Thursday, February 27, 2014

Arizona Bishops Promote Failed Gay-Discrimination Bill: The Serious Pastoral Problem Facing U.S. Catholics

Yesterday, I discussed the latest in a series of surveys of the religious landscape of the U.S., all of which find that the millennial generation is rapidly leaving organized religion behind--and that a significant proportion of millennials walking away from faith communities cite the homophobia of the communities they're leaving as their reason for leaving. As my discussion yesterday notes, while a generation of younger Americans is leaving religion behind and noting that the homophobia of religious bodies is precipitating its departure, the top pastoral leaders of the Catholic church in the U.S. are doing absolutely nothing to address this exodus.

Well, it's not quite accurate to say that the top pastoral leaders of the Catholic church in the U.S. are doing nothing to address the exodus of younger Catholics from the church due to the church's homophobia. As a collective body, the bishops of the Catholic church in the U.S. are, in fact, actively contributing to this exodus by throwing the institutional weight of the Catholic church behind homophobia.

Instead of addressing the departure of younger Catholics from the church because they can no longer stomach the defense of indefensible discrimination, the church's top pastoral leaders are placing the Catholic church in the U.S. squarely on the side of such indefensible discrimination. Case in point: Arizona.

Yesterday, the tea-party governor of the conservative state of Arizona vetoed a bill that would have enshrined in law a religious "right" to blatant discrimination against LGBTI citizens of her state. Governor Brewer noted that she was vetoing the "religious liberty" bill the Republican-controlled state legislature had presented to her, because no one had been able to demonstrate to her that there was any need for the bill: she had found no instances of the violation of the religious freedom of citizens of her state.

As Brian Beutler notes, though similar bogus "religious liberty" legislation is now under consideration in state after state, the veto of Arizona's phony religious freedom bill is likely to prove the "pivotal moment" when the religious liberty crusade promoted by various religious right groups including the U.S. Catholic bishops met its definitive end. As Charles Blow points out, the crusade against the human rights of gay people is turning younger people against religious groups that promote discrimination directed towards those who are gay because the movement of history's moral arc is inevitably if tortuously in the direction of equality.

So how did the Catholic bishops of Arizona respond to a bill that even its tea-party Republican governor found so extreme in its proposal to enshrine discrimination in law that she wouldn't sign it? Did they speak out on behalf of the vulnerable minority group the legislation targeted? Did they defend the defenseless? Did they point out that the practice of authentic Catholic faith requires Catholics always to defend human rights?

Why, no, as a matter of fact. As a matter of fact, right up to the moment that Governor Brewer announced she was vetoing the bill, the Catholic bishops of Arizona were instructing all Catholics in the state to contact Governor Brewer and insist that she sign the gay-discrimination bill.* Here's how journalist Harold Meyerson assesses the pastoral leadership the Catholic bishops of Arizona exhibited as the phony "religious liberty" bill, which deliberately targeted a vulnerable minority group that is already not protected from discrimination under Arizona law, was under consideration in their state:

That the Catholic Church in Arizona is opposed to gay marriage is hardly news. But its willingness to go so far as to create a right for private businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation is appalling. It harks back more to the spirit of Bob Jones than to that of the brave priests and nuns who went to the South in the ’50s and ’60s to demonstrate for civil rights — or, for that matter, to the spirit of Pope Francis. Indeed, the church’s opposition seems to reflect the pre-Enlightenment social conservatism that Francis’s predecessors sought to impose on the church through their hierarchical appointments. If the church’s position on the Arizona bill is any indication, those appointments continue to pose a huge problem for the Catholic Church in America — for its future among the young and for its moral stature.

Want to know why young Catholics like Joseph Amodeo are walking away as fast as they can? Look no further than the Catholic bishops of Arizona for your answer. 

As MJ Wise pointed out in a comment yesterday discussing the latest PRRI report confirming the rapid departure of millennials from homophobic churches, in the section of this report (p. 21) that discusses the public's perception of how various religious groups deal with LGBTI folks, the Catholic church stands at the top of the list of religious groups perceived as anti-gay. 58% of respondents reported that they see the Catholic church as unfriendly to LGBT people--more unfriendly than the Mormon church or evangelical churches (see the graphic at the head of the posting).

The Catholic church in the U.S. has a very serious pastoral problem on its hands. That pastoral problem stems directly from the abysmal pastoral leadership of a large majority of its current bishops--particularly with regard to how the church deals with gay human beings. As Harold Meyerson says, the kind of bishops that have been appointed to lead the Catholic church in the U.S. under the past two papacies "pose a huge problem for the Catholic Church in America--for its future among the young and for its moral stature."

He's absolutely right.

*As Jim McCrea points out in a comment in the thread following my posting today about E.J. Dionne's Commonweal article which states that the Arizona legislature has been engaging in quite a project of "de-evangelization" of late, the Arizona Catholic Conference has already yanked the "Action Alert" to which this link points. A cached version is here. And please see this subsequent posting which has a screenshot of the "Action Alert" that the Arizona Catholic bishops have now scrubbed from their website.

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