Tuesday, March 17, 2015

As Pope Francis Talks Welcome and Mercy, I Listen to What Many U.S. Catholics Are Actually Saying About Those Matters

What exercises the minds of many Catholics right now is interesting, isn't it? I remain in a despondent space — I'm struggling these days — and I had decided this week, while I struggle, to forgo reading the news online. 

To be honest, I can't bear a lot of it, the meanness vented at many Catholic (and other Christian) blog sites in the name of Christ, the quite specific venom many Catholic (and other Christian) people commenting at blog sites reserve for their LGTB brothers and sisters. I don't want that venom near me.

I have enough to do tending to the garden of my own soul, without contending with the muck thrown my way by such people. 

Even so, I did choose to read Joshua McElwee's report this morning at National Catholic Reporter about Pope Francis's homily today at Domus Sanctae Mariae, in which he asked those taking part in the liturgy, 

Who are you who shuts the door of your heart to a man, a woman who wants to improve, to return back into the people of God, because the Holy Spirit has stirred his or her heart?

The pope also said that, as the home of Jesus, the church does what Jesus does: goes out of its way to welcome people actively, seeking them out and carrying them on its shoulders to a community of faith that should become home for them.  

And then I made the mistake of scrolling through some of the comments being left in response to Tom Fox's report on the largely gay parish in San Francisco, Most Holy Redeemer. Tom Fox is publishing a five-part series on the parish, and has published three pieces already (though it's not clear to me whether the third link points to part of the series or an article Fox is publishing in addition to the five-part series: here, here, and here).

I also made the mistake of reading the responses to Dan Morris-Young's article about San Francisco archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and how he's celebrated by the right wing of American Catholicism as he mounts his attacks on the gay community. And so I repeat: what exercises the mind of many Catholics right now is interesting, isn't it?

There's nothing new in the NCR threads to which I've just pointed. What's new, perhaps, is my inability to bear the ugly, taunting, unwelcoming comments. Rather than invite me to repentance as they claim they want to do, they make me want to run the other way.

I want nothing to do with such ugly, taunting, unwelcoming human beings and the Christ they claim to represent. They've succeeded in informing me that their Catholic church is not a place for me or others like me. Their hateful, invidious and entirely duplicitous claim to be concerned about safeguarding the Catholic community from sin, when they do nothing at all to run away, say, usurers or racists or war-mongers, while they do everything in their power to target and make LGBT human beings unwelcome in the midst: it's effective.

It effectively communicates to me me that their church is a church that welcomes all sorts of sinners other than gay ones, that they are comfortable rubbing shoulders with almost any kind of sinner other than a gay one, that the purity of their church depends not on excluding people who economically exploit others or attack others on racial grounds or promote war: it depends solely and exclusively on making LGBT human beings unwelcome.

Nothing about this fixation on drawing lines, on putting LGBT people in their demeaned places, on informing LGBT human beings that their sin is sin par excellence while other sins go unaddressed, connects in any shape, form, or fashion to what the pope is saying about welcome and mercy. It's not intended to connect. It's intended to do precisely the opposite: it's intended to draw yet another line in the sand and place these purist, self-righteous Catholics against the pope himself, insofar as he stands for welcome and mercy.

And don't even get me started on the "liberals" in the NCR threads who want to see NCR publish some "other perspective" and "other side" to this story, while they proudly defend the use of contraceptives by the vast majority of heterosexually married Catholics, and would hoot with derision at a series of articles publishing the "other perspective" on contraception and the "other side" to that story. 

When it comes to their brothers and sisters who are gay, there's always room for more discussion — about the seemingly insurmountable problem of welcoming sinners to the community of the pure and holy. When it comes to themselves and their taken-for-granted use of contraceptives, though the very same norms in Catholic theology that prohibit homosexual acts prohibit use of artificial contraception, the case is closed. There will be no further discussion.

Could American Catholicism in either its "liberal" or its hard-right wing succeed in being any more unwelcoming to LGBT people? I doubt it.

But, then, I write from the vantage point of someone who has long been so unwelcome that he could not even find a job in the Catholic academy, after having spent many years of hard work and sacrifice training to be a theologian. I write as someone long since made decisively unwelcome when my livelihood as a Catholic theologian was taken away from me with no explanation at all, my access to healthcare coverage yanked away by the Catholic institution that took away my job, my life turned on its head as Steve and I struggled to provide care for my mother in the final years of her life.

Hard to make anyone more unwelcome than that, is it? And so I hear Francis's words about mercy and welcome with a decidedly jaded ear, I'm afraid — especially when the Catholic church in the U.S. continues to do anything but welcome those who are gay or to show us mercy. Not in its real-world behavior, that is to say. Not in the behavior of its institutions and its bishops. And certainly not in the mean-spirited, completely unwelcoming, and entire unmerciful statements many Catholics feel entirely free to make about those who are gay  at Catholic blog sites.

What Francis is saying sounds nice . . . . But what effect can those words possibly have on me and many others who have long since been booted from the bosom of this "welcoming" church because we refuse to repudiate who we are, how God made us to be in the world?

(Please see this footnote to the preceding posting.)

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