Saturday, April 9, 2016

"There Is Almost Complete Silence on Homosexuality" in Amoris Laetitia: There's Silence and Then There's Silence — Interpreting the Silence of Amoris Laetitia About LGBTQ Lives

So, silence. What to do about silence? Massimo Faggioli writes about Amoris Laetitia

There is almost complete silence on homosexuality; only paragraphs 250 and 251 in Chapter 6 address it, and only with what amounts to a restatement from the Catechism . . . .

Some people are applauding the silence of this exhortation on the family about queer human beings: Congratulate yourseves, LGBTQ folks, that the pope didn't say the nasty things he might have said about you! There's no language of disorder here. You've gotten off light in this papal document, haven't you?

Some commentators want to pretend that queer people are, many of us, appalled at being treated in this dismissive way because we seriously expected the pope to alter church regulations about who may or may not marry — because we expected Pope Francis to bless same-sex marriage. When clearly our real concern is to be treated with dignity and respect for a change, the kind of dignity and respect that acts as if we are there in the room when our lives are parsed by official Catholic moral discourse . . . . When we'd like to have secure jobs in Catholic institutions as those institutions natter on about human rights and mercy and justice while firing us right and left . . . .

What to make of that "almost complete silence on homosexuality" (which is to say, on homosexual human beings and homosexual human lives) in this papal document about the joy of love? Here's my take: I knew that this would be the tack the document would take — almost complete silence about LGBTQ human beings — when I read Father Thomas Reese's prep notes about the exhortation in National Catholic Reporter. Those prep notes prepared me to know in advance that this document would, with the blessing of liberal Catholic commentators like Tom Reese, continue the very old and disreputable Catholic tack of treating LGBTQ human beings as if we are simply not there as the joy of love and family life are discussed.

I assess this silence very differently than do those who want to convince me that I'm lucky this papal statement about love and family life treats me as invisible — since it might have said ugly things about me. I perceive this kind of silence — the pretense that people are not there as fundamental human matters like love and family are discussed — as the kind of silence that erases groups of human beings from the record of human history. 

This kind of silence pretends that people are not in the room as we talk about noble things like welcome and healing and love and mercy and justice. This is the sort of silence that allows officials using it as a rhetorical and disciplinary tool invisibilizing some human beings to pretend that they're acting justly and kindly as they reduce the humanity of those made invisible to . . . nothing.

This kind of silence powerfully serves the needs of those who want to remain on top, to remain empowered, to refuse to entertain the justifiable questions of those on whose backs their power is built, by pretending that they simply are not there to be talked with. That the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church keep trying this tack with the collusion of liberal Catholic thinkers (Tom Reese, e.g.) and, frequently, with the embarrassing applause of queer Catholics hungry for any scrap of kindness from the hierarchical table is shameful in the extreme. It betrays a lack of real vision for the future of the Catholic church — which requires it to break with the dysfunctional patterns that have so seriously evacuated it of moral authority in the abuse crisis, if it expects to have any sort of future at all.

As I consider Massimo Faggioli's statement that Amoris Laetitia is almost totally silent about homosexual human beings and homosexual human lives, I think of the testimony of church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch in his book Silence: A Christian History (NY: Penguin, 2013):

Power is often sustained by distortions of truth or reality, particularly when power takes the form of claiming a monopoly on truth. It is hardly surprising, then, that Christianity's most lasting and powerful monarchy, the papacy, has gathered to itself more silences of shame and distortion of the truth than other sources of authority in the Christian tradition (p. 6).


The history of Christianity is full of things casually or deliberately forgotten, or left unsaid, in order to shape the future of a Church or Churches. Institutions religious or secular create their own silences, by exclusions and by shared assumptions, which change over time. Such silences are often at the expense of many of the people who could be thought of as actually constituting the Church; institutional needs outweigh individual needs. Some are conscious silences of shame and fear at the institution of the Church not living up to its own standards of truth and compassion; and there has often been a particular pain meted out to those who make the silences end. Life is rarely comfortable for the little boy who says that the emperor has no clothes (p. 191).

And I wonder, as I think about this kind of silence that MacCulloch knows so well as a gay man who grew up in an Anglican parsonage — I wonder why even queer Catholics are so eager right now to praise what Amoris Laetitia does not say about queer human beings, and to welcome this statement as some radically new overture to humane treatment of LGBTQ human beings in the Catholic church. Nothing about this papal document (at least, insofar as commentary I'm reading indicates) undercuts the "right" of Catholic institutions to continue firing LGBTQ employees right and left, at will. Nothing about the document undercuts the "right" of men to treat women as lesser than, as bound by biological determination to serve males. Nothing about it undercuts the male-entitled heterosexist assumptions around which the male-entitled heterosexist (and, often, pretend-heterosexual) Catholic club is organized.

Why are many of us celebrating?

No comments: