Friday, December 13, 2019

Footnote to My Eulogy of Carmel McEnroy: "As so Many Others Have Experienced in This Life, Her Complete Redemption Had to Wait Till the Next Life"

A response David Jackson made to my remembrance of my graduate school colleague Sister Carmel McEnroy, RSM, prompts me to add a footnote to that posting. David writes,

"May the angels welcome her into heaven and dance with her as she walks its streets." This last sentence proclaims for me that, as so many others have experienced in this life, her complete redemption had to wait till the next life.

This is insightful. It underscores a point that needs to be underscored in my eulogy of Carmel. As far as I know, Carmel ended her life journey with no apology ever having been issued to her by the Benedictine monks of St. Meinrad Abbey for shattering her theological career. As far as I know, she was not rehabilitated in any official and formal way as a Catholic theologian. As far as I know, though she lectured and may have taught occasional courses, she never again was given a home in the Catholic academy after the Benedictine monks of St. Meinrad Abbey chose to destroy her theological career.

Carmel died awaiting the complete redemption all of us treated this way by Catholic officials and complicit Catholic colleagues (in Carmel's and my case, in the academy and media) long for — but will find only after this life has ended. This happened. It's history. And it needs to be recorded and remembered.

It needs to be remembered because, to paraphrase William Faulkner, the past is not even past. It's not over. It's still going on.

I chose to link my experience to Carmel's as I eulogized her because Carmel and I talked about the eerie similarities in what was done to us — to her at the hands of Benedictine monks at St. Meinrad, to me by the Benedictine monks at Belmont Abbey. In both cases, by monks who enjoy great comfort and security — the financial support of a very wealthy monastic community, a comfortable home no matter what (a home offered to monks, we've learned, even after they have sexually molested minors and been pulled from parish ministry or ministry in college positions like the chaplain's office).

Health insurance. Secure reputations. An assured position, a job in an institution owned by the monastery. The monks who broke Carmel's and my theological career into pieces have it all. They're the ones who get to stand at the altar daily and preach to the rest of us about the all-encompassing love of Jesus, about the gospel imperative to reach out to those on the margins, about how living social justice is integral to the Christian life.

What was different in my experience, however — and Carmel and I talked about this — was the homophobia that was at the root of what the Benedictine monks of Belmont Abbey chose to do to Steve and me. Prior to these experiences, I had never talked with Carmel — or any other classmates of mine at the St. Michael's College of the Toronto School of Theology — about the issue of sexual orientation.

A classmate has contacted me in the past year to tell me kindly that people knew and talked about my relationship with Steve while we were in graduate school. That was news to me (and she wrote me for malicious and not kind reasons, to settle an old score against me). I had no inkling, while we were in our graduate theology program, that anyone knew or discussed this part of our personal lives.

So I had no idea where Carmel herself stood about these issues until she and I were in touch following first her firing and then my terminal contract and resignation. I had, prior to being in touch with Carmel, spoken to two religious women in my program about my relationship with Steve. One told me she "didn't know how she felt" about gay people, though her own brother was gay (translation: she was unaccepting and unaffirming, and cited religion as her reason for this). Another informed me that I'd now have to look for support and community outside the church. The church cannot — obviously — offer those things to queer folks! This is the religious sister I considered a friend, about whom I spoke in my eulogy for Carmel, to whom I then became invisible at academic meetings.

Carmel, I discovered, was light years removed from these other two religious sisters in our graduate program. She was absolutely supportive — no qualifications. She fully understood what Steve and I had been put through.

This happened. This is history. It needs to be remembered. And it needs to be remembered because it's still going on. Queer people are still being fired in Catholic institutions, shunned by members of Catholic communities, and experiencing silent complicity on the part of Catholic colleagues they had expected to love and support them.

Just as the Benedictine monks of St. Meinrad Abbey never apologized to Carmel, as far as I know, after ending her theological career, removing her livelihood and reputation from her, robbing her of healthcare coverage, I have received no apologies from my classmates and colleagues who sat by in total silence as something parallel happened to me at the hands of the Benedictine monks of Belmont Abbey. I have gotten no apologies from my classmates and colleagues who actively shunned me and acted out their homophobic feelings once Steve's and my experiences at Belmont Abbey outed us as a gay couple.

I will not ever get any apologies from these folks. No apologies will be forthcoming from the movers and shakers of the big "liberal" Catholic publication who told me they couldn't possibly tell my story or delve into it, since stories about the maltreatment of LGBTQ people in Catholic institutions are a dime a dozen. (They did choose to tell Carmel's story, where homophobia was not a main part of the story, and because she was a religious sister.)

I won't ever get an apology from the "official" ministerial groups who claim they are working to build bridges between the LGBTQ community and the Catholic world, who characterize what I say as uncharitable, and who dismiss my testimony as not credible or helpful. I won't ever get a meaningful and effective apology from these folks that seeks to draw me into their closed and tightly controlled coversation about the bridge-building task.

Why did I choose to link my story to Carmel's as I eulogized her? Because the two stories are connected in very many ways, and we knew that and talked about it. And because what I experienced as a gay man whose vocation was shattered by a Benedictine community is still happening in Catholic institutions.

People are still being fired. People are still being shunned. People are still discovering that, when they are fired for being queer, many fellow Catholics they expected to stand with them shun them in obtrusive or subtle ways. 

This is history, and it needs to be recorded, because there will be no redemption in this life for many of us who have been subjected to this treatment. But it's possible that experiences like this might become less common if more Catholics choose to wake up, to speak out, to fight against the homophobia that is deeply embedded in Catholic institutions, even as many U.S. Catholics claim that they support LGBTQ rights. 

That is my hope.

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