Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Limits of Crozier Shaking

My attempt to engage members of my own religious communion in dialogue about LGBT issues continues on the blog threads of National Catholic Reporter.

And I must admit, I’m growing weary.
I’m growing weary of hearing the churches talk about homosexual sin, rather than gay people.
Sin, not people.
No church that claims to be motivated by pastoral concern talks about sin before people. No church that professes pastoral intent reduces a group of human beings to some nifty, disposable stereotype—like notorious sinner (one of the labels used by a blogger at the NCR threads), or intrinsically disordered human beings, or the homosexuals with their sinful lifestyle.
In reducing gay human beings to a tagged and stigmatized mass, the churches undercut all of their claims to be motivated by pastoral concern for homosexual sinners. This is not about pastoral concern: it’s about using a group of people for base political purposes. Pure and simple.
It’s despicable. It’s as despicable as the church’s use of the Jews throughout history—the dirty, devious, child-killing Jews who infect pure, clean, honest, child-loving Christian cultures, in order to undermine and destroy.
The churches have rightly been resoundingly criticized for the anti-semitism that led them to be largely silent about the evils of Nazism in the first half of the 20th century, all over Europe. There will come a time in which they are similarly resoundingly criticized for the homophobia that leads them to be largely silent about violence towards LGBT people at this point in history.
Is it any wonder that Europeans have increasingly refused to affiliate themselves with—or participate in the liturgical life of—the churches after World War II? And is it any surprise that, according to the latest Pew report, a third of American Catholics have now dropped their Catholic identity? Catholicism would be dying on the vine in the U.S. now, if immigrants weren’t filling the pews being vacated by millions of Catholic who have grown weary of the sound and fury that signifies nothing.
Sound and fury, as in a constant clerical bleating about abortion and homosexuality as though these are the sole moral issues demanding attention at this point in history—at this point, when the United States is in an end-game war in the Middle East, which we entered on the basis of government lies; at this point, when many of our citizens cannot afford healthcare; at this point, when the tiny minority of our citizens who own most of our resources have enriched themselves even more grossly in the last decade.
Sound and fury: I have grown weary of hearing my church talk about abortion and homosexuality as the most pressing ethical issues about which I should think, when the same church officials talking to me about those issues have not cleaned their own houses following revelations of widespread clerical abuse of minors. It is no secret that Catholic officials have routinely and systematically covered up this abuse for decades, have paid out millions of dollars given to them by unsuspecting layfolks to silence families that have experienced this abuse, have lied, destroyed evidence, and obstructed justice.
It is no secret that the cover-up goes right to the Vatican.
And yet we’re still expected to listen, when the pope and bishops shake their croziers at us and command us to vote solely on the basis of candidates’ positions re: gay marriage and abortion?
What’s clear to me is that these issues aren’t primarily about morality, in the real mind of church officials, in the mind that informs their political calculations. They are primarily about political utility. They’re useful galvanizing issues to call the faithful to stand in solidarity—in solidarity against, rather than for; in opposition to rather than in support of efforts to build a more humane culture. These are issues that are supposed to stop all questions, to cut off all critical discourse and critical thinking. Abortion = killing babies = unthinkable evil = stop asking pesky questions.
The intent interest the Vatican has recently taken in the political life of both Italy and Spain suggests this utilitarian political intent to me. In Italy, the Vatican has helped bring down the center-left government by colluding with some very disreputable political characters whose hands are far from clean. The ostensible concern of the church has been the previous government’s intent to sanction gay unions, and its liberal position on abortion.
In Spain, the Vatican and many Spanish bishops continue to try to herd the faithful to the polls to vote against the current Socialist government in the upcoming March 9 election. There again, the abortion and gay marriage issues loom large in Catholic rhetoric. As I reported in a previous posting, the Vatican and the bishops organized a mass pro-family demonstration at the end of last year to fire a warning shot against the current government. In both countries, an American-style politics of religious-right opposition is being tested, with the abortion and gay-marriage issues as the centerpoint of the opposition.
Never mind that the current abortion policy in Spain pre-existed the Socialist government, and that abortion does not have the political traction in Europe that it does in America. Gay marriage is a new phenomenon, however, and it appears that the mindset of the Vatican in using both issues as rallying points for right-wing Catholic opposition is to use the gay issue (which is to say, gay persons) as its primary wedge issue in the European context, with the abortion issue tagged onto that issue to galvanize rich American Catholics, who are helping to fund these right-wing movements in European Catholicism.
One suspects that the real heart of all this political action—the heart of darkness—is a growing sense on the part of the Vatican that it is losing control. To be specific, there is a growing sense that it is losing control of the political life of the West—a control that it held more securely in a period of Republican dominance of the White House.
There is a growing sense of alarm at the inability of the church to use abortion, in particular, as the rallying point for oppositional right-wing politics in the U.S. In the current American elections, the religious right is in total disarray. All the old shibboleths, all the well-tried rallying cries, are falling on deaf ears. Too many revelations in the past several years have shown Americans that the leaders of the religious right do not have their own moral houses in order.
Conservatives are not very good at generating new ideas. When pressed, they quite commonly resort to the same old same old, the same tried and true tactics that have worked in the past. When those fail, the reflex action of the right is then to remove the velvet glove and show the iron fist: to try to coerce where it cannot cajole.
This, I fear, is what the Vatican hopes to do now, both in Europe and in North America. There is a hardening of the lines everywhere in American Catholicism in particular, as the old oppositional politics fails to yield the same predictable results.
In my home diocese of Little Rock, the diocesan administrator Msgr. Hebert has just announced that Catholics may not participate in this year’s Race for the Cure, on the ground that this anti-breast cancer event supports Planned Parenthood (in some places, but not in Arkansas), that it supports stem-cell research (not true), and that it refuses to publicize that abortion causes breast cancer (not even worthy of comment). Never mind that Komen for the Cure donates lavishly to Catholic hospitals in Arkansas. On this, see today’s Arkansas Times blog at www.arktimes.com.
In a similar move, tiny Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina has recently announced that it has canceled healthcare benefits that provide for abortions, sterilization, and contraception for faculty and staff. Eight faculty members are threatening a lawsuit. The decision to cancel these provisions of their healthcare plan were made unilaterally by the college president Dr. Thierfelder and the abbot of the monastery that owns the college, Abbot Solari.
These gentlemen claim that consultation is not incumbent on them, when Catholic moral teaching is at stake. The faculty threatening suit reply that the majority of faculty and staff are not Catholic and should not be expected to abide by peculiar Catholic moral teachings. They also note that the college receives state and federal funding, and that in doing so, it is required not to engage in religious discrimination.
Evidently Belmont Abbey is intent on keeping this funding in place, while maintaining its right to cancel provisions for contraception in its healthcare plan, without consulting those affected by the decision. In Spain, similarly, the bishops have resoundingly rejected a suggestion of the Socialist government that, if the church wants to go on the warpath against the current government, it should forego the ample state support it now receives.
All of this is sound and fury. All of this signifies nothing. It represents a desperate attempt of the Catholic hierarchy to use these political wedge issues (and gay human beings) to deflect attention from its own egregious wrongdoing in the sexual abuse crisis. At the heart of the current political offensive emanating from the Vatican is the fear that if the political makeup of the American government changes significantly, the pope and bishops will not be granted the immunity from prosecution they enjoy under the current administration.
There is a tremendous fear that, if legal action forces dioceses to open their files, the ugly story of the church’s obstruction of justice, misuse of funds, and protection of pedophile priests will be made public. There is also an overriding concern not to permit disclosures of the central role that the Vatican has played in the obstruction of justice.
For further information on the Spanish situation, see the Clerical Whispers blog at www.clericalwhispers.blogspot.com. In a posting last week entitled “Church-vs.-State: Militant Catholics Try to Sway Spanish Elections," this outstanding Irish blog notes that militant ultra-right Catholic groups with strong ties to the Vatican have organized themselves and are trying to sway the upcoming elections, using abortion and gay marriage as their wedge issues.
That excellent blog also has several postings about the Belmont Abbey situation. Others by yours truly are to be found on the blog of the National Catholic Reporter at http://ncrcafe.org/node/944. Note there the collusion of church officials with well-heeled right-wing political groups in the U.S. The same collusion is evident in the political activities of the church in Spain and Italy. The interest of these groups in the Spanish election is evident, for instance, in a recent editorial of the Wall Street Journal attacking the Spanish government: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120354690556281099.html?mod=googlenews_wsj.
If it’s not ultimately about money, why else would Wall Street be taking an interest in this election (and implicitly supporting the Vatican-endorsed attempt of ultra-right Catholic groups to topple the Spanish government)?
It’s about money. Open those files re: clerical abuse, and the money will stop pouring in. The faithful are continuing to give only because they remain uninformed about the full parameters of the abuse story.
This is the church at its worst: protecting clerical sexual abusers, meddling in the political life of nations trying to build healthy pluralistic societies that respect the civil liberty and full humanity of all citizens. This is the church at its worst, caring more about money, power, and privilege than human beings, particularly human beings experiencing oppression.
This the church at its worst, bashing gay human beings to score political points, to deflect attention from its leaders’ dirty secrets.
Is it any wonder that a third of American Catholics are now walking away, shaking their heads, shaking the dust from their feet? And will this trend diminish, in the next generation, if the hierarchy remains obdurate?
And as a final footnote, I wonder as I think through all these issues why an African-American educational leader I know and once respected, a woman who heads a church-based university and who professes support for gay persons, is willing to dirty her hands by playing political games with people who represent such malice to the LGBT community. This is a question I ponder repeatedly these days, as the campaign of Mr. Obama lifts to national attention questions about homophobia in the black community.
Do people who rise to positions of power and influence inevitably sell out? Does power truly always corrupt? And does it corrupt the more absolutely, the more absolute its claims become? Do people with such power inevitably decide that it really is, in the final analysis, all about the money?
I hope that if Mr. Obama is elected, we will not find that to be the case with him. We desperately need the change about which he keeps talking, if we are to safeguard a future worth living for the next generation.


ProstateCancer said...

LGBT Cancer survivors struggle every day. Please help us get the word out, about our national nonprofit LGBT cancer survivor organization, OutWithCancer . We have two websites, which we would be thrilled if you were to both post about and link to. http://www.outwithcancer.com and http://www.lgbtcancer.com Please email any questions you might have to me at darryl@outwithcancer.com Thanks!

William D. Lindsey said...

Darryl, thank you for this important reminder of the needs of LGBT cancedr survivors. I'll post a follow-up to my previous message, so that people will see your comment and be able to offer support. Thanks for reading and replying!

colkoch said...

Nice post Bill. The insanity continues. Why am I not surprised with the Bishop of Arkansas. I went ballistic with one of John Allens recent posts. Now the USCCB is trucking all the folks in the social justice meeting up to capital hill to threaten the withdrawl of Catholic agencies working with aid victims trhough out the world if congress doesn't add funding for their pet programs, and remove any language which might lead to abortions 'in certain circumstances'. This Catholic Identity thing is now getting out of hand when the best of our social efforts is being used to further political agendas and there by threaten the already precarious lives of millions. This is waving the crozier in a most blatant and disgusting manner. It's truly evil and truly sick.

William D. Lindsey said...

Colleen, talk about synchronicity: our comments just crossed each other as we posted.

As you say, it's disgusting, evil, and sick when Catholic identity is defined at the expense of people in need: by threatening to deny much-needed services to those who are sick, oppressed, needing support and defense. The recent blathering about shutting down Catholic Charities in areas where laws prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation comes to mind.

If this is what Catholic identity has come to mean--when Mark's gospel sums up Jesus's whole ministry by saying he went about doing good and healing the sick--is it any wonder 10% of the American population are now ex-Catholics?

Ironically enough about the same percentage that is estimated to be gay-lesbian....

LO said...

I wanted to give you an update on the Little Rock Diocese-Komen for Cure story. Yesterday, the Diocese issued a statement retracting their original statement against Komen for the Cure. You can read more here: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/APStories/stories/D8V899Q80.html

William D. Lindsey said...

Laurel, thank you for posting a reminder about this. I had seen the new statement by Msgr. Hebert yesterday on the Arkansas Times blog, and sent the National Catholic Reporter the following statement, which they posted today at http://ncrcafe.org/node/1479#comment-21052:

"Since I reported on the recent announcement of the administrator of the Little Rock diocese, Msgr. Hebert, prohibiting Catholics from participating in the Race for the Cure this year, it's important for me to issue an update.

Today's Arkansas Times newspaper reports that diocesan officials have met with the Komen Foundation and rescinded their previous statement, since it was based on erroneous information that the Komen Foundation gives grants to Planned Parenthood.

Msgr. Hebert's retraction statement may be read in full at www.arktimes.com/blogs/arkansasblog/2008/03/komen_back_in_running.aspx#more.

As it states, "However, the reality is that the national Komen foundation does NOT give grants to Planned Parenthood – and, therefore, money given to Komen in Arkansas does NOT, even indirectly, fund abortion. Thus, my major reason for releasing the position statement was NOT valid."

Msgr. Hebert also notes, "Our statement implied that there exists a link between procured abortion and increased risk of breast cancer and that Komen dismisses that link. The National Cancer Institute states that there exists no link between abortion and breast cancer. The preponderance of scientific research states that no such link exists, but there is a minority opinion that insists that such a link exists."

And now we are free to continue to walk with Jesus, as we try to go about healing the sick and doing good.

I appreciate your reading my blog, and also your reminder that I had posted something here about the Race for the Cure controversy in the Little Rock diocese. It's important to me to print updates and corrections, so I appreciate your reminder very much.