Thursday, May 20, 2010

Catholic Officials Continue Attacks on Women, and Yours Truly Has Had It

I haven’t commented yet on two recent stories that, in my view, have a shared theme.  That theme links, in ways clear to me, but perhaps not immediately apparent to others, to the story of the ladies of Llangollen about which I’ve just written.  One of the two stories has to do with the recent announcement by the bishop of Phoenix, Thomas J. Olmsted, that Mercy Sister Margaret McBride has been excommunicated. 

Sister Margaret’s sin?  As a member of the ethics committee of St. Joseph’s hospital in Phoenix, she participated in a decision to abort the 11-week old fetus of a woman who, expert medical consensus had determined, could not carry her child to term without risking her own death, and therefore the death of the child.  The mother was suffering from pulmonary hypertension that, left untreated, would almost certainly have resulted in her death and that of the fetus.  Pregnancy aggravates this serious condition.

Catholic ethical tradition has long held that, while not pursuing or desiring one unacceptable end—in this case, the death of the fetus—one may make an ethically justifiable decision to achieve another ethically defensible and desirable end—in this case, saving a woman’s life—which simultaneously leads to the undesirable end.  Cases of ectopic pregnancy, which demand the surgical removal of the fetus to spare the life of the mother, have routinely been handled precisely according to these norms, without a peep of discontent from bishops and members of the Catholic right.

For Colleen Kochivar-Baker’s usual insightful analysis of this story, see this posting at Enlightened Catholicism.

To my mind, another recent story connects to the story of Sister Margaret McBride.  This is the story of Janine Denomme, a Chicago woman ordained in April by Roman Catholic Womenpriests.  Denomme died early this week.

Despite her decades of service to the Catholic church, she was denied Catholic burial.  Because she dared to be ordained in the month before her death.

There’s not much I can say about these two stories—not much I care to say about these stories, because reading them in conjunction so darkens my heart that I feel my words are useless, and because reading them together so angers me that my tongue becomes tied by my anger.

Here’s what I can and will say now: these are stories about an ugly sin that is right at the heart of the current crisis in the Catholic church.  And they are indicators that church leaders do not intend to address that crisis at any effective structural level, but, instead, intend to keep making victims of innocent people in order to demonstrate their power over others.

The more that power is rightly questioned and contested, the more such brutality we can expect from many church leaders.  Because they can.  Because they can behave this way and get away with it.  Because many Catholics actively support and encourage these brutal macho demonstrations of false power, of power without moral authority that is about putting others in their place rather than respecting the humanity of despised others.  Many Catholics welcome such brutal macho displays by hierarchical leaders as a response to significant, well-merited questions about how the Catholic hierarchy continues abusing power.

The ongoing sin?  Disdain for and abuse of women.  Misogyny.  The church’s disdain for and abuse of gay men is only a corollary of this deeper—more deeply rooted and pervasive—disdain for and abuse of women.

And I don’t see that abuse and disdain stopping anytime soon.  If anything, I expect more such exercises in ecclesiastical one-upmanship in the near future as a reflexive, easy, morally convenient but completely immoral response to the abuse crisis and the questions it raises.

To say that we’re going through a turbulent period in Catholicism right now would be an extreme understatement.  I’m speaking here not just of the crisis itself.  I’m speaking of recent backlash to the justifiable reaction to the crisis.

As readers of this blog will probably have noticed, I go through periods in which I’ve just had it with matters Catholic, with dealing with Catholic issues—with hoping for anything to change in the Catholic world.  I’m in one of those cycles now.

I’m there because the backlash in recent weeks has become so fierce, and so untenable, that I’m quite simply disgusted with anything at all that has the name Catholic attached to it.  What has folks roiled now—what has the strong, vigilant Catholic right roiled and up in arms—are two things. 

They’re furious that an influential cardinal who studied under the present pope, Cardinal Schönborn, would break ranks to say something so mild as that we might more accurately assess homosexuality in ethical terms if we focused on relationships rather than acts.  And they’re outraged that the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, Sean O’Malley, would support the right of the child of a gay couple to go to a Catholic school.

The Catholic blog sites have been inundated these days with another round of taunting orchestrated postings by those outraged by these two developments, who want to elevate the teaching on homosexuality (and women’s ordination) to the level of infallible doctrine.  Who invent non-existent “commandments” of Jesus forbidding homosexuality.  Who, when they recognize that no such commandment exists, inform us that Jesus “would have” uttered such a commandment, had he lived today.

Who are, in short, as mean as snakes.  Mean, as in determined to exclude rather than include.  Mean, as in intent on undercutting any sane, respectful conversation about controverted moral and theological issues, and substituting slander and slur for rational talk. Mean, as in full of insincere “concern” for the erring brothers and sisters whose existences they intend to keep making a living hell, while they assure us that they are acting out of love and will pray for us to repent and enjoy God's love.

Mean, as in motivated by a political agenda that has nothing at all to do with Catholic social teaching and everything to do with neoconservative political dogma fundamentally antithetical to Catholic social teaching.  Mean, as in determined to keep punishing and abusing women and those who are LGBT, because they can.  And because it remains useful to behave in this way—useful for their political goals.

I’m in one of my I’ve-had-it modes right now, and I may decide to go silent about these (and perhaps other) issues for a while, until I put the pieces of my soul back together after several weeks of participating in blog discussions at a number of Catholic sites.  Where one can count on being bloodied far more expertly and more cruelly than would be the case if one were engaging in these discussions on a secular blog.

And that’s, in my view, a testimony to the depth of the real sins that need to be addressed now, if the Catholic church is to move ahead or recover from its crisis.  When good people—people like Margaret McBride and Janine Denomme—can be treated like shit with such alacrity by the same church leaders who find it impossible to curb or address the behavior of ordained men who rape children, something is badly out of kilter.

And when many of my co-religionists immediately leap to the defense of those doling out the ordure, but not to the defense of their victims, the church will continue—and rightly—to gain a reputation as one of the least moral, and least morally admirable, players on the playing field of contemporary society. 

Well, as you can see, I’ve had it.  Too much ugly stuff floating around right now on those Catholic blogs, and, as usual, far too faint, craven resistance to the stuff by the gatekeepers of the  Catholic center who maintain these blogs.  I don’t want to be around it, for the nonce. 

And I apologize to readers for the rant.  And to snakes, who do not deserve their bad rep, for maligning them by comparing them to some Catholics.  And for the profanity.  But as my grandmother liked to say vis-a-vis the four-letter word that begins with S, even a lady has to have her little word.  And to use it when she’s vexed and in danger of going around the bend in a most unladylike fashion.