Monday, February 2, 2009

Papal Appointment of Homophobic Bishop: American Catholic Silence

The whole world is talking about the statement of Benedict's new episcopal appointment, Gerhard Maria Wagner, in Linz, Austria--that is, about his statement that Hurricane Katrina was a visitation of divine wrath on New Orleans for its tolerance of gay human beings. The British press contains numerous articles noting this statement--in the Guardian (, the Times (, the BBC's news articles (, etc.

Even the AP, not noted for its sensitivity to gay persons and gay issues, has produced news articles noting the homophobic statement of Wagner in a 2005 parish bulletin (

But for American Catholics of the center, it's as if the homophobic statements don't exist (,

Which is to say, it's as if gay human beings don't exist. As if we're invisible. As if our claim to a place at the table has no merit. As if one can continue talking about love, inclusion, communion without uttering a word about an entire group of people who have been made invisible.

What does it imply when we act as if a group of people simply doesn't exist? What does it imply about us? About our catholicity?

These are questions that have very much demanded discussion for years now in American Catholicism, and especially among those who occupy the seats of power in the knowledge class of the center--theologians, journalists, bloggers. They are questions that become more important to discuss with each new initiative from Rome these days.

And yet they are not being discussed--not by the knowledge class at the center of the American Catholic church. Why not, I wonder? What does the silence imply?

Meanwhile, it interests me that no discussion I've seen about Gerhard Maria Wagner's 2005 remarks seems to be paying attention to one of his most outrageous claims about Katrina and New Orleans. A transcript of Wagner's 2005 parish bulletin statements which claims to be precise is at the Austrian Catholic news site (

There, I find that as Wagner talked about the annual New Orleans gay pride event, Southern Decadence, which was canceled in 2005 due to Katrina, he stated that press reports of the previous year indicated that "Christians" protesting the parade would be jailed.

Really? If that's true, it's the first I've heard of it. I lived in New Orleans from 1968 to 1976 and again from 1987 to 1991. Though the Southern Decadence parade was not my cup of tea and I never attended it, I did read news coverage about it during my periods of residence in New Orleans, and never once did I hear of any threat to jail "Christians" protesting the event.

I encountered some of those "Christians" at Mardi Gras parades over the years, particularly in the French Quarter, where gay events were concentrated and where "Christian" protesters flocked as a result. I found many of these protesters aggressive, hostile, courting violent responses--though I never saw any violence directed towards any of them. I often wondered why they were in the French Quarter protesting on Mardi Gras day when there was a lot more sin to protest, in my view, on Wall Street and in D.C. on almost any day of the week.

I never saw anyone try to curb the freedom of "Christians" to protest at any gay event in New Orleans.

The claim that God destroys cities tolerant of gay celebrations is a tired old trope of the American religious right ( The appearance of this trope in the rhetoric of an Austrian Catholic parish priest indicates how far the influence of the religious right--and its toxic political agenda--has spread beyond the boundaries of the U.S.

The continued influence of this trope of natural disasters-as-divine punishments depends on our willingness to ignore any and all natural disasters that don't fit into our predetermined scheme of punishment. When a natural disaster strikes an area inhabited by God-fearing American families of the middle, one never hears that God has had a hand in that disaster. To the contrary, any such rhetoric would be immediately dismissed as extremely mean-spirited.

We have become so brain-washed, many of us, about God's willingness to hurl down punishment on gay human beings that we don't even stop to think about how selective our use of natural events has to be, in order to maintain that belief. Some years ago, when I was teaching students in North Carolina who were absolutely convinced that God sends hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and fires to wipe out the gays, a tornado tore through our area.

On its way to North Carolina through Alabama, the same storm system caused the collapse of a church in Alabama, in which children giving an Easter performance were killed. In Charlotte, the largest city near our college, the tornadoes ripped the roofs off several businesses, skipping over an x-rated video shop in the middle of the row of businesses. The porn shop was totally unharmed while the neighboring workplaces were all seriously torn apart.

When I asked my students to think about what that set of tornadoes implies about our theories that God uses natural disasters to punish gays--and other sinners--they were unable to process the information. The facts got in the way of their predetermined beliefs. The determination to target gay human beings is so strong in parts of our culture that nothing, it appears, can cause many of us to stop and think about the lack of rationality, humanity, and real religion in our approach to gay human beings.

These students who were intent on holding their anti-gay views in the face of all evidence to the contrary chose silence as a response to facts that troubled them. It's clear to me why they did so.

The American Catholic center chooses silence in the face of all appeals for free, inclusive, respectful discourse about the presence of gay human beings in the world. It's becoming more and more clear to me why that silence is there--and it's also becoming clear to me to what an extent the silence about these human beings undermines the claims of many at the center to be interested in love, inclusivity, communion, etc.