Sunday, July 19, 2009

Homophobia and Churches' Dark Secrets: Making the Connections

An update to a story about which I last blogged at the end of May—the attempt of the Catholic diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, to keep files regarding clerical sexual abuse of minors sealed, in the face of demands from many quarters that the diocese disclose information about how it has been handling those cases. The Clerical Whispers blog is reporting today that the diocese has now appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to keep this information from the public.

If readers will follow the links in the Bilgrimage posting to which I link above back to previous postings about the Bridgeport diocese, they’ll find that this diocese’s attempt to seal its files re: clerical sexual abuse has gone in hand with some nasty gay-bashing, which has stirred up potential violence against openly gay Connecticut legislators targeted by Bishop Lori of Bridgeport. As the story of the diocese’s attempt to keep its personnel files sealed unfolds, the picture that is emerging is this: some Catholic bishops and some dioceses seem eager to play the gay-bashing card as a way of diverting attention from how they have mishandled money, in a period in which the common pattern in U.S. Catholic dioceses has been for diocesan authorities to pay off survivors of clerical sexual abuse under the table, to silence them and prevent embarrassing lawsuits.

In the period from 2002, when stories about the sexual abuse crisis in American Catholicism began to break, up to the present, it has become increasingly apparent that most dioceses have paid huge amounts, always off the books, to keep information about clerical sexual abuse out of the media and out of courts. Funds given by the laity to support the church, its ministries, its schools, and its buildings have been diverted to a cover-up of abuse cases, at a moment when many Catholic churches and schools, particularly in poor areas, are being closed due to lack of funds.

The story of the Bridgeport diocese’s appeal to the Supreme Court needs to be read in tandem with recent stories (see here and here and here) about the financial wheelings and dealings of the Diocese of Maine, a financially strapped diocese that has suddenly found major funds to try to overturn the state’s same-sex marriage law.

As John Aravosis’s Americablog and Pam Spaulding’s House Blend blog, to which I have just linked, are reporting, the drive to repeal the law permitting same-sex marriage in Maine has just revealed a contribution of $100,000 from the diocese of Maine—for which the diocese seems curiously unable to account. That is, the diocese is having difficulty explaining how it has come up with those funds when it has been closing churches due to lack of money to keep its churches open.

These stories from Connecticut and Maine raise lots of interesting questions. One has to do with the meaning of participatory democracy when religious groups can shift money around behind the scenes (sometimes from group to group: in the battle vs. prop 8 in California, the Catholic archbishop of San Francisco invited the Mormons to enter the fray, with a huge infusion of Mormon dollars to supplement those supplied by Catholic groups like the Knights of Columbus) in efforts to force state legislatures to adhere to the peculiar religious views of particular churches, even when legislatures have voted to implement social policies those churches find distasteful, and when courts have upheld the legislatures’ actions.

What can democracy mean, when churches can use their money—often in hidden and ethically dubious ways—to subvert democracy? What can it mean when a church group centered in, say, Utah, can try to subvert the will of the people in California or Maine or Massachusetts? What business do the churches have engaging in such imperious theocratic behavior in a pluralistic democratic society?

And how do churches that play homophobic games to divert attention from their own glaring ethical misbehavior in cases of sexual abuse of children expect to be taken seriously as moral agents? Of what worth is the anti-gay moral teaching of homophobic churches, when those same churches have dark secrets about sexual abuse of children and the misuse of funds to hide those secrets?

When it becomes apparent that the homophobic crusade of some churches—the crusade to target gay citizens and make them susceptible to violence—goes hand in hand with the attempt of those same churches to seal records that reveal the extent of clerical abuse of children and the misuse of church funds to conceal that abuse, shouldn’t we begin to reexamine why these churches are so intent on playing the gay-bashing card at this point in history? And doesn’t both the homophobia and the abuse of children, with its attendant fiscal corruption, point to the deep need of many churches to reform their own lives before they seek to reform the lives of others—and to establish theocratic control of the democratic process?

Just wondering, this July Sunday, anno Domini 2009 . . . .