Friday, October 7, 2016

Pope Francis' Recent Remarks on Gender Theory and Pastoral Accompaniment of Gay People: My Response in a Nutshell

In a nutshell, in case this was not clear when you read my posting yesterday about Pope Francis' recent remarks regarding "gender theory" and the need for gay people to be accompanied pastorally: the word "accompany" has built right into it a reference to bread. We accompany others by sharing (cum) bread (panis). Those we accompany become our companions, those with whom we break bread.

Catholic pastoral leaders do not, in fact, accompany gay human beings. They do the precise opposite. Only this week, as Bob Shine noted yesterday, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, stated that a parish in his diocese had no choice except to fire gay music director Michael Templeton because Templeton civilly married another man.

This is the opposite of accompanying. This is the opposite of sharing bread with someone who is a companion.

This is a cruel, hateful act of taking bread from the mouth of another human being without legitimate reason. People who lose their jobs in Catholic institutions (I speak from personal experience) because of their sexual orientation are dispossessed, cast out, given the unambiguous message that their lives do not count and they are not wanted. No provision whatsoever is made to see that those treated this way find other jobs, do not have their careers destroyed, continue to have healthcare coverage.

The intent of Catholic institutions who throw gay employees away in this heartless way is quite clear to those of us who have experienced this: it is to crush us. It's certainly not to break bread with us!

Few acts constitute a more direct assault on the dignity of a human being than taking away her daily bread when she has prepared well for her work and performed her job well — but happens to have the wrong sexual orientation (or gender or skin color, etc.). Catholics whose daily bread is snatched from their mouths by bishops, priests, and religious who, even when they take vows of poverty, live lives of great comfort and security, almost always end up alienated from the eucharistic table, too,. How could we possibly not be repulsed by seeing the very men who have dispossessed us of our daily bread in this cruel, ruthless way standing before us and offering us the holy bread of the eucharist? How can men who behave this way possibly believe what they proclaim about the table of the Lord and the bread they offer people from that table?

The point of my critique of Pope Francis' statement about pastoral accompaniment of gay people: it means absolutely nothing as long as the church itself, through its institutions, continues removing bread in this cruel, ruthless, unjust way from the mouths of gay people working for Catholic institutions. It is a nice, pious proposal wrapping up something rotten inside the pretty words. It's better that no such pious words be spoken at all, given what the church continues to do to real gay people in the real world.

The pope's proposal about pastoral accompaniment of gay people is not novel, not revolutionary. This idea was part and parcel of the moral theology of people like Charles Curran and Bernard Häring a half century ago. Curran was silenced, his career as a Catholic theologian taken away and crushed.

Häring (and I happen to know at least one gay Catholic, a lay person, that he actually did accompany as a pastoral counselor, so I know that he practiced what he preached) wrote that when he read Pope John Paul II's encyclical Veritatis splendor, with its absolutist, anti-pastoral approach to moral norms, he suffered a brain seizure. He did so because he knew the pain that this encyclical would inflict through its approach to moral theology — cruelty and pain-making that Häring and other prominent moral theologians had worked to weed out of the Catholic tradition of moral theology, which John Paul II was deliberately reintroducing with his absolutist, authoritarian approach to Catholic moral teaching. 

In his statement about Veritatis splendor, Häring states, 

Veritatis Splendor contains many beautiful things. But almost all real splendour is lost when it becomes evident that the whole document is directed above all towards one goal: to endorse total assent and submission to all utterances of the Pope, and above all on one crucial point: that the use of any artificial means for regulating birth is intrinsically evil and sinful, without exception, even in circumstances where contraception would be a lesser evil. 
The Pope is confident that he has a binding duty to proclaim his teachings with no calculation whatsoever about the foreseeable practical consequences for the people concerned and for the whole Church. He would consider such considerations unlawful and dangerous, because they take into account a weighing of values. Whatever the risk, whatever the danger, he believes that his insights brook no dissent, but can be met only with obedience.

The Catholic church has had for years now the option — clearly sketched by its most preëminent moral theologians, who were deliberately silenced by Pope John Paul II and his orthodoxy watchdog Cardinal Ratzinger — to take the path of pastoral accompaniment of gay human beings. It chose, with John Paul II and Ratzinger, to take a quite different path, one of demonization, condemnation, isolation and expulsion of gay people from the Catholic community.

As a result, Pope Francis' words about pastoral accompaniment of gay people fall on deaf ears in the case of many of us who are gay. We have long since stopped listening with any receptiveness to Catholic pastoral leaders, as they continue on this path — one that need not have been taken, which in many direct ways betrays the gospel — and as they do so solely to safeguard the illusion that every word falling from a papal mouth is infallible, that erroneous and mutable moral teachings are infallible, that God's grace is mediated to us solely through the clerical system, etc. 

Meanwhile, the firings of gay people continue, undergirded by the mendacious claim that Catholic institutions cannot employ people who reject official church teaching, though the 90%+ heterosexual Catholic couples practicing contraception and working in Catholic institutions are never subjected to this kind of treatment in Catholic institutions; nor are divorced and remarried heterosexual couples; nor are heterosexual couples who live together before marriage.

This is the real-world context in which Pope Francis calls us to imagine that Catholic pastoral leaders can accompany gay people. As long as that real-world continues to exist, those words will be nothing but empty, mocking words to any of us observing closely how the Catholic institution actually deals with gay human beings.

(Once again: I'm using the word "gay" as shorthand for LGBTQI.)

I find the graphic used at many online sites; I have not found any indication of its original source.

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