In the last several days, I've hashed and rehashed the never-ending discussion about whether gay Catholics feel unwelcome in our church, and if the answer to that question is yes, then the never-ending discussion becomes one about why gay people feel unwelcome in the Catholic church. I've taken repeated notice (and here) of the recent National Congregations Study's just-published findings which show that, in contrast to every other religious group in the U.S. surveyed by the study, the Catholic church is moving backwards when it comes to welcoming and including gay people in its parishes and institutions.
As I've noted, though this survey, which is taken in repeated "waves," found that Catholics topped the list of U.S. religious groups welcoming and including gay people in 2006, in its latest "third wave" study, it finds that the Catholic community (with a 53% inclusion rate, down from 74% in 2006) has now been overtaken by black Protestants (62% inclusion rate), liberal/moderate white Christians (76% inclusion rate), and non-Christian faith communities (81% inclusion rate) in its welcome and inclusion of gay people.
As I've also noted (see the first link above), the recent findings of the National Congregations Study should come as no surprise to us, when a Pew survey found last year that 8 in 10 LGBT Americans see the Catholic church as particularly unfriendly to them, and when a Public Religion Research Institute study this year documented that 58% of Americans rank the Catholic church as the religious body most unfriendly to the gay community — that is, the religious community more unfriendly to gay people than any other in the U.S.
Hence my impatient use of the phrase "never-ending discussion" at the top of this posting: you'd think that, by now, we'd have accumulated enough evidence that there's a serious problem regarding how the Catholic church is perceived by gay people and the public at large, vis-a-vis its treatment of gay people, that we could lay to rest the first part of this discussion: do gay people, in fact, feel unwanted by the Catholic church? And yet the discussion goes on and on, even after the news has been (and here) full of stories in the past several years about the unjust firing of one gay employee of a Catholic institution after another, about gay children barred from communion at their mother's funerals, about gay ministers removed from ministry in Catholic churches, about parents of gay children who cannot in conscience sign contracts as teachers in Catholic schools when those contracts attack their children, about teachers fired from Catholic schools for supporting gay rights, about teens denied confirmation (and their families denied communion) for supporting gay rights, etc.
We're still having discussions about whether gay people feel unwelcome in the Catholic church in the U.S. despite the abundant evidence — despite the abundant firsthand testimony — which tells us that there's a serious problem with the Catholic church and gay people, and despite the repeated news stories to which I point in the previous paragraph, which demonstrate that gay employees of Catholic institutions are being singled out for abusive treatment not dished out to any other group working for these institutions.
And so the discussion continues — e.g., in this article by Michael O'Loughlin published just yesterday at the new CRUX site of the Boston Globe. The article is entitled "Gay Catholics: Welcome in the Church or Not?" The discussion of whether gay people feel unwelcome in the Catholic church continues, I'd propose, for the following reasons:
1. Many American Catholics continue to think in tribalistic terms, and continue to discount the firsthand testimony of those who raise searching, probing critical questions about how the Catholic church treats gay people, because that testimony comes from those they have chosen to place beyond their tribal boundaries.
2. It comes, in the view of these tribalistic Catholics, from people out to get the church, from its enemies — even when many of those offering probing critical testimony that the church needs to hear, if it intends to take seriously any discussion of why it appears unwelcoming to gay folks, comes from gay Catholics themselves. Or from former Catholics, or alienated Catholics, or non-Catholics . . . .
3. Due to the strong centripetal impulse created within American Catholic culture and its institutions by tribalism, there is a notable unwillingness in the Catholic community to listen to any voices other than tribally "accredited" ones. And so the conversation about these issues is extremely limited, extremely managed (from above) because the number of voices permitted into the official dialogue spaces of American Catholicism (such as they exist) to discuss these issues is very limited.
4. It's limited by those who manage these dialogue spaces. It's limited by the refusal of even "liberal" Catholic newspapers in the U.S. to hire openly gay writers, thereby providing openly gay Catholics a seat at the table as gay lives are dissected under the microscope of Catholic moral analysis. It's limited by the refusal of Catholic theology departments to hire openly gay Catholic theologians.
5. It's limited also by "progressive" Catholic groups working for full inclusion of gay people in the Catholic community, who are capable of the very same tribalistic behavior exhibited by other Catholics, and who find it very easy to treat some openly gay Catholics as enemies of the church, and therefore to rule out their testimony as testimony proceeding from those out to get the church.
We keep having the futile, going-nowhere conversation about whether gay people feel unwelcome in the Catholic church because we're skilled at playing tribalistic games, in other words. We're skilled at reading people out of our conversations, out of our communities, on tribalistic grounds.
We're skilled at pretending that some people, even fellow Catholics, are "enemies" of the church, and at pretending that what they have to contribute to significant public dialogues about Catholic teaching and values doesn't count because it comes from a negative, anti-tribe place. We're skilled at managing our conversations so that only tribally "accredited" voices are heard, and at pretending that these conversations are inclusive, open, wide-ranging, even when the tight managerial parameters encircling these conversations are crystal-clear to any unbiased observer.
And so where has this brought us, this refusal to have honest and really inclusive conversations about the obvious serious problem our Catholic community has, when it comes to welcoming gay people? On Wednesday, I noted Brian Cahill's recent essay in National Catholic Reporter arguing that many younger Catholics are walking away from the Catholic church because of "the failure to address the child abuse scandal, the harsh opposition to civil gay marriage, the cluelessness of church teaching on contraception, and the refusal to consider women priests."
Today, at his SLOG site, Dan Savage takes a look at Brian Cahill's essay. Savage juxtaposes Cahill's analyiss of why younger Catholics are walking away in droves with the story I discussed yesterday, about a group of well-dressed Catholic 20-somethings in Philadelphia who went out for a night on the town recently and happened to decide, as they were making merry, to bash in the heads of two gay men they encountered as they were making merry. Such merriment!
I say "well-dressed Catholic 20-somethings" because, as Dan Savage points out, news sources like NBC Philadelphia (video link) are reporting that the suspects in this brutal gay-bashing incident "were classmates at Archbishop Wood Catholic High School." And it's already known that at least one of those involved in this attack on two gay men was a coach at Archbishop Wood, as well as a graduate of this Catholic high school.
Dan Savage notes that Archbishop Wood has released a statement saying that the actions of the gang of twelve graduates of a Catholic high school who smashed in the heads of two gay men on a Philadelphia street on 11 September do not accurately reflect Catholic values. Savage responds:
The actions of those who took part in this attack on a gay couple aren't an "accurate reflection" of Catholic values?
Because American Catholic bishops attack gay couples all the time. They don't attack them physically, of course; bishops aren't beating up gay couples in the streets. But Catholic bishops do real violence and real harm to gay couples whenever and wherever they can: economic violence, social violence, spiritual violence. And the Catholic Church doesn't limit its attack on gay couples to the those who work in its schools; the church attacks gay couples who aren't Catholic when it fights marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples. So should it come as a surprise that young Catholic adults who approve of their church's attacks on gay couples—adults who haven't abandoned the church, adults who've returned to their Catholic high schools to work—may have found a justification for doing physical violence to gay couples in their church's more abstract, arms-length acts of economic, social, and spiritual violence? I don't think so.
The Catholic Church has spent the last 30 years arguing that LGBT people who want full civil equality are attacking Catholics—that gay people, simply by existing, are doing violence to Catholics—and then they pretend to be shocked when Catholic young adults attack gay couples in the streets.
We shouldn't pretend along with them.
And I agree. As Dan Savage notes, when we read stories like this, do we really need to keep asking why younger Catholics are walking away from the church as fast as their feet can carry them? And I'd add, Do we really need to keep asking whether gay people feel unwelcome in the Catholic church?
Neither pretending nor mean, exclusive tribalistic reflex reactions that turn valuable critical voices into pretend enemies of the church has gotten us very far down any road worth walking down, when it comes to these issues. Has it?