Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pope Francis on "Unusual" Situation of Catholic Families with Gay Children: Some Reflections

At the Backlot, Ed Kennedy responds to Pope Francis's recent interview with Argentinian journalist Elizabeth Piqué in La Nación. When Piqué notes that the synod on the family stirred controversy by mentioning gay couples in its first draft, Francis replies:

The synod was a process; the opinion of a synodal father was just that, the opinion of a synodal father; and a first draft was merely a first draft meant to record it all. Nobody mentioned homosexual marriage at the synod, it did not cross our minds. What we did talk about was of how a family with a homosexual child, whether a son or a daughter, goes about educating that child, how the family bears up, how to help that family to deal with that somewhat unusual situation. That is to say, the synod addressed the family and the homosexual persons in relation to their families, because we come across this reality all the time in the confessional: a father and a mother whose son or daughter is in that situation. This happened to me several times in Buenos Aires. We have to find a way to help that father or that mother to stand by their son or daughter. That´s what the synod addressed. That´s why someone mentioned positive factors in the first draft. But this was just a draft.

Taking his cue from the pope's statement that it's a "somewhat unusual situation" for a family to deal with having a gay son or daughter, Ed Kennedy responds:

It’s not an unusual situation. Heck, from all reports, it’s not even an unusual situation in the priesthood, especially in Ireland with all the priests hanging out at gay bars, or northern Italy where the Pope has had to send an investigator to look into stories of sex clubs and gay prostitution rings.

He's right, of course. The reference to Irish priests and gay bars is a reference to John Weafer's new book about Irish priests, Thirty-Three Good Men: Celibacy, Obedience and Identity. As Antonia Blumberg notes, the book suggests that there are "quite a lot of gay guys in the priesthood" in Ireland, and there's an active "clerical gay scene." The reference to Italian priests refers to a report that Pope Francis has called for investigation of the northern Italian diocese of Albenga-Imperia, where "playboy priests" are alleged to have posed nude on gay websites.

I applaud Pope Francis for asking the pastors of the church to reflect on the pastoral challenges that Catholic families with gay sons and daughters meet. At the same time, I think his observations about these challenges will strike many Catholics who happen to live in the real world — the real world of the 21st century in the developed sectors of the planet — as more than a little dated.

As a pastor in the huge metropolis of Buenos Aires, he met the issue of Catholic families struggling with gay children only "several times" in the confessional? For many of us who are Catholic and gay and who have gone on living our lives of Christian discipleship while the fathers of our church have either pretended we're just not there or have attacked and castigated us, these strange observations about Catholic families struggling with "homosexual" children, who pop up every now and again in very "unusual" situations, will simply seem beside the point.

Too little. Too late. Many of us, including our families, are far beyond the early 20th-century cultural point referenced by the pope's comments. We've had no choice except to live into a future that, for us, has long already been present, but which still seems unthinkable to the pastors of our church, as they haggle about "homosexuals" and "welcome" and how families struggle to "bear up" with the "unusual" challenge of having gay children. And isn't it a colossal pity that what we and our families have learned through graced experience on our faith journeys is nowhere in sight, as this haggling and these discussions take place at the top levels of the church?

It's almost as if we who are gay still don't quite exist for the men running the church — except as "those people," the "homosexuals," who present such an "unusual" challenge to the church by their very existence. It's almost as if our lives of Christian discipleship, our graced experience as followers of Jesus, counts for nothing for the men running the church.

Though, among those men, there are many of these "unusual" people.

(For a footnote to this posting, please see this later one.)

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