Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Droppings from the Catholic Birdcage: Contraception? Open to Discussion! Homosexuality? Closed Discussion! Gays Are Welcome to Confess Their Sins

Here's an interesting set of comments at Catholic blog sites recently, for your edification:

On the very same day, a person who posts comments on an ongoing basis at the National Catholic Reporter site roundly berates  theologian Tina Beattie for suggesting that Catholic moral teachings including those about homosexuality might remain open to discussion, while (at the new CRUX site), that same person posts the following advice to a mother wondering about birth control for her teenaged daughter:

The only reason Catholics have ever been given to believe birth control is wrong is that the Magisterium of the Church says so. And there is strong historical evidence to suggest the only reason the Magisterium says so is reluctance to be seen changing doctrine. All efforts to find a medical or psychological or social reason to object to artificial contraception have failed miserably.

Do you see the point? There are many Catholics — this is a strong tendency within some sectors of Catholic culture — who have no problem at all with the use of contraceptives and are perfectly willling to admit that the magisterium is flatly wrong about birth control, but who are quick to use magisterial teaching to condemn those who are gay.

Catholics who think this way appear to assume that when the vast majority of heterosexually married Catholics use contraceptives and have long done so, magisterial teaching about this issue should of course remain open to discussion, because it is cannot easily be sustained when the faithful themselves discern it to be incorrect. It is clearly historically conditioned, and the refusal of church officials to entertain discussion of birth control is simply a refusal to admit that the magisterium can ever be wrong about any moral issue.

Yet, when the lives of their fellow Catholics who happen to have been made gay by God are at stake, the lines suddenly become rigid: the magisterium simply cannot be wrong. Roma locuta, causa finita.

If the moral problem is a struggle for me and for my community, then it should obviously remain open to discussion. If it's a struggle for you and your community, and I happen to despise you and your community, then too damned bad: you're getting what you deserve for being different, acting different, insisting that the difference in how you have been constituted by God matters. 

The lay Catholic who posted the two comments noted above has a long history at various Catholic blog sites — a long history of posting one comment after another informing gay people that they are not welcome in her Catholic church, that they are morally and psychologically defective human beings who represent an infectious threat to the body politic. She and other lay Catholics like her continue to enjoy surprising freedom at one Catholic blog site after another to post such ugly comments about their fellow human beings who happen to have been made gay by God, and to claim the center of the Catholic conversation as they do so — to claim that they represent authentic, pure Catholic truth and Catholic values as they inform gay people that they are icky and unwanted in the church.

And, though she often posts comments at Catholic blog sites indicating that magisterial teaching about contraception must remain open to discussion and may be wrong, this bitterly anti-gay lay Catholic who wants to assure that her church remain an unwelcoming space for gay Catholics repeatedly posts comments stating that church doctrine about homosexuality is fixed in stone and cannot be changed. She defends the right of Catholic institutions to target and fire openly gay employees because, as she maintains, their lives publicly contradict church teaching — though a very large majority of heterosexually married Catholics use contraceptives, and she is not in favor of seeing those Catholics, that is, her kind,  hounded and fired by Catholic institutions for their use of contraceptives.

As Terence Weldon and Bob Shine have noted, Tina Beattie came under fire from church authorities after she signed a statement in the Times of London which maintains that "it is perfectly proper for Catholics, using fully informed consciences, to support the legal extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples." And this is, of course, why the bitterly anti-gay lay Catholic who is castigating Tina Beattie for questioning Catholic doctrine maintains that Beattie is "disingenuous" in protesting that "that she has never questioned Catholic doctrine."

As the bitterly anti-gay lay Catholic underscores in a comment at NCR today when the subject of discussion is whether LGBT people should be welcome in the Catholic church, "Catholics are obliged to believe the Magisterium of the Church is infallible in matters of faith and morals . . . ." That is, there is no room for discussion of the morality of homosexuality, since Rome has spoken. But it's perfectly okay for the person asserting this absolute to question and even reject magisterial teaching about contraception as a heterosexual Catholic laywoman. . . . .

Note, too, the tack taken by a contingent of Catholics in this NCR thread which is a discussion of the fact that many gay Catholics feel very unwelcome in the Catholic church: as the lead comment establishing the tone of the entire discussion, by one chrisinva, asserts, gay Catholics are most certainly welcome! They're welcome to confess their sins.

They're welcome to be paraded in front of the rest of the Catholic community as sinners par excellence, while the vast majority of those sitting in judgment on these sinners par excellence are contravening the very same moral imperatives that homosexual sex is said to contravene, as these other Catholics use contraceptives.

Some welcome, isn't it? Some hard-hearted welcome which expects a targeted minority community to bear the weight of sin of the entire community, as a prerequisite to approaching the eucharistic table, a ritual table that points back to Jesus's practice of open commensality, of sitting at table with everyone, and notably with public sinners and those scorned by the community of the righteous.

It's as if, in their instinct of maleficent unwelcome and condemnation, a certain subset of Christians today for whom gay human beings absolutely must represent the sins of everyone, must be paradigms of a sin to be exposed and combated by the church, do not understand the most fundamental point of all about the Christian gospels and the life of Jesus, isn't it? For God's universal welcoming embrace of the entire world as the core message of the Christian gospels, they have substituted the notion of sin and condemnation — of the sin of someone else who is to be used as a scapegoat to bear my sins.

Is it any wonder that we who are gay and Catholic feel so conspicuously unwelcome in a church that continues to allow people who represent these positions to claim that they represent the very center of the Catholic tradition — while they claim dispensations for their own moral lapses as they preach that there must be no dispensations at all for the moral lapses of their fellow human beings who happen to have been made gay by God? Is it any wonder that we who are gay and Catholic feel so unwelcome in an institution whose self-professed chief moral and doctrinal defenders don't have a clue what the word "welcome" means?

You're welcome to confess your sins and wash your dirty hands. Then we might consider making you welcome at our table, which is for the washed and pure only.

For the folks just like us.

As Andrew Sullivan notes, the glaring double standard now being used by Catholic pastoral leaders to target LGBT employees of Catholic institutions on the ground that their sexual lives do not exemplify Catholic moral standards, while heterosexual employees of those institutions whose sexual lives also fail to satisfy Catholic moral teachings are given a free pass, is bound to strike most thinking individuals as deeply wrong:

The "sins" that gay Catholics are committing, after all, are no worse in theological terms than masturbation, pre-marital sex or the use of contraception within a marriage. And yet only the gays are really subject to these new censures, because they can be more easily identified in the public space. 
However way you slice it, that means that the Catholic church is engaged in a very targeted campaign of discrimination against gay people for the very sins most straight Catholics commit all the time. This has to strike most people as wrong – deeply wrong. Even the most stringent church teaching on homosexuality opposes what it calls "unjust discrimination" against gays. And isn’t selective enforcement of morals against one tiny minority precisely the definition of "unjust"?

And he's correct.

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