Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Reader Writes: Awaiting the Springtime of Reborn Faith

Terry writes:

Bill, I cannot share your pessimism. Badly as the church treats us at present, they used to be very mush worse - with several thousands burned at the stake, or otherwise executed, in Europe and the America's.  . . . I know you find it hard to believe right now, but Spring for the Church will come too: possibly earlier than anyone expects. 

And I respond:

I appreciate your reply, Terry.  But you’re missing my point.  And so I want to reply in this format, to make my point crystal clear.

I don’t find it hard to believe at all.  In fact, I believe passionately.

What I find it hard to do is to believe and remain connected to the church at present.  At least, to remain connected in the institutional way you remain connected—for which I honor you and your choice.  But it’s not where I am, and I would hope you and other LGBT Catholics who remain involved would also honor my choice.  And think about why many of us have made this choice.

The church itself undermines my strong belief.

When thousands and thousands of children can be sexually molested by Catholic authority figures, and our pastoral leaders not only do not try to reverse that problem, but cover it up and aid and abet the rapists, I find it very hard to believe.  I find it hard to believe while remaining in any close connection to an institution behaving this way.

When significant proportions of my Catholic brothers and sisters find it possible to carry on business as usual, while those who have experienced childhood sexual abuse by priests and have been cold-shouldered by their pastors issue anguished appeals for understanding and healing, I find it very hard to believe.  I find it hard to believe, as long as I remain connected institutionally to those who can hear these cries of anguish and carry on as if nothing has happened.

When two leading Catholic journalists can go on television and giggle about revelations from our former vice-president that our nation has been practicing torture—and when the bishops remain silent about these revelations at the very time they are attacking pastoral ministries to gay and lesbian Catholics—I want nothing to do with my church right now, institutionally.  It has become a vehicle not of life, healing, and salvation for me and many others, but the antithesis of that.

You live in a different cultural context than mine, and your choices will be affected by where you live.  I understand that.  And not everyone will respond to the situation in which we find ourselves in the U.S. in the same way that I do.  I understand that, too.

For me now, it’s important to maintain distance—in fact, to get as far as possible as I can from an institutional church that is capable of the behavior I’ve just described.  And that has made open warfare against me and a whole class of people to whom I belong—by canvassing nationally for funds from ordinary Catholics to remove the right of marriage from citizens in various states.  By shutting down adoption programs rather than support same-sex parents raising children.  By promoting gross lies about gay people and our families in well-funded media programs designed to poison people's minds, rather than to enlighten them and awake compassion in their hearts.

By poisoning our national political rhetoric at a particularly vulnerable point in the history of our republic, through an endless drone of mindless “pro-life” dreck that has little or nothing to do with many of the challenges to life now facing our culture and our world.  By deliberately creating a culture of moral imbecility in a whole generation of Catholics.  By shutting down all credible, sane, respectful dialogue in the political sphere about issues of life and other issues, while encouraging a moral cretinism that’s all about shouting slogans, bashing enemies, and creating a desiccated little church of the righteous remnant that is the shell of a really catholic church.

By undermining the effort to effect a national program of health care reform and siphoning away energy for that effort until the entire effort has begun to falter, and only then issuing a weak, unconvincing last-minute appeal for this reform.  By turning the Catholic church in the United States into a Republican boys’ club, while turning a blind eye to the previous administration’s use of torture and defense of capital punishment, to its destabilizing of the socioeconomic lives of millions of American families and of women faced with hard decisions about whether to carry children to term when their own lives are economically insecure.

I am certainly happy that many of my fellow Catholics, including you, Terry, manage somehow to find a place within the church’s liturgical and institutional life as all this happens.  For my part, I am not there.  The church itself is an obstacle to my faith at present.  The obstacle is not merely the atrocious behavior of many of its pastoral leaders.  It is also the silence of the center, which continues not only to tolerate that behavior but to ignore the voices of many of us who have walked away because of the behavior of the pastoral leaders.

And if those who remain institutionally affiliated can’t accord us the same respect I accord you as you choose to remain affiliated, if you can’t see that our walking away may well be a sign of faith and not of abandonment of belief, then I don’t see a bright future for the church.  And I continue to ask how a church can credibly call itself a sign of salvation in the world, when it simply shuts out the voices of millions of believers who can’t join in the hymns of triumph and praise.

(P.S. I hope you’re right about the trend away from barbarism in church and society—and perhaps you are.  But I also think we should never forget that the German people at the time of Hitler’s rise also never imagined that their nation could take the barbaric turn it took in a short space of time in the 1920s and 1930s.)