Wednesday, February 10, 2016

In the News: Catholic Committee of Appalachia Opposes West Virginia "Religious Freedom" Bill; Kathryn Knott Sentenced in Philadelphia Gay-Bashing Incident

Catholic Committee of Appalachia, The Telling Takes Us Home (p. 59)

Some updates today to items about which I've posted here previously:

First, back in December, I posted about a new a people's pastoral that the Catholic Committee of Appalachia had just released, entitled "The Telling Takes Us Home; Taking Our Place in the Stories that Shape Us" (pdf file). As I noted, this pastoral statement by Catholics living in Appalachia, which was written and issued by Catholic people and not by Catholic bishops, does something remarkable: it contains a section giving voice to the witness and concerns of LGBT Catholics. 

Incorporating direct testimony of LGBT Catholics, it notes that many LGBT people experience the churches' condemnation of our lives and relationships as a "constant assault" that attacks our very personhood. Church often becomes for us "a hell of pain," a place where we are "discussed and accused but rarely appreciated." We're told that we need to be healed from our "disorder," when the real disorder from which we suffer in our connection to Christian churches is alienation from the community and being treated as less than human by the Christian community.

The Catholic Committee of Appalachia and its defense of the rights of LGBT persons are back in the news again as the state of West Virginia debates a house bill entitled "The Religious Freedom Restoration Act," whose ostensible purpose is to protect the religious freedom of West Virginians, but which is actually all about giving West Virginians the right to discriminate with impunity against LGBT citizens while citing religious belief as the basis of the discrimination. The Catholic diocese of Wheeling-Charleston has come out in support of this house bill.

Yesterday, the West Virginia Chapter of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia released a statement opposing this "religious freedom" bill. As the statement notes, those who claim that the religious freedom of West Virginians is under attack are mistaken. As it also indicates, the real purpose of this legislation is to give West Virginians who want to discriminate against LGBT people special privilege to engage in discriminatory treatment of a marginalized minority group, while citing faith as their warrant. 

Here's the heart of this statement opposing such discrimination in the name of "religious freedom" from the standpoint of Catholic values:

We take issue with this bill, and the Diocese of Wheeling Charleston’s support of it, because the use of our privilege to secure our own interests would endanger the civil rights of those most excluded in our midst. Roman Catholicism has historically fallen short in practicing equality and the protection of the dignity of the human person especially when that person has happened to be female or has had a sexual orientation other than that of the majority. When our Church has failed in these ways, it has often done so on the grounds of our religious beliefs. We would only be exacerbating this trend if we supported HB 4012, and affirming that the "Church is the cross on which Christ was crucified."

The statement that the church is the cross on which Christ was crucified is from Catholic theologian Romano Guardini, and, as a footnote here indicates, it was cited constantly by Catholic activist Dorothy Day. For further discussion of this statement by the WV Chapter of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia and of this intra-Catholic debate in West Virginia, see Francis DeBernardo at Bondings 2.0 (here and here).

Second, as regular readers of Bilgrimage may recall, when two gay men were brutally attacked in Philadelphia in September 2014, we discussed that attack — and the fact that those charged with the attack had attended Archbishop Wood Catholic High School together in Warminster, Pennsylvania, and were leaving a school reunion when they encountered and assaulted the two men — extensively here (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). And now there's some more news about this story: on Monday, one of those charged in this assault case, Kathryn Knott, was sentenced to five-to-ten months in prison for her part in the assault.

As John Kopp reports for Philly Voice, Knott's co-defendants Kevin Harrigan and Philip Williams had accepted plea deals, but Knott, whose father is a police chief, insisted on bringing her case to trial. As she was sentenced, one of her victims, Andrew Haught, whose cheekbones were broken in the attack, who had orbital fractures of his right eye, and whose jaw had to be wired shut for eight weeks after the attack, told the court that the one thing he has not been able to process was that 15 people involved in the assault walked away following the attack and went to a bar to have drinks. 

Haught said,

Not one of them even called for help. I will never forget that everyone in that group, including Kathryn Knott, left me in the alleyway to die.

Here's John Kopp on what Judge Roxanne Covington said in sentencing Knott:

In issuing her sentence, Covington said she considered the homophobic slurs used by Knott and others in her group to be hate speech, even if Pennsylvania law does not recognize it as such.  
She also said she'd struggled to understand how Knott, who worked in the health care industry, could leave ailing victims on the street. Knott was among a group of 15 people who walked to a bar immediately after the beatings. None of them dialed 911 or attempted to assist the victims. 
"The entire group walked away from this," Covington said. "Until those faces appeared on the news no one responded – and did so only to save themselves from prosecution."

When I was discussing this story here in 2014 and made note of the widely publicized fact that those charged with this ugly assault on a gay couple were friends who had attended a Catholic school together, and were leaving a school reunion when they assaulted a gay couple, people barraged me with tweets and Facebook comments telling me it was unfair to link this story in any way to the fact that Harrigan, Knott, and Philips attended a Catholic high school together.

Have I mentioned that those who took part in this attack (and, as Haught's testimony reminds us, the number was larger than the three ultimately charged with a crime) were not only all graduates of the same Catholic high school, but were leaving a reunion of their school when they chose to attack two gay men who were doing nothing except walking on the sidewalk together? And that Fran McGinn, a coach at Archbishop Wood, was fired for his role in the attack?

I rest my case.

(Thanks to Greg Bullough for emailing me news of Knott's sentence.)

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