As I noted yesterday, the astonishingly cruel new policy forbidding students (and employees) in Catholic schools in Arkansas from even saying gay* is now being widely discussed in various places. I'm glad to see the discussion taking place. I'm grateful for two responses to what I myself have published about this cruel policy by two bloggers I highly esteem, Guy Lancaster and Alan McCornick.
Guy is, like me, a resident of Little Rock, and we're following what's happening with the diocese as it attacks gay* young people and families who have gay* young people in Catholic schools with particular concern because this is taking place in our own back yard. Here's what he has to say in response to the cruel new diocesan policy at his Tree of Talking blog:
I have written before about some of my reasons for leaving Rome, but the one that comes to mind now is that day when I took a lesbian friend of mine to mass only for us to have to sit through an entire sermon on the evils of homosexuality–seeing her sink further and further into the pew, and then trying to apologize later only to have her quietly say, "It’s okay, I’m used to it," outraged me. I still went through certain motions, though, including wrapping up a theology degree I was pursuing through the diocese's extension program with St. Gregory University, but I knew that I was done for. (I did eventually return my diploma to St. Gregory's for other reasons.) I moved to the Little Rock area in 2005 and occasionally found my way to mass, but the following year, I finally had the experience that just broke me completely out of the shallow habit that remained. It was a sermon on how the most important issue before the nation for that congressional election year was the sanctity of life, especially preventing the spread of the "culture of death" that was family planning. I had gone into that church having just gotten news that my brother was shipping off for his first tour of duty in Iraq, a war that the pope had ostensibly opposed, though you would never hear that opposition reflected in the pulpit. Suddenly, I realized that the Catholic Church, as an institution, wasn't a normal organization with a few eccentric ideas–its priorities were fundamentally opposed to objective rationality. Condoms ranked as a greater threat than did the destabilization of the globe and the slaughterhouse that so many countries were becoming under our "Christian" leadership.
Moreover, I realized that there was no fundamental way to change this Church. In a democracy, a small movement can exert significant political change, so that, even if it doesn't succeed in taking power itself, its aims might end up adopted by other parties as a political tactic (FDR's New Deal helping to undermine socialist activism, for example). But there is no mechanism for the laity to manifest power in the Church. In a democracy, one can run for election, but in the Church, if one wants to exert change from within the system, one would have to become a priest. Theological education would no doubt weed out some of those who have a desire to change things, and even if a reformer did make it through to priesthood, his advancement in the system would depend not upon the laity but the very people who run the system he desires to reform. It's a self-selecting system.
And here's Alan at his Hepzibah blog:
My friend Bill Lindsey writes from Arkansas that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Little Rock, which covers the entire state, has issued new guidelines for dealing with gay people. Stop using the word gay. Not because it isn't sufficient to include LGBTI people, but because we should pretend all these people don't amount to a hill of beans in the first place. Just don't say the name and maybe they'll go away.
And then Alan zeroes in on the word "scandal" in the rationale the diocese of Little Rock gives for implementing its cruel new never-say-gay policy for Catholic schools: as he notes, the new guidelines suggest that letting young people identify as gay* while attending Catholic schools will cause scandal.
Cause scandal? Have the potential for causing scandal?
Don't look now, folks, but we've reached the heart of the matter.
When it became obvious that priests were abusing young boys in large numbers, what was the church's response? To circle the wagons. To protect the church from scandal. Throw the young'uns under the wheels, if you have to, but for God's sake don't let it get out that priests were using them for sex. What a scandal that would cause!
God damn, you've got to give these buggers (yes, pun intended) credit for consistency.
Keep your eye on the donut, boys, not on the hole. Watch out for scandal!
But I digress.
You've got something there with being careful about your choice of words when speaking of people different from ourselves. Let's be sure to control the discourse. We choose the words to describe you. Not you. We are church. You are something "other than church." If you will all just follow me, please, we can avoid confusion.
Some points I'd like to make here: first, notice how closely Guy Lancaster's account of taking a lesbian friend to Mass parallels the similar story that Brian Harper published in National Catholic Reporter about two weeks ago. Harper notes that he took a gay friend to Mass on the feast of the Holy Family shortly after Christmas last year, and was horrified to hear the priest use his homily to attack gay* people and equate homosexuality with bestiality. He notes that his friend's response to the priest's attack on his very humanity was the same response Guy's lesbian friend gave to him when she found herself being attacked by a Catholic priest at Mass: "It's okay. I'm used to it."
Gay* people have come to expect to be treated this way if we dare to go to Catholic churches. And, as Brian Harper suggests, we've come to expect not to have our stories and our voices heard by the Catholic community, whose members have no concept of what we experience on a day-to-day basis as we go through the business of living our lives in a world often hostile to us. The Catholic community, which insists that one shouldn't say gay* and that we therefore don't even exist, has long since let us know that it's not interested in hearing about our lives and our experiences.
And second: as Alan asks, Scandal? They want to talk about scandal?
Let's be honest: what's the real scandal here? Discriminating against a vulnerable minority community; attacking vulnerable young people whose suicide rates are already alarmingly high; using the good news of Jesus Christ to attack and berate members of a vulnerable minority community from the pulpit; all while you're covering up sexual molestation of minors by priests?
Where's the scandal here?
*Gay = LGBTQI.