Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Francis X. Rocca on Berlusconi as Embarrassment: Catholic Heteronormativity Creating More Cognitive Dissonance

Yesterday, as I commented on Austen Ivereigh's recent call for the Catholic bishops of the United Kingdom to stand up against equality laws affecting gay and lesbian lives, I wrote,

As I've been saying for some time now, the message the Catholic church is now transmitting to the world--loudly and clearly, no matter what it says about human rights and justice for all--is that it is a club in which there is a strong preferential option for heterosexual males.  No matter what type of heterosexual males and what their own well-publicized sexual histories might be and what their own behavior has been when it comes exemplifying the values of traditional marriage. 

In the preceding paragraph, the last link points to reflections I've published previously about the curious relationship the Vatican has developed with Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, whom the Vatican worked hard to put into power.  Berlusconi has had the quasi-official endorsement of the Catholic church, we're told, because he upholds traditional Catholic family values.  Whereas the center-left government that the Vatican worked to disempower in order to put Berlusconi into place was soft on the gays.

But as more and more disturbing revelations roll forth about precisely what kind of traditional marital values Berlusconi has been living in what is, after all, his second marriage (the first ended in divorce), the Vatican now finds itself in an embarrassing position.  Its preferential option for heterosexual males--for any heterosexual male, no matter how grossly his behavior belies traditional Catholic sexual teachings--and its denunciation of any and all gay people and any and all gay relationships no matter how faithfully these mirror gospel values, have led top Catholic officials into a curious dead end.

And I'm interested to read Francis X. Rocca's take on that dead end right now at National Catholic Reporter, as Berlusconi faces charges of paying for sex with a minor and obstruction of justice: 

Berlusconi’s stands against euthanasia, living wills, in-vitro fertilization and domestic partnerships have put his country in line with Catholic teaching, and out of sync with all other major countries in the region, including traditionally Catholic Spain. His government has also granted large financial subsidies to Catholic schools, and expanded tax breaks for church-owned businesses.

Yet in Berlusconi’s increasingly public personal life, the billionaire businessman-turned-politician is not exactly a model of Catholic values.

Where the Catholic church seems to be ending up these days with its preferential option for heterosexual males--for any and all heterosexual males, no matter how grossly unacceptable their moral lives are--and against any and all gay and lesbian persons, seems to me not very different at all from Newt Gingrich's description of his do as I say but not as I do lifestyle.  One of Gingrich's two former wives, Marianne Ginther, has stated that Gingrich told her the following when she pointed out that he had given a speech promoting traditional family values while he was having an affair:

It doesn't matter what I do.  People need to hear what I have to say. There's no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn't matter what I live. 

As I noted last fall, the price the Catholic church seems to be paying for the heteronormative worldview that underlies this wink-nod approach to the significant moral lapses of heterosexual men held up as models of traditional family values is steep.  For many Catholics and for many people of good will outside the Catholic church, there's increasing--and increasingly insupportable--cognitive dissonance as we're told that Newt Gingrich, or Silvio Berlusconi, or David Vitter, or Deal Hudson represents the pinnacle of Catholic moral teaching.

But not one self-accepting gay person anywhere, no matter how exemplary or holy his or her life might be, does so.

Because we can see with our own eyes that there are, in fact, gay and lesbian folks leading exemplary, self-giving, committed and faithful lives in committed and faithful relationships that the church refuses to bless, we see something morally awry in the optic the church is promoting.  When we compare Berlusconi, for instance, to those faithful, morally admirable gay and lesbian folks many of us know--and when we ask who really does uphold and exemplify what Catholic morality is all about.

And this was one of the underlying points of my posting yesterday about Mr. Ivereigh's call for us to applaud the Catholic bishops of the U.K. as they stand boldly against equality.  When some of the chief spokespersons for "traditional" family values and traditional sexual teachings within the Catholic church have checkered histories that belie the very norms they're using to bash others, people will wonder.  They'll raise their eyebrows.  And they'll talk.

Because in a church centered on a sacramental principle, what people do--what they live--speaks louder than words.  And it should speak louder than words.  The primary teaching we offer to the world is who we are, and not what we say.

And when the Catholic church increasingly relies on heterosexual men whose lives have hardly been exemplary to announce to us that each and every gay person in the world who refuses to deny his/her God-given nature is disordered and sinful, people will begin to talk.  And they'll stop listening.  Since we now know enough gay and lesbian folks, many of us, to know that something is wrong with this message.  Especially when it's being delivered by messengers whose sole claim to demean their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters seems to be that they themselves are heterosexual.

But never mind about the lives they've been leading as they preach Catholic values to the rest of us.

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