Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Keeping the Conversation about Amoris Laetitia Real: New Commentary by Mary Hunt, Jeannine Gramick, and Massimo Faggioli

Good morning! Are you as tired as I am of hearing about Amoris Laetitia? I know full well I have made myself tiresome talking about it to some folks connected to me on social media, who have entrée of a kind I will never have in Catholic institutional circles, though they're gay — and who do not want to hear that this papal exhortation betokens no good news to LGBTQ human beings. One of those gay friends, who has just come back from an audience with Pope Francis and who has always had entrée in the Vatican because her family is extremely wealthy, tried to shut me down on Facebook yesterday by telling me we all are broken, after all — a bullying tactic designed to shame me for calling on her institution (it's far more hers than mine) to live what it proclaims when it talks about mercy and justice.

So, my apologies to all of you for being tiresome, as I continue talking about the papal exhortation. Documents like this have influence worldwide, and it seems to me important that we examine that influence — and the claims the documents make in order to extend their influence in secular society. So here's more commentary from the past day or so that I'd like to recommend to you:

As ever, Catholic theologian Mary Hunt is brilliantly on-target with her take on Amoris Laetitia. As she points out in a Religion Dispatches essay published yesterday, the "Joy Love Club" that is the church envisioned by Pope Francis in this papal exhortation is decidely a "members only" club:

If you are heterosexual, married, divorced, and remarried with an understanding parish priest, you have reason to be hopeful that your "irregular situation" can be fixed. If you use most forms of effective birth control, have an abortion, or are a sexually active LGBTIQ Catholic, you might as well read Dante and/or seek another denomination if you expect to be treated with equality, dignity, and respect. . . .The result is unequal opportunity ambiguity.

Here's what I hear Mary Hunt saying as she makes that last statement: the papal statement treats in very different ways heterosexual and LGBTQ Catholics whose lives do not conform to the ideal of heterosexual monogamy which the letter places before us as the only possible moral option for Christians. As Mary explains, if you're heterosexual and living in an "irregular situation," the letter suggests that you have the option to deal with your parish priest and there may be a communion wafer for you at the end of such dealings. I might add that if you're heterosexual, married, and using contraception, you can expect the communion wafer if you simply remain silent about your use of contraceptives, too — and you are very, very unlikely to hear a priest preach about your use of contraception as sinful.

But if you're LGBTQ and refuse to deny your God-given nature, if you choose a loving and committed relationship with another human being: no communion wafer for you. There is no option for you. The message the church's pastoral leaders clearly want to give you is, "Then, goodbye."

As Mary puts the point, the unrelenting focus of Amoris Laetitia on "only one ideal—heteronormative uncontracepted sex in monogamous marriage" — allows heterosexual couples in "irregular situations" (e.g., divorced and remarried ones) to seek for understanding from parish priests, but no such option is offered to honest, self-accepting LGBTQ human beings. And then she concludes (and she's very right about this), 

Unfortunately, nothing in this exhortation changes the ground rules, levels the ethical playing fields, reshapes the decision-making structures of the church, or includes more people, especially women and out LGBTIQ people, in the conversation on the joy of love.

The Joy Love Club that is the Catholic church is a heterosexual-members-only club, one that privileges heterosexual human beings over everyone else in the world, and one that preaches the subordination of women to men in the name of God. Non-heterosexual people and women would be well advised to look elsewhere for loving, welcoming communities of faith.  

Non-heterosexual members of the Catholic church would be advised to look elsewhere than to the Catholic church for loving and welcoming communities of faith because in Catholic institutions, non-heterosexual people can still be fired for reasons of sexual orientation — for affirming their God-given nature and choosing to enter into public, loving, committed unions with others. And not a thing that Amoris Laetitia says alters that situation which is actually ongoing in Catholic institutions in the U.S.

Here's Sister Jeannine Gramick on that point, as reported by National Catholic Reporter:

Pointing to paragraph 250, Gramick -- a leading advocate for LGBT rights as a co-founder of New Ways Ministry -- said she was "extremely disappointed in these bland remarks," such as how the homosexual person needs to be "respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, and 'every sign of unjust discrimination' is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression or violence," as well as how families with LGBT members need "respectful pastoral guidance" from the church and its pastors so that gay and lesbians can fully carry out God's will in their lives. 
In an email to NCR, Gramick said Francis merely "repeats previous calls for non-discrimination without giving examples of what that discrimination entails. LGBT people are shunned, fired from their jobs, bullied, jailed, executed and assassinated."

You hear what Sister Jeannine Gramick is saying, don't you? Insofar as it deigns to notice LGBTQ human beings at all, Amoris Laetitia merely repeats what Catholic documents have already been saying about LGBTQ people — while those human beings continue to be shunned, fired, and bullied in Catholic institutions and in various cultures, and while they are jailed, executed, and assassinated in some cultures. 

Catholic institutions have been violating the human rights of LGBTQ human beings even while the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells Catholics to respect non-heterosexual people. And so the question that obviously needs to be asked: in what earthly way will the fact that Pope Francis repeats this catechetical formula in the tiny section of Amoris Laetitia addressing this portion of the human community change what has already been going on in Catholic institutions which already know the catechtical teaching full well?

Read the cheeky response of mountain dweller yesterday at NCR to the report that the Vatican ambassador to the U.S. who arranged for Pope Francis to meet Kim Davis, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, has just been fêted by the U.S. bishops at a $450-a-plate dinner.* Joshua McElwee reports that Viganò used his bully pulpit at this event to encourage U.S. seminarians to fight for "religious freedom." (My Facebook friend who just had an audience with Pope Francis also tells me she had dinner with Viganò when she was in Rome, and what prompted her to try to shut down my comments about how the church deals with LGBTQ human beings was that I circulated McElwee's article on Facebook.)

Here's mountain dweller responding to the Viganò story:

Honey, sure, we can have your family over for Christmas. That sounds like a good idea. But let your brother know that Todd is not welcome, and if he comes, he won't sit at the table with us or get any food. We have to "be courageous in always defending the freedom to put our Catholic faith into practice without fear." 
Honey, if you insist we can have your sister over for dinner next Sunday. But that kid she had with her second husband is going to have to sit in the basement. "This is an age when we need great courage—courage to stand up for the truth, even when we are not understood, or persecuted when we are understood. We need to be strong in the face of evil." 
Honey, I suppose we can have a little reunion with your brothers and sisters this Easter. But Samantha—is she still shacked up with that atheist artist nut? Maybe we can forget to send the invitation to her, okay? "Each one of us has a responsibility before God to bring a message of truth into this world, even if it means spending our lives for that very purpose—sometimes silently, but very often today publicly."

Again, as with Sister Jeanine Gramick's insistence on naming the real-life oppression that LGBTQ people experience even as the pope repeats a catechetical formula about respecting non-heterosexual people that not even Catholic institutions follow, mountain dweller's response to Viganò and his promotion of Kim Davis keeps the conversation real (the bits in quotation marks above are from Viganò's comments to Catholic seminarians). Real-life Catholic families face real-life conundrums regarding all of these issues: is the gay son with a partner welcome at our Christmas table? Is it the Catholic thing to do to exclude him? The child of the unwed mother? The couple living together without benefit of marriage?

Or would a good Catholic mother refuse to attend the marriage of her son to his longtime same-sex partner, as we've recently learned my husband's mother chose to do in 2014 when another of her sons married his partner — because her two daughters informed her that she would be participating in sin if she attended her son's marriage? She had told us at the time she did not go to the wedding because she was unwell, though we had our doubts. We recently learned the full story.

Finally, Massimo Faggioli has now published at Huffington Post a version of his Commonweal essay about Amoris Laetitia to which I pointed you several days ago. In his most recent version of the essay, he again notes the more or less complete silence of Pope Francis about gay and lesbian human beings (and women) in Amoris Laetitia: he writes, 

The areas of silence and those where the texts are not yet fully mature deal with the issues that are most divisive on the global level: The church and gays and lesbians, and women within the church. On gays and lesbians, Amoris Laetitia repeats the need to avoid excluding anyone from the church (paragraphs 250-251), but goes no further than the line imposed by the minority in the 2015 Synod, and basically cites the Catechism. On women, the maternal and paternal figures and the issue of gender, the text proves weakest, due to the fact that the Synod essentially avoids addressing these themes, showing the theological weakness of most bishops.

Interestingly, in writing for Commonweal, Faggioli employs the terms "homosexuality" and "homosexual," but in writing for the non-Catholic audience at Huffington post, he shifts to the terms "gay" and "lesbian." As I said in my previous commentary about Faggioli's observations, the silence of Amoris Laetitia regarding queer lives is the kind of silence that erases human beings from the record of the human community. 

It is shameful silence.

* And after posting this piece, I click over to the NCR site and learn that Pope Francis has just replaced Archbishop Viganò.

(Thanks to Hina Kemenduro for pointing out to me a silly mistake I had made with the phrase "bully pulpit," which I've now corrected.)

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