Carla Hale's story is getting national attention today through Frank Bruni's column in the New York Times. He notes a point I stressed in a recent posting about the stories of both Carla Hale and Timothy Nelson: the scouring of obituaries for damning information by the temple police who are determined to keep the gays in their demeaned place in the Catholic church: "The problem is he is a homosexual. He was recently married to another man. He does not hide this or keep it silent," the anonymous letter that resulted in the removal of Nicholas Coppola from ministries in his parish in New York said.
As in the cases of Nicholas Coppola and Timothy Nelson, in Carla Hale's case, all it took was one anonymous letter, and Hale found herself out of a job with a letter informing her that her spousal relationship "violates the moral laws of the Catholic Church." As Bruni notes, this is the sum of the charge against her, the basis on which she has now lost her job of 18 years, at which there were never any previous complaints about her performance or her moral life.
The anonymous letter from a member of the temple police scouring obituaries (for God's sake!) for signs of moral depravity among Catholic school teachers has resulted, as Bruni points out, in Carla Hale's loss of belonging--of belonging to a community that gave her life meaning, affirmed her worth as a human being, provided her a venue in which to use her talents and relate to others.
At one level, it all makes perfect sense, Bruni admits: the Catholic church teaches that homosexual activity is morally wrong, and by placing her spouse Julie's name in her mother's obituary, Hale made a "public declaration of an extramarital relationship," and was fired for violating the morals clause of her Catholic school's contract.
But at another level, what was done to Hale (and, I'd add, to Nicholas Coppola and others) makes absolutely no sense at all, for the following reasons enumerated by Bruni:
But things get complicated when you consider the selectiveness of the church’s outrage, the capriciousness of its mercy.
Until public exposure shamed them, many church leaders protected priests whose sexual transgressions involved minors and were criminal.
Church leaders tolerate teachers at Catholic schools who are married with no kids or with few. Some are surely using artificial birth control, which the church officially opposes.
Besides which, Carla was guiding students through sit-ups, not psalms. The school hired her though she’s Methodist, not Catholic.
And the point of what I wrote yesterday is this: a church that behaves this way, which perverts the good news of the gospel at such a fundamental level, so that day becomes night and white becomes black, entirely forfeits the ability to convince people of good will that what the church is really about at any level at all is proclaiming the good news of God's salvific love of everyone (and of the whole cosmos) through Christ.
You can't proclaim the good news of a gospel of love while drawing lines around a stigmatized group of human beings and exempting them from that proclamation of divine love solely because of how they happen to be constructed as human beings. The approach that the leaders of the Catholic church and those who defend them continue to wish to take towards their brothers and sisters who are gay is one that singles out those who are gay in a way no other members of the human community are singled out.
The leaders of the Catholic church want us to believe that this singling out of gay folks and the exclusion of those who are gay from all the benefits of human community (Carla Hale and Nicholas Coppola have just lost the important communitarian contexts that had given their human lives significant meaning) do not undermine what the church teaches about community, solidarity, and human rights because the gays are different.
As Alan McCornick notes in a comment responding to my essay on Cardinal Dolan's Dirty Freddie story about his gay brothers and sisters, what this Catholic hierarchical approach to those who gay is all about is othering. It's all about pretending that those who are made gay by God are other than the rest of us, that they're different in some fundamental way that permits the Catholic community to treat them differently without violating its most central canons about love, decency, mercy, and justice.
Back in 2009, I blogged about Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi's documentary "Suddenly Last Winter." The film is about (inter alia) the struggle of LGBT people for human rights in the Catholic-dominated country of Italy. Even now, four years down the road, a scene from that documentary remains vivid in my mind: one of the two men is interviewing people in a scene that, as I recall, takes place in a subway station in Rome.
Along comes a group of nuns in habits. They're beaming, jovial, the image of Catholic good cheer and bonhomie. But then the documentarian brings up the h-(omosexual) word, and the smiles suddenly freeze. They quickly turn to frowns. I seem to recall one of the more vocal of the sisters waving her arms wildly to push the h-question (and the homosexual himself) away from her.
Smiles have limits. Love has limits. You aren't who we are, as Catholics.
You're essentially different. You're in fact what we use as a dehumanized object lesson to define what non-Catholic is all about. That's the vivid message the behavior of this group of good nuns towards a gay man daring to ask them the h-question in a subway station vividly communicates to the documentarian and to anyone watching this movie.
You homosexuals are other to us who are Catholic.
And another point I hoped to make yesterday: this utterly dehumanizing, utterly unjust, utterly unloving and uncatholic othering approach of the Catholic church at its official level towards those who are gay is simply not working any longer. Not at all.
Fr. Peter Daly writes at NCR this week that the Catholic church has lost control of the conversation about marriage. As he notes, you know that the Catholic church has lost control of the conversation about marriage when Rhode Island, the most Catholic state in the Union, passes a marriage-equality bill with a vote of 56 in favor of the bill in the state's House, as opposed to 15 no votes.
The Catholic church has lost control of the conversation about marriage and about the humanity of LGBT human beings because Carla Hale is not some "other" to most people who listen to her explain how her loss of a job has affected her life, or who read her story. She's somebody's sister, aunt, mother, esteemed teacher.
It's the Catholic church itself, in its leaders and with its vicious temple police scouring obituaries to find ways to attack their gay brothers and sisters, that is increasingly being revealed as other to the human community--and other in a way that's downright monstrous and is the antithesis of what's moral, of what's kind, loving, merciful, good, and just.
And this is why I ask in my statement yesterday whether it's the gays that Catholic leaders are damaging now through their dirty behavior, or whether it's the church itself that's suffering massive damage. When Carla Hale's story goes national through a sympathetic New York Times op-ed column, the answer to that question is pretty clear--to me, at least.