Friday, November 11, 2011

Joe Paterno Story: A Catholic Story?

On this theme, see (among a torrent of articles now pouring forth), Tom Roberts' "Abuse and Cover-Up: Penn State's Catholic-Like Scandal."

I cannot get beyond the fact that Paterno is a Knight of Columbus, the group that gave more money than any other group to yank the right of marriage from gay citizens of California in the prop 8 battle with claims that gays and our love represent an incomparable threat to the moral foundations of America.  That he and his wife chaired the capital campaign for the construction of the Catholic campus ministry center at Penn State, the Suzanne Pohland Paterno Catholic Student Faith Center.

My church has revealed to me and many others such a morally repulsive face through the response of our leaders to the sexual abuse crisis, whose presuppositions and tactics Paterno seems to have mimicked as if he were following a playbook written by the bishops, that it's impossible to get around the question of what it is in the Catholic tradition at a fundamental moral level that keeps spawning such horrendous, ugly, profoundly immoral behavior.  

There's something embedded in Catholicism at its very core which may, indeed, not be essential to that core, but which now makes it impossible for increasing numbers of people to perceive and welcome anything redemptive in the core of the Catholic faith.  People both inside and outside the Catholic church increasingly find my church morally repugnant.

I myself find my church morally repugnant.  I ask myself why I have wasted years anguishing about the fact that its leaders and many of its adherents have done everything in their power to make me and other gay and lesbian human beings conspicuously unwelcome.  To shove us from the Catholic table.

Why has this caused me such anguish, when the men doing this to me have shown themselves to be men incapable of sound moral leadership?  Or of any sound principle at all?

I can't imagine a moral universe in which I would ever want to follow and trust these men.  Or the Joe Paternos whom they hold close to their hearts.  Or the Knights of Columbus who are their favored sons.  

And I suspect I am far from alone in coming to these conclusions.  If the Catholic tradition wants to convince anyone at all today of its claims to be a redemptive presence in the world, it's going to have to face a question many of us will not stop asking, no matter how brightly the Catholic intellectual center parses good and bad and principle this and principle that: the Catholic church and its defenders are going to have to open conversation with the Catholic community and the world at large about just how and where this religious tradition has gone so morally awry today.  At a fundamental moral level.

The parsing of principles by centrist intellectuals (and apologists for the bishops) intent on seeing only the abstract (and on never seeing the faces of brother and sister Catholics whose very presence raises troublesome questions about the meaning of those principles in the real lives of human beings) will do nothing to resolve the apologetic crisis of contemporary Catholicism, when stories like the Paterno story keep breaking with horrific frequency.  

It's time to talk.  And to listen.  Though what the Vatican, bishops, and their apologists of the center and right would hear if they did choose to talk and listen might set their hair afire.  And that is undoubtedly why they have no intent at all of listening, but intend, instead, to keep nattering away about how loving and good Catholicism is--while the rest of us will be struggling to process the findings of the Sandusky grand jury report, as inured to the theological parsing and the homiletic chattering as if the walls had spoken.

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