Tuesday, February 23, 2016

In Catholic News: Smoke, Mirrors, and Pope Francis on Abuse; Pope's Zika-and-Contraception Remark; Diocese Settles with Employee Fired for Same-Sex Marriage; U.S. Bishops' College Plans to Fête Archbishop Viganò

Some bits and pieces of commentary that has caught my eye in recent days, which I want to pass on to you. These snippets are all commenting on recent Catholic-themed news stories:

At Daily Beast, Jason Berry quotes former papal abuse commission member Peter Saunders on how, in the assessment of many, the commission has turned out to be more smoke and mirrors:

Francis has a great opportunity to put his hands up and say,"I got it tragically wrong in my dealings with survivors in Argentina. I toed the party line like many other bishops, and now's the time to atone." To get rid of bishops who are protectors and abusers, he probably needs not a commission of devout Catholics, but a body akin to an FBI flying squad who do not have an allegiance to the church but know their work and go around the world however it needs to be done and eject these people or hand them over to authorities.

For The Guardian, Emer O'Toole hits a similar note about how papal image management campaigns do not necessarily produce substantive change — and that lack of substantive change has painful consequences for some real-life human beings including women and LGBT people:

Pope Francis’s media persona is dangerous. In his attempts to cultivate an image of a moderate church engaged with realities of sexuality and gender, the Pope obscures the homophobia and misogyny at the core of Catholicism. His recent obfuscation on contraception and Zika does nothing to help Latin American women, and serves to distract from the horrendous repercussions of Catholic teaching on abortion for women and the poor.

See also Barbara Ellen's commentary several days before in The Guardian, suggesting that to open the door even slightly in the magisterial teaching on contraception should also be to open the door about the use of condoms to prevent HIV transmission — something the pastoral leaders of the church remain unwilling to discuss:

As demonstrated, even a carefully abstract papal musing on such subjects has a significant ripple effect. As things stand, the Vatican’s response to the Zika crisis has highlighted the ongoing lack of humane response to Aids, and will look more pointed with each passing day.

At Commonweal, Peter Steinfels re-states his argument that the church's pastoral leaders should reconsider magisterial teaching that each and every act of sexual intercourse must be open to the transmission of new life, if it's to be morally licit. Winnifred Holloway responds:

The ban on birth control - so called artificial contraception- is not a problem for first world Catholics. They have long ago disregarded it. It is a millstone for the many and varied Catholics in the third world, especially when their bishops aggressively resist governements and health care workers who attempt to introduce it to the population of their countries. The hierarachy does not want to reverse the teaching of a recent pope (recent in church time) even when they must know it's ineffective and causes great harm to women and families. Doubling down on this dubious and outmoded teaching is the sin. The Vatican is good at ambiguous language. They should use it here, with the caveat that they give a stronger message to the bishops of the world to back off. 

As I said several days ago, in my view, there's a strong heterosexist (and male-entitled) bias in the commentary of not a few conservative and centrist Catholic media types, as they engage the issue of contraception and what the pope said about it on his flight back to Rome. Peter Steinfels' carefully limited argument that church leaders should reconsider the ban on contraception in "each and every" instance of sexual intercourse within a sacramental, heterosexual marriage is an argument deliberately designed to head off arguments that opening the door to a reconsideration of contraception — within sacramental, heterosexual Catholic marriages — is also an opening of the door to reconsidering the morality of homosexual acts and unions.

It's consistent, in other words, with the editorial stand taken by Commonweal, a we-stand-above-the-fray centrist Catholic journal that has opposed same-sex marriage and which refuses to entertain open discussions of the male entitlement and heterosexual power and privilege of the centrist Catholics in the academy and media for whom Commonweal speaks. Steinfels' strictly limited proposal for a reconsideration of Humanae Vitae solely in the context of heterosexual, sacramental Catholic marriage will not in any way aid LGBT people in combating Catholic-engendered oppression.

It's designed to do the opposite, and to privilege married heterosexual Catholics who want loopholes in the magisterial teaching on contraception for themselves, but who are not willing to grant that the entire edifice of magisterial teaching about human sexuality, insofar as it's constructed on an acts-centered, biologistic reading of natural law, is flatly wrong and needs to be dismantled. That would open the door, you see, to the gays. And it's simply not their church, in the view of the Commonweal set.

Steinfels' argument continues, in other words, the very game-playing that he himself rightly decries in his latest Commonweal statement, in which the very same Catholics opposing the human rights of LGBT people including the right of marriage are frequently themselves using contraception and not finding contraceptive use morally wrong — though the use of contraceptives is condemned in Catholic moral teaching on the very same grounds on which homosexual acts and unions are condemned.

What really needs to be reconsidered is what tremendous damage this game-playing — and its protection of hidden, never-honestly-discussed presuppositions about male heterosexual power and privilege — has done to the Catholic church, especially in the U.S. And especially in Catholic workplaces, including Catholic universities, in the U.S. . . .

Re: the latter: as Brian Roewe reports yesterday for National Catholic Reporter, the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has settled a lawsuit with Colleen Simon, former director of social ministry in a Catholic parish in the diocese, who was fired after it was discovered she had married another woman. Important to note in this article: as Roewe indicates, for legal counsel, the diocese turned to the Alliance Defending Freedom. 

As the Southern Poverty Law Center notes, ADF "has a record of sharp anti-gay bigotry," and is spearheading efforts around the world today to make the lives of LGBT people as miserable as possible. When the U.S. Supreme Court considered (and then struck down) sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas, ADF filed an amicus brief asking that sodomy continue to be criminalized.

As I noted in December and as Frederick Clarkson has pointed out in his important article on the new religious freedom strategy of the religious right, Alliance Defending Freedom is providing counsel and legal templates to church-related colleges and universities including the Catholic college Belmont Abbey in North Carolina, assisting these schools in filing requests for permission to continue receiving federal Title IX funding while refusing to adhere to federal non-discrimination laws. I noted that Belmont Abbey College's "right-to-discriminate" request had a cc from its president William Thierfelder to ADF — a clear indicator that this Catholic college is among those turning to ADF for legal counsel as it seeks to circumvent laws prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination.

ADF is front and center in battles around the U.S. trying to claim a religious "right" of people of faith to discriminate against LGBT people in provision of goods and services. A number of folks responding to Roewe's article at NCR are pointing out that the behavior of Catholic institutions like the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph will only drive an increasing number of young Catholics away from the Catholic church. They're right.

Blatant, ugly discrimination should have that effect. It should make people think twice about wanting to be associated with any Christian church that moves in this direction.

Finally, note also the article by Joshua McElwee in NCR yesterday which reports that the U.S. bishops' college in Rome intends to fête the Vatican ambassador to the U.S., Carlo Viganò, in April. As McElwee notes (and as I indicated back in October last year [and here, here, and here]), it's thought Viganò played a leading role in setting up the meeting between Pope Francis and Kim Davis on the pope's U.S. visit. 

Oh, and guess who are the honorary chairmen of the U.S. bishops' college in Rome? According to McElwee, they're Cardinals Raymond Burke, Daniel Di Nardo, Timothy Dolan, Bernard Law, William Levada, Roger Mahony, and Justin Rigali. 

Recognize any of those names?

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