In the New York Times today, Frank Bruni looks at the new six-page contract for Catholic teachers in the Cincinnati archdiocese (the previous one was two pages), which is all adither about "libido and loins." The contract solemnly informs you that you will endanger your job as a "teacher-minister" in a Catholic school if you show any "public support" for "a homosexual lifestyle." In response, Bruni notes, the following is happening:
"WOULD Pope Francis Sign the New Catholic Teacher Contract?" That’s the question spelled out on a dozen billboards that have gone up around Cincinnati over the last week or so.
Bruni points out that the introduction of the term "teacher-minister" in this contract is all about trying to get around laws that prohibit discrimination; by redefining anyone working in Catholic institutions as a "minister," dioceses and religious communities can then claim that they have unlimited right to do whatever they will with Catholic employees under the rubric of religious freedom.
But, curiously, as Bruni points out, many areas that seem core to the definition of Catholic identity are ignored by the newly expanded contract, while it zeroes in with laserlike intensity on the libido-and-loins definition of what it means to be Catholic:
The new contract expressly forbids a "homosexual lifestyle" and any "public support" of one. But it says nothing about public support of the death penalty, something else that the church opposes.
The new contract specifically rules out any use or advocacy of abortion rights, surrogacy, even in vitro fertilization. But it doesn't address possible advocacy of the sorts of bloody military engagements that the church often condemns.
The new contract forbids "living together outside marriage," "sexual activity out of wedlock" and any public endorsement of either. But there’s no reference to concern for the downtrodden, to the spirit of giving, to charity. And while those are surely more difficult to monitor, aren't they as essential to Catholic principles, and closer to the core of the faith?
As I read news about this contract (and similar ones now brewing in Hawaii and Oakland), I continue to ask, Where's Pope Francis in all of this? Bruni tells the story as one of clear-cut opposition between what Francis has said and stands for, and what is happening in various Catholic dioceses in the U.S. as they continue their culture-war attack on gay human beings and gay rights. But I'm not sure the story is so simple.
I suspect that what we see happening here is the old Catholic story of doublespeak at the top levels of the church, which permits top Catholic leaders to claim that they stand on the side of mercy, as they stand by in complete silence while Catholic leaders lower down the echelons of command carry out their completely unmerciful attacks on targeted minority groups — in order to safeguard the church's coffers and to claim bogus rights to discriminate in the name of religious freedom.
I also suspect that more and more Catholics are becoming disenchanted with the doublespeak and the double messages, and that the leaders of the church are playing a very dangerous game as they allow such attacks to continue in cultures that are increasingly accepting of LGBT human beings. When people see a photo of Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend after Sam has heard news that he has been drafted by the St. Louis Rams, and when their primary reaction is to celebrate and not condemn, churches place themselves in a dangerous position as they continue relentlessly to attack and denigrate those whose human lives and love are now applauded as lives worth cherishing by increasing numbers of their family, friends, and coworkers.
The photo of Michael Sam and his boyfriend is from Huffington Post, where it's the lead photo headline today.