Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Mary Hunt, Marianne Duddy-Burke, and Jamie Manson Propose Reframing Catholic Conversation re: Same-Sex Love; Francis DeBernardo Responds — My Reflections

Recently, at National Catholic Reporter, Mary Hunt, Marianne Duddy-Burke, and Jamie Manson published an essay calling for kick-starring a new Catholic conversation about same-sex love. Several days ago, at New Ways Ministry's Bondings 2.0 blog, Francis DeBernardo posted a response to this essay. 

Hunt, Duddy-Burke, and Manson begin by stating flatly that the state of the intra-Catholic conversation about same-sex love is "sorry." It is, as they say, a "stalled-out" conversation among clerics, framed as a "he-said, he-said" conversation to which the vast majority of the church — its lay members, including its women and its queer folks — are not invited. We who are the church are relegated to the status of passive objects forced to listen to a conversation that defines our lives and our loves in the most intimate way possible, in which we do not have any voice at all (but please keep those checks coming in, folks).

Here's what Hunt, Duddy-Burke, and Manson propose to address this problem:

It is time to listen to the experiences and expertise of people who speak with integrity rather than authority, whose lives are not circumscribed by clericalism, people who are free to be honest and transparent. 
We need wisdom from many Catholic perspectives, not limiting "Catholic" to institutional church teaching on matters on which the vast majority of Catholics have left the hierarchy behind. It is time to grow up and use "I" statements instead of making pronouncements or pretending to be above the fray. 

Note what's going on in this reframing proposal: 

1. It calls for us to move from a church-documents-declarative approach to the discussion of same-sex love, in which he-said, he-said clerics issue declarations that define the conversation (and our lives and loves) with no recourse to experience, to an experiential base in which those actually living the lives being defined by church documents are heard first and foremost.

2. It transfers the weight of the conversation from authority (the authoritative approach serves the clericalist approach serves the church-documents-declarative approach) to integrity: people of integrity speaking from their own places, in first person, offering to the Christian community the wealth of their hard-earned wisdom as they live their graced lives of same-sex love, rather than he-said, he-said declarations in which the men (always) making their declarations hide behind authority as they do not acknowledge or reveal where they themselves are coming from experientially as they make their declarations.

3. It defines "Catholic" in a broader way than Catholic-as-institution or Catholic-as-buying-into-all-institutional-self-definitions. It allows the Catholic community to access the valuable experience of people who have been defined out of the Catholic community by parochial Catholics using weaponized dogma as their bludgeon to drive those Catholics from the Catholic community.

4. In short, it privileges the voice of many of those excluded from the community by Catholics using dogma as a weapon, rather than the voice of clerics. In doing this, the proposal makes room for the voices of women, in particular, which are automatically excluded — a priori and ipso facto — when the clerical voice is privileged.

It also reframes the discussion as a discussion not about narrow pelvic morality, but about justice — though, as the authors of this proposal note, to do that, we will have to declare a moratorium on ecclesial-speak that has refused to make this move when it discusses matters of sexual morality:

Therefore, we declare a moratorium on ecclesial-speak and begin anew with human-to-human, Catholic-to-Catholic conversation about sexuality, not just homosexuality, in the frame of global justice. The crying needs of the world — ecocide, violence against women, war, racism and poverty — do not permit us the luxury of endless debates about bedroom issues. 

To achieve such a reframing of the discussion will also require, concretely, as a corollary, the following:

We respectfully but insistently ask clerics to please be quiet, listen and learn about some of the issues our children face: the many ways there are to be transgender; how to live in a nonbinary world; how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases; how to date and partner safely and with pleasure; what it means to unexpectedly fall in love with someone of the same sex or to be in love with someone whose gender identity changes; what it means to be asexual; how to cope with the insidious violence too often encountered in intimate relationships. 

Though Francis DeBernardo appreciates what Hunt, Duddy-Burke, and Manson are proposing, the call to privilege the voices of lay Catholics and to move around the persistent claim of the clerical sector of the church to unilateral privilege as matters of sexual morality are discussed is a sticking point for him. He writes,

A full discussion needs to attend to all the voices and concerns in the church.  Therefore, I think the authors' call to "leave aside the old ecclesial frames" and to have clergy be silent on sexuality and gender matters will stifle the discussion, not enhance it. Having a dialogue means that all sides may speak what they want to speak. It means that any side can choose who their spokespersons are.  It does not mean that one side should tell the other side to be quiet or how they should speak. 
The reality is that a church discussion on sexuality and gender is by definition already involved in an 'ecclesiastical frame.' That frame cannot be changed or altered unless we understand it by listening to it, too.  


I think we also have to realize that the Catholic Church is a wide arena, with many different voices and many different audiences.  For some audiences, hearing a cleric’s voice is important.  I think, for example, of Fr. James Martin's book, Building a Bridge, which made such a sensation this summer.  The book did not please all audiences in the church, being criticized by both the right and the left on various issues. But one important audience that it reaches is people in diocesan offices, who have never given any serious thought to LGBTQ church issues, sad as that reality is. Fr. Martin’s book is helping to change the frame.

Since reading Francis DeBernardo's response to Mary Hunt, Marianne Duddy-Burke, and Jamie Manson, I've been thinking about how it helps me crystallize my own thinking about groups like New Ways Ministry — and about Father Martin and his bridge-building proposal. As I've noted a number of times in postings here, though I applaud the work the group does and I stand in solidarity with it, I find New Ways Ministry excessively narrow and parochial in its understanding of Catholic identity, and excessively deferential to the clerical voice (and clericalist definition of Catholicism) represented by people like Father Martin. 

As I've also noted, the concrete effect of this approach to defining Catholic identity is that it tacitly colludes in the decision of church leaders and many "centrist" Catholics simply to read out of the Catholic conversation many voices that have a great deal of wisdom to offer the Catholic church, but which have been unjustly excluded from the Catholic conversation for disciplinary dogmatic reasons. Those voices include a large percentage of queer Catholics who can find no place in the church because weaponized dogma has been used to drive them out of communion, to rob them of jobs, of ministry positions, of places in which their voices might have counted in Catholic discussions, and to make them unwelcome in parishes and Catholic institutions.

New Ways tacitly accepts — so it seems to me watching from the sidelines — that many of those driven from Catholic communion deserved to be driven away. It does so because the weight of its theology is freighted very strongly in an institutional, clericalist direction — not in the direction proposed by Hunt, Duddy-Burke, and Manson. Perhaps I don't know what's really going on with News Way Ministry, and I may be misjudging a good group, but if this organization is making any concrete effort to reach out to driven-away Catholics, to let those Catholics know they count and are loved, to solicit their testimonies and hear their voices, I'm unaware of such a move on the part of New Ways Ministry.

In freighting "the" Catholic conversation about same-sex love in a clericalist way, New Ways tips the scales of the conversation, such that the clericalist (and this means: the male) voice is overweening — as it always is, as it already is. It has privilege accorded to no other voice in the Catholic conversation about same-sex love. It counts double and more than double. Simply because. 

Because, you see, it is the church. And this is, of course, precisely why the conversation about same-sex love in the Catholic church is stalled-out and will remain stalled out, unless a new frame (one that pays attention to the serious injustice of the clericalist approach) is found for the conversation.

This is a serious problem with Father Martin's bridge-building proposal, as I have noted in several postings here. It is a serious problem because the voices that most desperately need to be heard in this conversation cannot be heard when it is framed as a conversation privileging he-said, he-said clericalist voices. And when it understands Catholic identity in a narrow, parochial way in which no effort is made to reach out to the many Catholics driven from Catholic communion and Catholic conversations by those using weaponized dogma as their tool to hound these Catholics from Catholic communion . . . . 

The persistence with which New Ways Ministry does not get this problem tells me that this valuable Catholic group does not intend to get the problem — just as centrist American Catholic groups in general do not intend to get that, as they profess to represent some kind of mushy center standing between (and above) a flawed right and a flawed left, they are really standing with those who have the most power in our society. 

They are really standing with those whose voices always count more in any public conversation solely because they represent those who have more power — the wealthiest, the most socially prominent, the white, the male, the heterosexual, the conservative political bloc that manages to control the country even as a minority. What centrist Catholic approaches to public conversations accomplish as they pretend to represent a middle in which "everyone" is heard is to keep alive the frames of injustice that automatically exclude from public conversations the voices we most need to hear if we expect substantive change in our institutions that moves in the direction of justice and inclusion.

To move in that direction, we have to defend and protect the voices that have long been excluded and made to appear non-normative, absurd, eccentric, without value — because they do not speak from the vantage point of power and privilege. Defending and protecting such voices means that we also have to ask some voices to be quiet — at least for a period of time — because those voices have for too long worked in an active way to shout down the voices of the least among us. Because the long-excluded voices we most need to hear cannot be heard while those loud voices continue to be allowed to dominate the conversation . . . .

In the Catholic context, it's clear to so many of us that the latter voices include clerical voices. I'm puzzled that New Ways Ministry doesn't want to get that point. I can only conclude that it does not want to get that point. 

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