Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Gay Priest and Gay Former Priest Speak Out: Time for Catholic Leaders to Stop the Gay-Bashing (and Why I Think These Voices Will Not Be Heard)

As I noted here back in May, after Seton Hall University chaplain Father Warren Hall posted a picture on Facebook supporting the NOH8 campaign to challenge bullying of LGBT people, this Catholic school fired him. As the visit of Pope Francis to the U.S. approaches, Father Hall has written an open letter to the pope asking him to meet with and listen to LGBT Catholics on his visit to the U.S.

He writes:

I ask that among all of those [other obligations on this pastoral visit to the U.S.], that you find time to listen to the challenges faced by LGBT people, especially those who are Catholic and wish to remain a part of the Church they have grown up in, which they love, and yet which it seems is alienating them more and more. Good teachers are being fired, pastoral and compassionate priests and religious women are being silenced and accept it out of fear of being disciplined by their superiors, and good, faith-filled people are leaving the Church as they witness all of this happening. As a gay priest, I am personally experiencing all of these things. 

Predictably, as Catholics (and other right-wing Christians) chew this letter over in the commentary following David Gibson's report about it at Religion News Service and at National Catholic Reporter, which is also carrying the report, there's the usual hot and heavy defense of the discriminatory treatment dished out by Catholic pastoral leaders to folks like Hall. Defenders of the institutional homophobia of Catholic leaders maintain that, by publicly identifying himself as gay, a priest "politicizes" his clerical calling, and in that way, lends clerical support to a sinful lifestyle.

When challenged to grant that Catholic leaders treat non-gay employees of Catholic institutions quite differently than they do gay ones — they never fire non-gay employees who are married and using contraceptives, for instance, or who post statements of support for overtly racist political candidates on their Facebook pages — these right-wing apologists for the institution state that the line crossed by people like Father Hall is a line of public revelation of their gay identity and solidarity with the gay community.

Heterosexually married employees of Catholic institutions who are using contraception are ignored by church leaders, given a free pass as they work in Catholic institutions, because they aren't making their contraceptive use public, it's claimed (though it should be easy for Catholic institutions to design for their heterosexual employees the very same kind of intrusive snooping processes they've long employed to hound gay employees and to provide a basis for firing them. There could, for instance, be regular mandatory meetings between administrators of Catholic schools or parishes and heterosexually married employees, to interrogate them about why they have been married ten years and have two children: Are you contracepting? Could you please supply me with a detailed list of your medical prescriptions and pharmaceuticals? Please sign here, on this dotted line, this oath requiring that you support each and every Catholic teaching as a condition for employment in this Catholic school / parish.

Being married ten years and having two children is, after all, rather a public thing, and surely the church has a right to know why, why this married couple of fertile years are not welcoming a gift of God into their family every 1.5 years of the wife's fertile span — every bit as much as it makes it its business to know what the gays are doing in their "private" lives, and why they just don't belong in Catholic institutions because they are not giving public witnesss to the truth of Catholic teaching about sexual morality.)

Obviously, right-wing Catholics defending all of this toxic nonsense simply want gay people, gay priests included, shoved roughly back into the closet, silenced, shamed, not permitted to reveal their identities in Catholic circles in any public way. And obviously, they are not the least bit embarrassed to defend such an ugly, unjust double standard when LGBT people are the object of this double standard, though they'd scream bloody murder if they and their kind were treated in the same discriminatory way.

They've built their faith, their Catholic identity, around belittling, attacking, and gloating about their humiliation of LGBT folks. And they're not about to change anytime soon, Obergefell be damned.

Hurt? You tell me this discrimination, job loss, loss of medical benefits, loss of a vocation in which you can express your talents and interact with other human beings, hurts you? Good! That's what Catholicism means: the right to hurt you and to enjoy your pain.

There's a sizable minority of American Catholics perfectly comfortable with this malicious anti-gospel understanding of their Catholic faith, and they've been egged along for years now by the U.S. bishops and the Vatican in framing their Catholic faith in just this way. And as they've moved the whole church in this anti-gospel direction, they've been silently abetted by many Catholics of the soft center, particularly ones with great influence in the Catholic academy and media, who have refused to open their mouths to speak out against the brutality, so that the Catholic church in the U.S. has now come to be defined by its desire to harm LGBT human beings, in the mind of the American public.

As Father Warren Hall speaks out in his public letter to Pope Francis, a former priest, Bill Dickinson, who left the priesthood last year because he could no longer take the noxious brew of hypocrisy, homophobia, and hatred, is also speaking out publicly. In an article yesterday at Daily Beast, Dickinson states that he has written a letter to 82 U.S. bishops offering his services to them as they might seek to craft a more pastorally sensitive approach to the LGBT community.

One of the 82 bishops chose to acknowledge and reply to Dickinson's letter. His recommendations to the U.S. bishops are similar to ones many of us have offered the pastoral leaders of the church for years now, to which the bishops have always turned a deaf ear as we've spoken out (the following are direct quotes from Dickinson's article, which I've reformatted in bullet-point style):

• Pause the public statements that deny LGBT people’s experience of themselves, that fan the flames of fear regarding religious freedom in America, and that perpetuate misunderstanding.  
• Organize an ad-hoc committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that seeks to understand the LGBT community and persons—hopes, contributions, concerns, and self-identifying language.  
• Revisit the 2006 pastoral document, Ministry to Persons with Homosexual Inclinations, and the Pope John Paul II letter to bishops, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, so as to update recommendations and language. 
• Put in place an education process, through the USCCB, to enable all ecclesial leadership—ordained and lay—to live a life of ministry and/or celibacy with more authenticity and self-acceptance.

Will the U.S. bishops listen carefully now to such sane and pastorally astute recommendations? Obviously not — not if only one of 82 bishops chooses even to acknowledge Dickinson's letter. 

It's altogether too easy to continue with the gay-bashing as long as there's any perceivable return at all for the scapegoating of LGBT people. And as the homophobic responses of many American Catholics to the story of Father Warren Hall, as evidenced in the threads discussing that story to which I point above, suggest, there continues to be a perceivable return for the scapegoating of LGBT people.

For one thing, this scapegoating allows the bishops to fashion a clear, easily controlled definition of Catholic identity around the marginalization of a minority group that has never enjoyed the clout that homophobic people like to attribute to the gay community. For another thing, it has great utilitarian use as a diversionary tool. It deflects attention from the bishops' horrific abdication of pastoral responsibility in the abuse crisis.

If we can still keep dangling before the public the impression that gay men are sexual predators, threats to children, unfit to be leaders in groups like the Boy Scouts, we'll prevent their seeing that the real threat to their children for a long time now has been the very religious leaders in right-wing religious groups scapegoating the gays in this way. Again and again, some of the most outspokenly homophobic pastoral leaders in the Catholic church turn out to have their own gay skeletons in their own gay closets. 

Those skeletons have been in those gay closets even as these bishops have gathered together thousands upon thousands of dollars to attack the gay community and try to convince Catholics to pass laws targeting the gay community as a threat to the well-being of their children. 

It's hard for the bishops to set off on another course now, since this approach has worked for them for quite some time now, and has been congenial to the powerful monied interest groups that have helped to organize the U.S. bishops and the evangelical right as the leaders of the shock troops of the religious right, an integral component of the Republican base now. There's been power and prestige — there's been money — in this alliance, and it's a hard one for the bishops to break, unless they choose to forgo that power, prestige, and money. 

In my experience, the bishops appointed by John Paul II and Benedict XVI aren't the forgoing types, however.

The graph at the head of the posting is from a 2014 Public Religion Research Institute poll which finds that Americans rank the Catholic church as the religious community most unfriendly towards LGBT people of all religious communities in the U.S.

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