Saturday, August 12, 2017

National Catholic Reporter Calls for Dialogue on Sexual Ethics: My Response

Meanwhile, in the strange, hermetically sealed, intensely self-gazing and obdurately parochial world of white Catholicism in the U.S., folks are still talking about what the magisterium has to say about human sexuality — as if this is a live issue a full half-century after the papacy commissioned a study of birth control because it knew even then that a large percentage of married Catholic couples were contracepting. And then the papacy chose to ignore the sound, theologically well-grounded recommendations of that commission and reasserted its teachings about birth control knowing full well that those teachings flew in the face of the sensus fidelium.

A president elected with large support of "pro-life" white Catholics is threatening to rain down fire and fury on the world, as his white evangelical court prophet-preachers pour pseudo-biblical poison into his ears to fuel his hubris and bellicose macho acting out.

Neo-Nazis and Klansmen are marching in Virginia, giving Nazi salutes, sporting swastikas, chanting Nazi slogans, as journalists point out that the two groups most energized by the Trump presidency are white nationalists and the religious right.

As all this plays out, Catholics continue talking about how to engage magisterial teaching about human sexuality that has long since been rejected by the sensus fidelium as non-articulate, non-persuasive, non-compelling teaching: Catholics continue talking about this matter as if it's a live issue, a central moral concern against the backdrop of possible nuclear war spurred on by "pro-life" Christians, against the backdrop of Nazis and Klansmen marching together in an American university city.

I truly don't get it. But, then, I know full well I'm an outsider to this strange, hermetically sealed, intensely self-gazing and obdurately parochial world as I lurk in conversations on an email list that includes many of the big boys of the intellectual-journalistic cadre of white American Catholicism. I know I'm an unwelcome outsider as I listen to them chatter on, parse the meaning of every life other than those of straight white men in the name of Catholic truth, pretend that they represent catholicity when one of these big boys is a deacon who invited me publicly on a Commonweal thread some years ago to email him about why I think gay folks feel unwelcome in Catholic communities.

And then he completely ignored that email, never answered it, never acknowledged that I had sent it. But there he is in this email discussion list holding forth without any apparent smidgeon of shame for having behaved that way, and there's another big boy in the same group, an acquaintance of Oscar Romero, who emailed me to upbraid me for being, as he thought, cheeky to the deacon fellow, who is regarded as something of an untouchable icon of conservative Catholic virtue in Commonweal discussions. 

Both heterosexually married white men, both purporting to represent the best of American Catholicism. Both talking to each other and to others like themselves. But to no one else in the world. Neither engages the unmerited power and privilege accorded to him as a white heterosexual man — especially in Club Catholic.

That's white American Catholicism at its best, in its intellectual and journalistic elites.

All this as a prelude to brief commentary on the latest editorial of National Catholic Reporter, calling for dialogue within the Catholic community about magisterial teaching on human sexual matters: I've linked the editorial at the head of this posting. An excerpt:

Today, the procreative norm is one of the fundamental reasons the church remains opposed to same-sex relationships. But, in reality, this doctrine has far-reaching consequences for all Catholics, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. 
Much is often made about the church's teaching that same-sex relations are "intrinsically disordered." But equally harsh language is used for other sexual transgressions of the church's procreative norm. For example, the catechism declares that every action used to render conception impossible, such as use of contraceptives, is "intrinsically evil" (2370). The catechism also condemns masturbation as an "intrinsically and gravely disordered action" because "the deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose" (2352). 
As a case in point, see Springfield, Illinois, Bishop Thomas Paprocki's list of Catholics he suggests should not present themselves for holy Communion. 
The institutional church's vocal objections to same-sex marriage often mask the fact that church teaching is fundamentally opposed to sexual acts that a majority of human beings participate in. The church condemns any sex acts — including those engaged in by married couples — that do not respect the procreative norm. Therefore, in reality, few Catholics ever live up to the church's moral norms governing sexual activity.

All this is good and true. But it's information we've known for a long time now. And knowing this information has not made a dent in the homophobia that lies just beneath the surface of claims of right-wing Catholics that they're defending the magisterial teaching on human sexuality as they attack LGBTQ people. 

Knowing this information makes no more of a dent in that homophobia than knowing that Donald Trump is a racist whose father was arrested at a Klan rally made any dent in the racism of white Catholics who rushed to the polls last fall to vote for Donald Trump — because, they love to think, he's "pro-life."

Not much can make a dent in parochial, self-congratulatory groups of people who will talk only to other people like themselves. And that's the very definition of Catholicism as practiced by (many) white folks in the U.S. right now.

Heterosexual Catholics never hear a single word about how "evil" many of their own sexual acts are, in light of untenable magisterial teaching that Catholics have, by and large, long since ignored. The vituperation, condemnation, and exclusion are reserved exclusively for LGBTQ Catholics.

It's about homophobia, not upholding traditional Catholic sexual ethical teaching.

I ask the question again: Is anyone aware of any dialogue anywhere in which the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church in the U.S. are soliciting the testimony of LGBTQ Catholics, are listening seriously to the stories of LGBTQ Catholics, are creating safe and welcoming spaces for LGBTQ Catholics to provide such testimony?

I'm certainly not aware that any of this is happening. And so it seems to me Catholics are simply deceiving themselves when they talk about the possibility of a dialogue they never intend to create at all in the hermetically sealed, intensely self-gazing and obdurately parochial circles they like to call catholic.

P.S. Michael Boyle (whose tweet I feature at the head of this posting) has left the Catholic church for the Episcopal church.

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