Monday, August 2, 2010

July Ends: Global Warning, Shirley Sherrod Story, and Roman Gay Priest Scandal

On 30 July, Huffington Post featured a headline declaring, “Good Riddance, July.” 

And that pretty much sums up my own feelings about the past month.  It also explains, in part, why I found it hard to blog as the month ended.  What can one say about such a dismal period in the political and cultural life of our nation, and about the ongoing breakdown of the clerical paradigm for whose maintenance the last two papacies have invested so much time, energy, and money at the expense of the entire Catholic church?

The heat alone has been daunting in our area and other parts of the nation and globe.  The HuffPo headline bidding July good riddance was accompanied by a statement that, as this July ended, it was shaping up to be the hottest on record worldwide.

In our region, I’m reading similar statements.  This July was hotter here than July 1954, when my aunt remembers the temperature reaching 115° on the day she gave birth to her son.  And it was hotter than July 1980, which also broke records.

Our temperature reached 100° yesterday, with a heat index of between 115° and 120°.  It’s supposed to get up to 106° today, and to remain at or over 100° for the rest of the week.  As I type this at 10:45 A.M., it’s already 91° with a heat index of 104°.

And this is just one tiny corner of the nation and globe.  It’s brutally, destructively hot this summer in many places.  Anyone who continues to deny global warming needs to stand out in the sun for several hours in the hot spots of the world right now, and see if he/she remains unconvinced that things are heating up everywhere—seriously so.

And then there has been the miserable debacle of the Shirley Sherrod story, a story with a single hero—the Sherrod family—and with a bunch of trifling, and in some cases, downright vile, other characters.  What is there to say, really, about this slimy episode of our current cultural and political history?

Once again, the Obama administration proves completely lily-livered when the crazy, mean right plays the race card, and once again, it stabs its friends in the back rather than standing up to its enemies—to people it will never placate.  Once again, the NAACP proves that it is caught in a racial paradigm that made sense in the 1950s, but is no longer capable of addressing complex issues of race in our culture.  Once again, the mainstream media hype a right-wing meme that the media know to be false, and they hype it with alacrity.  And once again, we see the depths to which the unhinged right in the U.S. (which is to say, the Republican party as it now stands) is willing to go in playing racial games.

That we are not beyond all of this now in our culture is deeply dismaying to me.  And I don’t have any words capable of producing insight to move us further along the path to racial healing—to a post-racial society.  If people haven’t learned by now what FOX news and Andrew Breitbart (and the Republican party as it now stands) are capable of, what these groups are all about, they aren’t going to learn. 

I see no option except to push back and push back hard, and for that reason, I remain baffled at the way the Obama administration approaches each manufactured right-wing “crisis” du jour.  My sense is that we’ve seen nothing yet: things are going to get much, much uglier as the fall elections approach.

I’m also beyond tired of the games going on in the Catholic church.  While it was darkly amusing, the recent Berlusconi media exposé of the extent to which Rome’s Catholic clergy engage in covert gay activities is, for my money, just another example of the zero-sum game Catholic officials (and their critics) intend to continue playing with the lives of gay human beings.

Once again, I see no heroes in the Roman-gay-priests story.  Who doesn’t know by now that the Catholic priesthood in most parts of the world contains a large sample of gay men, many of whom lead dysfunctional lives because they continue to collude with a system that tramples on their dignity as human beings?  Who hasn’t figured out by now that the Catholic priesthood in many places is full of gay men who are complicit in their own oppression by remaining hidden within the system, by playing according to its rules while engaging in covert gay sexual activities as they maintain a public image that covers over their gay natures and lives? 

(And I’m well aware that there are thousands and thousands of gay priests who have successfully integrated their sexual orientation into their clerical lives, and who are exemplary priests.  And I also know—and have known for years—that there are large numbers of priests who engage in hidden and often not-so-hidden relationships with women in many parts of the world, and who seldom receive any rebuke from top Catholic officials. 

As Richard Sipe notes in his recent National Catholic Reporter analysis of the roots of the child abuse scandal, “In the simplest and most accurate terms possible, the Catholic crisis is the widespread sexual activity of Catholic clergy publicly promised to celibacy, and a morally and doctrinally underdeveloped understanding of human sexual nature.”  And we won’t get to the bottom of that scandal until we face the fact that many priests are sexually active, and that a sick system of secrecy pervading the church at all levels, but particularly within the clerical ranks, seeks to prevent us from knowing and facing the problem in a way that will move us forward.)

As with the Shirley Sherrod saga, what defeats me as I read about the Roman gay priest scandal is the non-shifting paradigm in which we seem to be stuck, no matter how much pain we experience as we hold onto the paradigm.  With Sherrod, it’s a dysfunctional paradigm about race.  In the Roman gay priest scandal, it’s a long since exploded paradigm about gays as the problem in church and society, about gays as pawns in political games being played by church officials and those who challenge church officials, whose motive in playing the gay card is not to understand or deal with the issue of sexually active priests, gay or straight, but to embarrass the church.

I had hoped we might be moving beyond these games.  It appears we’re not.  The predictable response of Catholic officials to the Roman story—gay priests should out themselves and leave the priesthood—is a tired and deceptive response that gets us nowhere.  Sipe’s analysis is, to my way of thinking, far more valuable, if we really want to deal with the abuse crisis.

As, for that matter, is Eugene Kennedy’s.  His recent NCR article on the watershed moment through which the church’s clerical culture is passing is brilliant, in my view.  It’s brilliantly written, for one thing, with that bombast and passion the Irish (and Irish Americans) inherit from Swift, Wilde, and Joyce, as they rip apart the tissues of lies that immoral structures predictably use to declare themselves moral. 

Kennedy argues,

Save your energy and do not expect the institution or its leaders to become transparent in their practices or more forthcoming in their dialogue. They cannot be argued into responses that are unnatural for them. The transparency gene, like evidence of criticizing celibacy or being in favor of ordaining women, would have made them ineligible for positions of power in the French cuffed clerical Alamo they will defend to the last man.

He reminds us that we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for, that the healing of the Catholic church absolutely no longer depends on a clerical paradigm now decisively exposed as unworkable, or on those who continue to cling to that paradigm.

It depends on us, as Vatican II told us.  And I agree.

The graphic is a depiction of a mind being blown (or a paradigm exploding) from Alan Bailward's Thinking in Rails Blog.