Monday, August 19, 2013

Steve's Comment as His Niece Invites Him to Her Wedding but Excludes Me: "The Facticity of Catholic Hate" (Part 2)

Dear Friends,

I've tried over the weekend to compose a thank-you statement responding to all of your deeply appreciated responses to my posting last Friday about the choice of Steve's niece to invite him to her wedding while excluding me. I'm at a rare loss for words, for a variety of reasons.

First, I find it hard to express the depth of my gratitude precisely because Steve and I both are so very appreciative of your support. One of the effects of the kind of treatment his family has chosen to dish out to us repeatedly as a committed and open gay couple is to tempt us to feel completely isolated, to try to make us feel shame that sets us apart from "real" and "normal" human beings. 

I write about their treatment of us, in part, to combat their attempt to shove us into a dark closet of self-loathing. That part of our life journey ended, thankfully, when we decided to leave the closet, and there won't be any turning back, no matter how fierce the hatred exhibited to us. And the supportive, helpful responses to my posting on Friday matter intently to us--more than I know how to say.

It's hard to write about these matters, too, because they involve exceptionally painful family dynamics. And the family in question isn't precisely my own family. I guard my words for fear of deepening wounds that are already very deep. I ask myself if saying anything at all will only increase the hurt in a world already brimful of hurt. (In response to a question several of you asked in your comments in the last few days: yes, Steve's ultra-orthodox Catholic members do read what I write here in response to their behavior. Some of them have threatened--ludicrously--to sue me for postings I've made, though those postings never even mention any of their names and speak only the truth about their actions.)

Finally, it's hard to formulate a response to your very welcome comments because, as I have stated in my last two postings, this happens to be one of those moments at which I feel a bit off-center, a bit daunted by the relentless, open expression of outright hatred of those who are gay in the comments made at one Catholic blog site after another. Steve's niece's little act of dirty spitefulness came along just as I was already nursing some wounds from reading the recent spate of ugly, taunting homophobic messages in the comboxes of sites like National Catholic Reporter.

And so the invitation to attend a reception for a wedding to which my spouse is invited, but from which I'm pointedly excluded in the name of pure Catholicism, finds me decentered and struggling for composure and soul-solace. At one level, what is there really to say to such brash hatred dished out by people citing catechisms and Christ as the warrant for their hate? What is there to do in response to such ignorance and malice except to shrug one's shoulders and go on with one's own life, as one decides to ignore the haters?

At another level, I can't simply ignore this kind of behavior, though, can I? There are young people growing up in the world around me who are struggling with those issues of isolation and shame with which Steve and I have struggled, and with the religious and family dynamics that produce the isolation and shame. To remain silent in the face of abuse is to abandon those young folks, who do not deserve what many of their families keep doing to them while citing bibles, catechisms, and Christ as a justification for their abuse.

I'm not sure when, or whether, I can provide the response each of your wonderful comments about my posting last Friday deserves. For now, I'd like to provide at least a general response which takes into account questions a number of you raised, points you made, valuable suggestions you offered. 

As some of you noted, Steve's niece's choice to send Steve an invitation to her wedding while excluding me from the wedding is a repeat performance: another of Steve's nieces did the very same thing a few years back, and I have talked here about that and the hurt it caused Steve in the past. As I've noted, she also chose to exclude the partner of another of Steve's brothers who is gay from her wedding. And so the niece who sent the two-tiered invitations last week knew exactly what she was doing when she replicated this trick of her cousin a few years ago. She knew the fresh hell she was setting into motion by her actions.

The niece who initiated this two-tiered model of invitations to family Catholic weddings is now going around, by the way, giving lectures about Catholic family values, teaching others, on the basis of her several-years' experience of marriage, about how marriages work and how to raise strong Catholic families. She and her husband, and most of Steve's siblings, think of themselves as exemplary Catholics, ones who excel at knowing a truth hidden from the rest of us. "Truth" is a key word in their Catholic vocabulary, one far more often on their lips than the word "love," a word that occurs far down the register of theological terms in their unique Catholic vocabulary.

In this regard, they are, of course, only echoing the agenda set for the Catholic church by the last two popes, by John Paul II and Benedict, who insisted that love is subject to truth in the Catholic tradition, and  who, in the view of Leonardo Boff and many other Catholic theologians, significantly skewed the Catholic tradition with this formulation--since love is the absolutely indispensable, central characteristic of authentic Catholic teaching and spirituality from the gospels forward. 

The kind of truth that Steve's ultra-orthodox Catholic siblings and their children imagine they own in some unique way strikes Steve and me, as trained theologians with doctorates in that field, as distinctly odd. "They're really nothing but gnostics in new clothes," Steve sometimes says. This is a truth that doesn't engage the wider culture. It has consigned that culture to damnation. 

It certainly doesn't try to engage Steve and me as a committed gay couple who also happen to be Catholic theologians. The repeated spiteful act of sending two-tiered invitations to Catholic weddings of family members is designed to communicate to us--and, above all, to Steve as brother and uncle--that we are less than nothing, as Catholic theologians. They own the truth. We don't, even as people who have spent years studying Catholic theology. We've betrayed it by our "decision" to be gay, and we deserve exclusion, ridicule, condemnation, any humiliating treatment they choose to offer us--while parroting Popes John Paul II and Benedict and the catechism.

Strangely enough, this gnostic "truth" devoid of love that Steve's ultra-orthodox Catholic members claim to possess in some unique way isn't really rooted in the Catholic catechism any more than it seems to be rooted in the gospels. The niece who has just sent us the two-tiered invitations and her parents, Steve's sister and brother-in-law, are part of the schismatic Lefebvrist sect, the SSPX movement. They refuse to attend liturgies in their parish church, but go instead to an SSPX Latin Mass some miles from their home when that liturgy is available.

They consider themselves nonetheless the very definition of what Catholicism is, a purer and truer form of Catholicism than the form possessed by louche Vatican II Catholics. And the other ultra-orthodox siblings and their children don't feel any strong tension at all with their SSPX sibling and her children. The niece who inaugurated the tradition of sending us two-tiered invitations to weddings in this family circle is not a member of the SSPX schismatic group, nor are her parents, Steve's brother and his wife. She's a graduate of the right-wing Catholic school at Steubenville.

And so it would be an overstatement to say that the kind of Catholicism these folks practice--a form of Catholicism obsessively devoted to (their) "truth" and easily distracted from the word "love"--is simply sectarian, schismatic, far from the Catholic norm. In key respects, these cultic Catholics who want to live in little über-Catholic religio-cultural enclaves cut off from the rest of the world are now at the very heart of the church fashioned by John Paul II and Benedict. This is the kind of world-denying, retrogressive, sectarian Catholicism those popes actively worked to craft as their legacy to the church.

It's a Catholicism that can talk about the "truth" of sexual morality as if that truth is all about reducing human sexuality and human sexual relationships to the act of breeding. One of Steve's sisters and her husband are local leaders in the natural family planning (NFP) movement about which I blogged a few days ago. They instruct others in how to use thermometers and charts and techniques of measuring the vaginal mucus in order to decide when it's natural and right to have intercourse. As Steve and his brother recently noted, they apparently use this method not to control the size of their family, but to do precisely the opposite: to decide when the situation is optimal to conceive another child.

They are, in short, living a kind of Catholicism, and doing so defiantly and self-consciously as a rebuke to the rest of the Catholic world, that was once standard in their rural farming region in which married women normally had anywhere from ten to twenty children--children whose free labor was needed on family farms. Steve's mother is from a family of twelve children. The daughter teaching "family planning" according to the "natural" techniques of the sympto-thermal method has eight children, the same number Steve's mother had.

These are people who want to return to a 1950s model of Catholicism that had become cut off from mainstream culture for various cultural and historical reasons, a Catholicism that cultivated large families, clung to rituals distinct from those of other Christian communities as a demonstration of Catholic superiority--a Catholicism that went its own way and was, in the words of Mary McCarthy, exceptionally smug, so certain and so set apart. That Catholic model ended with Vatican II. It also ended in places like rural northern Minnesota with economic shifts that make the kind of family farm operated by the free labor of multiple children obsolete.

There will be no retrieving that agrarian way of life, with the socioeconomic basis that gave it meaning, with small market towns dotting a countryside full of family farms teeming with children--no matter how intently cultic Catholics try to bring that world back by clinging to the distinctly odd "truth" of natural family planning, of heteronormativity, of men's right to dominate women whose primary role in life is to breed children. Most Catholics no longer cling to these odd "truths" about human sexuality, and they have abandoned these "truths" with very good reason.

For most Catholics, it has long since been apparent that human sexuality is about more than behaving like stud horses and brood mares. It's about relationship, about the quality of commitment and love between two human beings who contribute to the communities in which they live by a generative pro-creativity that can and should manifest itself in ways that go far beyond the birthing of babies.

It's about love. It's about building loving, committed relationships that help to foster loving communities in which people interact respectfully with each other--including those who are different from themselves religiously, culturally, in terms of sexual orientation, etc. 

This way of approaching the morality of human sexuality seems to more and more Catholics imperative for compelling reasons. Not only is the old model mired in cultural forms and socioeconomic patterns that have long since vanished in the developed sector of the world: it's also mired in a model of heteronormative male domination and female submission that is actively harmful to many human beings around the world. 

One of the strange realities of the superior "truth" that Steve's ultra-Catholic siblings live and peddle to the rest of the world as pure Catholicism is that their stud-brood mare model of sexual morality can coexist very easily with out-of-wedlock pregnancies, which are taken for granted as "natural' expressions of human sexuality, in contrast to the homosexual love that these same Catholics fiercely condemn as a violation of Catholic "truth." The condemnatory rules they want to enforce for those who are gay don't apply, in their own formulation of Catholic "truth," to themselves as heterosexuals.

Their superior notion of Catholic "truth" also coexists easily with husbands' physical abuse of wives, and with a father's psychological abuse of his children, so that it's perfectly possible for a father who imagines he exemplifies the height of Catholic morality to line his children up and make them watch as he shoots their pet dogs after a chicken has been found dead on his farm.

Just as it's perfectly possible in this model for the husband to control the family's finances, and to force his wife to ask permission to write a check even to buy food for their children . . . . And just as it's perfectly possible in this model for the very people who claim the right to teach all of us what authentic Catholic marital life is all about to write letters threatening a young girl who blows the whistle on a priest who has raped her, or to call into a radio talk show in which that young girl is telling her story and to accuse her of being out to destroy the Catholic church . . . . All these and more are stories Steve and I could tell about the behavior of his "truth"-fixated Catholic siblings.

There's a reason many Catholics with sensitive hearts and keen heads on their shoulders have given up on these patriarchal models of Catholic sexual "truth." They reek of violence and male domination of women. And the more some cultic Catholics choose to bash gay folks in the name of their Catholic "truth," the more they end up reinforcing the judgment of many Catholics and many folks outside the Catholic community that there's something beyond silly--there's something downright toxic--in the "truth" about human sexuality that ultra-orthodox Catholics want to offer the rest of the world as salvific truth.

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