Saturday, September 18, 2010

Bearing Witness: A Gay Employee of a Catholic School Writes, and I Respond

I intend to keep harping on the theme of what the Catholic church actually does to gay and lesbian persons in Catholic institutions, despite what the church proclaims about human rights and the immorality of discrimination.  I intend to keep this topic alive because 1) the Vatican and top Catholic officials relentlessly continue their campaign for the "right" of Catholic institutions to discriminate against LGBT persons in hiring and firing, and against gay marriage, and 2) influential mainstream Catholic talking heads continue to provide cover for this discrimination, by pitting "secular" gay activists against "the" Catholic position on homosexuality.

And so I want to lift an exchange between another poster and me from my "Bearing Witness" posting yesterday, summarizing the primary takeaway points I encourage readers to hear in my two postings earlier in the week about what many gay and lesbian Catholics continue to experience working in Catholic institutions.

Here's the exchange:

Kevin writes: You raise many necessary calls for conversion and integrity. I'm a high school theology teacher and I have to keep my sexuality hidden. I don't think it would be an issue, but I'm not willing to run the risk. What strikes me as ironic is that two of my colleagues are fervent--almost evangelical--about social justice in the "Justice Seminar" course. Yet, neither is willing to put his neck on the line to help form a union against a school administration that everyone, including they, denounce (in private, of course) as unjust. They want eighteen-year-olds to make stance in society, but they won't. It would be the stuff of a farce were it not so sad.

And I respond: Kevin, thank you for verifying that my analysis is correct, and for doing so from "the inside," as someone teaching in a Catholic school. Your numbers are legion in Catholic institutions.

This is still the price the church expects us to pay if we are gay and working in Catholic institutions: to be hidden, to listen to hateful comments from co-workers and administrators about gay folks and never open our mouths, to stand by in silence while younger folks struggle with their sexual identities and need role models, etc.

And it's not just the price the hierarchy wants us to pay. It's the price our brothers and sister Catholics choose for us to pay, too, since they never speak out against this injustice. And never demand that there be a safe, welcoming place for their gay brothers and sisters in Catholic institutions.

I find it hard to believe that those who continue to be unmoved by the pain and injustice inflicted on their gay brothers and sisters would find this pain and injustice so easy to bear, if it were happening to them. 

In the chain of command of talking heads and mouths that comprise the Catholic hierarchy, the oppression of gay employees of Catholic institutions is not going to change.  It's not going to change because 1) the fear of lawsuits based on charges of discrimination against gay employees is overriding and determinative, and 2) there is a determination to keep gay clergy, who might be inspired to form public, healthy gay relationships if gay employees of Catholic institutions were not closeted, in the closet.

If change is going to occur in Catholic institutions, it will depend on lay Catholics, many of whom profess opposition to discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.  It will depend on the willingness of lay Catholics, who keep footing the bill for the church and its institutions, to speak out and demand that the discrimination cease.

It will depend on the willingness of those Catholic centrists who still find a comfortable place in the church and its institutions, and who claim that their primary concern is to bring everyone to the table, to begin being honest about these issues.  Because if they looked honestly at the centrist table they've set, they'd see that a large number of their gay brothers and sisters just aren't there.

And anyone honestly concerned with setting the table for all and assuring that all have a place there needs to find out why so many of us are absent.  Why we don't see the place that the centrists claim they've set for us at the table.

And the centrists also need to be honest about the fact that the gays and lesbians who remain at the table, who continue working for Catholic institutions, are, to a great degree, still invisible.  Unwilling to reveal their presence.  Because they know that the reprisal will be fierce and instantaneous, if they do so.

A reprisal that is, Catholic institutions claim, based on adherence to Catholic teaching about sexual morality.  Teaching that is hardly ever applied in this discriminatory way to heterosexual Catholics working for Catholic institutions who masturbate, use contraception, engage in extramarital or premarital sex, or divorce and remarry.

It's time for honesty.  And for the centrist apologists for the institution to own frankly their role in keeping their gay brothers and sisters outside, or closeted.  And to admit frankly that they have lost the right to talk about refreshing souls or saving the world for God or supporting the human rights of all, as long as they continue supporting an institution that discriminates blatantly.

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