Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Brother That Dare Not Speak His Name: The American Catholic Center and the Invisibility of Gays

There's a fascinating discussion going on at the Commonweal blog this weekend about the appointment of Gerhard Maria Wagner as the new auxiliary bishop of Linz, Austria ( I blogged about that appointment earlier today (

As my posting notes, various credible reports indicate that in 2005, when Wagner was still a pastor of a parish, he stated in a parish newsletter that Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans as "divine retribution" for that city's tolerance of gay and lesbian persons. He also maintained that God targeted nightclubs, brothels, and abortion clinics, in particular, with Katrina.

But if one relied on the Commonweal thread for a discussion of the issues surrounding the appointment of this bishop, one would not have a clue that there is controversy about an anti-gay statement of his. At the Commonweal blog, all attention is focusing on Wagner's opposition to the Harry Potter books (yes, I kid you not) and to his statement about nightclubs and abortion.

Not a peep about the homophobia.

And there, in a nutshell, is what I have been trying to note on this blog, over and over, re: centrist-to-liberal American Catholics and gay issues and gay folks. It's as if we simply don't exist, for these thinkers of the American Catholic center. As if we are invisible. As if we don't count.

As if it's not worth noting, when a priest is promoted to bishop on the basis of a record of homophobia. As if, somehow, that's to be expected--promoting a homophobic bishop. While anti-Semitic or misogynistic remarks might be troubling and deserve analysis . . . .

Can these spokespersons of the Catholic center not be aware that, following the Third Lateran Council, there has been a persistent tendency in right-wing Catholic rhetoric to define homosexuality as the sin against nature that calls down the wrath of God on the world? It's impossible to understand or deal with Wagner's claims that Katrina destroyed New Orleans because of God's wrath without paying attention to what is central in that rhetoric: the linking of tolerance of homosexuality with natural disasters.

I know that I could log on and say these things on the Commonweal blog (though some blogs of the Catholics center have been perfectly willing to censor my comments in the past). But I don't choose to do so, because I don't really feel welcome in those tight-knit discussion circles. Most of all, I wonder what I could say that could change the mind of anyone who hasn't yet caught on to the name of the homophobic game in Catholicism, and who can continue playing the game by invisibilizing gay brothers and sisters.

If people--people of good will, educated people, people concerned about the future of the churches--haven't caught on yet to the damage that homophobia does to many of their brothers and sisters, when will they do so? And what can make them attain that insight? Certainly not more words from me or others like me, I fear . . . .