Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New York Victory and Unfinished Business: Catholic Church Still Anything but a Welcoming Place (4)

And so my response to the question a blogger at the Catholic blog site Commonweal  asked me several days ago, which I’ve chosen to answer here and not at the Commonweal site (to make sense of this opening statement, you’ll need to read my posting of earlier today): 

William Lindsey – it you’re still reading these comments (and of course other folks can chip in to their hearts’ content) – you’ve written a number of times here about how unwelcoming the church makes you feel as a homosexual man. What would you have the church do differently?

In what follows, I’m also addressing a statement made by the poster in the same Commonweal thread, whose remarks I discussed in my previous posting today: in a thread discussing how the church can avoid losing the marriage equality battle “ugly,” she/he began her contribution to the conversation by talking about bathhouses and diseases spread by promiscuous gay sex, and then moved on to talk about the grave depravity of homosexual acts, and how she/he had never met an admirable gay man. 

It needs to be repeated: this was a brother or sister Catholic’s contribution to a discussion about how the Catholic church can avoid being ugly to its LGBT members, and how it can become more welcoming to these members.

After having informed the group (falsely) that she/he and I had once been friends, she/he then claimed the preceding remarks were all in fun, and stated,

I really think you exaggerate the extent to which you are unwelcome in the Church. The Church’s current position is that you are welcome to all the same rights and status under civil law of any heterosexual couple, except for the word “marriage” (my emphasis). It is not equality. But it is not the same sort of wrong as slavery or genocide either.

As I noted previously, this is a blogger who lurked at this Bilgrimage site for some months before leaving it a number of weeks back.  This blogger has read my postings about precisely how the Catholic church actively makes LGBT persons unwelcome, and the effect that this behavior has had on my life, on my partner Steve’s life, and on other gay lives.  This is her or his way of not losing “ugly,” and of helping to create a more welcoming approach to gay and lesbian folks in her or his Catholic church!

This fellow Catholic simply discounts all the evidence I’ve offered on this blog that the Catholic church has a very serious problem  on its hands, when it comes to what it communicates to LGBT human beings.  She/he states flatly that “[t]he Church’s current position is that you are welcome to all the same rights and status under civil law of any heterosexual couple, except for the word ‘marriage.’”  (The dismissive quotation marks around the word “marriage” are in the original text.)

And these observations, dropped into a discussion about how Catholics can avoid being ugly and can become more welcoming to gay and lesbian persons, elicited no critical objections from this blogger’s fellow Catholics at the Commonweal site.  For this blogging community representing the intellectual center of American Catholicism, she/he stands in the center.  I clearly do not.

And here are my responses to two fellow Catholics who have recently 1) invited me to explain why I “feel” unwelcome in the Catholic church, and 2) who have informed me that I exaggerate the unwelcome the church communicates to me and other gay persons, and that the church accords me and other gay persons the same rights and status that it gives to heterosexual persons:

1. Since my Catholic brothers and sisters of the center don’t believe my testimony about how the Catholic church treats its gay members at this point in history, perhaps they’d prefer to take a look--again--at what Father Jim Martin and Michael O’Loughlin wrote about these matters at the America blog site in 2009 and 2010.  Fr. Martin’s posting is entitled “What Should a Gay Catholic Do?”  Michael O’Louglin’s is entitled “What Messages Do We Send?”

To my fellow Catholics who contend that gay and lesbian Catholics merely “feel” unwelcome and have all the rights and privileges of heterosexual Catholics: are Martin and O’Loughlin simply making things up when they enumerate, one after another, the unwelcoming messages the Catholic church sends to its gay members today?  And are gay and lesbian Catholics simply imagining those messages and the “feeling” of being unwelcome”?

If not, how does this implicate you, brother and sister Catholics of the center?   If you even once begin to admit that Martin and O’Loughlin are correct in what they say in these two postings, and you do nothing about the problem, you are part of the problem.

Why have you implemented no national dialogue in response to Martin’s and O’Loughlin’s testimony, if you really care about the question of welcoming gay and lesbian Catholics?  Why no attempt to establish dialogic spaces in which you can hear (and then do something about) the testimony of gay and lesbian Catholics, re: our experiences in your church?  Time’s a-wasting, it seems to me.

2. If you want to hear that testimony--real testimony, truth-telling testimony, from gay and lesbian Catholics--you don’t have far to go to begin finding it.  Journalists Jamie Manson and Kate Childs-Graham have published important essays (and here) in the National Catholic Reporter in the past year, about their experiences as openly lesbian Catholics studying in, speaking to, and working within Catholic communities. 

Are Manson and Childs-Graham simply making up the experiences of unwelcome that they report in these important essays?  Do they merely “feel” unwelcome for some mystifying reason in a church that accords them all the rights and privileges it accords to heterosexual persons, short of “marriage”?

If not, what do you brother and sister Catholics who claim you want to know why gay folks “feel” unwelcome in your church intend to do about this testimony?  And about the problem to which the testimony points?  Time’s wasting, and real people--real human beings, real brother and sister Catholics with hearts that beat just as your hearts beat--continue to be impacted in very negative ways by these problems. And by your refusal to address them.

3. And then there’s this: after Marquette University rescinded a job offer last spring to an out lesbian scholar, the university commissioned a study by an academic administrator from outside the Marquette community, Dr. Ronni Sanlo, who found widespread discrimination against LGBT members of that Catholic campus community.

What Sanlo reports is consistent with reports from other Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S., quite a few of which do not even have policy statements forbidding discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in hiring and firing and in campus practices.  It is consistent with reports from Catholic institutions in general across the U.S., a large percentage of which afford no protection at all to employees against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

Last August, the U.S. Catholic bishops joined a number of other faith communities of the religious right in sending a letter to Congress, asking for the continued “right” of religious communities to keep on practicing such faith-based discrimination in institutions these religious groups sponsor.  In the recent negotiations about marriage equality in New York, the Catholic bishops of New York reiterated that it is the “right” of Catholic institutions to practice faith-based discrimination, and their supporters insisted on that “right” if marriage equality were to be enacted in New York.

Fellow Catholics who assure me that the Catholic church never practices discrimination, that it accords the same rights to gay and lesbian persons that it accords to heterosexual ones, that we who are gay and lesbian only imagine that we are not welcome in the Catholic church and its institutions: can you think of any way of making people more blatantly unwelcome than denying them jobs (and health care coverage) because of who they happen to be?  Or affording them no job security because of who they have been made by God?

If Sanlo’s report about Marquette is correct, and if similar reports of discrimination against gay and lesbian persons by Catholic institutions around the nation are correct, why are you who say that you want to make gay and lesbian Catholics welcome in your church doing nothing about these reports?  Time’s wasting.  And if any of these reports are true, is it not more than a little dishonest to claim that the Catholic church affords the same rights and privileges to gay people that it provides for heterosexual ones?   

4. Since 1986, the official teaching of the Catholic church has characterized those who are gay and lesbian as intrinsically disordered, in their very personhood and inclinations.  This magisterial teaching is now included in the Catechism of the Catholic church.  No other group of Catholics is similarly defined as disordered in their very nature by magisterial teaching.

5. As recently as last fall, it was reported in the national media that Catholics wearing rainbow sashes or pins to show solidarity with their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters were being denied communion by some bishops.  The 2010 reports concerned a diocese in Minnesota, a state in which, in 2004, a gay couple were denied communion in the diocese of Crookston, Minnesota, solely because they are an openly gay couple.  These are not the only such reports that I have read in recent years.  Anyone who wishes to do a more exhaustive investigation of this topic can easily find information about similar incidents in Catholic communities across the U.S. in recent years.

6. While gay couples, gay people, or even those merely showing solidarity with gay people can be denied communion in Catholic churches, the 90%+ of married heterosexual Catholics practicing artificial contraception are never banned from communion in Catholic churches.  Nor does the church mount expensive crusades to outlaw contraception (or divorce), while it devotes lavish attention and huge amounts of money to blocking the civil rights of gay and lesbian persons.

7. Speaking of the money that Catholic bishops lavish on blocking the civil rights of gay and lesbian persons throughout the U.S. (the bishops have historically sought to block all initiatives to extend rights to LGBT persons, and not merely marriage-equality initiatives): in each of the cases in which battles have been fought to rescind or block the right of civil marriage for gay citizens in recent years, many U.S. bishops have taken money given by lay Catholics to their parishes and sent that money to places in which the rights of gay citizens were being combated.  They have taken money contributed by lay Catholics for the upkeep of churches and schools and for works of mercy and used it, without the knowledge or permission of those who donated it, to remove or block rights of gay citizens who do not even live in the states from which this money has been sent by Catholic bishops.

8. Speaking of that 1986 document (see #4) published by the current pope when he previously headed the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which initiated the magisterial definition of gay and lesbian persons as intrinsically disordered (a term never applied to heterosexual persons by the magisterium): it was followed by an immediate crackdown on ministries of outreach to gay and lesbian Catholics.  The group Dignity was expelled from Catholic premises after the 1986 document, and subsequently the leaders of various ministries of outreach to gay and lesbian Catholics in the U.S.--Father John McNeil, Sister Jeanine Gramick, Father Robert Nugent, etc.--were punished and silenced by Rome.  The last two popes have obliterated all ministries of welcome for gay and lesbian Catholics.

9. As Uganda, a nation whose Catholic population approaches half of the total population of the country, has deliberated about a bill that would make being homosexual a capital offense, an offense punishable by death, the pope has been utterly silent.  When the epidemic level of suicide of gay or gender-questioning teens in the U.S. created a national conversation about this problem in 2010 (in the wake of several highly publicized suicides of gay teens), the U.S. Catholic bishops said absolutely nothing at all to address this problem.  Though four out of ten Americans reported at the same time that the messages which religious groups give gay teens are a large part of the problem, and fewer than one in five Americans gave high marks to religious groups for their handling of these problems.  And though the National Coalition of American Nuns blasted the bishops and called them “blinded pharisees” for their shameful silence. 

I seriously doubt that the behavior of the U.S. bishops in the marriage equality debate in the past several years communicates a positive message to gay and lesbian youth about their self-worth, do you?  Or about their welcome in the Catholic community . . . .

10.  The initial response of the Vatican to the first outbreak of news reports about the crisis of clerical abuse of minors was to ban gay candidates from the priesthood.  If anyone doubts that this discriminatory policy, which was a diversionary attempt to scapegoat gays and draw attention from the failure of the pastoral leaders of the church to provide good pastoral leadership and which remains in place, continues to have significant deleterious effects on gay ministry candidates, please read the testimony of PeaceMike in response to this Bilgrimage posting a few days ago.

I could go on and on.  But to be honest, I’m not confident that my brother and sister Catholics asking me to explain why I “feel” unwelcome in the Catholic church really want to hear all of this evidence, or will be convinced by it.  As the moral arc of history is leaving behind Catholics who collude in the ugly, overt anti-gay activities of Catholic leaders, one thing I’ve learned  in my going-nowhere discussions with centrist Catholics who discount abundant evidence that the Catholic church actively makes gay and lesbian persons unwelcome, and who claim--astonishingly, ludicrously, dishonestly--that homosexual Catholics are treated as equals of heterosexual ones is this:

When people behave like Bull Connor while professing to be Mother Teresa, they aren’t particularly inclined to look in the mirror and see Bull Connor’s face.  And they resent your holding the mirror up to them and asking them to take a peek.

Interestingly enough, they resent your attempt, in all Christian charity and concern for them, to help them address their sins, even when you assure them that you love the sinner though you hate the sin.  Since heterosexism and homophobia and the many forms of untenable discrimination that flow from those destructive ideologies are, indeed, sinful . . . .

And so I’m not entirely sure how to proceed with these conversations in which some of my fellow Catholics ask me, over and over again, to prove yet again my claim that the Catholic church treats its gay and lesbian members with conspicuous cruelty.  It almost begins to seem, doesn’t it, that many Catholics don’t want to know precisely how their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are made unwelcome by the church--even when they profess concern about this issue.

And they surely don’t want to see the Bull Connor face staring back at them when they raise the mirror to their face.  Just as they don't--and isn’t this baffling?--jump for joy when I assure them that I love the sinner while hating the sin and am only trying to help them, in all Christian compassion, to deal with their sins of heterosexism and homophobia.

So much easier to imagine that all of those reporting these many blatant ways in which gay and lesbian folks are actively made unwelcome in the Catholic church, actively targeted, denied rights and privileges accorded to their heterosexual brothers and sisters, and turned into second-class citizens: so much easier to suggest that those reporting these mechanisms and messages of active unwelcome are dreaming them up and merely venting irrational feelings . . . .

No comments: