Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Benedict's Smaller, Purer Church: Room for Antisemites, Misogynists, Homophobes . . . But Not for Us (2)

As right-to-life protesters, many of them Catholic, march in Washington, Pope Benedict XVI prepares to readmit members of the Society of St. Pius X, including Bishop Richard Williamson, back into communion, and the Catholic blog world is ablaze with conversation about both events. And I feel completely outside this conversation—far removed from it, in fact.

What strikes me so strongly, and what I hear no one discussing, is this: at the heart of both stories is the question of communion. Of what it means to be church in the 21st century. Of how to live the gospel in the world today. Of what it means to be Catholic and in communion with other Catholics.

These are precisely the questions that Benedict claims to be pursuing vigorously in his papacy. Much of his theology has centered on questions of communion, and on the ecclesiology implied by a theology of communion. It is possible, even, to see his decision to readmit the SSPX schismatics to communion as an expression of his longstanding concern to enhance communion in the church.

But for many of us, that decision creates a further rift, a deeper fissure in the communion of the Catholic church. It points to a strong and very troubling double standard in the mind of the hierarchy about who is worthy of remaining in communion, and who deserves to be removed from communion. Benedict’s announcement rehabilitating the Pius X group, including the controversial Williamson, comes on the heels of an announcement last month that Rev. Roy Bourgeois is facing excommunication for participating in a women’s ordination ceremony (http://ncronline3.org/drupal/?q=node/2545).

The return of the SSPX group to communion also follows on the announcement that Rev. Roger Haight, an influential American Catholic theologian, who had already been removed from teaching in Catholic institutions and forbidden to write about christology, is now forbidden to teach anywhere or to write on any topic (http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2009/01/haight-case-and-state-of-american.html). Some folks in, other folks out.

And the ones being brought inside are, for many Catholics, far more ambiguous representatives of what Catholicism stands for at its best, than are those being shoved out. To many of us, the message is loud and clear: not your church. Shut up and sit down. We make the rules and if you don’t like them, leave.

And here’s where it becomes difficult for me to articulate precisely what I want to say about the confluence of the March for Life story and that of the rehabilitation of SSPX: it’s difficult to articulate, because I don’t think many Catholics who are questioning the SSPX rehabilitation see a clear connection that I see between that event and the March for Life. I don't hear a lot of Catholics discussing these two issues seeing shared ecclesiological connections in the two stories, which seem clear to me.

In my posting that began this series of reflections on Benedict’s smaller, purer church, I did point to one connection that should be obvious to anyone reading this posting: the statements of Richard Williamson that have elicited such outrage show this SSPX bishop to be a homophobic, misogynistic, antisemite (http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2009/01/benedicts-smaller-purer-church-room-for.html). One of the Catholic leaders of the March for Life, ex-California Congressman Bob Dornan, has also engaged in hate rhetoric about Jews, women, and gay and lesbian folks. There is common ground between a key leader of the American Catholic anti-abortion movement and Richard Williamson, in that both have targeted Jews, gays and lesbians, and women.

In my view, this common ground is not accidental: it deserves attention. The pro-life movement has contributed in no small degree to laying the foundations of the smaller, purer, reactionary, and prejudice-ridden church that SSPX represents. I suspect that the homophobia, misogyny, and antisemitism that Bob Dornan has felt free to express in the past is hardly limited to him alone, but is shared more widely than many of us imagine, by other Catholic right-to-lifers.

This is a movement that is about more than abortion and the right to life. It has a much wider agenda, and that agenda is one that should trouble many centrist American Catholics far more than it does. The ecclesiology represented and promoted by many American right-to-lifers is closer to that of SSPX than of Vatican II, or of the majority of American Catholics who have not bought into the highly politicized stance of American Catholic right-to-lifers.

These are themes I’d like to turn to in my next posting on this topic . . . .