Monday, May 19, 2014

Morals Clauses for Employees of Catholic Institutions, and the Terrible Price the Whole Church Pays for the Attack on Gay Folks

Some of you probably saw this posting last week at Iglesia Descalza. If not, I wanted to bring it to your attention, since it's a perfect complement to what I posted around the same time about the new contract being imposed on teachers in Catholic schools in Cincinnati (with similar contracts beefing up anti-gay restrictions for Catholic teachers in Oakland, Hawaii, and perhaps other places now). 

The tack taken by Rebel Girl at Iglesia Descalza as she looks at morals clauses in contracts of employees of Catholic institutions, and how they're now being used to fire people right and left, is this: she points to the serious toll this activity takes on the entire Catholic institution. She writes:

Behind these public names are many many other Catholic church employees we will never know about. How many gay and lesbian employees are afraid to marry their loving partners because they can't afford to lose their jobs? Worse still, how many single women have terminated an unexpected pregnancy in order to keep their employment? And how many are demoralized and afraid to speak up for justice because the institutional Church, in practice, is not the liberating and merciful place Pope Francis wishes it to be? We need to work towards the day when our church workers and teachers don't have to trade their freedom of expression and association for a paycheck.

And then she lists 19 folks fired by Catholic institutions in the past several years (with an invitation to readers to add more names) under terms of morals contracts that target in quite specific ways gay folks who are open about their identities, gay folks who marry a same-sex partner, people who support openly gay folks, or unmarried women who become pregnant. The first person in this list is Colleen Simon, who has just been fired as coordinator of social ministries for the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph after it became public knowledge that she is married to Rev. Donna Simon, a Lutheran minister.

Readers of National Catholic Reporter recently hashed through the Kansas City story, in response to a "Morning Briefing" column mentioning it, and I'll be frank: if my understanding of what the Catholic church is and stands for depended solely on the kinds of things I read in such online discussions, I'd run away as fast as my feet could take me. The responses of many Catholics in this discussion to the firing of Colleen Simon are so ugly, so mean-spirited, so bitter and reductionistic in their understanding of what it means to be Catholic, that I want no part of the church for which they stand.

It is an eminently unwelcoming church, and it's designed to be that way — for gay folks. One of those applauding Colleen Simon's firing in this column has posted previously that nothing that any gay couple ever does in the bedroom is pleasing in God's eyes, while anything and everything a heterosexual couple does delights God. This is in direct contradiction to the Catholic magisterial teaching she claims ardently to defend, which is very clear about the many things married heterosexual couples may do sexually that are, so we're asked to believe, deeply offensive to God — things like using contraceptives, or having non-vaginal sex that results in orgasm without the insertion of the penis into the vagina. 

What this hyper-orthodox contributor to NCR discussion threads, who has left comments at my own blog in the past, wants is a definition of Catholicism that quite specifically targets gay folks and makes them unwelcome in her church, while heterosexual folks like herself who may or may not adhere to the same principles used to beat gays about the head with are fully welcome. She wants to use the catechism (which she ludicrously defends as infallible!) as a weapon against her brothers and sisters who are gay, while ignoring the many ways in which, taken literally and in a fundamentalist way, it also condemns her own actions and lifestyle, including her penchant for using illegal recreational drugs, something she has celebrated in comments both here at Bilgrimage and in other threads at Catholic blog sites.

Do you see my point? There are not a few Catholics — this woman is one of many; she stands within a strong movement in American Catholicism that is intent on defining Catholic identity over against those who are gay — who have succeeded in communicating to the culture at large today that the very essence of Catholicism is about condemning and excluding those who are gay. The contracts full of morals clauses now rolling off the press in Catholic dioceses fast and furious underscore that message.

They and the hateful discriminatory actions they spur on fully explain how the Catholic church in the U.S. richly deserves its reputation in the public eye as the religious body most unfriendly to gay people among all religious bodies. And as this happens, the response of many liberal Catholics who remain institutionally affiliated, and of the "official" Catholic groups advocating for better treatment of gay folks in the Catholic church, continues to be so faint-hearted and so painfully parochial that it is totally beside the point for many of us who have been shoved to the margins during this dark period of Catholic history, and who are being shoved to the margins right now in increasing numbers and with increasing institutional fury.

I read Father James Martin's recent appeal for a simply loving stance towards gay folks in the Catholic community, and I think, "That's nice. But what does it have to do with me, when all is said and done? What do Catholics who think this way propose to do to reach out to me and others who have been savagely excluded from the church's institutional life and from these conversations?"

Then I read the responses to Father Martin's column both at America (that's the link I've just provided) and at the Bondings 2.0 blog, and my sense that none of this . . . niceness . . .  really touches my own life only increases. This is love without the teeth of justice.

It's love that talks love but doesn't act love, when it comes to the real human lives of many of us who have been so unjustly shoved outside the Catholic conversation, and whom these liberal advocates for love never find ways to bring back inside. The price they pay for their cozy institutional affiliation seems to be, in fact,  that within their own conversations, they replicate the insider-outsider dynamics of the church they want to change, mirroring its own unjust ways of making some people more human and others less human.

None of this touches my real life, where there's such joy right now that Steve and I have finally been able to marry, but where all my conversations about celebrations and church events to mark our recent marriage are occurring outside my eminently unwelcoming Catholic community. Because they have to do so. Because my local Catholic community will not welcome Steve and me as a married couple.

Because we must do our celebrating apart from our local Catholic community, where our local bishop has recently recommended to us and other Catholic gay folks the atrocious, insulting, and totally false "third way" approach of right-wing religious and political groups that are seeking to co-opt the term "love" for what is the opposite of love, as they consign their gay brothers and sisters to a life of unchosen perpetual chastity and belief in the bogus promises of reparative therapy.

I'd rather celebrate, frankly. I'd rather celebrate a life of shared love that I've found to be full of amazing grace, and I'd rather spend my time with others who celebrate my life with Steve and who understand, as we do, that the call of Jesus is to live with a love that includes and welcomes everyone, and which does not single out sectors of the human community for special stigmatization and special condemnation.

As I celebrate, I won't hold my breath for my liberal Catholic friends or even the groups within the Catholic church who claim to affirm gay folks to join me in celebrating. They're too timid to do that. They're too institutionally comfortable. It's easier for them to write Steve and me off as losers who haven't played the Catholic game as adroitly as they have, and who have therefore earned the marginal status that these liberal advocates for gay inclusion only rubber-stamp on behalf of the institution they defend, even as they seek to change it.

Rebel Girl is right: the Catholic church in the U.S. pays a terrible price for such behavior. It militates against the meaning of Catholicism at the most fundamental level possible.

And that will not be lost on more and more younger Catholics who refuse to deal with their gay friends and family members in the cruel way now anointed as the special Catholic "third way" of "love"!

The quotation at the top of the posting is from a July 2009 conversation Bill Moyers conducted with Cornel West, Gary Dorrien, and Serene Jones. Clicking on it should make it larger.

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