Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cut from the Same Patriarchal Cloth: Catholic Lies, Mormon Lies

Yesterday the Vatican Secretariat of State released a statement indicating that Richard Williamson will be required to relinquish his views about the Holocaust in order to be permitted to function as a Catholic bishop ( As I have noted on this blog, in a papal audience last week, Benedict XVI stated that the schismatic bishops of the St. Pius X Society, including Richard Williamson, would be readmitted to communion in the hope that afterwards they would mend their theological ways.

What’s noteworthy about yesterday’s Vatican statement is that it concedes to the widespread uproar about the pope’s choice to readmit an avowed anti-Semite to communion, and appears to make a disavowal of the anti-Semitic views a precondition for readmission to the church—well, at least a precondition for holding office in the church. The Vatican statement makes no mention of Williamson’s equally troubling misogynistic or homophobic utterances.

What catches my eye in the Vatican statement is the following disclaimer:

Bishop Williamson, in order to claim admission to episcopal functions in the church, must distance himself in absolutely unequivocal and public fashion from his positions regarding the Shoah, which were not known by the Holy Father when the excommunication was lifted (; my emphasis).

Color me dubious. Papal decisions such as the one to rehabilitate SSPX are not taken lightly. They are preceded by abundant investigation and back-and-forth dialogue with the Curia and other papal advisors. Like any bureaucracy—particularly those heavily invested in monitoring the morality and controlling the behavior of others—the Vatican keeps extensive files on major ecclesiastical players like the SSPX bunch.

I believe this claim of blithe papal innocence about as much as I believed the claim of the leaders of the LDS church, following the victory of prop 8 in California, that they had contributed a measly $2,078 to the prop 8 battle ( Now, several days after the California courts denied an appeal by prop 8 supporters to shield the names of donors and six weeks into an investigation of LDS involvement by the California Political Practices Commission, the Mormons have suddenly found—hold on, new receipts appearing on our desks!—nearly $188,000 more than they first claimed to have spent, to assure prop 8’s victory.

It’s all of a piece, the lying. By major organized religious groups. By major organized religious groups that have some key things in common, including a highly centralized and autocratic male-dominated leadership structure intent on defending heterosexual (or heterosexual-passing) male privilege in the political, economic, social, and ecclesial structures of Christendom at all cost. A leadership structure hell-bent on holding the line against women and gays, which conveniently receives new revelations when it becomes politically necessary to give an inch . . . .

In my experience, both Catholics and Mormons tend to dismiss lying in the service of God as a minor peccadillo, one easily forgiven—a mere bending of the truth to effect a greater good. As an openly gay man dealing with folks in both male-dominated, hierarchical, politically powerful churches, I’ve had a number of disquieting experiences of being lied to blatantly by members and officials of both churches. These experiences have let me know that, when the one asking to be dealt with humanely is only a filthy faggot, a little truth-skirting for the Lord is just a peccadillo.

So color me unconvinced by the Vatican claim that Benedict was unaware of Richard Williamson’s anti-Semitism when Benedict announced plans to rehabilitate SSPX. This is a cover-up, a concession to the force of popular opinion that finds this Vatican action, finally, beyond the pale.

No, Benedict and his cronies are getting what they wanted, with this rehabilitation of a Vatican II-denying cult known for its anti-Semitism, disdain for women, and pretense to having preserved the true church in a period of apostasy and cultural decline. What they did not want or expect was the hue and cry that ensued when the announcement was made. They were so fixated on the response of their amen chorus, for whom Benedict can do no wrong, that they did not anticipate the widespread outrage with which they are now contending.

And, to me, that says a great deal about what is wrong with the leadership of the Catholic church at present. As I read responses to the rehabilitation of Richard Williamson and the appointment of Gerhard Maria Wagner, I keep flashing back to the election of Benedict. It was clear to me when new pope was announced that those who elected him wanted this man as the successor of John Paul II, and were determined to promote their choice even if it meant shoving an entire gold tiara down the throats of the rest of the church.

I well remember what I saw and heard with my own eyes that day, as I watched in a kind of fascinated repulsion. The announcement was made from the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square, and there was immediately not only loud cheering, but an audible, sharp booing from some members of the crowd, accompanied by a groan of dismay.

I was watching on EWTN, which cut immediately to Raymond Arroyo and Richard John Neuhaus, who looked stunned and were uncharacteristically speechless for a moment. I thought initially that their astonishment was at the fact that their candidate, a staunch leader of their restorationist movement, had been elected. But as I listened to their nervous patter as they sought composure, I suddenly realized that they had heard what I had heard, and were unmade by the response: we have come to such a pass with our church that the announcement of a new pope is greeting with boos and groans by some Catholics.

I then recall most of the church dignitaries on the balcony quickly scurrying back inside, while the odious Cardinal George remained, scanning the crowd, back erect, eyes coldly blazing, appraising—looking, looking, challenging the people of God to do anything but accept this choice that was being rammed down our throats. For our own good. Yes, the same Cardinal George for whose resignation the Catholic lay group Voice of the Faithful has called, when news broke last fall that he had known about and hidden priests who had abused children, while serving as head of the U.S. Catholics’ Bishop Conference (

I would have thought that I had simply imagined the scenario I describe in the preceding paragraphs, had I not read, in the weeks after the papal election, an online remark by an American Jesuit who saw and heard the same thing I saw and heard when Ratzinger’s name was announced. He, too, heard booing and groans. And he interpreted them as I did.

I would have thought I had imagined what I believed I had seen and heard when Ratzinger was made pope, until I saw the pictures that appeared a day or so after Benedict’s election in some American newspapers. They showed American seminarians celebrating after the papal announcement. These fine young men, the flower of the next generation of American Catholic leadership, had all fired up stogies—great, big Rush Limbaugh cigars—and were puffing away, grinning to beat the band.

Celebrating the continuation of phallic dominance in the church, their church, no matter who gets hurt by that dominance or how indefensible it is, in gospel terms. Because, you know, you can’t be a man, a real man, without hurting somebody. Without lording it over someone weaker than yourself. You can’t assert yourself, exercise authority, tell others what the Truth is, without making yourself bigger at somebody else’s expense. Women and gays have tremendous utilitarian value for those who have wagered the future on male dominion: we are the screen upon whose blank scroll the claims to male power are inscribed.

What has been going on for some time in the Catholic church is this: not only a purge of questioning, conscientious Catholics who cannot toe the party line when our consciences lead us in other directions, but a refashioning of the entire church, insofar as this is possible from its center, into a lean, mean political machine intent on ramming male dominance and clerical privilege down the throats of the people of God. At all cost. Even if this power play means destroying the church.

The election of Benedict was an in-your-face statement to the rest of us by those who wield power at the center of the church. Like it or lump it. It’s going to be this way. Our way or the highway. We own the scriptures. We own the sacraments. The central symbols and creed are ours, as well. We will do with them as we please. Protesting will only get you in trouble. We don’t care if we hurt you. In fact, we’ve rigged the game so that your hurt is our victory, a demonstration of the power we intend to assert at all cost. Vatican II and all that blather about the people of God and the Spirit dwelling in every believer’s heart? A mere blip on the screen of history, one we can easily erase.

It’s all of a piece, Mormon lying and Vatican lying. It’s all of a piece, the cynical use of gay human beings to symbolize all sin everywhere, even as church officials blatantly lie and engage in cynical cover ups. It’s all of a piece, the message that the ultimate proclamation of Christianity to the world is all about male dominance and female submission, the “natural” complementarity of the sexes. We would be foolish to read news stories about Richard Williamson and Gerhard Maria Wagner and Marcial Maciel, and not understand the real game being played out before our eyes.