Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Sad Situation

Although I really like the Chesterton quote a reader once pointed out to me wherein he said, "Only a Calvinist could believe the road to hell is paved with good intentions," I must say that sometimes these "conservative" types make me inclined to believe just that. But I suppose it all depends on what we can honestly call a "good intention" while keeping a straight face. There have been a couple of cases like this lately, sad all around:
Gay marriage -- and any issue even remotely connected to homosexuality -- is guaranteed to spark controversy in the Catholic Church these days. But with the fallout from those disputes now claiming the children of gay couples as collateral damage, even the hierarchy is divided over the proper approach to an increasingly complex issue.

That was clear this week in Massachusetts after a parochial school in the tony South Shore suburb of Hingham rescinded its acceptance of an 8-year-old boy when the parish priest learned that the boy's parents are lesbians. One of the mothers, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of concerns about the effect of publicity on her son, said she and her partner had planned to send the boy to third grade at St. Paul Elementary School in the fall.

But she said that in a conference call with the priest, Father James Rafferty, and the school principal, Cynthia Duggan, Rafferty told her that her relationship was "was in discord with the teachings of the Catholic Church." Duggan told her teachers would be in an awkward position by having to answer student questions about the boy's two mommies.
Ugh. This sounds a lot like trying to "solve" a problem by pretending it doesn't exist, a seemingly favorite tactic of conservatives; just create a sheltered little world where there are no homosexual couples with children so that we don't ever have to face the complex moral questions about how to deal with those children, and just keep our own children in blissful ignorance, postponing the reality that they will be growing up in a world where this is becoming more and more common. Sure, that's going to solve all our problems...

Thankfully, the Archdiocese itself seems a lot more sane:
The decision by Rafferty and Duggan also seemed to take the Archdiocese of Boston by surprise. A spokesman for Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley and other church officials said there is no policy barring the children of gay parents from Catholic schools.

"The Archdiocese does not prohibit children of same sex parents from attending Catholic schools," Mary Grassa O'Neill, secretary for education and superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, said in a statement on Thursday. "We will work in the coming weeks to develop a policy to eliminate any misunderstandings in the future,"

O'Neill added that Catholic schools "welcome children based on their parent's understanding that the teachings of the Church are an important component of the curriculum and are part of the students' educational experience." As long as they understand that, they are free to enroll their children.
And that is the other side of the coin. It's just ridiculous to ban the child because they don't want to deal with an "awkward" situation, but then on the other hand, the parents can't be allowed to complain if, say, the child is taught that homosexual activity is a sin in a religion class; they knew it was a Catholic school from the start.
On Thursday, O'Neill contacted the student's parent and "expressed my concern for the welfare of her child" and offered to help her find a place for the youngster in another Catholic school. The mother said she would consider the possibility.
That was a nice gesture, at least. Hopefully the woman will see that not all Catholics are like this crazy pastor.
The archdiocese did not try to force Rafferty and St. Paul's to change their minds on the 8-year-old boy's status.

But the Catholic Schools Foundation, which is chaired by O'Malley and is the leading provider of scholarships to low-income Catholic school students in greater Boston, sent a letter to all Catholic schools saying it would not provide scholarship money to schools that discriminate on admissions. It said any such practice "is at odds with our values as a foundation, the intentions of our donors, and ultimately Gospel teaching."

"I am disappointed that...this faith that I love seems to find new ways to shoot itself in the foot," Jack Connors, chair of the Campaign for Catholic Schools, which has raised nearly $60 million for major capital and program improvements in local Catholic schools, told The Boston Globe.
That's for sure.
The Massachusetts incident mirrors a case in March when a Catholic school in Boulder, Colo., said two grade school girls could not return to the school because the parish priest and school administrators had discovered the girls' parents are lesbians.

The pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus parish argued that Jesus "turned people away" and that his decision was not aimed at hurting the children, but at "upholding the teachings of our faith."

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, one of the more outspoken conservatives in the hierarchy, fully backed the pastor and said that parents who send their children to Catholic schools should be expected to live according to the Catholic faith. "If parents don't respect the beliefs of the Church, or live in a manner that openly rejects those beliefs, then partnering with those parents becomes very difficult, if not impossible," Chaput said.
I remember when this case came out, the neocon/trad blogosphere was all cheerleading in support of the pastor and Archbishop Chaput, but it's really ridiculous.

"Openly rejects" those beliefs? How many of the heterosexual parents are contracepting? How many children of divorced and remarried parents have been turned away?

And (though I find it unlikely) what if these parents do accept the teachings of the Church, but are just sinners? As I've discussed before, it is not at all surprising, nor even troubling, that Catholics don't "follow" the teachings of the Church. All sorts of self-righteous trads post statistics about how many Catholics contracept as if that's a big gloom and doom portent. Yet the ridiculousness of that logic is shown if we imagine them analyzing statistics about the frequency of impure thoughts or masturbation the same way. If the Church were judged by whether people actually lived up to the standards of morality, it would be worthless. Thankfully, it's not really a question of getting people to actually stop any behaviors; that's never happened by institutional manipulation, only ever on the initiative of individuals and the grace of God. Nor has it ever even really been a realistic goal.
That argument raised questions about why divorced parents or single parents or even non-Catholic parents are allowed to enroll their children in Catholic schools in Denver and elsewhere, but gay parents cannot.
Very good questions indeed. Didn't Jesus say something about who's allowed to cast the first stone?
Moreover -- and perhaps contrary to expectations -- many gay couples choose to be Catholic and want to raise their children in the Catholic Church and send their children to Catholic schools.

This has created some concern among pastors as gay couples in recent years have begun bringing their children to church for baptism. Most dioceses simply allow pastors to do what they think best. Some stipulate that the baptism be at a private service in the church for the family, rather than at a regular Mass, to avoid giving the impression that the church approves of the couple's status.
If public baptism was an endorsement of the parent...then only the child of sinless parents could ever be baptized. Where today is the Church founded by that guy who, very publicly, hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes?
Nor are gay parents simply going to take their kids and leave. The mother of the Massachusetts boy this week said she and her partner are Christians, and though they don't attend church regularly, they like the values of a Catholic education and hoped to find another Catholic school for their son.

And the parents of the girls in the Colorado case have spoken movingly of their commitment to the Catholic faith.

"They [school officials] asked if we would raise our children in the Catholic faith and we said we would and we have really tried to live up to that commitment," one of the Colorado mothers told the National Catholic Reporter. (Both women were raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools). "We take them to church every week." She said the couple switched to Sacred Heart parish when their kids started going to the school. "We signed up and our money goes into the basket every week. Our kids go to Sunday school. We are making the effort."

In an especially profound and extensive reflection, published last month in the Catholic periodical Commonweal, a lesbian and mother spoke of the reasons she and her partner, both Catholics, chose a Catholic school for their two newly adopted sons and of the unexpected welcome they received.

The anonymous author of the piece, "Sins of Admission," was raised a devout Catholic, attending Catholic schools and going to Notre Dame, where she helped run the campus pro-life group. She went on to work with the disabled and study theology before she and her partner adopted two "AIDS orphans" from Africa, who they enrolled in the school of the parish where both women sing in the choir.

"Although many have tried to show me the door out of the church, I never, in my first years with my partner, pondered leaving," the woman wrote. "I thought less and less about 'being gay,' per se, and continued the practice of my faith. In my work life and my home life I strove to be more loving and that itself was struggle enough. During this time the local diocese saw fit to recognize my professional work with an award at their annual prolife banquet. With some dismay, I dutifully accepted the award and shook the hand of the bishop, who is, in many respects, Archbishop Chaput's twin, and pondered the irony of it all."
I think her story is not at all uncommon. Most Catholics, most mature human beings, reach a "separate peace" regarding their own reality vs. some idealized (but false) self-image. The Church can only work to convince people that the highest level of integration and inner peace is ultimately found in the fullness of Catholic holiness. An authoritarian approach to forming healthy consciences isn't going to work because the authoritarianism (even if only intellectual) is itself unhealthy.

Because it is not our job to try to shake people out of the compromises they have made inside their own head; we can only trust God to do that in due season. We just have to be there for the person all along. It's not our job, nor does it even make sense, to pressure people into resolving the cognitive dissonance they're willing to bear, as it may even be a intermediate stage of integration. We should support them in those areas they do have virtue (like this woman's pro-life work) rather than focusing on their vices.

Certainly I know many self-accepting sinners who are healthier and happier than many self-loathing (and thus, ironically, self-righteous) self-proclaimed saints. And very often I feel like (though I would not recommend it actively, nor is it my place to do so) these latter would really actually benefit from cutting loose and going wild for a while if only to find their way home again; they'd probably find they come back humbled but also loosened up, less anxious, less afraid, realizing that in the grand scheme of things...there is nothing to worry about. Life goes on.

The fact is, all sorts of Catholics (most of them, really) in the Third World practice a sort of syncretist fetishism bordering on idolatry. If we had this sort of Inquisition against that...well, all of Latin America (and Africa, and Asia) would pretty much be lost. But these are good, kind, sincere people.

Milk and meat; childhood is not bad just because adulthood is the goal, and most of us here on earth are spiritually children or adolescents in our own way. You can't make someone else's growth (nor even your own, very often) go any faster by being a disciplinarian or shunning the defiantly imperfect. Sometimes you just have to wait.
And though we can't positively advocate it as morally "right," I think all healthy people would admit that teenagers in a certain sense need to rebel and experiment in order to establish their independence. But most end up as perfectly bland adults by the time 25 or 30 or 40 rolls around...

I'm sure parents who have had to change diapers for years would be able to make a good analogy here. Sometimes people just keep cranking out shit, with no remorse, and you just have to love them like an infant and deal with it until they reach the appropriate point to find a better solution. If you try to hit the baby at that stage to stop their "open rejection" of the norms of toilet won't make the infant change, you won't succeed in getting him to use a toilet, you'll just traumatize him and probably greatly hinder any chance of him successfully achieving a more grown-up approach in the future.

I think Arturo Vasquez again really hit the nail on the head once when he said, to make a point, in the comments section in a couple of posts on his blog:

Sure, they went to daily Mass, but that was about it. They cursed about as much as everyone else, they had their own idiosyncracies, and a host of skeletons in the closet that only little by little were revealed to me. From the outside, turning their lives around for Jesus wasn’t reaping any benefits. They were the same old people, just with scapulars on now.


and though he had not been to church in decades, he asked to see a priest on his deathbed. Christianity perhaps did not make his life better; according to my father, he struggled with his own personal demons of alcoholism and broken marriages. But it did leave him at the gates of Paradise when he finally shed this passing mortal frame. If there is anything that we should hope for, it is indeed that.

I really don’t care anymore what Father of the Church St. X-ullus said about W, Y, or Z, or what Aquinas wrote about the existence of space aliens. Most people who do such proof-texting have an agenda that usually results in something being torn down or some quaint anachronism being thrown out the window. To all of those people, I say, “go screw yourselves with bells on!” The Vatican says that we came from monkeys anyway, so I am going to go buy my statue of la Santa Muerte and erect an altar. Try and stop me.

The fact is, a hundred years ago we would have all been heretics. Read the fine print for crying out loud! Is any one of us NOT a modernist?! Even the most “traditionalist” Catholic service looks like it’s from another planet compared to what people expected in church at the turn of last century. I don’t understand people who think that we as Catholics are so substantially different from pantheist Episcopalians that we can look down our nose at them. We can talk all we want about the importance of truth, but the real truth is that we postmoderns have become so numb concerning principles that we impressionistically think that we are being traditional just because we oppose the idea of a man being able to marry his dog. Back in the “good ol’ days”, people would have been burned at the stake for things that we think are “no big deal”: heresy, schism, adultery, etc. Maybe all of this has “legitimately developed”. Well, I, along with 99.99% of other Catholics in the world will “legitimately develop” all of this some more to whatever we think is best.

So it is really that contracepting soccer-mom, the Catholic charismatic writhing on the floor, the prostitute lighting a candle in front of a saint’s shrine, the priest who has a housekeeper who does more than the dusting, etc., it is those people who are normal. All of us Catholics who go on blogs and worry about what X bishop said or what Y cardinal is wearing… we are the ones who are the problem. Everyone else has moved on, so why shouldn’t we?


Michael D said...

Well, in response to that scathing article, I will posit one of my other favorite Chesterton quotes:

"It is incomprehensible to me that any thinker can calmly call himself a 'Modernist.' He might as well call himself a Thursdayite."

I suppose the obvious defense would be that at no point did Vasquez seem to be trying to remain calm.

A Sinner said...

Which scathing article? The one about the lesbian couple? The blogpost I wrote in response to the whole situation? Or the one I quote from Arturo Vasquez?

He was making a point, I think, not really advocating indifferentism but rather realism about how folk religion works.

If we don't excommunicate the guy worshiping Jesus Malverde, why single out the gays?

Michael D said...

I meant the Vasquez article. No, the first one I think highlights an important point about try to make problems go away by pretending they don't exist, it's just silly.