Sunday, June 26, 2011

Commentary on Role of Catholic Bishops in Marriage Equality Debate: Widespread Recognition of Shoddy Legacy

Interesting commentary this morning at many blog and news sites on the role of the Catholic bishops of the U.S. in opposing civil rights for LGBT citizens:

At Huffington Post, Geoffrey R. Stone sees the bishops' behavior in the marriage equality debate as "a sorry testament to their understanding of their Church's own history in this nation," and maintains that "one would expect those leaders to be leaders in the fight against bigotry and intolerance, rather than voices in support of prejudice and discrimination."

But New York Times reporter Michael Barbaro attempts to provide cover for the Catholic church and its bishops by soft-selling the role played by Archbishop Timothy Dolan in the marriage-equality deliberations, pretending--astonishingly--that Dolan was hands-off and muted in his opposition to the marriage-equality bill in New York state, and never once mentioning that Dolan delegated Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn to go to Albany and hold closed-doors meetings with Republican legislators on Dolan's behalf.

Blogger Thers at Firedoglake reads Dolan's behavior in the marriage-equality debate as shameful, since, as his Irish Catholic mother taught him to believe, bigotry is bigotry is bigotry: "What I mean to say, is that all forms of bigotry, sexism, racism, homophobia, and even hatred of the working class — I can drop or put on my Queens accent easily — are all Hydra heads of the same beast."

Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish picks up on the recent discussion at Commonweal's blog site, at which J. Peter Nixon asks if it's possible for the Catholic church to lose the marriage equality debate with grace.  My take: read the thread following Nixon's posting and you'll end up with pronounced reservations about the role that leading Catholic intellectuals of the center, including those who determine the editorial policies of publications like Commonweal, continue to play in shoving LGBT voices to the margins, in ignoring and colluding in injustice done to LGBT Catholics and LGBT persons in society at large.  And you'll develop decisive doubts about whether the church is willing or able to lose this historic battle against human rights with any grace at all.

Admitting defeat would mean, for these powerful centrist Catholics, admitting their own complicity (and ongoing complicity) in ignoring the glaring injustices that the Catholic institutions for which these folks work have visited on gay and lesbian people for a long time now.

Without discussing the role of the Catholic bishops in the marriage-equality debate, Frank Bruni reminds us in the New York Times that what has come to be decisive in many Americans' thinking about marriage equality is the personal: the fact that many people now know and love someone who is gay.  Bruni focuses, in particular, on his relationship with his father, without noting that he himself grew up Catholic in New York.

It's personal: as in, one can't talk at an abstract theological level about these matters in Catholic circles while pretending that the decision to stigmatize and include doesn't radically affect someone.  Some human being.  Some person.  Some brother and sister in Christ.

Whose exclusion from the conversation diminishes oneself as a human being and a Catholic.  Whose exclusion from the conversation undercuts one's claims to represent the Catholic tradition with any real understanding at all, or any integrity.  Since Catholicism means at its very heart, Here comes everybody.

As this significant cultural turn occurs and the bishops and their supporters find themselves on the losing side of this historic battle for civil rights, look for more attempts like Barbaro's to soft-sell the ugly behavior the U.S. Catholic bishops have displayed in combating LGBT rights,  As Stone notes, 

Looking back from the future, our grandchildren will surely see the legal recognition of same-sex marriage as an inspiring chapter in America's story, a story in which we have progressively abolished slavery, ended state-sponsored racial segregation, prohibited laws against interracial marriage, protected equal rights for women, promoted religious diversity and tolerance and outlawed discrimination on the basis of disability.

And that means, of course, that the U.S. bishops and those who support them in their bigotry have placed themselves on the losing side of history, on the wrong end of the moral arc of history, in a human rights struggle that increasing numbers of Americans now rightly see as continuous with the struggle against slavery, the battle to end segregation and bans on interracial marriage, and the effort to accord equal rights to women and stop discrimination against those who are differently abled.

In the going-nowhere blog discussions with centrist Catholics in which I've been involved about these issues at the Commonweal site recently, I find to my bafflement that many members of that set resent having their bigotry in the present historic struggle for human rights compared to the bigotry of the white Southerners among whom I grew up during the Civil Rights crisis of the 1950s and 1960s.

But they were immoral bigots, one contributor to these discussions shot back at me several days ago.  With the implication that he and his ilk are certainly not immoral bigots as they fight resolutely against the rights of a group of fellow citizens, of a group of brother and sister Catholics.  And as if we in the South who fought a similar shameful battle, a losing one, against the moral arc of history didn't think, as these Catholics do, that we were moral and right--and that scripture and tradition were on our side.

As I say, look for attempts of powerful media groups to begin soft-selling the bald, cruel bigotry that the U.S. Catholic bishops and their leader Timothy Dolan have been displaying in recent years, as the culture turns a corner vis-a-vis these human rights issues and it becomes impossible to deny any longer that what the bishops have been promoting is ugly prejudice and discrimination.

For my part, no matter how hard the media try to pretty up what Dolan and his brother bishops have been doing, I'll continue (with many other Americans standing for and not against human rights for an oppressed minority) to see contemporary versions of Strom Thurmond, Lester Maddox, Bull Connor, and George Wallace.  Because though the pretty mask will be sporting a wide grin on its artificial face, I won't be able to stop seeing the real face underneath the media-spun mask.

(And isn't it astonishing that not a single Catholic publication of the American Catholic center has even published a single article now about the human rights breakthrough two days ago in Albany?  Can you imagine this happening in the wake of the 1964 Civil Rights act?  The silence speaks volumes--and shameful volumes, indeed--about what American Catholicism has ended up doing to itself and its noble heritage of social teaching and support for human rights, by choosing the wrong moral side in this particular battle for human rights.)

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