Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Commonweal Thread Underway Now: Gay Sinners Violate Church Teaching; Straight Sinners, Not So Much

I wrote yesterday that it takes a huge amount of chutzpah for heterosexual Catholics to continue to pretend that what gay Catholics do (and who gay Catholics are) is somehow a special and egregious violation of Catholic sexual moral teaching, which deserves special condemnation and justifies the suspension of human rights accorded to all other Catholics by the institution. I suggested that there's a whole world of liberal Catholics who somehow manage to imagine that the sexual infractions of gay Catholics demand particular attention, while the sexual infractions of straight Catholics don't deserve the same attention--though they contravene the very same moral norms that gay sex contravenes.

I made these observations in response to Commonweal's recent editorial which admits defeat on the issue of marriage equality, while putting forth the astonishing claim that the civil marriage of same-sex couples will sever the bond between sex and procreation in some uniquely threatening way--when contraceptive use by straight married Catholics (the same folks pushing that astonishing claim about gay marriage) has long since severed that bond. And the liberal Catholics who support contraceptive use by heterosexual couples have never claimed that the severing of the bond between sex and procreation via the use of artificial contraceptives will bring society down around us, as they are wont to do when they talk about the special case of homosexuality.

Right now Eduardo Moisés Peñalver has a good thread going at the Commonweal blog site in which he discusses the story I mentioned some days back about the firing of Ken Bencomo by St. Lucy's Priory high school in Glendora, California, after Bencomo married his partner Christopher Persky. Peñalver responds to the story:

I am not aware of divorced and remarried teachers getting fired. The axe always seems to fall on those who are somewhat more easily marginalized: unmarried pregnant teachers, gay teachers, etc. Am I wrong about that? 

The thread has been underway for several hours now, and I have yet to read a single response that engages Peñalver's question: are there stories of Catholic schools firing divorced and remarried teachers that parallel ones about the firing of gay teachers and unmarried pregnant ones?

Instead, a majority of those responding to Peñalver's question are choosing to focus on the issue of whether unmarried pregnant teachers (heterosexual ones, of course) are frequently fired by Catholic schools. One contributor, however, Chicago deacon Jim Pauwels, upbraids Peñalver for his headline, "Another Gay Teacher Fired by a Catholic School," and asks,

I would ask this, too: if entering into a gay marriage isn't sufficient religious grounds to merit dismissal from employment by the Catholic church, is there *any* violation of Catholic teaching that should merit it? 

Which doesn't answer Peñalver's question in the least, does it? I am not aware of divorced and remarried teachers getting fired. Am I wrong about that? 

I'll take a stab at answering the good question Peñalver asks, which Deacon Jim Pauwels chooses to ignore:

No. Divorced and remarried teachers are not being fired by Catholic schools.

As I've repeatedly noted here, I've taught at Catholic universities at which divorced heterosexual faculty members, practicing Catholics, were intimately involved with each other and were never subjected to any harassment from the universities' administrations, while the same Catholic universities fired openly gay faculty and staff. In fact, at one of those colleges, when Steve and I were fired along with a whole slew of faculty and staff widely believed to be gay, one of these couples--divorced heterosexual faculty members involved with each other--hotly defended the action of the college on the ground that a Catholic college must uphold Catholic sexual moral teaching by firing gay employees.

Another contributor to the thread, Anne Evans, a Commonweal subscriber, writes,

I can understand firing someone for a same sex wedding (though I would not do so) because that represents a considered intent to violate church teaching.

And then she goes on to say,

Firing pregnant unmarried teachers strikes me as both theologically incorrect and inconsistent with the church's prolife stance.  Theologically incorrect, because every single employee of every single Catholic school in the country, including the principals who do the firing, commits sins on a regular basis, and if they fired all the sinners they would have no one left.   

Could this put the Commonweal double standard I discussed yesterday any more clearly? If a gay teacher in a Catholic school chooses to seal her relationship with another woman by entering into a civil marriage, claiming the same rights that heterosexually married couples have long been able to claim, her actions "represent a considered intent to violate church teaching."

But if a straight unmarried Catholic teacher engages in sexual activity outside wedlock, becoming pregnant, she's just like every one of the rest of us--a sinner who deserves compassion and consideration. Her infraction of Catholic moral law--which is the same infraction as the infraction of any sexually active gay Catholic--deserves a consideration and compassion that should be denied to all gay Catholics, whose rights should be forfeit because they (uniquely) violate church teaching.

The double standard could not be clearer. Nor could it be grosser. 

Gay Catholics are patently treated very differently than heterosexual Catholics are treated in Catholic institutions, and the inability of people who claim to be morally sensitive and thoughtful Catholics to see or understand this is baffling to me. In the case of Jim Pauwels, of course, it's not hard to find an explanation for the blindness and deafness: though the Commonweal editorial linked above calls on straight Catholics of the Commonweal ilk to engage in serious and respectful dialogue with gay Catholics, after inviting me in an effusive public way on the Commonweal blog site several years ago to email him and discuss why I think gay Catholics are unwelcome in his church, he simply ignored my email responding to that invitation.

And he has not had the decency to apologize since that time, or the grace to stop holding forth at the Commonweal site as an authority on the church's treatment of gay Catholics--to whose voice and testimony he refuses to listen. Do these folks ever stop to listen to themselves, I wonder? And to think about how they must sound to decent, fair-minded, morally astute human beings, as they argue for a glaring double standard that benefits themselves while marginalizing another group of Catholics, even as they claim to be all about love and justice?

We have a long, long way to go towards fundamental honesty about these matters in the Catholic church, even (or especially?) in liberal Catholic circles and among the Catholic intelligentsia. And we're not going to get there until the first-hand testimony of gay Catholics is invited into these painfully parochial conversation circles and taken seriously for a change--and until some of the folks used to dominating these conversations shut up and listen for a change, too.

P.S. Please see also this reader's response to the preceding commentary.

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