Wednesday, September 17, 2014

As Synod on Family Nears, Calls for "Rectifying" Treatment of Gays by Catholic Institutions, Calls for "Listening": Rectified How? Listening When and Where?

And more about a theme I'm discussing today — the hunger of many Catholics for authentic dialogue about the issues to be discussed at the synod on the family. There is, I maintain, a pronounced hunger among Catholics in many parts of the world for dialogue that moves the discussion of the issues on which the synod of the family will focus beyond mere talk to meaningful action. And for dialogue that permits the contributions of those about whom the synod participants will be talking as they issue their definitions of and statements about the family . . . . 

At the Bondings 2.0 site, Frank Shine of New Ways Ministry reports on a meeting he had with Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley at the launch of the new Boston Globe Crux project recently. Shine writes,

I pointed out that it has been hard to convince LGBT Catholics and their allies of this love [i.e., the love of Catholic leaders for those who are gay] when so many church workers have had LGBT-related employment disputes with Catholic schools and parishes. Responding to my comment, Cardinal O’Malley said this trend was a situation that "needs to be rectified."

To which I think it's very important that we respond: Rectified how? When?

In the past few years alone, firing of openly gay employees in Catholic institutions has become epidemic. The circumstances under which people are being fired, as fellow Catholics spy on obituaries, mortgage notices, notices of impending marriages, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, etc., are deplorable. They suggest a kind of deep corruption within an institution that emboldens and listens to such spies, and then acts on their reports.

It is, as Frank Shine says, rather difficult to convince people they're being loved when their jobs are taken from them on the basis of such ethically dubious maneuvers, when their livelihood is suddenly removed from them, when the people who depend on them are affected by that loss of livelihood of their caregiver. It's difficult to convince people that they're being loved when their access to health insurance is snatched away, their reputations and careers destroyed, their ability to find subsequent employment hindered by the stinky way in which they've been fired by a Catholic institution.

It's certainly difficult to convince people to believe that those who preside at the eucharistic table and invite us to recognize that we're being offered the bread of life there really believe what they're proclaiming, when they can yank away fellow Catholics' daily bread at a moment's notice, with no explanation, yank away their salaries, their health insurance, their reputations and careers, their ability to provide for people who depend on them, while they themselves never suffer any of this. Since they have golden safety nets built into their lives as Catholic clerics and religious . . . . 

And so I ask again:

Rectified how? When?

For some of us who are gay and Catholic, the experience of being cast into the outer darkness has gone on for years now. Many of those making apologies for the church's behavior, including not a few of those advocating for better treatment of gay Catholics, like to pretend that there has only been abusive treatment of gay Catholics employed by Catholic institutions since some states have permitted same-sex couples to marry.

This apologetic disguises the reality of the situation: gay Catholics have been fired by Catholic institutions for many years solely because they are gay. Though many Catholic institutions have for years now provided specious reasons for firing gay employees in order to avoid media attention or litigation, it has been evident to many observers with any critical acumen at all that many Catholic institutions routinely deal with gay employees in an exceptionally abusive way, and that this accounts for the choice of many gay employees of Catholic institutions to remain closeted. It has long been evident to those with any critical acumen at all that the jobs or ministerial positions of gay Catholics are precarious precisely because they are gay.

How and when will the damage done to one Catholic life after another — to the vocations and reputations of gay Catholics treated abusively by Catholic institutions for years now — be "rectified"? When Catholic institutions that destroy gay lives have never, in my experience, been willing to admit that they are responsible for the havoc they wreak in those lives? When they cannot even say they are sorry for the damage they have caused to many gay Catholics?

And when many groups within the Catholic church working for respectful treatment of gay Catholics refuse to support those who speak out after they have experienced abuse at the hands of Catholic institutions, but prefer, instead, to suggest that these fellow Catholics might not have been treated so harshly if they had played the game better, muted their voice a little bit, made more friends in high places in the church?

A related statement, also from Bondings 2.0 last month: Francis DeBernardo cites Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, the retired archbishop of São Paulo, Brazil, who states in a newspaper inteview

I think we have to get together, listen to the people, those who are involved in the issue [i.e., to gay Catholics]. It is the Church that must indicate the paths, and there must be way for everyone.

And, once again, I ask:

Listen where? How? When?

I've called for years now for the pastoral leaders of my Catholic church to create some kind of official listening spaces for the voice of gay Catholics to be heard. I've seen absolutely no steps in that direction. 

I hear no one in the hierarchy listening at all to such appeals.

And so to return to that National Congregations Study's results that I discussed several days ago: they show that, in the period from 2006 to the present, the Catholic church in the U.S. has moved backwards regarding full inclusion of gay members — from 74% to 53%. According to Frances DeBernardo, the latest findings demonstrate that "Catholics still are more accepting [in Wave III of the survey] than all other Christian denominations surveyed." 

However, if the charts provided by Cathy Lynn Grossman in her Religion News Service article reporting on this survey are accurate (and I'm confident they are), it's not quite correct to say that Catholics still top the list of religious bodies, when it comes to full inclusion of gay people in churches. In 2006, Catholics did have an edge, with the figure of 74%, which exceeded the figure for any other religious group.

In the latest findings of this survey, however, the 53% inclusion rate for Catholics is topped by the 62% inclusion rate of black Protestant churches and the 76% inclusion rate of white liberal or moderate churches — not to mention the 81% inclusion rate of non-Christian religious bodies that participated in this survey. Perhaps Francis DeBernardo means to say that the Catholic church's rate of inclusion of gay members exceeds that of any other individual church, since the breakdown of data provided by National Congregations Study lumps black Protestants together as a group, as it does liberal/moderate white Christians.

Otherwise, this survey seems to provide very clear evidence that, vis-a-vis all other religious groups in the country, the Catholic church stands out in its determination to move backwards on the issue of including gay people in the past decade or so. And that it is no longer the most gay-inclusive religious group in the country, having lost that edge to black Protestants and white liberal/moderate Christians.

Yes, we do need to talk. We need to do so now.

But we need to do so honestly, and rather more inclusively than even many of our liberal or progressive Catholic discussion boards and dialogue spaces permit.

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