Monday, March 4, 2013

Cardinal O'Brien Tells the Truth, Sort of, and Catholic Non-Conversation Continues

By now, most readers of Bilgrimage will be well aware of the latest breaking news in the stories leading up to the election of a new pope: namely, that Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien issued a statement this weekend acknowledging the truth of the allegations against him, which led to his recent decision to retire and not attend the upcoming papal election conclave. O'Brien's latest statement is on the website of the Scottish Catholic Media Office.

So much valuable news and blog commentary has now come out about this story, that I don't have much to add. At the end of the posting, I'll provide links to news and blog articles I've been reading about what has now happened with O'Brien. Many of these links come from Bilgrimage readers, and I'm very grateful for them.

As I've been noting here lately, to my way of thinking, the history-making decision of Pope Benedict to resign opens the door to a singular opportunity within the Catholic community for a wide-ranging--and probing--conversation about the current state of the Catholic church and its future. I've also expressed some skepticism about whether many of us Catholics will take advantage of this opportunity and will entertain the kind of honest conversation we desperately need, if we expect our church to be reformed and to have a viable future.

The way the O'Brien story is being handled by many Catholics is convincing me all over again that I may be right to be skeptical. Read the thread following Joshua McElwee's article in National Catholic Reporter about O'Brien's latest statement (the link is provided below) and you'll quickly see how adamantly determined a certain group of Catholics remain to thwart any and all honest conversation about the unavoidable, critically important issue underlying the O'Brien story: namely, how is it possible to sustain moral credibility for a  faith community wielding enormous power worldwide, when that community attacks gay and lesbian human beings while shielding and protecting important hierarchical figures who promote these attacks? And who themselves have gay skeletons in their own gay closets?

Follow the thread responding to McElwee's story, and you'll see a reader called spanners who maintains, "The one thing you could say about him [i.e., O'Brien] now that the story is out is that at least he has been true to the Church's teaching on matters of family life and human sexuality even if he had the misfortune to fail on his own account all those years ago."

At least he has been true to the Church's teaching on matters of family life and human sexuality: astonishing. 

When the allegations against him were first made public, Cardinal O'Brien's initial response was to deny their truthfulness and to obtain legal counsel. How is that being "true"? While he has gay skeletons in his own gay closet, the cardinal has led a virtual vendetta against gay human beings in the British Isles. In what sense is this "true"?

How is it "true" for the leaders of a faith community to preach moral rules (rules that target a specific group of human beings who are singled out from the rest of the human community) when their own behavior belies those rules? Are parents and teachers effective teachers when they tell children or students to do as I say and not as I do? Does the "truth" such authority figures impart ring true to anyone when their own life belies that truth?

What has "true" come to mean for many members of the Catholic community, I wonder, when this is the best kind of moral thinking and moral example we have to offer to the world: leap to the defense of any hierarchical figure accused of living a lie while bashing the gays, just so long as he has been "true" to the party line of the magisterium, which requires gay bashing in the name of Christ? 

Or what does "true" mean as another contributor to this same NCR thread, our old friend Purgatrix Ineptiae, completely ignores the facts in the O'Brien story to maintain that the poor cardinal is the victim of "bullying" by the "gay movement"? When the allegations that brought him down were filed by three priests (or is it now four?), and a former priest who is married with children?

What does the word "truth" mean now in the Catholic community? Is the only "truth" norming our behavior the "truth" that whatever Father says must be defended at all costs, especially when Father is bashing the gays? 

Catholics, here; gays, there. Is this our Ur-truth, the ground of our being as Catholics?

And if that's the case, is it any wonder that people of any adult moral awareness at all outside the boundaries of our tribe wonder mightily about our credibility, as we give moral witness in the public square?

The only way to regain the moral credibility we've forfeited by our defensive, truth-obscuring tribalistic games is--this seems clear to me--to entertain a wide-ranging conversation now, which includes many voices that have been shoved from the table up to now. In the case of stories like that of Cardinal O'Brien, that conversation absolutely has to include the voices of openly gay Catholics.

This conversation is not happening. To the extent that it threatens to happen at various Catholic blog sites, Catholics of the ilk of spanners and Purgatrix Ineptiae are determined to lob stinkbombs into the conversation and to derail it. At the most important centrist Catholic blog sites, those that purport to establish the parameters of the conversation defining Catholic identity, no conversation at all about these issues is taking place. These blogs continue to treat the question of how their brothers and sisters who happen to be gay fit into the Catholic community with polite, haughty disdain.

With total silence.

Perhaps they do so because they know full well that no conversation of any sort among lay Catholics makes any difference at all, as the cardinals gather to elect a new pope. We lay Catholics are voiceless when it comes to that all-important Catholic-defining conversation.

And if assuring our power in the Catholic institutional game matters to us--as it does matter to centrist Catholics, who are, as with all centrists, determined to remain on the side of power no matter what--then why risk having a messy, embarrassing conversation now, which could put us on the wrong side of the next power that comes down the road when we learn the name of the new pope?

Articles or blog postings about the O'Brien story that may be of interest to you:

Colleen Kochvar Baker, "A Deeper Look at the Issues Involved in the Cardinal O'Brien Case," Enlightened Catholicism

BBC News, "Cardinal Keith O'Brien Sorry for Sexual Misconduct"

BBC News, "Cardinal O'Brien Complainant 'Warned' of Risk of Damage to Church"

John F. Burns, "Following Resignation, Top British Cardinal Acknowledges Sexual Misconduct," New York Times

Severin Carrell, ""Cardinal O'Briend's Confession Turns Spotlight on Scottish Catholic Church," The Guardian

Phil Ewing, "Cardinal Keith O'Brien Admits and Apologizes for Sexual Misconduct," Blue Eyed Ennis*

Anthony Faiola, "British Cardinal Admits Sexual Misconduct," Washington Post

Gay Catholic Priests, "Cardinal O'Briend's Confession Turns Spotlight on Scottish Catholic Church," Hear Our Voices

Joshua McElwee, "Scottish Cardinal Admits Improper Sexual Conduct," National Catholic Reporter

Crystal Watson, "O'Brien and the Vatican," Perspective

Terry Weldon, "Sex, Lies . . . and Catholic Clergy," Queering the Church

*Please see Phil's important comment in the thread below this posting: the BBC clip featuring Bernard Lynch to which Phil's posting points is time-sensitive and may not be available for a lengthy period of time.

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