Thursday, April 25, 2013

Commonweal Chews Over Carla Hale Story: Yes, the Gays Are Totally Welcome in Catholic Churches!

So, yes, I'm more than a little agitated right now. The agitation has to do not precisely with my uncle's funeral, about which I may have a few words to say in a day or so.

No, my unsettled spirits have to do with the old, never-quite-healed wound inside my gay soul when I see Catholic leaders of a country like France, and many Catholic people in that nation, telling me and my brothers and sisters who happen to be gay that we have no place among them.

Telling my brothers and sisters and me this hateful and unwelcoming message all over again, as if it hasn't already been carved into our gay flesh a long time ago by previous messages of unwelcome and outright hate by the leaders of my church and many of my fellow Catholics.

As the situation in France has unfolded, in the news in my own country there's been the story of the lesbian teacher, Carla Hale, fired by a Catholic school in Columbus, Ohio, after she mentioned her life partner in her mother's obituary. I blogged about that several days ago. (I'm very grateful to a good reader of Bilgrimage, ClevelandGirl, who has kept updating me with information I've not yet had a chance to share here or even acknowledge, due to my need to attend my uncle's funeral. I hope to catch up on my reading about the Carla Hale story very soon.)

Meanwhile, the Commonweal blog site has a thread going right now in response to a good statement by Eduardo Peñalver about how he's sick of reading about this stuff happening in his name as a Catholic. And, as always, when I read the contributions of some of my fellow Catholics of the soft center (the kind of Catholics who have been willing to march side by side with fascist thugs in anti-gay demonstrations in Paris recently, that is to say) who claim to love the gays but can find every reason in the world to treat the gays as invisible and unwelcome, I find myself feeling nauseated all over again.

In the thread, I see Commonweal contributor Rita Ferrone informing her fellow Catholics of the center that "thousands of gay employees of the church who are in relationships . . . are not being hunted down, fired, etc." Ferrone states that those "thousands" of out and proud gay employees of Catholic institutions who are in open relationships "are invited to the church suppers and accepted just as they are, despite the official prohibition against their lifestyle and choices."

She concludes that Carla Hale's story is "one case" that stands out precisely because it's unique.

It's clear that Ferrone hasn't read what I posted just a week ago about this story, in which I enumerated seven other cases (I'm adding Nicholas Coppola's story to my total here) which show that Carla Hale's story is far from unique, and in which I cite both Zack Ford of Think Progress and Ross Murray of GLAAD to say that what happened to Coppola and Hale is not in the least unique in Catholic institutions, and that there are numerous stories of violations of the rights of gay employees by Catholic institutions, many of which never reach the media.

Or perhaps Ferrone simply discounts out of hand my testimony and that of Ford and Murray and many others who provide testimony about violations of the rights of gay employees in Catholic institutions. In fact, several years ago when I provided some of my own testimony about these matters at the Commonweal blog site, Ferrone shut me down quickly with a similar claim that the parishes she knows are "crammed with gay people" who are as welcome as the flowers of springtime in Catholic churches.

Perhaps the dark heart of this story is that, as a heterosexual Catholic who is therefore objective and disinterested, Ferrone can't bother to hear the first-hand testimony of Catholics who say we have actually experienced discrimination within her church, and have been given clear messages that we're not welcome in her church. As Virginia Woolf said long ago about how those who don't want to hear the testimony of women about discrimination practiced against them typically handle such testimony, when we treat each case that comes along as the exception to the rule--as "one case" that stands out--we don't have to trouble ourselves with the possibility that we're dealing with a pattern and not with exceptions.

And we can discount the testimony provided by those who appear to describe a pattern of discrimination as false testimony, self-interested and non-objective testimony. We can treat it as testimony not worth hearing, because it comes from a flawed source. And we can assume that folks like Carla Hale brought the discrimination down on her own head by not playing the game adroitly, by drawing undue attention to herself, by getting her lesbian self up in the faces of the rest of the community in some uppity way.

We can assume that Carla Hale's story (and Nicholas Coppola's, which happened right in Rita Ferrone's neighborhood where all those "thousands" of happy openly gay Catholics go to welcoming churches in droves, and Al Fischer's and Steav Bates-Congdon's and Barbara Johnson's and Trish Cameron's and Lennon Cihak's and that of the two lesbian mothers in Colorado and Jodi O'Brien's, etc.) don't implicate us as the norm and center and definer of things. We love and welcome gay folks, after all.

And so this is one of the primary reasons I no longer contribute to discussions at the Commonweal blog site. Why on earth would I do so, when those who define normalcy and occupy the center inform me that my first-hand testimony as a gay Catholic is false? That I am imagining the discrimination about which I claim I have first-hand testimony to offer, because "thousands" of openly gay and openly partnered employees work happily in Catholic institutions and gays "cram" Catholic churches, while what happened to Carla Hale is a unique case that has to indicate something's wrong with Carla Hale?

And we love and welcome you! Because we say so!

Why would anyone waste words to try to talk to people who want to declare themselves loving and welcoming in the absence of any evidence at all corroborating their loving and welcoming behavior, and when any first-hand testimony that contradicts these claims is dismissed out of hand as self-interested, skewed, and probably manufactured because it proceeds from an abnormal and out-of-center source? The centrist system is rigged to preclude the value of such testimony, and to yield conclusions that the Catholic community is a paragon of welcome and inclusion even as stories come down the pike with alarming regularity that yet another gay employee (or gay-supporting employee) of a Catholic institution has lost her or his job.

To underscore the point: in the very same thread in which Rita Ferrone affirms that "thousands" of openly gay and openly partnered employees of Catholic institutions are welcomed by these institutions and that Carla Hale's case is unique, there's deacon Jim Pauwels informing his fellow Catholics that the Catholic institution is absolutely welcoming to gay folks, though it has to draw a line, of course, about the behavior of gay folks.

Jim Pauwels, who invited me several years ago in an effusive public demonstration of "welcome" on the Commonweal site to email him and talk to him about precisely why I think many gay Catholics don't feel welcome in Catholic institutions, and who then simply ignored my email and refused to answer it when I sent it to him in response to his request! Also in the same thread in which Ferrone and Pauwels proclaim the Catholic church's demonstrative welcome and inclusion of gay folks is another Commonweal regular, a heterosexual married man like Pauwels, who hotly upbraided me in a series of emails last year for being, as he thought, cheeky to Pauwels in an exchange at the Commonweal site. And who sees no connection at all between how I relate to Pauwels now and how he treated me when he asked me to engage in a conversation with him--in that effusive public demonstration of "welcome" that made Pauwels look so darned good and so darned welcoming to the Commonweal club--and then immediately shut the conversation down by refusing to answer the email he solicited from me.

Why would anyone try to keep talking to people who behave this way and call it loving, welcoming, inclusive, and justice-making behavior? Who are capable of spinning the Carla Hale story as a story about how welcoming the Catholic community is to "thousands" of openly gay folks who "cram" Catholic churches . . . . I'm with Bernard Dauenhauer in this latest exceedingly parochial and exceedingly self-congratulatory going-nowhere Commonweal "conversation" about welcoming gay folks in the Catholic church: "Just count me out."

Just count me out. My fellow Catholics of the center don't want or intend to hear the first-hand testimony of gay Catholics who have been savaged by our church and its institutions. And they don't consider the disappearing of gay voices and gay lives within the Catholic institution a tragedy at all, because they never valued those voices and lives in the first place. Welcome (and pastoral outreach to fellow Catholics who are excluded and wounded by their church) is simply not high on the agenda of the Catholic center.

If you folks are what love and welcome and justice are all about, count me out. Please.

No comments: