Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Francis Effect: Putting Rhetoric Together with Reality on Eve of Pope's Visit (2)

Note: this article is part two of a two-part series. The first part of this article is here.

The Francis effect? Anecdote #1: Mark Joseph Stern comments today on last night's GOP debates,

Have you ever wondered what it would sound like if two viciously anti-gay Republican candidates eager to pander to the evangelical base decided to trash the Constitution and the rule of law during a live TV debate? Wonder no more! 

And then he comments on the "completely insane" rants of Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal in support of Kim Davis. Two viciously anti-gay Catholic Republican candidates eager to pander to the evangelical base who trashed the Constitution and rule of law last night. Who were then countered by another Catholic candidate, George Pataki.

Where's the Francis effect for Santorum and Jindal and U.S. Catholics who stand with them?

The Francis effect? Anecdote #2: In a recent New York Times article, Vivian Yee quotes SNAP leader Barbara Blaine:

"I think the time for lofty words has kind of passed," said Barbara Blaine, the president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a victims' advocacy group that is planning events in a dozen cities to highlight the issue during the pope's visit. 
She added: "He’s going to be addressing the man-made problems that contribute to global warming and the destruction of the earth. What about the man-made problem of destroying the innocence and the lives of so many?"

The article features the testimony of Milwaukee abuse survivor Dan Ogrodowski, who was raped by his parish priest when he was an altar boy and has recently decided to speak out about his experiences as the papal visit nears. Ogrodowski says,

Pope Francis said these beautiful words about reparations and weeping for us. How could he watch us be pummeled for years?

Where's the Francis effect for Dan Ogrodowski and other survivors of childhood sexual abuse by Catholic pastors

The Francis effect? Anecdote #3: In a Religion News Service article two days ago, Susan Miller testifies that, after a new authoritarian and eminently unpastoral priest took over her parish, which had formerly been a vibrant, socially engaged parish, she and other Catholics have walked away and are now "homeless." She writes, 

I would sometimes attend Mass with my elderly parents at their church of 50 years and watched as they became disheartened by the dark turn at their parish. The weekly bulletin, a place normally reserved for prayers for the sick and mention of bake sales, became filled with rants by the pastor who railed against homosexuality, the media, anything Democratic. 
In the run-up to the 2008 election, there was so much vitriol against Barack Obama, that my mother, then 89, decided to confront the priest in the confessional. "You didn’t confess that you voted for Obama?" I asked. No, she said, and explained how she told the priest all of the good things Obama had done. 
Sadly, six years later my progressive parish would take a similar path. Programs were dismantled; authoritarian sermons thundered; people were chided for talking before Mass; intolerance hung in the air. It became a gutted and empty place, and I finally had to leave.

Where's the Francis effect for the many lay Catholics (and they're not small in number) who are being turned from their practice of Catholic faith and run away from their parishes by pastors who betray everything that sound, good shepherding is all about? Where's the Francis effect for the many Catholics who have been and continue to be alienated by the choice of many of the current pastoral leaders of the U.S. Catholic church to beat a politically partisan culture-war drum that encourages attacks on LGBT people and those who vote Democratic? 

The Francis effect? Anecdote #4:  In a Huffington Post essay two days ago, Mary Pflum Peterson offers testimony about her experience growing up in a Catholic parish in Wisconsin in the 1980s. She indicates that her family was considered a model Catholic family, until her father announced he was gay and left the family. Her mother, an ex-nun, applied for an annulment, having to grovel to get it. As this was going on in her family life, Mary was tormented by her religion teacher in a Catholic school, who asked if she understood the sanctity of marriage. When her mother got the annulment, another religion teacher informed her that this meant she and her siblings were illegitimate.

Where's the Francis effect for the many Catholics who have been actively wounded by unmerciful, dogmatic, rigid Catholic institutions that have, under the previous two popes, claimed to be acting with the approval of the highest pastoral authorities in the church as they were hurting people like Peterson? Where is the Francis effect for those powerful voices in the U.S. Catholic church (can anyone say Cardinal Burke or Archbishop Cordileone or Archbishop Chaput?) who want this unmerciful, rigid, pastorally repulsive church to remain just the way it is?

The Francis effect? Anecdote #5: Having published articles 1) supporting the U.S. Catholic bishops' "religious freedom" initiative, which many LGBT Catholics saw from the outset to be in large part an attack on LGBT human beings, and 2) about the jailing of Kim Davis in Kentucky after she claimed a "religious freedom" warrant for refusing to respect the rights of LGBT human beings seeking her services as a public official, leading U.S. Catholic publications have fallen absolutely silent now that Ms. Davis has been released from jail.

Not a word about her release from jail in these publications that had freely discussed her jailing. Nada. Zilch. Not a word about her dramatic "Eye of the Tiger" "religious freedom" performance as the left the jail. Not a word about her media interview when she returned to "work" this week, in which she stated that she would continue to defy a Supreme Court ruling because she answers to another, higher authority. 

Not a word about the fact that LGBT citizens of the U.S. and LGBT Catholics continue to follow this story with serious interest, because it — the entire faux narrative of "religious freedom" as the right to deny goods and services to LGBT people in the name of religion, as it has been crafted by the U.S. Catholic bishops in collusion with the evangelical right — radically affects our lives.

And so the haughty refusal (as it appears to me) of the mainstream Catholic media now to follow up with reports about Ms. Davis's release from jail, after those same media freely discussed her jailing, sends the following message to LGBT Catholics: you and your interests don't count for us. When we talk about the marginalized, the oppressed, we don't mean you.

We mean the really marginalized and oppressed, those really denied human rights, those really denied a voice in the corridors of power (and in the Catholic church and its institutions, including its media). We don't mean you. Stop bothering us with your insistent demands that we talk about your issues.

We want to talk about Catholic issues. We want to talk about the Francis effect.

Where's the Francis effect for LGBT Catholics? Where's the willingness of the major Catholic publications, the leading centrist Catholic publications in the U.S., to take Catholic ownership for Kim Davis and her attack on LGBT people? Where's their willingness to admit that, in defending the U.S. Catholic bishops' politically partisan faux "religious liberty" initiative that has been, to a substantial degree, an attack on LGBT people and their rights, they are complicit in the sordid Kim Davis drama?

And that these centrist Catholic publications have effectively ended up standing with Rick Santorum (!) and Bobby Jindal (!!) rather than with their LGBT brothers and sisters . . . .

(And, of course, where's the Francis effect for women in the Catholic church? I'll no doubt be adding more anecdotes to ask that question in a focused way in the next several days. These are merely the ancecdotes that have caught my eyes in the last two or three days.

For part three of this series, see here.)

The photo of Pope Francis on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, 28 January 2014, is by Stefano Spaziani.

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