With what has just happened in the diocese of Charlotte (I blogged about the controversy Sister Jane Dominic Laurel stirred with prejudice-laden statements about gay folks at Charlotte Catholic High School last week, and about the pushback of students and parents), how can I not think of the letter I wrote to the previous bishop of Charlotte, William J. Curlin, on 22 March 1997 as Steve and my mother and I left the Charlotte diocese?
I discussed that and other letters I wrote to Curlin in a posting here in March 2010. As that posting recounts, when Belmont Abbey College in Curlin's diocese presented me with an unexplained terminal contract in 1993, and when college officials stonewalled and then lied to me as I attempted to obtain a reason for my termination and I then resigned, I wrote to Bishop Curlin pleading that he meet with me to discuss how this cruel treatment by a Catholic institution was affecting my faith. How it was affecting my life.
As the preceding posting also notes, Curlin refused ever to see my face. He gave me the runaround, had his young priest-secretary rake me over the coals when I dared to write and ask him how he could justify meeting with wealthy and powerful folks at the drop of a hat, while refusing to meet with an ordinary lay Catholic suffering torments due to how a Catholic institution had shredded his life (and his faith), and, when push came to shove, closed ranks and showed his solidarity with the institution that destroyed my theological career and my partner Steve's.
And put us into serious financial jeopardy as we were providing care for my mother in the final years of her life, as she dealt with dementia . . . .
As I say, given what has just occurred in Charlotte, how can I not think of my futile attempt to obtain pastoral counsel from the bishop of Charlotte when my vocation as a Catholic theologian was destroyed by a Catholic institution, and no reason was ever provided for this action? That parting letter I wrote to Curlin, on 22 March 1997, I sent to him on the eve of Palm Sunday, as Steve, my mother, and I prepared to leave the Charlotte diocese and return to Little Rock, so that my mother could spend her final years closer to her still-living siblings.
And so that Steve and I, who had no jobs, no income at that point, could look for jobs — any jobs at all — in a place where I at least had some family, some connections.
As I ended my letter, I told Bishop Curlin,
Your church is the most inhospitable church I have ever encountered, particularly for those who are either gay or lesbian, or rumored to be gay or lesbian. You will not even make a place in your midst for gays and lesbians, to the extent of seeing that one might have a secure livelihood, without having one's real or presumed sexual orientation used as the basis for losing that livelihood.
And I concluded the letter by saying,
You, and the church of Charlotte, will certainly continue to be in my prayers. My prayer is, frankly, that God will not allow you to close the gap between the image you want to project, and the reality that exists in the local church. May God keep that gap open until you will honestly, inclusively, and in dialogic fashion (with active involvement of the laity) deal with the substance of the issues that trouble this local church, and not the image that you want to project. And in keeping that gap open, may God send you many outspoken truth-tellers and holy trouble-makers, who will not allow you to settle for partial truths when only the whole truth will do, and who will not allow you to represent yourselves as charitable, when you fail to practice charity.
As I say, how can I possibly avoid thinking of this letter now, given what has been going on in Charlotte in the last week or so?