Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Slough of Despond: In Which I Try to Explain Better What I Said Last Evening

Okay, I'll try to explain better what I said poorly last evening.

The Vatican questionnaire that--at last!--asks lay Catholics to provide feedback about the issues of contraception, same-sex marriage, and divorce: wouldn't you think it would make perfect sense for bishops and other pastoral leaders that welcome that feedback to go directly to those most affected by magisterial teaching in these areas, and ask them for their feedback?

And for the Catholic media, insofar as they support this initiative, to do the same go-directly-to thing, asking for first-hand testimony derived from first-hand experience by lay Catholics who are directly affected by church teaching in these areas?

And for the various Catholic reform groups, including those focusing on, say, gay issues, to do everything in their power to reach out in a very direct way to those directly affected by church teaching about these various issues, to provide them a public forum in which to make their voices heard?

To make their voices heard at last?

I don't see that happening with the response to the Vatican initiative.

Instead, I find the same old voices speaking on my behalf in the liberal Catholic media--the same old closeted voices, in many cases. In the liberal Catholic media that claim to welcome the contributions of gay Catholics, and their first-hand testimony . . . . 

The same old tired voices that have had no real problems at all with church leaders and official church teaching in a period in which Catholics have walked away in droves, because, for many of us, those leaders have behaved in savagely unchristian fashion, and have applied church teaching in savagely unchristian ways . . . .

All that I've just said is true, as well, for those who work within Catholic organizations promoting a different and more pastoral approach to gay Catholics. They continue to stand with the church, to find a home within the church, though their relationship to the church may, at times, be fraught with some tension.

Meanwhile, there are thousands on thousands of lay Catholics who are like me--shoved to the margins, made unwelcome. And no one at all--including (and I find this distressing) the liberal Catholic media and Catholic groups working to expand pastoral outreach to gay Catholics--is doing much of anything that I can see to bring many of us into the conversation. To give us a voice. 

To accord us a respectful hearing.

Not even when the Vatican says that the church's pastors should solicit that kind of input.

The presumption within the liberal American Catholic media and within Catholic groups working with gay Catholics seems to be that there's some line that those of us who find ourselves on the outside looking in have crossed. And that we have ended up on the outside looking in because we didn't play the game right, weren't sufficiently adroit, weren't pliable and obedient enough . . . . 

Our testimony is tainted because it comes from a place that is too gay and too little Catholic. It's by definition self-interested testimony. It doesn't deserve a hearing.

The tired old voices that persistently represent all gay Catholics in the media and in conversations with church officials, by contrast, are considered objective. Untainted. Reasonable.

And, above all, Catholic and obedient . . . .

Well, I've said this over and over again on this blog, ad nauseam, for some years now, and it seems I'm simply not heard. Meanwhile, what few friends I've retained in this blogging space have to be exasperated with this constant whine on my part. Even I myself grow tired of hearing myself make these points over and over again.

If the pope called me today (and he's not about to do so, so this is sheer fantasy of the let's-make-a-point-by-projecting-ridiculous-fantasy sort) and asked me what I have to say to him in response to the questions the Vatican is now asking, I'd be inclined to say the following:

Your Holiness (is that how we address him? I'm such an outsider, I'm not even sure of that), I'm neither a married and divorced Catholic, nor a married Catholic who has to cope with moral decisions about contraceptive use. But I've repeatedly written about these issues as a Catholic theologian whose graduate field of studies included a minor in ethics. I've also written about them on a blog I keep.

About contraception: you and I both know that over 90% of married lay Catholics in the developing nations have, for years now, used contraceptives and consider their use morally legitimate. Our moral thinking about this issue needs to be based in reality and not theological fantasy. 

I propose that we pay attention to what lay Catholics have to tell us about their reasons for using contraception. I propose we pay careful attention to the moral thinking and consciences of married lay Catholics. As far as I'm concerned, when Paul VI gathered together a commission to advise him about magisterial teaching on contraception and when that commission provided him with compelling theological reasons to alter magisterial teaching on contraception, he made a disastrously wrong decision when he chose to ignore the advice of his own theological commission.

And the results for our church have been dismal. The credibility of the church's pastors when they teach about moral issues is seriously undermined. Magisterial teaching on contraception is not received. The lack of reception of this teaching seriously suggests that the teaching is wrong. And the decision of the U.S. bishops in recent years to try to use this seriously misguided teaching about contraception as a weapon in a partisan political war against a federal administration they oppose: it's sinful.

About divorced and remarried Catholics: by all means, they should be invited to and be made welcome at the communion rail. The sacraments are not gifts given as rewards for good behavior. They're medicine for sinners. And all of us are sinners.

The use of the sacraments as chits to signify good (read: obediential) behavior or as political weapons in partisan political games: it's sinful. And it drives many Catholics of sound conscience away from the church.

About gay issues and the experience of gay Catholics: here's where I can speak more confidently from my own experience, Your Holiness. We who are Catholic and gay have lived through a nightmare in our church in recent years. The nightmare began in the papacy of Blessed John Paul II when the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who subsequently became Pope Benedict XVI, issued a document defining us in our nature as intrinsically disordered.

That new, ugly, mean-spirited appellation then entered the catechism produced in the papacy of Bl. John Paul. It energizes ugly and mean-spirited behavior towards gay people around the world. It energizes the kind of ugly, mean-spirited behavior that results in the decision of many gay young people to kill themselves--an issue about which the Catholic bishops of my own nation have been shockingly silent.

My experience as a gay Catholic who chose the Catholic church as a young teen (at no little cost to myself) because it had nobly promoted the rights of people of color during the Civil Rights movement: brutal. An experience of constantly being made unwelcome.

One cannot be made more unwelcome than being fired by Catholic institutions solely because of one's sexual orientation, solely because of one's nature as God has made one--being accorded no place at the table, no means to make a living and put bread on one's table, no health insurance, no social context in which to share one's gifts with others. My life as a gay Catholic theologian living in a  committed relationship of 42 years with another gay Catholic theologian, neither of whom has been able to find a job in Catholic institutions after we publicly acknowledged our relationship: it has been so painful, so difficult, that I am now entering old age wondering whether my life has had any purpose at all.

That's my testimony as a gay Catholic. You may not wish to hear it. My bishops most certainly do not want to hear it, and even my fellow lay Catholics in the U.S. who claim to be sympathetic to gay people apparently do not want to hear my testimony.

But it's where I stand, because it's what I live and have experienced. And I can stand in no other place.

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