Friday, January 3, 2014

New Year's Omnigatherum: Pope; Catholic Blogs and Hate Speech; 10 Best and Worst LGBTI Stories; Father Bob Nugent; Chris Kluwe; Peter Montgomery

You know what was nice (and remarkable about) this past Christmas and new year's day? We didn't hear a peep from Pope Francis about how the gays represent a threat to world peace, the ecology of the planet, and the survival of the human race. Remember how the emeritus pope, Benedict, loved to use Christmas and new year's as the occasion for remarks on those themes? (See here, here, here, here, here, here, etc.).

Remarkable, the sound of silence this year. The sound of meditative contemplation about the mystery of God taking flesh, of prayerful reflection as the year turns--the sound of one hand clapping, and not the sound and fury of papal scapegoating of a targeted minority group. I have to say, Francis's silence on these themes that evidently preoccupied Benedict to the point of obsession--and especially as Christmas arrived each year of his papal reign--is a Christmas gift to me as a gay Catholic, and to other gay Catholics and those who care about us.

Not that we who are gay and Catholic don't still have abundant work to do. A new year has begun, and already people logging in to articles about gay-related stories at National Catholic Reporter are peppering the discussion threads there with vituperative, mean-spirited, downright hateful comments about their fellow human beings who are gay. Check out this thread following Adelle Banks's report on anti-gay "Christian" Boy Scout troops who have separated from the Scouts as the Boy Scouts now officially begin to accept openly gay members. Or have a gander at this thread in response to Mike Sweitzer-Beckman's story about the minor in LGBT studies at DePaul University.

Catholics have come a long way along the road to tolerance of and love for those who are gay. But we continue to have a long way to go. I echo the question that Mark Birch asks about the discussion thread following the Boy Scouts article: why does it remain possible for people to engage in what amounts to hate speech against those who are gay at some Catholic blog sites, while similar hate speech about any other targeted minority would be quickly ruled off-limits by those same sites?

For me as an adult well up in years, who has formed a fairly thick skin, reading the kind of commentary that anti-gay haters spew out on a routine basis at many Catholic blog sites is like having an i.v. bag of poison slowly drip into my veins. I'm very concerned about the effect of this kind of hate rhetoric on young people whose self-images aren't yet secure--on young gay people or young people trying to figure out where they fit into the scheme of things gender-wise. Religion plays a powerful role, as many young folks seek to come to terms with their sexual orientation. 

What younger folks dealing with issues of gender identity and sexual orientation encounter in the discussion threads of Catholic blog sites is often toxic and likely to be harmful to their psychic and spiritual well-being. It's time for this to stop. It's time for outright hate speech against gay folks to be afforded no place at Catholic blog sites. (And see Father James Martin's outstanding advice here (see #6) to Catholics dealing with vituperation at Catholic blog sites, when the issues under consideration are women's and gay rights.)

On another note: as December ended, I noted here that New Ways Ministry was seeking your input as this group focusing on pastoral ministry to gay people compiled a list of the five best and five worst stories from the Catholic LGBTI world in the past year. New Ways has now posted the results at its Bondings 2.0 blog site. Here's the list of the best of 2013 in Catholic LBGT news, and here's the worst.

Related to New Ways Ministry: Father Robert Nugent, co-founder of this ministry along with Sister Jeanine Gramick, died on new year's day. The executive director of New Ways, Francis DeBernardo, eulogizes Father Nugent at the Bondings site yesterday. As I've noted in the past, both Father Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick paid a very high price for their willingness to seek to build bridges of compassion and understanding between the Catholic community and the gay community: both were among the more than 100 theologians and Catholics engaged in ministry who were disciplined by pope-emeritus Benedict when, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope John XXIII.

I am deeply grateful to Father Nugent for his willingness to speak out on behalf of compassion for me and others like me, and for his willingness to endure punitive reprisal as he did so. I pray that he rest in peace.

And speaking of debts of gratitude that the gay community owes to courageous advocates: in the fall of 2012, I noted the courage that Minnesota Vikings player Chris Kluwe had displayed (and here), as a straight ally of the gay community, in defending the human rights of gay people. Like Father Nugent, Chris Kluwe has paid a price for speaking out in defense of those who are gay: he lost his job.

As many readers of Bilgrimage will undoubtedly already know, this week, Kluwe released a statement indicating that he has very strong reason to believe he was fired by the Vikings because of his outspoken advocacy on behalf of the gay community. Kluwe names names. One of the best summaries of (and reflections on) this story I've read up to now is Dave Zirin's response yesterday at The Nation. See also Brendon Ayanbadejo's unambiguous (and equally courageous) statement in support of Kluwe, on which David Badash reports for The New Civil Rights Movement. Ayanbadejo (whom Kluwe was defending when he first spoke out in September 2012) says that Chris Kluwe is "100% right" to conclude that he was fired due to his outspoken support of gay rights.

We in the gay community, and those who support gay folks, owe Chris Kluwe our support now. And our gratitude.

Finally, I'd like to point Bilgrimage readers to a valuable new resource offered by Religion Dispatches: Peter Montgomery has begun to offer more or less weekly summaries of news having to do with the gay community and with religious groups worldwide. His latest article in this new series appeared yesterday

I've long followed Peter Montgomery's outstanding reporting at Religion Dispatches and elsewhere with a great deal of interest. His weekly summaries of stories about gay issues and religious communities is a real contribution, one for which I'm grateful as the new year begins.

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