Friday, April 09, 2010

Andy Birkey on the Church's "Blame the Gays" Fixation

Over at the Star Tribune’s “Your Voices” forum, Twin Cities-based journalist Andy Birkey (pictured at right) has a detailed exposé of not only the Roman Catholic Church’s misplaced fixation on homosexuality in the midst of the ongoing clergy sex abuse crisis, but of the latest efforts of Archbishop John Nienstedt to deny civil marriage rights to same-sex couples in Minnesota.

Andy’s piece is reprinted in its entirety below.


Amid Moral Scandal, Catholic Church Focuses on Gays

By Andy Birkey

Star Tribune – “Your Voices”
April 9, 2010

Despite a growing controversy that threatens to undermine the “moral authority” of the Catholic Church, the institution is bringing a pair of gay marriage opponents to the Twin Cities to talk about the immorality associated with two adults of the same gender entering into a lifelong commitment. And while the Vatican is mired in an (yet another) series of international child sexual abuse scandals, they’ve wasted no time in blaming the “gay agenda” for manufacturing the scandal and that “homosexuals” within the priestly ranks are responsible for crimes against children.

Maggie Gallagher is the president of the National Organization for Marriage, the lead organization working to beat back same-sex marriage across the country. They’ve already succeeded in revoking marriage rights for gays and lesbians in California and repealed a democratically-passed law in Maine that would have allowed same-sex marriage.

The Rev. Salvatore Cordileone, Bishop of Oakland, dubbed the “father” of California’s Proposition 8, was responsible for much of the heated anti-gay rhetoric that permeated California in the 2008 elections.

Both have been invited to speak at the University of St. Thomas on April 17 at the “Archdiocesan-wide Reclaiming the Culture of Marriage and Life Spring Forum,” aimed at “helping the faithful Understand the Cultural and Legal Battle over the restoration of marriage and the respect for human life.”

The event at the University of St. Thomas is only one part of an ongoing campaign by the broader church hierarchy to mobilize Catholics against legalizing same-sex marriage, something Minnesotans are slowly realizing is the fair and just thing to do.

At recent legislative hearings on a trio of bills to allow some rights for same-sex couples, Minnesota’s Catholic bishops sent a representative who said gays and lesbians should not fall in love, should not form families and should not get married. In fact, Father Michael Becker said that gay and lesbian couples cannot feel love from each other and that it’s just about sex and gay sex is about “essentially one person using another.” He restated the Catholic doctrine that people experiencing same-sex attraction should remain celibate.

And if speaking out on and organizing against same-sex marriage wasn’t enough, gays and lesbians have gotten a double whammy from the church. As the Vatican and church patriarchy look to deflect a damaging amount of press over the latest reports of crimes against children and efforts by leaders to keep the crimes “dealt with within the church,” Catholic leaders have been talking out of both sides of their mouths. They are blaming the gay community for both perpetrating the crimes and being too outraged about them.

Perhaps the most prominent voice in tarnishing gays has been Bill Donahue of the Catholic League. “Eighty percent of the victims of priestly sexual abuse are male and most of them are post-pubescent,” he said recently. “While homosexuality does not cause predatory behavior, and most gay priests are not molesters, most of the molesters have been gay.”

The people behind the research that Donahue cites, say he has it all wrong. “What we are suggesting is that the idea of sexual identity be separated from the problem of sexual abuse,” Margaret Smith, a researcher from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, told Politics Daily. “At this point, we do not find a connection between homosexual identity and an increased likelihood of sexual abuse.”

It also could be that all priests are celibate men, an important part of Catholic culture. And that priests are many times more likely to be in contact with boys and young men as altar boys and other church roles. That complicates Donahue’s assertion that “most of the molesters have been gay.”

Guess what each one of the predators have been? Catholic religious leaders. That this scandal has been ongoing for more than 50 years, one would think the church would look internally to identify the problem, or clean house and strip offenders of the priesthood and turn them over to law enforcement. Perhaps the Pope could offer sincere apologies and offer victims some assistance and acknowledge the level of corruption at work through the ranks of the Catholic hierarchy.

But those things don’t seem to high on the Pope’s priority list.

On Tuesday, the Pope’s representatives blamed the media storm involving child abuse on gay and lesbians with an agenda. “The pope defends life and the family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, in a world in which powerful lobbies would like to impose a completely different agenda,” said Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz.

“By now, it’s a cultural contrast,” said the Vatican’s dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano. “The pope embodies moral truths that aren’t accepted [by gays and lesbians], and so, the shortcomings and errors of priests are used as weapons against the church.”

“Shortcomings and errors” is putting it mildly. The sexual abuse of children is a crime in most jurisdictions. As is the covering up of sexual abuse. “Criminal activity” is what has happened in these cases. And irreparable harm to children, something the church can never repair for as long as the victims live.

New revelations this week involved a priest in Minnesota who allegedly violated two teenage girls several years ago. The Minnesota bishop in charge didn't immediately go to the police when the accusations became known instead opting to go through the Vatican. Five years later, the priest might actually be prosecuted.

That’s a pattern that has developed over the last few weeks as new revelations of alleged abuses and cover-ups are reported. Over the last few decades, allegations of sexual abuse have arisen in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Phillipines.

In the United States, cases have gone to court in Alaska, Massachussetts, Illinois, Colorado, Iowa, Hawaii, California, Wisconsin, Florida, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Oregon, Texas, Georgia, and Washington (Minnesota is currently trying to extradite a priest who is living in India).

Yet, Catholic leaders continue to say that it's a “homosexual problem” and a concerted effort by gay activists to tarnish the Pope, the Vatican and the Catholic Church.

The real problem, however, is the church's stance on sexuality, marriage and religious leadership.

Michael Bayly of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, a group of LGBT Catholics based in Minneapolis that is working for structural changes within the church, took issue with the church’s handling of the issue of sexuality, especially the incidents of male sexual assault on young man and boys.

“You have to ask why is it that it’s in the Roman Catholic Church that that’s happened. And I think if it is an over-representation [of same-sex abuse], we have to look at what it is about the Roman Catholic Church and its understanding and teaching on homosexuality [that keeps some gay men in the priesthood in an underdeveloped psycho-sexual state],” he said on a recent radio interview. “[W]e are all ultimately responsible for our own behavior. But I think the structure of the church [and] its way of thinking and talking about human sexuality are very dysfunctional.”

Prominent commentator Andrew Sullivan, himself a Catholic, got to the heart of the matter:

I don’t believe that you can tackle this problem without seeing it as a symptom of a much deeper failure of the church to come to terms with sexuality, sexual orientation and the warping, psychologically distorting impact of compulsory celibacy in the priesthood. If women and married men were allowed to be priests, if homosexuality were regarded in Catholic theology as a healthy and rare difference rather than as a shameful disorder, this atmosphere would end, and these crimes would for the most part disappear and the cloying, closeted power-structure which enabled them to go unpunished for so long would finally crumble. And the church could grow again.

Through the truth, not around it. But it's exactly that truth that this pontiff and his enablers refuse to acknowledge. It would kill them.

So, while the church in the Twin Cities dwells on evils of gay marriage at “an archdiocesan-wide initiative inspired by Archbishop John Nienstedt,” perhaps the church in the Twin Cities, Rome, and around the world should start a real forum on morality starting with the culture of Catholic leadership.

And society should think twice about following the Pope’s edicts on same-sex marriage. Because an institution that has trouble acknowledging its own (criminal) immorality does not have any business pointing the finger at anyone else, let alone continuing a campaign to deny their rights.

Andy Birkey is a journalist and LGBT community advocate. His writing about LGBT issues has been honored by the Sex Positive Journalism Awards and the Online News Association. In 2008, Andy was selected by DIVA MN to be honored as one of their Club Kids, one of “ten twenty to thirty-something activists making positive impacts in the community.”

To learn about the protest being planned for the visit to the Twin Cities of Maggie Gallagher and Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, click here.

Recommended Off-site Links:
1985 Letter Shows Future Pope Stalled Pedophile Case - Gillian Flaccus (Associated Press, April 9, 2010).
Rescue Catholicism from the Vatican - James Carroll (The Boston Globe, April 5, 2010).
Defense! Defense! - A Report from the Front Lines of the Culture Wars - Brian McNeill (The Progressive Catholic Voice, December 3, 2009).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Donohue’s “Blame the Gays” Tactic Refuted by John Jay Study Researcher
Blaming the Gays
An Offering of Ashes
The Roman Catholic Pyramid is Crumbling
Andy Birkey on Katherine Kersten’s "Bullying Tactics"
A Catholic Voice for Marriage Equality at the State Capitol
MN Legislators Hear from Advocates and Opponents of Marriage Equality
Same-sex Marriage: Still Very Much on the Archbishop’s Mind


Mareczku said...

The article is wonderful. I don't think people should protest this. Get together as a group and sit in the front. If you can wear shirts with messages. For example, "Stop the hate." "Gays are people too." "Homophobia is a sin." "They will know we are Christian by our love." "God loves ALL his children." See what I mean here? I go to another site and some of the people there go on about Bishop Cordileone as if he were the second coming. If these people want to stir up animosity against gay people, they need to be taken to task. They need to be made aware of how their prejudice is hurting people. These bishops are supposed to be bishops for all Catholics, not just white, conservative right wingers.

kevin57 said...

It is sad and infuriating to read how the Church is reacting to all this. I want to live in hope, but this makes it very, very difficult. It is truly a cross.