On Holy Saturday, I wrote that Steve and I had chosen to celebrate Easter with Christian communities that actually welcome us and invite us to participate in their liturgical life — unlike our "family" church, the Catholic church. I noted the draconian law Republicans in the state of North Carolina had recently passed to attack queer citizens of that state, especially transgender ones, and then I stated:
LGBTQ folks, as you're informed you are unwanted second-class citizens in places like Georgia and North Carolina, don't look to the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church in these states to speak out on your behalf. Several years ago, before the North Carolina legislature was taken over by tea party Republicans, as it considered a bill to protect young people bullied in North Carolina schools due to their perceived or actual sexual orientation, the Catholic bishops of North Carolina spoke out against that bill. Though one of those two gentlemen had a brother who, as I was told by impeccable sources when I lived in North Carolina in the 1990s, committed suicide after having told people several days before he took his life that his Catholic family had rejected him and made his life intolerable because he was gay . . . .
I also pointed out that the Catholic college in the state of North Carolina, Belmont Abbey College, has applied for and received a "right-to-discriminate" exemption permitting it to ignore federal anti-discrimination laws prohibiting anti-transgender discrimination while it receives federal funding, and that I would not imagine, therefore, that the new seminary the diocese of Charlotte is opening in collaboration with Belmont Abbey College would be teaching seminarians to treat transgender people with dignity and respect, or to welcome and affirm LGBTQ human beings.
Three days after I made the preceding statements, the Bondings 2.0 blog of New Ways Ministry posted a statement noting what was happening in North Carolina and Georgia, which stated, "Catholic bishops have often been ambivalent, at best, in opposing discrimination. Most recently, North Carolina’s two bishops have been thus far silent about passage of that state’s anti-LGBT law." Bondings then went on to indicate that, after Georgia governor Nathan Deal stated he would veto his state's anti-LGBTQ "religious freedom" law, the Catholic bishops of Atlanta and Savannah "responded somewhat positively" to Governor Deal's statement.
Now here's Lisa Fullam writing for the Commonweal blog about North Carolina's "papers, please" "gay panic" bill and the response of the Catholic bishops of that state to the legislation:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church specifies that gay people "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." (2358). Transgender people are not mentioned. Allowing LGBT people to be barred from public accommodations at will would seem to violate the Caetchism's teaching of respect for the equal dignity of all God's children. Sadly, the Catholic bishops of North Carolina, Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte and Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh, issued a warm thank you to North Carolina for denying the equal dignity of our LGBT brothers and sisters.
The warm thank you noted by Lisa is the statement at the top of this posting, from the Catholic Voice North Carolina website to which Lisa's link points. As you'll see if you click on the link, the statement is topped by photos of the two North Carolina bishops.
As I think about all of this, how can I forget the absolute silence of one Catholic news outlet after another in the 1990s when Belmont Abbey College destroyed the theological careers of two of its faculty members who happened to be a gay couple living in a longstanding monogamous relationship? How can I forget the silence of the Catholic media, including National Catholic Reporter, which I contacted to provide information about this story, when the abbot of the monastery that owns Belmont Abbey college seized the presidential reins at the college, telling the local media that the college's Catholicity had been endangered, and then mounted what the local gay community in Charlotte called a "gay purge" among faculty and staff?
Claiming financial exigency, the abbot-president of Belmont Abbey College fired a considerable number of faculty and staff all thought to be gay and lesbian — and then at the same time that he took this action, he found funds to repave the college's parking lots and refurbish its buildings. I have a copy of a letter a Benedictine oblate and alumnus of the college wrote the monastic community as he resigned in protest from the monastery's oblates group, in which he states that he and other members of the gay community in Charlotte were appalled to see the abbot mounting a gay purge as he fired faculty and staff right and left on specious grounds, while singling out gay and lesbian faculty and staff.
Recently, many Catholic publications including Commonweal and National Catholic Reporter have been up in arms about the unjust way in which the president of Mount St. Mary's University in Maryland, Simon Newman, has treated faculty and staff. Commentators in various Catholic journals suggested that the behavior of President Newman violated core tenets of Catholic teaching about justice and concern for those on the margins of society. The wide negative publicity the university rceived resulted in Newman's resignation.
When Belmont Abbey's abbot-president fired a slew of gay and lesbian faculty and staff in the mid-1990s, there was not a peep of protest in the Catholic media. NCR informed me it could not really cover this story, because such events in Catholic colleges and universities are so common they aren't newsworthy. Catholic colleges and universities target LGBTQ employees all the time. How is that news?
The subsequent behavior of this North Carolina college surely underscores that there's something going on here to be monitored by the Catholic media. Belmont Abbey led the way in attacking the Obama administration by filing suit against the contraceptive mandate of the affordable care act — though the college had provided contraceptive coverage for its employees previously, until its current president "discovered" that it was doing so not long before Belmont Abbey filed its suit against the Obama administration.
Belmont Abbey then led the way among Catholic colleges and universities last year in applying for a "right-to-discriminate" exemption allowing it to continue receiving federal funds, while it flouts federal non-discrimination regulations. Only a small handful of Catholic colleges joined the many Southern Baptist schools applying for such "right-to-discriminate" exemptions last year — making the Belmont Abbey story stand out all the more.
Yes this is a story that the national Catholic media have seemed intent on ignoring, even when they focus on unjust treatment of employees at other Catholic institutions like Mount St. Mary's. What's the difference? Sadly, in the Belmont Abbey case, it's just LGBTQ folks who keep bearing the brunt of the ill treatment.
And their stories are, as NCR told me in the early 1990s, just not worth telling, are they?
So that, if Pope Francis' exhortation on the family tomorrow treats LGBTQ Catholics as largely invisible — as many indicators suggest to me it will — that won't really be news at all, will it? Even when such invisibilizing of people who are being treated with conspicuous injustice totally undercuts the claim of the Catholic institution to be all about mercy and justice . . . .