Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sunday Commentary on State of Catholic Church As Papal Election Nears

Habemus papam! Well, at least, according to "Saturday Night Live," it appears we do.

I don't mean to offend anyone by offering that "SNL" skit. I don't think its intent is either to lampoon Catholic beliefs or to push racial buttons. I wouldn't link to it if I thought either was the case. I think its intent is simply to make people laugh about current events all too often treated ponderously in the media. (They're also keying off--I hope and trust--the atrocious way in which little Quvenzhané Wallis was treated by The Onion recently.)

And why should we not laugh, I ask myself, when we've had more than enough unsavory messes on our plate to say grace over in the Catholic church for too long now? And now some Sunday-morning commentary for you, from a variety of articles that wonderful readers of this blog (special thanks to Chris Morley, TheraP, and Jim McCrea--and I hope I'm not overlooking anyone!) have recommended to me:

Here's Catherine Deveney at The Guardian commenting on the precipitous acceptance of the resignation of Cardinal Keith O'Brien as archbishop of St. Andrew's and Edinburgh: Deveney notes a strong tendency among some Catholics to blame the men who filed credible statements about O'Brien's sexual advances to them, and who want to out those men, and then she observes,

This is not about the exposure of one man's alleged foibles. It is about the exposure of a church official who publicly issues a moral blueprint for others' lives that he is not prepared to live out himself. Homosexuality is not the issue; hypocrisy is. The cardinal consistently condemned homosexuality during his reign, vociferously opposing gay adoption and same-sex marriage. The church cannot face in two directions like a grotesque two-headed monster: one face for public, the other for private.

And as Irish writer Colm Tóibín tells Maureen Dowd in her interview with him in today's New York Times,

"They [i.e., the cardinals electing a new pope] need to think very carefully about not recognizing that gay people, like all other people, are made in God’s image. It’s just possible that they have more gay priests than they know. I think most gay priests are very good people in the priesthood for very good reasons, and actually faithful to the vows of celibacy. On the issue of gays, Benedict made things even worse." 
As Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict called homosexuality a "more or less strong tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil." As pope, he reiterated the church view that homosexuals were "objectively disordered" and that men who had such tendencies could not be allowed into seminaries. He called gay marriage a threat to "the future of humanity itself."

The British Catholic journal The Tablet is ready for the Catholic church to move on from the issue of gay marriage, after the disastrous attempt of the UK prelates to stop marriage equality ended in their spectacular defeat--and after more than half of the Catholic MPs in the House of Commons voted for marriage equality:

When Cardinal Keith O’Brien called gay marriage a "grotesque subversion" and "madness" it attracted widespread censure. No wonder the accusations of inappropriate behaviour as a younger man – strenuously denied – were so damning. If true, it made him look a hypocrite. For the Church this was a public relations disaster.  
There is no more mileage in this issue for the Catholic Church, and the sensible course would be to put it on the back burner with the heat turned low – to make peace with the gay world and move on. Technically yes, homosexuality is against the rules – but so is contraception; so is living together before marriage; so are lots of things people do together in private. As the late Archbishop Derek Worlock once said of contraception, these issues are "not the acid test of Christianity". 

In The Tablet's view, the really significant issue that should be on the front burner as the world's Catholic cardinals meet is how to reform the church internally in a way that stems the tide of Catholics leaving the church before it's too late, and before questions about the church's structures and its relevance simply become moot because most of the pews are empty:

The scandal of clerical child abuse and subsequent episcopal cover-ups refuses to die down. The dramatic resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien has calmed nobody’s nerves, and the growing evidence of dysfunction in the Vatican is hardly disputed. But the most significant crisis in the Church is the breakdown in koinonia – love, trust and fellowship – between the hierarchy on one hand, and priests and people on the other. If the leaders of the Church are not careful, the laity could desert in droves. A retreat could accelerate into a rout.  
The major question facing the forthcoming conclave is how to turn round this collapse of confidence before it is too late. And that demands a far-reaching reform of structures, including giving the laity the right to participate in church decision-making. Yet even the tentative proposal for diocesan pastoral councils contained in Vatican II’s decree Christus Dominus has been widely ignored. The Vatican is not interested. The laity, it has clearly decided, is not to be trusted. It has to be said, the feeling has become mutual. 
The profound crisis of church governance is far more serious than a few personality clashes among members of the Vatican Curia which could be sorted out by some job reshuffles and early retirements. The root of the problem is structural, not personal. An institution with 1.2 billion members all over the globe cannot be run by what is essentially an unreformed Renaissance monarchy and its elderly cosseted courtiers.

As I read all of this good commentary, I wonder if many Catholics still don't see precisely why those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and Catholic want to keep talking. And, yes, to keep talking about the many hidden stories of closeted top prelates who fulminate and legislate against us, while living secret lives of their own.

Why wouldn't we talk about these issues? Why wouldn't we try to understand--and to expose--the sick dynamics within the Catholic institution that continue to make our lives and the lives of so many fellow human beings, most of all, of younger LGBT people, miserable? Why wouldn't we and anyone with any moral sense at all want to stop this kind of toxic nonsense before more human beings--again, before more young LGBT people--are hurt and deformed by it?

As I hear some Catholic journals issue calls now to stop talking and start praying, I wonder if the real subtext in these appeals for a cessation of discussion is precisely that magical-mystical theology of the Holy Spirit that Ivone Gebara so powerfully critiques in her recent essay at Iglesia Descalza to which I linked a day or so ago. If Gebara is correct that the Spirit is a "breath of many shapes, colors, flavors and intensities," and a "breath of compassion and tenderness, a breath of equality and difference," which "can not be used to justify and maintain power structures of privilege and ancient or medieval traditions as if they were laws or indisputable and immutable norms," then we have strong reason to talk now.

We have to talk, because that inspiriting Love that dwells in the hearts of all baptized believers is at work not only in the dreams cardinals and clerics have for the church, but also in the dreams the rest of us dream. We have to talk, because it's only by talking together that we learn to appreciate all those shapes, colors, and flavors to which Gebara's theology of the Spirit points.

In 1992, when I was part of a group of religious educators who went to Moscow in one of the first such visits from the West following the fall of the Iron Curtain, I was struck by how animated people were, as they gathered all over the city in little groups to talk. Just to talk. Here's how I described what I wrote in my travel journal (transcribed at my Never in Paradise blog site) as I observed:

I wish I could describe the scenes one sees from the bus en route to the church. The day is gray, wet, and cold, and that adds to the dreariness. But all’s dingy and half-way developed, as if some master plan to build the brave new world simply ran out of steam halfway. Shop windows all look drab, not a hint of color, and the windows are grimy. To the extent one sees inside (for it was darkening as we drove by them), the lights are often bare fluorescent bulbs, and the contents of shops are meager.
But people, people everywhere, milling on the streets talking, in stopped cars and outside stopped cars, talking in squares and on sidewalks, talking. I asked Jim W., our group leader, if this had been the case when he was here in the 60s, and he said not at all—then, people never congregated, just scurried to their destination. 
All this gives the impression of a vast disorderly and suffering nation, but one also in process of seizing its destiny in an exciting new way.

The Iron Curtain comes down, and people talk. After years in which people have paid a very high price simply for talking, people talk. After years in which people were forbidden to congregate and talk freely, people gather and talk.

This is what human beings do, given half a chance. They gather, talk, dream of a better way of doing things, a better way of living.

This is what many Catholics are doing right now in one way or another, as we're enjoined to stop talking and start praying for the cardinal electors, whose talking alone should count in our church. But those injunctions, and the twisted theology of the Holy Spirit on which they depend, won't stop us from talking. Nor should they. Not as long as the Spirit resides within us lowly layfolks as well as in the lords of the church.

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