Sunday, September 10, 2017

Opening to "Dialogue" in U.S. Catholicism and the Fracas Involving Father James Martin and Austin Ruse: My Take

I see mention online of some kind of fracas involving Father James Martin and Austin Ruse — or perhaps "fracas" is not the right word. What seems to have happened is that Ruse attacked Martin in an exceptionally ugly way on social media. That's not surprising: Austin Ruse is an exceptionally ugly man representing an exceptionally ugly iteration of Catholicism that has considerable sway within the U.S. Catholic church.

I tried a few days ago to click and read some articles discussing all of this, and then found — I'll be honest — that I just couldn't stomach them. I feel very far removed from any of these discussions, and can't get energized by them very much at all.

I feel as if I have lived around or beyond these sorts of discussions, and that they have no meaning at all for me or my life, or for the lives of others in my position. I also feel that anything I might have to say about these fracases and attacks falls on deaf ears.

I was told long since that my voice is not wanted when issues of sexual ethics are discussed in Catholic circles. Hence my obligation to find ways to live around and beyond what the church did to me as a theologian and as a gay man in a long-term committed relationship: I had no choice except to do that, to find a place in which to claim my humanity and live my life apart from the church and its fracases and attacks and meaningless, going-nowhere "dialogues."

Since I have but one life to live . . . .

A big part of why I cannot stomach the kind of discussions I see going on in Catholic circles when I click to read articles like the ones I began to read and then ditched re: Austin Ruse's attack on James Martin is that the church in which clerical voices count ultimately or count more than lay voices as these issues are discussed is simply not a church that means anything at all to me anymore. The kinds of issues now being discussed in Catholic circles began to be discussed decades ago, with the involvement of lay theologians who were then told that we were personae non gratae in the Catholic community and in the Catholic theological academy, and then a grand silence ensued.

Much of the silencing and excluding of lay theologians under Pope John Paul II with Cardinal Ratzinger as his orthodoxy watchdog was about reasserting the ownership of theology, following Vatican II, by the clerical sector of the church. Now we're expected to find it a breakthrough when clerical voices begin, timorously and sporadically, to speak out about these matters again, saying things that had already been said a number of decades back, largely by lay theologians who were then savagely attacked by Catholic leaders, so that theological discussion of sexual ethical issues more or less ceased as orders went out to parrot the party line of Veritatis Splendor and the official answer book that was the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

I read the blog of New Ways Ministry, Bondings 2.0 on a regular basis, and I see there excitement about how James Martin's book on bridge-building represents a revolutionary new moment in the Catholic church. I read there comments about the beginnings of a dialogue that is, as far as I can see, simply not happening anywhere at all in the U.S. Catholic church.

If it is happening, it's happening in limited places in elite circles within which — let's be honest — most U.S. Catholics do not live and move. As I read about all of these matters at the Bondings 2.0 site, I read that the approach to these matters and dialogues has to be local.

I hear no awarenes at all among those making these proposals that "local" means, for the vast majority of LGBTQ Catholics in the U.S., invisibility and repression. Most of us do not live in places in which "dialogue" is taking place between Catholic institutions and LGBTQ Catholics. Many of us live in places like my diocese, in which the bishop has decreed that LGBTQ people will not, do not, can not exist in Catholic institutions: the word "gay" will not be spoken among us, in our Catholic institutions, his decree orders. 

This is not the exception to the rule in American Catholicism. It is the norm for much of American Catholicism, so that it sounds more than a little cruel when the groups promoting "dialogue" — of a very limited, discrete, and regional sort, it seems — talk about how spaces are opening for "dialogue" with the LGBTQ community in the American Catholic church, and how Father Martin's book represents a real breakthrough for such "dialogue."

The message this gives to many of us is one we've heard for a very long time in the American Catholic context: your voice does not matter. We do not intend to seek it out. We will not make a place for it. We are interested in really Catholic voices, in parochial discussion that includes those who have not earned a place outside the church by being hostile to it.

Hence my inability or the inability of a lot of others in my situation, I suspect, to become excited about the "new" kinds of "discussions" taking place between people like James Martin and Austin Ruse and Thomas Williams and Austen Ivereigh and the folks at New Ways Ministry . . . . Many of us count in those discussions just as little as we have counted all along, and so we shrug our shoulders when we hear they're taking place now and that they demonstrate some new vitality in the church of Pope Francis.

We have our own lives to live, and those lives have by necessity been lived outside the Catholic purview, because that's where we've been placed. By the church itself . . . . Nor have Pope Francis, Father Martin, or the folks of New Ways Ministry done anything at all to reach out and change any of that — other than to talk about how "dialogue" is beginning in some wonderful venues about which most of us in the heartland of U.S. Catholicism can only dream.

(Please see the following posting, which is a companion piece to the posting above.)

The graphic at the head of the posting appears at many sites online; I have not yet found any site that provides information about where it originated or who deserves credit for it.

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