Saturday, November 5, 2011

More Catholic News: Ireland Closes Vatican Embassy, Gumbleton Reveals Why He Was Disciplined, and Politics of Religious Freedom

A big Catholic news story that may (but shouldn't) be overshadowed, in the American context, by the Avila story and other intra-U.S. ones: Ireland has chosen to close its Vatican embassy.  This is a history-making move for a country with the deep Catholic ties of Ireland.  As many news sources are pointing out, Ireland will now be the only major nation with a largely Catholic population to lack a Vatican embassy.  For those seeking a summary of what led up to this decision, Patsy McGarry's article in Thursday's Irish Times is outstanding.

And in the can-they-possibly-get-meaner category, retired (and much-revered) bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit announced yesterday the reason that the Vatican had removed him from his position as pastor of St. Leo parish in Detroit, a vibrant inner-city parish with a largely African-American community.  His offense?  He gave testimony in 2006 in Ohio supporting an extension of the statue of limitations for survivors of clerical sexual abuse filing suit re: their abuse.  The Vatican's assessment of this testimony, in which Gumbleton revealed that he himself was abused by a priest when he was a teen: Gumbleton violated the "communion of bishops."

As Gumbleton makes this announcement, it happens that National Catholic Reporter, which has long carried Gumbleton's Sunday homilies, is featuring a homily he gave towards the end of October, with the title, "Church's Leadership Has Strayed from the Gospel."  And God in heaven, is he right!

And for those following the ongoing debates in the wake of the announcement of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops president Timothy Dolan that Catholic religious freedom is under assault today: as I've noted in several postings this past week (here and here), National Catholic Reporter writer Michael Sean Winters has been publishing a series on the USCCB "religious freedom" initiative that is tantamount to outright propaganda for Dolan and his cronies.  Winters sometimes notes in his columns about USCCB initiatives, in fact, that he's writing them after having just met with this or that official at the USCCB office.  

Winters has written glowing columns about Mr. Dolan noting that he's a "huge fan" of Dolan's.  When Dolan was appointed archbishop of New York, Winters, then writing for America, wrote a jubilant piece entitled "New York: Rejoice!" about the wonderful parties he used to attend, hosted by Dolan in Rome, in which cocktails flowed and cigars were lit and Dolan never failed to have his arm around someone.  (Does the constant emphasis among his huge fans on the bonhomie Mr. Dolan exhibits in his "cigar-smoking sessions" with seminarians strike anyone but me as a tad odd? And a tad overdone? A kind of hyper-macho posturing about how this big-hearted, glad-handing, arm-around-fellows pastoral leader who loves nothing better than to mount war against his gay brothers and sisters is a real heterosexual man?)

And the point of those references: because I know who Winters is for the USCCB and what his connection to Dolan and Dolan's buddies is all about, I take anything he writes about Dolan and the USCCB with a huge grain of salt.  As I did this week when he began yet another of his fawning advertisements for the Catholic bishops' new "religious freedom" initiative with the bald assertion, "Our culture is drowning in rights."

This is an endless and completely misguided (and completely false) meme of right-wing groups in the U.S. and elsewhere, for whom the idea of democracy itself is problematic and antithetical to the claims of Catholicism, with its emphasis on order, hierarchy, and unchanging truth possessed by and handed down through the hierarchy with its ordered chain of command.  This meme verges on obscene when it appears in the column of a USCCB-serving journalist in the week following an article by a USCCB official claiming that gay folks are the spawn of the devil": "our culture is drowning in rights."

No it's not.  And Winters needs only to ask some of his brothers and sisters who happen to be gay or some of the women he knocks as "dumb and dark" what their take is on that claim, to get an earful about precisely how our culture is far from "drowning in rights."  And who has rights in this culture and who doesn't.  And who's intent on taking away the rights of whom, and who fights for the human rights of women and gays and other minority groups in a culture dominated by heterosexual men.

When I read the opening line of Winters' latest paean to the USCCB's "religious freedom" initiative with its absurd claim that we live in a culture "drowning in rights," I stopped reading.  Because I knew precisely what would follow.  

But when I read Tom Roberts' rejoinder to Winters the same day in NCR, I didn't stop reading.  I read on, because I'm glad to see someone at Winters' own publication engaging his constant USCCB-serving memes about how "the church" (meaning the bishops) is under attack in a nasty, secular, anti-Catholic culture out to get "the church"--a culture that, as Roberts rightly notes, now has Catholics "liberally sprinkled" all through its "most powerful quarters," including the Supreme Court, Wall Street, and all levels of national and state government.  

It's hard to keep alive that tired old story that "we Catholics" are under attack when Catholics have long since gone mainstream in American culture, and when the Supreme Court is heavily dominated by (conservative) Catholics.  And when the very folks Winters and others claim are under attack are right up in the halls of power lobbying Congress and state legislatures, and trying (often successfully) to force legislative bodies to bow to the dictates of Catholic bishops about this and that matter.

In fact, the meme of "we-Catholics-are-under-attack" is now false, and those who continue to use it to combat honest, much-needed reporting by the secular media on matters like the abuse crisis in the Catholic church  are simply not telling the truth.  And not doing any service to the church, as they fight for the interests of its 1%, Timothy Dolan and his cronies, against the 99% of American Catholics who do not share Dolan's understanding of church in the least--or enjoy his extraordinary power and privilege within "the" church.

If the bishops and those who care about the future of the church really want to know who's damaging it and how they're inflicting that damage, it's time they start looking inward and not out at the nasty anti-Catholic secular media. They need to look at their own hearts and their own actions, and what "pastoral" leaders of a church founded to safeguard and transmit the memory of Jesus in the world have been capable of doing to Thomas Gumbleton.  Or Roy Bourgeois.  Or Elizabeth Johnson.

Or millions and millions of gay and lesbian human beings around the world. Everyday.

And those who have their heads so far up the rear end of the USCCB that they can no longer see may want to consider getting out of that dark place. There's a world of light outside its cloacal confines.

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