Tuesday, June 14, 2011

All Are Welcome (*Restrictions May Apply): Ongoing Discussion of the Place of LGBT Human Beings in Catholic Communities

I blogged on the weekend about the ongoing turmoil over issues of welcome, of inclusion or exclusion, centered on understandings of Catholicism in one Catholic family to which I have exceptionally close ties--the family of my longtime partner, Steve.  In case anyone imagines that this struggle to understand what Catholicity means against the backdrop of gay and lesbian lives is unique to this particular Catholic family, I recommend the discussion taking place now at America's "In All Things" blog as Michael O'Loughlin writes about what happened after a Catholic parish in Boston, St. Cecilia's, recently decided to sponsor a liturgy announcing that All Are Welcome during Gay Pride month.

When anonymous conservative Catholic bloggers protested the event, the archdiocese intervened and plans for the liturgy were scrapped.  As O'Loughlin suggests, those "All Are Welcome" signs prominently displayed at the entrance of many churches might, if we were really honest about what they mean, need to be qualified with a statement tagged by an asterisk: *Certain exclusions apply; see your local diocese for details.

Today, O'Loughlin blogs about St. Cecilia's again, noting that all are now welcome, at least on the sidewalk.  Instead of the liturgy it initially planned to offer, the parish will now hold a lay-run sidewalk prayer service outside the church itself.  

And as O'Loughlin notes, according to Laura Nelson at Boston Globe, this past Sunday, the parish's pastor, Fr. John J. Unni, preached a "fiery" homily in which he stated, 

You are welcome here, gay or straight, rich or poor, young or old, black or white. Here, you all can say, "I can worship the God who made me as I am."

And one might think that there could be nothing in the least controversial about that affirmation of a bedrock Catholic teaching--that the love of God is all-embracing, that God unconditionally loves every person God makes, and authentic Catholicism reaches out in unconditional love and welcome to everyone.  One might think that there could be nothing whatsoever controversial about announcing to the world that everyone is welcome in an authentically catholic church.

If one thought this, however, one would be wrong.  Read the comments following both of O'Loughlin's postings, and you'll discover that there's a group of Catholics in the U.S. who are adamantly intent on making their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters actively unwelcome in Catholic parishes.

Most of those articulating the message of unwelcome in these America threads are, interestingly enough, men--heterosexual-identified men.  And, of course, they parse and qualify their message of unwelcome by claiming that they're combating the politicization of parish life (they themselves being political virgins, you understand, pristine of political intent).  And it's of course about making sure the gospel message that we have to repent of our sins is unambiguous and clear, you do realize, don't you.  The gays can't be flocking into our churches without having been told they are dirty sinners in need of repentance and grace.

You know, that message of which we remind everyone each Sunday in our homilies: you heterosexual men are not welcome here until you have repented of your impure thoughts in the past week, of those occasions on which you sneaked a look at a skin magazine, ogled your secretaries, or masturbated.  All of you using artificial contraceptives: repent or know that you have no place among us, God's holy and pure people!  And you bankers who have charged usurious interest rates: you need to repent and set yourselves on the straight and narrow path before we'll make you welcome.  You racists, those of you turning a blind eye to the poor, those fostering and helping to pay for violence and war: repent!   You're not welcome among us until you have demonstrated your sincere desire to repent and choose Christ.

That message, don't you know.  That message, which we hear Sunday after Sunday in all the churches so insistent on making sure the gays and lesbians know they are dirty sinners standing in need of repentance: that's the message we heterosexual male Catholics intent on maintain the lines of purity and order that separate sheep from goats insist that our parishes preach, anytime a sinner of any shape, form, or fashion comes near us.

And, of course, there's none of this whatsoever in any Catholic church anywhere, Sunday after Sunday.  The message of sin and repentance is uniquely crafted for those who are gay and lesbian, as if their perceived sin in some egregious way comprises all sin in the world, and as if the egregious, unique sin of homosexuality must, at all costs, be kept out of the church, or the entire structure will fall apart.

And, of course, this discussion is not merely about keeping sin out of the pure and holy community.  It's about keeping sinners out--a uniquely stigmatized group of sinners, that is.  It's about telling a uniquely stigmatized group of one's fellow human beings, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, that they are unwelcome in Catholic churches in a way in which no other group in the human community is unwelcome.

As Brett Joyce states in the second of the two America discussions to which I link above, the all-important distinction that Catholics have to keep in mind as they approach their brothers and sisters who are gay is not who these brothers and sisters are, but what they are.  In our intent to make these brothers and sisters uniquely unwelcome among us--unwelcome in a way that no other set of sinners is unwelcome--we have defined the humanity of gay and lesbian persons not as who but as what.

We purist Catholics have objectified the humanity of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.  We have turned these brothers and sisters into objects, into things.  We permit ourselves to treat this group of human beings with unique scorn and unique cruelty because we no longer see that we are dealing with human beings, with brothers and sisters.  We see only the crude image we have constructed of these dirty sinners in our imaginations--the crude image we have conjured to justify our crude, inhumane treatment of this particular group of brothers and sisters.

As I say, if you imagine that the shocking kind of abuse of a gay sibling that I described in one Catholic family in my posting several days ago is unique to that family, have a look at the responses to the initiative of a Catholic parish in Boston to announce--plainly, simply--that everyone is welcome in that parish.  Look at those responses, and you'll discover precisely how it is possible for some Catholics to justify redefining catholicity (a word that means "inclusive") in the most fundamental way possible, when it comes to dealing with their brothers and sisters who happen to be made gay by God.

The expulsion of these brothers and sisters from the body of Christ, from communion, the loud, persistent message to these brothers and sisters that they have no place in the Catholic church: this stems from the objectification of some of God's children by other of God's children.  It stems from the willingness of some of God's children to imagine a discrete, carefully selected and targeted group of their brothers and sisters as something other than human, something less than human.  As ciphers signifying sin in a unique way.  As carriers of dirt and infection.  As threats to be expelled from the body of Christ lest they infect that body.

As anything but human.  As anything but made in God's image. 

And certainly as anything but welcome.

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