Monday, November 14, 2011

Paterno-Sandusky Story and the Inversion of Values: Gay-Bashing Meme Now Emerging

In the wake of the Penn State story, I continue thinking about the topic re: which I posted last Friday.  As my posting on Friday noted, for a growing number of Catholics (and for many people who are not Catholic), the fundamental claims that the Catholic church makes about itself are being radically belied at this point in history by the behavior of its most prominent leaders.  And by those who keep providing support to these leaders, and excuses for their behavior.

One of the most fundamental problems facing the Catholic community at this point in time is how to sustain the claims it makes about itself--again the word "fundamental": to sustain the fundamental claims it makes about itself as the redemptive sacramental sign of God's loving and healing presence in the world--when the behavior of many top Catholic leaders militates overtly against these claims.  The behavior of many Catholic leaders, at the very top of the organization and seemingly in unvaried episcopal unity as they choose this behavior, undermines the fundamental claims of the Catholic church about itself in the grossest way possible.

And I argued on Friday and will continue to argue that the apologists for the leaders of the church, including most significantly of all the powerful apologists of the intellectual center, have not yet caught up to the reality of the apologetic challenge now facing the Catholic church.  As Catholic intellectual centrists continue to defend and excuse the bishops (and to make their behavior plausible, even when this sector of the church does manage to critique that behavior), they collude with the bishops in depicting all their brother and sister Catholics who have decided that enough is enough, and who are distancing themselves from the church in droves, as ill-intentioned.  Or as agenda-driven.  As defective Catholics.

The problem, these apologists insist on saying along with the bishops, is them.  It's not us.  It's not us and our behavior.  It's those secularized brother and sister Catholics who have bought into the prevailing moral and cultural ethos of our period of history, and who are abandoning core Catholic values, principles, and teachings as they cave in to secularizing cultural forces.

What this analysis never recognizes or grants is that the large numbers of Catholics now leaving the church or distancing themselves decisively from the institutional church may well be driven by the quest for an authentic spirituality that the church itself, with its current institutional configuration and current crop of leaders, does not channel.  And cannot effectively channel with its current configuration--hence the Occupy movement within Catholicism, about which I also blogged on Friday.  

In the past week, I've had emails from a number of readers of this blog, all of whom tell me the same story: used to be Catholic.  Can't remain Catholic any longer.  The Penn State story only underscores the rightness of my decision to move away from the church.  But a hunger for spirituality remains alive inside me, and it's not being met by any of the faith communities to which I'm turning.

I suspect this will be the story of more and more Catholics in the near future.  And to say that neither the leaders of the institutional church nor their centrist apologists are prepared to deal with this story in any redemptive or honest way would be a wild understatement.  The belligerent and defensive response of the institutional center to spiritually hungry and institutionally critical Catholics could not be more misplaced.  And more of a betrayal of authentic pastoral leadership.

As I think through this analysis, which seems plausible to me, I'm struck by a significant number of ways in which the behavior and assumptions of Catholic leaders now belie the church's claims at a fundamental moral level--a point I emphasized in my posting on Friday.  In the years in which I've been blogging here, I've noted over and over again a theme that attracts my attention, when I look at the ethical analysis (and behavior) of many secular and religious power centers and of the leaders of those power centers.  

As I've noted persistently, one of the most troubling traits of many leaders of power centers, when they're faced with a challenge to make their core ethical values transparent and to abide by those values, is to invert the analysis of values with which they're faced by critics.  I call this process the inversion of values, and I have argued that inversion of values is a predictable and damaging response of leaders of powerful institutions faced with critical questions about their core values.

For many Catholics (and for many non-Catholics, as well), one of the most shocking features of one story of clerical abuse of minors after another is the persistent ability of top Catholic pastoral leaders to frame these stories as stories about the needs of clerics abusing children, and not about the needs of children being abused.  The institutional response of the Catholic church could not be more inadequate for many Catholics and many other people of good will in its fundamental thrust: this response has asked us to pity and make concessions to priests abusing minors, while it has paid almost no attention at all to the minors being abused.

This institutional response inverts what many people see as the core value to be served in the abuse crisis: that is the obligation always to put the needs of children being abused or susceptible to abuse above all other considerations, including the image of the community in which an abuser wields power, the assets of the community, the legal standing of the community, or the power and privilege of the community's leaders.

Already, in how the religious right and many right-trending apologists for the Catholic hierarchy are seeking to frame the Paterno-Sandusky story, we can see the beginnings of a similar process of inverting core values.  As I noted last week, both Paterno and Sandusky have cozy ties to the Knights of Columbus.  They have close ties to a powerful and wealthy Catholic group that, perhaps more than any other Catholic group in the U.S., has done a tremendous amount to block and remove the rights of gay and lesbian citizens.

In recent years, the Knights of Columbus have made attacking gay rights--the right of gay persons to civil marriage, in particular--one of the group's highest priorities, such that money previously given by this organization to feed hungry people, heal the sick, shelter people in need of housing, etc., is now being diverted into political attacks on gay and lesbian human beings.  As my posting last Friday to which the preceding link points notes, data released by the state of California about the groups that contributed most significantly to the battle to remove the right of civil marriage from gay citizens of that state in the prop 8 battle show the Knights of Columbus at the top of the list of donors

In Minnesota this year, when the Catholic bishops of the state sent a video to every Catholic household in the state attacking gay marriage, the Knights of Columbus played a decisive role.  Though the funding source for the production of this expensive video has never been disclosed by the Catholic bishops of Minnesota, the Knights of Columbus have stated that they paid for its distribution and assisted the bishops with the mailing process.

The Knights of Columbus are working hand in hand with the Catholic bishops of the U.S. to attack the gay community and to remove and block the rights of gay citizens.  And so it's astonishing to read in one news or blog outlet after another this past weekend religious right spokespersons and right-trending Catholic apologists seeking to spin the Paterno-Sandusky story as a story about the threat that gay persons pose to children--as if Sandusky is gay rather than a pedophile, when Paterno and Sandusky have close ties to the Knights of Columbus, and when both are heterosexually married men.

Both men belong to powerful religious and professional networks whose primary values are all about sustaining the power and privilege of heterosexual men and assuring the dominance of heterosexual men over both women and gay men.  Not only has neither ever identified himself as gay, both belong to religious and professional groups that persistently attack gay and lesbian persons.  

It's hard to think of a clearer example of how power centers seek to invert values, and to create media narratives that depend on an inversion of values (and of the plain truth), than the current attempt to make the Paterno-Sandusky story a story about the danger that gays pose to children, about the danger that a "gay" Sandusky poses to children.  And yet I think we can expect to see more of this narrative in coming weeks.

The question to be asked about this analysis is when lay Catholics who remain active in the church will begin to see how badly the pushing of such claims by apologists for the institution and its leaders, who have made attacking gays a key part of their current agenda, serves the institution and its attempt to depict itself as the sacramental sign of God's love in the world.  When will lay Catholics say enough is enough with these destructive gay-bashing memes on the part of powerful Catholic groups and powerful Catholic leaders--as large numbers of lay Catholics who have distanced themselves from the church have already done?

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