Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Footnote to a Footnote: Fixation on Homosexuality in Discussions of Catholic Abuse Crisis, and Questions About Hate Speech

I'll admit to you all a frustration bordering on peevishness at the way many people in religious circles seem inclined to turn plain truth on its head as they parse the lives and fates of fellow human beings who are LGBT. The classic formulation of this truth inversion: "I'm not homophobic. I love gay folks. I just want to speak the truth to them in love as I tell them they are under God's judgment, are headed to hell if they do not repent, and cannot have the same rights other people have -- because love."

A case in point is the discussion to which I pointed you at National Catholic Reporter a few days ago: as I noted, in the thread discussing Brian Roewe's report about the recent disclosure of documents regarding abuse cases at St. John's Benedictine monastery in Minnesota, one contributor, Marty Eble, logged in to begin a thread discussing what he sees as the homosexual origins of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. As I noted, Eble's equation of homosexuality and pedophilia was immediately challenged by Chrizmart and many others.

As the thread continues, Marty Eble becomes increasingly defensive in response to those challenging his equation of homosexuality and pedophilia, and his "explanation" of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church as a crisis orginating with gay priests. Eble defends himself with the curious assertion that it's his critics, not he himself, who are fixated on the idea of homosexuality and its connection to the abuse crisis. He tells Sarasi,

Your fixation on homosexuality is not shared by me.

To which Sarasi rightly replies,

You have the fixation, not me. The word does not need to be used her[e] at all. 

But here's Marty Eble — who has no fixation on homosexuality, you understand — a bit over two weeks ago, at an NCR thread discussing Ross Douthat and the conservative-progressive divide in the Catholic church:

I assume you refer to the John Jay Report, a 2004 report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and based on surveys completed by the Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States. To the best of my knowledge all dioceses cooperated with that survey. 
Among its findings were that the overwhelming (81%) majority of cases involved homosexual abuse to minors ten to seventeen. In other words, the problem was homosexuality rather than pedophilia.

This is not a "fixation" on homosexuality? It's not a fixation on laying blame for the abuse crisis in the Catholic church at the feet of gay clergy?

Why not be honest? Why does Marty Eble not admit that the sole reason he began this particular thread in response to Brian Roewe's report was to engage in such gay-bashing rhetoric, to engage in finger-pointing claiming that "the problem was homosexuality rather than pedophilia"?

Why the need to be dishonest, and why the need to misrepresent what the John Jay Study actually found, which, as David Gibson's summary of the findings of the study states, is the following:

[T]he researchers found no statistical evidence that gay priests were more likely than straight priests to abuse minors—a finding that undermines a favorite talking point of many conservative Catholics. The disproportionate number of adolescent male victims was about opportunity, not preference or pathology, the report states.  
What's more, researchers note that the rise in the number of gay priests from the late 1970s onward actually corresponded with "a decreased incidence of abuse — not an increased incidence of abuse."

I'm not posting this to pick on an individual whom I don't even know. I'm not posting it to attack someone. I'm posting it to call for minimally decent standards of truth-telling in the discourse spaces of religious blog sites and journal sites, as LGBT lives are dissected. 

My fellow Christians discussing the lives of a targeted minority group: please stop standing terms like "love" and "truth" on their head as you parse and define people different from yourself, who have suffered exclusion and denigration for a very long time now, with God as the warrant for this exclusion and denigration. Stop making love and truth mean their opposite, as you deal with LGBT human beings -- who deserve to be treated with the same dignity you expect for yourself in your dealings with others.  

The John Jay study did not find that "the problem" with the abuse crisis in the Catholic church was "homosexuality rather than pedophilia." It found precisely the opposite: as Father James Martin notes, in 2009, Margaret Smith, one of the researchers connected to the John Jay study, informed the U.S. Catholic bishops,

What we are suggesting is that the idea of sexual identity be separated from the problem of sexual abuse. At this point, we do not find a connection between homosexual identity and the increased likelihood of subsequent abuse from the data that we have right now.

We are suggesting that the idea of sexual identity be separated from the problem of sexual abuse: when adult males sexually molest girls, we do not conclude that they do so because they are heterosexual. We don't even think about the sexual orientation of the adult male molesting the female minor -- because we recognize that pedophilia is something entirely apart from sexual orientation, and that sexual orientation is not an explanatory factor as we look at child abuse. 

Though the victims of clerical sexual abusers of minors include both male and female minors, some of us want to zero in on only the male minors abused by priests, because we have made a predetermined judgment that gay men molest children, and that the problem with the abuse crisis in the Catholic church is the fact that some priests are gay -- even when all sound evidence at our disposal indicates that abuse of minors is widespread in religious groups both Christian and non-Christian, and occurs in religious groups with a strong anti-gay bias who do everything possible to exclude LGBT people from leadership roles. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Catholic sites inviting public discussion of religious and moral issues need to be very careful about not allowing their discussion threads to be used to disseminate hateful disinformation about targeted minority groups. As Jon Green points out recently in response to an essay by Emma Green in The Atlantic that engages in special pleading for the "right" of employers to cite religious warrants as they discriminate against LGBT people, we've ruled out such special "rights" and religious exemptions in our culture vis-a-vis discrimination towards Jews, African Americans, and women (though we clearly have a long way to go towards eradicating prejudice against   each of these groups, and towards and achieving equity for African Americans and women).

What Catholic discussion sites still permit people to say about LGBT people in the name of "free speech," they would not permit to be said about other minority groups. They would not permit their discussion spaces to be used to disseminate disinformation about these minority groups that is clearly being disseminated in order to elicit prejudice, hate, and violence against them.

Similar hate speech about LGBT people -- similar dissemination of toxic disinformation about LGBT people in the name of free speech -- also needs to be ruled out at Catholic discussion sites online.

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