Sunday, June 29, 2014

More on Controversy about Baptizing Children of Same-Sex Couples: David Gibson and Bob Shine

And speaking of definitions of family and insider-outsider lines that seek to make some families more significant, normative, meaningful, or "traditional" than others, I now see that, the day before I wrote about this topic, David Gibson had published an article at the Religion News Service website about the discussion in the Catholic diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, re: baptizing children of same-sex couples. Gibson's article asks whether this issue of baptizing children of gay couples is going to become a new battleground issue in the Catholic church.

I find two of the authorities Gibson cites about this controversy interesting to read side-by-side. He quotes Rita Ferrone, a consultant to various dioceses about liturgical issues, who appears to support the kind of heightened scrutiny of gay couples seeking the baptism of a child that we see developing in Madison. Ferrone states that the chances are that gay parents "not merely disobey but also reject the various norms [i.e., of Catholic moral teaching] they have transgressed," and there is therefore a question about whether they will or can raise their child in the Catholic faith.

But Robert DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, whom Gibson cites immediately following Rita Ferrone, notes that the kind of heightened scrutiny being applied to same-sex couples by the Madison diocese (which Ferrone appears to be defending) is not applied to opposite-sex couples bringing their children for baptism. As he says, the approach defended by folks like Ferrone "stigmatizes lesbian and gay couples as being more suspect than any other parents."

And he adds:

It is very likely that no parents that present a child for baptism are perfectly following all church rules. Why single out only lesbian and gay parents for further scrutiny?

I'd also point out that Ferrone's approach to this discussion prescinds from any critical questions about her own heterosexual power and privilege — a point I've made in the past about her approach to these issues and the dominant approach of Commonweal, the U.S. Catholic journal to which she's a frequent contributor.

Are heterosexual parents bringing children for baptism routinely interrogated by parish priests about whether they use contraceptives, I wonder? If any readers of this posting know about such practices, I'd be interested in having that information. If such interrogations aren't taking place, then on what ground do we justify raising questions about whether couples don't "merely disobey but also reject the various norms [i.e., of Catholic moral teaching] they have transgressed" only now, when it becomes a question of baptizing the babies of same-sex couples, when 90%+ of heterosexually married Catholics have long since used contraceptives?

Or, to put that question differently, how can we possibly claim to be all about welcoming and including everyone — and is that not the most fundamental meaning of all of the term "catholic"? — when we defend invidious distinctions that mask and ignore our own unmerited power and privilege, while turning an ugly laser beam on the lives of members of a targeted minority group. Some welcome this is!

The day after I published my article about the Madison controversy, Bob Shine published a piece at Bondings 2.0 about this debate as a debate between love and law. Shine concludes,

As LGBT rights and acceptance become the rule rather than exceptions in society, clergy and pastoral ministers are faced with a choice: to welcome all in love and celebrate baptisms openly or to adhere so strictly to the law which could cause pastoral damage. The Church must stop baptisms from becoming a battleground over LGBT rights before it even starts. Let’s pray (and urge) our Church’s leaders to be people who are not afraid to be 'unclean' when it means following love above all.

Or, as I had written the day before (though Bob Shine doesn't cite my posting and may well be unaware of it), "When purity codes begin to trump love, mercy, and justice — institutions that claim to be, at their very core, all about proclaiming the good news of God's all-embracing love of the world through Christ have a very serious problem on their hands."

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