Thursday, September 6, 2018

Wave of Queer Bashing in U.S. Catholicism and Cheap-Grace Christianity: Further Reflections on What's Going on with Viganò's Cabal

Shared by Chiara Giaccardi on Twitter

[W]e write with particular concern for two groups among us, namely, those who identify with the LGBTQ community and those who are survivors of sexual abuse, especially abuse perpetrated by members of the clergy. While all of us feel in some way the stresses of this time, members of these groups may perhaps be the most acutely distressed and vulnerable.

Then it goes on to note, after having rightly first addressed the situation of abuse survivors:

The efforts by some influential persons to lay responsibility for the church's situation upon gay priests and our society's growing acceptance of same-sex orientations and relationships can occasion feelings of anger, betrayal, and perhaps even shame. 

And it adds,

It [i.e., "the vile slander that the crisis in the Catholic church is due to the presence of gay men"] is a prejudice rooted in ignorance, fear, and/or hate.

I welcome these words. They accurately describe the space in which I find myself as an openly gay, married theologian with roots in a Catholic church that has disowned me. They accurately descirbe what I feel at this moment, following the McCarrick revelations, the Pennsylvania report, and, above all, Viganò's attack letter. I'd reckon that I am not alone, as a queer person with Catholic connections of one sort or another, in feeling what I currently feel about being shoved into that familiar space all too frequently created for people like us by influential members of the Catholic community and far too many Catholic laypeople.

It's, as Hornbeck and Massingale say, a space crafted by ignorance, fear, and/or hate — above all, hate. When you are the object of hate, you know that you are the object of hate. You feel its searing force in your life, its intent to do violence to and obliterate you. You know that though people showing hatred of you often deny that what they are doing is about hate, and may insist it's about, say, reinforcing religious commandments, it's about hate.

The hate in Catholic circles has been searing in recent days — all over again, since we've been here before. We keep coming to this place. It's obviously a comfortable go-to place for many Catholics, this place of vile, scapegoating hatred of queer people. The hate is in full evidence in one Catholic discussion thread after another on social media in recent days. It's blaringly evident in statements of top Catholic leaders like Viganò himself and the U.S. bishops who immediately hopped onto his hate wagon and adopted his hateful homophobic analysis of the serious problems facing the Catholic church.

You know when hatred is being poured out against you. You feel it burning your skin, trying to work its evil shame-magic in your soul. You also recognize that, both as an individual and as a group, you are relatively powerless to shift situations in which hate is being ginned up against people like you by powerful actors, who need to use hate to their own advantage in power games designed to empower them by making a victim of you. 

The use of homophobic hate by powerful actors in the Catholic community will not shift until enough lay Catholics become so fed up with this tactic that they put their feet down and say, "No more." Unfortunately, as these recurring cycles of hateful queer bashing have occurred in Catholic circles in my own lifetime, I have never seen that kind of resolution on the part of many Catholic laity — including, in particular, the most influential Catholic layfolks in the U.S. Catholic church (I'm speaking out of an American context here, obviously), its intellectual leaders in the Catholic academy and the Catholic journalistic sector.

Those intellectual leaders have long found it all too easy to head to that comfortable queer-bashing go-to space to which the institutional leaders of the church love to go when calls for systemic change and for facing their own failure as pastoral leaders become loud and insistent. The intellectual leaders of the American Catholic church obviously find it easy to head to that go-to space of queer hatred because they live in that space, whether they will admit this to themselves or not. They believe the toxic lies about queer people. They believe that they are the norm by whom those who are other should, in decency, be judged. 

It is not in the least an accident that six in ten white Catholics — those with most financial and institutional clout in U.S. Catholicism — voted for Donald Trump. What else could we have expected, given the level of not only pastoral leadership offered by the U.S. bishops, but intellectual leadership offered by U.S. Catholic academies and journals?

Read what Catholic bishops in the U.S. and Catholic laypeople in online discussions and newspaper and journal articles are saying right now about the segment of the human community God has made queer, and you'll encounter certain key words over and over: they're purifying the church by attacking queer people; they're exposing an infection in the church and especially in the hierarchy by attacking queer people. 

This is the kind of language to which threatened social groups who feel their boundaries have become too permeable resort, Mary Douglas tells us in her classic work Purity and Danger. It's language that is about reasserting the impermeability, the rigidity, of a group's boundaries, as a hapless group inside those boundaries is identified as an alien, unwelcome, impure, infectious presence that must be expelled in order to return the endangered social group to health and stability. 

Churches are pre-eminently social groups. They behave like the social groups they are. Churches are perfectly capable of this evil scapegoating behavior, of targeting maligned minority groups, heaping all the perceived sin of the church itself on their back, and casting them out into the wilderness in order to "purify" the church and rid it of "infection."

Even churches that claim catholicity — Here comes everybody! — as their core ideal, their very label, are perfectly capable of singling out a scapegoated minority group and informing that group that it is not welcome, that its very human nature is disordered, and there is no place for it in the "catholic" community.

If you doubt that these statements are correct, read the history of the Holocaust and refresh your memory about what the churches of Nazi Germany (and Austria, eastern Europe, France, other places in Europe) were capable of in that dark moment of human history. To anyone who remembers this history, words like "purification" and "infection" should ring serious alarm bells. We've read this playbook before. We know what it leads to.

And we know the role the churches played in creating the playbook and permitting its murderous operations. 

I wonder lately, as I read the statement of bishops (and of priests who are engaging in rabble-rousing in their parish churches) speaking of "purifying" and disinfecting the church via prayer and penance — sometimes the homophobic subtext is spelled out, at other times, it's not, but it's perfectly clear to anyone with ears to hear: I wonder what, if anything, Catholic seminaries teach priests-to-be about the Holocaust. And about the role the churches played in it.

Are Catholic seminarians asked in their seminary years to read Hannah Arendt, Elie Wiesel, Etty Hillesum, Ann Frank, Simone Weil, Walter Benjamin, Federico García Lorca, Dietrich Bonhöffer, Johann Baptist Metz, Dorothee Sölle, and the scores of other powerful thinkers who reveal to us how the churches of the Nazi period, both of the Reformation side of Christianity and the Catholic side, were critically compromised, deeply complicit in the mass murder of the Jewish people and other targeted minority communities in the twentieth century?

For that matter, are Catholic seminarians asked to read Sister Elizabeth Johnson's magisterial Quest for a Living God, which has a chapter full of rich information about these very matters, and how theologians after the Holocaust want us to rethink the ideas of God that permitted this complicity in mass murder? I suspect not. The U.S. bishops wanted her — and that work, in particular — condemned, after all. The very people many of whom now want to hop aboard the Viganò hate wagon and target queer human beings as the source of evil in the church….

The reality is, Catholics energized by the current wave of hatred of queer people sweeping through and infecting and dirtying the U.S. Catholic church: they are radically uncomfortable with the Christian gospels and with the call to unrestricted love of the other that we encounter in those gospels in the life and words of Jesus Christ. They want — they need — a cheap-grace version of Christianity that makes them the pure, the holy, and righteous, and makes despised, targeted others the evil victims who must be declared impure, unholy, and unrighteous in order to bolster the purity, holiness, and righteousness of the "normal." 

And a primary reason they resent and are attacking the current pope is that he appears, at least, to emphasize aspects of Catholic teaching — e.g., about the poor, the marginalized, immigrants, the environment, the obligations of the rich to have-nots, the danger of racist ethnonationalism — that make one uncomfortable in a costly-grace sort of way. 

All of this — the rabid insistence on "purifying" the church so that it's a space in which one can more easily live a cheap-grace version of Catholicism — runs so directly counter to the Christian gospels that one wonders if many current Catholic leaders and laypeople have ever been truly catechized. If what they're demonstrating in the orgy of queer-bashing hatred now overtaking large sectors of the U.S. Catholic church is sound catechetical formation, then God help us all.

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