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Welcoming the (Gay) Stranger: Ongoing Challenge to Communities of Faith

The following is a follow-up to the piece I posted here earlier in the week about my experience and that of my life partner Steve when we worshiped at an African-American Baptist church last Sunday, and heard Rev. Jeremiah Wright preach.  I’m cross-posting this follow-up reflection from my Bilgrimage blog:

So, we go out to eat last night, Steve and I, at the invitation of two friends we don’t see often enough.  These are folks whose company we enjoy because they’re articulate, informed, educated.  Our two friends happen to have doctoral degrees, as we do.  We’re all around the same age.

One of the friends shares Steve’s and my academic background–has taught history at the university level for much of his professional life.  He’s also the author of a very good book about the racial history of Arkansas from the Reconstruction period forward.  He’s well-read and well-informed in that significant area (along with many others), and fascinating to talk to, because of the depth of his knowledge of the subject.

The other friend has a doctorate from Harvard and interesting longstanding experience as a Latino activist.  Like Steve and me, he grew up Catholic (well, I didn’t grow up Catholic but became Catholic when I was a teen), and like us, is decisively alienated from the church.  These friends are a gay couple who have been together for many years.

So we get together at a Chinese restaurant we all like, a quiet place that often has quite a few gay couples eating there on weekend evenings.  Because the holiday weekend began last evening for many folks who decided to take Friday off and have a four-day weekend, the restaurant is relatively empty.

A family sits in the booth adjacent to us.  I pay little attention to them, though I’m facing them, since the four of us haven’t seen each other in quite a while and are engrossed in conversation.  We have a lot to catch up on.

The conversation turns to John Paul II, Marcial Maciel, the Legionaries of Christ, the situation of the church in Mexico, the recent statement of the cardinal archbishop of Guadalajara about faggots adopting.  Since our Latino friend is Mexican-American and has relatives in Mexico, he knows a great deal about the church in Mexico and has significant information and insights to share.

We talk away.  As we do so, I look over my friends’ shoulders and realize that the wife of the family behind him is listening intently to everything we say, and fixing us with a scornful look–actually, a look of withering hate would be closer to the truth.  Her husband is halfway twisted around in his seat to catch the dialogue better, a look of complete disdain plastered on his face.  Their hapless daughter looks as if she wants to be a thousand miles away from both of them.

Suddenly, they gesture for the waitress, get up, and demand to be taken to another table, muttering that we are going to burn in hell for rejecting the word of God and spreading hate.  I actually don’t even hear or pay attention to any of this, until I see the look of shock on the faces of the two friends seated closer to the family, who hear plainly what they say.

And that’s that.  We continue our discussion, they go to the other end of the restaurant where they can escape from our theological and moral contagion.  And we keep on talking about the Catholic issues we’d been discussing before we received the Catholic family’s statement of anathema.

And I wonder what motivates any human beings to behave in this openly dismissive way towards other human beings, while citing the scriptures as their basis for their behavior.  As I think about last night’s series of events, it strikes me that the treatment doled out by the Catholic family who eavesdropped shamelessly on our dinner conversation and then felt at liberty to tell us we were headed to hell because we don’t consider John Paul II a saint is a manifestation of a syndrome that seems endemic to American Catholicism.  Or to some sectors of it.

This is a syndrome I’ve encountered this week in a blog discussion I’ve been carrying on with a Catholic living in the upper Midwest, who is convinced that his parish has no openly gay folks because gays have deliberately and maliciously chosen to separate ourselves from the church.  The pastoral challenge is not the church’s or the parish’s.

It’s ours: to make ourselves welcome.  To fit in.  To swallow church teaching and the way in which Catholic pastoral leaders foment discrimination against gay and lesbian people, and to find our own repentant (and hidden and shamed) place in the community despite the malicious and dehumanizing rhetoric of many Catholic pastoral officials about us.

Not vice versa.  It’s not a problem for parishes themselves, this dialogue partner proposes–not a problem for parishes to figure out whether they are welcoming of those who are different, and then to develop pastoral strategies to include and make a place for those defined as other.  The problem, the burden of inclusion, is on the shoulders of those reporting that we feel very unwelcome in the Catholic church.

And as I think about this entirely misguided (and exceptionally cruel) blame-the-victim approach to the pastoral challenge of making strangers welcome which faces Catholic parishes, I contrast this approach with what has happened after I blogged early this week about our experience at a Baptist church last Sunday.  At a church that houses two African-American congregations (I’ve now discovered that another black church is sharing this church’s space) and my aunt’s “white” Baptist church.

After I blogged early in the week about the ongoing challenge facing churches, the challenge to stop making those who are gay and lesbian invisible and unwelcome, members of two of the churches have contacted me to assure  me that Steve and I are welcome any time in their churches.  That they want us to return.  That–in the case of one of the two churches–the church wants to begin a dialogue- and learning-process in which they are asking that Steve and I share our experience as gay folks pushed to the margins of church life.  And in which they learn from that experience how to be more welcoming to gay members.

I cannot help contrasting this proactive, warmly welcoming approach to my posting early this week on the part of two Baptist churches, and the reception Steve and I (and countless others who are gay and lesbian) continue to receive in many Catholic communities around the land.  Who do not wish to cope with the reality that, if gay and lesbian folks continue at all to be affiliated with Catholic parishes, they often do so by remaining invisible in parishes.

Because that is the wish of the parishes themselves.

And if they do ask to become visible, they–we–are likely to be told that we are not welcome.  That we are sinners rebelling against God’s word, who are headed to hell and spreading hate.

Once again, as I stated in my posting about our experience last weekend when we worshiped with an African-American Baptist church: Catholic faith communities in the U.S. could learn valuable lessons from how evangelical communities of faith often deal with welcoming those who are other.

Pretending that we who are gay are just not in the room, that we are invisible, and then treating us as problematic when we dare to become visible: that is not a viable Christian approach to welcoming the stranger.  It is, to say the least, not to the credit of many American Catholic communities (and I know that there are also many exceptions to the rule I am citing here) that they continue to treat gay and lesbian human beings as invisible.  And unwelcome.

While they also seek to convince the culture at large that we have an exceptionally important ethical obligation to make the stranger welcome.  As Catholic priest-theologian Richard McBrien notes this week in his National Catholic Reporter article about the need for the church to embody in its own institutional life the social teachings it proclaims to the world, “[t]he principle of sacramentality is of urgent importance today.”  The church cannot credibly proclaim to the world social teachings that it does not exemplify in its own practice.  These include the moral imperative to welcome the stranger, including the gay or lesbian stranger.

Addendum (4 Sept.): After I posted this piece from Bilgrimage, both here and at Bilgirmage readers have asked how I know that the family we encountered in the incident I recount above were Catholic.  I don’t, of course.  What I can say is that they indicated that they had a more than passing familiarity with John Paul II and Catholic issues, and were incensed that we were questioning John Paul II’s sanctity.  In our part of the world, it’s highly unlikely that anyone but Catholics (and perhaps disaffected Anglicans) would be familiar with those issues or would care deeply about them.

As I have thought about the question the two readers are raising (and it’s a good one), it occurs to me that the encounter may possibly reflect some events that have occurred in the parish in which this restaurant is located–which is also my parish, or would be if I were an active Catholic.  (It’s also the neighborhood in which I grew up until I was 8 years old, the neighborhood in which my grandmother lived, and the neighborhood in which I myself now live.

It’s a neighborhood I know well, that is to say, and I can also confidently say that this encounter was unusual for our neighborhood, which tends to be a live-and-let-live community with a significant number of gay folks.  We’re regarded as the most liberal neighborhood in the entire state, in fact.  The shock that our friends’ faces showed when they overheard the family behind us damning us to hell reflects, in part, the sense we all share that this neighborhood–in which one of the two friends also grew up; we had the same first-grade teacher, in fact–is simply not normally unwelcoming to gay folks.)

And here’s what strikes me as I continue thinking about the encounter I discuss above.  In the past year, there has been an upheaval in the neighborhood’s Catholic parish.  This made news locally, and articles about the upheaval appeared in the local media.

What happened was fairly straightforward, though never explained to the satisfaction of many parishioners: the pastor of the parish, who was nearing retirement age and was much loved, was suddenly canned by the local bishop and, as I understood, sent away for treatment.  The bishop stated publicly that the pastor needed treatment for alcohol abuse.

But when this happened, a strong rumor circulated (and was discussed openly on the blog of at least one secular newspaper) that the priest was fired because he had been about to release a statement criticizing the church’s lack of welcome of gay folks, as he approached retirement.  I have absolutely no way of knowing whether this is true.  I am repeating this gossip here only because it was made public on a blog at the time the priest was dismissed–and, as I note, it’s gossip I’m repeating, though friends of mine in the parish assure me it is based in fact.

What I do know and can say with confidence is true is this: the sudden and mysterious firing of this priest produced much disaffection among some members of the parish, who organized a Facebook group to support the priest.  I have heard, but have not verified, that some parishioners have now distanced themselves from the church as a result of the firing of this priest.

But there are also vocal groups in our local parishes who actively dog the steps of priests who seem to be wandering from magisterial positions and right-wing political viewpoints.  Though my brother’s family live in the parish I’m discussing, they have preferred to go to liturgy at a contiguous parish, which is multicultural and multi-racial, and formerly had a vibrant parish community.

Until several years ago, that parish was pastored by a dynamic Irish priest, whom my brother’s family found wonderful and considered a friend.  That pastor came under fire by the previous bishop after a group within the parish made a fuss about the fact that he permitted non-Catholic family members to receive communion at a Catholic funeral.

The real bone of contention, though, was that he had preached several homilies in which he made overt criticisms of stances of the Bush administration.  And so the local watchdog group targeted him and insisted that he be removed as pastor of the parish.

This split the parish.  About half the parishioners and the many folks who came to the parish from other parishes because of its good pastor sent a petition to the bishop asking for a meeting, and pleading for the bishop not to fire their pastor.  When the bishop ignored the petition and fired the pastor, the parish split, and a large number of people–including my brother’s family–simply stopped going to Mass.

And the point of all of that: though many local Catholics are decidedly inclusive and welcoming in their approach to gay and lesbian folks, there is a vocal minority of local Catholics who move in the opposite direction.  Many of these folks worked actively, at the behest of at least one local parish priest, who has been explicit about endorsing Republican candidates and has not been punished for this activity, to help put an anti-gay adoption initiative on the ballot for our last election.

And controversy about the issue of gay inclusion or exclusion has, in recent months, roiled the parish in which we encountered this particular family the other evening, if the rumors about why the pastor of that parish was suddenly removed several months back are true.  Which is to say: if the family we encountered live in this parish and are part of the powerful, though small, group of local Catholics who want to raise a ruckus about the gays, then that would explain their behavior in the restaurant.

And I should also say that, like parishes throughout the U.S., even the parishes in our area that do not in any way openly exclude gay and lesbian parishioners nonetheless treat any gay and lesbian parishioners who continue to connect to the church as if they are invisible.  There has been no public dialogue that I know of in this area between the Catholic community and the gay community after the crackdown of Cardinal Ratzinger on groups like Dignity, which sought to minister to the gay community.  As I’ve shared previously on my Bilgrimage blog, when Dignity was expelled from all Catholic premises in our diocese following Ratzinger’s “pastoral” letter on the church’s response to LGBT persons, the whole chapter of Dignity converted en masse to Episcopalianism, in protest against the suppression of Dignity.

The graphic for this posting is from the Australian group of ministers, 100 Revs, who have started a group to apologize for the churches’ lack of welcome of gay human beings.

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25 Responses

  1. Thanks, Bill, for keeping this issue in the forefront of needed reforms in the Catholic Church. It is symbolic of the un-Christian and blatant hypocrisy of the current hierarchy.

    • Betty, you’re welcome. I’m glad you find the article useful. Yes, these attitudes have really been fostered in our church by the current batch of bishops, all made in the image of John Paul II and Ratzinger.

  2. This is a very sobering article. In a way it hurts to read it. You said that this was a Catholic family in the restaurant. Are you sure that they were Catholic? For all you know they could have been right wing Christians. From surveys that I have read it appears that most Catholics are tolerant and accepting of gay people. In a way, I find it amazing that with 30-40% of Catholic priests being gay (in the US at least) that higher ups in the Church continue to be so blind.

    • Mareczku, I can’t say for sure, of course, that the family were Catholics. What I can say for sure is that they identified themselves as such. And they were definitely au courant enough about Catholic issues to know who John Paul II was, and to be outraged that anyone would question his holiness.

      You’re right, the large majority of American Catholics are supportive of gay people and gay rights. Unfortunately, there’s also a proportion of American Catholics equally intent on denigrating gay folks–strongly represented among those bishops who signed the Manhattan Declaration, and political activists like Newt Gingrich, Robert P. George, and Maggie Gallagher.

      And the possibility of encountering really rabidly anti-gay Catholics increases in places like the American South, in which I live, and where the influence of EWTN is strong. I know of at least one parish priest in my region who occasionally preaches fiery anti-gay sermons, and others who have been willing to tell parishioners more or less directly that they have to vote for the “right” party on the basis of that party’s stance vs. abortion and gay marriage.

  3. Bill, thank God I have never heard any anti-gay sermons. In 12 years of Catholic school and all the time since I never heard a word against gay people in school or church. Yes, it is surely sad that a small group of Catholics are intent on denigrating gay people. I have come across a few. I have been called a heretic and a sodomite and even an alien a few times. Of course the people claim that they are “admonishing a sinner” and “telling the truth in charity.” Until a few years ago I didn’t realize that some Catholics thought like that.

    • Mareczu, I hadn’t yet read your comment when I posted an addendum to my posting, in reply to your previous comment. It will provide some more background to the story of the encounter of the family.

      I haven’t heard any anti-gay homilies, either, but I do know some active local Catholics who have, and who were very unhappy to sit through them. As my addendum states, I also know of at least one local parish priest who worked actively with a group of lay Catholics to get signatures for the anti-gay adoption initiative on our ballot in the last election. That initiative has now been declared unconstitutional by a state court–and it’s embarrassing that about two thirds of the state’s citizens voted it through.

      In this area, it’s only a small but vocal minority of Catholics who want to make political hay out of anti-gay issues. Some of these are highly placed folks, though; several of them hold powerful judicial positions and are not above using those positions to influence the interpretation of laws dealing with discrimination.

      To me, the bigger problem with Catholics as a whole is the continued willingness of the many parishes that are not overtly intolerant of gays to treat gay and lesbian folks as invisible. As if they just aren’t there and as if the challenges they face don’t need to be discussed, when we discuss discrimination, marginalization, and social justice issues.

  4. Bill, I think a lot of priests are afraid to discuss gay issues. They may be afraid that they will be labeled as gay. Some gay priests may be afraid of retaliation. If they have a bishop that dislikes gay people they may be in trouble. I think another reason why gay people tend to stay invisible in this regard is that gay people are a diverse lot. Human sexuality is a very individual thing and it is not easy for some people to describe their individual orientations to others.

  5. I think you’re right, Mareczu. There’s a powerful fear among many priests to be outspoken in this area, and that fear’s well-founded. The punishment can be swift and merciless.

    It’s certainly also probably the case that many gay folks who participate in parish life prefer to remain silent about their orientation. And I can respect that choice, though I think it would ultimately do everyone involved a world of good–both gay and straight folks–if we who are gay would choose to become visible in churches and other institutions where people assume we don’t exist.

  6. I’m sorry, William to see that you had this awful experience. I know I have caught myself sometimes, curtailing the content of my own conversation as it relates to my sexuality and personal life for fear of what others might think or say, were I to be overhead.

    This topic is interesting for me and troublesome personally. I was following the thread somewhat from where this present topic is derived, and I can speak to the “invisibility of gay persons” in our parishes. Both of my parents stopped attending Mass when I came out as gay. Our parish priest ran into my father one day at the grocery store and was concerned, “why have you stopped coming to Mass!”. My father was straightforward, “my son is gay and I can’t support the Church any longer.” The priest replied, “he is gay, well that is not a problem! Come back.”

    When I decided to practice the faith again, I returned to my family’s parish to make my confession and pray. I had a conversation with the priest. He did not, personally, have any moral qualms with my sexuality. He essentially said it is okay and he would not refuse me communion. But he did say that, were it to be publicly known by, say, attending Mass with a man who is clearly my partner, he would be obligated to “protect the community”.

    This is a difficult topic for me, because I am one of those “invisible” gay persons. I have not made it my business to “stir things up” in the Church. On the one hand, I am a very sexually charged, lustful person. Perhaps this is part of being 22, or otherwise it might be a burden I deal with all my life. This in itself makes me sympathetic with the Church’s teachings on human sexuality. On the other hand, I don’t like the kind of person I feel myself becoming when I decide to forgo my sexuality. I think that kind of internal repression often makes one demonstrably less Christian in practice, albeit, not “in theory“. Yet how many people, priests and laity alike, who, in the *perfect observance* of the tenets of Christian faith, wind up with a kind of ugly face, lips foamed of dogmatism?

    Yet, I do not want to cause rupture in the Church. What I confess is the Nicene Creed. And this is what I need the Church to confess alongside me. If it does give me Christ the Logos in Christ the Eucharist, I will certainly go somewhere else, as I would have no need of it. If Jesus is just found as a spirit in my heart, well, I already have a heart.

    When I say Jesus is “Light from Light, very God of very God, ”, this is precisely what I am confessing . Not that Jesus was a “spirit person” or an “up-standing example” or a “social prophet”- traits of Christ to be sure, but none of which, in my mind, retain their significance once we deprive Christ of his eschatological and primordial glory. Jesus’ divinity, his descent among us in incarnation- the whole movement involved in the Christology from above are not, as it were, the poetic embellishments of early communities, plastered around the historical kernel of an admirable man; things, which we are free to dispose now that we “understand God differently”, as “the ground of being” or the ultimate symbolic tool for the equalization of society, as, I think, Kung and others would have it. The Gospel of John has the equal force of Mark— rather, discloses more deeply the truth of Mark.

    I have no interest in being part of anything like Bishop Spong’s retelling of Christianity and countless other theologians who have sought to “update” the religion. In my opinion, they make Jesus and his social message *ultimately* irrelevant. Jesus is “the ground of Being” as per the Johannine Prologue. The ground of Being, a Person from whom we all draw life, became impoverished, became a servant, was crucified, died and is risen. His status as our ontological ground, as it were, makes possible our common sharing in His redemptive journey. Ultimately, all personhood is derived from God. This is what makes personhood valuable and dignified. Abolish the “Our Father” as Spong does with his non-theism, and all this is lost. This is where I disagree with Spong most.

    So this is my present circumstance. I am invisible because I do not perceive how to be visible without throwing a profound rupture in the Church’s common faith and taking us all down the road of the secularization of the Christian confession. Yet, I will not, at this time, make a wretch of my personal life for a teaching that I wonder is not needlessly stoic.

    This constitutes the paralysis of my spiritual life.

    But, before I conclude, I want to speak to William’s concern about invisibility and this attitude that gay Catholics should just bear the Church’s teaching publicly while going their own way in private. For those people reading, such as David, please do not think that this has no effect on our emotional lives, on our relationships.

    One of the major causes of the failure of my last relationship was a very strong internalized shame. I was ashamed to present this as the person that I love, as the object of my affections, as someone I found beautiful and enticing- at least, outside a very closed, homosexual-social context. In short, I was embarrassed to be seen loving a man the same way one might love a woman. It made me want to keep him as a kind of secret, so I could love him where no one would see. This fosters harming dynamics.

    There is no simple division between public and private life where human relationships are concerned. The scrutinizing and disapproving public eye is alienating also for the private life. To hide important relationships from the Table of the altar inflicts an echo injury on that same relationship in the dinning room.

    I hope you all have a blessed Sunday.

    • Jordan,

      A very nice piece of writing.

      For the record, I am not suggesting that homosexual should just “bear” the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. What I am suggesting is that the issue of sexuality not be brought to the Altar.

      The Church’s teachings on homosexuality can be read many different ways. It would seem that much of the stress has been placed upon the Church’s philosophical teaching that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered, whereas very little emphasis has been placed upon the most important part of the teaching, which is that there should be no unjust discrimination against the gay and lesbian person.

      Only the second part of the teaching has a place at the altar.

  7. I appreciate your response, Jordan–very much so. It comes from what poet Sharon Olds calls “your real place,” and the depth of truth with which you’re struggling, and the pain to articulate the truth, come through. That makes the conversation worthwhile.

    You say a great deal that deserves attention here, so if I am picking some things to notice and not others, that does not indicate I’m ignoring the rest. And I am happy to keep talking about any of these issues, if you want.

    First, I should say that I understand completely and respect completely people’s choices to be either open or less forthcoming about their orientation and relationships in parish life. I’m not one who favors pushing others out of the closet. I am in favor of outing only those who have are closeted but who have taken public stands that harm other gay folks.

    Steve and I lived many years in a kind of glass closet, since we weren’t even forthcoming to ourselves about our identity, though we were a couple. It took much struggle to claim and own who we were. And for that reason, I have great sympathy for those who haven’t taken the same steps we have, to become more public. And I also see coming out as a process that is never complete: we keep doing it all the time, in response to challenges like the one we faced the other evening.

    I am troubled by your parish priest’s response to you for this reason: while he affirms you as a gay person, he communicates that if you show up at Mass with a partner–that is, if you become visible in the parish–he would have to “protect” the parish.

    This response makes sense to me only if a parish priest publicly chastises all heterosexual couples living together without marriage, and excludes them from communion, and all married couples practicing artificial contraception, and all divorced Catholics who have remarried or have serious relationships after marriage.

    If parish priests don’t take those steps, then they are singling out gay people in a way they don’t single out the more than 90% of other parishioners who reject magisterial teaching in the area of sexuality. Better, it seems to me, to recognize that we’re all sinners and that we all approach the communion rail as sinners, and are making our own best conscientious decisions about receiving communion.

    I’m also troubled by the idea that the church’s teaching is good because it curbs our lust. It seems to me that the call to live lives submitted to gospel values (which would include seeking healthy relationships that transcend mere lust) is what orients us and helps us transcend lust. Not specifically the misguided natural law teaching on human sexuality.

    If I may say so, the problem that I think is deeper here is that we who are gay often live with shame, and this shame (which the priest’s comments to you about coming to church with a partner) is what feeds the unhealthy sexual acting out. I suspect that people who move beyond the imposed homophobic shame of church and society are more likely to integrate their sexuality in their lives in a healthy way, than those living with shame.

    Many of the priests I’ve known who lead secret lives of sexual acting out (either straight or gay) seem caught in the spiral of those secret lives precisely because they can’t or won’t be open about their lives. They live in self-imposed shame because of how the church would deal with their secrets if they became public. And the shame clearly harms both them and those with whom they are erotically involved.

    I suppose what I’m saying is that I see two ways to look at the role of gospel values in our lives. One way is to see them as a stern check and balance on our innate self-centeredness. The other way is to see them as the spiritual kernel of the impulse within our human nature to do good and not evil.

    I suspect that we integrate gospel values more effectively into our lives when we look at them in the latter perspective and not the former. The argument that religion’s primary role is to function as a check on people’s selfishness seems to me to turn religion into something it shouldn’t be: an external curb on people’s inmost thoughts and desires, rather than a wellspring from which the best inside us flows.

  8. Jordan, thank you for sharing such a thoughtful piece. I agree with what Bill has said here. I am also troubled by your parish priest’s comment to you that he would be obligated to “protect the community.” I am stunned that he would say something so insulting. What exactly is he protecting the community from? Are gay men only supposed to attend Mass alone? They shouldn’t come to church with another man? He should have no issue with you bringing a friend to church. You make so many excellent comments on this, Bill. It really makes me think.

  9. As a follow-up to your remark, Mareckzu: right now, Pam Spaulding has an interesting posting at her Pam’s House Blend blog about a dean of a Catholic high school in Massachusetts who married her life partner, another woman. She was forced to resign when she took that step.

    And students at the school are protesting. As they are pointing out, other employees of the school are divorced Catholics who have remarried, or are married and practicing contraception. Yet they have not been asked to resign or forced from their jobs.

    There’s clearly a double standard in how parishes and Catholic institutions treat those who are gay and lesbian, and how they treat the large majority of heterosexual Catholics who also do not accept and abide by the church’s sexual teachings.

    This makes the observation of a priest that someone who is publicly gay in a parish is dividing the parish or creating disunity by being public very troubling. Unless or until the church decides to treat all Catholics who contravene its sexual teachings the same way, it cannot avoid being charged with prejudice and discrimination, when it singles out those who are gay and lesbian.

    I can’t imagine any heterosexual Catholics who are, say, practicing contraception being told not to receive communion, or that they are divisive members of the body of Christ.

  10. How sad that the woman lost her job. It seems that some in the Church just want to pretend that gay people don’t exist. From reading that article it seems that the school didn’t want to fire her but was ordered to from higher up. Is this the same Springfield Diocese that had a bishop resign when it came out that as a priest he had sex with children? What hypocrites, do some of these people have any shame? You speak of Catholics who contravene the Church’s sexual teachings. Since most gay people are homosexual in a biological sense it is sad to think that they are contravening Church teachings just by their very existence.

    • I think you’ve put your finger on it, Mareczu: the invisibility is mandated because the powers that be don’t want people troubled with the very presence and existence of gay folks. That would require them to think and stretch their boundaries to include those who are different.

      Yes, the bishop of Springfield diocese, Dupre, resigned in 2004 when it became public that he had molested some boys when they were altar boys. What precipitated the resignation was that the men he had abused as boys blew the whistle on Dupre when he made a big show of opposing same-sex marriage and gay rights.

  11. It angers me how many young gay men were used for the sexual gratification of priests. They were good enough for that but in the eyes of the Church not good enough to be in committed relationships as adults and have those relationships recognized by the Church. What did Bishop Dupre have to say about his opposition to gay rights after all this came out? I wonder how this guy slept at night. Is it just a game to some of these bishops?

    • You’re absolutely right, Mareckzu. The church’s approach offers little support to gay adults seeking healthy, mature, long-lasting committed relationships. The tactic of shaming gay folks and telling them to remain hidden/closeted feeds into furtive, shameful, unhealthy relationships.

      I think Dupre pretty much went up in flames once his history as a sexual predator became public. And my recollection is that the men who blew the whistle on him made a point of saying that it was his really nasty statements about gay folks and gay lives that caused them finally to tell their story. I think you might find quite a bit of information about him and that story at the Bishop Accountability and SNAP websites.

    • Unfortunately Mareczku it is a game to some of them. It’s the only way some of them can rationalize their lives. They live a sort of win/loss point counting existence. Dupree lost big time in one sense, but the diocese is still paying his retirement, he still retains his rank and title, and no one seems to know exactly where he lives. Had he been prosecuted as a child sex offender the entire country would know where he lives–state prison.

      As far as game playing bishops go, the Catholic game is set up so they win way more than they lose. Well, why not, because in Catholic way of things, bishops get to make all the rules for all of us. Life for them can be one big Free Parking.

  12. Bill, I just wanted to let you know that I checked out Bishop Dupre on Bishop Accountablity and read several article about him. The priest that taught me Religion for 3 years in high school is also listed there. Actually, I would like to know what support the Church does offer gay adults in healthy, mature, long lasting committed relationships. Maybe I can ask my friends at Courage. With same sex marriage in some states, Courage is going to have to deal with this reality and figure out how to support and affirm these married people. Colkoch, you are right, Bishops surely do get protected it seems. They are the princes of the Church.

    • Mareczu, the Bishop Accountability site is a wonderful resource for those trying to understand the abuse crisis in the church. I’m glad you found information about Dupre. I seemed to recall a spate of articles about him at both SNAP and Bishop Accountability at the time of his resignation. Scary that your high school religion teacher is also in the database.

      I fear that the answer to your question–what support does the church offer gay adults in healthy, long-lasting, committed relationships–is almost no support at all. That’s part of the phenomenon of invisibility. Individual priests may assist gay people and gay couples, but they take a risk in doing so, in the present climate of the church. And so many priests simply remain silent about the issue, and use circumlocutions and evasive language when approached by gay folks for pastoral counsel–when they are not outright condemnatory.

      Fr. Jim Martin had a very good posting at the America “In All Things” blog earlier in the year, dealing with this topic, asking what gay folks are supposed to do in the Catholic church, given how the church chooses to treat us. Several priest friends have encouraged me simply to leave the church and find a church that is more supportive–notably the Episcopal church. In their view, the Catholic church is not inclined to change and will simply continue to inflict pain on gay folks by teaching that we are disordered and tacitly wishing us out of the church by wishing us invisible.

      Also interesting that you mention that Courage will need to begin dealing with married gay couples now that the law permits such marriage. There’s a discussion thread right now at America‘s “In All Things” blog on that very topic. It doesn’t mention Courage (or hadn’t done so the last time I read the thread). But it’s making the same point you’re making: if gay couples are now able to marry and the culture increasingly recognizes the justice of this, then how should Catholic communities and Catholic employers respond?

  13. Bill, I read that article by Father Jim Martin a couple of times. It was very interesting. I find it odd that priest friends of yours have encouraged you to leave the Church and find another church. Since as Catholics we believe that we are the one true Church. These priests may be part of the problem, they should be speaking out against inflicting pain on gay people instead of telling gay people to leave or try to be invisible. I think the Church will change but slowly. With gay marriage being legal in many states, the Church is going to have to accept this. Sixty years ago, 80% of people were against inter-racial marriage in the US and most Catholics were against it too. The world didn’t end when the Supreme Court ruled that laws against inter-racial marriages were unconstitutional. After a while people just accepted it. I think it will be the same with same-sex marriage.

    • Mareczu, I will have to admit, I’ve struggled with the unwillingness of many clergy to speak out when they know full well that the church’s top leaders are inflicting pain on gay and lesbian Catholics. This unwillingness has caused some breaches in relationships I have with priests I consider friends and colleagues.

      At the same time, I understand how difficult it is for them. If they do speak out, they’ll be punished. And in many cases, if they are forced out of the priesthood, they’ll lose their livelihood and perhaps even the prospect for another job. The system has them trapped.

      The other side of the coin, though, which my partner Steve and I have seen is that clergy who are often themselves gay are willing to disrupt the lives of gay lay employees of the church, removing from those employees a livelihood, salary, chance to fulfill their vocation, health coverage, reputation, and so on, while they themselves can take all of those things for granted as clergy. When their lives go through difficult patches, the church offers a support network to bail them out.

      This makes it very hard to listen to those clergy talk about human rights and social justice, and it’s ultimately the reason Steve and I cannot any longer go to liturgy, after what the monks of Belmont Abbey in North Carolina did to us–an injustice for which they have never apologized.

      I often think–a utopian fantasy, I know, but why not dream?–what a difference it would make if all priests who oppose the church’s cruelty to gay folks simply spoke out at once and stood up against the cruelty all at once. The hierarchy could hardly afford to fire all of them. Silence does often seem to be complicity.

  14. That would be interesting Bill. I wonder if this current Pope wouldn’t just fire them all. He does seem to be obssessed with creating his leaner and purer Church. Getting rid of gay sympathisers could very well be seen by Benedict as part of the purification process.

    He seems to firmly believe that a pure church of true believers will be the best way to insure Catholicism survives into the future. But as what? A sort of Amish colony dominated by celibate male clerics?

    • The Amish colony analogy seems really apt to me, Colleen. That’s where I see the church headed under Benedict with his vision of a smaller, purer church.

      It’s the classic Niebuhrian Christ vs. culture stance, which sees Christ completely captive to the community that bears his name, and culture completely devoid of redemptive potential. And that is simply not a classic Catholic stance towards culture, though it has certainly characterized some of the Reformation movements in reaction to Catholicism.

      Which makes it a very un-traditional approach for John Paul II and Benedict to adopt, in the name of “restoring” the tradition!

  15. […] Welcoming the (Gay) Stranger: Ongoing Challenge to Communities of Faith (Open Tabernacle) […]

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