Sunday, May 25, 2014

American Catholics Ask Why Gay Folks Feel the Church Is Hostile to Them: Continued Non-Conversation

There's a lot of talk right now about how gay folks respond to the Catholic church (and vice versa). And as I read the discussions, I wonder where they're going — and why the present moment could possibly be perceived as an opening to a rapprochement between the gay community and the Catholic community, when any attempt we've made to have this rapprochement conversation in recent years has been entirely abortive and utterly unproductive.

I recently linked to an essay of Father James Martin at America which asks why LGBT people feel hatred from members of the Catholic church. At the Bondings 2.0 blog site, Francis DeBernardo picks up the same discussion, entitling his posting, "Why Do LGBT People Feel the Catholic Church Hates Them?"

In a current discussion at Commonweal, Lisa Fullam points to Martin's and DeBernardo's articles, and then to the story of what just happened in the Catholic diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph — the firing of Colleen Simon, the coordinator of social ministries for the diocese, after it became public that she had a same-sex spouse. Fullam concludes her survey of these discussions by proposing that the problem is one of listening: the Catholic community needs to devise ways to hear the testimony of those who are gay:

I'd add also that listening to LGBT people might include being open to the possibility that language like "grave depravity," "intrinsic disorder," "objective disorder" and the like is in need of revision and rejection. It seems to be utterly unjust to apply such harsh and hurtful language to two women who love each other deeply and share also a profound commitment to service of the poor. They set a standard for love of neighbor that all of us--gay, straight, or whatever--would do well to emulate.

I agree, of course. But even as I agree, I wonder why now could possibly prove to be a listening moment, when the Catholic community in the U.S. had no listening moment after Nicholas Coppola was removed from various parish ministries last year when an anonymous letter to his bishop complained that he was a homosexual and wouldn't keep quiet about it.

Or why is now suddenly a good moment to have the discussion about why gay people feel targeted and attacked by the Catholic church when the children of a same-sex couple were refused admission to a Catholic school in Colorado several years ago because their mothers were same-sex spouses? Or when a young teen, Lennon Cihak, was denied the sacraments in Minnesota because he supported marriage equality, and his family members were also barred from the sacraments for supporting him?

Or when Carla Hale was fired by a Catholic school in Ohio because her mother's obituary mentioned Carla's partner? Or when Timothy Nelson, who's not gay, was denied a job at a Catholic school because a tipster had read his father's obituary and concluded that it indicated Nelson was gay? Or when Trish Cameron was fired by a Catholic school in Minnesota when she reported on an evaluation document that she does not agree with all church teachings (notably, the ones about homosexuality), though she keeps her opinions to herself in the classroom?

Or why didn't we have the listening-moment conversation after Barbara Johnson and her partner were denied communion at Johnson's mother's funeral because they were a couple? Or when Carol Parker and Josie Martin were denied communion at the funeral of Parker's mother in Missouri for the same reason?

Well, you get the picture. I could go on and on. I could go on and on with the list of Catholics in the U.S. treated with a conspicuous lack of compassion and dignity in recent years because 1) they are gay or 2) they care about people who are gay and express that care in public ways — something for which the Catholic school system of Cincinnati (and apparently also of Oakland and elsewhere) now informs us it's prepared to fire people. The Cincinnati Catholic school system tells us it's prepared to fire people simply for caring about gay folks and expressing that care in any public way, so that Mollie Shumate, the mother of a gay son, has refused to sign the contract because she will not repudiate her own son.

For that matter, why have we not been having the listening-moment conversation after the Public Religion Research Institute showed us (and here) earlier this year that the American public sees the Catholic church as the religious institution most unfriendly to gay folks among all religious communities? (Note to Father Martin and Mr. DeBernardo: it's not just members of the LGBT community who think the Catholic church is hostile to LGBT human beings. It's the American public that is convinced of this, in numbers that ought to be producing serious soul-searching and honest conversations in the American Catholic community — but that have, up to now, elicited no real institutional response at all to the shocking findings of this survey about how the Catholic church is perceived by most Americans.)

As I ask myself why this moment and not all those previous ones might somehow prove to be a productive moment for the American Catholic church to listen respectfully to the testimony of gay folks — testimony about why we and many others see the Catholic church as hostile, unfriendly, unwelcoming to us — I think back to an exchange I had with the Commonweal regular Deacon Jim Pauwels in 2011. I've discussed that exchange in detail here in the past.

In a Commonweal thread, I explained to Deacon Jim (who defended the grotesque anti-gay exorcism show of Bishop Paprocki in Illinois last year) that gay folks don't feel welcome in the Catholic church. Deacon Jim then invited me to email him and explain to him why that's the case.

I responded to his public invitation on the Commonweal blog to email him. And he then simply ignored my email. It was if the walls had spoken.

I never heard back from him, never got any acknowledgment from him that I had responded to his invitation. Never received any word of thanks from him for having shared — from my heart — my reasons for perceiving that many gay folks feel we're treated with conspicuous disdain by the Catholic community, and are not welcome in that community.

Is it possible, do you think, to treat human beings with more disdain than by pretending that they are not in the room and have not spoken when they speak to us — in response to a direct invitation to those fellow human beings to address us? Is it possible, do you think, to tag such behavior as, in any shaper, form, or fashion, loving and affirming and welcoming behavior?

And yet there Deacon Jim is in the conversation sparked by Lisa Fullam's recent Commonweal posting — about the need to listen to gay folks as we explain why we see ourselves as unwelcome in the Catholic community! There he is, being treated with utmost respect as "a man of sense, decency, and good will" as he expounds, from his vantage point as a heterosexual married man, on how the Catholic church is really welcoming to gay folks, and (by implication) the sense of some gay folks that the Catholic church is not welcoming has to be misguided, since Catholic institutions are only firing folks who are gay and choose to marry, and who therefore publicly contest church teaching by marrying.

There's Deacon Jim, who utterly disregarded the testimony of one fellow Catholic when he asked that fellow Catholic to explain to him why gay folks feel unwelcome in his Catholic community, expounding — as a heterosexual married man — about what the Catholic church means and does to gay folks. And being treated with great seriousness and respect by his Commonweal dialogue partners as he does so, though surely more than one of those Commonweal dialogue partners must know that he snubbed me royally after he asked for my testimony about how gay Catholics feel treated by the Catholic community.

I don't mean to attack Deacon Jim Pauwels. That's not my point here. My point is to put my finger on something deeply ingrained in some American Catholics, and, in particular, in its media and academic elites, which makes this community well-nigh impervious to any kind of authentic conversation with members of the gay community about how we perceive the Catholic church treats us. I have long since concluded that the American Catholic community does not really intend to have that conversation — that authentic and honest conversation that seriously entertains the testimony of those who are gay.

It's simply easier to engage in impression management and go about our business as usual. It is simply easier to go about our business of being church and not bother ourselves with searching questions about what being church might mean in the culture in which we live — especially insofar as gay folks are concerned. Real listening makes us susceptible to self-criticism, after all, and self-criticism, in turn, opens us to conversion.

And conversion is messy business. 

It's far easier to imagine that the many gay folks (and those who care about gay folks) who report that the Catholic community is conspicuously unwelcoming to them are ill-intentioned (they're "enemies" of the church). Or that they're lying about their experiences with the Catholic community. Or that they're crazy.

Whatever. In the final analysis. the point is that they're not people like us. They're not like the men of "sense, decency, and good will" who predominate in the Catholic institution, and especially in its elite media and academic circles, as well as in its elite clerical circles. Those men of sense, decency, and good will somehow have the infused knowledge to understand and parse for the rest of the Catholic community what it feels like to live in gay skin within the Catholic community, even when they themselves happen to be living in the skin of heterosexual married men.

They don't really need to listen to the voices of their fellow Catholics who are gay, in order to understand what it feels like to live within the Catholic church in gay skin. Those gay voices, after all, represent the opposite of sense, decency, and good will. Gay voices are by definition not objective voices. They're self-interested and they are tainted by intrinsic disorder.

So why listen to them at all, even when the leaders of our religious community are being proven so spectacularly wrong about the issue of human rights for the members of that disordered community that they are losing all moral credibility among many thinking citizens of the U.S.?

(Please see the next posting, which is a footnote to this one, and an illustration of why the American Catholic community needs actively to solicit and to take seriously the testimony of real-life gay Catholics regarding our experiences with the Catholic church.)

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