Saturday, September 26, 2015

Remembering John McNeill, As Doors Slam Shut on Thousands at World Meeting of Families

As several of you have noted in comments here in the past few days, on the day on which Pope Francis arrived in the U.S., noted theologian and former Jesuit priest John McNeill died at the age of 90, with his partner of 46 years, Charles Chiarelli, at his side. Many of you will know quite a bit about John McNeill, so I don't think it's necessary for me to say more about his life than to remind readers that he was expelled from the Jesuits in 1987 when he refused to stop his ministry to LGBT people, and to cease his theological work in the area of sexual ethics. He attracted the animosity of Pope John Paul II and that pope's theological watchdog Cardinal Ratzinger, later Benedict XVI, and was ordered by Ratzinger to choose between his ministry to LGBT persons and his Jesuit vocation.

True to his Jesuit vocation that called him to emulate Jesus and walk in the footsteps of Jesus, John chose the ministry and not the security of his Jesuit community. For my numerous postings about John McNeill and his work, pleace click on his name in the labels below.

Over the years since I began reading John's theological works in the 1980s, the passage I've placed at the head of the posting has constantly reverberated in my mind. In his 1988 book Taking a Chance on God, John lamented the tragedy of the inability of many people of Christian faith to recognize that the world in which they live is full of gay and lesbian human beings who are, in many cases, members of their families, their friends, their co-workers. Who are human just as they themselves are human . . . .

In Taking a Chance on God, John spins a fantasy about what would happen — what a teaching moment would occur — if, on a single day, all LGBT people vanished. As he note, the world would shut down if that happened. So much that we take for granted would stop functioning, especially in the helping and healing sectors of society, where LGBT people have long been disproportionately represented.

Schools would shut, doctors' offices would have to turn patients away, hospitals would struggle to provide care for people with their new skeleton staff of healing professionals, churches would have to stop services for the day. This fantasy is a plea for understanding

It's a plea to the rest of the world, and to people of faith in particular, to stop imagining that LGBT human beings are somebody else, somebody alien, somebody over against whose humanity my humanity (and my Christian faith) are defined in a way that objectifies and others the human beings being dealt with in this ugly way. It's a plea to the rest of the world to stop reducing the rich, complex humanity of the LGBT people who are all around us, and whom, in many cases, we know and love as people who give much to us and to others, to a sexualized tag that diminishes their humanity.

I gather that, even today, long after John McNeill wrote those words and many people in various parts of the world have now come to see that they have long known and loved LGBT people in their families, among their friends and co-workers, some churches — including the Catholic church — continue to struggle to catch up to John's insight in his groundbreaking 1988 work. As many of you know, under the tight control of anti-gay culture warrior Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, the World Meeting of Families has shut LGBT families out of the "world" meeting altogether.

LGBT families who asked to be represented at this meeting were told in no uncertain terms that they are not welcome as the families of the "world" gather. A single session was devoted to LGBT people, their families, and their lives at the "world" meeting of families. 

At this session, a gay Catholic man who is thought by many other LGBT Catholics not to represent the diversity of our community, Ron Belgau, was invited to present. And here's what happened when that session took place in Philadelphia on 24th September, according to Kimberly Winston

Then, just as the single session on homosexuality at this Vatican-approved meeting of Catholic families was to begin on Thursday afternoon (Sept. 24), a conference official took the stage in the main hall, capable of seating at least 10,000, and announced the location had been moved. 
Thousands of people got up and made their way up one floor to another room capable of seating only about 1,000. Hundreds of others were turned away, the doors shut on them by convention center officials citing fire code regulations.

As Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans's report about this event states, no explanation was given for the move.

There's a parable here, isn't there? Orders are barked out from on high, no explanation is given for shutting thousands out of a discussion they are clearly hungry to hear, or why else would they be there, and then the doors shut on them. This is quite precisely what those of us who are LGBT and Catholic have been experiencing for years now from our church:

The orders get barked down from on high with no explanation at all. 
And then the doors shut on us. 

While, as we read our gospels, we note how plainly Jesus speaks not of turning people away and shutting doors on them, but of welcoming them. Of going out into the highways and byways to invite them in . . . . As we read our gospels, we note how clearly Jesus speaks of inviting the multitudes, the crowds, the thousands hungry to listen to his message, to him. We note how he speaks of never being satisfied with our own cozy enclave, but of going beyond the enclave to seek those who are outside. 

But in Philadelphia this week, at a Vatican-sponsored meeting of the families of the world, the doors shut on them.

To underscore a point I've been making here these days: Pope Francis's message to us of reaching out to those on the margins of society, bringing them in and including them in the structures of society, is a moving one. It's a necessary message for our fragmented society and bipolarized church to hear.

But in what precise way does The doors shut on them — on thousands of people, if I'm reading the two reports I've cited correctly — convey Pope Francis's message to the world? In what precise way does it make the pope's message credible?

As John McNeill noted five years ago, in the approach of the Catholic church at its official level, via its pastoral leaders, to the LGBT community, we who are part of this sector of humanity have experienced for years now a total absence of love and compassion. Nor do things seem to be shifting — not to the perception of many of us who are LGBT — under the current pope, despite his message of mercy.

We dearly need the prayers of St. John McNeill now, it seems to me.

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