Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Story from My Own Backyard: Arkansas Priest Removed from Ministry Due to "Multiple Acts of Sexual Misconduct" Is Outspoken Opponent of Gay Marriage

A disclaimer: I do not know Father James Melnick. I seem to have heard the name, but on the far margins to which our Catholic church has relegated us, Steve and I have little contact with the local institution. It is hard for a church to make anyone more unwelcome than to take away their livelihood and destroy their vocations (in our case, as Catholic theologians), while refusing to provide any reason for doing this (in my case) or providing specious, dishonest reasons (in Steve's case).

It is hard to make people more unwelcome in your church than to proclaim that you love and accept everyone and respect the human rights of everyone, while you remove the daily bread from the mouths of a targeted minority group, blocking their ministries and vocations, expelling them from community, tarnishing their reputations, all while you, when you are a priest or a religious engaging in this reprehensible behavior, have the assurance of daily bread for yourself, of a job, a good reputation, a welcome to engage in ministry in the church. And when your theological educations were paid for by your diocese or religious community, while those of the lay theologians you are treating so unjustly were bought by great sacrifice and hard work — and you were assured of a job, as a priest or religious, the moment you finished your graduate education. Unlike those lay theologians.

As I say, from the margins to which Steve and I have been relegated as Catholic theologians, I don't hear much about what's going on in our local Catholic community. So I know nothing about Father James Melnick other than what is being reported in the local media and in this statement by Bishop Anthony Taylor last weekend.

I do not presume to judge James Melnick. I have no window into his soul. Judgment of people's souls belongs to God alone.

But I do have some questions after I've read Bishop Taylor's statement, which states that he has just removed Father Melnick from ministry after he was able to "verify multiple acts of sexual misconduct with multiple adult victims during the period of less than a year." In particular, I have questions about what can possibly be going through the mind of a priest who engages in "multiple acts of sexual misconduct with multiple adult victims" when, at the very same time those acts of misconduct are taking place, he publishes a statement attacking (and here) the right of his fellow human beings who happen to have been made gay by God to enjoy the same privileges others may enjoy through civil marriage.

How do you put the two together, I wonder — the glaring discrepancy between your own lived experience and what you profess as a Catholic ideal, and your assertion that a vulnerable minority group you've chosen to target simply has no claim to a right you freely grant to the rest of the human community? How do you proclaim that you're all about the "new evangelization" and Catholic truth (truth no other church possesses, you insist), when your own life is, not to put the point too bluntly, something of a public lie? And when you inform people that permitting same-sex couples to marry will lead to polyamorism?

And when you say that infertile heterosexual couples should be allowed to marry while you bar same-sex couples from the very same right on the ground that they are non-procreative, because, as you maintain, those infertile heterosexual couples might have children down the road? Even if they're 85 and 90 years old?! Or have impediments to fertility that cannot be medically reversed? 

How can you possibly write with a straight face, "Fertility is not a requirement for marriage, but being able to engage in the marital act, consummating the marriage through sex, is"? With a college education and advanced degrees in the field of theology, can you really be completely unaware that there are, indeed, heterosexual couples who cannot "engage in the marital act"? How can you be so spectacularly misinformed, when you have studied "marriage and the family" (!) at the prestigious Pontifical North American College in Rome and at the John Paul II Institute? 

As I think about all of this, I cannot avoid concluding, all over again, that there is a deep sickness in the Catholic psyche, in the Catholic soul, around issues of human sexuality. This sickness leads to intellectual chaos when issues of human sexuality are under discussion.

But it also leads to an astonishing moral blindness that permits far too many Catholics to imagine that they can dispense from the most elementary forms of kindness and fairness, as they deal with their fellow human beings who are gay. Because the leaders of the Catholic institution have, for too long now, allowed many Catholics to imagine that being gay is the antithesis of being Catholic, too many Catholics imagine that, in dealing with those who are gay, they are confronting some subhuman other. The enemy . . . .

And so they permit themselves to behave towards an other they treat as less than human and as enemy in ways they would not behave towards other human beings. And so they do not see the patent injustice of maintaining that a minority group demanding the same rights all other groups enjoy is threatening the institution of marriage when divorce and serial monogamy (polyamory disguised as marrying one wife after another) are far and away more obvious threats to the institution of marriage than same-sex civil marriage could possibly be— and no church crusade at all is mounted to address the problems of divorce and polyamory disguised as serial monogamy. 

I truly don't get it. I don't get how people can hold together such radically inconsistent ideas, and can lead such double lives, castigating others — castigating a minority group they choose to treat as other — for sins that are apparent in their very own lives. 

As a concluding aside: isn't it interesting that this story about Father James Melnick breaks only one day after Bishop Anthony Taylor asks the state Supreme Court to accept his amicus curiae brief attacking the right of same-sex couples in Arkansas to marry in civil ceremonies? What's that about, I wonder, the synchonicity between these two stories?

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