Monday, July 6, 2009

Clericalism and the Rotten Heart of the Institutional Church

The following journal entry dated January 1990 touches on some of the real-life (as opposed to in-the-head) reasons Steve and I had to struggle during this period with anguishing questions about how to be true to ourselves as gay persons, and at the same time to live our vocations as theologians in a church that does not permit gay people to be self-affirming and publicly gay within the structures of the church. The injustice Steve encountered at a seminary in which he taught as a lay professor (the first lay professor to teach in this seminary) precipitated a crisis in our everyday life that carried over, naturally, into our vocational lives.

In what follows, I reflect on the clericalism that was at the heart of this experience, and continues to be at the heart of the church's ongoing abuse of gay persons. The rector who denied tenure to Steve, ultimately uprooting us from our livelihood, home, and secure jobs, was subsequently made a bishop and has now been made an archbishop.

In 2002, when the media published lists of the two-thirds of U.S. Catholic bishops who have harbored and promoted priests and diocesan employees credibly accused of sexually abusing minors, this bishop's name was in these published lists. I wrote him to remind him of what he had done to our lives, and to tell him how disappointed I was to learn he had protected pedophiles.

He wrote back to tell me I was disrespectful and he was very angry to receive my letter. He denied having sheltered any priest who had abused minors. The media has continued to corroborate the information about him published in 2002.

Here's my journal entry:

On 7 December, Steve was informed that, even though students and his colleagues had voted for him to be tenured, he will not be granted tenure and will not have a job come summer. I could say a lot about this here, but the thing I want to note at this point is how the event and A.’s (the rector) and M.’s (the dean’s) explication of A.’s unilateral decision to deny Steve tenure reveals a rottenness at the heart of the church as an institution.

Phony protestations of Christian charity and concern, when one is deprived of a livelihood. Mendacious pious adjurations to trust God to provide, when the priest uttering them is warm and well-fed. And over and over at the seminary, a game of shifting techniques to teach seminarians to be more “open” and engaged ministers, when nothing is really shifting: underneath it all is clericalism and the vying of power clerics for more power in the power structure of the church, calling black white to defend the institution so that they will receive bishops’ hats.

My gut-level feeling is, enough. I’m simply tired of being treated as if my talents and calling are second-rate, when nothing calls the cleric making that judgment about me as a layperson to accountability.

But I also feel tired of beating my head against the wall. What can call the seminary/church to own up to what it really is? On the one hand, I now feel increasingly that God’s life is mediated to me outside the institution, through gays, persons living with AIDS, the homeless, the disaffected, my black students and colleagues and friends. But, on the other hand, simply to melt into the margins seems to be irresponsible—it lets the bastards keep playing their corrupt games, while calling themselves persons of charity. I want to unmask them, but I don’t have the power, and don’t know how to do it . . . .

My writings can be one of the ways I combat clericalism. I suppose, really, I’ve made that point in what I said above. But how, precisely? What project to choose, among many possibilities? Above all, how to make one’s voice heard so that the A.'s and M.’s must hear it, in their closed rooms of clerical political game-playing (A.) or their neurotic ivory-tower studies (M.)?