Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Carl Olson on Hans Küng: "A 100-Member Gay Men's Choir Led by Gene Robinson"

In the discussion thread following my analysis of the blowback against Nicholas Kristof re: the problem of patriarchy in the Catholic church, two perceptive readers, Joseph O’Leary and Kathy Hughes, note that Carl Olson fisked Hans Küng earlier this week at his Insight Scoop blog.  Kathy calls Olson’s fisking of Küng “the dimmest response to Küng that I’ve seen in a long time.”

On the same day that readers made these observations at Bilgrimage, Fr. Jim Martin published a balanced and theologically insightful overview of Küng’s piece at America’s “In All Things” blog—a response which suggests that he has actually read and understood Küng’s theology over the years. 

In the discussion following Fr. Martin’s posting, something fascinating has happened, and it’s to this that I want to draw readers’ attention.  A poster Jeff S. cites Mr. Olson’s article, noting (appreciatively) that Olson states that Küng “barely qualifies as a Christian,” and then ending with a slam at Küng which suggests his next theological statements may be accompanied by music from “a 100-member gay men's choir led by Gene Robinson.”

(For the record, Hans Küng has expressed repeated skepticism about gay rights issues in the church, and is not by any means a strong supporter of initiatives to give such issues a high profile in Catholic church reform today.  Though I obviously disagree with Küng on this point—and, indeed, on a number of points where I take a progressive stance as opposed to Küng’s liberal one—I still regard Hans Küng as one of the most significant Catholic theologians of our period of history.  I listen seriously to him because of his vast learning and his obvious love for the church.)

And here’s what’s fascinating in the America thread: when Jeff S. plays the homophobia card, another poster who otherwise agrees with his critique of Küng, Nicholas Collura, then logs in to say,

Oh, and Jeff, I was with you in parts of your first paragraph, but honestly, I detect more than a whiff of homophobia in your final salvo, which makes me a little uncomfortable...I'm sure you didn't mean anything by it, but it's one of the prejudices that progressive theology can perhaps be very helpful in freeing us from.

To which Jeff S. then responds to say that his final salvo—about the gay men’s choir and Gene Robinson—was from Carl Olson himself.

As I read this exchange, here’s the question that emerges for me: in some right-wing Catholic circles, is the attempt to defend what those circles understand as Catholic values inherently linked to homophobia?  Or is Nicholas Collura correct: can one generally agree with the neoconservative critique of liberal and progressive Catholic theology without buying into homophobia?

I have long been persuaded that Beverly Wildung Harrison is correct when she argues in her classic essay “Making the Connections” that social groups which are patriarchal also tend to be homophobic, militaristic, and economically and ecologically destructive.  These –isms tend to link together and have obvious genetic connections to each other.  And it seems intuitively obvious to me that cultures in which patriarchal attitudes are unchecked are also cultures in which homophobia is a serious problem and in which militarism is glorified.

As I’ve noted in a critique of Carl Olson on this blog after Olson attacked me in February 2008, I also suspect that many of those defending a neocon version of Catholicism which reads their brother and sister Catholics out of the conversation as barely Christian are actually defending an entire neoconservative worldview—with its attendant economic injustices—while they defend their exclusive version of Catholicism. 

I sometimes think that it’s the political starting points of the neoconservative worldview that count here, including economic self-interest that cannot be justified by Catholic social teaching.  I sometimes think that it’s these socioeconomic and political starting points that determine the critique of other Catholics, and not Catholic theology itself that is the determining factor—despite the loud protests of some neocon Catholics that they and only they are bona fide Catholics, and the rest of us are barely Christian.

Mr. Olson’s piece about Hans Küng is not the first piece in which he has taken cheap shots at his brother and sister Catholics who happen to be gay.   Back in March, he tried to pull the rug from beneath Andrew Sullivan’s coverage of the current crisis in the church by referring to Sullivan as a “celebrity ‘conservative’ homosexual.”

Do we have to keep going there as Catholics?  Or is it time for us—no matter where we stand on Küng and Benedict, or anything else for that matter—to stop the homophobia?  Anyone who routinely reads the threads at liberal Catholic blogs like America, Commonweal, or National Catholic Reporter knows that the homophobia is there, despite the position taken by these journals themselves.  It’s there in the insinuations and outright nastiness of some Catholics logging into these blogs, who apparently feel they have carte blanche to make hurtful statements to and about their gay brothers and sisters that they would not make to or about members of any other vulnerable minority group.

As Andrew Sullivan reported on his Daily Dish blog earlier this week, one of four Maltese young people chosen to address Benedict on his recent trip to Malta made the following statement to the pope:

“It seems almost as if we are less readily accepted and treated with dignity by the Christian community than we are by all other members of society,” said the young man, who was not identified and appeared to be of college age. “Your Holiness, what must we do?”

It almost seems we are treated with less dignity by the Christian community than by everyone else in society.  What must we do, your Holiness? 

What must we do, indeed, when the church stops being a sign of God’s redemptive and salvific love for some members of the church who belong to communities already susceptible to violence? And when society itself is recognizing the indefensibility of exclusion and discrimination more quickly than the church is?  And when those turning the church into such a countersign to love and salvation are some church leaders and their followers, including those who are most confident that they and they alone represent true Catholicism at this point in history?