Friday, November 5, 2010

America Magazine’s New Expert to “Homosexual” Catholics: “They Can Go Elsewhere”

In a number of postings in the past several days, I’ve noted the fascinating process of taking away with one hand what has been offered with the other that has been going on at America magazine’s “In All Things” blog this past week.  To recap: toward the end of October, America published an editorial decrying bullying of teens due to their sexual orientation as a grave sin.  This editorial was an outstanding statement, a welcome balance to the total silence of the pastoral leaders of the American Catholic church about the topic of gay bullying in the wake of the spate of suicides of gay teens some weeks back which has sparked national conversation about this issue.

The America editorial never once used the term “homosexual” to refer to teens bullied to death for their sexual orientation.  It repeatedly speaks of gay or gay and lesbian teens.  As did a valuable posting by Fr. James Martin on the “In All Things” blog on 4 October, which I recommended here at Bilgrimage the following day.  This was followed by a posting of Michael O’Loughlin at the same blog on the 15th, again speaking of “gay”—not homosexual—youth who are being bullied to suicide, asking, along with Fr. James Martin, how Catholics should respond to this phenomenon.

And now, in a very strange twist in an ongoing conversation at this Catholic journal’s site that had appeared to be about developing a positive pastoral response to gay and lesbian Catholics and gay and lesbian youth being bullied to death, America’s “In All Things” blog suddenly posts, out of the blue, two days ago a piece by a Catholic psychologist, Professor Van Ornum, teaching at Marist University, who has written on the topic of homosexuality, and who tells readers in his thread about homosexuality in Catholic schools,

The editors [of America] and I went to great pains on this blog to use the title "Homosexuality in Catholic Schools" rather than "Being Gay in Catholic Schools" due to the distinction made above between homosexuaity [sic] and being gay. One can feel homosexual feelings or have a homosexual identity but not be gay-ie one can define one's own needs for support rather than accepting an entire socio-political viewpoint preset by others. So I think this is important to keep in mind.

The “distinction made above” is one that Prof. Van Ornum makes in the same thread, in which he notes that the word “gay” connotes a “cultural-political movement” which even dares to suggest that there might be a “genetic” (Prof. Van Ornum’s quotation marks) basis for homosexual orientation.  He and America’s editors have decided to revert to the now largely discarded clinical scientific term “homosexual” to describe gay and lesbian people—despite the wish of gay and lesbian people themselves to be called gay, precisely because the clinical, reductionistic term “homosexual” is imposed from outside—because the term “gay” has illicit political connotations that can’t be admitted to discussions of Catholic responses to gay and lesbian homosexual youth who commit suicide.

This despite the use of the term “gay youth” or “gay and lesbian youth” by the America editorial on the topic and the postings of Fr. Martin and Mr. O'Loughlin to which I've linked above.

And the “pc orthodoxy” (again, Prof. Van Ornum) of “gay” political activists overlooks that many of the so-called “gay” youth committing suicide because they are bullied as gay youth may not be gay at all, but “in flux”—susceptible to the kind of political pressure exerted by “gay” political activists who want to dominate discussions of the issue of “gay” teen suicide for political reasons: to make political gain out of the lives of young people.  To get into the schools and convert impressionable young folks . . . .

Van Ornum clearly does defend the “in flux” argument that views the suicides of some “gay” youth as suicides of young folks confused about sexual orientation, who might not end up gay if “gay” political activists could be kept away from them and out of schools.  Other posters at America threads have repeatedly spelled out the latter part of the argument, however, and repeatedly so at America blog threads.  These include John Stangle, to whom I’ve responded a number of times at these threads until my last response to him was censored (more on this below) and Michael Brooks, who is now posting on Professor Van Ornum’s thread.

And with whom Professor Van Ornum expresses agreement: on this, more below.

When Fr. James Martin published a posting at America’s “In All Things” blog about a prayer he has written following “the rash of gay and lesbian teen suicides,” John Stangle logged in to write,

Excuse me, but adolescents arn't, [sic, both the spelling and the comma splice] "gay and lesbian". What they are is highly influenced by a culture pushing homosexuality as, normal. And, by groups trying to tell them that they are, "gay and lesbian".  And, by those promoting a homosexual life style as something exciting and in vogue.

John Stangle had begun pushing this “they’re not gay but confused teens in flux” analysis, with its vicious corollary reducing the concern of gay and lesbian folks about suicides of gay teens to a “political” motivation, at the thread following Michael O’Loughlin’s posting to which I link above.   Church = loving and kind to searching youth; gays = anti-Catholic political activists = manipulative and selfish and unloving and unkind to searching youths . . . .

When I responded to Stangle at that thread, I noted that in another thread, he had dismissed the now widely accepted conclusion (accepted even by the religious community he founded) that Father Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, fathered at least one and almost certainly more children by several women while he headed that religious community.  My response to Stangle notes that his attempt to deny that some teens are gay and are bullied to death for being gay seems just as wrong-headed as his attempt to defend Maciel in the face of abundant, damning evidence of his many sexual transgressions while he headed the Legionaries.

Stangle replies to me to the effect that he still doesn’t for a moment believe Maciel is guilty of all the charges made against him, but even if Maciel did happen to father children while heading the Legionaries, this wasn’t perhaps such a grave sin.  It was, after all, at least a heterosexual act on his part, Stangle appears to want to argue (Stangle is co-author, with his wife, of a book on Ignatian spirituality).   And he goes on to say that Catholics who deny that teens can be and can know that they are gay aren’t the ones with a political agenda: it’s gay political activists (who obviously can’t be Catholic: that’s a strong underlying suggestion of the Van Ornum-Stangle-Brooks argument in these threads) who are the political activists.  And their agenda is “recruitment” (Stangle’s highly politicized word) of vulnerable, confused youth.

I tried responding to John Stangle following Fr. James Martin’s 29 October posting of his prayer commemorating gay and lesbian teens bullied to death.  I tried, specifically, to respond to his posting denying that gay youth who commit suicide because they are bullied as gay youth are, in fact, gay.  In my response, which was quickly deleted from this thread, I said—as well as I can remember (I did not keep a copy)—that 

1.     A number of the teens who have recently committed suicide stated unambiguously that they were gay, and their parents confirmed this.
2.    It seems cruel beyond belief to obliterate the meaning of these young people’s short lives and tragic deaths by denying them (and their parents) the right to name the very characteristic for which they died—and to claim that one is denying them this right in the name of Christ and of love!
3.    That—this cruel denial of a reality lived by those who die due to their struggle to claim that reality—is the real politicization of these stories, not the understandable concern of many gay and lesbian adults, who were ourselves bullied as young people, to see bullying of gay teens stop.
4.    And Stangle’s bizarre, counterfactual reading of the story of Fr. Maciel seems to turn on a heterosexism which presupposes that if a man has sex with a woman, even a woman  (or even several women) to whom he’s not married, even as a celibate priest, this is good and normal.  But every gay act and relationship is abnormal.
5.    This implicitly apotheosizes Stangle’s own experience as a heterosexual man and imposes his own experience as the norm for everyone else in the world, in the name of Catholic orthodoxy.

As I say, my posting making these points quickly disappeared from the America thread, and several days later, we now see at America, instead, a series of statements by a Catholic professor of psychology who argues that 

1.    Some “gay” teens who are bullied for being gay aren’t gay at all, but “in flux.”
2.    And the term “homosexual” is preferable in these discussions, since it is devoid of the “pc orthodoxy” and political agenda connoted by the term “gay.”

And as the thread that has followed Van Ornum’s posting about these matters has developed, the arguments have become curioser and curioser—a very Alice in Wonderland rendition of what had previously appeared to be an enlightened, compassionate stance about bullying and suicides of gay youth and pastoral response to gay and lesbian Catholics at America.  An Alice in Wonderland twisting of the formerly productive conversation in which this Jesuit publication now appears perfectly willing to give gay and lesbian Catholics the message, you can just go away, though it has previously given the appearance of trying to create pastoral connections to the gay and lesbian community.

What we now see at this Jesuit blog site is a complete reversal of that compassionate stance, in a very short period of time, a reversal suggesting that my experience of having been censored a few days before Van Ornum’s piece appeared is part of some larger discussion that has gone on recently at the editorial level of this Catholic magazine.  And that someone somewhere is exerting strong pressure on the magazine’s editors to walk back their more compassionate and enlightened approach to these issues—an approach that had allowed gay and lesbian voices to speak freely, and not be dominated by non-gay Catholic experts who even insist on naming the very reality we gay and lesbian persons live by some other name we do not choose to use: homosexual.

(As an aside, but a necessary one: I don’t know of any gay or lesbian person commenting on the suicides of gay teens who doesn't note that some teens who commit suicide after having been bullied because they are tagged as gay may not be gay, but may be gender-transgressive instead of gay.  But to say this is not to say what anti-gay Catholic activists wish to maintain, which is that no teen can know he or she is gay, and that  any teen who commits suicide after having been bullied because he/she is gay is confused and has been duped by gay political activists.  And that gay teens have a choice to leave the gay “lifestyle” behind if they have been “recruited” to it by gay political activists, since there is no such thing as an immutable gay sexual orientation which becomes evident to some young people as already fixed for them when they reach adolescence.)

As the thread has developed, Van Ornum has informed critics (including my blog-friend and colleague Colleen Baker) that 

1.    Every voice and opinion may be right in these discussions, and the “mystery” with which we’re dealing needs all opinions represented.
2.    But hypocritical (Van Ornum’s word) political gays censor viewpoints such as those of Mr. Stangle  and Mr. Brooks (this in the face of the fact that it was I—an openly gay theologian—who was censored at this blog site a few days before Van Ornum made this statement, and that in several years at my site, I have blocked only one poster when he persisted, despite repeated warnings from me, in attacking other posters commenting at my site).
3.    That the catechism is not about to change and if you don’t like that, you can lump it.
4.    That  there are both “homosexual and gay” youngsters—a baffling assertion, when one has previously claimed that the two terms point to the same reality, though one term is laden with political implications absent from the other.
5.    By implication, that Catholics have one position on these matters and gays and lesbians have another, and the latter position is political, not based in Catholic truth.
6.    And, finally—in overt agreement with Michael Brooks—that if the political gays don’t like Catholic truth, they can go elsewhere.

As I say, that concluding and exceptionally anti-pastoral recommendation—go elsewhere—follows an interchange with Mr. Brooks in which Brooks states that if Catholics tolerate “a fringe class of immutable homosexual individuals” in the name of false compassion, they “open the floodgates to a much larger pool of potential homosexuals to consider an [sic] lifestyle from which, frankly, their taxpaying/tuition-paying parents should have a right to protect them, regardless of their reasons.”

And why aren’t we focusing, Mr. Brooks asks, on all those young people “with homosexual inclinations” who “chose a heterosexual life and never looked back”?  Why not focus on the many “would-be homosexuals [who] were shamed out of their homosexual thoughts and are now fathers and mothers in stable families?”  We don’t pay attention to these stories because we’re captivated by political correctness, he maintains.  As I’ve noted, Professor Van Ornum had already introduced the term “pc orthodoxy” to this discussion.

Mr. Brooks then asks Professor Van Ornum, 

I have to wonder, Bill, that if a regular contributor to Catholic magazine believes that traditional notions of family and a desire to try and protect one's kids from opting for a homosexual lifestyle [sic] is just one of many voices to be equally heard on the subject of homosexuality in Catholic schools, will the Catholic school system ever recover from its ever decreasing enrollment?

When the morality taught in the Catholic schools becomes the same as that taught in public schools, and when public schools are so often superior in educational and extra-curricular opportunities for students, what's left for a faithful Catholic to choose a Catholic school over a public one?

And Prof. Van Ornum rephrases Mr. Brooks’ points in the following summation of agreement with Mr. Brooks’ argument—agreement, that is, despite his protestations to the contrary, that many “gay” youth aren’t gay at all but “in flux,” that one can choose one’s “lifestyle” and the “political” gays need to be kept away from children because they recruit, that real Catholics can’t be gay and the catechism won’t ever change:

Unfortunately, many advocates for alternative lifestyles [sic], both in society and in the Church, attack traditional moralities and family lifestyles with vehemance [sic]. In trying to silence voices of traditional Catholic teaching, they are themselves being hypocrites to their own principles, which stress tolerance and acceptance of other cultures. And they forget that they can go elsewhere if they don't like Catholic teaching. Cartholics [sic] have a right to teach their beliefs in their own schools.

And so this is the pastoral solution a Jesuit journal has ended up recommending to gay and lesbian Catholics on the heels of a national conversation about bullying of gay teens, which had opened up the discussion of the place of gay and lesbian Catholics in the church—an opening, a teachable moment, that had promised finally to permit gay and lesbian Catholic voices to speak honestly about our experience in the church and world.  A discussion that also reflects recent frank recognition of the huge, scandalous attrition rate of the contemporary American Catholic church, an attrition in which research is showing that the savage treatment of gays and lesbians by the churches is the primary reason young folks are leaving churches behind.

A promising national conversation that has seemed, for the first time, to be beyond the control of the toxic, dishonest, immoral games in which heterosexual men impose on those who are gay and lesbian their frameworks and their normative gaze which views everyone who is gay or lesbian as a threat to the Catholic church, as a political activist whose agenda is antithetical to Catholicism, as child-molesters waiting to get their hands on impressionable youth and recruit them for political reasons.  Toxic, dishonest, immoral games in which those who are gay and lesbian are not only not permitted to speak for themselves, but not even permitted to name themselves and the lives they lead.

Toxic, dishonest, immoral games in which those who deny gay youth the right even to name the reason for their tragic early deaths by suicide claim, astonishingly, that they are representing to young people a compassion and love that mirrors the compassion and love of Christ, which vastly transcends the mere, debased political pseudo-concern of gays and lesbians.

Toxic, dishonest, immoral games in which those who are actively censoring the contributions of gays and lesbians to Catholic blog discussions of Catholic issues accuse “political” gays and lesbians of censoring their views.  

Toxic, dishonest, immoral and extremely uneducated games that deny the overwhelming evidence of the scientific community that sexual orientation is established either at birth or very early in life and cannot be changed or chosen.  Toxic, dishonest, immoral, and uneducated games in which even people with advanced academic degrees try to maintain, surely knowing better, that every viewpoint in these discussions is equally valid and we just need to live with the big “mystery” of it all as we try to find our way through the quandaries of these mysterious issues.

And so after having experienced painful cognitive whiplash at this Jesuit journal site which has suddenly begun to censor my comments while suddenly promoting homophobic tripe, I would advise younger gay or lesbian Catholics who may be thinking of continuing to have some strong connection to the Catholic church, or who may be thinking of joining the Catholic community: be forewarned:.  In conversations sponsored by respectable academic journals in the Catholic community at present, insist on speaking out of your own lived experience of grace as a gay or lesbian person, and you may expect to find yourself informed by heterosexual men enjoying the full range of heterosexual male power and privilege that they are authorities on “homosexuality”, and that you can just go elsewhere.

Since it’s their church and not yours.  And they intend to keep on claiming the right to name your reality and define your life, to dismiss you as a political agent who is not a brother or sister in Christ, though they would not dream of playing these toxic, dishonest, and immoral games with the large number of their heterosexual brothers and sisters who practice artificial contraception.

And who are contravening Catholic sexual teaching every bit as much as gay and lesbian persons are doing, as judged by the same natural-law morality that applies to both gay and straight lives.  But who do not thereby become political activists inimical to the church because of their rejection, as heterosexuals, of that natural-law morality.  And who are not susceptible to the shoddy, immoral treatment dished out to their gay brothers and sisters by these Catholic defenders of the faith who, of course, have no political agenda of their own at all.  They’re just defending the unchangeable Catholic truth of the catechism . . . . 

Be forewarned, if you’re gay and lesbian and thinking of placing yourself in any close connection to this system of cruel, organized abuse which claims the right to abuse in the name of Christ.  For myself, I’ve had it, and, as I noted in a previous posting, I’m now actively looking for other communities of faith with which to associate.  Cathleen Kaveny’s friends (and here) who report that they have finally had to distance themselves from the moral corruption of contemporary Catholicism are on the right track.

Recent events at the America blog only spur me along in that quest for another faith community, all the more sharply, and underscore for me the truth of the analysis of  the latest editorial of National Catholic Reporter, about obstacles to evangelization facing the American Catholic church.  That editorial suggests that one of the key problems facing our church and hindering its attempt to preach the good news is its radical unwelcome of those who are gay and lesbian: 

Does our church come across as a caring, welcoming and inclusive? Ask gays and lesbians and their parents. They will give you an earful.

The sudden volte face at America’s Jesuit blog site in recent days is the final straw for me.  I chose a Jesuit university, after all, as a young convert to Catholicism, when I launched my life as a young Catholic adult in the late 1960s and when my high school record and scores on various college entrance exams gave me entree to almost any school I might have wished to attend.  And so it’s perhaps fitting that the duplicity now being practiced by a Jesuit journal that invites experts of the ilk of Professor Van Ornum to pontificate to the world about “the” Catholic approach to homosexuality should finally convince me that I no longer have a place in this rabidly homophobic, exceedingly cruel institution where those who deny gay youth the right to be gay even in death want us to believe that they are loving representatives of the loving Christ, and that every opinion, after all, no matter how false, how little grounded in fact, or how toxic and mean, is valid.

I hear Dr. Van Ornum and America magazine loud and clear: if you don't like it, you can go elsewhere.

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