Friday, April 11, 2014

My Letters to Bishop William Curlin and the Charlotte Catholic High School Controversy: Whys, Wherefores, and In Conclusion

I feel I should write . . . something . . . as a wrap-up to the series of postings (here, here, here, and here) providing excerpts from my letters to Charlotte, North Carolina, Bishop William J. Curlin and the connections I see between those letters and the current controversy in that same diocese after Sister Jane Dominic Laurel spoke at Charlotte Catholic High School recently. As Bob Shine notes at Bondings 2.0 today, the diocese has acknowledged that the vast majority of parents who turned out last week to express concern about what Sister Jane Dominic told students stated that they were alarmed by the pastoral harm of her attack on gay folks. Shine also notes that many parents showed up last week to make this point, though right-wing Catholic websites are now seeking to suggest that students and parents protesting Sister Jane Dominic's presentation are only a tiny minority, a liberal fringe group in the diocese.

Bob Shine notes that many parents who came to last week's gathering to share their concerns spoke of their fear that their children will be driven away from the Catholic church by the kind of hostility towards a targeted minority group they saw on full display in Sister Jane Dominic's lecture. These parents and their children were also moved by "the silent sufferings of LGBT students which do not make headlines" — they were moved by the silent sufferings of some of their own classmates and friends, as Sister Jane Dominic (with the backing of school chaplain Father Matthew Kauth) presented Catholic moral teaching about homosexuality as an assault on the human nature and human dignity of those fellow human beings.

So why did I write Bishop Curlin that series of letters in the 1990s? I did so because I understood that my human dignity was under deep assault when my job as a Catholic theologian was snatched away from me in 1993, and when the Catholic college taking that step would not even accord me the most rudimentary respect of informing me why this was being done to me. 

I wrote Bishop Curlin because I realized that my life was at stake, since our lives depend on our ability to put bread on our tables through the work we do, and we are robbed of human dignity at the starkest level possible when our livelihood is removed from us and we're not even told why this is being done to us — though we have a proven track record of having worked very hard and having succeeded very well at the work we have done. We are stripped of our human dignity in the starkest way possible when we cannot afford to pay for healthcare coverage. 

We feel like a . . . nothing . . . when we cannot afford to go to a doctor when we need medical treatment.

I wrote my letters to Bishop Curlin pleading with him at least to meet me and hear my story person to person — to see my human face — because I knew in my bones that what the Catholic college in his diocese was doing in presenting me with a terminal contract with no explanation would end my career as a Catholic theologian. I wrote Bishop Curlin out of the depths of anguish, as I felt myself being crushed beneath boulders of cruelty and disdain that I could not lift away, and which I in no way deserved.

That's the why and wherefore of the correspondence I've shared with you. Lest you think I'm the kind of person who writes letters routinely to bishops (such folks do exist; some have shared their letters to bishops with me after they've read my blog; I admire such people), you should know that, in all my years as a Catholic, I've written only three other letters to bishops, in addition to the series I wrote to Bishop Curlin. 

Two of those expressed my consternation when I discovered that a bishop I know personally had shielded a diocesan employee who was a known sexual predator with a history of abusing minors. Another was to my own bishop, to ask how he thinks it's possible for Catholic pastoral leaders to retain credibility as they preach about human rights when the church itself routinely violates the human rights of its LGBT employees.

I wrote Bishop Curlin in the 1990s, asking that he provide me pastoral counsel, because everything depended on what was being done to me in his diocese — on the way my human dignity, my entire career, my whole life were under assault. I am fully aware that bishops seldom take time to meet with "ordinary" people, though, in my view, their doors ought to be open even wider for the least among than they always are for the richest and most powerful.

Note to Bishop Curlin and every bishop who has refused to meet face to face with an abuse survivor: you can't have the smell of the sheep about your person if you refuse even to meet the sheep, can you?

I took the risk of asking for Bishop Curlin's personal counsel because I was, after all, the chair of the theology department of the Catholic college in his diocese, of the only Catholic college in his diocese. All of this by way of explanation — the whys and wherefores — for the extracts from the series of letters with which I have burdened you this week on this blog.

On another (but related) topic: I want to thank those who emailed me and left comments in threads here to express concern about the comments made here by Steve Kellmeyer yesterday. Several of you asked that I please block Steve as a commenter, since you were personally offended by statements he made.

I wanted to let you know that I did take that step, especially when the personal attacks against other commenters continued after I had asked him to refrain from such attacks. Though I understand that some of his statements were offensive, I actually laughed and am still laughing about the comment regarding my partner Steve as my sex toy. Having just celebrated my 64th birthday, I find that comment oddly flattering.

If Steve and others who reduce gay people and loving gay relationships to the level of their own crude adolescent fantasies only knew. I smiled to myself this morning as I remembered Steve's sex-toy jab as I stumbled out of bed in the pre-dawn darkness — a bed in which both my Steve and I did what we do every night of the year, which is to say, sleep — and I saw the house shoes (Arkansas term for "slippers") that my sex toy had thoughtfully placed just beyond the bedroom door, so that I wouldn't have to put my bare feet on the cold tiles of the bathroom floor. 

I feel pain for my fellow human beings who are so caught up in crude adolescent fantasies about what they imagine happening in the bedrooms of human beings they have never even met that they cannot see beyond their feverish lurid imaginings to the humanity that despised others share with them. It surely cannot be rewarding to live inside such a tiny prison in one's head. And in one's heart.

Life has so much more to offer when we attune our minds and hearts to love instead of hate.

The graphic is from CNN's religion blog.

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