Thursday, February 8, 2018

Where This Week's Story About Blessing Queer Catholics Ends: A Summary — Bullies Win, Lies Win, Catholic Church Loses Spectacularly

In case you're bewildered by the chain of events I've documented here after Catholic News Agency issued a report last Sunday regarding statements made by the the president of the German Catholic Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Marx, and the astonishing place at which this story has ended up, pleasse let me summarize some salient points. This story is a snapshot, a story in a nutshell, of the abusive, cruel way in which queer human beings are dealt with by Catholic leaders with the very active and seemingly gleeful complicity of leading figures in the Catholic media and the world of religious journalism in general. 

Because this sordid little tale revolves around attempts to obfuscate, lie boldly, and erase plainly spoken words — important tools of ruling sectors of society and its institutions, when they want to confuse and control those seeking clarity, transparency, and accountability from institutional leaders (see: 1984; see: presidency of Donald J. Trump)— it's important to preserve this snapshot. Obfuscation, gaslighting, bold lies, erasing history, memories, and words: they're all about sleight of hand tricks to make us question what we thought we had seen, heard, and known. One of the most powerful weapons we have against these tactics is to capture facts and preserve truth in the face of the attempts of powerful repressive institutions to twist facts and truth with the intent of causing us to doubt what we have plainly seen, heard, and known.

We're living through a moment of history in which this kind of mendacious behavior — it's summed up frequently now in the era of Donald Trump as "gaslighting — is happening at lightning speed all around us, as top leaders of nations — and of churches — attempt, with the cheerleading of powerful figures in the journalistic and academic spheres, to consolidate their authoritarian control by generating one reality-obscuring smokescreen after another, so quickly that, before we have even sorted out one gaslighting episode, another one confronts us immediately. As this is going on in the political and economic worlds all around us at present, the churches, which should, one would have expected (but see: history of Nazi period) stand against the manipulation of the truth as a tool of authoritarian control and abuse of minority groups, are, in fact, in lamentably many cases standing with those who engage in these tactics — and are apparently blessing leaders employing such tools to achieve their goal of locking down their authoritarian control.

Did you read the news about the American president Mr. Trump attending a prayer breakfast just this this morning? And going on about God and faith as he spoke at said prayer breakfast? Donald Trump. Going on about God and faith. Yes, that really happened. You didn't dream it.

And have you seen Christopher J. Hale's commentary two days ago in Time Magazine stating that the revelation that Pope Francis received a letter in 2015 providing detailed information about Bishop Barros' complicity in sexual abuse of minors, a revelation coming days after the pope said he had never had access to such information, is "a stunning development that represents the biggest crisis of Francis’s nearly five year papacy"? Hale writes,

I've been one of the Pope's biggest cheerleaders in American and global media the past five years, but I can say with conviction that if Francis doesn't transform his focus and practice on ending the systematic cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, his papacy will be a tragic failure. 

There are common elements here, and I hope you can see them. They're about bending the truth to the stretching point. They're about the abuse of religious language and religious symbols, even as that language and those symbols are being used to harm people, to invisibilize them, to justify cruelty to human beings who are already coping with all sorts of challenges — people like survivors of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of clerics. People like queer human beings around the world.

In a world like this, it's not surprising — though nonetheless shocking and deeply shattering for anyone who expected something else from the Catholic institution — to see the German bishops' conference or a spokesperson for the president of that conference issue an English translation of statements made by that president less than a week ago which omit an all-important and contested word from the text of what he said. From what all of us actually heard him say. This is part and parcel of the gaslighting, obfuscation, truth-bending, plain lying, erasing of plainly spoken words — with the active complicity of Catholic journalists acting in collusion (whether intentionally or not) with the foulest, most destructive homophobic bullies in the Catholic church at present — that are going on so fast around us all the time at this point in history that our heads spin. These tactics are designed to make our heads spin.

Here's a summary, point by point, of what happened this week and where we've ended up:

1. Cardinal Marx, president of the German Catholic bishops' conference, gave an interview to the Munich media venue Bayerischer Rundfunk.

2. In that interview, he was asked whether the Catholic church can bless same-sex couples.

3. He responded yes.

4. He followed his yes with qualifying statements about the need for pastoral discernment to be applied on a case-by-case basis in such situations.

4. The following day, in the English-speaking world, Catholic News Agency published a report about what Cardinal Marx said, noting his yes in response to the question — it was a plain question, straightforward and to the point, and the yes was a plain yes — about whether the Catholic church can bless same-sex couples.

5. All hell then broke loose — it broke loose in that foul bullying sector of the U.S. Catholic church that relentlessly hounds Father James Martin and pressures Catholic venues to cancel his lectures.

6. The hell that broke loose was easy to document on Twitter and at blog sites connected to the bullying, intensely anti-LGBTQ, cadre of U.S. Catholics who dog Father Martin's steps.

7. At many of those sites, the discussion centered immediately on the word "yes," which Cardinal Marx uttered in response to the question put to him, before he then began to lay out his qualifying statements.

8. Please note: none of these sites disputed that Cardinal Marx had used the word "yes" in his response. As they are aware and you and I are aware, top Catholic leaders are prone to choose their words with very great care, and if Cardinal Marx said "yes," then he must have meant to say "yes," though the question of what "yes" means can be further analyzed.

9. The discussion centered on what Cardinal Marx's "yes" meant: does "is" really mean "is" in this statement? It was that kind of discussion, an obfuscating discussion designed to turn "yes" into something other than "yes" — to turn it into "no" (see: 1984). 

10. Both at the site of a leading U.S. Catholic blogger who has a demonstrable track record of intense hostility to queer human beings — I'm speaking of Father Dwight Longenecker — and in statements made to me by a religion journalist Tom Heneghan at Religion News Service, it was reported that, well, of course Cardinal Marx did say "yes." But "yes" did not mean "yes."

11. Within four hours — this can be documented from two tweets — the bullies had shoved CNA's back to the wall and forced it to issue a defense of its report. The allegations made against CNA, it was made plain, were that it had mistranslated what Cardinal Marx said, had not understood what Cardinal Marx said.

12. Catholic journals and mainstream religious news sites picking this story up after CNA published its initial report — I saw you, "mainstream" Catholic publications; we all saw you — conspicuously avoided citing the CNA report. They did not stand in solidarity with CNA as it was under attack. They gave heart, as they very often do, to the bullies mounting this attack, and they chose to give a high profile to leading Catholic journalists who were actually amplifying the obfuscative tactics and obfuscative voice of the rabidly anti-LGBTQ wing of the U.S. Catholic church.

13. This process became so bad — it became so ludicrous — that the leading U.S. Catholic journal Crux, which has not ever been a friend to the LGBTQ community, published an article with a headline stating that Cardinal Marx had not, in fact, answered affirmatively when asked by his interviewer if the Catholic church can bless same-sex couples.

14. The Crux report then went on to claim — in the face of abundant evidence proving this to be an outright mendacity — that, while the English-language media and blogs had interpreted Cardinal Marx to be endorsing the blessing of same-sex couples, the German-language media had seen the cardinal as "moving a step back" from such a development. (Please see the lengthy list of headlines I gathered for you yesterday from the German-language media reporting on this story and see if, in your view, they in any way substantiate this claim.)

15. The Crux article also stated that the German bishops' conference issued an English-language translation of Cardinal Marx's statements on 7 February. No link was provided for that document.

16. On 7 February, CNA reported that it had been contacted by "a spokesman" of Cardinal Marx and asked to issue a "correction" of its headline from last Sunday. The "correction" issued by CNA points to a translation of Cardinal Marx's statements and indicates that this translation was provided by Cardinal Marx's office.

17. Said translation omits the word "yes," which had sparked the fury of the viciously homophobic wing of the U.S. Catholic church, who ignited the blowback against CNA for reporting about this story and who, from the outset chose — with the active complicity of leading Catholic journalists — to try to twist the word "yes" into anything but yes.

18. End of story: bullies win. Lies win. Once again. The toxic anti-LGBTQ wing of the U.S. Catholic church has prevailed and its voice has once again been amplified by leading Catholic journalists and leading Catholic journals. Top Catholic leaders have once again demonstrated that they are utterly craven in the face of the bullying tactics of the toxic anti-LGBTQ wing of American Catholicism, and have once again shown the world that, when push comes to shove and the bullies want queer folks thrown under the bus yet again by top Catholic leaders, top Catholic leaders will willingly comply.

19. End of story: Catholic leaders and leading Catholic journalists have demonstrated once again in crystal-clear fashion their hostility towards LGBTQ human beings (Bless you? My God, no! We could not possibly bless you and your sort. You want a blessing? Get real! Now if the question is whether we can lie to you or lie about you, the answer might be very different.)

20. End of story: the Catholic church — its integrity as it proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ, its credibility, its mission — are the big loser in this story. Just as in the story of Pope Francis' recent . . . evasion of the truth. Which is very much like this story, too, isn't it? So that one begins to wonder about institutional patterns, institutional tactics, institutional sins

A church that lies so boldly — a church that tells people who just heard the word "yes" that no such word was spoken and no yes can ever be given to the likes of you — is a church that cannot and will not retain the loyalty of increasing numbers of people who are seeking something better, more spiritually rooted, more gospel-oriented, than the kind of hot mess we encounter in stories like this. And in the case of this story and the bullies who have been allowed to win in this instance — yet again — it's a church that has demonstrated all over again its extreme toxicity for LGBTQ people, who should, if we have self-respect, avoid it like the plague. For the sake of saving our souls.

Here are the reports I issued during this week about this story, which provide links documenting statements I have made above:

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