Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Niederauer's Catholic Church: Searingly Familiar with the Battle for Civil Rights

Good news from the meeting of the U.S. Catholic bishops! They intend to help Mr. Obama.

And challenge him, of course. You know. The way they challenged Mr. Bush. And all the Republican politicians they’re bullied their flocks to elect and re-elect lo these many years.

The pro-life ones. The ones who have brought us the war on Iraq. Who stood by as Katrina devastated New Orleans. Who blocked the CHIP program to provide healthcare for needy infants.

Yes, those pro-life leaders. The ones the bishops have talked endlessly about, as they challenged and re-challenged the disparity between pro-life rhetoric and anti-life actions in their anointed candidates of the party of life and not the one of death.

And look at who’s talking about civil rights! None other than Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco, who, according to an article published in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle, wrote the Mormons in June to solicit their help in the fight against the right of gay Americans to marry (www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/11/10/MNU1140AQQ.DTL&hw=niederauer&sn=001&sc=1000).

You know, to marry in civil ceremonies over which churches don’t preside. Just like millions of other Americans choose to do.

Yes, that civil right, which the good archbishop of San Francisco depicts as a “right,” as he does the “marriages” that result from that “right.”

But, thankfully, the good archbishop of San Francisco is not against civil rights. Oh, no, not at all.

Because at the same time that he rejoices in the removal of the “right” to “marry” from gay human beings, he also praises God that “on the same day and at the same polling places,” African Americans voted in strong numbers both for the first African-American president and against the “right” of gay human beings to “marry” (http://ncrcafe.org/node/2262).

As the good archbishop of San Francisco puts the point,

For months we were told that this is a civil rights issue. Yet the group most searingly familiar with civil rights battles in America voted in favor of the proposition by 70 percent. They did not see the issue as conservative/liberal, but rather the way we presented it – as a defense of traditional marriage.

Searingly familiar: you know, as the Catholic church has been searingly familiar with the African-American community and its aspirations for generations. As it has unstintingly fought discrimination, opposed slavery, combated racism, and created a vibrant and welcoming space in its midst for people of color.

Well, sort of. When it wasn’t actually practicing slavery. And defending it as one of those “natural” institutions that has existed from time immemorial and therefore must have been blessed or instituted by God, or it wouldn’t have existed from time immemorial.

And when it wasn’t using the scriptures to prop up its defense of slavery. Since the bible does presuppose and even endorse slavery, don’t you know.

And if the church is anything, it’s faithful to the bible—every word, as it is written. All of them entrusted, thank God, into the hands of those men at the top who are searingly familiar with human rights and intent on safeguarding said rights.

Ask Mother Henriette DeLille, who founded the Sisters of the Holy Family. Born to a white father and a mother who was a free woman of color under the system of “marriage” that did not in any way trouble Catholic pastors in pre-emancipation New Orleans—the system called plaçage—Henriette DeLille recognized that she had a vocation for religious life as she became a young woman.

But when she sought to enter a “white” religious community of sisters—any white community of sisters—she found that having a slight proportion of African blood prevented her from doing so. Religious life was, well, for white ladies, not black women. DeLille was told that women of color could not live the vow of chastity required of religious women.

So she decided to found her own community, a community of women of color. In that welcoming, racially progressive church that is searingly familiar with the hunger and thirst of despised human beings for basic human rights. The church that has unfailingly promoted human rights. The church that now applauds the legitimate rights of African-American human beings while gleefully removing the illegitimate “rights” of gay ones.

The church that fostered and protected plaçage in south Louisiana for over 150 years—a “marriage” in which a white man took a woman of color as his “wife” until, well, until he got tired of her and was pressured by his family to marry. To have a real marriage, a Catholic one, in a church.

At which point the woman of color and the children she had borne the white man were usually kicked to the curb as the father of the family began to live with his real wife and to pay attention to his real children.

In one of those good old-fashioned forever-and-ever marriages that have existed from the beginning of human history, according to the Catholic church. And which would be seriously undermined if we allowed any other kind of “marriage” to gain a toehold in our society. The kind the church has always defended as it has sought to stamp out bogus “marriages” to which no one has a “right.”

About the good archbishop’s glee at the fine behavior of those searingly familiar with civil rights battles: look for a lot more of this rhetoric—a whole boatload of this crap—to be unloaded in coming months. By religious people in cross-church alliances defending marriage across the nation, doncha know.

Just as they have always consistently and valiantly defended the civil rights of African Americans, whom they are now happy to use as blunt instruments with whom to beat gay Americans over the head. While talking about Christian love, healing, human rights.

Since the Catholic church (and the LDS church) has always been on the side of human rights. Ask Mother Henriette DeLille. She'll tell you. You'll get an earful if you ask her and most other Catholics of African heritage whose roots run deep in the Catholicism of places like south Louisiana. They'll tell you in a hearbeat how searingly familiar Catholic pastoral leaders have been, on the whole, with the human rights of African Americans and the aspirations of African-American Catholics to dignity.