Thursday, February 5, 2015

Archbishop Cordileone's New Anti-Gay Handbook for Catholic Schools: A View from the Belly of the (Evangelical) Beast

Because I live in a heavily evangelical part of the country, and grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition, I think that readers of Bilgrimage sometimes forget that my perspective on issues of concern to American Catholics is often not precisely the perspective of many U.S. Catholics — a large percentage of whom live in the northern half of the United States and have little to no familiarity with the evangelical-dominated culture of the bible belt states. I want to issue that proviso as I begin to talk about the story now making the rounds in the Catholic media about Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone's new faculty handbook for Catholic schools in San Francisco, targeting gay folks and those who stand in solidarity with gay folks. 

(Let's not beat around the bush about the abominable document. That's what it is. It is an act of familiar anti-gay belligerence from a belligerent culture-war bishop who was placed in San Francisco by the Vatican because he is belligerent to gay people and those who love gay people. Full stop. Period.)

Dan Morris-Young reported on this story for National Catholic Reporter yesterday. Alan McCornick had already alerted many of us to it at his Hepzibah blog. Francis DeBernardo sums the story up for Bondings 2.0.

In a sense, there's not a whole lot that's new about this story. It's a San Francisco version of what happened in Cincinnati last year, a story that Frank Bruni discussed in this New York Times op-ed piece noting the bullying intent of a multi-page faculty contract for Catholic school employees in that diocese which promised to punish anyone who whispered even a tiny bit of support for gay family members on social media, and which played the sleight-of-hand trick of turning anyone, including janitors and cooks, working for Catholic schools into "ministers" who are bound by the dictates of Catholic teaching. 

All of this is in the new Cordileone handbook in San Francisco, too. What's novel about this story, I suppose, is that it's San Francisco. It's a city regarded as a gay mecca with a large, influential gay community.

And so the Catholic hierarchy in persona Mr. Cordileone is coming out fighting with this handbook, signaling its intent to ramp up the culture-war attacks on gay people and gay rights, and let the consequences be damned. Pope Francis, my foot, in other words.

Here's what makes it rather hard for me to write about this story with any passion: I live in a part of the nation in which the very same dynamics are at play now, though they're not coming from the Catholic hierarchy, which has almost zero influence in my culture. They're coming from the evangelical mainstream that controls almost everything which happens culturally and, to a great extent, politically in my state.

Where Catholicism was once thought of as some kind of viable alternative to right-wing evangelical culture, especially for sensitive-intellectual types like me who may or may not have been conscious of the specifically gay appeal of its liturgical and artistic culture when we were attracted to the Catholic church, it's now a mirror image of the beast breathing down our necks through the anti-gay evangelical culture that controls our governors' mansions and legislatures. 

It has little to no influence in places like Arkansas. But it's allied with those who have dominant influence in our culture and politics, especially in the ugly, harmful, downright sinful attacks on gay people that are now proliferating politically all over the U.S. — and especially in states like Arkansas. Where the state Supreme court has just once again deferred any ruling on the stay it placed on same-sex marriage last May, leaving many citizens of the state, my husband and me included, in a painful legal limbo as we try to plan our lives, to live our lives.

As Max Brantley writes in the piece I've just linked, 

This is, from a layman's view, unconscionable. This case was heard on an expedited basis and decided at conference Nov. 20, with the opinion assigned to a justice on the prevailing side. There can be no doubt now that a faction on the court is attempting to string this case out as long as possible . . . .

The message of the protracted stringing out of this case: gay lives decidedly do not count. Not in Arkansas. Go someplace else if you don't like it. This is bible land, and we can do whatever we want with your lives, when you're a tiny, powerless minority condemned by the churches that rule the roost here. 

I live in a place where a state senator, in the now GOP-controlled state legislature, has just introduced legislation that would prohibit any municipality in the state from passing laws protecting LGBT citizens from discrimination. This past December, a church-spearheaded (and Duggar-family-hyped) initiative voted down a measure in our university city of Fayetteville affording such protection to LGBT citizens. The current legislation will, if enacted, assure that no other city in the state ever tries what Fayetteville tried with its ordinance protecting LGBT people from discrimination.

I live in a state in which a state representative has just filed a bill calling for ample "conscience protections" for people to discriminate against targeted minority groups while claiming religious warrants for the discrimination. In my state of Arkansas, a big controversy has just taken place about the funeral of an openly gay man, James Stone, married to another man, Jay Hoskins. It was initially reported that the evangelical church to which this man's family belongs denied him a funeral. The church in question, the Clarkridge Church of Christ, then denied that this had happened

Jay Hoskins indicates that the church is not being truthful, that it did, in fact, initially refuse his husband a funeral. He states (via JT Eberhard's blog to which the preceding link points), 

I can tell you that there were not only issues having a service for him, but also in so much as that one or more members of the Clarkridge Church of Christ called and “CANCELLED” our family get-together after the service, and that TWO members of the Clarkridge Church of Christ, Jerry and Vicki Oels gave James grieving mother, myself and the preacher a nice big envelope each one filled with over 10 pages of Bible passages condemning us to hell, referencing God’s marriage laws, marriage amongst people and animals, and then a sympathy card.

The local newspaper Baxter Bulletin confirms the report that Jerry and Vicki Oels handed out anti-gay religious material at James Stone's funeral, and that those to whom they gave the material included Stone's mother. 

I live in a place in which "liberals" like the mayor of my city, supposedly a liberal island in the fundamentalist sea of the rest of the state, refuse to stand up to any of this anti-gay faith-based bullying, because, as Max Brantley notes in the article I've just linked, "The accepted wisdom is that the majority of the Arkansas legislature believes in legal discrimination against gay people."

"Liberals" in my state do not, many of us, want to pay a political price for defending an underdog minority group that is relatively powerless and small, and has historically been quite easy to kick around for political reasons. Nor is what is happening in my state right now happening only in Arkansas. It's happening now, after the GOP sweep of the 2014 elections, in Wyoming, in Indiana, in Alabama, Oklahoma: you name it (and see also here). 

And for those of us who happen to be Catholic, as these assaults occur, our family of faith is, quite simply, not a welcoming refuge — not for many of us. It's not a place to find safety from the attacks. It's not a place in which we can find affirmation of our human dignity.

It's precisely the opposite. It is — as Archbishop Cordileone's new faculty handbook in San Francisco illustrates — very much a mirror of the faith-based disdain, the contempt, the stigmatization of our very humanity that we encounter in much of the rest of the culture, where Catholicism doesn't rule the roost. From where I live, in the belly of the beast, it's very hard to write much of anything about what Mr. Cordileone is doing in San Francisco except to say that the behavior of the Catholic hierarchy towards gay human beings at this point in history is deeply sinful.

And any Catholics who excuse this behavior, who go along with it, who do not choose to fight against it in every way possible, are complicit in an ugly sin for which the church will, at some point in the future — if it survives — have to do some serious atoning. That lay Catholics can even continue discussing these issues as if they're debatable, as if there are two sides to abuse of targeted minority groups, and that they cannot begin to use the category of sin to analyze what's happening with initatives like Cordileone's new faculty handbook for Catholic schools, is baffling to me. We are not a conspicuously well-catechized folk, I have to conclude.

The photograph of Archbishop Cordileone is from Wikimedia Commons, and was uploaded there for sharing by its author, whose username is Ffeeddee.

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