Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fr. Geoff Farrow on Catholics for Equality: Constructive Critique of a New Catholic Group Promoting LGBT Equality

I don’t know anything more about the new (well, soon-to-be-launched) group Catholics for Equality than I’ve been reading on various websites.  The group’s website states that it intends to “support, educate, and mobilize Catholics in the advancement of freedom and equality at the federal, state, and local levels for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered family, parish and community members.”  The group has apparently been having organizational meetings for some time now.  

Father Geoff Farrow, the courageous Fresno priest who spoke out against the decision of the Catholic bishops of California to advocate for removing the right of civil marriage from gay folks in California with prop 8, and who has suffered terribly for his courage, was apparently part of the group’s organizational meetings, but is no longer on its board.  Geoff Farrow blogs about the organization at his blog today.

And I think what he has to say is eminently sane and wise, and deserves strong consideration.  I’d strongly advise anyone connected with Catholics for Equality or supporting this new venture to pay careful attention to Geoff Farrow’s critical suggestions.  If the organization wants to accomplish its mission, it needs to listen to voices like Geoff Farrow’s, I think—if what he reports about the group, as an insider to it and its plans, is accurate (and I am certain it is).

Geoff Farrow notes that this group deserves support, because it provides guidance and a voice for the sizable majority of American Catholics who do not accept Catholic magisterial teaching in the area of human sexuality, and who ignore the bishops’ call to Catholics to advocate for discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens.  And so what’s the problem with this soon-to-be-active organization, in Geoff Farrow’s view?

Farrow states, “I do have very serious reservations about C4E’s ability to move Catholic voters and advance the cause of equality for LGBTQ people.”  Why?  The goals of Catholics for Equality are, Farrow maintains, “fragmented, insecure and vague,” and its current executive director, Phil Attey, has stated at board meetings that the group’s goals do not include changing the Catholic church.

Farrow finds the leadership of the new organization “timid” and unclear about precisely how it intends to motivate Catholics to vote for equality in the area of gay and lesbian rights.  Farrow encourages Catholics for Equality “to establish working partnerships with other Pro-Equality Catholic groups” including Federation for Married Priests, the Women Priest movement, Rainbow Sash, Bishop Accountability, and SNAP.

His fear is that, rather than casting its net wide and allying itself with (and learning from) such groups already actively involved in movements to change the Catholic church, Catholics for Equality will “focus on donations/fund raising and quickly degenerate into another ‘black tie, write us a check’ LGBTQ organization.”  I think Geoff Farrow is right on track with his critique—though, once again, I stress that I don’t know anything more about the new group than what I’ve read at various websites and on Geoff Farrow’s blog.

But doesn’t that in itself indicate a strong shortcoming of the group as it has organized and developed its vision?  I certainly don’t intend the following statement as an expression of personal pique, but it strikes me as exceptionally strange that a new group organizing to promote the goals this group espouses—fostering the active involvement of American Catholics in the political process to support LGBT equality—has, to my knowledge, made no attempt at all to include many Catholic bloggers including me and a large number of other progressive Catholic activists I might name, who have been promoting such an agenda very actively on blogs for some time now.

The fact that Catholics for Equality had been holding meetings and organizing itself for some time now certainly took me by surprise when I first read about this group on blogs.  Why, I wonder, was some public announcement not made in the group’s organizational phase to attract attention of and draw input from large numbers of Catholic bloggers supporting LGBT equality?

Are there hidden criteria operating with this group’s agenda that marginalize Catholic activists who are more direct about calling the church to transformation—more direct than this group intends to be?  Is there some assumption at work with this group that only “active” or practicing Catholics who have strong ties to a particular parish can be effective in achieving Catholics for Equality’s goals?

If so, I think Geoff Farrow is precisely right when he notes that the group’s insistence that it does not intend to call the Catholic church to change is misplaced.  And that Catholics for Equality will be ineffective as it works to promote political action for LGBT equality among American Catholics.

Based on what Geoff Farrow is reporting at his blog site today about the organizational phase of Catholics for Equality, I have the strong impression that this new group is yet another insider organization that has not cast its net very wide as it has established itself.  It appears that it has not cast its net wide, as Geoff Farrow notes, in forming strong, effective ties to those working for women’s rights and women’s ordination within the Catholic church, or to those calling Catholic pastoral leaders to accountability for how they have dealt with clerical sexual abuse of minors.

Above all, it strikes me that this group of insiders has not built strong, constructive relationships with a wealth of Catholics already working for LGBT equality—including the groups Geoff Farrow names in his posting, but also including many bloggers who devote a considerable amount of time and energy on an ongoing basis to critiquing the Catholic church’s official stance on LGBT people and issues, and to promoting action by lay Catholics who contest that stance.

I appreciate Geoff Farrow for bringing these issues to the table for discussion.  They help me name something that has made me uneasy about this group from the moment I first heard about it—namely, the way it seems suddenly to have appeared out of nowhere, with no consultation of anyone I know in the large network of progressive Catholic bloggers of which I’m a part.  People who would gladly have taken part in the organization of this group, who would have assisted it in organizing, who would be disseminating information about it on many blogs and gathering supporters for the group as they blogged about it  . . . .

We’re far, far down the road from where we were when groups like Voice of the Faithful first organized, and took well-deserved heat from many advocates of change within the church for refusing to stand up forthrightly and challenge Catholic pastoral leaders.  We don’t need another insider group that makes large numbers of progressive Catholics invisible, as they pursue a variety of interconnected goals all having to do with calling the church and its pastoral leaders to accountability.

If groups like Catholics for Equality expect to be effective, they need to learn to be really catholic.  From their organizational stage right through to their goals and their constructive plans to achieve those goals.  And that means reaching out to Catholics who may well be at the margins of the church, who may not live in the power centers of the nation, but whose voices need to be heard, and to count.

The graphic for this posting is an illustration from Colleen Kochivar-Baker's outstanding Enlightened Catholicism blog, in a posting in which Colleen reports on St. Mary's parish in Brisbane.

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