that they are not welcome in your homes, that they are not family in the same way you are family, that the family table is closed to them.

That they are not loved.

And this is why many of those brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, aunts, and uncles will not be with you on Thanksgiving day.   You have driven them away from your homes (and their homes).  From your tables (and their tables).  

You have pointedly and deliberately made them unwelcome.  

And you have done so in the name of family values!  You have done so in the name of Catholic family values.  Though you and I both know full well (I can make a list, if you wish, for your own family alone) that in your large Catholic families in the Crookston diocese, there are many gay sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles.  

Your Catholic family values in the Crookston diocese are now making international news (just as they did several years ago when a former pastor of Steve's home parish told a gay couple they were unwelcome to receive communion because they were a gay couple) as a pastor who also used to be the pastor of your own parish--of Steve's home parish--has just refused confirmation to two young men who support the right of same-sex couples to civil marriage.  The story has now predictably been muddled by "he-said, he-said" dynamics, but this much is clear: one of you in the Crookston diocese took it on herself, in the name of Catholic family values and of Jesus, to scour the internet to see what her parish's confirmands had been posting online, and she reported to her pastor that a young man in the parish had posted a photo at Facebook supporting marriage equality.*

After this the pastor told the young man that he could not be confirmed if he did not make a public statement renouncing his support for marriage equality.  The pastor ludicrously equated the opinion that the young Catholic had expressed about a political issue with denying the Nicene creed, and even more ludicrously apologized for the negative publicity the young man's family had created--as if he himself, as pastor, had had no hand at all in creating this negative publicity by his pastorally unsound decision to exclude someone from confirmation on such grounds.

Your diocese's demonstrated inability to understand that authentic Catholic family values call on us to reach out and include everyone is on full display for the world to see right now, and I would submit to you that the picture is not a pretty one.  It is a picture that shows strong, traditional Catholic families deliberately excluding from their midst their own brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, aunts and uncles who are gay, and claiming to do this in the name of Catholic family values.

There has to be a better way to do Catholic family, I think.  There has to be a way to be a good Catholic family that can allow many different kinds of family members to gather around one table while we respect the differences of conscience of each member of the family--and while we welcome and include those targeted by groups working to elicit prejudice and outright hate in our society.  And, yes, in our church itself.  And, yes, I am willing to include many of our "pastoral" leaders in the latter category.

I think you're capable of realizing this inclusive vision of Catholic family, Crookston Catholics.  I think you're better than the negative publicity about you would seem to indicate.  I know for certain that some of you do not take pleasure in seeing family members shoved from your tables.

And I hope that, despite your cultural tendency to resent the advice of outsiders and your tendency to try to pretend that rancor and disagreement don't exist in your midst, you'll begin to talk and think more clearly and carefully about these issues than you've done up to now.  Your reputation as a Catholic community that prides itself on its exemplary practice of the Catholic faith depends on this, because the eyes of the world are now on you and how you live Catholic family values.

*See "Letter from Father Gary LaMoine to Members of Assumption Parish, Barnesville," KFGO website

"Erik Burgess, "Barnesville Teen Denied Catholic Confirmation after Facebook Post Supporting Gay Marriage," Inforum

Erik Burgess, "2nd Student Denied Confirmation in Barnesville,Inforum

Eric Bugyis, "The Parallel Catholic Church," Commonweal blog

Luke Hill, "The New Evangelization at Work?" Commonweal blog

Luke Hill, "The Church for Those Who Disagree with Each Other," Commonweal blog

John Coleman, "Quis Custodiet Custodos?" America's "In All Things" blog

Andrew Sullivan, "The Vatican's Dead End," Daily Dish blog

Eric Fought, "A Call for Healing in Minnesota," EricFought.com

Rev. Michael Tegeder, "Letters of the Day (Nov. 8): Marriage Amendment," Star Tribune

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