Friday, May 29, 2009

The Seamy Bridgeport Diocese Story: A Time to Reconsider Homophobic Strategies of Diversion

I blogged a number of times (e.g., here and here and here and here) in March about what I saw as the attempt of Bishop William J. Lori of the Catholic diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, to play the anti-gay card as he sought to torpedo legislation that would have given layfolks oversight of finances in Bridgeport parishes.

In the postings to which I’ve just linked, I argued that Bishop Lori targeted two openly gay legislators in Connecticut to stir opposition to the proposed legislation. In an open letter, I appealed for Bishop Lori (and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, who collaborated in this attempt though he has no authority in the Bridgeport diocese) to stop using homophobia as a weapon in political battles. My letter calls on the American Catholic bishops to exercise fraternal correction by encouraging their brother bishops to stop fanning the flames of prejudice against gay people, since violence often follows when authority figures use homophobia as a political weapon.

And, as the postings to which I have linked indicate, the son of a Catholic deacon did, in fact, email a threat of violence to the two legislators his bishop targeted in March . . . .

In light of what was happening in the Bridgeport diocese earlier in the year, it is interesting to read now that the Connecticut Supreme Court has ordered sealed files of the Bridgeport diocese re: priests accused of sexual abuse to be opened. Even after the court ruling, the diocese is fighting hard to keep these files sealed, and is claiming (not unlike our federal leaders who resist a truth commission on torture) that opening the files will only open wounds that have already healed. This claim runs against the insistence of victims of clerical sexual abuse that their healing process requires the full truth to be known.

As I read about this controversy in Connecticut, I cannot help thinking of the recent claim of Father John Owen, communications director for the diocese of Cardiff, Wales, that the clerical sexual abuse of minors is due to the presence of gays in the priesthood. Owen was responding to the horrific revelations a few days back of longstanding sexual, psychological, and physical abuse of children (of both sexes) by Irish priests, brothers, and nuns.

Now that I know more about what is going on in the Bridgeport diocese, Bishop Lori’s attack on two openly gay legislators earlier this year, as he tried to work up Catholic fervor to thwart legislation having to do with church finances, seems, well, downright seamier than it did when I first read about that attack. There is something extremely rotten in the Catholic church. The Bridgeport story demonstrates it. And anyone with eyes to see, can see it.

The persistent need to scapegoat gays, to work up hostility against gay people merely because they are gay, when the church itself is rotten with perversion as religious authority figures abuse children and are then protected at the highest levels of the church: that need is sick. In the extreme.

It has worked, for a long time, though. The church has managed for a long time to divert attention from its own structural and pastoral (and legal and financial) shortcomings by scapegoating gays.

But this tactic seems no longer to be working well. Look at the postings following newspaper articles about the recent Connecticut Supreme Court decision re: the diocese of Bridgeport’s files, and you’ll see that the majority of them condemn the church’s ugly game-playing with victims of sexual abuse. People are becoming aware that, while preaching the highest moral standards, the church has itself frequently cloven the psyches of children and assaulted their bodies through sexual abuse, and has then lied, bullied, and manipulated in every way it can to hide its moral shortcomings.

And as people become aware of this aspect of the life of the church, the strategy of targeting gays to divert attention from the abuse scandal is less and less effective. It is now becoming part of the seamy history of the abuse scandal itself, with its cover-ups and pay-offs and refusal of the highest pastoral authorities to do what pastors are supposed to do.

It would be more seemly, and surely more effective, if Catholic leaders reconsidered this strategy of homophobia and confronted their problems forthrightly, without anymore bashing of anyone. Or so it seems to me.