Thursday, May 1, 2014

Pope Francis on John Paul II As "the Pope of the Family" and the Synod on the Family: Good News for Gay Catholics? My Musings

I'm bending your ears today with a plethora of postings, but before I stop talking for the morning (and I do have yet another posting after this to share), I want to share with you a musing of mine. I use the term "musing" deliberately. 

As anyone reading this blog for any length of time will know, I'm hardly the well-connected insider when it comes to matters Catholic. I'm whatever the antithesis of that categorization is. I not only don't hobnob with (or want to hobnob with) the kind of Vaticanologists who whisper sweet secrets from Curial lips into the ears of the rest of us; but I'm actually the kind of person, it appears, who must expect to be roughly shoved aside — quite literally so — by leading Vaticanologists as they go about their much more important business of hobbing and nobbing and parsing papal statements about mercy and inclusion.

All this to say that what follows is just me. It's just plain old me talking. And so please be forewarned that nothing that I say below arises out of any insider knowledge or comes from any Curial lips — it's me sitting in my little hermitage in Norwich in Little Rock, trying to listen, think, and, very ineffectually, pray. Here's what I'm listening/thinking/praying about lately:

In his homily for the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, Pope Francis made a point of referring to John Paul as "the pope of the family" as he invoked John Paul's (and John XXIII's) guidance for the upcoming Synod on the Family. An editorial today in the U.S. Catholic journal Commonweal notes this papal remark.

When I first read (several days ago) that Francis had made a point of characterizing John Paul as "the pope of the family" in the canonization process, my ears perked up. On the face of it, there's nothing in particular that, as far as I can see, qualifies John Paul to carry that particular title, and to be represented as "the pope of the family" when the Synod on the Family convenes.

"The pope of the theology of the body" I might understand, or "the pope of gender complementarity" (or even — since this is what John Paul meant by the theology of the body and gender complementarity — "the pope of male dominance and female subordination"). But "the pope of the family"? Do those other aspects of his work, which I'll certainly grant many right-wing Catholics translate into a teaching about the family that they use to denigrate gay folks (and non-submissive women), somehow set John Paul II apart in some unique way among recent popes as "the pope of the family"?

Or is Francis possibly referring here to the 1986 document of John Paul's orthodoxy watchdog Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, on the "pastoral care" of homosexual persons, which took the fateful step of defining gay human beings as intrinsically disordered — language that then entered magisterial teaching in another fateful way via the Catechism of the Catholic Church? These fateful steps definitely occurred on John Paul's watch as pope: are they what his being "the pope of the family" is all about?

My ears continue to perk up today as I read the Commonweal editorial linked above, which is about how Francis is healing the internal divisions of the church, and how the dual canonizations "shrewdly" lay the groundwork for Francis to unite the legacies of both John XXIII and John Paul II at the Synod on the Family. As a gay Catholic, I listen for good news in this assessment of the two canonizations and in Commonweal's prediction about what will take place at the Synod on the Family, and I confess that I don't hear much that's good or promising at all.

The term "family" has been used in recent years so consistently and so brutally by the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church not to include but to attack gay human beings, that when I hear the pope on whose watch I began to be defined in my very personhood as intrinsically disordered identified as "the pope of the family" and his guidance invoked for the upcoming Synod on the Family, I begin to be move than a little nervous. What hope am I to have that my particular kind of family or the particular kinds of families of other committed gay couples, many of them raising children, will be included in the Synod on the Family's definition of family — if "the pope of the family" is guiding the process?

And if a leading Catholic journal like Commonweal, which has never been particularly respectful towards or inclusive of gay Catholics, applauds Pope Francis's choice to speak of John Paul II as "the pope of the family" and sees hope for the Synod on the Family based on that move? I had already begun to think in these terms back in March when another leading U.S. Catholic publication National Catholic Reporter — a publication marginally more gay-friendly and gay-inclusive than Commonweal editorialized about the Synod on the Family, and chose to focus on the issues of 1) divorce and remarriage, 2) cohabitation prior to (heterosexual) marriage, and 3) contraception.

The NCR editorial tacks on the issue of same-sex marriage (which is to say, it tacks on gay Catholics as members of the body of Christ) only at the end of its commentary, as a kind of afterthought, in a paragraph that begins with the telltale throwaway line, "Take, for example, same-sex marriage." The editorial then goes on to maintain that while the survey responses submitted by lay Catholics in the U.S. are unambiguous about issues like divorce and remarriage, cohabitation prior to (heterosexual) marriage, and contraception, they show that the mind of American Catholics about gay marriage remains divided.

And so gay Catholics can justly be treated as a kind of afterthought when real issues about "the family" are dealt with by church leaders and centrist Catholic media commentators, even as the editorial ends with a rather facile recommendation that gay Catholics be made to feel welcome and the children they raise made to feel nurtured . . . .  There's a kind of capitalist-lottery mentality undergirding the dismissive attitude of many American Catholics of the center, when it comes to how these Catholics view their gay brothers and sisters: gay members of the church as the losers of the  system, who have somehow not striven mightily enough or been moral enough to occupy the center, the seats of power. In the same way that the capitalist system that so many of us take for granted as the framework of our moral analysis of the world justifies our callous dismissal of many socioeconomic "losers" even as we think of ourselves as the virtuous "winners," its theological analogue in liberal Catholic thinking implicitly justifies the callousness of many liberal Catholics towards those who are gay, who are, as it were, the theological and moral "losers" in the Catholic system, to be squeezed out as a kind of human junk as the church "heals" its divisions . . . . 

Do you see my point? With cheerleaders like this — with cheerleaders like NCR and Commonweal telling us to applaud Pope Francis's canonization of John Paul II and his denotation of John Paul as "the pope of the family" guiding the Synod on the Family — do gay Catholics have much reason to hope that the Synod on the Family will contain any good news for us? The subtextual message (but still, a loud and clear one) of much American Catholic commentary about the "place" of gay human beings in the scheme of things is dismissive: it's exclusive rather than inclusive, even as it touts the virtue of inclusivity; it's eminently unwelcoming even as it purports to be about welcome.

It treats gay people and gay lives as a kind of afterthought to real issues like (heterosexual) divorce and remarriage, (heterosexual) cohabitation outside wedlock, and (heterosexual) contraception. It implicitly assumes that the term "family" is really about heterosexual people, and only by inference and strained extension about gay families. In making this assumption, it assumes that gay humanity is somehow different from and less than the humanity of heterosexual humanity — and gay Catholics are somehow different from and less than the rest of us.

With cheerleaders like Commonweal and NCR cheering Francis on (and, who knows, with this mentality perhaps strongly affecting Francis's own assessment of the data from the survey on family issues gathered to prepare for the Synod on the Family), can that synod promise much hope or good news to gay Catholics? I seriously doubt it.

I may be wildly wrong with these totally uninformed musings. We'll see, won't we?

No comments: