Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What Do Discussions of the Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church Have to Do with the Kavanaugh Hearing? A Lot

Ellen interviews Shelly Fitzgerald, who is threatened with firing by Roncalli Catholic High in Indianapolis for her same-sex marriage.

As I said yesterday, how the abuse situation in the Catholic church is discussed — with an obsessive focus on homosexuality, with little attention at all to the overwhelmingly dominant social (and ecclesial) problem of male abuse of vulnerable women — is not in the least disconnected from the conversations now going on about Brett Kavanaugh as a potential Supreme. Here are some statements that, to my mind, need to be read side by side, if we're going to gain a glimpse of the bigger picture facing us in these discussions:

The question for the Church now, given the astounding scale of the dysfunction, arching from the Americas to Europe, Africa, the Philippines, and Australia, is: What in Catholic culture caused this debauchery? The proximate cause concerns essential mistakes of moral theology, including the stigmatizing of normal erotic longing and the sanctifying of prejudice against women and homosexuals. Those errors have roots in the ancient Church, when fundamental options in favor of male power and against sex for pleasure and love were made. 
But the immediate cause of the crisis is more recent. The Second Vatican Council, which met in the course of three years, beginning in October of 1962, began as an attempt to redress the old problems. The Council fathers seriously undertook to empower the laity, replace the negative attitudes toward sex that underwrote a deep-seated Catholic neurosis, reform the doom-laden moral theology, democratize the form of the Mass, and transform the self-protecting clerical culture. The pushback began even before the Council adjourned, especially once Pope John XXIII died, in 1963. It is likely that Church disciplines on contraception and priestly celibacy would have begun to change were it not for the panicked intervention of the new Pope, Paul VI, in the Council’s procedures…. 
It is deeply ironic that the dilemma facing Pope Francis, while caused in part by his own clerical myopia, is made exponentially more pressing by his conservative opponents' weaponizing of Church confusion about homosexuality. They are doing this precisely to eliminate, once and for all, what little remains of the reform impulse that began at Vatican II. The alarm signal of danger that Francis posed for conservatives was his early refusal to condemn homosexuals. That a bishop like Theodore McCarrick is credibly alleged to be a homosexual harasser—he is accused of, among other things, using his power to prey upon vulnerable seminarians, a charge that he has denied—has given the Pope's critics the opening that they need. This is in addition to the fact that leading figures among the disgraced have been supportive of Francis, including McCarrick and Cardinal George Pell, of Australia, who will be tried for "historical sexual assault offenses," to which he has pleaded not guilty; and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, of Washington, D.C., who last week announced that he will ask Pope Francis to accept his resignation following accusations that, when he was the bishop of Pittsburgh, he was involved in the coverup of the abuse in Pennsylvania. With this lethal brew being stirred by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who has called on Francis himself to resign, the charges are flying, and homosexuals as a group are being scapegoated. Among conservatives, to have tolerated gay priests is now being equated with having tolerated sexual harassment and, in some cases, the rape of children. But even this murkiness is a mark of an incoherent Catholic morality about all kinds of sexual expression.

Kathleen M. Sands, "Speaking Out: Clergy Sexual Abuse: Where Are the Women?," Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 19,2 (Fall, 2003), pp. 79-83:

It is probably safe to assume that over the centuries the majority of priestly liaisons have been with women. I myself have heard dozens of such accounts firsthand, and I suspect anyone who has worked closely with priests could say the same. The women include parishioners, housekeepers, religious sisters, ac ademic colleagues, counselees, and coworkers. The sex runs the gamut from coercion to mutuality; there are rapes, seductions, casual flings, adolescent-like dating relationships, and mature, long-term partnerships. Indeed, these liaisons have little in common other than their crooked relation to the celibacy rule. Under the regime of that rule, however, the sexual liaisons of priests do have something in common, for the practical effect of the rule is that, although sex actually is not forbidden, sexual honesty and sexual responsibility actually are forbidden. In the best cases, the outcome is demoralization and heartache; in the worst cases, abuse, crime, and disgrace. 
Will reform of the priesthood amount to a return to its "normal" sins? So far, the answer appears to be yes; the hierarchy's main solution is to solidify the maleness and heterosexuality of the priesthood. Already Vatican and U.S. officials have gestured toward the purging of gay priests, unconscionably encouraging the identification of homosexuality with pedophilia. Maybe the Vatican will even reconsider the ordination of married heterosexual men, which also would stave off the ordination of women. After all, since the 1980s the Vatican has admitted into the Catholic priesthood certain married Episcopal priests, many of whom left the Episcopal communion to protest the ordination of women. But a married patriarchal ministry will be as abusive to women as is a celibate patriarchal ministry, as Protestant women know. Patriarchalism, misogyny, and androcentrism, with all their structures and symbols-these are the normalized structures of priestly sin. Only by uprooting them will justice and healing be available for Catholic people.

Lili Loofbourow, "Men Are More Afraid Than Ever":

It is now clear, and no exaggeration at all, that a significant percentage of men—most of them Republicans—believe that a guy's right to a few minutes of "action" justifies causing people who happen to be women physical pain, lifelong trauma, or any combination of the two. They've decided—at a moment when they could easily have accepted Kavanaugh’s denial—that something larger was at stake: namely, the right to do as they please, freely, regardless of who gets hurt. Rather than deny male malfeasance, they’ll defend it. Their logic could not be more naked or more self-serving: Men should get to escape consequences for youthful "indiscretions" like assault, but women should not—especially if the consequence is a pregnancy. And this perspective extends 100 percent to the way they wish the legal system to work: Harms suffered by women do not rate consideration, much less punishment. (I recommend Googling the mortality rate for women when abortion was illegal.) 

Hill, a black woman, had to testify in front of a Senate Judiciary Committee that was composed entirely of white men

The same Rod Dreher who pleads sympathy for Kavanaugh had far less compassion for Michael Brown, killed in Ferguson, Missouri during a confrontation with Officer Darren Wilson in 2014. In a piece titled "Tips for Not Getting Shot By Cops," Dreher cautioned future young black men not to 'be a lawbreaker or hang out with lawbreakers,' while raising the possibility that Brown's death was justified…. 
To look beyond individual pundits and politicians is to see a world where responsibility and culpability is structured by race, class, gender, and your overall proximity to disadvantage. In the existing framework, we cannot ask a prospective Supreme Court justice to account for the actions of his youth, but we can hold a 12-year-old black boy responsible for not heeding police commands fast enough, or a 17-year-old black teenager for not deferring to a neighborhood watchman. Some people escape punishment for the crimes of their youth, others lose their right to vote for life. Right-wing pundits who back deportation for young adults brought to the United States as children also think the accusations against Kavanaugh are a disgrace. Somewhere, a man Kavanaugh's age is sitting in prison for a crime committed as a teenager.

This argument that "boyhood" does not deserve scrutiny only seems to apply to white boys and men of high socioeconomic status. Kavanaugh should be judged for who he is today, influential political voices, mostly conservatives, argue, not what he supposedly did in high school. But most of the people making this argument don’t relate it to our justice system’s treatment of young people of color, who often face jail time for minor offenses, or to young undocumented people, who face deportation for being brought to the country as children.

Ultimately, the defense of Kavanaugh by Republicans, conservatives, their media and public is a manifestation of America's rape culture -- the latter being neither "colorblind" or "race neutral." 
When Kavanaugh's defenders make excuses for his alleged sexual assault and attempted rape of Christine Blasey Ford, they are endorsing and channeling white male privilege and toxic white masculinity. In America, these unearned advantages are the almost exclusive province of those who are white and male. This type of white entitlement is also amplified and exaggerated for rich, white, conservative heterosexual men.
Elite white men like Brett Kavanaugh (and of course Donald Trump) represent white male privilege and entitlement on steroids. If confirmed to the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh will be the White Male Privilege Affluenza Justice.

(Thanks to Sarasi for pointing me to James Carroll's and Kathleen Sands' essays, the latter of which I discovered I had read, Sarasi, after I began reading it — and am very grateful to you for pointing me to it again.)

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