Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Commentary: On Youth Synod Opening Door to LGBTQ Community (?!); On Latest McCarrick Revelations; On "Signs of the Times"

Some meandering thoughts and mini-rants this morning:

1. Every time the Vatican slaps the queer community in the face one more time, you can count on a certain cadre of Catholic journalists — none of them openly LGBTQ people — to announce to the queer community that the slap just delivered is actually a prelude to a new welcoming approach to LGBTQ people by the Catholic church. "Did a just-concluded meeting of Catholic bishops here open the door to rethinking Catholic teaching on homosexuality?" David Gibson asks in a report on the youth synod published yesterday.

And he thinks that it does, that the final report of the synod represents an opening to LGBTQ people. Whom the final report would not even name…. Who were not invited to the synod…. Who were totally invisible in a gathering which communicated loudly and clearly that the default definition of church is heterosexual…. Who had no voting rights at the synod, since they were totally invisible, not there in the church that is by default heterosexual….

Who are the "them" by which the "we" of the church establishes its normality — no matter how toxic these ugly dynamics of othering are proving in our world today, and how much responsibility the church has to model a countercultural way of behaving in the face of toxic cultural dynamics….

As Joel Mathis pointed out yesterday, journalists of color were absolutely right in 2016 about who Donald Trump is — but "we" refused to listen to them. "We" did not listen, Mathis thinks, because American journalism is, by default, a white profession with a white gaze. Even though there are token journalists from other cultural backgrounds in American newsrooms, the business remains heavily dominated from the top down by (straight) white males, and it's no accident that it reflects the gaze of these controlling constituents.

A fortiori for the Catholic news media, which is heavily dominated by straight white men, who think nothing of parsing on behalf of their LGBTQ brothers and sisters church statements that we who are queer know in our bones are invidious and hateful — but which those Catholic journalists, who enjoy abundant unacknowledged power and privilege as heterosexual males, choose to spin as positive. When their skin is not being abraded by the hateful statements and actions at the center of the church….

It would make a world of difference if listening really meant listening in documents like the synod report, and if doors would open now in the Catholic journalistic world to allow queer people to talk to the Catholic community in our own voices, and if we were not longer talked about and down to by people who don't live in our skin.

2. In a pre-USCCB-meeting piece published two days ago, Michael Sean Winters writes,

The fourth aspect of the sex abuse issue that may prove divisive [at the upcoming USCCB meeting] but shouldn't be is whether or not the bishops as a body will seek to examine the roots of the crisis, or whether they will seek a scapegoat, gays being the most obvious one. I can't predict how this discussion will turn out. Certainly, conservative media outlets like EWTN and LifeSiteNews have been beating the anti-gay drum for some time, and it has had an effect on the people in the pews. The fact that a study the bishops commissioned showed there is no essential connection between homosexuality and sex abuse does not deter bigots. The bishops must decide whether they will join the bigots or resist them.

"It has had an effect on the people in the pews" strikes me as an understatement (and I do agree with what Winters writes in the preceding paragraph). Anyone tracking the commentary on social media feeds as the abuse situation is discussed by American Catholics can readily see that homophobic hate is bubbling hot and heavy right now among increasing numbers of American Catholics, who want an easy target as they assess blame for the abuse crisis, and who have chosen gay priests and the queer community in general.

You cannot let hate out of the bag (to change metaphors), you cannot fan the flames of hate (another metaphor shift) without feeding hate, making it stronger. The U.S. Catholic bishops have chosen to do this vis-a-vis the LGBTQ community for some years now, and the fruit of that unpastoral and immoral behavior is abundant and bitter. This is an era in which hate of all sorts — hate of targeted others — is proliferating in the American body politic, and the bishops are, sad to say, responsible for not a little bit of it, especially in the case of homophobic hate.

I have known for some years now that an archbishop of a U.S. Catholic diocese long had and may still have a gay lover. I have known this because someone on whose word I would stake my life, who has known this man since he was a teen, told me this and told me the name of the man's lover. When he was first made a bishop, she told me that his relationship was openly discussed in high Catholic circles as he was vetted for a bishop's seat.

She knew that it was discussed in those circles because her sister is married to a leading black Catholic man whose brother was a bishop. The Vatican asked her sister and brother-in-law to help vet the prospective bishop, and my friend was incensed that they gave him their vote of confidence — not because he had a gay lover and this was an open secret, but because of his hypocrisy. He has for years attacked members of the gay community.

He recently issued a public statement about how "we" need to repent of the sin that has caused the abuse crisis in the Catholic church, that "we" need to pray and fast and do penance for this sin. This kind of pious language is becoming codespeak among the Catholic bishops for, "The abuse crisis was caused by 'them,' the homosexuals, and by their sin. We will root it out through prayer and fasting and rosary processions and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament."

It's never the bishops' sin or the sin of Vatican officials that has caused the abuse situation. It's "their" sin — the homosexuals' sin.

Yesterday, I posted excerpts from two reports showing how far back in time (to the early 1990s, at the very least) it can be proven that top Vatican officials knew the full score about Theodore McCarrick, before St. John Paul the Great made him archbishop of D.C. in 2000 and then a cardinal the following year. Catholic News Service reports that Cardinal Agostino Cacciavillan, who served as pro-nuncio to the United States from 1990 to 1998, has told CNS that he knew about McCarrick's sexual misconduct as early as 1994. Cardinal Cacciavillan also states that "the case of McCarrick came out" when he was made archbishop of D.C. and then a cardinal — by St. John Paul the Great.

News flash: you'd be a fool if you conclude that only Cardinal Cacciavillan knew about McCarrick  — and that the people running the Vatican, including John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, did not know. This is not how the Vatican works.

I also posted yesterday excerpts from a new report by Father Boniface Ramsey stating that 

I understood [in the early 1990s] that the "we" of "we all know" meant McCarrick's fellow bishops. This was my first inkling that knowledge of McCarrick's behavior was not restricted to the seminary, or to the archdiocese of Newark, but was widespread among the American bishops. 

Father Ramsey then goes on to reiterate what he has previously stated: that he sent a letter in 2000 to the papal nuncio when McCarrick was made archbishop of D.C., expressing his strong concerns about this appointment, and got no acknowledgement of his letter. The next year, St. John Paul the Great made McCarrick a cardinal. Fr. Ramsey concludes,

The anger that has arisen among Catholics in response to the cascade of information about McCarrick has been aimed at two things. First, there are the acts that McCarrick was accused of having committed. Second, there is the fact that many of McCarrick’s peers in the hierarchy seem to have been aware of at least some of those acts—specifically, those having to do with seminarians—and said nothing. McCarrick’s brazenness and lack of shame, his indifference to what others who knew of his behavior might have thought of him (and he ought to have known that they knew), are shocking enough. The fact that those who knew about at least some of his misconduct did not shun him—that he was accepted and even fêted by his peers—is every bit as shocking.

As I say, I posted all of this yesterday on Facebook and Twitter. After I had done so, I had a response from someone who is not a FB friend of mine, but who evidently read my post. Her response was all about being furious at McCarrick — as she should be — but totally ignoring who was responsible for placing McCarrick in a high position of power and who has kept him there despite what has been known about him. Those folks, too, deserve our ire.

But they have very effectively twisted our anger into homophobic rage against McCarrick and a supposed lavender mafia in the hierarchy — at the very time that they were elevating McCarrick to high positions of power and were also scapegoating gay priests, issuing documents forbidding gay men entrance to seminaries, etc. 

Go figure. The homophobic rage is only going to get worse, and anyone who thinks the U.S. bishops will try to check it, having let it out of the bag in the first place (with Vatican collusion), is living in a dream world, it seems to me. 

3. On 28 October, I posted a reflection about Mathew Shepard's funeral and the Catholic youth synod in which I asked the synod participants and voters if they were listening to the signs of the times when they chose a very different path regarding the LGBTQ community than the path chosen by Bishop Robinson and his church at Matt Shepard's funeral. 

The following day, Masha Gessen published an essay entitled "The Meaning of Matthew Shepard’s Funeral in a Time of Ordinary Violence" in which she concludes that Matt Shepard's funeral is "not a sign of the times." She states:

Last week, President Donald Trump promised to use military force against people who are walking across Mexico to ask the United States to protect them from violence. Also last week, a man sent bombs to a philanthropist, two former Presidents, and several former and current officials. The President made light of this on Twitter. Another man went into a synagogue and killed eleven people. In response, Jewish organizations, media companies, politicians, and prominent individuals will certainly obtain or increase security. They’d be crazy not to, even though most of us realize that armed guards at the door serve to further normalize violence. So, maybe it’s not so crazy that I feel that there is something extraordinary in the internment of Matthew Shepard’s ashes in the National Cathedral. As much as I’d like to believe otherwise, it's not a sign of the times.

And of course we are living at a moment of human history fraught with fascist violence against taregted others. It's all around us. It's growing. It would be fatuous to claim otherwise.

But the biblical-theological term "signs of the times" does not mean that we look at the hate and violence in the world around us and try to chart the course of a humane world by concluding that they represent the only possibility for our future. Nor does it mean that we pretend that the hate and violence are not there.

It is an eschatological concept that encourages us to look at what is happening in the world around us, no matter how dire and dark it is, and find there whatever glimmers of hope we can find for a different future than the hate and violence seem to predict for us. That's how I was using the term "signs of the times" in what I wrote about Matt Shepard's funeral. The theological concept "signs of the times" takes seriously the insight of magisterial Jewish thinkers like Ernst Bloch who wrote the following in his master work The Principle of Hope, vol. 1, trans. Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, Paul Knight (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1986):

Only thinking directed towards changing the world and informing the desire to change it does not confront the future (the unclosed space for new development in front of us) as embarrassment and the past as spell (p. 8).

This is the reading of the signs of the times that is also emphasized by Jewish playwright Tony Kushner, who has been profoundly influenced by the thought of another powerful Jewish thinker often associated with Bloch, Walter Benjamin, in Kushner's Angels in America, which tries to find signs of hope ("the angel of the future") for LGBTQ people even in the darkest days of the AIDS crisis. 

Kushner, Bloch, Benjamin: none of them denies that the darkness is there. None of them fatuously believes that movement towards a more humane world is ineluctable. Yet each still clings resolutely to hope, following in the footsteps of the Jewish prophets.

This is what the theological term "signs of the times" means. And this is how I used it when I wrote about Matt Shepard's funeral.

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