Contradictions in Catholic LGBT Teaching and Practice

September 14, 2012

 

 

Contradictions in hierarchical attitudes towards LGBT issues and people were the theme of two commentaries this week from Catholic writers.

Bryan Cones

The first piece is a blog post from Bryan Cones, managing editor of U.S. Catholic, entitled “Can ‘respect, sensitivity, and compassion’ go with ‘instrinsic disorder’ when it comes to gay Catholics?”

Commenting on three recent news stories–the Worcester Diocese refusing to sell a mansion to a gay couple, the Connecticut priest reprimanded for assisting at his cousin’s wedding, the Franciscan University of Steubenville course which labels homosexuality as “deviant behavior”–Cones reflects on a contradiction that is at the heart of all three cases:

“Every Catholic institution when faced with these controversies (usually of their own creation) will parrot the line from the Catechism that ‘homosexual persons’ must be treated with ‘respect, compassion, and sensitivity,’ then go on to justify any behavior on the basis that a homosexual sexual orientation is an ‘objective disorder.’ Anyone else see the conflict? I don’t think any gay person in these situations (or their family members in the case of the priest at his cousin’s union ceremony) feel treated with ‘respect, compassion, or sensitivity.’

“Catholic teaching is of two minds on this question: On the one hand it upholds the fundamental dignity of every human being, each of whom is made in God’s image and likeness. On the other it insists that a small but consistent subset of human beings are unusually marked by sin in their created sexuality. Inevitably church institutions–Franciscan University, the Diocese of Worcester–get tangled up in in the conflict by clumsy people who try to say both things at the same time and end up embarrassing themselves and their institutions.

“The problem is, the two teachings really don’t go together, and the sooner we all realize that and agree to it, the sooner we will be able to find a new and hopefully more lifegiving way to talk about sexuality and lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in particular.”

Richard Giannone

The second piece is a Huffington Post blog entry from Fordham University Professor Richard Giannone entitled “True and False Religious Freedom.”  Reflecting on the marriage equality and religious liberty debate, Giannone notes:

“Liberty for the bishops is a synonym for power and control, their power, their control. They aim to impose unquestioned submission to their self-styled rectitude. Unlike Jesus’ freedom to challenge the elders and scribes, liberty by contemporary authoritarian lights deprives others of their rights. Such unchristian Christianity adds a new type of suffering on LGBT people.

“I am a 78-year-old man gay man who is a practicing Catholic. The older I get, the more clearly I see how official church teaching on sexuality presents a false idea of freedom and misconstrues Christianity. As in scripture, intolerance in daily life binds and traps. Subjugation comes early. Ecclesiastical homophobia burdens a LGBT child with recrimination and shackles the child in religious censure. Prejudice effectively cuts off young gay people from themselves, others, and God.”

I agree with Cones’ assessment that there is a deep tension between these two aspects of official church teaching.  While one stresses the importance of having positive behaviors towards gay and lesbian people, the other presents a strongly negative judgment about their sexual orientation.

I believe that church leaders are aware of this tension.  The problem, however, is that to resolve the tension, they favor the negative judgment over the positive behaviors.  There is no reason why it can’t be the other way around.

I think that Giannone poignantly describes the problem that such negative judgment produces.  It produces a prejudicial attitude that “effectively cuts off young gay people from themselves, others, and God.”

I agree with him that “Unlike Jesus’ freedom to challenge the elders and scribes, liberty by contemporary authoritarian lights deprives others of their rights.” Christian leaders should always be mindful of the paradox that they live as leaders since Jesus, their model, was certainly critical of institutional religious leaders who used theological principles to burden and oppress people.  Institutional authority creates a conundrum for Christian leaders that often encourages arrogance when it should inspire humility.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Mixed Review for New Book on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spirituality

August 12, 2012

 

The National Catholic Reporter carries a review of a new book by Richard Giannone, entitled Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS and Spiritual Desire. 

The review, by Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry (and your humble blogger), is a mixed one, based on what he views as two books in one:

“Richard Giannone’s memoir is really two books in one. The first book, the one suggested by the title, Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire, does not live up to its promise. The second book, the unanticipated story of Giannone’s care of his infirmed mother and sister, is a fine surprise.”

The reviewer explains the problem of the “first” book:

“Based on the word ‘reflections,’ I’d hoped his story would provide personal insight into the struggles of living a closeted existence during decades when “coming out” was sometimes a dangerous decision. I expected that there would be tales of courage and sacrifice about caring for friends with HIV/AIDS in a time when all of society’s institutions — including the church — ostracized these victims. I looked forward to reading reflections about connections between sexuality and spirituality from the perspective of one on the margins.

“Unfortunately, there is too little of that story in this text. . . .For example, Giannone offers the powerful and curious claim: “Being gay and seeking God are inextricably bound at the generative vortex of one’s nature.” Such a claim deserves serious unpacking of details, events, insights, but sadly he offers no further explanations. Those details would be where the true story lies. Unfortunately, there were too many such unfulfilled promises, too often summary when expansiveness is needed.”

While critical of the “first” book, the reviewer has praise for the “second” one which describes Giannone’s care of his ailing relatives:

“It is the second, far better book that is the heart of this volume. Caring for his mother’s physical needs provided the author with a wealth of opportunity for reflection on personal identity, family relationship, gender roles, ethnic and cultural barriers, and connections with the divine. The story of caring for her comes before the story of care for his sister and is the more compelling one. Understandably enough, a parent-child relationship is in many ways much more primary.

“The second book has wider appeal, of course, for it relates a common situation that many people face — caring for a sick family member, and some of the existential crises and vistas that such a task produces. Giannone’s preference for abstraction rather than detailed writing serves this section well. We are treated to some profound insights, such as his description of his sister’s return to her home after a long hospital sojourn: ‘At home on Harper Terrace, she would be solely dependent on the source of her life; she would be alone with the Alone.’ ”

The review concludes with a mixed recommendation:

“While Hidden does not deliver the title’s promise of insights into sexuality and spirituality within the gay and HIV/AIDS community, it can offer solace and companionship for those who take the difficult but rewarding journey of caring for a frail loved one.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


The Catholic Dimension at the International AIDS Conference

July 26, 2012

The International AIDS Conference, the largest gathering of HIV/AIDS researchers, educators, advocates, care-givers, and pastoral workers in the world,  is meeting in Washington, DC, this week.  It is the first time in over 20 years that the United States has hosted the conference; for many years U.S. immigration policy would not admit people who were HIV+ into the country, so the meeting could not be held here.

Catholics are certainly a presence at the meeting.  Last weekend, Catholic Charities USA hosted a pre-conference three-day gathering of Catholics involved in pastoral care and social work with people who have HIV/AIDS.  Howard University Divinity School in Washington also hosted a three-day Interfaith Conference on HIV/AIDS issues and faith.

Among those attending all three events were two Catholics from the United Kingdom, Vincent Manning and Adela Mugabo.  The pair presented at the Catholic and Interfaith pre-conferences on the Catholic ministry they are doing in the UK with their organization, “Positive Catholics.”  Their presentation focused on the need to move from a model of peer support to a model of peer ministry.  In a National Catholic Reporter article about the Catholic Charities conference, Manning described this new ministry model as “a fellowship of the weak” :

Vincent Manning

Manning, of United Kingdom faith-based group Positive Catholics, said ‘stigma and fear produce a silence that isolates and excludes people,’ and the aim of the group is ‘to listen with great care – healing begins when a person feels seen and heard.’ “

The occasion of the International Conference also sparked memories of those who have gone before us and reflections on how far we have come.  Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for National Catholic Reporter offered this very poignant description as part of his blog post on the Washington meeting:

“Memory sears. It is painful. It is grounded in experience and, just so, less easily shared. Those of us who lived through the HIV crisis before there was treatment look back on that time with pained hearts. It is as Augustine wrote about the death of his childhood friend: our tears have taken the place of our friends. The emptiness of life without so many friends and colleagues who once filled our lives but died too early from this dread disease, that emptiness remains. At Mass on Sundays, during the Eucharistic prayer, the priest calls us to pray for those who have gone before us, and he usually pauses. I pray first for my Mom, then for my uncles and aunts, and my grandparents, for Fr. Kugler and Msgr. Ellis, and then I start down the list of those lost to AIDS: David, always first because he was my best friend and nary a day has passed since his death that I do not miss his wit and wisdom, Stephen, Damien, Nalty, Bryan, Hooper, Robert, the customer whose name I have forgotten who always had a coterie of friends with him when he came into the restaurant where I worked. I never seem to have time to mention them all before the priest continues with the prayer. As the priest continues, the very next lines in the Roman Canon recall apostles and martyrs: John the Baptist, Stephen, Mathias, Barnabas, Ignatius….The list of my friends who have died, which I am still muttering silently, blends in to naming of the saints. I like that.”

Winters’ post goes on to challenge the gay community, who he feels has re-shuffled their priorities away from HIV/AIDS to political causes such as marriage equality and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”   He observes:

“With limited resources, financial and political, it seems to me that the fight against HIV, especially because it now disproportionately affects minority populations, should still be the top priority for gay rights groups.  One cannot marry if one is dead. One cannot serve openly in the armed forces if one is dead.”

His concluding challenge is to ALL Catholics to continue working for people with HIV/AIDS:

“As Catholics, we cannot abandon the fight against HIV, still less our compassion for those who acquire the disease. As Catholics, we must fight the stigmatization that comes with the disease. As Catholics, our conscience and our attention must be pricked when we see a disease begin to disproportionately affect minority populations. As Catholics, we must fight to preserve the Affordable Care Act which will help make high-quality care available to everyone, not just the rich. As Catholics, called to love of neighbor, and assured that we will be judged by how we respond to the hungry, the stranger, the thirsty, and the ill, we cannot turn our eyes away from this still pernicious epidemic and all the socio-cultural sins it makes manifest.”

Another set of memories comes from an Oxford University Press blog post by Richard Giannone, a retired Fordham University professor who has recently authored a memoir, Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire. Giannone recalls the early days of the epidemic, and its effect on one New York City Catholic parish:

“Though the Catholic church hadn’t been mother to her gay children, some came anyway to the 5:30 afternoon Mass at St. Joseph’s Church in Greenwich Village. Clothes drooped on emaciated men in their mid-twenties to early forties. Pustules rutted the withered flesh of several. Some sported baseball caps to keep facial lesions shaded out of sight of onlookers. A few men used make-up to screen darkened facial spots. But nothing covered the bones of suffering or muted the sound of sickness from the pews punctuating the words of God from the altar.

“Living in wrack and ruin, these men brought life back into a church that left them for dead. They walked to the Lord’s Table for sustenance, more life. The vitality of their appeal stood out in sharp relief against the lifeless Christianity that vilified their gayness. Such spiritual defiance taught me what I needed to know and need to remember.

“AIDS was our passion. Its agony thrust gay life into the vortex of twentieth-century history. This previously censored truthfulness came to rest in rows of church benches for all to bear gayness in mind as part of providential history. Their perseverance asked me to trust the body. I did.

“At the liturgy, persons with HIV were not seen as the reviled carriers of plague rejected by society. Bodies that were hosts for infections sought the host of sacred healing. Their return to the home that spurned them showed that the divine spirit was far beyond any barrier of separation that humans erected for themselves. The love that dare not say its name howled out from its heart with what voice it had left to reclaim its place in God’s plan. Worship modeled a church and society to which I felt I could belong.”

May such memories, as well as the present witness of those who continue to struggle with the disease, as well as those who work to prevent and cure, as well as care for those affected, spur us on to greater resolve to end the epidemic.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,090 other followers