Sunday, December 20, 2009

End of Week News Round-Up: When Charity Is a Casualty in Church Teaching; Cardinal Barragán Gets a Coughie

As one week ends and another begins, I’d like to bring to readers’ attention a few noteworthy articles or blog postings.

The first is Bryan Cones’s thoughtful essay about the dilemma that Catholic magisterial teaching on sexual ethics creates for faithful Catholics whose experience of gay or lesbian people and couples conflicts with the church’s conclusion that these friends and family members and their relationships are “intrinsically disordered.” The essay is entitled “Mind the Gap,” and is in the current issue of U.S. Catholic.

Here’s how Cones sketches the “gap” that many faithful Catholics experience in this area—Isa is the daughter of a Catholic lesbian couple whom Cones knows:

On the one hand, there is the Catholic Church's clear and consistent teaching that a homosexual orientation is an "objective disorder" and that sex between people of the same gender is "intrinsically evil," that is, can never be morally justified. That stance logically progresses to opposition to gay marriage and parenting, which is no doubt shared by many Catholics who are alarmed at attempts to change the legal definition of marriage.

On the other hand, others, myself included, hear a different story from gay and lesbian Catholics, especially when they speak of their aspirations to commitment and family life. To think of Isa's family as "a multifaceted threat" is profoundly jarring to say the least. I'm sure I'm not the only Catholic who feels stuck between the teaching of the church and my own experience, though Catholics are certainly not free to dismiss the former just because it contradicts the latter.

As Cones notes, the “gap” between what many Catholics actually experience when they encounter LGBT persons and their families, and what the church tells us we should perceive, raises significant theological questions that go beyond ethical debates about the status of LGBT people. There’s first, the question of what to do with any “profound disconnect between the experience of conscientious baptized people and church teaching.”

If Catholic teaching presupposes an integral connection between faith and reason, what do we do with teachings—notably, in our era, with the church’s teachings about sexual ethics—in which the graced experience of the faithful conspicuously moves in another direction from the direction indicated by the magisterium? When the sensus fidelium begins to question magisterial teaching as strongly and consistently in many cultures and geographic areas as it has done with the church’s sexual ethical teachings in recent decades, can the magisterium claim to have reason on its side, as it delivers these teachings?

Such a “profound disconnect” between the graced experience of millions of Catholics and what the church teaches has to be recognized frankly and addressed, if the church wants to be heard when it teaches in any area at all. And if the church wants to claim that it respects human experience, scientific findings, and reason, as if formulates its ethical teachings . . . .

And then there’s the problem of love: love, which is the summation of the ethical life, the first and most compelling command. What to do about love in a church whose teachings about gay and lesbian persons are almost uniformly received by those persons and anyone in solidarity with them as hateful, rather than loving, as excluding rather than inviting, as demeaning rather than respecting? When the gap between the command to love first and foremost, and what the church teaches (and how it behaves), is so wide, what do faithful Catholics do? It is the church itself that has taught us to believe that “[t]he first law of the gospel, after all, is charity, and it is charity that has often been a casualty in the church's debate about homosexuality.”

Finally, there’s the question of how a church can claim to be catholic when its teachings and behavior appear to target a vulnerable minority group with the intent of excluding that group from human and ecclesial community. Bryan Cones concludes that his own experience of Catholicism moves him in the opposite direction—towards including rather than excluding his LGBT friends and their families:

As for me, I can only say that my experience of the "catholic," or universal, dimension of the church would be profoundly diminished if Isa's family wasn't a part of my Sunday assembly. Though life in Christ's body is not always neat or easy, sticking together makes us, or so I hope, a fuller sign to the world of the love God extends to all  people.

I also recommend Frank Cocozzelli’s announcement yesterday of his second annual Coughie Award. The announcement is at Talk to Action’s website. As Frank notes, the Coughie is named for the notorious anti-semitic priest and radio personality of the 1930s, Father Charles Coughlin:

The Coughlin (or as I affectionately refer to them, "the Coughies") is named after the infamous 1930s radio priest and noted anti-Semite, Rev. Charles Coughlin, whose media diatribes against FDR and Judaism while being openly sympathetic to the racist policies of Adolph Hitler made him a role model for today's TV and radio preachers and "conservative" media personalities. Such advocacy was clearly antithetical to the very definition of the word "catholic" . . . .

Frank Cocozzelli notes that he had difficulty choosing among several Coughie-worthy possibilities this year. These included neocon Catholic activist Deal Hudson, who has worked fiercely to block health-care reform, and Archbishop Charles Chaput, who shares Hudson’s partisan animosity to health-care reform (despite Catholic social teaching), and who has such a “knack for rendering religiously supremacist proclamations.”

Even so, one Catholic figure stood out clearly this year in the crowd of potential Coughies, in Frank Cocozzelli’s estimation. The winner of this year’s Coughie Award is the President Emeritus of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers, Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán.

Cardinal Barragán, has a penchant for delivering pithy Coughie-worthy one-liners about sensitive moral issues. His Eminence injected himself into the Terri Schiavo debate in 2005 with the following helpful declaration: “Let's stop with the euphemisms—they killed her.” To which His Eminence added the following pastorally helpful gloss: “A doctor who is not a believer is always a frustrated doctor.”

And Cardinal Barragán’s Coughie-worthy pastoral zinger of 2009? This was his declaration a few weeks ago that “transsexuals and homosexuals will never enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” As Frank Cocozzelli notes, this declaration is eminently worthy of an award that “best exemplifies an exclusionary, strident interpretation of the Catholic faith.”

The Catholic faith at its pastoral and theological worst, in the footsteps of Father Charlie Coughlin, who once said, at a rally in the Bronx, after having given a Nazi salute, “When we get through with the Jews in America, they'll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing.” As Cardinal Barragán receives his Coughie, we’ll be waiting for his words of wisdom about the proposal to execute gays in Uganda.

The graphic is Ben Shahn’s 1939 portrait of Father Coughlin, from the Philip J. and Suzanne Schiller Collection of American Social Commentary Art.