Friday, May 30, 2014

Catholics Excluded from Jobs and Ministries Over Gay Issues Write Pope Francis to Request a Meeting: My Reflections

At his Slacktivist site, Fred Clark pulls together a valuable brief compendium of the heart of the recent judicial rulings in various states knocking down bans on marriage for same-sex couples. With perhaps a tiny tad of chauvinism, I note that he heads his list with the following statement by Arkansas Judge Chris Piazza:

It has been over forty years since Mildred Loving was given the right to marry the person of her choice. The hatred and fears have long since vanished and she and her husband lived full lives together; so it will be for the same-sex couples. It is time to let that beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters. We will be stronger for it.

Recently, as I commented on the latest discussions in the U.S. Catholic media puzzling over the question of why gay folks feel targeted and demeaned by the Catholic church, I wrote, 

I could go on and on with the list of Catholics in the U.S. treated with a conspicuous lack of compassion and dignity in recent years because 1) they are gay or 2) they care about people who are gay and express that care in public ways — something for which the Catholic school system of Cincinnati (and apparently also of Oakland and elsewhere) now informs us it's prepared to fire people. The Cincinnati Catholic school system tells us it's prepared to fire people simply for caring about gay folks and expressing that care in any public way, so that Mollie Shumate, the mother of a gay son, has refused to sign the contract because she will not repudiate her own son.

Some of those Catholics fired by Catholic institutions because 1) they are gay or 2) they care about people who are gay and express that care in public ways have written a letter to Pope Francis asking him to meet with them and hear their stories. Human Rights Campaign makes the letter available at its website (see also Jean Ann Esselink at The New Civil Rights Movement).

In the letter, the signatories, all of whom have been fired by Catholic institutions or removed from ministries in parishes, or, in the case of Molly Shumate, have refused to sign an employment contract that required her to repudiate her gay son, tell Pope Francis, "For each and every one of us, our employment was far more than just a job – it was a reflection of core Catholic values."

And then they say,

Our families are hurting. We feel scorned by our church, which we have dedicated our lives to. From coaching sports teams, to leading canned food drives, to going to Church every single Sunday – we feel abandoned by the Catholic Church. We know God has not abandoned us. Our friends, loved ones, and many others in our community have not abandoned us. But we feel the hierarchy of our Church is denying us the pastoral care and love they are called to do.

I think I know whereof these folks speak. I have written similar letters to church leaders — notably, the bishop of Charlotte and abbots of Belmont Abbey over a course of years. In those letters, I, too, poured out my pain that a job which was always for me far more than a job — my work as a Catholic theologian — had been definitively shattered by Belmont Abbey College with the active complicity of the diocesan leaders of Charlotte, and I had not been done the merest decency even to be told why this had happened.

Like the signatories to this letter to Pope Francis, I, too, pled for a hearing from the pastoral leaders of the church (of my local church, in my own case). My letters never received any reply. 

I hope that Pope Francis will reply to the letter excerpted above. And I hope that the meeting these hurting fellow Catholics wish for will take place.

Meanwhile, one moves on, as one has to do in life. In my own case, as readers will know, I've moved on to take advantage of an astonishing opportunity to marry my partner of many years in my local courthouse, and I couldn't be happier that this possibility opened for us.

Steve's and my recent marriage and the joy we feel about this event (joy shared by some of our family members and many of our friends) provide a new invitation for me to look critically at the "pastoral" counsel my Catholic hierarchy offers people like us, and to assess its import for my life.

The pastoral leaders of my church tell Steve and me that the ideal to which we are called as Catholics who happen to be gay is a life of perpetual celibacy. "Why don't you just shut the door and lock that other man out of your life?" a priest told me as I anguished over my "sins" in confession in the mid-1980s. "Your eternal salvation is at stake."

What the pastoral leaders of my church counsel me to do is all so easy: shut the door in the face of the person you imagine you love, for God's sake! Lock him out of your life! Turn to Jesus and accept that you have been given a unique kind of cross that other Catholics who happen to be born straight have not been asked to carry: yes, they're called to chastity, too, but they can marry, of course, since marriage is about procreation and having the right kinds of genitals to complement each other.

For you, it's a matter of being satisfied with a life of complete self-abnegation, whether you have chosen that life or not. It's a life of shutting down intimacy, affective relationships, the opening of the heart and soul that happen in a unique way when one forms such relationships.

It's a life of denying love in the name of "love." 

I have long since decided that all of this "pastoral" counsel is absolutely, wildly beside the point in my case and in the case of other gay people, and the joy I feel (and share with many others) at my recent marriage only underscores for me the deep moral rightness of the decisions I have made to claim and celebrate my identity, and to open my life to love with a partner. 

The upshot of this process, this journey, in my own life: I find myself simply baffled by the discussions of same-sex marriage available to me in the Catholic media at sites like Commonweal, which is now rehashing the question of how Catholics should respond to marriage equality in a series of essays by Ross Douthat, Jamie Manson, and Joseph Bottum.*

I read the conversations, the essays and the replies to them, the tortured gymnastic arguments that seek to define as loving what cannot be defined as loving, the intricate, painstaking reasoning which has already taken leave of all rationality from the moment it set its dogmatic feet into the path of "reasoning," and I ask myself, What does any of this have to do with my life? With my own life of love? With the lives of love I see many of my gay friends living?

What does any of this tortured gymnastic Catholic reasoning that bends over backwards to define as love what we all know is not in the least loving, have to do with me? Or with love? What does its bowdlerized, reductionistic natural law theory so obsessed with penises fitting into vaginas have to do with me and with with love? What does any of this have to do with — what can it possibly say to — a culture that has decisively shifted in the direction of elemental fairness towards those who are gay, fairness as a core American value? So that the conversation taking place in the culture at large is light-years away from the culture taking place inside the walls of Catholic institutions, and is light-years advanced in its moral sensibility, because it refuses to dispense from questions of justice as it talks about love — since justice is the legs on which authentic love walks in the real world?

Is it any wonder that fewer and fewer Americans (and fewer and fewer Catholics) pay any attention at all to the natterings of the magisterium and its adherents about these matters and other matters of sexual morality — when those natterings are communicated in the language of mene, mene, tekel, upharsin, and not a soul among us speaks that arcane dialect any longer? 

And is it any wonder that fewer and fewer Americans (including fewer American Catholics) pay any attention at all to the obsessive, entirely parochial, conversation about gay marriage within a Catholic academic and media community that has, for the most part, refused to engage its own complicity in the injustices visited by Catholic teaching and practice on gay human beings? And that refuses, for the most part, to engage its unmerited heterosexual privilege, as it weighs the lives of those who happen to be gay in its "objective" and "loving" scales?

This is where I find myself a week or so after marrying — an event my Catholic "pastoral" leaders call on me to recognize as the blackest of sins. And I couldn't be happier to be here and not there, twisting my mind and heart into impossible mental pretzels that are all about redefining the very opposite of love as love, and calling that redefinition good moral thinking.

*I am grateful that Jamie Manson is a part of this conversation.

No comments: