Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why the Corapi and Euteneuer Stories Matter

Here's why I think the stories of Fathers Euteneuer and Corapi are worth paying attention to, why they matter:

When the first round of revelations about the abuse crisis broke in Boston in 2002, the more or less immediate response of the U.S. Catholic bishops and the Vatican was to look for a scapegoat--to deflect attention from their own responsibility for the abuse crisis, for the decades of cover-up and shuffling around of serial abusers of which we got a glimpse in the files that the cases in Boston opened to us.

That scapegoat was gays.  To be specific, it was gay priests.  To be very specific, it was gay priests who did not comport themselves in a macho-posturing way that hid their sexual orientation from others.  The initial diversionary response of church officials to the abuse crisis--the initial tactic to divert attention from the fact that the bishops and Vatican were themselves responsible for the crisis--was to point the finger at a socially marginal group rather easily scapegoated, as the problem to be dealt with to solve the abuse crisis.

And so not far down the road from the Boston revelations, a Vatican-mandated policy came down, barring gays from the priesthood and requiring seminaries to screen candidates on the basis of sexual orientation.  Now, as Todd Aglioro notes in the essay to which my posting about Corapi yesterday pointed, Catholic seminaries are actively screening for "manlier" candidates.  They're actively choosing candidates for the priesthood who come pre-equipped with what Max Lindenmann calls a Father Corapi Starter Kit--who strut, shout, affect a hyper-macho shtick, and teach "crunchy" doctrine regardless of whether that doctrine is received or not.

In short, the Catholic church is now promoting, through its seminary-selection process, a  male-entitled, male-dominant heterosexism that not only does not challenge the gender inequities built into many social and ecclesial institutions, but actively fosters those inequities.  And rewards the kind of hyper-masculine acting out that encourages men to think of women as objects and possessions, as humans built on a less human scale than the scale God used to create heterosexual males.  And rewards the shallowness of immature men who imagine that masculinity is a commodity that can be bought at the cheap price of a shaved head, a dyed goatee, or a cigar, a tattoo, or a motorcycle.

And still, despite this fix, the abuse crisis continues to unfold.  And as it does so, it becomes ever more apparent that abusive priests come in all shapes, sizes, flavors--including macho and effeminate ones, gay and straight ones, pre- and post-Vatican II ones.  And all sexual orientations.

It becomes more and more obvious, in other words, that sexual orientation has always been a red herring in the discussion of the abuse crisis, and one interjected into the discussion of the crisis specifically to deflect attention from what most seriously deserves our attention, if we want to understand this crisis: and that's the bishops and the Vatican.  And their abuse of power.  

The abuse crisis is and always has been about abuse of power.  About abuse of power by clerics shaped by their seminary training and Catholic culture to imagine themselves as endowed with special gifts, power and privilege that set them above the laity.  About the abuse of vulnerable minors by adults for whom exercising power over others--for whom owning others as objects--provides a sexual kick.

It's about the abuse of power by bishops and a Vatican so jealous to protect clerical power and privilege that the bishops and Rome appear willing to skirt the law to assure that their absolute power over the people of God goes unchecked.  And that their criminal actions go undetected and their closely guarded secrets go undisclosed.

And it's about wealthy elites within the church--elites dominated by heterosexual men--who have been willing to collude freely with church officials, not a few of whom are closeted, homophobic, and intent on scapegoating their brother priests who happen to be gay, as a way of diverting attention from their malfeasance in the abuse crisis. It's about the power of those wealthy elites of heterosexual men colluding with closeted, homophobic church officials to buy media attention that blames gay priests (and gay people in general) for everything that's wrong with the church and the world today. 

And so here's what happens when the Euteneuer and Corapi story tell us what we ought to have seen all along--that turning the priesthood into an enclave of males acting as grossly and overweeningly male as possible is hardly going to save the church: what happens is that this wealthy elite of heterosexual males footing the bill for closeted gay hierarchical officials scapegoating gay priests for the abuse crisis lose control of the dominant narrative.  They lose control of a narrative for whom they invented Euteneuer and Corapi, for which they turned them into high-profile, macho-posturing hero priests.

Post-Euteneuer and post-Corapi, it's no longer going to be anywhere nearly so easy as it has been up to now to divert the discussion of what's happening in the abuse crisis to gay priests.  And away from the bishops.  We'll see this diversionary attempt continue, of course.  It will continue to dominate the commentary of epigones like Bill Donohue who are all about seeding disinformation in the mainstream media, to try to control the dominant media narrative re: the abuse crisis.

But fewer and fewer people are going to be willing to listen to that diversionary narrative, after what we've learned from the stories of Euteneuer and Corapi (and countless other stories, as we amass more and more evidence about the abuse crisis which is not massaged by the bishops).  Fewer and fewer people are willing to listen to the diversionary narrative for another reason, as well: American society has reached a tipping point when it comes to discussion of gay and lesbian rights, gay and lesbian people, gay and lesbian issues.

That tipping point means that an ever-increasing number of people are informed as they have never been informed in the past about gay issues and gay lives.  An ever-increasing number of people know and love someone who is gay, and that makes it harder for those trying to use gay human beings as scapegoats to accomplish their dirty work.

Why are the stories of Father Euteneuer and Corapi significant?  They're significant because they indicate that one of the most powerful diversionary narratives in American Catholicism following the revelations of 2002 is now definitively broken and can't be fixed.  And that, in turn, opens a valuable door for those trying to call the bishops and Vatican to accountability for the crisis.

As they should always have been called to accountability, all along, from the very beginning of the revelations.

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