Saturday, June 2, 2018

Catholic Church and LGBTQ People: Clues, Hearsay, Spectacularly Failed Pastoral Leadership in Face of Oppression and Suffering

Francis, who has spoken prophetically in defense of the Earth and the poor, and against capitalism and consumerism, cannot seem to summon the boldness needed to speak clearly and openly about what exactly he believes to be true about LGBTQ people. 
Other than his still-ambiguous "Who am I to judge?" comment in 2013, the only truly affirming remarks Francis has offered to LGBTQ persons have come from secondhand accounts from the few openly gay men who were given the privilege to speak to him. Can we possibly find authentic hope in Francis' strange game of telephone? 
Rather than try to decode Francis' language or struggle to discern what is truly in his heart, perhaps it is time to admit how inadequate his rumored words are in the face of the grave spiritual harm, loss of work and civil rights, and physical violence endured by LGBTQ persons everyday, often at the hands of Christian churches and teachings. 
Few people understand better the grim threats faced by LGBTQ persons than Ssenfuka Joanita Warry, a lesbian activist from Uganda, a country where same-sex relations are punishable by life in prison. 
In October 2010, she was one of 100 Ugandans who had their names, addresses and photos published in a local newspaper called Rolling Stone, with a banner urging, "Hang Them." A photo of her friend and fellow activist David Kato was on the cover. Three months later, he was beaten to death with a hammer
Warry has watched as young lesbian women are forced into marriages by their families in order to save face in their communities, or, worse, are subjected to "corrective rape," in an attempt to coerce them back into the heterosexual fold. 
In a brief and moving speech at this year's Voices of Faith event held in Rome, Warry explained why the Catholic doctrine on same-sex love emboldens the persecution of LGBTQ persons. 
"Any message that comes from the church is treated as a message that comes from God," she explained.

An informal code requiring unanimous support for public statements had created tensions within the council [i.e., the Maine Council of Churches], according to Executive Director Jane Field. She noted that mainline Protestant churches represented on the council have become more affirming of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as full participants in their churches and ministries. Roman Catholic teaching holds that homosexuality is "intrinsically disordered" and does not condone same-sex relationships. 
"Remaining silent on issues, especially related to LGBTQ justice and equality, wasn't tenable for all of our other seven denominations," the Rev. Field explained. "It was enough of a discomfort that it needed to be addressed openly. It wasn't healthy to be silent anymore.

Earlier this year, lawmakers in Maine considered a bill that would ban so-called conversion therapy, a controversial practice that claims to be able to change an individual’s sexual orientation. (The bill was introduced by State Representative Ryan Fecteau, a graduate of the Catholic University of America who was the first openly gay student to serve as president of the student general assembly.) 
While the Catholic Church does not have an official stance on this kind of therapy, the Diocese of Portland testified against the ban, saying the bill "limits choice" and interferes in the relationship between licensed counselors and patients. 
But the Maine Council of Churches supported the ban, submitting written testimony that it again made public in a letter to The Portland Press Herald in March, in which Ms. Field noted that many Christian denominations are against the practice, quoting the group's statement to lawmakers during the debate. 
"Sexual orientation and gender identity are a gift from God—not a condition that needs treatment, not a choice that needs conversion, not something broken that needs repair, not a sin that needs forgiveness," the letter states, quoting the testimony. "Conversion therapy is psychological and spiritual malpractice and amounts to torture."

What the Portland, Maine, Catholic diocese has chosen to do is helpful, it seems to me. It helps the massive numbers of millennials who have walked away from the church due to its cruelty towards LGBTQ human beings know they made the right decision, and helps LGBTQ young people know that, if they want to remain churched, they should look elsewhere for a welcoming church that offers them the good news of Jesus and the gospel. It's good to have such clarity. 

The following is a public letter to Bishop Foys of the Catholic diocese of Covington, Kentucky, that a Catholic living in that diocese, Anne Wolking, has shared on Facebook. She has shared it publicly, and it has been circulated on Facebook alone almost 1,000 times already. Because Anne Wolking has made the letter public in her Facebook feed, I'm sharing it here:

Below is a letter I sent to Bishop Foys and the Diocese of Covington. I also wanted to share my thoughts here. 
Dear Bishop Foys: 
Thank you for sending a reminder about the Diocesan Parish Annual Appeal (DPAA). My family and I are longtime parishioners within the diocese, so I am aware of the DPAA's mission, and whom it benefits. Oftentimes we can contribute. It’s not much, but we do contribute. 
However, my family will not be contributing to the DPAA this year and I would like to explain why. 
In the letter you sent, dated May 18, 2018, you wrote, "The Gospel mandates that our love for God be reflected in our love for one another ..." Coincidentally, the day I received this letter is the day I also learned about the diocese denying Christian Bales the ability to speak at graduation for Holy Cross High School. 
The reasons behind the denial were a missed deadline and content considered political and against the Catholic faith. I am still trying to find instances of where Christian took a political stance or went against church teaching. 
What I read in Christian's speech was about the power of youth in America. I read a theme of standing up for what is right and for standing up for those who have no voice. These are the very things that are preached to me on Sundays. After reading Mr. Bales' speech, it is clear to me that your decision to prohibit him from speaking had nothing to do with deadlines or not being in line with Catholic teaching. Sadly, I believe the root of your issue with Mr. Bales is that he is gay. How very predictable of you, Bishop Foys. 
You missed an incredible opportunity. An opportunity of showing love, compassion and acceptance. You missed an opportunity to say, as the Pope said to a gay man a few weeks ago, "God made you like this. God loves you like this. I love you like this and you should love yourself and not worry about what people say." I am befuddled at how the message from Rome became lost in translation on its way to Covington, Kentucky. 
Because of this, I am quickly seeing that this love you want us to reflect and the love you reflect is conditional. I cannot donate to a diocese that places conditions on whom I am called to love and care for. Instead of donating to the DPAA, my husband and I have elected to donate to New Ways Ministry, an organization that works to build bridges between the LGBT community and the Catholic Church. 
Additionally, I enclosed a copy Fr. James Martin, SJ's book, "Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity.” You do not need my money, Bishop Foys. Instead, I hope you will take a moment to evaluate and assess your methods of tending to God's flock. Unfortunately, they continue to leave and will continue to leave until changes are made. I love the Catholic Church and I also love all people as I am called to do so by God. My wish is that someday I will be able to sit among my LGBTQ Catholic friends and share in the Eucharist with them and know they are loved fully and completely by the Church. 
Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga said, "We have to be like stained glass, we don't have our own light. We have to reflect the light of God." I ask you, Bishop Foys, to sit in the beautiful basilica and sit under a window that reflects the most light. Let it pour in and touch you. While sitting there, please ask yourself, "How am I reflecting God's light? Am I being choosy on whom I reflect the light of God? How can I reflect God's light to everyone?" 
Respectfully yours in Christ, 
Anne Wolking

What if we viewed Francis as not primarily a keeper of doctrine, or a compassionate pastor, but as a spiritual director in the mode of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises that form him as a Jesuit? This role may be the greatest resource that Francis provides all Christians who see life as a journey toward deeper union with God and closer alignment with God’s call, whether they are LGBTQ or not.
The clues are everywhere. 

I have been called the purveyor of uncharitable garbage as I express my critical thoughts about statements like this at the Bondings 2.0 blog, but I just have to say this: 

You know what? From a global spiritual leader, I don't want "clues."

I want clear, compassionate, honest pastoral leadership.

The endless willingness of apologists for church leaders to bend over backwards and look for "clues" about those things — when they aren't there to be found for those of us who are LGBTQ: it's mystifying. And enraging.

As real-life LGBTQ people lose jobs in Catholic institutions and are not made welcome in their parishes — except in the coastal culture bubbles on which groups advocating better treatment of LGBTQ people focus, as they try to claim that the Catholic church offers welcome to LGBTQ folk….

I truly do not get the strange, large appetite some Catholics who want to remain closely connected to a church that shuns and abuses them have for finding "clues," mysterious strange tiny flashes of light and semiotic ciphers, clues that a pope who will not open his mouth publicly to condemn the cruelty his church exhibits towards LGBTQ human beings is somehow supportive of and welcoming towards us.

Pastoral leadership, when it's real and meaningful, is about more than clues and mysterious strange tiny flashes of lights and semiotic ciphers. It's about unambiguous public statements that a church stands here, supports this, does that. 

From Francis, it appears we will never get anything more than hints, whispers, clues — as people continue to lose jobs in Catholic institutions due to who they are and whom they love, and as people in many places in the world face violence because of who they are and whom they love.

Clues are not enough.

The earliest depictions of Jesus in Christian iconography focus on him as the good shepherd. The graphic is a 3rd-century depiction of Jesus as the good shepherd from the catacombs of St. Callixtus in Rome, via Wikimedia Commons.

No comments: