Thursday, January 3, 2013

Catholic Leaders Step Up Attacks on Gays: Reports from the Battlefronts

I doubt it will be any secret to readers of this blog, but the leaders of the Catholic church are stepping up their battle against the human rights of LGBT persons in recent weeks. In particular, they're assaulting the right of gay people to civil marriage in a rather spectacular way in the past several weeks.

I commented repeatedly on the Christmas-season manifestations of this attack, noting the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano's slam of the French Catholic publication Témoignage chrétien for endorsing marriage equality, Pope Benedict's attack on the gays in his Christmas remarks to the Curia,  and the use of Christmas homilies by Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Bishop Mark Davies in England to carry out the Vatican vendetta against the gays (and here).

These were merely opening salvos in what is now turning into a full-fledged new year's war by the leaders of the Catholic church against the human rights of gay folks--in particular, the right to civil marriage. So much is happening so quickly in this war, that I thought it might be useful to readers if I simply gathered together a set of links that will help you form a comprehensive picture of what Catholic leaders are about as the new year begins:

1. Further developments in England:

As Mary Elizabeth Williams reports at Salon, the same Archbishop Nichols who used his Christmas homily to inform English Catholics that the implementation of marriage equality is Orwellian and an attack on democracy has now shut down the widely publicized "Soho Masses" for openly gay Catholics.

Terry Weldon is right on the scene as these developments play out, and is providing splendid commentary at his Queering the Church blog. As he reports on new year's day, Archbishop Nichols has asked Catholics to write their members of Parliament about marriage equality, and so Terry did so. His 1 January posting provides the text of his letter to his MP, Jeremy Hunt.

On 2 January, Terry directly addressed the order to discontinue the Soho Masses. He maintains that, since imperatives to provide pastoral ministry to LGBT Catholics remain in place despite the discontinuation of the Soho Masses, this development can be seen as an opportunity to expand and not constrict that ministry (and here).

2. Developments in Ireland:

As Chris Morley noted in a post-Christmas comment here, the right-wing Catholic lobbying group Iona Institute has just released an anti-gay-marriage video in Ireland. Though Iona has been coy about its funding, as Suzy Byrne noted some time ago at her Maman Poulet blog site, it's widely believed that the funding for the institute comes largely from the American religious right. As Jeremy Hooper puts the point bluntly at his Good As You site, "The Iona Institute is basically the National Organization for Marriage of Ireland." And, in fact, a number of websites are reporting (e.g., here) that NOM and Iona co-produced this video, though I have yet to find clear confirmation of that claim (and NOM's funding sources are as notoriously hidden as are those of Iona).

If Iona is closely connected to the U.S. religious right and to NOM in particular, then a question that the Irish video raises is the question of precisely why the American religious right including NOM might be particularly interested in ginning up anti-gay sentiment in Ireland at present. I'll address that question at the end of this posting in section #4 below.

3. Developments in Illinois:

As Mary Elizabeth Williams reports at Salon (see the link above, #1), the past president of the USCCB, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, and six of his fellow Illinois bishops have just sent out a letter urging Illinois Catholics to oppose marriage equality, since, as the bishops maintain, "the state has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible."

What has George and his fellow Illinois bishops exercised is that there is now considerable movement towards marriage equality in Illinois (see John Aravosis on this), and a key player in that movement is the chair of the Illinois Republican party Pat Brady. To be specific: a group of Illinois legislators has just introduced a "Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act" that calls on the state to apply marriage laws equally to families headed by opposite-sex spouses and same-sex ones. It is this development that Cardinal George and his fellow Illinois bishops are attacking.

And President Obama has weighed in with a statement of support for marriage equality in Illinois. As have more than 200 religious leaders of the state . . . .

4. The context of the stepped-up battle of Catholic leaders against marriage equality:

Simply put, the leaders of the Catholic church are increasingly running scared after three American states approved marriage equality in the last elections, and another state turned back a well-funded attempt strongly supported by the Catholic church to amend the state's constitution by inscribing anti-gay prejudice in it. Catholic leaders are running scared as the Tory leader of the British government David Cameron implements marriage equality, and as traditionally Catholic nations like Ireland show a majority of citizens now favoring LGBT human rights including marriage equality. They're running very scared as Catholic publications like the Jesuit-founded Témoignage chrétien endorse marriage equality and state that their endorsement reflects their longstanding advocacy for the rights of embattled minorities.

One of the best summaries of the situation in which many rank-and-file Catholics now find themselves as Catholic leaders step up their attacks on their gay and lesbian brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, and neighbors is Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata's recent statement at Sensus Fidelium. The Lopatas, who founded Fortunate Families, write,

An ever-lengthening stream of public opinion polls confirm that a majority of U.S. Catholics support marriage equality and want to get rid of laws that discriminate against LGBT people. According to Pew research this year, “among [American] Catholics as a whole, supporters of same-sex marriage now outnumber opponents (52 percent vs. 37 percent).” Whether because of the great value that Catholic voters place on the family—all kinds of families—or the commitment rooted in church social justice teachings to treat all people equally, the U. S. Catholic electorate has crossed a bridge on this issue and shows no sign of going back. 
History gives us every reason to believe that the church will one day follow suit, but that journey will be long and tortured. The pope presents his arguments against equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as immutable truth, just as the church once asserted that it was right when it argued against women’s suffrage, supported slavery, and banned new understandings of astronomy. On each of these issues, the church finally caught up with its people, but only after decades—and in the case of Galileo, centuries—of argument, exclusion and persecution. Catholics know that their leaders will eventually change their views on human sexuality. 
In the meantime, most Catholics hear the pope’s increasingly strident rhetoric, think of our neighbor Bob and others like him, and scratch their heads. Then they go about their business of voting for marriage equality, opposing discrimination, and rejoicing at the unions of their gay and lesbian family and friends. We hope it doesn’t take several more popes and many more World Peace Day missteps before the Catholic hierarchy finally reforms its ways. Thankfully, ordinary, faithful Catholics are not waiting.

5. In conclusion:

As Timothy Kincaid notes this morning at Box Turtle Bulletin, conservative evangelicals, who previously spearheaded attacks on the gay community in the U.S. via the religious right, are now strangely silent about marriage equality, while, if one googles the terms "Catholic" and "gay marriage," one receives hits pointing to hundreds of unique articles. Kincaid thinks it's possible evangelicals are beginning to recognize that permitting gay citizens to enjoy the right of civil marriage will in no way undermine the sanctity of traditional marriages.

Since polls show evangelicals as the strongest opponents (among religious groups) of marriage equality in the U.S., I'm not convinced we're seeing a sea-change in evangelical attitudes. I think it's far more likely that when Southern Baptist minister Rev. Mike Huckabee announced last February that "we're all Catholics now," he was articulating a growing sentiment of American evangelicals that they're perfectly willing to let the Vatican and Catholic bishops speak for them on issues of gay and women's rights, contraception, and abortion.

And so the Catholic church now finds itself out in front leading the worldwide movement against the human rights of an embattled minority, with strong silent support from the American religious and political right, which to a considerable extent continues to fund this movement behind the scenes, through unnamed deep-pocket donors. This is not an enviable position for a church to find itself in: the religious institution singularly known around the world for its vocal, well-funded, politically intrusive opposition to the human rights of an oppressed minority group.

But it's one in which the current leaders of the Catholic church have knowingly placed their church, with the silent (and sometimes active) complicity of powerful centrist Catholic commentators who purport to be liberal, but who will not lift a hand to use their considerable power and privilege to resist the oppression or create structures of inclusion and welcome for their LGBT brothers and sisters who have been driven from the Catholic community by this ugly behavior--along with many other Catholics who refuse to engage in discrimination against gay people whom they know and love.

The graphic shows Pope Benedict delivering his 2012 "Urbi et Orbi" address; the photo is by Gregorio Borgia of AP.

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