Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Bishop Has a Hog: The New Archbishop of Miami and the Future of American Catholicism

The old boys are loving them some Tom Wenski.

He’s got a hog.  Vroom, vroom, vroom!  And he rides that Harley all over the place.

Vroom, vroom, vroom!

Thomas Wenski is the new archbishop of Miami who was installed yesterday to replace retiring Archbishop John Favalora.  Read between the lines in the commentary appearing in various Catholic publications about this replacement (especially those of the right and center-right), and a disquieting subtext appears.

It runs something like this: Favalora was an effete lover of the arts from aristocratic New Orleans.  Wenski is a man—a man of the people.  A man with a hog.

Vroom, vroom, vroom!

Wenski is the kind of man—a man’s man—that we need to clean up the mess in the Catholic church.  No more of those effete lovers of the arts who have brought us to our current state of decline.  We need a man with a hog, who's ready to ride.  (It’s important to note here, too, that neither Favalora nor Wenski has a stellar record when it comes to the abuse crisis.)

The subtext of much of the reporting about Wenski’s replacement of Favalora is, in other words, subtly and often not so subtly homophobic.  As Frank Cocozzelli’s recent brilliant analysis of the Favalora-Wenski story at Talk to Action and Open Tabernacle notes, as he approached retirement, Favalora was targeted by a  right-wing Catholic activist group calling itself Christifidelis, which claims that Favalora produced in Miami a “culture of sodomy and theological heterodoxy” run by “a gay superculture.”

As Frank points out, Favalora had incurred the wrath of powerful figures of the political and religious right several years ago when he stood up to the Alliance Defense Fund, refusing to permit that group to dictate the content of Catholic sermons in the Miami archdiocese.  After this, the mysterious Christifidelis organization, whose funders are not clearly apparent but which has strong ties to groups like Renew America and Life Site News, appeared on the scene, and made it their business to smear Archbishop Favalora with homophobic dirt.  Christifidelis is now claiming responsibility for his early retirement.

And as Wenski assumes the archbishop’s seat in Miami, it’s not just the Catholic right who are crowing about a victory.  Wenski is also being celebrated by Catholic centrists who claim to be all about respect for human rights, and who are praising Wenski’s stress on the value of each and every human being, per Catholic social teaching.

This despite the fact that (as I’ve mentioned on this blog in the past) Wenski published an article in a central Florida newspaper during the 2008 election, calling for a renewal of the culture war against human beings who happen to be gay.  In a Mass of Reparation he held as bishop of Orlando following the invitation of President Obama to Notre Dame University, Wenski praised California beauty queen Carrie Prejean for the “courage” of her “convictions” about the unacceptability of same-sex marriage. 

Tom Wenski is, in other words, a rather overt political operator, one with a pristine neocon lineage.  In addition to holding that Mass of Reparation (reparation for what? why?) when Notre Dame invited the president to speak at its commencement ceremonies in 2009, Wenski followed other neocon activist bishops who raked Obama over the coals in the past two years for a Freedom of Choice act that doesn’t even exist.

It’s impossible to tell the story of Wenski’s rise to power in the American Catholic church without telling the political backstory of this rise to power.  And it’s also impossible to celebrate what Wenski represents without celebrating homophobia.

To praise the new archbishop of Miami for his courageous stand for human rights while completely ignoring his deplorable record vis-à-vis the rights and dignity of those who happen to be gay or lesbian is to imply that those who are gay or lesbian simply do not exist.  That we are not here.  That our humanity does not deserve notice and that our rights do not deserve to be respected.

That we may continue to be treated as invisible when bishops with a troubling record of attacks on their gay brothers and sisters make glowing statements about the value of every human being. 

But who cares about such pedantic distinctions when the new archbishop of Miami has a hog!  He’s a man’s man.

Climb aboard, Miami.  Get ready for the ride of your lives.  This is the church we’ve all been waiting for—human rights (the gays don’t count) and a Harley!  Hear the voice of the future:

Vroom, vroom, vroom!

That’s the sound of some serious theological reflection and prophetic leadership going on in American Catholicism.