NOTE: The following commentary was first published March 13, 2012, at Terence Weldon's blog, Queering the Church.
At Bilerico, Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer presents a challenge to gay Catholics, "When Do Catholics Walk Away From the Crazy?" Writing about the tragic case of Al Fishcer, the Catholic teacher who was fired when he announced his planned marriage to his long time partner, he responds to Fischer’s statement that he hadn't expected that response:
My sympathy is just about used up for people like you. I don’t doubt it's complicated for you. What is not complicated, what is in fact crystal clear, is that you are supporting an institution that has for centuries caused vast pain for GLBT people.
You are the problem.
I’ve faced precisely the same question decades ago, in an entirely different context. As a young student activist in South Africa, early 70's, I participated in many anguished discussions about the supposed moral obligation on White liberals to leave the country, because by staying we were said to be propping up the system, “part of the problem”. Over the years, I heard the same challenge rephrased in different ways, and saw many of my peers take that decision to leave. Some of those who did, participated as exiles in “the struggle” from abroad, others simply got on with their lives and built successful careers – making no more contribution to ending apartheid than if they had stayed. Some of those who remained behind likewise simply got on with their lives, raising their families. It is arguable (but I’m not convinced) that in itself made them part of the problem. Others who stayed were emphatically not. The story of South Africa’s transition to democracy has many strands, and the role of progressive activists inside the country is one of them.
To put the same challenge in yet another context, one could ask of progressive Americans, in the light of some well-publicized atrocities in a series of military adventures, from Vietnam to Aghanistan, why they continue as tax – payers to prop up the American system. We could say to them, too, “You are the problem. You should leave”.
We could, but I don’t, because the possible responses are obvious. The military atrocities are not essential to what the United States is, and in fact contradict true American values; the appropriate response to these horrors is not to walk away, which in any case achieves nothing, but to hold the those responsible to account; and that in any case it is not a realistic possibility for most Americans to simply walk away, renounce citizenship and cease paying taxes.
Much the same applies to the suggestion that LGBT Catholics should simply walk away from the Church. The disordered teaching on sexuality (all of it, not just the gay bits) and the occasional horrors of its pastoral application in practice, are not central to Catholicism; walking away does nothing to help, and probably just makes things more difficult for those who remain; and in any case, is just not as simple as it sounds.
I have shown why sexual matters are not central to Catholicism before, in several posts: for example, in “True Catholic Belief“, and in “Catholic Priorities and the English Church” . The idea that Catholicism is obsessed with sexual matters is a false misperception. We must also recognize that reports of the occasional horror stories, of a child with two moms turned away from a Catholic school, or a lesbian denied communion, or a teacher fired for announcing his marriage to a man, make such dramatic headlines precisely because they are so rare. There are probably kids being raised by gay parents in the majority of Catholic schools in North America and in Europe, countless openly lesbigaytrans Catholics receiving communion, or administering it every Sunday, and if all our gay organists were fired, church music in would simply cease in a high proportion of our parishes.
The claim that by staying we are part of the problem sounds like a high moral principle, but it is not. It is nothing but a slogan, devoid of any real meaning. It could only be true if it meant that leaving could solve anything, but it does not. There is no reason at all to believe that if all gay men and lesbians left the Catholic Church, it would somehow lead to improved sexual teaching. There is in fact good reason to believe that our continued presence and increasing visibility is in fact contributing to a gradual shift in tone, if not yet in formal doctrine. I suspect that doctrinal change too will come, but I leave that aside, for a far more pressing issue: the problem that we leave, if we walk away, to those left behind.
I am certain that change in Catholic sexual teaching, along with reform of the abuse of power and clerical culture must come, but I do not see it as my task to bring about that change. That task is too big for me. I leave it to those better equipped and more influential – and to the help of the Holy Spirit. My concern is with those other Catholics who, for whatever reason, stay within the Church, to help them survive the nasty bits, for the sake of the much bigger picture, that is the true meaning of Catholicism, and of Christianity. I try to do that here, writing at Queering the Church, by assisting at the Soho Masses for LGBT Catholics, which by their simple existence stand in prophetic witness that we too are welcome in the Catholic Church, and by participating as fully as I can in my local parish, as an openly gay and partnered Catholic. If I were to simply walk away, as suggested, I believe I would be simply abandoning those others who are still struggled with the issues that I dealt with and resolved for myself, years ago.
Finally, I can not simply walk away, because is is just not that simple. I am not a Catholic because I have signed on to a set of beliefs or programme of action, as one does when joining a political party. I am a Catholic because I was baptized and raised a Catholic, which is part of my identity, who I am. I can no more easily stop being a Catholic, than I can just stop being gay. I am Catholic, furthermore, for the very simple reason that the church is indeed “catholic”, that is, universal and inclusive (even if the practice of some churchmen attempts to deny that). This universality and inclusion is at the heart of true Catholicism, which I embrace by staying in – and would sacrifice if I were to leave.
Recommended Off-site Link:
Knowing What to Do, Knowing Why to Stay – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, November 16, 2009).