Sunday, March 08, 2009

Rome Falling

. . . and, no, this time you can’t blame “the gays”
(well, at least not the out ones!)

I once had an irate visitor to The Wild Reed tell me that I was out to “destroy” the church! Can you believe it? Lately, I’ve been reminded - almost on a daily basis - of this accusation by a number of events taking place within Roman Catholicism. These events have made me realize that no effort on my part is actually required for the destruction of “the church.”

I mean, look around: members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy are showing that they are more than capable of destroying “the church” - or at least their own limited understanding of it. It’s a destruction being wrought primarily by their rigid enforcement of uninformed, insensitive, and supposedly “unchangeable” truths. And I can’t help but notice how their destructive endeavors have intensified in the last twenty years or so, in unison with what could be said to be the official sanctioning, under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, of the roll-back of Vatican II reforms.

The result of such endeavors? Well, people are leaving in droves. And, really, who can blame them? I’m actually beginning to wonder if the church, i.e., the community, that Jesus modeled (1) and calls us to build in our lives and the world, is capable of emerging and surviving in the toxic environment that the “Roman Catholic Church” has become.

Here’s a recent local example of what I mean: at a CPCSM event last month, a deacon became quite emotional when he observed that whenever a young person approaches him for guidance about their growing awareness of their homosexuality, he is painfully aware - now, more than ever - that there is no safe place within the “official” church to which he can refer them. The sole “ministry” that the church offers and promotes (Courage) is both psychologically and spiritually abusive, and so this deacon has no other option but to refer young gay people (or anyone questioning their orientation) to places and services outside Roman Catholicism; to places and services, in other words, that are actually embodying for gay people the mission of the church (2) that Roman Catholicism is failing to do. It’s understandable that for many deacons - and priests - who have dedicated their lives to the church (as defined by Rome), this abysmal failure of the institutional church is greatly distressing and very painful. Yet considering the direction Rome has moved in recent years, I have to question if such a failure in living the mission of the church is really that surprising.

Another example, one that’s making national news: Archbishop Joseph Naumann (pictured at right) has been very vocal in declaring as “troubling” for the nation President Obama’s nomination of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius for Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Why is this troubling for the Archbishop? Because Sebelius (in good conscience, it should be noted) supports legalized abortion in certain circumstances; a view held by the majority of Americans - including Catholics. Archbishop Naumann has even gone so far as to publicly call upon the Governor to refrain from presenting herself for communion.

I can’t help but think that for folks like the heavy-handed Naumann, the solution to “troubling” developments (such as the Sebelius appointment) within our democratic society is to install a Roman Catholic theocracy. Certainly they often speak and act as if such a theocracy already exists. They also sound increasingly impatient with the rest of us - Catholic and otherwise - for not embracing the idea of such a theocracy and
shaping up accordingly. Needless to say, for the vast majority of people, such ignorance and arrogance is repellent - literally repellent, if recent figures showing declining membership in the Roman Catholic Church are any indication. The Pew Forum of Religion in America, for instance, reports that thirty million Catholics have left the U.S. church over the past twenty years. Thirty million! (3)

A third example - one that is making international news: Time magazine is reporting on the outage among Catholics in Brazil about Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho of Recife (pictured above) who recently announced that the Vatican was excommunicating the family of a local girl who had been raped and impregnated with twins by her stepfather, because they had chosen to have the girl undergo an abortion. According to Time, the Church has also “excommunicated the doctors who performed the procedure as well.”

Writes Time correspondent Andrew Downie:

The case has caused a furor. Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger, both of which apply in this case. (The girl’s immature hips would have made labor dangerous; the Catholic opinion was that she could have had a cesarean section.) When the incident came to light in local newspapers, the Church first asked a judge to halt the process and then condemned those involved, including the 9-year-old’s distraught mother. Even Catholic Brazilians were shocked at the harshness of the archbishop’s actions. “In this case, most people support the doctors and the family. Everything they did was legal and correct,” says Beatriz Galli, the policy associate for Ipsas Brasil, an NGO that fights to give women more say over their health and reproductive rights. “But the Church takes these positions that are so rigid that it ends up weakened. It is very intolerant, and that intolerance is going to scare off more and more followers.”

Indeed, as Downie notes: “Brazilian devotion to the Catholic Church has declined over the past several years. Whereas Brazil was once an almost entirely Catholic nation, only 74% of Brazilians today admit allegiance to Rome.” While still a high percentage, the Church’s rigid response to the Recife rape and abortion case has “shocked” public opinion and will no doubt further erode membership. (4)

Much has been written about this situation, though, as often is the case, I particularly appreciate the perspective of Colleen Kochivar-Baker over at Enlightened Catholicism.

Last Friday Colleen wrote:

[Many are] furious with the Church [for] not excommunicating the girl’s stepfather. The truth is the stepfather has not engaged in an excommunicable offense. In fact, raping his stepdaughter is actually seen as a more moral sexual act than having sex with his wife if they were using birth control. Raping his nine-year-old stepdaughter is a sexual act open to procreation. According to the Church, God’s law favors rape over birth control. God’s law is sure tough on women and nine-year-old girls.

What did the Archbishop expect a competent medical team to do in this case? Let this child bring two dead babies into the world at the imminent threat to her own life? Would three potential deaths then satisfy the Archbishop and by extension God? Did he really expect that the professional medical community would allow this girl to potentially die, and certainly suffer, so they could save their own souls? Is this really the bottom line in Catholicism? Save your own soul at the expense of any reasonable expression of compassion? The Archbishop’s use of excommunication certainly seems to say so.

Colleen also compares the Archbishop’s actions with the Golden Rule, the “core teaching” of all the great spiritual traditions of the world. It’s a comparison she made after her viewing online a speech by religion scholar Karen Armstrong.

Writes Colleen:

Armstrong maintains that real religion is about compassion and practicing compassion. It’s in the practice of compassion that religious people find a relationship with God. When religions place doctrinal belief ahead of compassion, they cease to function as meaningful contributors to the collective good and become sectarian and divisive. They also excommunicate professional medical people who are exercising ethical compassion and mother’s who care about their children.

This lack of meaningful compassion as played out in the pro-life debate is becoming more and more obvious. In many cases Catholics who are pro-choice ground that decision in compassion, not obstinate disobedience to Papal authority. This seems to be a distinction that is lost on pro-lifers. It’s a distinction that needs to be acknowledged if Catholicism is going to appear as anything other than a sectarian religion on a rampage against secular culture.

Compassion needs to be extended beyond the fetus and include the mother, just as accountability for abortion must extend beyond the mother and include the father. Rape is not about the decision of a nine-year-old girl. Her circumstances were dictated by the perverted sexuality of her stepfather. He is the causal agent, and as such should be excommunicated. In the secular world this makes perfect sense, but in the convoluted world of Catholic moral theology the stepfather is the more moral agent. This is only possible when absolutism trumps compassion. When adherence to doctrine supersedes human decency. What a sorry state of affairs.

Indeed. (And its a “sorry state of affairs” that reminds me of Vanessa Redgrave’s line as the title character in the film Mrs. Dalloway. Concerned about her young daughters growing involvement with the Reverend Whittaker, who, according to the insufferably pious Miss Kilman, can put “history and religion in their proper perspective,” Mrs. Dalloway notes how she’s often thought that religious fanaticism can make a person rather callous.”)

Earlier last week, Colleen Kochivar-Baker explored what she calls “the pro-life paradox regarding birth control” and, in doing so, shared some invaluable information and insights concerning the real (and “rather callous”) motivation and agenda of the “pro-life” movement.

The Guttmacher Institute, which both sides in [the abortion] issue routinely cite, stated recently that access to birth control reduces abortions by nearly 40% in low income areas. That’s a pretty staggering percentage. So why aren’t pro-lifer’s on board with free access to birth control if they really care about reducing abortion? Because ultimately it’s not about abortion, it’s about sex and who gets to have it and who gets to pay for it.

Guttmacher also has some other interesting information. For instance, the countries whose legal system follows the pro-life sexual agenda by limiting access to birth control and criminalizing abortion also have the world’s highest rate of abortion and highest rates of over all poverty. The countries with the lowest rates of abortion have the easiest access to birth control and legal abortion. The same is true in states in the US. The lowest abortion rates are in the states with the most liberal abortion laws and easy access to birth control.

The pro-life movement is not about reducing abortions. They are about forcing their vision of appropriate sexual behavior on society, and if women and their children get caught in impossible situations, it’s their own fault.

Do you notice how it always seems to be around issues of sexuality that the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has lost and is losing credibility? Why is this? Well, obviously, one major reason is the lack of the perspective and wisdom of women in developing church teaching. Another is the (male) hierarchy’s own “unhealed wound” around human sexuality, and related to this is a third - articulated by Chuck Lofy in an interview I conducted with him in 2005.

Notes Chuck:

A problem with the Catholic Church is that the power is in the hands of celibates. As a result, human experience of God within the full range of human sexuality has not been recognized or valued. What’s valued is a system of logic. So for the pope it is logical that when you think of the penis and the vagina, the point of sexuality is to procreate within the framework of heterosexual marriage. It’s a logical, intellectually-based paradigm. But it doesn’t align with human experience in the real world.

The place where the church impinges itself on the conscience of the Catholic is almost invariably in the area of sexuality – whether that’s masturbation, divorce, birth control, homosexuality, premarital sex, or married priests. These realities don’t fit into the limited logical paradigm of someone like the current pope. Yet at the same time there are all kinds of inconsistencies within this particular paradigm; for example, allowing sex when one or both partners are past the age of procreation. Or the fact that priests in the Greek Orthodox Church, which is aligned with Rome, can and do, in fact, marry. Gary Will in his book “Papal Sin,” accurately identifies such inconsistencies as examples of “intellectual dishonesty.”

The institutional church is a power structure that in some areas of life in intellectually dishonest or spiritually blind – something that Jesus consistently warned against.

What about the issue of abortion? Is there evidence of “intellectual dishonesty” on the part of the hierarchy with regard to this important issue?

Again, I appreciate the perspective and insights of Colleen Kochivar-Baker. In a recent commentary on Archbishop Charles Chaput’s February 23 speech at St. Basil’s Church in Toronto, Colleen observes that:

A great deal of this speech pounds the abortion issue. Sometimes I wonder if he ever takes into consideration his own state completely rejected the life begins at conception notion. If Archbishop Chaput ever wants to make a cohesive argument for his case he needs to seriously deal with the biological reality of which he speaks. The real biology of conception runs counter to his claim. There is no real potential life until implantation in the uterus. In this sense a skin cell has as much life potential as a blastoceol (until implantation) and no rational person would advocate for the sanctity of skin cells. That nasty little biological truth has all sorts of ramifications which go well beyond abortion. Perhaps in this case Archbishop Chaput is falling into his own observation: “I’ve learned from experience, though, that Henry Ford was right when he said that ‘Two percent of the people think; three percent think they think, and 95 percent would rather die than think.’”

And speaking of thinking, I’ll conclude this post with how I thought to respond to my anonymous visitor’s contention that I was out to destroy the church (a charge made in response to this post). And note how I understand “the church” in my response - as the people of God, alive with God’s transforming love. This church cannot be destroyed. It’s another story, however, when it comes to church as a monarchical system controlled by a sexist, homophobic, and feudal ruling caste. Not only can this model of church be dismantled, it should be and it is. And as we’re seeing, the principal (if unwitting) dismantlers are members of its own ruling caste. Ironic or what?

Anyway, here’s my response to my accusing (and anonymous) visitor:

There are two things that particularly strike me about Anonymous’ comment. The first is its tone of absolute certainty. Anonymous is certain that all expressions of homosexual activity are “evil;” he’s certain that the church can never change; he’s certain that I, as a gay man who is at peace with his sexuality (a profoundly spiritual peace that he reduces to a rainbow sash-draped “political agenda”), is out to “destroy” the church!

The second thing I’m struck by is the level of fear I sense in Anonymous’ comment. This is no doubt connected to (and perhaps accounts for) his rigidity. My sense is that he really thinks (fears) that the church can be destroyed!

Two points: I find this fear difficult to fathom – especially from someone who professes to be a follower of Jesus, who counsels us to “Be not afraid.”

Second: I think Anonymous equates growth and change with destruction. Sure, as individuals, institutions, and communities develop they inevitably let go of old and restrictive ways of thinking and behaving. But have the things that really matter been destroyed in such a maturation process? I don’t think so.

Yet for those who are incapable of “putting away childish things,” growing up can, I guess, be a fearful prospect and experience – a type of dying, perhaps.

I’m sorry that Anonymous views as destructive the breaking through of God’s love into the lives and relationships of gay people - and the inevitable development within the wider church that such epiphanies have facilitated and continue to facilitate.

I don’t really know what to say to Anonymous, accept to invite him to join with me in not fearing the destruction of the church, but rather in trusting that the Spirit of God is guiding the church, the people of God, in its ongoing pilgrimage through this world.

All will be well, my friend. All will be well.

(1-2) As I’ve noted previously, our “inspiration and guide” for building this community, this church, should be the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It was a life and ministry that was all about two interrelated and quite revolutionary things: 1) God’s loving presence in our lives, here and now; and 2) liberation from oppressive forces and limiting mindsets that prevent us and others from recognizing and embodying this presence, and thus living lives of consciousness and compassion, i.e., that “abundant life” that Jesus invites all to participate in. (And, of course, intrinsic to all of this is the radical hospitality of Jesus that is reflective of God’s extravagant welcome to all.) These two core components of Jesus’ life and ministry should comprise the mission of the church. Yet for increasing numbers of Catholics, the structures and teachings of Roman Catholicism are actually impeding this mission. And their response to such an intolerable situation? They’ve chosen to leave and are either without a faith community or have found alternative faith communities where the mission of the church is actually being lived out.

(3-4) One has to wonder if the hierarchy gives cares about the number of people who are leaving. After all, as Kathleen Kautzer notes: Pope Benedict XVI has stated publicly that he wants a smaller, purer Church, and that he wants reformers to leave unless they can support everything the hierarchy teaches. “[The pope] doesn’t care if you leave,” says Kautzer. “He’s happy to push you out the door.”

I don’t believe this is true of
all cardinals and bishops, many of whom are not as isolated as the pope. They are acutely aware of what such an exodus would mean financially for the Church. Even some conservative Catholics are worried. Writing in the February 2008 issue of the Catholic World Report, Russell Shaw refers to David Carlin’s book, The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America, and notes that: “Carlin concludes that the outcome of the crisis will probably be the de facto collapse of the Church in America and the retreat of Catholics into the status of a ‘minor and relatively insignificant sect.’ Traditionalists will have won the internal Catholic power struggle, mainly because the progressives will have drifted away. But in the end, the small band of traditionalists will find themselves isolated in ‘a new Catholic quasi-ghetto,’ with about as much influence on the culture as the Amish and Hasidic Jews have now.” Mmm . . . given recent events in Brazil and elsewhere, such diminishment of influence would not be a bad thing.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Vatican Backs Abortion Row Bishop - BBC News, March 7, 2009.
How to Empty the Church - Joseph O’Leary, March 3, 2009.
“Falling Away” - Mary Lynn Murphy (Progressive Catholic Voice, January 4, 2009).
A Church Jesus Would Recognize: An Interview with Lena Woltering - Progressive Catholic Voice, October 2007.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
What It Means to Be Catholic
A Time to Re-think the Basis and Repair the Damage
“The Real Battle”
Benedict’s Understanding of Church
“We are Facing a Structural Problem”
Of Mustard Seeds and Walled Gardens
Dispatches from the Periphery
A Declaration of Reform and Renewal
Conflicting Understandings of Church and Revelation Underlie Situation in Madison and Beyond
U.S. Catholic Bishops: “Playing Politics on Abortion”
The Bishops and Obama (Part 1)
The Bishops and Obama (Part 2)
The Church’s Teaching on Abortion: Unchanged and Unchangeable?


Anonymous said...

This is brilliant, Michael.

Anonymous said...

I concur with Joe completely Michael...this current climate with in the Church is indeed very frustrating to no end. Even though it's shameful that we have to reduce ourselves to such terms when talking about the Mystical Body of Christ, it seems that just as it is in the public political arena of the world today so it is in the Church as well that a conflict rages between bitter, rigid, isolated conservatives closed to change who want to preserve an outdated archaic ideology which they think will save the world and liberated, progressive thinking, freethinkers who want to continue to bring mankind into the luminous and uninhibited future that God truly intended for us. At sometimes, it really seems, especially within the Church, that we are losing the fight. Even though he was not always in agreement with us on all the issues recall Pope John Paul II's cherished motto, "Be not afraid!" we must remember that these are the words of Christ Himself!

Christ, the God-man, took on our own limited flesh for the sake of our eternal edification, glory, and salvation. He raised our dignity forever when it was glorified in his broken body upon the wood of the Cross. His death shows us that even if we must endure trials and sufferings currently that will align us all the more closer to Him and ultimately, as He did on Mt. Calvary, his selfless love and hope will envelop all of the world! So don't lose hope Michael! Before the glorious triumph, light, and hope of the Resurrection the Cross had to come first...

I do believe that slowly we're beginning to see the first glimmers of that light. President Obama's election is one of the most profoud that's occured yet in my opinion. Now, we have to see what happens with Prop 8 and the Cali courts. Even if that doesn't turn out as we'd like, not that it's looking pretty hopeful for gay marriage in New England. So, I guess we have to progress forward with baby steps...

Even though it may seem like the Church is moving backward people like Hans Kung, Bishop Gumbleton, and Cardinal Martini are still here! Also, so many Catholic universities are resisting the trend to succumb to the rigid right-winged ideology of the USCCB and continue to remain bastions of independent thought that integrate both faith and logic.

It is very discouraging at times, but that just means we have to continue to pray for the Lord to send us His Spirit and RENEW the face of the earth!

CDE said...

This post contains a remarkable number of straw men, which presents a serious obstacle to your credibility in any attempts at dialogue. Here is a small sampling:

official sanctioning, under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, of the roll-back of Vatican II reforms

I can’t help but think that for folks like the heavy-handed Naumann, the solution to “troubling” developments (such as the Sebelius appointment) within our democratic society is to install a Roman Catholic theocracy.

The sole “ministry” that the church offers and promotes (Courage) is both psychologically and spiritually abusive

The pro-life movement is not about reducing abortions. They are about forcing their vision of appropriate sexual behavior on society, and if women and their children get caught in impossible situations, it’s their own fault.

If you're really interested in the conversation going anywhere, you need to understand your opponent's arguments at least as well as they do, rather than forming absurd caricatures of their positions at every turn.

Anonymous said...

I hate to rain on your parade or throw in facts to scue your world view, but f you look at this article:

you will see that Catholicism is still on the rise (down one percentage point among a growing population in the last ten years).

Michael J. Bayly said...

Anonymous, I can't see anywhere in the Associated Press article you highlighted where it says that the number of Catholics is “still on the rise.” The whole point of the article (and the American Religious Identification Survey that it focuses on) is that Christians - across the board - are a declining segment of the U.S. population.

The only reference in the article to Roman Catholics is the following statement: “Nationally, Roman Catholics remain the largest religious group, but their share of the population fell by about a percentage point since 1990 – to 25 percent.”

How do you infer from this statement (or anything else in the article) that the number of Catholics in the U.S. is “still on the rise”?

Perhaps you'd find it helpful to read this report from the National Council of Churches USA, especially this part of it: "[The Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Church] now join virtually every mainline church in reporting a membership decline."



Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

I think what’s happening, in part, is that we’re looking at things from two very different perspectives. Could it be that one person’s “straw man” (i.e., misrepresentation) is another’s very real experience?

Also, from my perspective, your whole comment is somewhat of a “straw man.” I mean, if what Colleen and/or I are saying is that weak and easily refutable (the definition of a “straw man”), why not just do so? Simply dismissing our observations and experiences as “straw men,” and leaving it at that, seems to be a ploy to misrepresent us (and our perspective) as Catholics concerned by the state of the church.

Also, let's not forget that the Roman Catholic hierarchy's stated understanding of sexual orientation, gay people and gay sexuality comprise one of the most "absurd caricatures" out there. Are you as dedicated to challenging this caricature as you are the ones that I'm supposedly presenting?



Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Joe and Phillip,

Thanks for your positive feedback.

Phillip, I particularly appreciated the ultimately hopeful message of what you shared.

I've recently incorporated into my prayer life a special prayer for the church - that all its members may be open to God's spirit of love and transformation, and to the forms of renewal that are emerging throughout the church.

I'm finding that this prayer is helping me stay hopeful, focused, and energized in these often, as you say, "discouraging" times.



Anonymous said...


The article says that the Catholic segment of the population dropped one percentage point to 25%. Statistically, given the increase in population overall, that is an increase in pure numbers.

While many will point out rightly that both increases in general population and Catholic population in the US are a result of growing Hispanic populations. It is an error or a lie to report that the numbers are shrinking.

But let's set all of that aside. The greater point of the article in the Strib is that people are turning more and more away from institutional religion.

So attacks on the Catholic Church because of perceived declines should be viewed in a larger context.

Maybe the 'find God anywhere'and especially in sexuality line you seem to espouse would fit better in a world without such mundane and oppressive institutions -the likes of which challenge us to be more spiritual and thoughtful than animals when it comes to our behavior.

CDE said...

If I thought you were listening, I would.

CDE said...

Here are the latest Catholic population statistics, on a global scale.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

I'm curious: What would indicate to you that I'm listening?



CDE said...

If there were any indications on your blog that you gave serious, credible attention to the people and institutions you routinely slander, such as the Pope, the cardinals, the US bishops, the Courage movement, etc.

I haven't experienced you engaging your opponents on their own terms. Which is, of course, your right. You can do with your blog whatever you choose. It's just not a posture of someone authentically interested in dialogue.

You don't engender trust by misrepresenting others.

I imagine you will turn this around and say your opponents do the same thing. Well, then, model the change you want to see, rather than playing the victim.

Anonymous said...

Clayton is just another neocath tactician, though he may sincerely believe he stands for dialogue and objectivity. The targets of Michael's critique have been given the benefit of every doubt over and over again for 30 years, and Michael's criticisms, far from being the impulsive potshots Clayton would caricature them as, are based on the considered judgment of the most respected theologians and other analysts, who have watched this ecclesiastical tragedy unfold with deep sadness, and who have often paid for their criticisms by losing their teaching positions, something of which Clayton warmly approves.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

I believe I do give serious and credible attention to the hierarchy and to Courage. That this attention is also critical is what I believe is problematic for you.

Also, I don't believe I'm misrepresenting these particular entities and organizations in my informed critique of them. Like many others, I've simply come to the realization that their "terms of engagement" around the issue of homosexuality are untenable from the standpoint of compassion, justice, logic, and human experience.

(Also, how exactly does one model non-misrepresentation of others when one doesn't believe that one is actually engaging in misrepresentation?)

Of course, through honest dialogue untenable positions (on any side of an issue) can hopefully be identified and transformed. I'm definitely open to transformation of my life and ideas - and have experienced such transformation firsthand (as many posts on this blog testify). Yet very little of what I (and the vast majority of gay Catholics) hear about homosexuality from the institutional church convincingly conveys to us awareness of God's transforming presence and action in our lives and relationships as gay people.

And, yes, I'm open to dialogue to the extent of seeking and finding points of commonality. Yet once it becomes clear that one or both sides have certain non-negotiables, then the focus of the dialogue needs to shift to how best we can stay in fellowship despite our differences.



Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

Thanks for that link. I find it interesting that the Vatican report's total number of Catholics "relates to the number of people baptized as Catholics."

The problem, of course, is that by themselves, these numbers tell us absolutely nothing about the state of the church.

For example: what do all these baptized Catholics really believe? Are they even "real" Catholics (after all there are some who argue that if one doesn't follow the pope on everything then one isn't a "real" Catholic!). Do all these folks actually identify as Catholic? What does such identification actually mean to them? What of the millions who have left or who are leaving? Are they still counted as part of the "growing" Catholic Church due to their baptism?



CDE said...


You don't know me personally, but you've found a label with which to caricature me. And you've also imputed motives, as though you could read into my soul. How would you know what I sincerely believe, or what I give warm approval to?

CDE said...

their "terms of engagement" around the issue of homosexuality are untenable from the standpoint of compassion, justice, logic, and human experience.

So does this mean that, for instance, anyone who disagrees with you about this is simply wrong? Does an experience of the Church that is not parallel to your own count for anything? For instance, is the lived experience of the members of Courage simply invalid?

how exactly does one model non-misrepresentation of others when one doesn't believe that one is actually engaging in misrepresentation?

Maybe it never occurs to you that you could be mistaken about others. In such a case, I suppose the idea that you might misrepresent them would not cross your mind.

once it becomes clear that one or both sides have certain non-negotiables, then the focus of the dialogue needs to shift to how best we can stay in fellowship despite our differences

The assumption here is that fellowship is always possible, even when non-negotiables are not shared. This seems to me a fairly weak concept of fellowship. It might be more accurately called tolerance, which is something far less desirable than fellowship. I don't see how there can be any authentic fellowship without agreeing on essential (non-negotiable) matters. One can always seek to tolerate people who have diametrically opposed worldviews, but tolerance is pretty thin gruel.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,
This is the second time I'm writing to you and it'll probably be the last.
The first time I wrote was to share with you my excitement at having found a blog from "a progressive, gay, Catholic perspective". I consider myself as such and it is always joyful to find companions on the journey. I should explain that I am a self described liberal who usually votes Democratic, who opposed the Iraq War, who supports universal healthcare, who opposes capital punishment, etc. I'm also the president of a local chapter of Dignity. So, I don't think that I'd be very welcomed by conservatives, either political or religious ones.
However, the reason why I'm writing today is to say that over the past several months my excitement has turned to dissapointment and with this column to utter dismay. You see, I've realized that this blog is just an exercise in false advertisement for while you may in fact be progressive and gay you are most definitely not Catholic.
Imagine for a moment that someone who described herself or himself as LGBT had a blog where all they did was to criticize Queer culture and extoll the merits of heterosexuality while basically saying that the best way to be gay was to belong to Courage. Such a blog would be a farce. That person might indeed be homosexual but she or he would not be gay, i.e., self accepting of their sexual orientation. Now, here you describe yourself as Catholic but almost always you are criticizing the Roman Catholic Church extolling the merits of other religious traditions such as Sufism and basically saying that the best way to be Catholic is to be Protestant. You basically deny every Catholic dogma that you address whether its the hierarchical nature of the Church, the qualitative difference between the priesthod of the ordained versus the priesthood of the baptized, papal infallibility, etc. (BTW, all of the preceding are clearly affirmed by Vatican II). Furthermore, you misrepresent Church practice on indulgences and excommunication. Finally, you seem to be engaged in this tearing down of the Church with glee since you believe that Catholic orthodoxy must give way to Protestant congregationalism where there is no universal Magisterium and only a local communal authority to determine worship and belief. Of course, it is your right to promote your agenda but I have to call you out and make it clear that what you advocate for is not Catholicism. You often state that you believe that the center (Rome)of the Church is dying while the periphery (where you situate yourself) is thriving. Well, I'd wager that twenty years from now the Roman Catholic Church (where Christ's Church subsits-see Vatican II) will be around while a group like the Spirit of St. Stephen Community will have dissolved altogether or find itself becoming increasingly agnostic or even atheistic; the inevitable result of Protestantism-see Northern Europe). Michael, I don't know if you are calling yourself Catholic intentionally to mislead or if you are just not aware of how far from the Church you already are but please realize that having cut yourself from the vine there is nothing left but to wither. I will pray for you (and others in the SSSC) that you may come back to the Church and really begin to integrate being progressive, gay, AND Catholic.

kevin57 said...

I am sympathetic to the statement that there needs to be certain "non-negotiables" for real fellowship to be the abstract, but one of the better terms JPII used for the Church was that it is a "communio." The Church is meant to be relational. Now, in a relationship-be it a marriage or good friendship-yes, there need to be non-negotiables, but they need to be few, lest ideology trump love.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

You write: "So does this mean that, for instance, anyone who disagrees with you about this is simply wrong? Does an experience of the Church that is not parallel to your own count for anything? For instance, is the lived experience of the members of Courage simply invalid?"

I'm glad you brought up the experiences of the members of Courage.

I would never say that their experience of God in their lives is invalid - despite the fact that I doubt that the apostolate would ever be so generous when it came to my experience of God in my life as a "gay" man. (But let's not get into that. After all, I'd hate to be considered a "victim"!)

My problem with Courage is that the apostolate universalizes an understanding of homosexuality that for the vast majority of people does not reflect the collective wisdom of the people of God - gay or straight. Put another way, for most gay people the Courage way of thinking and talking about homosexuality does not correlate with their own experience of God in their lives as gay people. Negativity of any sort - including homonegativity - makes human flourishing difficult.

Look, I've said it before and I'll say it again: if people feel that God is calling them to be celibate - great! Go for it. I'm troubled, of course, by the belief that undergirds this decision on the part of members of Courage, i.e., that homosexuality is a "disorder." (At the very least, the Church should be open to listening to and sharing alternatives ways of understanding homosexuality and alternatives experiences of homosexuality.)

My issue with the church is when it projects its limited understanding of homosexuality out to the rest of us; when it tells us we're all supposed to view our sexuality as a "disorder," and abstain from sexual relations - despite the fact that this expectation lacks good reasoning and, from my perspective, sensitivity and compassion.

But look, Clayton, you know all this. None of this is new to you. And for readers to whom this issue and discussion is new, I suggest you read my three-part series "The Many Forms of Courage" - a series that starts here.

Now, Clayton, you also say: "Maybe it never occurs to you that you could be mistaken about others. In such a case, I suppose the idea that you might misrepresent them would not cross your mind."

Of course it's crossed my mind. I'm a gay Catholic man who faithfully dissents from the church's teaching on homosexuality! I've spent years . . . years . . . studying and reading and discerning. I take very seriously what I write, and do not take lightly the critiques I feel called to make.

The result of this journey? I can honestly tell you this: I am not mistaken when I say that LGBT people, along with heterosexual people, can and do experience sexual relationships marked by justice, wholeness, and life-giving love.

That's my bottom line; my "non-negotiable." If one isn't open to that - or even open to the possibility that what this bottom line says might actually be true - than I think it's fair to say that dialogue would be futile.

Are you open to the possibility that it's true, Clayton? Are you prepared to consider the possibility that gay people are capable of experiencing sexual relationships marked by justice, wholeness, and life-giving love?

And it's no use turning it back on me and asking, "Ah, but Michael, are you prepared to consider the possibility that what the church teaches about homosexuality is true?", because I've already said that I have considered it. I even once believed it. But I don't anymore.

And, finally, yes, I think it's possible to be in fellowship with people we can only manage to tolerate. What's the alternative?



Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Gus,

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspective. You obviously put a lot of thought into your comment - and I appreciate that.

It's getting rather late so, for now, I think the best way I can respond to your concerns/critiques is by directing you to a previous Wild Reed post in which I respond to another reader who also questions just how Catholic my perspective on this blog is.

This previous post can be found here.



Anonymous said...

Clayton, correct me if I am misremembering, but did you not applaud Dreadnought when he wrote a certain letter to my potential employer? Did you not say we must keep the church free from wolves in sheep's clothing, such as yours truly? Please excuse me if I have confused you with someone else. If I have not, I think I should advise Michael Bayly that you and Dreadnought are rather dangerous people to hold dialogue with.

Anonymous said...

In the Pew Report one can read this:

"Other surveys - such as the General Social Surveys, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago since 1972 - find that the Catholic share of the U.S. adult population has held fairly steady in recent decades at around 25%. What this apparent stability obscures, however, is the large number of people who have left the Catholic Church. Approximately one-third of the survey respondents who say they were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic. This means that roughly 10% of all Americans are former Catholics. These losses, however, have been partly offset by the number of people who have changed their affiliation to Catholicism (2.6% of the adult population) but more importantly by the disproportionately high number of Catholics among immigrants to the U.S. The result is that the overall percentage of the population that identifies as Catholic has remained fairly stable."

ONE THIRD of those raised Catholic are no longer Catholic.

CDE said...

Father O' Leary ("Joe"):

You wrote:

did you not applaud Dreadnought when he wrote a certain letter to my potential employer? Did you not say we must keep the church free from wolves in sheep's clothing, such as yours truly?

I don't recall the comment. I do remember following the story. I may have expressed the opinion that you ought to be held accountable for your behavior.

CDE said...

Are you prepared to consider the possibility that gay people are capable of experiencing sexual relationships marked by justice, wholeness, and life-giving love?

I can imagine that some people have an inner narrative like that. Whether it corresponds to what is true -- beyond a solely subjective sense -- is a separate question.

So you've spent years studying under and alongside like-minded individuals. That doesn't strike me as having any necessary relation with getting to the truth of things.

You repeatedly speak about "faithful dissent," and I've read your many attempts to make sense of that oxymoron. I've made attempts to understand what others mean when they use similar language. It remains entirely unintelligible to me, as is abandoning Church teaching and still professing that one remains a faithful Catholic.

It would be one thing to say, "I have fundamental disagreements with the Church, and I refuse to change my mind; therefore, I no longer profess to be a Catholic." That position makes sense to me. It's sad, but intelligible. Your own position, on the other hand, seems untenable, if not dishonest.

So attempts at dialogue don't make any sense to me at this juncture.

Anonymous said...

Clayton finds any faithful dissent grounds for excommunication, showing firstly his own ignorance of theology. Unfortunately the Church is full of people like Clayton, who use the Catechism for inquisitorial purposes to shore up their own insecurities.

CDE said...

Father O'Leary -


You misrepresented me again. I said NOTHING like what you have claimed in your histrionic comment.

The tactics of deceive and dismiss are transparent.

Anonymous said...

Joe: "Clayton finds any faithful dissent grounds for excommunication."

Clayton: "You misrepresented me again. I said NOTHING like what you have claimed in your histrionic comment."

But Clayton, you did say that What Clayton originally said: "You repeatedly speak about "faithful dissent" is an oxymoron, something that cannot exist. You talked of the impossibility of abandoning church teaching and still being a faithful Catholic.

Since you do not recognize any freedom of conscience among Catholics to dissent from mistaken Church teachings, you write off huge numbers of your fellow Catholics as unfaithful. They are Catholics only on sufferance at best.

Needless to say you would not like to see any such Catholics teach theology; indeed you are prepared to delate them to ecclesiastical authorities to block their careers. This kind of myopia is what has allowed our Church to fall into the hands of abusers.

CDE said...

Fr O' Leary:

I never suggested that excommunication was in order for all dissenters. That is ridiculous.

you do not recognize any freedom of conscience among Catholics to dissent from mistaken Church teachings

When did I ever say that people should not obey the certain judgment of their conscience?

Since you've studied theology, you would be aware of the possibility of a malformed conscience, sincere but mistaken, and of the obligation of informing one's conscience. Within those parameters, of course one has to obey one's conscience.

You speak glibly about mistaken Church teachings, as if that were a self-evident reality. How do you know it's not your conscience that is mistaken instead?

Needless to say you would not like to see any such Catholics teach theology

Who was asking what I would like or not like? The fact is, I've known many dissenters who teach theology. Maybe you didn't know I studied in an American seminary for two-and-a-half years.

indeed you are prepared to delate them to ecclesiastical authorities to block their careers

I was not involved in the incident involving you and John Heard, and am not familiar with all of the details of that case.

However, I will say that public scandal requires public response, as an act of charity. What could be more public than teaching in opposition to the church, on the church's payroll and under church auspices?

The point would not be to block anyone's careers, but to guarantee that Catholic institutions are fulfilling their obligations to the faithful who support them and study at them.

If people want to study elsewhere, or throw their money at other efforts, they can. Of course.

Mareczku said...

This is riviting. So much food for thought and excellent comments. I did find one group of comments to be quite strange. They referred to the story of a Brazilian man who raped his stepdaughter. "Raping his stepdaughter is actually seen as a more moral sexual act than having sex with his wife if they are using birth control. Raping his nine year old stepdaughter is a sexual act open to procreation. According to the Church, God's law favors rape over birth control." I totally disagree with this. I doubt you could find an intelligent person in the Church that would agree with this. The Church teaches that sexual intercourse is only licit within marriage and since this is an act of incest, the Church would strongly condemn it. The Church teaches that acts of intercourse within marriage should be open to procreation. I don't think that the Church teaches that acts of rape should be open to procreation. I never read in any Church documents that rape is preferable to birth control.