Sunday, September 19, 2010

Austen Ivereigh on the Papal Visit: Contributing to the Echo Chamber about "Gay Rights Activists, Secularists, and Professional Atheists"

So the circle is complete with Austen Ivereigh’s glowing reports at the Jesuit journal, America magazine, about the papal visit to England.  I want to focus here on the persistent subtext in Ivereigh’s reporting on the papal visit—the subtext about the pernicious attempt of those nasty “gay rights activists, secularists, and professional atheists” to subvert the papal visit, countered by the loyalty of “the” Catholics—who stand resolutely against said gay rights activists, secularists, and professional atheists.

Here’s the refrain in Ivereigh’s latest report at America:

There is something of a similar self-questioning evident now: why, when they could only pull together 6,000 demonstrators* -- not an insignificant number, but paltry compared to the 200,000 who lined the streets yesterday, and the 80,000 in Hyde Park -- did the media give the anti-Pope protesters so much air time? Or, expressed another way: where the heck did all these people come from?

The answer is, of course, that many came precisely because of the airtime given over to the the gay rights activists, secularists and professional atheists. Catholics are loyal to popes, and to the papacy. They may not know how to answer the protesters' shrill objections, but they know when the leader of their Church is being unfairly trashed. A large number of the "vox pops" interviewed on Sky and the BBC mentioned this as the reason why they decided to line the streets of Whitehall six people deep.

Note what Ivereigh is saying here: we Catholics are loyal to our popes.  When our popes are questioned—by the likes of gay rights activists, secularists, and atheists—we know how to line the streets six people deep in retaliation.

Catholics stood six deep to cheer for Benedict.  Those questioning Benedict’s stance on issues like gay adoption (gay couples must not adopt children) or women’s ordination (women must not be ordained), and the numerous survivors of clerical sexual abuse attending protest rallies: they were not among those lined up six deep to show their loyalty to the pope.

Gays (and those supporting women’s ordination, and victims of clerical sexual abuse asking for justice) are outsiders.  Not Catholic.  Opposed to the Catholic church.  In cahoots with secularists and atheists.  Because we say so.

We Catholics stand with the pope.  We stand with the pope no matter what he says.

I’ve noted how this very same refrain—down to the very same dismissive phrases used to marginalize those protesting Benedict’s stances on various issues—has run through John Allen’s reporting at National Catholic Reporter about the papal visit.  And it’s important to note that Allen and Ivereigh did not invent this subtext of attack on gay activists, secularists, and atheists in isolation from each other.  It’s a subtext clearly crafted with these two influential Catholic reporters—the two grand spokesmen for “the” Catholic position on anything imaginable in England and America—working in tandem.

With its obtrusive, easily demonstrated attempt to place gays who reject Catholic sexual teaching outside the church (along with anyone supporting the ordination of women), this is an influential subtext that is then fed into the mainstream media, who hang on the words of these two grand spokesmen for “the” Catholic position on anything possible in the English-speaking world.  And so Allen and Ivereigh report within and create an echo chamber which, because of their influence (and their collaboration) transmits the echo throughout the mainstream media, where it becomes the final word on matters Catholic and on the papal visit.

Allen, in fact, interviewed Ivereigh as both prepared to report on Benedict’s visit to Britain.  The interview appeared several days ago in a NCR article entitled “Trying to Solve the Church’s Communication Problem.”  In this interview, Allen notes that, along with Jack Valero of Opus Dei, Austen Ivereigh created a group called Catholic Voices to counter those protesting Benedict’s positions as he visited Britain.  

Yes, Opus Dei.  Yes, that Opus Dei. 

And here’s what Ivereigh tells Allen in this interview about how Catholic Voices chose to handle the “thorny” issue of homosexuality, as Benedict came to Britain:

The other thorny issue was homosexuality. Obviously we had to deal with the “disordered” language, and references to “legalization of evil” when it comes to same-sex adoption. Also, we had to deal with the question of what are gay people actually called to? Obviously they’re called to chastity, because the only place for sex is within marriage. But are they called to love, for example? It caused a bit of discussion.

Notice what we’re being told here.  A group claiming to speak for Catholics in general—it calls itself Catholic Voices—with ties to the secretive, well-heeled, highly influential far-right Catholic group Opus Dei, held meetings prior to the papal visit to determine how it would respond to public concerns about what Benedict teaches re: gays and lesbians.

Ivereigh and Opus Dei’s Valero, that is, decided how “Catholic voices” would be heard on the issue of homosexuality as Benedict came to England.  Those who are gay and lesbian were not part of the conversation.  Gay and lesbian Catholics were decidedly not invited to speak on their own behalf in these meetings.

Austen Ivereigh and Jack Valero took it on themselves, instead, to speak on behalf of every gay and lesbian Catholic in Britain as the papal visit took place—and, indeed, on behalf of every gay and lesbian Catholic in the world.  And their message is clear: you do not belong.  Not on the Catholic side of the fence, where Catholic voices speak and people line up six deep to cheer the pope.

Please march over to the side of the secularists and the atheists.  You are not welcome in our midst.  Raise any questions you wish about Benedict and his teaching, no matter how valid, and we will read you out of communion.

Because Catholics stand with the pope.  They line up six deep to cheer him when he’s questioned.  

If you think I’m stretching here, if you think I’m not representing Ivereigh and his theological positions accurately, listen to what he wrote during the papal visit about the topic of gay adoption:

An authentically pluralist society allows for this diversity – and the state encourages and protects it, balancing the various rights involved. To take a recent example, Catholic adoption agencies should have the right not to consider same-sex couples as adoptive parents if they believe (because of what they understand to be God's vision for humanity) that the man-woman binary model is in the best interests of children.

Catholics should have the right not to permit same-sex couples to adopt children.  Because Catholics believe that something called “the man-woman binary model” is “in the best interests of children.”  You may prefer any alluring model you wish, no matter how streamlined and with how many bells and whistles.  We Catholics, we’ll take the old-fashioned binary model.

You know, the one that’s good for children.  Because we say so.

And here’s what Paul Sims reports Ivereigh saying in early September at a debate about the impending papal visit organized by the Central London Humanist Group:

Britain, said Ivereigh, has not stopped being a tolerant society. The case put by the opposition is based, in his view, on an abandonment of reason and perspective, on a parody of the Catholic Church. The opponents of the visit spread misapprehensions, caricatures and half-baked truths.

He then tried to show us why this is the case. Women can't be priests because Jesus intended the Church to be run by men [hearty laughter from the audience]. IVF destroys human life in the process of creation. It's the same with stem cell research – the scientists involved don't respect human life. It's dogma, and it doesn't even work. Ivereigh was hardly winning the crowd over at this point, but his next point lost them completely – the Pope is right on condoms, and the science backs it up (he's put this argument in the Guardian in the past). The spread of the virus, he argued, has accelerated in line with the growth in condom use – abstinence and fidelity really are the best way forward.

Is the Church in favour of discrimination? No, said Ivereigh, it is the leading supporter of human rights in the world. It stand up for the rights of gay people – yes, it disagrees with gay adoption, and it supports the rights of Catholic institutions to only employ those who reflect their ethos, but it does not support discrimination.

Get that?  If you’re Catholic—if you intend to line up six deep to cheer the pope, since Catholics love the pope—you believe the following:

1.    Women can't be priests because Jesus intended the Church to be run by men (like Ivereigh himself.  And John Allen.  And Jack Valero).
2.    IVF and stem-cell research destroy human life and are technologies offered by scientists who don't even respect human life.  Furthermore, they don’t work.
3.    Benedict is right to claim that use of condoms actually spreads HIV infection, rather than preventing it.  Science backs him up.
4.    The Catholic church is the leading supporter of human rights in the world.  It even stands up for gays.

But, oh, if you happen to be gay, remember that we reserve our Catholic “right” to deny adoption to you if you’re a gay couple.  And to refuse to hire you because you’re gay.  And to fire you because you’re gay. 

But, hey, we’re for you.  We’re the biggest promoter of human rights in the world.  And we’re against discrimination.  Just don’t expect to speak in your own voice and call it Catholic.  Let us heterosexual men speak for you.

Quite a ball of wax, isn’t it?  And it’s all wrapped up in the rhetoric of both John Allen and Austen Ivereigh about gay activists, secularists, and atheists, and how “Catholics” stand for the pope—and the protesters don’t. 

Never mind that one poll after another shows Catholics throughout the British Isles disagreeing with the pope on every issue for which Ivereigh and Allen are claiming a univocal Catholic voice—including issues of gay rights.  The only conclusion that one can reach after reading their reports about the papal visit to Britain, vis-à-vis their brothers and sisters who happen to be Catholic and gay, is this:

We don’t want you.  You don’t belong in the cheering squad for the pope.  Catholics love their pope.  Catholics don’t question.

You’ve questioned—insofar as you aren’t satisfied with the conclusions we have reached on your behalf, we who own Catholic voices.  And so you need to take your place among the secularists and the atheists.  Among the enemies of the church.

I’m not surprised at the fact that John Allen and Austen Ivereigh are sending this message to their Catholic brothers and sisters.  Both are, after all, married heterosexual men who enjoy the rights and privileges of married heterosexual men—and as married heterosexual men, they enjoy an entrée in the Catholic church that anyone who is gay or lesbian will never have.  The hiring policies that they defend in the name of defending the Catholic voice assure, after all, that they will receive priority in hiring decisions in Catholic institutions over any and every gay person, no matter how qualified that gay person may be.  They will receive such priority because they are heterosexual males.

I am saddened, though, that journals of the ilk of National Catholic Reporter and America choose to send this signal to any of their readers who may happen to be gay and Catholic.  Or to any readers who happen to be Catholic, and who stand in solidarity with their gay brothers and sisters.  And that as they send these signals, they expect to continue to be taken seriously when they claim to oppose discrimination against those who are gay.

I’m saddened by the lack of awareness of how radically unjust it is to promote heterosexual male power and privilege in the name of promoting “the” Catholic position on any and all theological issues.  The clear signal journals like NCR and America are giving me through these two preeminent Catholic journalists is that it’s better to get lost, if you happen to be Catholic and gay and unwilling to put up with the church’s abuse of you and its false claims about its tolerance.

And that any heterosexual man, no matter how ambiguous his history as an exemplar of Catholic truth or Catholic piety, has the uncontested right to define what Catholicism means.  Whereas any gay man or woman, or anyone supporting women’s ordination, or a survivor of clerical sexual abuse asking for accountability, no matter how admirable his or her life has been, and how it exemplifies Catholic virtue, does not have that right. 

If I were a young Catholic, wondering how to spend my life productively, I’d think long and hard about remaining connected to a religious group that plays these kinds of games.  And then wants us to believe they’re holy games.  If I were a young Catholic with talent, something to offer the world and communities of faith, an interest in healthy, loving relationships, I think I’d be inclined just to accept the verdict of Mr. Allen and Mr. Ivereigh, of National Catholic Reporter and America, who provide a voice for them but not for LGBT Catholics, and I’d run like hell.

Towards love, health, a productive life, and away from the immoral nonsense.

*As I noted yesterday, John Allen puts the number of protesters in London in the range of 10,000 to 15,000.  Police estimates of the crowd I’ve seen online confirm those figures.  It’s curious that Ivereigh wants to talk here about a crowd of 6,000—and this echoes a claim he has made in a previous posting about the protesters on the America blog, in which he says that “a few thousand” marchers turned out in London to protest the papal visit.

P.S. Do any readers of the blog know why the Ekklesia website to which I linked in my previous posting went down today?  I suspect there’s some story here.  Update: it's back up this morning, 9/20.

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