Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Belgian Lay Catholic's Letter to a French Priest Agitating Against Marriage Equality: Thierry Peltier vs. Abbé Grosjean, Competing Visions of Catholic Action

Yesterday, a Belgian Catholic, Thierry Peltier, published an open letter at the Mediapart website, responding to one of the Catholic leaders of the anti-marriage equality demonstrations in France, Abbé Pierre-Hervé Grosjean of the diocese of Versailles. Through his Twitter account, Google+, and Facebook, Grosjean has taken an active role in assisting the demonstrations against marriage equality in the streets of Paris. As his adroit use of online tools indicates, Grosjean is a representative of a generation of zealous young priests of the John Paul II-Benedict XVI era who think that the Catholic church needs to return to a belligerent confrontation with contemporary culture, to claim a high profile in instructing secular society about how to conduct its business.

As with not a few younger priests also enchanted with the restorationism of the two previous popes, Grosjean insists on appearing in public always wearing clerics, and has become something of a telegenic "Catho" superstar in the French media. And so his influence is considerable, particularly among younger French Catholics of a certain mindset, and Peltier's open letter to him is all the more important for that reason.

Peltier begins his statement to Grosjean by noting that he himself is a practicing Catholic who attends Mass faithfully each Sunday, is on his parish council, makes at least one retreat a year, has, with his wife, 6 children (4 adopted) with another on the way, and taught math and religion for 36 years in a Belgian school. He also notes that he's resorting to an open letter to address his concerns to Grosjean because Grosjean has refused to engage him on Twitter.

I won't summarize Peltier's entire statement, but would like to focus on several aspects of it that, in my view, deserve serious attention. Peltier begins his response to Grosjean by noting that Grosjean appears to take for granted that the Catholic church has the right to intervene in the state's deliberations about same-sex marriage, though these deliberations don't actually concern the church's rights, in that same-sex couples are being granted the right of civil marriage in France, and aren't seeking the right to marry sacramentally. 

And then he directly addresses what's at the heart of the restorationist agenda of John Paul II and Benedict, which motivates the ecclesio-political activism of young priest-leaderss of the ilk of Grosjean--the presupposition that the church is somehow set above (and against) secular society, and has a right to dictate to secular society from its superior vantage point:

Vous vous voyez déjà dans une chrétienté retrouvée, ardente, victorieuse... Mais M. l'abbé, ce n'est pas ce que le Christ vous demande. La chrétienté, c'est terminé. Parce que tout simplement les non-chrétiens ont aussi des droits. Nous pouvons vivre notre religion dans le sein de la société. Nous pouvons même, par notre témoignage, plus que par nos paroles, essayer d'évangéliser encore et encore. Mais nous n'avons pas le droit de diriger toute la société et nous n'aurons plus jamais ce droit-là.  
[You envisage yourself as part of a rehabilitated Christendom, ardent and victorious. But M. l'abbé, this isn't what Christ asks of us. Christendom is done with. Because, quite simply, non-Christians also have rights. We can live our religion in the heart of society itself. Through our witness more than by our words, we can even more and more evangelize from that very vantage point. But we do not have the right to dictate to the entire society and will never again have that right.]

Peltier then engages Grosjean's "arguments" (Peltier himself employs the quotation marks--and aptly so) against same-sex marriage, which are the same tired talking points that Frigide Barjot and other "Catho" opponents of marriage equality in France have been using, and which are right out of the playbook of the American Catholic-associated anti-gay group National Organization for Marriage. He notes that Grosjean is telling folks that permitting same-sex couples to marry will alter the very foundations of civilization, and open the door to polygamy, zoophilia, and incest. 

Peltier's rejoinder:

Ecoutez : ici, en Belgique, il y a 10 ans que les homosexuels peuvent se marier. Venez voir, lisez la presse belge, fondez-vous dans la population belge. Rien de tous ces abus ne pointe à l'horizon. Ce ne sont que des fantasmes. Et si ces abus devaient un jour se réaliser, le mariage homo n'en serait pas plus responsable que toutes les composantes de la société.  
[Listen: here in Belgium, gays have been permitted to marry for 10 years. Come see for yourself, read Belgian newspapers, do a sounding of the views of ordinary Belgians. None of all these dire predictions is anywhere to be seen on the horizon. They're nothing but fantasies. And if they did happen one day to be introduced, gay marriage would no more be responsible for them than all the other factors that go together to form our society.]

Then Peltier notes that Grosjean keeps confidently proclaiming that the children of same-sex couples will be unhappy, that they will lack the conditions that make children happy. But as Peltier points out, gay marriage hasn't even started in France, and yet there are already unhappy children aplenty in French society. And these come from traditional nuclear families, from families headed by single parents, from blended families whose parents had previously been married to someone else. There's not, in fact, any one family structure that can be implicated as the sole arrangement producing unhappiness in children. 

And when it comes to the question of adoption of children by gay couples, as Peltier points out, at least those couples will be carefully vetted by adoption agencies before they're permitted to raise a child. Whereas married heterosexual couples having children aren't vetted by anyone before they're permitted to have as many children as they like. . . . 

Peltier also notes that abbé Grosjean has refused to engage a question he has repeatedly asked Grosjean at the latter's Twitter site: that is, isn't it somewhat hypocritical to hinge his "arguments" on the suggestion that we just don't know how adoption of children by same-sex couples will affect children (except we do know assuredly à la Grosjean that those children will be very unhappy!), when we have right in our midst plenty of examples of children who are already hurting in various ways, when same-sex marriage hasn't been legal at all? Take the question of divorce: the church forbids divorce. Children often seem to be wounded by divorce. And so why is it that l'abbé Grosjean is not taking to the streets with his cohorts who claim they're all about defending children to agitate for the rights and happiness of those children?

In short, Grosjean's arguments aren't about entertaining rational discussion of the issues, or about building sound moral analysis on rationally compelling arguments. Another example:

Vous dites "un papa, une maman, pour chaque enfant". Dois-je vous rappeler ces multitudes de petites filles orphelines élevées dans des couvents de religieuses ? Ces enfants n'avaient "pas de papa" et sept ou huit mamans. L'Eglise elle-même organisait ces "familles" monoparentale et « polygames ».  
[You keep saying, "One papa, one mama, for each child." Must I remind you that multitudes of little orphans have historically been raised by nuns in convents? These children had no "papa" but had seven or eight mamas. Through such arrangements the church itself has historically organized families headed by parents of the same sex or even "polygamous" families.]

And, finally, Peltier closes his open letter with some sound spiritual advice for abbé Grosjean:

M. l'abbé, vous avez à faire un travail énorme avec les chrétiens. N'allez pas à l'extérieur faire "votre" loi. Venez en aide aux couples en détresse, aux enfants mal-aimés, allez visiter des couples chrétiens séparés, venez en aide à l’adolescent en rupture avec ses parent parce qu’il est homosexuel... parlez avec les homosexuels (il ne faut pas aller loin : le Professeur Van Meerbeeck, Docteur en médecine, Neuropsychiatre et Psychanalyste, professeur à l'Université Catholique de Louvain, a affirmé à la télévision belge que 70 % des prêtres sont homosexuels peu ou prou)... Faites du bien à ceux qui vous donnent leur confiance... N'empêchez pas les non-chrétiens à construire leur propre bonheur... Je pense que l'Evangile que vous annoncerez alors sera bien plus beau à leurs yeux…  
[M. l'abbé, you have right at your fingertips great work to do among the Christian community itself. Don't keep looking beyond our community to enforce your law and impose it on others. What about seeking to assist stressed-out couples and children who feel they aren't loved; how about visiting Christian couples who have separated, or trying to support an adolescent whose homosexuality has produced a breach between him and his parents? In fact, how about talking to some homosexuals themselves? To do that, you won't have to go far, since Prof. Van Meerbeeck, M.D. in neuropsychiatry and psychoanalysis and a professor at the Catholic University of Louvain, has reminded us on Belgian television that 70% of priests are, whether we like it or not, homosexuals. Why not try to do good first of all among those who are already connected to you? Why seek to obstruct the chances of those outside the Christian community to find happiness? I'm confident that the gospel that you proclaim would then be more appealing to those outside the church.]

And at last, after Thierry Peltier published his thoughtful open letter to abbé Grosjean online, l'abbé has deigned to answer Peltier's repeated questions put to him on Twitter. Grosjean does so with the following curt rejoinder, which Peltier cites in the thread following his open letter):

Merci de votre lettre. Vous me faites dire des choses que je n'ai jamais dites. Pour le reste, je vous renvoie à nos évêques.
[Thank you for your letter. You make me say things I've never said. For the rest, I send you back to our bishops.] 

Why, I never said what you accuse me of saying! And for the rest, go to our bishops!

In that supercilious and dismissive reply to a heartfelt, gospel-based, pastorally sensitive letter from a very engaged lay Catholic, this young priest of the restorationist mindset who has done everything in his power to muster Catholics to make miserable the lives of their fellow citizens who are gay reveals rather starkly the difference between the Catholicism of engaged lay Catholic leaders like Thierry Peltier and young priests like Pierre-Hervé Grosjean with unbending clericalist mindsets, who intend at all cost to keep the laity out of their special clerical club with its pretension to encapsulate all moral and pastoral teaching within the Catholic tradition:

You say, let's talk. Let's reason. Let's read the gospels together. Let's welcome those around us who have views different from our own. Let's even invite them to pray with us. Let's witness our faith to them by living it more than by preaching it. Let's respect their views and not seek to gerrymander secular laws to enshrine only our Catholic views while we deny legitmate rights to others.

And I reply, I send you back to our bishops!

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