Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cathleen Kaveny on the Long Goodbye of Some American Catholics, and the Continuing Need for Honest Conversation

I had not read Cathleen Kaveny's recent Commonweal article "The Long Goodbye" when I posted the other day about the reputation for mean-spiritedness the Catholic church has earned for itself due to its abusive treatment of gay and lesbian human beings.  In that posting, I wrote,

I’ve had it.  And I may not be blogging frequently as a result, until I have worked through some of this in my soul.

And that working through may well bring me to some other communities of faith for soul-healing and spiritual sustenance in the coming weeks.  I am not likely to find what I need in the mean-spirited community of believers who now represent Catholicism in the U.S.

And now that a kind e-friend has sent me a copy of Kaveny's article (it's behind a firewall for subscribers at Commonweal, and I'm not a subscriber), I find that the phenomenon on which she's reporting--the choice of many faithful Catholics to leave the church right now because what the church has come to stand for is, in their view, morally repulsive in some key respects--parallels what I said in my posting.

Caveny puts her point clearly and sharply.  She notes that many of those now leaving the Catholic church in the U.S. are doing so precisely because their consciences compel them to leave: what the church has come to be and to stand for in significant areas is so counter to what some believers think a church should be and stand for, that it becomes a moral imperative to distance oneself.  To seek spiritual refuge in some other religious community that more closely approximates the moral ideals that the Catholic church has taught its members to value, in the best aspects of its teaching.

Caveny concludes:
From the perspective of these Catholics, doctrine and practice are not developing but withering.  But why not stay and fight?  First, because they think remaining appears to involve complicity in evil; second, because fighting appears to be futile; and, third, because they don't like what fighting is doing to them.  The fight is depriving them of the peace of Christ.

The challenge to Commonweal Catholics, then, is coming now from two sides.  We have long been in conversation with other Catholics in the pews.  But what do we say to Catholics who have abandoned the pew as a matter of conscience?

Kaveny's concluding question strikes me as one of urgent importance for American Catholicism right now.  The future of the American Catholic church depends on how Catholics of the intellectual elite that gravitate to publications like America and Commonweal choose to answer this question.

And I've made no secret of the fact that I don't find those Catholics of the powerful opinion-making center handling this challenge at all well right now.  The problem, I think, is that the conversation is going to be difficult.  And it's always simply easier to go on talking within our parochial enclaves, no matter the subject under consideration or the community doing the talking.

It's difficult to begin talking to those who don't share our language and perceptions, or who may have repudiated our particular language and taken-for-granted perceptions.  Above all, it's difficult when those outsiders were once insiders who understand our linguistic world and its worldview very well, but who have chosen to move beyond it.  It's difficult when the conversation in which we engage with those former insiders holds up to us a mirror in which we see faces we haven't wanted to see--our own faces, faces that are not perhaps so attractive as we have wanted to believe while we have talked only to each other in our comfortable parochial enclaves.

As my previous posting to which I link above notes, I continue to find the blogs of the Catholic center doing anything but an admirable job of fostering beyond-parochial conversation with those who have now distanced themselves from the church because the church has come to represent something to them very different from what it imagines and proclaims itself to be.  And what its parochial insiders still maintain it is all about.

Just today, I found myself censored in a conversation at the "In All Things" blog at America, for instance.  My crime?  I dared to respond to another person posting on that blog by pointing out--citing strong evidence from his previous postings--that he assumes, on the basis of his reading of Catholic teaching, that his humanity is  normative and superior to the humanity of those who are gay, because he is a heterosexual man.

I knew, of course, even as I posted that statement that it would ruffle feathers.  I intended for it to do so.  I intended for it to do so because I am convinced that, unless the conversation in the Catholic center can move to honesty about how Catholic sexual teaching grants unwarranted power and privilege to heterosexual (or heterosexual-posturing) men, we will never get very far down the road of understanding the damage that the preferential option for males is doing to the church at this point in its history.

But this conversation about unwarranted power and privilege accorded to heterosexual (or heterosexual-posturing) men is not one the Catholic center intends to have.  It does not intend to have this conversation because many of those controlling the conversation at the center happen to be heterosexual or heterosexual-posturing men who benefit from how power is now allocated in the church, and from the church's teaching that heterosexuality is normative and maleness is dominant in God's arrangement of things.

And those who benefit from these arrangements are also often priests--priests who know that the church expects them to project an image of heterosexuality, even if they are not heterosexual, in order to function without uncomfortable questions in church and society.  Even when priests are not heterosexual themselves, they lend credence to the myth of heterosexual superiority by playing the game and posturing as heterosexual males in order to get by.

There is a certain, a distinct, rottenness in the Catholic system of governance, in Catholic clerical life, in the Catholic academy and Catholic institutions right now, and that rottenness has much to do with game-playing and lack of honesty surrounding issues of sexual orientation and gender.  It helps nothing when the blogs of the center rule out honest discourse about these issues from questioning Catholics who have moved away from the church institutionally, while these same blogs permit noxious dreck--endless quotes from right-wing reactionaries like John Hardon, SJ--to stand unchallenged.

Or while they allow powerful heterosexual male theologians to slam the postings of those trying to move the conversation beyond parochiality as "bloviating,"   Or while they permit powerfully placed posters to taunt gay males who happen to log onto these blogs with comments about how gay men don't understand women and women's body parts.

There's something not very admirable about muzzling the voices of gay and lesbian Catholics, when we try to enter the conversations at the center, but permitting the mean-spirited homophobic drivel of our brothers and sisters of the center and right to go unchecked on these blogs.  This suppression of the kind of honest conversation we need to have, in which we name the heterosexual posturing and pretense to superiority for what it is--morally grotesque--is not helping the church to be what it needs to be at this point in history.

Not at all, as increasing numbers of folks walk away due to the dishonesty and mean-spiritedness.

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