Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Rest of the Story at Belmont Abbey College: Aftermath to the Destruction of Two Careers (Claims That the College's Catholicity Had Waned, Reassertion of Direct Monastic Control)

And then down the road, this happened at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina after that college and the monastery that owns it shattered my vocation as a Catholic theologian:

1. Though the abbot who had refused ever to meet with me as I was deliberating about whether to resign my position after I was given a terminal contract and lied to about it told me he never involved himself in the affairs of the college, when the board fired the president who gave me the terminal contract, the abbot took over as president of the school.

2. As he did so, he gave an interview to a local reporter in which he said that the Catholicity of the college had been endangered due to the increased number of lay faculty teaching at the college. 

3. He announced he intended to restore the college's supposedly waning Catholicity (no evidence was ever provided for the claim that the college's Catholicity had begun to wane due to lay faculty, and the college had for quite a long time had a large percentage of lay faculty members, since the monastic community is tiny and few of its members have terminal degrees in academic fields).

4. As president, he revoked a post-Vatican II arrangement that gave the college autonomy — on paper, at least — from the monastery and its control, and placed the college back under the direct control of the monastery, which owns (and has always, in fact, controlled) the college.

5. No one who worked at Belmont Abbey in those years had ever been in any doubt about the fact that the monastery controlled the college that it owns, and that the abbot was the ultimate authority in both the monastic community and the college, despite the pretense of Abbot Oscar that he was uninvolved in college matters when I asked to meet with him.

6. The abbot also staged what was regarded in the gay community of Charlotte as a purge of gay faculty and staff. I have a letter attesting to this from an alumnus of the college who resigned from the Benedictine Oblates of Belmont Abbey when this happened, and wrote the monastery to protest the purge, sending me a copy of his letter. A slew of faculty and staff thought to be gay were fired with claims that the college was in financial crisis.

7. The summer after these firings occurred, the abbot-president found thousands of dollars to repave the parking lots at the college and spiff up its buildings.

8. The abbot then brought in as the next president the brother-in-law of the monastery's sub-prior Placid Solari, who subsequently became (and continues to be) abbot of the monastery. 

9. One of the complaints aired against Steve and me at the time I was given a terminal contract was that, because we appeared to have a relationship of some sort, we should not both be working at the same college. There were several married (heterosexual) couples working at the college at the time we were there, and it appeared to be no problem at all to the movers and shakers at the college when the sub-prior's (and then abbot's) brother-in-law was made president.

10. And from that point forward, there was no longer any pretense about the fact that the abbot controls the college in a very direct way, and no pretense about the academic freedom of the faculty, though faculty continue to enjoy academic freedom on paper, at least, as its accrediting body, SACS, which wouldn't dream of censuring a church-based college for violating the academic freedom of faculty members (especially one with very wealthy and powerful benefactors), looks the other way.

Especially when those faculty are gay or lesbian.

And so it goes: as I said earlier today, as Steve and I walked through all of these experiences, we found that virtually no one in the Catholic community was willing to walk with us, to stand up for us, to stick his/her neck out for us. We became pariahs. Several of our graduate school friends went on to become officers of the Catholic Theological Society of America.

One of these, a nun we had regarded as our friend, told us after what happened to us at Belmont Abbey College that we'd now have to find community in the gay community, not the Catholic community. From that time forward, when we encountered her at academic meetings of CTSA and the American Academy of Religion, she pretended not to see us.

Another of these, a nun who went on to be president of CTSA, told us it was our fault that we had had our theological vocations shattered by a Catholic institution. We hadn't played the game right, she informed us. We weren't political enough.

Both of these religious women had jobs waiting for them as soon as they finished graduate school, as did virtually all the nuns and priests who did theology degrees along with us. They have never had to cope with job loss, with loss of health insurance, with the serious economic and personal struggles of lay theologians whose human rights have been violated by Catholic institutions.

I can count some three other people who were in graduate school with us who subsequently came out of the closet as gay or lesbian. Only one of the five of us who came out of the closet — a theologian who happens to be Anglican and not Catholic, and has spent his teaching career in a non-Catholic school — has been able to keep a job. All of the rest of us were fired, hounded out of jobs, denied tenure, as our classmates who left graduate school to take assured, cushy jobs created for them by Catholic institutions owned by their religious communities or other religious communities, stood by in total silence, doing nothing to reach out to any one of us.

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