Okay, if it's not a total bore for those who have been reading this blog for some time now, I think I will offer some more excerpts from my letters to Bishop William J. Curlin of Charlotte in the period 1995-1999. I would say, "my correspondence with Bishop Curlin," but I can't really say that, can I, when he never even acknowledged any of my letters, let alone replied to any of them?
As I've said in my postings about (and here) these letters in the last several days, they are very much in my mind now due to the controversy Sister Jane Dominic Laurel has stirred in the Charlotte Catholic diocese through the deplorable remarks she made about gay human beings at Charlotte Catholic High School recently. Two days ago, I pointed readers to a posting I made about my letters to Bishop Curlin in March 2010. That posting is the first of three I made that March, all with the title "The Refusal of Bishops to Be Good Shepherds," followed by subtitles that connect the refusal of bishops to be shepherds of their flocks to the abuse crisis in the Catholic church.
I began writing Bishop Curlin about my experience of serious injustice as an employee of a Catholic college in his diocese in 1995. This was seven years before the abuse crisis in the American Catholic church broke wide open with the stories that emerged from Boston in 2002.
At the time I began to write him, few of us had any clue of the depths of that particular crisis. It had not yet been in the news, other than in prophetic, probing articles by Jason Berry which focused on the situation in the discrete area of Louisiana.
Around the same time that Jason Berry was doing investigative reporting about abuse cases in Louisiana (for which he received much scorn and many hard knocks), Dominican Father Thomas Doyle began trying courageously to alert Rome to the looming abuse crisis. He was ignored and severely punished for being a whistleblower. And his activities to call church leaders to honest, effective, transparent responses to the abuse crisis were simply unknown to many lay Catholics.
For many of us who are "ordinary" Catholics, me included, the abuse crisis that would begin to be disclosed in all its lurid, deep ramifications in the Boston archdiocese in 2002 (and then in diocese after diocese following that) was not really even on the horizon when I began writing to Bishop Curlin in 1995. And yet somehow, I began to make connections between the tiny bits and pieces of information I was hearing about this problem and what had happened to me in the diocese of Charlotte.
I began to connect the kind of abuse I had experienced at the hands of a Benedictine college and Benedictine monastery, reinforced by the bishop of the diocese, with the abuse I was beginning to discover — through dribs and drabs — many of my fellow Catholics had experienced at the hands of priests and nuns when they were minors. Not that my abuse was equal to the abuse experienced by those sexually abused by Catholic authority figures when they were young.
There is no equivalence between these two kinds of abuse. I can't begin to imagine — not to imagine completely, from my outsider's vantage point — the soul-tearing damage young people experience when a trusted religious authority figure sexually molests them, and I don't intend to compare my pain or abuse at the hands of the church with theirs as if they're equivalent.
Even so, I did began to recognize a commonality between my story and those of the few abuse survivors who were coming to my attention in the latter half of the 1990s. And, surprisingly enough, I began to write Bishop Curlin about this in those letters pleading with him to provide a pastoral response to what had happened to me.
What I began to recognize was that the abuse dished out to me as a gay, partnered Catholic theologian was an abuse of pastoral leadership that was parallel to — it was really the same as, in that it sprang from the same defensive clerical roots and the same abdication of authentic pastoral behavior — the pastoral abuse of people who had been sexually molested by priests and nuns when they were minors. And who were treated as I had been treated when they sought the pastoral support of bishops, abbots, other Catholic authority figures: like dirt.
As if we were the enemy. As if we were about nothing other than money (something I never mentioned in any letter to Bishop Curlin, because it was never in my mind, though Steve had one conversation with the abbot of Belmont Abbey about what he and his school had done to me, which made him realize that this was the entire way in which the abbot chose to frame my request to meet with him for pastoral counsel).
I began to realize that the refusal of the abbot of Belmont Abbey to meet with me when I asked for his pastoral counsel, and the refusal of the bishop of Charlotte ever even to see my face: this was exactly how Catholic pastoral leaders were dealing with abuse survivors who, as I was doing, approached them to plead that they hear our stories of pain, bind up our wounds, assure us that our lives counted, and that we were valued members of the body of Christ.
And whom one bishop, abbot, or other pastoral leader of the Catholic church refused even to see or to meet with.
I'll now simply repost the second of my postings from March 2010 that dealt with the refusal of bishops to be good shepherds and the roots of the abuse crisis — and you'll see what I mean, as you read excerpts from letters I wrote to Bishop William J. Curlin of Charlotte in the latter half of the 1990s.