Friday, November 13, 2009

Commentary on U.S. Catholic Bishops' Collusion in Attacking Gay Citizens of Maine: A Collection of Opinion Pieces

Some helpful comments are now appearing at various websites, re: the use of Catholic money by bishops around the country to remove the right of marriage from their gay brothers and sisters in Maine recently.

Peter Isely at The Survivors Network of Abuse by Priests (SNAP) issued a press statement about this yesterday. He notes that when challenged to help survivors of sexual abuse by priests deal with their trauma and disrupted lives, bishops routinely say that they are each “independent.” One diocese cannot help another in such cases. Each diocese is expected to deal with the financial pressures caused by the abuse crisis independently of the other.

So it’s fascinating to note that, when the challenge is to find funding to beat up on gay folks, the bishops are suddenly able to collaborate. They seem unable to pool their resources and help victims of clerical sexual abuse. But they are eminently capable of gathering funds from brother bishops to attack their gay brothers and sisters.

Something is wrong with this picture, from a gospel standpoint.

Peter Isely’s statement links to an article of Jen Colletta at Philadelphia Gay News, noting that the archdiocese of Philadelphia sent the diocese of Portland, Maine, $50,000 a month and a half after the Philadelphia archdiocese closed two Cath0olic high schools, indicating that it could no longer afford to keep them open.

The latest issue of the monthly newsletter of the Catholic lay group Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), In the Vineyard, carries an opinion piece by Daniel B. Sullivan commenting on the political use of money donated by Catholics for non-political uses, for support of the church and its charitable causes. To read Sullivan’s commentary, click on the link I just provided, scroll down to “Opinion Piece,” and after you finish reading that portion of Sullivan’s article, click on this link and read the rest.

Sullivan focuses as well on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, noting that its $50,000 contribution came on the heels of a statement by Philadelphia Bishop Joseph McFadden, as the two schools were closed, “Right now, we’re making ends meet.”

Sullivan notes, as I’ve done on Bilgrimage, that there are serious issues re: accountability and transparency in how bishops put money to political use, when it is donated by the faithful for upkeep of churches and to further charitable causes. Many Catholics do not know that their money is being used for overtly political ends. Many do not agree with the political causes bishops are funding with money donated for other purposes.

And as Sullivan points out, because churches enjoy tax-exempt status, the diversion of church donations to political causes can circumvent tax regulations and the public scrutiny that goes along with those regulations, as church funds are placed in the coffers of outright political organizations. Sullivan wonders if this is an orchestrated strategy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Sullivan urges Catholics to think twice before writing their next check to their parish or the bishop’s appeal fund.

Sullivan’s statement is followed by a reflection by theologian Anthony Padovano, who looks at Catholic bishops’ use of lay Catholic donations to attack their gay brothers and sisters from a theological standpoint. Padovano raises two critical questions about this practice:

1. Do lay Catholics donate to the church in the expectation that their money will be used to fight same-sex marriage (or to fund legal battles related to clerical sexual abuse)?

2. Is it productive for the church to pursue moral goals by attempting to coerce secular society and to strongarm the political process? If its moral goals are admirable and church teaching is correct about issues like homosexuality, then shouldn’t we allow the goals and teaching to speak for themselves and convince others of their correctness without trying to bully people into submission?

Finally, Michael Bayly’s Wild Reed blog carries a summary today of commentary about the attempt of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., to use Catholic Charities (and the thousands of indigent people it serves) as political bargaining chips in a battle to undermine the non-discrimination laws of D.C. Michael’s conclusion:

Humanity has progressed too far with regards to basic fairness, equality, and compassion to be held back by the likes of those stunted individuals calling the shots and making the threats in such crudely self-serving places as the chancery of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

The bishops think they are on a roll, after their “victory” over their gay brothers and sisters in Maine and their last-minute interjection of the Stupak amendment into the health-care reform bill. It’s clear that the Catholic bishops of the U.S. worked hard—and probably as a body—to remove the right of marriage from gay citizens of Maine, because that provides them and their right-wing allies with a talking point they desperately want: the claim that same-sex marriage is not supported even in a liberal, secularized New England state like Maine.

What the bishops do not want to have acknowledged or discussed, however, is the lavish outlay of funds required to lure a bare majority of the citizens of that state to remove rights from gay citizens. While 53% of Maine’s citizens voted to remove the right of marriage from gay citizens, 47% voted against that action. And that 53% was bought at a very high price, indeed.

It was bought at price of hundreds of thousands of dollars donated by Catholics to their dioceses to keep church doors open, to fund Catholic schools, to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and heal the sick. The bishops won a temporary political “victory” in Maine while losing a significant long-term moral battle. When an ostensibly moral cause requires such lavish outlay of money donated for far more morally defensible reasons, accompanied by the use of lies and trickery, to carry the day, one has to wonder about the “morality” driving the cause.

Morally speaking, the U.S. Catholic bishops are already on shaky ground, indeed, due to their handling of the sexual abuse crisis. Even though the diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, has continued to fight tooth and nail to prevent the opening of its files about clerical abuse cases, and though the forthcoming report on abuse in the diocese of Dublin has been sent back to court for further fine-tuning, these and other revelations about what the bishops have known and done in the abuse crisis will eventually see the light of day.

And when they do, and as we ask how the bishops could imagine they might have he moral high road with their attack on their gay brothers and sisters, we’ll be told by bishops and their defenders that our interest in these revelations stems from anti-Catholicism and a desire to bash bishops. What’s astonishing in many bishops’ behavior is their apparent lack of self-awareness—on the part of bishops, who profess to be moral teachers, after all—that people whose moral house is not in order push themselves into the limelight as moral exemplars at a certain risk.

When people claim to be moral teachers, those whom they teach will naturally look to the lives of the teacher to see how his life exemplifies the values he’s teaching. If there’s a wide and easily discerned gap between the teaching and the life that is lived, people will wonder. And they’ll talk. And in the case of the U.S. Catholic bishops, that talk isn’t anti-Catholic or bishop-bashing.

It’s constructive, necessary talk by people of good will about how Catholics deserve better moral leaders, more authentic (and more gospel-oriented) shepherds. It’s talk about how we find it very difficult to hear the message when the one proclaiming it belies the message in gross ways.

Sometimes it’s better for authority figures to stop and listen, rather than rev up the belligerence, when their claims to authority are on shaky ground. It’s not at all wise to brandish a big stick and issue threats as the ground quickly slides away underneath you all the while you’re waving your stick.