Monday, July 28, 2014

Richard Rodriguez, Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography: "It Is Because the Church Needs Women That I Depend Upon Women to Protect the Church from Its Impulse to Cleanse Itself of Me"

Last week, I noted that in his new book Darling: A Spiritual Autibiography (NY: Viking, 2013), Richard Rodriguez continues a theme that appears in his previous work: this is the insistence that it will be women who call/force/cajole/threaten/whatever the all-male hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church to cease with and desist from their attacks on their gay brothers and sisters. Rodriguez remarks on the strange and unhealthy fixation of the all-male Roman Catholic hierarchy (a fixation borrowed from the desert roots of Christianity and Judaism) on male seed.

As if the male seed is, well, all that matters in the world . . . . As if sperm is really and essentially and only what counts as we assess sexual "acts" (another strange and unhealthy fixation of the all-male hierarchy of the church) and their moral meaning: tell me where the penis was and what was it doing when its seeds were expelled, and I can tell you if its "act" was moral or immoral . . . . 

Women just aren't there, in the equation of . . . everything . . . with male potency. They're there merely as unseen and unacknowledged receptacles for sacred male seed, which must never be wasted. And yet, as Rodriguez points out, it's women who bear the children men implant in them, who most frequently bear the responsibility for raising and nurturing those children, who sustain the church by going to church. Women, therefore, have the potential to change things significantly within the Catholic tradition — if they choose to do so.

Above all, they hold in their hands the power to correct the all-male hierarchy running the church's business about the matter of their sons and daughters whom God happens to have made gay.

Here are a few more excerpts from Darling in which Rodriguez explores these themes:

A gay man easily sees himself as expendable in the eyes of the Church hierarchy because that is how he imagines the Church hierarchy sees him. The Church cannot afford to expel women. Women are obviously central to the large procreative scheme of the Church. Women have sustained the Church for centuries by their faith and their birthrates. Following the sexual scandals involving priests and children, women may or may not consent to present a new generation of babies for baptism. Somewhere in its canny old mind, the Church knows this. Every bishop has a mother. 
It is because the Church needs women that I depend upon women to protect the Church from its impulse to cleanse itself of me (104).


And yet the God of intention entered history through a woman' s body (reversing the eye of the needle). The Church, as she exists, is a feminine act, intuition, and pronoun: The Christian Church is the sentimental branch of human theology. (I mean that as praise.) The Church watches the progress of Jesus with the same sense of his heartbreaking failure as did the mother who bore him (105).


I cannot imagine my freedom as a homosexual man without women in veils. Women in red Chanel. Women in flannel nightgowns. Women in their mirrors. Women saying, Honey-bunny. Women saying, We’ll see. Women saying, If you lay one hand on that child, I swear to God I will kill you. Women in curlers. Women in high heels. Younger sisters, older sisters; women and girls. Without women (132).

As Richard Rodriguez told Jeanne Carstensen in 2008, after right-wing churches including the Catholic church whipped up a frenzy in California and proposition 8 passed,

I suspect the revolution [in Catholic attitudes towards those who are gay] will come not from the male church but from how women treat their children, and whether or not women are willing to reject their children. I don’t think they are. 

I think he's right about this, and that the constantly increasing support of lay Catholics in the U.S. for gay rights — in the face of fierce opposition from the all-male hierarchy — has everything in the world to do with family and with family values, which run deep in Catholic culture. It has everything to do with the refusal of Catholic mothers to reject their gay sons and daughters, no matter how often hierarchs like Archbishop Nienstedt inform them that they will go to hell if they don't repudiate their gay children.

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