Sunday, December 01, 2013

Three Excellent Responses to Cardinal Dolan's Remarks on "the Church" Being "Out-Marketed" on the Issue of Marriage Equality

In an NBC-TV Meet the Press interview recorded Friday and scheduled for broadcast later this morning, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, laments the continued expansion of same-sex marriage in the United States and says that “the church” is being “caricatured as being anti-gay.” Cardinal Dolan also states that the church has been “out-marketed” on the issue of same-sex marriage by Hollywood, by some politicians, and by “opinion-molders” who have tried to paint the church in a negative light.

I think what needs to be pointed out first and foremost is that Cardinal Dolan in his statements is erroneously equating “the church” with the hierarchy. Yet the church is far more than its clerical caste. Indeed, unlike the bishops, U.S. Catholics recognize and respect that in a pluralistic society such as ours, the Roman Catholic hierarchy should not be expending time and resources imposing its understanding of sexuality and marriage onto wider society. And now we have a pope who's basically saying the same thing! Astounding, I know.

Of course, it's very much self-evident that the bishops’ understanding of a range of issues relating to sexuality is out-of-step with the collective wisdom of the Catholic people. On issues relating to the intimate lives of heterosexuals (such as contraception) and homosexuals (civil marriage rights) the Catholic faithful have clearly moved beyond the hierarchy’s limited understanding of sexuality.

Why are the bishops so out-of-step? Well, I think much of it is to do with the fact that they have forgotten that truth (including the truth of human sexuality) is discovered through time, and that tradition (including the tradition of marriage) evolves. Thankfully, the Catholic people have not forgotten these liberating hallmarks of our living Catholic faith. Accordingly, we not only respectfully listen to and consider what the hierarchy says, but also seek out the wisdom of theologians and our own and others’ lived experiences so as to inform our unfolding understanding of the complex reality of sexuality.

But back now to Cardinal Dolan's remarks that the church (i.e., the hierarchy) is being “caricatured as being anti-gay” and that it's been “out-marketed” on the issue of same-sex marriage. Following are a number of excellent responses to these remarks that I've come across online. The first is a particularly eloquent response by Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry. You may recall that in July I had the honor of hosting a gathering at my home in Minneapolis at which Frank and New Ways Ministry's co-founder Jeannine Gramick were special guests. (For more about this gathering, click here).

. . . Dolan’s comments are filled with many errors in characterization. First, “the church” is not against same-gender marriage. The church hierarchy is defending heterosexual-only marriage. We know that poll after poll keeps showing that Catholics support marriage equality–and “the church” is rightly defined as ALL the people of God, not just the hierarchy.

Second, people, especially Catholics, are not being swayed by external forces to support marriage equality. Catholics are supporting these measures not in spite of their faith, but because of their faith. Catholic principles of justice, equality, human dignity, protection and support of all families are what are motivating them to support marriage for lesbian and gay couples. The more that the hierarchy continues to view this argument as a battle between forces inside and outside the church, the more that these leaders will miss the fact that the Holy Spirit is moving among the laity on this issue.

Third, it is not because of opposition to marriage equality that people characterize Catholic leadership as anti-gay. It is because they oppose a whole variety of equality issues–immigration, employment non-discrimination, adoption, as well as marriage–that people view the hierarchy as anti-gay. It’s because they deny sacraments to lesbian and gay people and their supporters, because they expel children of lesbian and gay people from Catholic schools, because they fire openly LGBT people from church employment, because they hold exorcisms when marriage equality is enacted, because they compare the gay equality movement to the Ku Klux Klan–and so many other actions and statements–that people perceive the church hierarchy as anti-gay. And it’s because they miss every opportunity to do or say anything positive that people develop this characterization.

Just look at how people have responded to the few positive things that Pope Francis has said in regard to lesbian and gay people. While he has not challenged church doctrine, he has found many ways of being affirmative, and people are responding in a wildly positive way.

Cardinal Dolan, and all the U.S. bishops, should stop blaming others and do a thorough examination of their own statements, behaviors, and attitudes in regard to LGBT people and issues.

– Francis DeBernardo
"Cardinal Dolan’s Complaints Are Not Warranted"
Bonding 2.0
November 30, 2013

While Dolan and his brother bishops continue an out-of-touch culture war that the Pope has instructed them to cease, the voice of the church is no longer viable on issues such as poverty, immigration and health care reform. The Roman Catholic Church is viewed by the public as anti-gay because it is. It is viewed as being on the wrong side of history because it is. And as a result of the spiritual violence that has been waged from pulpits and chanceries from New York to Saint Paul to Los Angeles, real lives have been ruined, destroyed or lost altogether. The Cardinal can chuckle and wink all he wants, but to say that this is a matter of being out-marketed is like saying that the Titanic would have made it to shore if they had only served better champagne.

The Church is perceived as anti-gay not because it teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman but because its bishops have lied about gay people and our lives, have demonized us and have persecuted priests, Sisters and parishes that minister authentically to gay people and our families. In addition, some bishops have threatened and tried to intimidate Catholic legislators who support equality and justice for all.

There are people of good will who do not support same-sex marriage on religious grounds but they do not try to force their personal religious ideology on the nation nor do they attack lesbian and gay people and their families.

The Catholic bishops have spent millions of dollars fighting hate crimes legislation and laws banning housing and employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,. Most egregious, the bishops have threatened to not support the immigration reform bill if it includes same-sex couples.

The bishops consistently reduce gay people to their genitals and what they do or do not do with them and a number of bishops have supported and promoted dangers programs that seek to change gay people's sexual orientation. The bishops have opposed any legislation or policy changes that would affirm gay people's right to be treated equitably under the law. That is why the Church is perceived as anti-gay. It is not a caricature it is a sad reality.

– Rick Garcia
"Catholic Church's Perception as Anti-Gay is Reality, Not Caricature"
November 30, 2013

12/16/13 UPDATE: A fourth excellent response! The editors of the National Catholic Reporter have published a response to Cardinal Dolan's recent remarks. Following is an excerpt.

. . . If the church faces a marketing failure on issues of sexuality, the failure is in listening to its people. In recent years, the U.S. bishops have been deaf to the people of the church – and the American voters – on the issue of same-sex marriage. When it comes to contraception and divorce and remarriage, the church has tuned out what the faithful have been saying for 50 years. The church's teaching on sexuality is unpersuasive because the church advances teachings that actually reduce human sexuality and sexual activity to its most banal, utilitarian and mechanistic level, detaching it from the deepest possibilities of genuine human intimacy.

They've detached it from human experience, and according to sociologist William D'Antonio, whose life's career has been studying Catholics, "Lived experience is trumping abstract teaching. Wins it all the time."

Official teaching on contraception has been so widely dismissed in practice, one wonders it even comes up in conversation. The same is true for divorce and remarriage.

The same is quickly coming true on the topic of homosexuality, because among Catholic parents who know their children as all manner of things – curious, funny, loving, mischievous, talented, gracious, annoying, musical, athletic – all the things that parents revel in and come to love, some are also coming to know their children as gay. Thank God that today most parents are not cowering before a catechism characterization of their children and sending them off in a panic to a Courage meeting to be remade into something more acceptable.

We dare suggest that some of the Catholic faithful, particularly the family and friends of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender persons, might be a bit further down the road in loving as God would have us love, that they might understand Pope Francis' teaching about encounter to a greater degree than many of us.

. . . Dismissing the lack of acceptance of church teaching as a marketing failure is an insult to the very idea of teaching and certainly to gays and lesbians. It walks, in search of a sound bite, right past the mystery of the human being.

– Editorial Staff
"The Church Was Not 'Out-Marketed' on Gay Marriage"
National Catholic Reporter
December 16, 2013

Related Off-site Links:
Dolan Says Church is “Caricatured” as Anti-Gay – Michael Schwirtz (New York Times, November 29, 2013).
Majority of Catholics – But Not the Bishops – Support Passing ENDA Today – Jamie Manson (National Catholic Reporter, November 7, 2013).
Pope's Blunt Remarks Pose Challenge for Bishops – Rachel Zoll (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, September 21, 2013).
Cardinal Dolan: Please Don't Call It Love – Jamie L. Manson (The Huffington Post, April 8, 2013).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Responding to Whiny Catholic Bishops Who Cry Victim
A Head and Heart Response to the Catholic Hierarchy's Opposition to Marriage Equality
Quote of the Day – November 8, 2013
Responding to Bishop Tobin's Remarks on Gay Marriage
Progressive Perspectives of Archbishop Nienstedt's Anti-Gay Activism
What Part of Jesus' Invitation to "Be Not Afraid" Don't the Bishops Get?
National LGBTQ Catholic Organization Honors Role Played by Catholics and Other Faith Groups in Securing Marriage Equality in Minnesota

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