Monday, May 7, 2018

LGBTQ Catholics and the Conversation About Staying or Leaving: 15 More Theses About Truths That Need to Be Heard in This Conversation

My last posting was an attempt to tell truth that is, in my view, often obscured and even barred as Catholics discuss the "problem" or "challenge" of welcoming LGBTQ people within Catholic spaces, or as LGBTQ Catholics discuss the question of staying in or leaving the church. As that posting indicated, some of us who are LGBTQ and Catholic have never had any choice in the matter: we were shoved from the church when our vocations were shattered without explanation, our livelihood removed, our daily bread taken from our mouths, our healthcare coverage yanked from us — as we were shown the door and it was slammed in our faces.

And as fellow Catholics, including those who claim to "welcome" or "affirm" LGBTQ people stood by in total silence, offering us no assistance whatsoever…. As they still stand by in total silence and still offer us no assistance….

These are some truths that, in my view, imperatively need to be told, if the conversation about "welcoming" and "affirming" LGBTQ Catholics is to be rooted in reality, and is to have any meaning in the real world in which most of us live. They are especially important truths to be told against the backdrop of the total economic and social security of those who commonly dispossess LGBTQ Catholics of jobs, salaries, healthcare coverage, etc. — as they shatter the vocations and lives of LGBTQ Catholics with no explanation other than that those being abused in this way happen to have been made LGBTQ by God. 

The ultimate rule-makers and power-possessors in the Catholic context are clerical men and religious men and women who never experience the kind of total dispossession visited on LGBTQ Catholics who are treated this way — and who claim to own the Eucharist in some unilateral way that allows those in that ruling sector of the church to pick and choose who is worthy to receive the Eucharist. As I said in my last posting, this behavior on the part of the ownership classes of the church, coupled with the silent complicity of many other Catholics who know better and can choose to do better — who can choose to stand in solidarity with LGBTQ Catholics dispossessed of vocations for no reason other than that they are LGBTQ — radically problematizes the Eucharist for those who have been shown the door and have had it slammed in our faces.

There are some more truths that need to be heard in this conversation, to make it real:

1. LGBTQ-affirming Catholic organizations routinely put out messages about how the Catholic church is, at heart, really a welcoming and affirming place for LGBTQ people.

2. These messages are often formulated as essays and postings at blog sites by people who say that, in their experience as openly LGBTQ people, the Catholic church has never been anything but welcoming and affirming to them.

3. Many of those making these statements are, I notice, men

4. They are, in fact, frequently men who were either previously in a seminary, were ordained, or were in a religious community — all contexts in which, as gay men, they experienced great support and affirmation.

5. These gay men with cozy ties to the ownership classes of the church then extrapolate from their limited and rather precious experience within the Catholic church to the conclusion that all LGBTQ people usually find welcoming niches within the Catholic church.

6. For those of us whose experiences within the church have been quite different, these statements have a certain cruel ring to them: they imply that we somehow did something that merited the abuse we've experienced at the hands of the Catholic institution.

7. They imply that we did not play the game right, the game whose proper name is "closet." This was actually voiced to me by a nun who was a classmate of mine in graduate school, who had great power to make her voice heard when she was elected president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, but never said a word to support me when my vocation was shattered by a group of Catholic monks and a bishop. This was also voiced to me by a former priest who was a closeted gay priest-theologian with great influence within the church, who was never willing to use his considerable power to open doors for gay lay theologians he claimed as friends.

8. Statements like this imply that we did not say the right things, know the right people, know when to keep our mouths shut — things that, it goes without saying, people with cozier ties to the ownership classes of the church (and of the Eucharist) know and do, so that they don't, this narrative goes, experience the kind of abuse we others experience. The kind of abuse we others have merited….

9. There are some strongly pernicious assumptions built into these narratives about who counts, assumptions about who belongs, whose voice is more important than other voices, and who deserves to be discounted, ignored, ridiculed, excluded.

10. There are also some strongly pernicious unacknowledged assumptions built into these dialogues  — unacknowledged assumptions about how men deserve power and recognition more than women do; about how ordained men or men or women in religious communities have a stronger claim to owership than lay Catholics do; about how people who are connected to the right circles and live in the right places deserve a hearing in Catholic conversations much more than people who are not connected and do not live in the right places do.

11. These strongly pernicious assumptions are propped up by — continue to be propped up by — the so-called "centrist" Catholic media, as they select whose stories will be heard and whose will be excluded, who will be invited to "dialogues" about these matters and who will not receive an invitation, who deserves to be blamed and ignored when Catholic institutions boot him or her to the curb.

12. Despite Vatican II, the unacknowledged premise of many Catholic journalists and lay intellectual leaders is that, in the final analysis, the church belongs in a unique and exclusive way to the ordained and to vowed religious. 

13. Organizations within the Catholic church that claim as their mission to welcome and affirm LGBTQ people quite commonly affirm that unacknowledged premise, take it for granted.

14. These organizations dan be very inimical to — actively hostile to — LGBTQ Catholics who challenge that basic premise and/or call for open dialogue about issues considered off-limits by the ownership classes in the church, e.g., the inequity in how men and women are treated in the church, or the question of ordaining women, and how that question intersects with the question of who stays and who goes, who's made welcome and who's shown the door. And has it slammed in her face….

15. All the nice talk in the world about building bridges will, when all is said and done, amount to nothing in the absence of honest, painful conversation about what is not acknowledged but is known within Catholic circles — e.g., that many priests are gay and closeted, and that these closeted gay priests include some of the most viciously homophobic players within the church, the priests who make it their business to go after openly gay couples and try to hound them out of the church. And that many LGBTQ people who claim that the church is "welcoming" and "affirming" have found their niche in the church by being willing to collude with the closet games of its ownership class….

Especially gay men who are closely connected to the clerical sector of the church….

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