Friday, March 12, 2010

Chaput's Gross Injustice and Glimmers of Conscience for Catholics of the Center

Forty-three years ago today I joined the Catholic church.  I was 17 years old.

What can I have been thinking?

Oh, I can remember bits and pieces of the process—at least, the intellectual process that resulted in that fateful decision.  The witness of priests and nuns marching in civil rights demonstrations in the American South had obviously caught my attention.

Here was a church standing up for human rights, daring to proclaim the gospel of costly grace in a world in which such solidarity with the oppressed exacts a real price.

And I had, God help me, read (or tried to read) Newman and even Aquinas, and was taken by the vast . . . systematic . . . weight of it all.  Something I didn’t encounter in my own evangelical church with its sentimental bible lessons and simplistic, unthinking collusion with an American culture that it worshiped as God’s kingdom uniquely embodied in the world.

I had no idea.  I had no idea of what real Catholicism was, as opposed to the dreamy, oh so compelling rational version of this religion I met in Aquinas, Newman, or Merton.  Or that I saw in the nuns and priests marching at Selma, who, in due course, would be followed by Irish Catholics in Boston (and other cities with large Catholic populations) lobbing rocks at black citizens protesting racial injustice.

And down the road Deal Hudson, Newt Gingrich, Erik Prince, Bill Donohue.  And Bernie Law and Ray Burke.  And the two-thirds of American Catholic bishops credibly proven by 2002 to have shielded clerical pedophiles. And Maggie Gallagher and Randall Terry and Robert George.  Or Charles J. Chaput.

Nuns and priests marching for civil rights at Selma, in the face of fierce societal opposition.  And now leading figures of the American Catholic church fighting fiercely to remove rights from gay citizens, to bar a vulnerable minority from social acceptance and rights.  And calling that a countercultural crusade, when they’re funded to the hilt by wealthy, powerful co-religionists and right-wing political interest groups. 

By the successors of the same folks who bashed those nuns and priests who had marched at Selma.

I’m thinking of this legacy, and what my own connection to it through my fateful decision to join the Catholic church, means for me today, on this anniversary of my reception into the Catholic church.  I’m thinking about all of this as I read the response on several middle-of-the-road Catholic blogs to Archbishop Chaput’s recent decision to remove the child of a lesbian couple from a Catholic school in his diocese.

As I read responses to that decision by centrist Catholics, I’m struck by the following:

1. There are glimmers—but only glimmers—of a dawning awareness among centrist Catholics that it is and has been all along all about discrimination.  About prejudice.

About hate.

Not about maintaining official Catholic teaching regarding sexual ethics.  If it were all about the latter, then the archbishop would be obliged—justice demands this—to bar from Catholic schools every child whose parents are contravening Catholic norms for married life.

That would include children whose parents are divorced and remarried, or single and living together (but heterosexual).  Or using artificial contraception.

It is and always has been about prejudice.  About discrimination.

About hate. 

It’s about keeping the gays out.  It’s about letting the gays know they are disdained and unwanted.  That we intend to define our clean righteousness over against your dirty sinfulness.

2. As I say, I see glimmers of a dawning awareness of some centrist Catholics in the U.S. that this is what has been going on all along, though that awareness is uncomfortable  And those in the center don’t know what to do with it now.

After all, visit their blog discussions, and you’ll see that the conversation remains, as it has been for years now, a conversation between Catholics of the rabid right (whose claim to represent the Catholic tradition adequately is completely baffling) and those of the center.  Gay voices aren’t represented in the conversation at all—for the most part.

Because we aren’t there.  Because we’ve long since been excluded.  Long since told we’re unwelcome.

You can’t be more excluded and made more unwelcome than when you find yourself without a job and healthcare coverage in a Catholic institution solely because you’re gay or lesbian, and refuse to apologize for that fact.  And have no legal recourse to fight the discrimination, because churches are legally permitted to discriminate.

You can’t be more excluded and made more unwelcome than you are when you walk through such gross injustice, and your heterosexual brothers and sisters of the center, who do not themselves accept or abide by official Catholic teaching about sexual matters, remain totally silent as you walk away.

As if it had nothing to do with them.  While they’re scurrying off to teach their classes about human rights and the Holocaust and the heinousness of discrimination.

It is and always has been about hate.

But the voices the church needs to hear, as that reality is finally placed on the table, aren’t in the conversation any longer.  Because they’ve been very effectively silenced, not only by the direct, brutal, and deliberate action of the hierarchy and of Catholic institutions.

But by the collusive silence of liberal Catholics, as well. 

Who had no reason to care, because it didn’t involve them, after all?

Did it?