Yesterday, I briefly discussed the results of the National Congregations Study's survey released on 11 September, a survey that shows all religious bodies in the U.S. moving in a gay-inclusive direction in recent years except the Catholic church. The survey is receiving wide attention. Its results have been summarized by Cathy Lynn Grossman at the Religion News Service site and at the new CRUX site, and by Michael Paulson for New York Times.
The survey takes the pulse of American religious bodies of all confessional stripes (including non-Christian ones) at regular intervals. The study whose results have just been released is being called "wave III" of these studies. Preceding ones were done in 1998 and 2006. In the period from 2006 to the present, the National Congregations Study finds, as I noted yesterday, that Catholic congregations in the U.S. have moved backwards regarding full inclusion of gay members.
Catholic congregations in which gays have full membership dropped from 74% to 53% from 2006 to the present.* Catholic congregations in which openly gay members can exercise leadership roles dropped in the same time period from 39% to 26%. In the same time frame, the study finds every other religious group in the U.S., from white conservatives, evangelicals, or fundamentalists to black Protestants to white liberals or moderates and, finally, to non-Christians, moving in the opposite direction: toward greater acceptance of those who are gay.
What needs to be noted about the statistics provided by National Congregations Study is that the baseline for full inclusion of gay people was already higher in 2006 for Catholics than was that of all other groups (though this was not the case when the issue was whether openly gay people could exercise leadership roles). Even though the Catholic church in the U.S. is moving backwards on these issues, it still demonstrates a degree of acceptance towards those who are gay that significantly exceeds that demonstrated, per the measures of this study, by white conservatives, evangelicals, and fundamentalists, for instance.
And so I think Jerry Slevin makes an excellent point, one with which I agree, when he states in response to my commentary about the study yesterday that the decreased respect for gay people we see tracked by this survey is emanating quite specifically from "the totalitarian Catholic hierarchical church" and not from Catholic laypeople. Even with that necessary proviso, though, I think it's important to take note of certain trends within American Catholicism at an institutional level in recent years that are undeniable, and which militate strongly against what we're been told by the media is a new "Francis effect" in our church.
If there is a "Francis effect" in the Catholic church as a whole, and if that effect has something to do with growing acceptance and inclusion of those who are gay in the Catholic church, then the American Catholic church appears to be moving backwards — at an institutional level, if not among lay Catholics — in relation to that Francis effect.
As Charles J. Reid** of the University of St. Thomas School of Law points out this past week, when it comes to Catholic schools, the carnage continues: as the headline of his Huffington Post essay about this states, "Catholic schools are still firing gay teachers." If anything, the firing of openly gay employees in Catholic institutions has stepped up at the very moment when we're being told the church is experiencing a "Francis effect" that makes the church more welcoming for those who are gay.
Reid concludes with an appeal to the leaders of the Catholic church in the U.S.:
Over half of American Catholics now support same-sex marriage. Modesty, prudence, the realization that science now counsels acceptance and support of gay relationships, not their suppression, should suggest that these firings must stop. Now. At once.
As this is going on, a highly influential member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, one of its past presidents, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, has just chosen to publish a fire-breathing essay about the human rights of those who are gay which compares laws requiring equal treatment of gay people to Sharia law. George claims that business owners who are being required by law to accord equal treatment of gay patrons are being treated like "Christians and Jews . . . fined for their religion in countries governed by Sharia law."
As Curtis Wong notes for Huffington Post, given that George compared LGBT activists to Klan members a few years ago, his inflammatory statements about Sharia law aren't particularly surprising. Even so, they're troubling for Catholics who would prefer to see Catholic leaders trying to build bridges between their church and a minority community that has traditionally been treated as less than human — not lobbing bombs out of a church envisaged as embattled fortress in the direction of a targeted sector of the human community some church leaders choose to demonize for political reasons.
As the U.S. fall elections near and the Catholic vote will no doubt prove decisive in certain states, George is not the only major culture-warrior among the U.S. bishops to issue a ranting-and-raving statement about gay people and issues recently. A day before the National Congregations Study released its survey results showing the Catholic church in the U.S. heading backwards regarding the full inclusion of gay people in Catholic institutional life, Catholic San Francisco, a publication under the control of the "godfather of prop 8," Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, published an article attacking the organization Faithful America for calling Cordileone to task for his crusades against the rights of gay people. Faithful America had, in particular, criticized Cordileone for participating in the June "March for Marriage" in D.C. organized by the National Organization for Marriage in collaboration with the Family Research Council, an organization that has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The attack of Cordileone's diocesan papear on Faithful America is essentially a scurrilous ad hominem attack that tries to keep revive desperately tired memes of the fortress-church era of American Catholicism, memes that see the secular media and other religious organizations as the enemy out to attack Catholicism for adhering to religious truth patent solely to the anointed leaders of the Catholic church. Faithful America is an advocacy group founded in 2004 by the National Council of Churches, an ecumenical partnership of various Christian faith communities in the U.S. which engages in political lobbying for causes it deems of critical significance to its constituents — just as the U.S. Catholic bishops do, to the tune of millions of dollars annually, with about the same degree of transparency regarding its income and expenditures exhibited by other religious lobbying groups.
Which is to say, without much transparency at all, since religious lobbying groups are not required in the nation with the soul of a church to be transparent about these matters . . . .
Remember that Pew survey in 2013 which finds that 8 in 10 LGBT Americans see the Catholic church as conspicuously unfriendly to those who are gay? Or the Public Religion Research Institute measure this year which discovered that 58% of Americans rank the Catholic church as the religious body most unfriendly to gay folks — that is, as the most unfriendly religious community in the U.S. towards those who are gay?
The snapshot taken by these surveys overlaps with the snapshot taken by the National Congregations Study's survey. Anyone who wants to know why these surveys are generating the finding that the Catholic church is moving backwards regarding full inclusion of gay people and is being seen as egregiously hostile to gay people and gay rights, even when the Catholic church is said to be experiencing a "Francis effect" moving in a different direction, should look at the recent track record of American Catholic institutions vis-a-vis gay employees.
Or at leading lights of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy, including Cardinal Francis George and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, with the wild claims of one of these men that gay folks are akin to Klan members and laws requiring equal treatment of gay folks are like Sharia law, or the mean-spirited attacks of another of these men on an ecumenical organization expressing the support of various U.S. churches for humane treatment of those who are gay.