About a month ago, I summed up my response to so-called liberal or progressive Catholics who praise the recent papal document on the family, Amoris Laetitia, despite its ugly trajectory of combined silence and condemnation as it speaks of LGBTQ human beings, as follows:
I realize I have some lingering questions about Amoris Laetitia, which have only become sharper as the major "liberal" Catholic journals in the U.S. now begin to log in with editorial statements (e.g., here and here) encouraging American Catholics to applaud and support this papal exhortation — even though it is almost entirely silent about the existence of their LGBTQ brothers and sisters. And even though what it does deign to say about this slice of the human community is demeaning and mean-spirited . . . .
I read Amoris Laetitia to be saying that the holiness of heterosexual people must be purchased at the price of people not made heterosexual by God, who are almost invisible in this document, and, to the extent that they are even mentioned at all, are attacked. And now we're being told by defenders of the document who represent the best of American Catholicism, its academic and journalistic elite, that, well, this is unfortunately a sad price that just has to be paid by queer Catholics for the liberation of heterosexual ones. This price just has to be paid once again by queer Catholics in order to permit straight ones to sort out questions about the family — which ipso facto and q.e.d. concern straight human beings.
LGBTQ Catholics must continue to take a slap upside the head, when it comes to questions about divorce and communion or about contraceptive use — questions that affect heterosexual couples. Queer Catholics must unfortunately continue to be the scapegoat, as the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church negotiate delicate questions about whether straight Catholics who don't play by all the rules are holy enough to take communion.
Because this is the tenor of my thinking about Amoris Laetitia as an openly gay, married Catholic who has been excluded from participation in the church and its academic institutions, I was very heartened to read Bob Shine's report yesterday at the Bondings 2.0 blog, about the response of two younger Catholic scholars to Amoris Laetitia — responses that, in some ways, echo the questions I have long been asking about how "liberal Catholics" treat LGBTQ people, as they praise statements by Catholic officials that clearly do not envisage love or mercy for these fellow human beings.
Bob Shine asks,
Have Catholics' analyses of Amoris Laetitia, the recently published exhortation on family by Pope Francis, been dismissive of LGBT communities' reaction and concerns?
And then he states,
Craig Ford, a theology doctoral student at Boston College, claimed on the blog Catholic Moral Theology that liberal Catholics who are not LGBT have too often jettisoned queer and transgender concerns to uphold a belief that Pope Francis is bringing progress to the Church.
Here's the heart of Craig Ford's statement in the Moral Theology piece linked above:
What's interesting to me is that when liberal commentators have engaged either the issue of homosexuality explicitly, or have engaged issues that have a theological relationship to why "homosexual acts" are deemed impermissible (for example, the issue of contraception, which is linked to magisterial teaching on homosexuality because same-sex sex acts, like sex acts involving contraception, are non-reproductive), their engagement has largely been congruent with this latter category, in which our disappointment with respect to development of doctrine on these issues should be tempered by our understanding of Francis’ goals, or by an understanding of Francis' style, or by the overall context of Francis’ papacy, which James Carroll, among others, has wisely pointed out is less perturbed by how doctrine is worded and more concerned with how it is deployed.
In the paragraph prior to this one, Ford explains what he means by the phrase "this latter category": liberal Catholics who want to praise Amoris Laetitia are arguing, he notes, that we have to make "prudential trade-offs that make no one happy" as we support Pope Francis in moving the church forward. If this papal exhortation beats LGBTQ folks up, then they should be willing once again to take one for the team, and accept being ignored, misrepresented, even attacked.
And here's what that proposal translates to for queer Catholics, Ford concludes:
But so far this has been a party only for heterosexuals, and what is disappointing is that liberal Catholic theologians—who proclaim our consciousness of marginalized peoples as such an asset in our theological writing—have not indicted the core of our Church’s heterosexist theology of marriage in our commentaries on Amoris Laetitia. The Left has allowed, in other words, queer persons and their intimacies to sink farther back into a sort of theological eschaton in order to praise, however measuredly and momentarily, a heterosexist ideal that requires the displacement of queer lives in the first place.
Reinforcing these valuable points is the analysis of Annie Selak, a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at Boston College, who notes in a piece at the Political Theology blog that Amoris Laetitia purports to be experience-based as it offers its reflection on "the" family — but significant voices are missing from the set of experiences on which its analysis is based. In particular, the voices of those on the margins of church and society are more or less absent from this document — and, as Bob Shine notes, these observations surely have important application to discussions of the place of LGBTQ people in the church.
I'm very happy to hear people who may be taken more seriously than I ever have been as a Catholic theologian making this point. I've made this point over and over again, and seem not ever really to have been heard as I have made it — and so I'm happy to hear younger Catholic theologians like Craig Ford and Annie Selak carrying this conversation forward for a new generation of Catholics.
And, as if right on track to remind us of just why it's so imperative that liberal Catholic defenders of Pope Francis stop pretending that treating LGBTQ people as invisible or to be disdained presents no serious ethical dilemma for Catholics who defend human rights, there are the statements that Vatican official Cardinal Robert Sarah has just now made at the National Prayer Breakfast in D.C. Bob Shine reports on Sarah's remarks at Bondings 2.0 today. As he notes, Sarah informed his audience that transgender rights are demonic, and marriage equality is poison.
To which I reply: What a shocking way for a major world religion, which professes to preach love and practice justice, to choose to brand itself publicly at this critical juncture of human history. Something is, indeed, demonic and poisonous here, but it might require a mirror for Cardinal Sarah to see what it is.
Tagging fellow human beings who belong to a targeted minority group as "poison" and "demonic" is an act of tremendous cruelty and violence. It opens the door to abusive, violent treatment of those human beings, who are already susceptible to abuse and violence.
Invoking God's name as you engage in this project of cruelty and violence is obscene.
And "liberal" Catholics who have such powerful influence in the Catholic academy and journalist sector today, who defend the pope who placed this cardinal at the head of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship while they remain totally silent about such toxic homophobia emanating from the top of their church, are part of the problem and complicit in the violence, when they keep their mouths shut about all of this.