Friday, October 20, 2006

Who Gets to Be Called “Catholic” – and Why?

Last October I had a commentary published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune which focused on the Vatican’s stance on gay seminarians.

Soon after this commentary’s publication I was contacted by an individual who took issue with my description of the Vatican's approach to gay seminarians as being one of “misguided scapegoating tactics”.

Such language, I was told, was designed to “dismiss and dishonour” other points of view, by which was meant the views of those loyal to the Magisterium, the official teaching office of the Catholic Church.

This individual also asked how I felt justified in using the word “Catholic” in the name of the organization of which I serve as executive coordinator, the
Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM).

Following is my response to this question and various related issues:

[. . .] I’m not alone in labeling the approach of the Vatican [towards gay priests and seminarians] as being one of “misguided scapegoating tactics.” For many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics and the people who know and love them, this is exactly what this approach is.

From our perspective, it’s misguided because it ignores what science tells us about the link between pedophilia and homosexuality. It’s scapegoating because for many of us, it fails to critically look at underlying issues of the sex abuse scandal within the Church – chief among them the clerical/hierarchical culture of the church and this culture's long history of being uncomfortable and hostile to the diverse reality of human sexuality.

I think it’s also important to point out that many of us who declare ourselves Catholic don't recognize the “clerical/hierarchical culture” of the institutional church as being an essential component of the Catholic faith.

I believe we require an institutional church, but it’s not essential that this institution be rigidly hierarchical or dominated by clerics. In fact, many Catholics intuitively sense that such a clerical/hierarchical structure and culture is detrimental to the spirit of the Gospels. Jesus certainly didn’t model such a structure or culture.

With regards to issues of human sexuality, the clerical/hierarchical culture simply does not reflect the liberating, life-giving spirit of the Gospels for many people – gay or straight. This doesn’t mean I’m advocating a big sexual free-for-all. I just think that as Catholics, we can do better at recognizing and articulating a sexual theology/ethic that actually reflects people’s experience of God in their relational/sexual lives; a theology that actually cares for and thus listens to people’s real lives in the real world –a world permeated by the sacred.

Human experience has always shaped theology. Yet in matters of human sexuality, the institutional church seems fearful and hesitant to acknowledge that its sexual theology has been and continually needs to be shaped by people’s experiences.

What is the basis of this fear and hesitation? I recently finished reading a very insightful book entitled The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality by Eugene Kennedy. He powerfully and in my view, courageously, explores the reasons why the institutional Church has failed so miserably in engaging and integrating certain sexual realities.

At one point he notes: “Cure and care share the Latin root of cura, which means ‘care,’ ‘concern,’ ‘attention,’ or ‘management.’ These are in turn related to curiosity, which means to be ‘full of care’ and of course, ‘eager to know.’ Those not eager to learn the truth of the world cannot care for the world, for they are dominated by fear instead of moved by love. Those who love always want to learn more about their beloved. The truly curious take care of the world through learning ever deeply the truths that constitute its truth. . . As Christian Catholics we are not expected to make the world perfect but to help it heal its wounds and achieve holiness by being healthy.”

Elsewhere, Kennedy poses this crucial question: “Can the world really be thought of as secular in itself, or does it only appear that way to those who have lost their sacramental way of seeing things?”

How can I and others – whose views are in opposition to the Magisterium – call ourselves Catholic? Speaking for myself, I take courage from the first principle of Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom:

“In all his activity a person is bound to follow his/her conscience in order that he/she may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he/she is not to be forced to act in manner contrary to his/her conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he/she to be restrained from acting in accordance with his/her conscience, especially in matters religious.”

I have spent most of my life studying, reflecting, and praying about what it means to be both gay and Catholic. And as a result, I feel at the very core of my being, that I am called to do the type of work I’m doing with CPCSM.

I, and many others, are following our conscience after long and painful years of deliberation. We are upfront and honest about where we stand and why we take the stance we do.

We also identify as Catholic as we think there’s a place in the living tradition of the Catholic faith for people like us: people called to stand and work at the growing edge of our tradition. I believe the church is big enough (and catholic enough) to have a place at the table for all of us.

Which brings me to the idea that my labeling of the approach of the Vatican towards gay priests and seminarians as being one of “misguided scapegoating tactics”, is somehow dismissing or dishonoring of those who are called by their experiences and their conscience to be faithful to the Magisterium.

I’m sorry, but there’s no way I can compare such people’s sense of belittlement with the feelings of rejection and dehumanization that many LGBT persons experience as a result of the attitude and language of the institutional church with regards the expression of their sexuality.

In fact, it’s an insult to the pain and suffering of so many LGBT people. I mean, people have killed themselves or lived unfulfilled and miserable lives because of the dismissing and denying of their experiences – their reality – by religious institutions. Families and communities have been torn apart.

In the case of the Vatican, it is a stance that is uninformed by either science or the lived experiences of LGBT people; and it is language that is deeply hurtful to people and which continues to leave deep and painful scars. In contrast, what and where are your scars as a result of my stance and language?

Please tell me: are my commentaries that powerful, that threatening and/or hurtful to you? If you have the “fullness of the truth” behind you, why on earth would you feel dismissed or dishonored by anything I have to say? Why would you feel in anyway impacted by someone who, according to this “truth,” is completely in error?

I have always maintained that if someone feels called to live a celibate life than they need to do so. I support them in their choice. No one should feel pressured by outside entities to be sexually active. Yet no one should feel pressured by outside entities to be celibate either.

I respect and celebrate anyone’s experience of God in their life of celibacy. I also respect and celebrate a gay couple’s experience of God in their loving and committed relationship. Can you? And if not, why not? Because the Church as Institution tells you not to? What about the Church as Mystery? How do you attune yourself to its voice?

I think what’s really at issue here is not that I narrowly select whom I respect and honor, but that I expand that circle of respect and honor; that I and others are willing to expand, in other words, our sacramental view of the world rather than keep it restricted.

I’m sorry if you feel threatened by such an expansive sacramental view, but as I said earlier, that’s what I (and many other Catholics) feel called to seek, participate in, articulate, and celebrate.

In my view and experience, that pan-sacramentality is at the heart of the life and teaching of Jesus, and thus at the heart of an authentic catholic faith.

See also the previous Wild Reed post A Not So "New" Catholic University.

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