Friday, March 13, 2009

Open Season on Gays, Catholic Bishops Leading the Way: The Connecticut Debacle

In his marvelous new book Sex As God Intended that I plan to review for this blog and other publications, theologian John J. McNeill states,

The enormous anti-gay campaign going on today, fomented by the religious right with the full cooperation of the Vatican, is clear evidence that they are fearful that they are losing the battle. And with good reason; a whole world is disappearing and it necessarily has to disappear. We must be ready, however, for another moment of backlash. We must have a vision of where our movement of gay liberation is going and of what we can do both for ourselves and the rest of humanity, our brothers and sisters, for we are involved in a process of liberating all human beings to the fullness of life (John J. McNeill, Sex as God Intended [Maple Shade, NJ: Lethe Press, 2008], p. 122).

We must be ready, however, for another moment of backlash. Prophetic words. We are, in fact, in the midst of that moment of backlash right now, on the very cusp of it, in recent events in the American Catholic church. In the past several days, a number of American Catholic bishops have openly played the gay-bashing card in an ugly, gratuitous way, as they seek to defend episcopal control of parishes calling for lay oversight of parish finances.

The bishops in question are William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Charles J. Chaput of Denver. I’ll get to what they have said—and done: to their deliberate attack on gay human beings in a political game designed to consolidate their ecclesial power—in a moment. First I want to sketch the context of this attack.

Here’s how I understand what has been going on in Connecticut, from the news reports I have read. A lay Catholic, Tom Gallagher, who sometimes writes for the publication National Catholic Reporter, approached the co-chairs of the Connecticut legislative judiciary committee, Rep. Michael Lawlor and Sen. Andrew McDonald, to promote legislation assuring stronger lay involvement in the oversight of finances in Catholic parishes (here and here and here).

Lawlor and McDonald are both Catholic. Gallagher was concerned about cases of stupendous fiscal impropriety in the Bridgeport, Connecticut, diocese in recent years. On 12 Sept. 2007, Father Michael Jude Fay of St. John’s parish in that diocese pled guilty to misappropriation of what appears to be some $1.4 million of parish funds (here).

Prior to this, in December 1996, Monsignor Charles Stubbs of St. Mary’s church in the same diocese resigned amid allegations that he had improperly spent at least a half million dollars—about which the diocese has apparently never provided fiscal details, though Stubbs was eventually defrocked for molesting a boy (here). Tom Gallager is directly tied to the Stubbs story in that he was appointed a trustee of St. Mary’s parish in the month following Stubbs’ resignation.

What Gallagher sought through the bill he tried to place before the Connecticut legislature was direct lay oversight and control of parish finances. Though there have been precedents for this arrangement in the American Catholic church in the past, for a long time now priests acting under the authority of bishops have directly controlled the finances of all parishes. Lay finance boards are recommended by church documents. They do not exist in all parishes. And in no parishes do they have direct control over church finances.

This produces a series of serious problems for Catholic parishes. Those problems are glaringly apparent in ongoing reports, one following on the heels of another in the media, of fiscal impropriety by priests in parishes. A study done by Villanova University in January 2007 shows that, of American Catholic dioceses responding to its survey, 85% reported embezzlement of church funds in the past five years (here). Embezzlement is a predictable result of any system of fiscal oversight that places all the control of and reporting about money in the hands of one person, who is not accountable to or in any way supervised by those providing the money.

There is nothing at all in Catholic governance rules that requires a parish or a diocese to release to the public or to parishioners detailed and accurate information about the amount of money it takes in and how it uses that money. The system is notoriously lacking in transparency and in accountability. The laity who foot the bill for that system have no right at all to say how their money is being used, and no right to ask for reports to that effect.

This is a problem. It is thickly intertwined with the problem of clerical abuse of minors, which depends for its existence on the absolute power of clerics to do anything they please without lay checks and balances on their power, and on the right of clerics to refuse to be accountable to or to behave with transparency towards the laity.

Tom Gallagher’s solution to the problem may not have been the wisest one possible. It may infringe on the line separating church and state (but every bit as much as, and perhaps far less than, the political websites set up by Archbishop Chaput’s archdiocese during the last election) (here).

Even so, there is a problem, clearly so, and it is not going to be resolved by bishops who put holding the reins of power above all other values—as far too many bishops do, in violation of the gospels. I can understand Tom Gallagher’s frustration and what caused him to try to seek a solution to his problem at the state legislative level, though I may not agree with the approach he has taken.

And the response of some American Catholic bishops to this legislation, which did not even come before the legislature? All-out warfare. With their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as cannon fodder in the bloody battle.

In a statement on his blog on 8 March, Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport whips up the troops with rhetoric about a direct attack on our church and our faith—as if a bishop’s control of church finances is integral to core Catholics beliefs, and as if questioning that mutable, historically developed financial arrangement is an attack on the church and orthodoxy (here).

And what bloody flag does the bishop wave in his blog posting, to incite the faithful to action? He states that the pending legislation is “a thinly-veiled attempt to silence the Catholic church on the important issues of the day, such as same-sex marriage.” “It is time for us to defend our church!” he concludes.

For anyone following the story up to the point of that battle cry, the allusion to some (entirely bogus) attempt to silence the church on same-sex marriage must sound, well, curious—if not entirely off the wall. The ugly insinuation that Lori is too delicate to spell out here—but entirely willing to make and use, as he whips up the masses—is that the bill being put before the Connecticut legislature is being promoted by—gasp!—homosexual activists.

Count on Archbishop Chaput, however, to go where angels fear to tread—though the legislation in question is in Connecticut and Chaput would appear to have no vested interest at all in intervening in an issue before that state’s legislature. In a statement the day after Lori’s blog entry above was posted, Chaput concurs with his brother bishop’s statement that the church is under attack. Chaput’s angle is that “bigots” who “resent” the church are attacking it through Gallagher’s legislation (here).

And, lest we remain in doubt about precisely who those resentful bigots might be, Chaput’s archdiocesan website helpfully encourages readers of his statement to peruse the coverage of the statement at the Catholic News Agency website. The Catholic News Agency of Denver, Colorado which, for some years now, has functioned to all intents and purposes as an arm of the Archdiocese of Denver and as a means by which Archbishop Chaput’s views on matters of church and state can be represented to the international Catholic media as “the” American Catholic voice on those issues.

Head over to Catholic News Agency and what do you read in its article entitled “Archbishop of Denver Warns that Conn. Bill Threatens Catholics Everywhere” (here; and see Enlightened Catholicism’s commentary here)? You read the following astonishing claim, one to which a bishop who purports to be concerned primarily about the integrity of the church and its leaders would, one would think, not want to be linked:

The Senate Bill 1098 was introduced last Thursday by the chairs of the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut State Legislature: Senator Andrew McDonald of Stamford and Representative Michael Lawlor of East Haven.

Sen. McDonald and Rep. Lawlor are both homosexual activists, who have opposed the local Church’s efforts to defend marriage between a man and a woman.

There you have it, dear readers, in a nutshell. Bishop Lori of Bridgeport whips up the faithful, informing them that pending legislation that has nothing at all to do with gay issues or same-sex marriage is a “thinly veiled attempt to silence the church” about gay marriage. And in faraway Colorado, Archbishop Chaput, who shares Lori’s view that the church is under siege and that the faithful need to be up in arms, speaks of “resentful” “bigots” attacking the church, and links to a right-wing Catholic newspaper in his own city that informs us—in reporting about Chaput’s press release—that “homosexual activists” are behind the Connecticut legislation.

And it has worked. The media and blogs have been full, all week long, of gay-baiting of the vilest sort, gay bashing that can be laid right at the feet of two Catholic bishops, two men who claim to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, who are called to seek out the wounded sheep and bind up their wounds—not to inflict wounds.

The day after Lori made his blog statement, and the same day that Chaput released his, one Kevin “Coach” Collins posts at the Free Republic website with a headline screaming, "Connecticut’s Homosexuals open a final push to destroy the Catholic Church” (here). In elegant prose and with impeccable logic, “Coach” Kevin nails the homosexual conspiracy lurking behind proposed legislation to add lay folks to financial oversight committees in Catholic parishes as follows:

Since this is a blatant violation of the doctrine of separation of Church and State, and clearly at odds with the 1st and 14th Amendments and is a bill of attainder, it begs the questions: Why would this bill be introduced and cui bono (who benefits)?

Research has provided some possible answers.

Why would anyone back this bill?

Connecticut based gay website, G.A.Y. (Good as You) said this about McDonald and Lawlor:

“The two co-sponsors of the bill, Andrew McDonald and Michael Lawlor, are both practicing homosexuals. While cloaked in the garment of demanding fiscal transparency, the real doctrinal intention of the bill is unmistakable.” Now WHAT could that mean?

These two have also joined forces to introduce and push the state’s Civil Unions law. There is every reason to believe one of the possible “improvements” to the way the Catholic Church in Connecticut conducts Her operations might softening the Church’s position on gay conduct.

What else could it be?

What else, indeed? When priests embezzle huge amounts of money, and lay folks call for financial oversight of such embezzlement, look for a homosexual to be hiding somewhere in the bushes.

Despite the cogency of “Coach” Kevin’s stunning argument here, there’s a wee problem, unfortunately: he seems to have invented—totally—the quote from the Good as You website, an internet site that is not centered in Connecticut as he claims. For GAY’s response, see (here).

If you have the stomach for it, scan the blogs of the Catholic and political right this week, and see what the two good shepherds of the flock have wrought, with their cynical, ugly political use of gay human beings, gay lives, gay bodies, as political footballs in their battle to keep at bay lay oversight of Catholic parish finances. Check out the Pro Ecclesia blog, for instance, and you’ll read a huge WEB ALERT stating,

Senate Bill 1098 was introduced by Lawlor and McDonald (both homosexual activists) as a political ploy and distraction in order to pass Senate Bill 899 with minimal opposition! SB 899 goes far beyond the codification of the Kerrigan decision imposing same –sex marriage in CT. The goal of SB 899 is to strip away important statutory protections in order to pave the way for the eventual state mandated infusion of ‘gay positive’ themes into the public school curriculum. STOP SECTION 17!! (here).

Head back over to Chaput’s Catholic News Agency site and look at the threads commenting on articles about the Connecticut situation and you’ll read one from one Ron Pichlik, “This is nothing short of an attempt by the liberal, homosexual and secular agenda to try to put the Church in its' [sic] place (here). Homosexuals and liberals and secularists all working together to do in the poor, embattled church . . . .

Go to the website of the National Catholic Reporter and read the article to which I linked previously, discussing the Connecticut case, and you’ll see one CHAYNES linking the homosexual conspiracy to National Catholic Reporter itself: “The bill was provided to the homosexual activists by Gallagher, the NCR's writer” (here).

It’s open season on the gays right now. And Catholic bishops are leading the way. Though the bill that never even made it to the legislative floor in Connecticut had nothing at all to do with gay issues, Bishops Lori and Chaput have not hesitated to play the homosexual conspiracy card, in their zeal to keep lay noses out of parish and diocesan fiscal records.

John McNeill is right, prophetically so. The more we see the structures of the homophobic, patriarchal church and the homophobic, patriarchal culture on which it depends cracking under the weight of their own corruption, the more likely we are to see a new backlash against gay human beings. We will see new attempts of those structures to blame gay human beings for what the leaders of those structures have themselves wrought.

We will see renewed attempts to play the gay scapegoat card when anyone seeks to hold those leaders accountable for their mismanagement of institutions, for their corruption, for their lies. And we will see those attempts working: the hatred that Lori and Chaput whipped up had a strong effect on what happened to the bill in the Connecticut legislature. They succeeded in turning that bill back in its tracks.

And now liberals, National Catholic Reporter, Voice of the Faithful—all kinds of other innocent bystanders—are being linked to the dark homosexual conspiracy behind the bill. Rub shoulders with us who are gay, and expect to be tarred with a mighty big and mighty wicked brush.

And if you think that this hate mongering is inadvisable, unChristian, and destructive to our social fabric, then please get to work. Because we’re going to see it get worse before it gets better, and lots of people who do not deserve to be hurt are going to be seriously damaged, in the name of Christ, before we stop it.