Thursday, October 6, 2016

My Reflections on Pope Francis' Recent Remarks About Gender Theory: There's the Real World, and Then There's . . . .

I have tried to formulate some reflections on Pope Francis' recent statements about gender issues. Since I have been silent a number of days, you'd be right to deduce that I have not been successful in doing so. The primary problem is that I live here, in Universe Q, and Pope Francis speaks from that far-away universe somewhere in a distant galaxy of whose name I am not even entirely sure.

By the time his voice reaches my world, it's so muted, so fuzzy, so beside the point as to appear nonsensical. It appears just as nonsensical to me, in fact, as do those who hang on these muted, fuzzy, beside-the-point words from a faraway galaxy whose name is hardly known to us, as if the papal words are words of life and joy.

I can't hear Pope Francis' words on issues of gender and sexuality with any joy — not even with any clarity — because the life I've been given to lead, by the very leaders of the universe on whose behalf he speaks, doesn't permit me the luxury of doing so. I hear the pope speaking of the need for the church to accompany gay (as in LGBTQ) people, and I think immediately of all the years Steve and I have lived without an iota of such accompaniment. Because once our jobs were taken from us without explanation and our careers as Catholic theologians definitively smashed by Catholic pastoral leaders, that was it: we were in no uncertain terms told that we were not accompaniment-worthy.

We were on our own, out of sight and out of mind as far as the Catholic community was concerned. "Goodbye and have a good day; keep warm and eat well" (James 2:16): that was the unambiguous message we were given by Catholic pastoral leaders as our daily bread was taken from our mouths, no provision made for our future, no provision made for us to exercise the gifts we've been given, to put those gifts, with our years of Catholic theological education, to use within the Catholic community.

Ac-com-pany: to take another along as someone with whom one shares bread (ad + cum + panis). The word "accompany" points, in its etymological roots, to the act of breaking bread with others, to the act of sharing bread with others. It has, for Christians, a eucharistic ring to it. It reminds us that everything about the life of Christian discipleship is summed up in the gathering together to share bread with each other.

You cannot give people a more decisive message of not belonging to a social community than taking from their mouths their daily bread — with no explanation, no process allowing them to defend their fundamental human right to be treated with respect and dignity, not to be lied to and lied about. The message Catholic institutions have long given and continue giving to many gay people is precisely that we are not worthy to have the church accompany us in our human journey. This is the message a Catholic institution recently gave Kate Drumgoole. And then there was Michael Templeton. And we could go on and on with the litany of names from just the past several years in the U.S. alone.

As newspaper headlines tell us on an ongoing basis, this is a message Catholic leaders still give to gay people, as Catholic institutions still fire gay employees right and left, singling them out for abusive, discriminatory treatment not dished out to heterosexual employees of these institutions who are failing to meet the mark of magisterial teaching about matters sexual. So let's be honest when we talk about accompaniment as Pope Francis has just done in yet another up-in-the-sky conversation following a visit to a nation where, down on the ground, he lambasted "gender theory" (whatever that term means in that faraway universe in which he lives) and its use in projects of "ideological colonization" of non-Western nations.

Let's be honest: Catholic leaders do not, in fact, seek to "accompany" gay people who are singled out by Catholic institutions, fired by them, expelled from the Catholic community by them. They seek to do the precise opposite: they seek to annihilate those they treat in this way. It's better to be honest about these matters than to gloss the cruelty over with a language of faux piety that sits with gross incongruity next to the cruel words about "gender theory" and "ideological colonization" that fell from the papal mouth just a day or so before he uttered the nice meaningless phrases about accompanying gay people.

I have little patience with pretense. I don't have time for pretense. Pretense gets us nowhere healthy — not in the universe in which it has been my fate to live, where life is often a scramble to find the resources to make ends meet and to find some scraps of meaning for my life when the leaders of my religious community declared that my life was, by definition, without meaning. 

Pretense has certainly gotten the United States nowhere good, when it has led us to the precipice at which we now stand with the possibility of seeing one Donald Trump as our next president. That's the real world in which I happen to be living right now, and the pope's words, either the absurdly silly repeated attacks on "gender theory" which show that he knows absolutely nothing about that topic, or the glozening, mawkish talk about accompanying gay people even as Catholic institutions keep throwing gay employees out on their ear — "Goodbye and have a good day; keep warm and eat well" — count as almost nothing to me when I contemplate the possibility of what may soon happen in the real world in which I am living right now.

P.S. As I shared with my Facebook circle of friends last evening, with this month, Steve and I enter our 46th year together. Time goes quickly. It seems only yesterday he and I had just met and were at a college retreat together, lying under the stars on a crisp October night in a field at St. Joseph abbey at St. Benedict, Louisiana, talking for hours as we watched the stars. The photo is a recent photo of us taken at a wine-and-tea party we hosted for several friends. I'm holding the wine bottle to show it (via the photo) to the kind Facebook friend who brought it to us from her and her husband's own vineyards.

For a summary of my argument in the preceding posting, please see this subsequent posting.

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