A Catholic’s Easter lament: Dogmatic, tone-deaf bishops
By JOEL CONNELLY, SEATTLEPI.COM
Published 04:00 p.m., Saturday, April 7, 2012
A painful truism of this Holy Week, Christianity’s most important days of the year: Moral leadership in America’s Catholic Church is starting to flow from lay persons in pews and priests who deal with human problems, not prelates on thrones wearing white, red and purple hats.
Just look around to events from Rome to Berlin, and from Worcester, Mass., to Seattle.
In the Archdiocese of Seattle, our bishops issued a letter saying parishes will become signature-gathering centers for Referendum 74, a ballot measure designed to roll back same-sex marriage. But the state’s marriage equality law was sponsored by a Catholic state senator and signed into law by a Catholic governor.
Archbishop Sartain and Bishop Elizondo talk about treating all persons with “respect, sensitivity and love,” but then urge support for a campaign put together by the National Organization for Marriage — an outfit that wants to “drive a wedge” between blacks and gays, “sideswipe” President Obama and make opposition to marriage equality “an identity marker” for young Latinos.
A Q-and-A, just put out by the Washington State Catholic Conference, tells the faithful: “The Catechism of the Catholic Church does teach that homosexual ACTS are intrinsically disordered, not persons.”
A question to Archbishop Sartain, who does not seem to want to take questions: How do I, as a layperson, treat my friends who are gay and lesbian?
When with a telltale, sheepish grin a friend says he/she is seriously in love, my standard refrain is along the lines, “Why you lucky dog! Have you kids set a date?” Friends take pleasure in other friends’ happiness.
What’s, then, the approved party line for gay friends in love? a) Sorry, the church says what you are doing is “disordered,” or b) I love you as a sinner but I hate your sins, or c) My bishops have written: “For all unmarried persons, chastity means that they refrain from sexual relations.”
Do purple skullcaps dull the mind? The Jesus of the Gospels preaches human decency, not dogma. Life experience teaches us that the essence of marriage is the same whether people are straight or gay. Two people affirm their love and make a commitment to each other. Lots of gay and lesbian couples are raising children: Should they be denied the right to raise those children as legally married couples?
Catholic governors in Washington, Maryland, New York and California have not submitted to church dogma, or the hierarchy’s convoluted reasoning. And a vast majority of young people — including Catholic young people — want the happiness of friends whatever their age or race or sexual preference.
The hierarchy is tone deaf in many ways and places, be it in heavy-handed attacks on contraception coverage in health insurance or cruel treatment of Catholics who are not docile and do not submit to discipline.
A small Catholic college in Massachusetts was forced during Holy Week to rescind its invitation to Vicki Kennedy, widow of Sen. Edward Kennedy, to be this year’s graduation speaker. She was to speak as co-founder and president of the group Common Sense About Kids and Guns.
The order came from Worcester Bishop Robert McManus, whose spokesman told National Catholic Reporter that McManus acted because of Kennedy’s “positions on pro-choice versus pro-life and the sanctity of marriage.”
What a cruel, vindictive action, and what a reflection on the kind of men running the church.
“I am a lifelong Catholic and my faith is very important to me,” Kennedy said. “I am not a public official. I hold no public office, nor am I a candidate for public office. I have not met Bishop McManus nor has he been willing to meet with me to discuss his objections. He has not consulted with my pastor to learn more about me or my faith.”
The bishops don’t learn. They may think of themselves a shepherds, but America’s Catholics are not sheep. They may not consult people in the pews — or meet with those, like Kennedy, that they are judging — but laypersons (and many priests) are consulting their consciences.
A key lesson: Moral authority is earned. It is not simply acquired when a bishop/cardinal/Pope is installed. The American (and Irish, and Dutch, and Belgian , etc.) hierarchy has forfeited a lot of that authority through its handling of the priest sex-abuse scandal.
The despair is mitigated by the good works and wise words from those in the pews.
As Pope Benedict XVI used a Holy Thursday sermon to tell priests to obey orders, Medina, Wash., lay Catholic Melinda Gates was speaking from conscience about contraception at a conference in Berlin.
Contraceptives are not a code for abortion, she said, nor an invitation to promiscuous sex. “We are talking about giving women the power to save their own lives and their children’s lives — and to give their families the best possible future,” said Gates, talking of the need for birth control in the developing world.
Gates discussed the instruction in faith she received from sisters in a Catholic high school: “In the tradition of great Catholic scholars, the nuns also taught us to question received teachings. One of the teachings most of my classmates and I questioned was the one saying birth control was a sin.”
She didn’t question lessons on service, and giving back, and social justice, worthy grounding for the future co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The bishops will just have to deal with conscience-driven Catholics. In fact, they could listen and learn.