Thursday, September 25, 2014

Archbishop Nienstedt, Firing of Gay Catholic Employees, and Upholding Teachings of the Church: Critical Reflection

Yesterday, I noted that anti-gay culture-warrior archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis forced the resignation of a music director, Jamie Moore, in a Catholic parish in Victoria, Minnesota, after Moore married his partner last weekend. I linked to a report about this story by Madeleine Baran of Minnesota NPR. 

Baran's report contains the text of a statement that Nienstedt made to MPR. In this statement, Nienstedt insists that he had to act in this case because "the teachings of the Church must be upheld."

What does that statement mean, I wonder? What can it mean when a majority of Nienstedt's fellow Catholics in the U.S. support the right of same-sex couples to civil marriage? What can it mean when the gospels, which are the foundation of our faith and are read over and over, day in and day out, in our liturgies for that reason, say absolutely nothing about same-sex marriage (or homosexuality, for that matter), but say a world of things about love, justice, and mercy?

In short, what are the teachings of the church that Archbishop Nienstedt imagines he must uphold in this and similar cases — if those teachings are not first and foremost the gospels themselves? If those teachings are not the good news of Jesus Christ, on whose basis increasing numbers of Nienstedt's fellow Catholics argue that it is unloving, unjust, and unmerciful to target, persecute, and hound gay human beings, denying to those human beings rights accorded to every other citizen . . . . 

Does Archbishop Nienstedt ever stop and think, I wonder, whether his actions in cases like this actually prevent many of us from responding in any positive way to the "teachings of the church," since those actions very selectively remove from the teachings of the church what is foundational, while keeping what many of us more and more see as incidental — what many of us now regard as just as incidental, just as culturally conditioned, as Christian support for slavery for a millennium and half of the church's history? 

What happens to Catholics when our pastoral leaders insist that they are upholding "the teachings of the church," but their actions are violating the foundational teachings on which everything else depends? How are we to maintain our belief in any of the church's teachings when what is peripheral to the hierarchy of truths on which our faith is based is treated as if it is foundational, while what is foundational is simply ignored or occluded by the actions of our church's pastors?

Where are we to go to find the good news of Jesus Christ, when the church itself — which claims to have preserved and transmitted that good news over the course of Christian history — contradicts the good news, in the view of increasing number of Catholics, in actions taken by its pastors, its "good" shepherds? Where are gay human beings to go to hear the good news of Jesus Christ, and what are they to do, when one action after another by the shepherds of a church claiming to stand for the gospel assaults their human dignity, undermines their human rights, communicates to them that they are second-class human beings, and tells them they are unwelcome and unwanted?

These are questions gay Catholics have lived with for a very long time now. They are questions that grow more acute for us with every passing day, due to the firing of one gay employee after another by Catholic institutions, the firing of people in Catholic institutions who dare to stand in solidarity with us who are gay, the barring of gay people and those who support us from the sacraments, the spying and hounding that uses even the obituaries of our parents as a basis for denying us jobs, the waste of millions of dollars by our pastoral leaders in ugly political campaigns to remove rights from us, etc.

They're questions that grow more and more acute for many non-gay Catholics, too, as they realize that members of their own families are gay, as are friends and co-workers. And that these human beings are anything but the face of evil, despite what the shepherds of the church say about them as premier threats to Christian values and Christian lifestyles . . . .

The price of the ugliness embodied by too many Catholic "good" shepherds toward those who are gay at this point in history is increasingly steep, as more and more Catholics walk away because they can no longer live with the dissonance — with the dissonance between gospel values and the "teachings of the church" as these are selectively mediated to the Catholic community by many of its pastors today. And it will, as Andrew Sullivan underscores in commenting on this latest story from the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese, grow only steeper, as events like this continue to unfold in the Catholic world.

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