Monday, October 23, 2017

On the Characterization of Some Catholic LGBTQ Voices as Uncharitable Garbage: Continuing the Necessary Conversation

Because I think this conversation is extremely important — if the goal of any reformist group within the Catholic church really is to create conditions for open, honest dialogue about same-sex love — I want to capture some of the conversation as it is occuring here (and on Facebook) in response to my posting yesterday about how an associate director of New Ways Ministry has publicly characterized me and my work as "uncharitable garbage." He made the comment in response to my recent essay recommending some wonderful analysis offered by Mary Hunt, Marianne Duddy-Burke, and Jamie Manson, which critiqued the response of Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry to this analysis.

In response to my essay, the associate director of New Ways Ministry characterizes my work (and me, since his response is an ad hominem one unsupported by any corroborating evidence) as "uncharitable garbage." Here's a selection of responses to my posting about this yesterday:* 

That is a telling response. It sure seems that when Catholics buy into the sacramental magic, priests have to rule the conversation and that makes the rest of us mere lay folk 'UNCHARITABLE GARBAGE'.

Colleen, yes. That's exactly the message this associate director of New Ways Ministry is verbalizing to me: that I myself am uncharitable garbage. That's what an ad hominem attack is — an attack on a person disguised as an attack on a person's statements. 
It's not news to me, of course, that this particular group regards me this way. I have never been in the scope of their concern when they say that they want to hear all voices and bring all voices to the Catholic table. Quite the opposite. 
Ditto for organizations like NCR: when I click on his Facebook page, one of the first photos I see is a photo of the very NCR editor who told me that, no, he and NCR would not publish my story after Belmont Abbey wrecked my theological career and Steve's, since it was not newsworthy, because the church does this to gay employees all the time. 
Some voices count. Others don't. Some folks are welcome at the table. Others are uncharitable garbage.
This is a strong and very persistent message given to some of us even by groups within the Catholic church which claim that their mission is to bring everyone to the table. Not "even by" those groups: "especially by" those groups. They are fierce watchdogs determined to disallow certain voices and certain people as "uncharitable garbage" even as they claim they are all about welcoming and bringing everyone to the table.

The problem here, and I know I keep beating this drum, is that a conversation that is dominated by the Roman Catholic clergy is going to be a conversation dominated by folks whose #1 agenda is to maintain (their own) clerical closet. People like Bill are an existential threat to that closet and the clerical class knows that, and will even admit it [in private]. They know that they look ridiculous, but they don't know what else to do, so their only move is to constantly double down. 
Things are literally at an impasse. The New Ways folks are either counting on some sort of deus ex machina, where the clergy class repudiates it's own understood interests, or (and I think this is more likely) they are hoping that the protective closet will be extended to them. Neither of which is going to happen.

Your word from a day ago — dissembling — leaps out at me as I think about this exchange with an associate director of New Ways Minstsry, Michael. Dissembling is a deeply unhealthy way for an institution to go about its business. And when the people who claim they want reform of the institution contribute to the dissembling rather than challenging it, what hope is there for reform? 
The immediate instinctual response of an institution deeply mired in dissembling at its leadership level is to claim that anyone calling for honest and open conversation is "uncharitable garbage." This is a reflexive institutional response of self-protection. 
What baffles me about this is that groups like New Ways Ministry end up doing the very dirty work on behalf of the institution that is guaranteed to keep the institution from being honest, transparent, and reforming itself. What the associate director of New Ways Ministry has just said about me in a public statement — that my work (and, it's clear, I myself) — is/am uncharitable garbage: this is the VERY SAME THING the institution has said as it has savaged Steve and me as openly gay and married theologians. 
In what meaningful universe is this behavior on the part of a representative of New Ways Minstry about healing the wounds the church inflicts on queer people, and about inviting queer people to the table of open dialogue?

Also, given the structural realities of the Roman Catholic Church, if clergy are allowed to speak, then their voices are the only ones that matter. They crowd out any other voices, because theirs are the only ones that actually impact anything as a practical matter. 
I used to be a facilitator with the Landings program, developed by the Paulists to encourage people to come back to the practice of the faith. One of the rules of Landings was that clergy were not allowed to participate unless they were explicitly invited by a unanimous vote of the participants. At first I thought that rule was draconian, but I saw first hand how the tone of the conversation changed immediately when you introduce a cleric into the equation. Everyone defers to him and censors themselves, even without being fully consciously aware of it. The Paulists, to their credit, understood this dynamic and tried to block it out with their veto rule. 
It goes to the deep culture of the Roman Catholic church, one that is incredibly difficult to root out.

"Also, given the structural realities of the Roman Catholic Church, if clergy are allowed to speak, then their voices are the only ones that matter. They crowd out any other voices, because theirs are the only ones that actually impact anything as a practical matter." 
Precisely, Michael. This is what the proposal Mary Hunt, Marianne Duddy-Burke, and Jamie Manson recognized, and offered a solution for: a temporary moratorium on clerical voices at the table as same-sex love is discussed in Catholic circles, so that we can perhaps — at last — hear the voices of those actually living open, healthy, loving same-sex unions in the Catholic context. 
That New Ways, in its response to this sane proposal, became immediately defensive — on behalf of the clerical voice — is mind-boggling to me. It confirms everything I've thought about this group from a critical standpoint while I have still defended it and stood in solidarity with it. 
A courtesy or charity it is clearly not willing to extend to me . . . .

And then there's this statement that I published today on my Facebook page in response to a posting at New Ways Ministry's blog this morning about yet another teacher in a Catholic school — in this case, Mary Kate Curry of Bishop Lopez High School in Daytona Beach — hounded out of a job for being gay. And honest. And open. And refusing to dissemble: 

It just doesn't stop. Headlines like this do not stop. 
And as this horrendously abusive treatment targeting — with laserlike focus — one select slice of humanity rolls forth on a constant basis within the Catholic institution, many of the leading Catholic groups that claim an advocacy role for queer folks are quick to characterize some of us who have experienced this treatment from the church as "uncharitable garbage." 
With the implication that we have deserved our torment and exclusion — by not playing the game right, knowing the right people, having gone to the right schools and chosen to live in the right places . . . . 
Catholic journalists and academics and activists working for full inclusion of LGBTQ folks in the church could learn so much if they chose to invite the voices of all of us who have been treated this way by the church inside their conversations, and stopped tagging us as "uncharitable garbage" when we speak out in accents they dislike. 
But they are not willing to do this. And so nothing much — nothing effective — happens to stop this kind of abuse occurring over and over again. Ruining precious lives and vocations that are not, in fact, uncharitable garbage, but created by God in the divine image . . . .

* By selecting some comments in this valuable thread and not including others, I am by no means wanting to imply that all the comments are not wonderful. Several comments gave me a chance to expand my own commentary in response to the statement that my work and I are "uncharitable garbage," and this is why I selected those comments to include above. 

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