Yesterday, in my reflection on Pope Francis's question, "Who am I to judge?," I wrote,
Dealing with the real-life dimensions of making LGBT Catholics welcome and included will mean dealing with the real-life injustices often dealt out to those same Catholics by Catholic institutions, Catholic leaders, and Catholic communities. It will mean trying to rectify those injustices and to atone for them. If, that is, we want our comments about not judging and not marginalizing to have any real meaning in the real world . . . .
And this morning, I find that Michael Bayly has posted a link to this painful story from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, to his Facebook feed. Maria Annoni reports that, after 21 years as a music minister at St. Joseph's Catholic church (with a Ph.D. in music theory), she found herself and her partner suddenly made unwelcome in very cruel, overt ways after the Catholic bishops of her state chose to mobilize their church as an anti-gay political machine in the 2012 elections.
Prior to this time, she and Kathleen Nuccio had been welcomed and affirmed by many parish members. When the parish was politicized at the edict of the state's bishops, things fell apart. People took sides. The pastor himself, who had previously been affirming, did a volte face and began to hound her:
Annoni felt services became politicized, with sermons that were scathing to the GLBT community. The masses were attended by groups of people wearing “Vote Yes” T-shirts and buttons, almost as if it were a rally. Nuccio said that the change in culture penetrated all corners of the church community, making attendance very difficult.
And then the pastor, Father Jerry Weiss, did the first performance review that Maria Annoni ever had in her 21 years at the parish. In the company of the parish administrator, he sat her down and informed her that she was a bully who never taught new music to the parish--though she maintains she had introduced a new song just the Sunday before the pastor made these charges.
To avoid the harassment and weekly Mass-time injection of poisons, Annoni has simply decided to retire. When asked what she thinks of Maria's decision to retire, Kathleen states, "I saw the calculated campaign to make her miserable and frustrated at her job, so I was relieved."
My point in talking about all of this in the wake of the pope's remarks about gay folks? It's because these stories continue in Catholic institutions. In the case of Minnesota, as Annoni reports, things have gotten worse for gay and gay-friendly Catholics in many places as a direct result of the bishops' politicization of their church in the 2012 elections.
Steve and I have seen the shift at first-hand on our trips to visit his relatives in Minnesota, all strongly committed Catholics. The two stories that I've previously reported from his home diocese of Crookston, the firing of Trish Cameron by a Catholic school because she supports marriage equality, and the denial of the sacraments to a teen, Lennon Cihak, and his family because Cihak supports marriage equality, illustrate how the bishops' decision to turn their church into an anti-gay political machine has affected the real lives of real human beings in many Catholic parishes in the state.
My question: how is all this now going to be atoned for, if the Catholic church really intends to turn a corner regarding its homophobia with Pope Francis's remarks yesterday? The leaders of the church and those who support them in this initiative have been very busy in recent years talking about the sins of those who are gay and lesbian.
But perhaps the real sins that deserve attention in the church today are right in the bosom of the church itself, as it turns the lives of people like Maria Annoni, Trish Cameron, and Lennon Cihak and his family upside down, and assaults these folks' human dignity in gross ways. How will the many people who have been seriously hurt by Catholic institutions as the politicized homophobia the last two papacies set in motion has played out find healing? And justice?
I'm very interested in hearing answers to those questions.
The photo of Maria Annoni is from the article by Nathan Berghold in the Grand Rapids Herald-Review to which the second link above points.