Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Death of 7-Year-Old Girl in U.S. Custody, a Family Funeral, and the Inexplicable Cruelty of Right-Wing U.S. Catholicism: An Advent Conundrum

Sometimes I follow threads in Catholic discussions on Twitter down rabbit holes. I know I shouldn't do this, because the holes inevitably turn out to be dark, claustrophobic, and stifling. 

But on occasion, I simply can't stop myself from clicking to read comments as one or another person I follow on Twitter addresses Catholic issues and others respond. Then as I read the responses and find some of them hair-turning, I find myself clicking to see who this hair-turning person can possibly be, what she or he has tweeted about other Catholic and political issues, and before I know it, I'm deep in that dark, claustrophobic, stifling space that is the world of Catholic right-wing commentary online.

In the past week, I made the mistake of clicking to read right-wing Catholic Twitter discusssions in which Catholics who profess to be the biggest, baddest Catholics on the block are reassuring each other and proclaiming to the world that the death of a 7-year-old girl in custody of U.S. border agents is her and her parents' fault. They were asking for it when they brought her to the U.S. And at the same time, I've read comments from the biggest, baddest Catholics on the block about how there is no such thing as a moral obligation to provide basic healthcare coverage for all citizens, and doing so has nothing to do with the "pro-life" cause.

Yesterday, I tracked down a rabbit hole from a thread on Philip Pullella's Twitter feed that led me to Lifesite News and its incessant attacks on Pope Francis as the destroyer of Catholic orthodoxy. I learned from this thread that a primary reason Pope Francis cannot change the Catholic catechism to state plainly that capital punishment is grievously immoral is that he'd be undermining the papacy's claim to offer infallible teaching — since popes before him have not held that position (though St. John Paul the Great actually did so, a point mysteriously ignored by his ardent defenders who now want to savage Francis).

And I also learned that papal teaching forbidding artificial contraception cannot be anything but inerrant because homosexuality: grant that the magisterium may be flatly wrong on the issue of contraception, and the dike will spring a hole that will quickly open to a deluge — queer people will flood through and expect to find a place in the church! We. Cannot. Have. That.

As I followed these threads of "thought" and tried to find my way back to some light, out of the lightless, arid, prison of right-wing Catholics being so certain, smug, and secure on social media today, what struck me as my final takeaway was the utter cruelty of right-wing Catholic smugness, certainty, and security. I do not see any way to reconcile this cruelty with anything I know of Jesus from the gospel testimony to him and his life and words. And I wonder how any Catholic in the world has worked himself or herself into such a position in the name of Catholic orthodoxy.

Then this morning I read Ruth Graham's account of the backlash to a homily Father Don LaCuesta preached at the funeral of Maison Hullibarger in Temperance, Michigan, recently. Hullibarger was 18 years old, and committed suicide. When Father LaCuesta used his death and funeral as an occasion to make a moral point and to ask questions about the fate of the young man's soul, his father got up from his pew and walked to LaCuesta and pled with him to stop.

As Ruth Graham notes, this event has elicited commentary from various sectors of the Catholic world — and right-wing Catholics are predictably defending Father LaCuesta, and maintaining that he has an obligation to preach Catholic orthodoxy and let the chips fall where they may. 

What strikes me in this story:

The grieving family of the young man who committed suicide perceived the homily preached at his funeral as cruel.

Yet right-wing Catholics (predictably) defend the priest and his homily, speaking of the obligation of the church to proclaim orthodox truth?

What strikes me is the clear, constant link between where right-wing Catholics predictably choose to stand and cruelty.

How does one stand in such a place and profess to have something to do with Jesus Christ?

These are more than academic questions for me right now, because my husband Steve's mother died two days ago and he will not be attending her funeral. This is something he had discussed with her before she died, before she had a stroke some three years ago that left her semi-comatose, unable to speak or recognize anyone. 

Steve's mother told him, as they discussed the fact that he had decided he could not attend her funeral, that she understood: he no longer wanted to subject himself (and me) to the cruel, abusive treatment shown to us by some of his right-wing Catholic siblings who are prone to use family gatherings like funerals to draw lines between those who belong in their Catholic world and those who should be excluded from it. 

And who imagine that adhering to orthodox Catholic teaching gives them the right to inform siblings with whose "lifestyles" they disagree that those siblings are sinners headed to hell…. Steve's father's funeral several years ago showed both of us in irrevocable, shocking terms that some of his siblings will simply never relent, never apologize, as they dish out shunning and cruelty in the name of Catholic orthodoxy, and at that point, I myself determined I would not ever subject myself again to that treatment or stand by and witness it again exhibited to someone I love, who does not deserve such cruelty. I have also made it very plain to Steve that my own decision not to subject myself to the cruelty some of his siblings want to visit on us should not in any way dictate his own decisions. I would not dream of asking a person I love to cut off communication with his or her loved ones to please me. It pains me deeply, in fact, that family relationships come to such an end.

I will say it again: what does such cruelty, albeit cruelty wrapped up in piety and carefully tailored "orthodoxy," have to do with Jesus Christ?

If Jesus Christ and his gospel message are to have any meaning at all in the world in which we live today, that question is unavoidable. Since the primary way people come into contact with Jesus and his gospel message is through the lived witness provided by followers of Jesus in the Christian churches….

The graphic: a detail from Rogier van der Weyden's Descent from the Cross, a 15th-century oil on panel at the Prado Museum, by way of Wikimedia Commons.

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