More on the SNAP conference this past weekend: for me personally, the conference made a big impact in a way that’s not really easy to explain. I suppose the best way to aim at explanation is to say that listening to people who have had no option except to give up on the churches – meeting many such folks in such a concentrated group – has set my heart at ease about the similar movement of my own religious and spiritual life.
What makes this a difficult matter for me to explain is that, along with many of the people I met at the SNAP conference and to whom I listened carefully, I didn't really choose this option. Like them, when I experienced my own tiny Waterloo of abuse and betrayal at the hands of the Catholic religious leaders who cruelly destroyed my career as a theologian in the early 1990s, I very naively believed that I was dealing with a few bad apples.
I confidently turned to the abbot of the very Benedictine monastery that was destroying my theological vocation, and asked for a hearing. I sought his pastoral advice. Only to find that he slammed the door in my face and informed me in no uncertain terms that he would not talk to me . . . .
I turned to the bishop of the diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina, and had the very same thing happen to me. I made a retreat at the Trappist monastery in South Carolina and asked the abbot of that monastery, who had been highly recommended to me as a pastorally sensitive person, for spiritual counsel.
He agreed to provide it. I then came home from the retreat, wrote him a thank-you letter expanding on what I had told him face to face about my anguish at what was happening to me, to a vocation-career for which I had worked long and hard and sacrificed much. I never heard a single word from this abbot again.
I did not choose to have doors slammed in my face. I did not choose to have my career as a Catholic theologian callously destroyed by monks and bishops who natter on about social justice and human rights, while leading lives of complete comfort and security as they blithely take bread from the mouths of lay employees of their Catholic institutions, removing healthcare coverage from them, refusing to disclose any reason for doing this, and thereby making it impossible for those hapless human beings to find subsequent employment in Catholic institutions.
As I say, I feel a certain kind of deep-seated ease in my soul after having attended the SNAP conference, and having realized all over again – this time existentially rather than via books and articles, through human contact with others who have suffered far more than I have at the hands of church leaders – how many of us are in this same boat at this point in the history of the churches.
I frankly do not want to be any place else now. This does not mean that I celebrate having had my livelihood removed from me, my career destroyed, my healthcare coverage taken away from me, having vicious lies told about me and smear campaigns mounted against me.
What it means is that, if the price of having those "luxuries" is for me to have continued pretending that the men doing these things to me stand for the essence of the Christian (or Catholic) faith, then I am not willing to pay that price. They have betrayed the very core of the gospel – no matter how much they continue to claim that they and they alone unilaterally represent authentic Christianity, authentic Catholicism, at this moment in the history of the church.
Last Friday in his remarks to SNAP leaders, Peter Isely said something that struck home for me: He said that abuse survivors have been treated by church leaders as the garbage of the church. The system was confident it could spew survivors out as so much garbage.
And yet garbage is, he reminded us, more ambivalent, more complex that the simplistic hopes of church leaders to be rid of survivors by turning them into garbage suggests. In the first place, by treating so many human beings as human garbage to be processed out of the Catholic system, Catholic leaders have created a tremendous problem for themselves: They now have to confront on an ongoing basis the very pile (a constantly increasing one) of human garbage that that they had hoped to rid themselves of when they chose to pretend that these human beings are garbage.
As Peter also noted, garbage is valuable. For instance, it's the "garbage" of dreams that alerts us to what we fail to see clearly with our conscious minds on any given day. If we choose to pay careful attention to our dreams, we often find ourselves receiving life-changing messages that come from a place inside ourselves which sees with a clarity our conscious mind lacks.
I did not choose to be turned into the church's garbage, along with so many others who have suffered a form of abuse far more deadly and painful than that dished out to me as a gay theologian. But this is what has happened to me and to others.
And I honestly can see no other place to stand today, as someone connected in any tenuous way to the Christian, the Catholic, tradition. Because the "official" place occupied by those doing this to other human beings while claiming to represent "authentic" Christianity, authentic Catholicism: that’s a place I can't possibly want to stand while claiming that I value Jesus, the gospels, the very foundation on which the church rests if the church expects to have any validity at all.