Monday, October 23, 2017

An Apology from New Ways Ministry Official for His Comment About Me on Facebook

I do want to acknowledge that I have received an emailed apology from the New Ways Ministry official who left the comment on Facebook yesterday that I have discussed in the past two postings. He generously tells me that I may share the apology, and I appreciate that. I'm doing so now.

As I finished that last sentence, I started to write, "And I'll now close this conversation." I don't think it's a good thing to close this important conversation about how queer folks routinely find ourselves treated within so-called "liberal" and LGBT-affirming Catholic circles, however. This is a dynamic that those Catholics — and they have a powerful presence in the Catholic academy and journalistic sphere, as well as in its advocacy organizations — too often express in their dealings with some LGBTQ voices.

Father Martin's bridge-building book is very important, and I'm glad he has written it. I stand with him and have defended him in online discussions in which he is attacked. 

At the same time, I think it's important that critiques of this proposal — especially from queer Catholics, who have long been silenced and have had no voice at all in conversations about how we are evaluated and treated by the Catholic institution — also be heard respectfully. Including by organizations like New Ways Ministry that advocate for queer Catholics . . . .

These points seem to me central in the discussion between Mary Hunt, Marianne Duddy-Burke, Jamie Manson, and Francis DeBernardo. I hear Mary, Marianne, and Jamie saying that the Catholic conversation about same-sex love has been deadlocked, and that new approaches to the conversation need to be developed to get around the deadlock. I think this is absolutely right. It is because I care about this conversation and what happens to it — and because I care about the work Father Martin and New Ways Ministry do — that I wanted to make a public statement supporting this good proposal by three outstanding Catholic thinkers.

Here's the apology I received by email today; I am snipping out names other than my own, since my intent has not been from the outset of this discussion to drag others into a quarrel or to spread hurt around:

Dear Bill, 
I apologize for the comment I left on -----'s Facebook post about your recent blog piece. 
My words did not reflect the respect and dialogue which I strive to practice. My emotion got the better of me, and that was inexcusable.  While we may disagree, I should not have used the language that I did, and I resolve to be more respectful of different opinions in the future.  I am sorry for being uncharitable. I hope you'll be able to forgive my poor reaction. 
You're welcome to post this apology for your readers. Again, my sincere apologies. 

By the way (but this is not really an aside at all), my graduate school professor and mentor and friend Gregory Baum died a few days ago. I have hesitated even to notice this friend's death, because it is very difficult to know what to say and how to say it, when I have been long characterized by many influential folks in the Catholic institution as uncharitable when I myself think I am only seeking to speak the truth — in an institution in which, in the area of sexual morality and regarding the topic of sexual orientation, there is such toxic dissembling.

How to get beyond the toxic dissembling when anything one says to move the conversation in the direction of more honesty and transparency is likely to be quickly batted down as uncharitable? The likelihood of such a response when one is eulogizing a mentor-friend is all the higher when part of what needs to be discussed is the friend's memoir, published a few months before his death, in which he came out of the closet publicly and told in a public way a story he and his wife had long since shared with Steve and me — that he was gay and had a longtime partner.

When Gregory published his memoir, I said nothing about it here on this site, because I did not trust myself to write about it in an even-handed way. I have not, in fact, read it. There is still far too much pain for me in this area, in the area of how the Catholic community has chosen to treat LGBTQ folks, and how even gay priests and former priests have chosen to deal with us when we felt obliged to speak out about who we are and whom we love — too much pain and disappointment for me to want to pick the memoir up and read it. Though I valued and admired this friend despite our profound disagreement about these matters and the different choices the two of us made in our journey vis-a-vis the Catholic institution . . . . 

Steve, who maintained a close relationship with Gregory after my own relationship with him became strained — around these very issues and his lack of support (as it appeared to me) for Steve and me when the Catholic institution destroyed our careers in the most vicious way possible — did read Gregory's memoir. I invited him to write an essay about it for this blog. For various reasons, he did not do so.

Now, there's this: as I told Steve this morning when we talked about Gregory's death, it will be interesting to see if anyone asks any of his gay — his openly gay — students to memorialize him. We both laughed when I said this. We doubt very seriously that anyone will want to hear our voices regarding our years of close association with Gregory and what we learned from him.

Because we are gay. Because we are openly gay. Because what we have to say about these matters has been persistently stigmatized by the Catholic institution — including by gay priests we know and pro-LGBTQ Catholic groups — as uncharitable. Because virtually no one in the Catholic institutional context, including Gregory himself, has ever asked us to contribute to any Catholic theological discussions after we chose to come out of the closet.

Some stories can be told. Others cannot. Not in the Catholic context. Not without running the risk, for those daring to speak out, of being stigmatized as uncharitable.

And having one's career destroyed, reputation smeared, access to the Catholic table and Catholic discussions obliterated.

Gregory will be eulogized by the same people he invited to collaborate with him on theological projects — his married heterosexual students and those who are Catholic religious, who have been very careful not ever to ally themselves with their colleagues who are openly gay or lesbian. This says something about the Catholic church at this point in its history, doesn't it? 

Some voices count. Others do not. Not even at "open" and "inclusive" Catholic tables that claim they want to hear "every voice."

Gregory was a very good man, and I do not intend to speak ill of him after his death. I am appalled at the comments I see pouring forth about him at Lifesite News and also, it has to be said, at National Catholic Reporter as his death and legacy are being discussed — comments by right-wing Catholics who permit themselves every kind of cruelty as they defend what they imagine orthodoxy to be by slandering a good man.

I have been in Gregory's office more than one time when a homeless person knocked on his door and asked for money. Homeless people sought him out at his workplace because they knew that he would not ever turn them away. I have seen him put bundles of money into their hands and bless them.

We had our serious differences. I have my serious flaws and blind spots and after I die, I daresay someone can make critical comments about me, too — and they should do so, because I prefer to be remembered as I was, and not as some plaster of Paris gewgaw that never existed. 

Blind spots and all, Gregory Baum was a good man and did a world of good for the Catholic church. I wish he could have done good, in particular, in the area of moving forward the conversation about how the church at an institutional level treats queer people. He chose to be circumspect about that matter for perfectly understandable reasons. He chose to marry heterosexually, Steve tells me his memoir reveals, because he wanted to be able to do his work within the church with a certain level of peace and security, which he'd have forfeited — he'd have forfeited his voice — if he had come out of the closet.

I have lived differently. I have had no choice except to do so. The institution itself did not afford me the same security it afforded my mentor-friend Gregory Baum. 

And because I have lived differently, I speak from a different spot. As far as the church is concerned — and this is true of many so-called liberals within the church, including advocates for LGBTQ inclusion — that spot is nowere. It does not exist. What I have to say does not count.

This needs to change. Not because it involves me. But because no institution can be really redemptive or convincing as it preaches about love, mercy, and justice, while it treats people this way and justifies doing so by pretending that those treated this way deserve their ill-treatment.

No comments: