Monday, September 26, 2016

Readers Write: If 60% of "Nones" Say They've Just Stopped Believing, We Can Ignore the 40% of Catholic "Nones" Who Left Due to Abuse of Gays, Right?

Yesterday, I noted that, in a recent posting at the Commonweal blog, Michael Peppard points to the finding of a just-published PRRI survey that some 40% of Catholics who have left religion behind report that a primary reason for their walking away from the church was its abuse of gay people. PRRI underscores this finding by noting that those raised Catholic are more likely than people raised within any other religious community to cite anti-gay behavior within their own religious community as a reason for leaving that community.

Michael Peppard's posting seems to me to invite the Commonweal community to discuss this finding. He ends his posting by noting that what pastors say about gay people from the pulpit has serious ramifications for whether gay people (and those who care about gay people) feel welcome in a religious community. But the thread discussing Michael Peppard's posting almost totally ignores his invitation to discuss these issues. 

In response to my discussion of this point yesterday, the following discussion has developed. Because I think it's very significant, I want to lift it out of the discussion thread and post it here:

In talking with younger folks who have left the Church, I would say they can't accept the notion that any institution which purports to image Jesus, can simultaneously give themselves permission to abuse any group of humanity and that includes giving themselves permission to cover it up....or attempt to justify it on the grounds of scandalizing the laity they are not currently abusing. Pretty crazy all the way around. One definitely needs to buy into a warped view of spiritual reality, and many of our younger generations are too grounded in a healthier reality to accomplish that task.

The Commonweal commenters, and everyone who has written about the survey other than Peppard, are all fixated on the 60+% of people who say they "stopped believing." Since 60% is greater than 40%, that allows them to say that people are not "really" leaving because of the treatment of gay people, but because of dreaded "secularization" or what have you. But, as Colleen and Bill point out, the treatment of gay folks often triggers a faith crisis. If you can't reconcile a God of love with a Church that fires people for getting married, well, you will "just stop believing" in the institution. These reasons are not mutually exclusive.

3. Then I reply to Michael

Michael, yes, I think you're exactly right about that. In some respects, this is a numbers game — and that's one reason I keep pointing out that many so-called "liberal" Catholics in the U.S. seem to have been shaped decisively in their worldview by the individualistic ethos of capitalism, with its draconian lottery (numbers, again) allotting some people the status of winners and others the status of losers. I think many "liberal" American Catholics think far more in these terms than in terms of Catholic social teaching, which makes it impossible for us to rest easy with numbers games and draconian lotteries, since Catholic social teaching tells us you connect to me, and I am responsible for you — and incomplete without you. 
We all of us live with more or less ease and comfort inside the capitalist system to the extent that we decide that all those people who are the losers of the capitalist lottery somehow deserve their lot: they have been lazy; they did not educate themselves; they made poor life choices; they are morally louche. And so we're not responsible for them, really, and should feel no guilt about the fact that we've "won" and they've "lost." 
This numbers game, this draconian lottery, is also reinforced, as "liberal" Catholics look at the gay community, by the fact that gay people are a tiny minority of the population. And so over and over at Catholic discussion sites both liberal and conservative, you'll meet comments about how discussions of social and moral issues ought not to be driven by a tiny minority of the human population — but by those who are normal, in the majority, worth discussing. 
Alan McCornick addresses this argument directly, and blows it out of the water, in a recent posting at Hepzibah, noting that the percentage of gay folks in the U.S. population is about on a par with the percentage of Jews — but, as he implies, no one in mainstream culuture would ever say that the Jewish community deserves no serious moral consideration because it's a small percentage of the population. (In fact, the morality of societies can be judged precisely by how they treat minority groups.) 
In the past several days, I've had three messages (email, Facebook, blog comments directed to me) that, in one way or another, try to convince me that discussion of gay issues, of the place of gay folks in the world today, really shouldn't occupy so much of my attention or the attention of others. "You gays are doing okay," these messages suggest. "You now have a piece of the pie; why not stop your complaining?" 
And: "There are other much more important issues in the world — how women are treated, how abuse survivors in the Catholic church have been treated." Some of these messages have implied that I'm callous about these other forms of marginalization or suffering — and they want to play those other forms of marginalization and suffering against the marginalization and suffering of gay folks in a way that, essentially, places gay people back on a reservation of sorts, out of sight, out of mind. 
These messages serve as warning bells to me that many people in the social mainstream simply still do not get it — any more than they get how deeply embedded racial injustice is in our society. I'm very frustrated by how the Commonweal club have chosen to deal with Michael Peppard's proposal that we discuss the finding that some 40% of Catholics who have left the church cite anti-gay behavior on the part of the church as a primary reason for their leaving. 
I'm frustrated because these findings — and, as M. Peppard says, abundant other data — confirm something I tried to tell the Commonweal club when I used to post at its blog site, and was ridiculed for saying. One of their main contributors told me that her parish was just full of gays, and they were very welcome. Within a year or so after I stopped posting at the Commonweal blog, an openly gay man in a lay ministry role in a parish just a few miles from her was removed from ministry after a whisper- and letter-writing campaign was mounted by nasty anti-gay parishioners. 
Another mover and shaker of the Commonweal club challenged me to get in touch with him by email and explain why I imagine gay folks feel unwelcome in the Catholic church. And then he ignored my email and never replied to it, and still holds forth as a leading lay diaconal authority on what it means to be Catholic in the world today, at that blog site . . . . 
The kind of "liberal" lay Catholic leaders who hang out at Commonweal — and they are legion in the American Catholic academy and journalistic sector — simply do not want to talk about these issues. It's far easier to pretend that people like me are unhinged, gadflies not worth paying any attention to, obvious losers who must merit the marginal place in which we've ended up. 
Very frustrating. Daunting. Soul-crushing, this morally unjustifiable response to the abuse of a minority group — or so it appears to me.

4. And Michael responds

Great comments, Bill, and I agree completely. When I was in law school, I attended a Jesuit parish in downtown Philly that was great. I was part of the RCIA team, and the head of the team was a former priest who was in a long-term relationship with another man. In that context, I bought into the the notion that everything was basically swell with gay folks in the Church. 
What I didn't understand at the time was how precarious all of that was. Sure, in that moment everything was fine. But that man's status in the Church was subject to being yanked away at any time, where mine was never at risk. Is he allowed to lead RCIA now that Chaput is the Archbishop? Or have the always pragmatic Jesuits decided that it was not a battle that they choose to fight at this time and asked him to step down? 
Or, take the Dominican parish I attended in San Francisco. When I was there from '08 to '11, the pastor was a late 50s/early 60s guy who basically "let a thousand flowers bloom." After I left, I understand that his replacement has moved the parish in a far more conservative direction and is an open defender of Cordileone. And the people who came to rely on the tolerance of the former pastor are now on their own. 
Last anecdote--I have a close friend who is a Russian Orthodox priest. He asked me whether I would recommend an LGBT person to come to his church, and I told him no. He was upset about this, and asked me "don't you trust me to do right by this person?" "I do," I told him, "but I can't trust your successor to do right be that person if you decide to leave and take another parish assignment." This hypothetical LGBT person's status would be entirely dependent on my priest friend's benevolence. 
The bottom line is that my status as a straight guy is more or less secure in Catholicism, while yours will never be, no matter how affirming the parish or the people seem to be, or even genuinely want to be. That is the problem.

(P.S. Rather than keep reminding you with every posting that I'm using the word "gay" as a shorthand for "LGBTQI," I'm now simply going to use that shorthand form with no reminder — but please keep in mind that I mean the entire acronym when I use this shorthand term for the sake of convenience.)

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