I'd like to draw your attention today to a conversation I consider valuable, which many of you readers may miss if you don't read threads following blog postings. In response to my questions about Father James Martin's bridge-building proposal several days ago, Janet Hanson posted some thought-provoking reflections that center on the need of allies of LGBTQ people within Catholic communities to engage in action to assist with the bridge-building project Father Martin proposes.
Janet thinks that if LGBTQ allies (= LGBTQA) showed their faces within the institution in an open way, through acts demonstrating their solidarity with the LGBTQ community, the leaders of the Catholic church would have no chance except to respond. The danger of this strategy is, she admits, that the response Catholic allies may receive from the institution could be one of repudiation — the refusal to build bridges even with straight allies of LGBTQ people in Catholic faith communities.
IF the community makes their trip across the bridge--to the midpoint--and the church engages in wholesale marginalization of LGBT people and their allies, the church will have proclaimed themselves for who they are and many young people, many allies and many people who have able to tolerate and pretend the marginalization isn't real and isn't intentional confront the truth.
And in a subsequent comment responding to excellent feedback from Alexandra,* Janet adds,
But the church, if a critical mass of LGBTA Catholics walk away saying, "I didn't leave the church it left me," SOONER OR LATER the church has to hear it. The Church is becoming less and less relevant. They know it. They actually have something to lose here, too.
I cannot say, "I should do it." Certainly can't say, "You should do it." But I believe the world is at a tipping point.
Janet also states, responding to me,
I'm a 60 year old straight woman. And a whole lot of people are like me. Whatever we might have thought about gays and lesbians in our high school years, we've shifted. We shifted because we have friends, classmates, family that are LGBT. And we're not going to pretend they aren't LGBT. We're not going to pretend that their love and care for their partner isn't exactly like the love and care we have for our partners. And increasingly a good number of Catholics are tired of being appalled when our church speaks about LGBT people.
And I'd like to share my response to Janet's helpful analysis, because I think this conversation drives to the heart of Father Martin's bridge-building proposal:
Janet, you say, "The pace of change--in a generation--is impressive. But it leaves many of us hungry for more change." Yes, I think that's very right. And the problem we're confronted with in the Catholic context is that a lot of nice rhetoric does not translate into real change, so that real human beings are left hanging, left in limbo, left on the outside looking in, while the church professes to proclaim good news about God's all-embracing love.
A case in point: the painful testimony of William di Canzio at Bondings today. Di Canzio is a distinguished academic leader and writer who was a lector at Daylesford Abbey near Philadelphia. He was a lector, that is, until he married his partner Jim Anderson. When that happened, di Canzio reports, the abbot of Aylesford, Richard Antonucci. asked to meet with him and told him he was being removed as lector.
When di Canzio said to Antonucci, "You’re the spiritual leader of the place I’ve been part of for thirty-five years. How do you counsel me?" To which he says Antonucci replied that he hoped di Canzio might find it in his heart to remain connected to the abbey.
Isn't that an astonishing response to a question about spiritual counsel from a leader of a Christian faith community? Antonucci had just told di Canzio he wished him and Anderson all happiness, but . . . . But they are not worthy to be treated as every other member of the abbey community is treated, with the same rights and privileges of all other members of the community.
They are asked to accept second-class membership and to believe that this denigrating, abusive treatment is a manifestation of "love." And the church leaders dishing it out over and over again to LGBTQ Catholics expect to be applauded as very pastoral and loving people, who are manifesting God's all-embracing love to the world while denigrating and abusing a targeted segment of the human community.
What the church as an institution continues to do to LGBTQ people is in no way pastoral. It's sinful. It demands repentance. And I think this is the point that Father Martin's two-way bridge analogy cannot address adequately. The real sinners in these stories are not the LGGBQ people being singled out for excluding, cruel treatment by Catholic pastoral leaders. It's the pastoral leaders who are engaging in such behavior that are the real sinners.
LGBTQ people are the sinned against, vis-a-vis church leaders, for anyone with eyes to see. The sinned against should not be asked to build bridges to the very people sinning against them — excluding them, casting them out, insisting that they wear scarlet letters if they dare show their faces in church again (but really hoping they will just slink away and never be seen again).
The church's approach, at an institutional level, to LGBTQ people is downright sinful and very cruel. If lay Catholics are going to change this situation — and I hope your encouragement for lay Catholics to act will be heard — they need to begin calling on the pastoral leaders of the church to be accountable for their cruel treatment of LGBTQ people, it seems to me.
What the abbot of Ayelsford Abbey, Richard Antonucci, is communicating to William di Canzio when he tells him he is not fit to be a lector is that he's a sinner singled out for a scarlet letter among all other sinners who come to abbey liturgies, but he should continue coming to church. With that scarlet letter emblazoned across his chest . . . .
Because the church "loves" him, and its love is manifest in the action of emblazoning him — but no other sinners in the world — with that big scarlet letter.
Something's wrong with this picture. People who behave this way don't get to use the word "love" to describe their actions.
I cherish the many lay Catholics who want the response of the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church to the LGBTQ community to be different. I stand with all of you, and thank you for standing with me. I welcome the hope you offer me.
But as long as stories like the story of William di Canzio come down the pike — and these stories will continue to come our way — I have to be honest: I have very little hope for this misogynistic and heterosexist institution to change in any substantive way, lay action or no lay action. I have yet to hear of any kind of dialogue spaces being opened by Catholic pastoral leaders in Catholic communities in the U.S., in which the testimony of LGBTQ people about their experience with the church is solicited to be heard by Catholic faith communities.
And it's clear to me that even those calling for a new pastoral approach along with Father Martin do not themselves want to hear the voices of people like me, or to engage our questions and criticisms. It's easier for them to treat people like me as disaffected enemy crackpots than as people who have something to offer to a conversation that needs to be about the real world and not rhetorical pipe dreams of a change that is nowhere on the horizon.
* I don't mean to exclude Alexandra's wonderful comments from this discussion, and apologize to her if it appears I'm doing so. But this posting has gotten so long that I worry it will bore many readers (TL; DR) due to its length — and my hope is that by pointing you to this thread, many of you may click and read it in its entirety below the previous posting to which the links point.