Monday, November 4, 2013

Droppings from the Catholic Birdcage: About Bishop Bling, How Would Allowing Openly Gay Clergy Diminish This "Liberace-Like Stuff"?

In response to my posting some days back about Limburg bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, George Waite writes,

So how would allowing the openly gay to be clergy in the Catholic church make clergy less, not more, likely to dress like this and go in for Liberace-like stuff?

Except, gosh darn it, there's this: back in 2008, soon after being made bishop of Limburg by Pope (now) Emeritus Benedict, Bishop Bling punished the dean of priests in the city of Wetzlar, Peter Kollas, after Kollas blessed a gay couple. Follow the implied logic of George Waite's comment, and we have a logic pretzel to try to disentangle, don't we? We have a logic pretzel due to some inconvenient facts.

Tebartz-van Elst is, Waite wants to imply, a big old shop-till-you-drop queen. Let more of his sort into the priesthood, and you'll soon have a flamboyantly gay church full of flamboyantly gay men (both ordained and lay) in Liberace costumes. Glitter. Glam. My God, next thing you know, they'll be installing colored windows and insisting on incense, flowers, lace, glitzy brocade, and organ music in church!

Where will it all end?

As suggested by what Tebartz-van Elst did to Kollas, the facts in the real-life Catholic story are considerably more complicated, more tortuous: if Waite's insinuation that Tebartz-van Elst (and, for that matter, what about the pope who made him bishop?) is a closet case, then the problem the Catholic church needs to address seems to be quite precisely the following: 1) closet cases in the hierarchy are frequently downright draconian and scandalously unjust in their treatment of other gay folks, openly gay ones; and 2) letting gay clergy be open about their identities would appear to be part of the solution to such scandalous injustice.

When Tebartz-van Elst removed Peter Kollas from office after he blessed a gay couple, right-wing Christian websites--websites that are consistently and strongly anti-gay--were downright jubilant about what Bishop Bling had done. Anglicans Ablaze and Kendall Harmon at his TitusOneNine blog both crowed about the bishop of Limburg's slap-down of a priest who had dared to bless a gay couple.

At LifeSiteNews, in an article picked up by Catholic Online, Hilary White posted Bishop Bling's contact information so that faithful Catholics trying to keep the unruly gays in their place could send him messages of support. White helpfully assists her readers in understanding the heinousness of the actions Tebartz-van Elst was censuring by dotting her report with meretricious scare quotes: the bishop of Limburg has punished a priest who "blessed" or "consecrated" the union of two gay men who had had a civil "marriage" ceremony and then wanted a "blessing," she tells her readers.

So let the gays into the Catholic church and you're going to have problems? From where I stand, it looks as if the problems are already there. They're already there because the gays are already there--as they are everywhere. But while the gays are already there as they are already everywhere, a whole lot of pretending is going on. A whole lot of attempting to reshape the real world into pretzel shapes that twist and torture logic to its breaking point . . . . A whole lot of pretending that what's right in front of our noses is invisible, and that if we imagine hard enough and clap our hands fervently enough, reality will vanish and la-la land take its place . . . . 

From where I stand, it looks as if the problems--the ugly injustice, the game-playing and pretending--would be far less severe if Catholic leaders were honest and open about the fact that gay folks exist and are everywhere, than they are when Catholic leaders demand that gay priests and religious keep themselves hidden and participate in mean-spirited rituals of public humiliation for priests and religious who dare to "bless" those who are gay.

I am, I have to admit, defeated by the "logic" of folks like Waite, who is positively obsessed with the gays, with the Catholic church, with religion and religious liberals (do some googling), though he claims to be an atheist. The underlying logic with which Waite appears to approach questions about gay folks and the churches is this: he appears to believe that some social spaces outside liberal churches are entirely devoid of those who are gay. And those social spaces are healthy, while spaces welcoming to those who are gay are unhealthy.

This "logic" (yes, I can use those meretricious quotation marks just as boldly as Hilary White does) is well-represented inside the Catholic church, too, and not merely in the circles of non-believers like Waite who have a strong animus against religious progressives. A persistent refrain lately in the chirpy poisonous commentary of one Purgatrix Ineptiae at National Catholic Reporter threads (here and here) is that "[h]omosexuality is on the decline" and "[i]f the incidence of same-sex attraction could be reduced from 2% to 1% in the next generation, that would be an unqualified public health triumph."

Meanwhile, in the real world, the one in which the church is supposed to do business if it expects its message to have any traction for human beings who live there and not in Miss Ineptiae's la-la land, gay folks do exist. They're everywhere, in fact. They're in your hospitals, doctors' offices, schools, pulpits, libraries, government offices, armed forces, etc., etc. They're everywhere you care to look, that "2%" of the population that, one hopes, we can whittle down to 1% in the next generation, to safeguard public health.

And despite the attempt of Catholics like Miss Ineptiae to depict gays as menaces to public health and to children (homosexuality is on the decline, she tells readers in the first comment linked above, because parents are more vigilant about child molestation), people you and I cherish are sometimes homosexual.

Far from being less healthy because they have begun to exclude those gay folks you and I cherish because they make manifold contributions to our own lives and to the common good, social spaces are becoming more healthy as they allow gay folks to make themselves known. This is the case because social spaces that welcome the contributions of many different types of people working together to build the common good are inherently healthy precisely because they draw on the manifold talents of many different kinds of people who see the world differently from their different experiential optics. 

That's how the real world works. That's how healthy social spaces are constructed. And if the Catholic church expects to have much positive influence in the real world, it will begin trying to reconstruct itself as a healthier public space, in its dealings with those who are gay.

Whether they happen to show up for Mass as besequined as Liberace, or wearing the almost-nothing-at-all costume I happened to see a young man wearing at a Catholic liturgy in San Francisco the last time I was there. Or whether they happen to be in silk and lace, lighting the candles and laying the table to which we're all invited, clean hands or no. 

Whether they're 2% of the population or 98% of the human community. Because human rights don't depend on numerical representation within the human community, and the test of the moral soundness of any human community is quite precisely its willingness to deal equitably with those who are in the minority, and to recognize that members of minority groups have human rights because they are human, and not because they have numbers and clout.

And because Jesus.

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