On the Recent Actions of Catholic Organizations and Leaders

The Catholic church and its representatives have taken some reprehensible actions as of late.  A sampling:
  • A Catholic school in Colorado is refusing students of gay and lesbian parents.  (See here.)
  • The Catholic archdiocese of Washington is cancelling all health insurances for spouses of employees to avoid paying benefits for same-sex couples.  (See here.)
  • A Dutch Catholic priest has refused to give communion to openly homosexual people.  (See here.)
Freedom of religion?  Yes.  Absolutely they have the right to do these things.  I'm not arguing about that.  But these things are not right to do.  And I would argue that even if you believe homosexuality is immoral, these actions are still not right.

First of all, the Catholic school situation:  While I have to wonder at people who differ with  the Catholic church's teachings and yet choose to put their children in a Catholic school anyway, numerous people do.  And not all these people live in ways that are consistent with the Catholic church's teaching.  By teaching their children, the Catholic church is not condoning the actions of all the parents.  Furthermore, one could argue that Catholic schools ought to particularly want to teach the students of sinners and heretics and infidels for missionary reasons--this is their chance to teach the young what they consider right before they are corrupted by these evil parents.   But, if the purpose of Catholic schools is not to teach anyone who lives in ways inconsistent with Catholic teaching, it's hypocritical not to kick out students of anyone who openly flaunts a non-Catholic lifestyle: Protestants, Jews, Muslims, atheists...  divorced people....

Second: health benefits.  Okay, I also wonder why you want to dedicate your life to working for an organization that hates you, but let's skip that again.  First, let's say, okay, you don't want to support a lifestyle you don't agree with.  Then what you should do is not hire people whose lifestyles you disagree with.  But why is it okay to pay one form of wages, and not another?  Why is it okay to give them a salary at all, some of which will surely go to support their spouses, and yet not have health insurance?  Secondly, the Catholic church ought to be in favor of universal health care as a human right.  And you know what universal health care will do?  It will also cover gay people.  Will the Catholic church revoke it's stance on human rights issues because it doesn't want to inadvertently help gay people?  Should we revoke the death penalty... except for gay people?  Should we be against abortion... except for gay people?  Nonsense--at least I would hope that this is obviously nonsense.  So why is it okay to say, yes, we have gay employees, but we want them and their spouses to suffer when it comes to medical problems, because they have a lifestyle of which we do not approve? 

Third: Communion.  And, again, I wonder at those who choose to stay in a religion that has this attitude, but that aside...  Now, I don't know the ins and outs of the Catholic's policies and procedures about giving communion.  But I thought communion was In my opinion, communion is something that is -- or should be -- open to anyone, and at least anyone Catholic.  If As such, it should be open to gay people, as well.  To clarify, my views of communion could be summed up by these words in a call to communion by Allen V. Harris (found in Shaping Sanctuary: Proclaiming God's Grace in an Inclusive Church, p.220): "At this table all barriers are mute, all distinctions are neutral, all grievances are pointless for the invitation of the host is clear: all are welcome at the banquet feast.  Rich dine with poor, friends dine with enemies, men, women, youth, and children gather to remember a love born in a stable, transfigured on a mount, crucified on a hill, and resurrected in our hearts each time we set this table."  To deny it communion at all would be to violates the deepest understanding of the Christian religion, I would think in my opinion.  But if the Catholic church says, well, you have to confess your sins first, and then you can have communion, well, then, if you're gay and you confess that, then you should have communion, if being gay is considered a sin.  Either way, give gay people communion.  You give communion to every other sinner, right?  Some of them are still cheating on their spouses.  Some of them are still stealing from their office.  Yet they get communion.  Period.  The basis for not giving gay people communion rests on the idea that gay people are not repenting their sins.  The problem with this is that, first, it presumes to know people's future intentions.  Secondly, it assumes that because someone is openly gay that they're active sexually, which is the only real "sin" (quotes to note I don't agree with this definition) to being gay.  But also, it is a standard that is not being evenly applied, even to similar "sins" (like couples who are living together before marriage), or sins that are clearly worse by any reasonable standard, like domestic violence.  In most other cases, the sin is confessed (or not), and communion is given with the assumption that the person is going to try really hard to not do it any more, even if they've confessed it weeks in a row.  But beyond this, I believe that believing that being gay is sinful is wrong.  It's homophobia that's the sin.     

What's going on with all of these situations here is this bizarre placement of homosexuality as the worst and most offensive of all sins.  It's like the list of bad offenses now goes:
1.  Homosexuality
2.  Murder
3.  Incest
4.  Rape

Does the Catholic school kick out all children of felons?  If it was to educate a child of a murderer, does that imply that it condones murder?  Does that mean that they can't say in the school, "Murder is bad?"  If you give a murderer communion, does that mean that you believe murder is good?  If you give a murderer health care, does that mean you think murder is good?

The Catholic church needs to re-examine its priorities and realize that it believes in education, it believes in health care, and it believes in holy communion, and that the goal of the church is to spread the teachings of Jesus, both through education and communion and through following Jesus' actions (like healing the sick).

Meanwhile, to LGBT people who find themselves shunned by the Catholic church?  Well, Catholicism is wrong.... about a lot of things.  Hopefully this begins the questioning of the Catholic church's rightness.

*Text in red added 3/11/09 for correction and/or clarification.


Bill Baar said…
Now, I don't know the ins and outs of the Catholic's policies and procedures about giving communion. But I thought communion was open to anyone Catholic.

Hardly, and it's a bit of schock to see you write this.

My invalid mother-in-law refused communion --a deep and profound act to her-- because she had missed last Sunday's Mass.

Communion isn't a right. One needs to be right with the Church to recieve it.

Get over to St. John the Evangelist's in Jackson (I was at a wedding there last year) and have a long talk with the Priest.
dtedac said…
Rev. Cyn,
You have hit upon three subjects which are among the hotter talking points among Catholics online and offline. Many of us who call ourselves progressive Catholics are appalled by the hypocrisy. I think that as more conservative forces within the Church gain more power, they bring with them an attitude of triumphalism and judgment. As for the Dutch priest who refused communion, he may have been following the "party line", but he is not the one who is the focus of communion, it is Jesus. Only God sees the soul and we ought to leave judgment in God's hands, not ours.

There are many within the Church who actively oppose these injustices, at the risk of being ostracized. In time, I believe, many of the silent majority will begin to question and oppose the clearly incorrect teachings of the Church and insist on change. There are millions of Catholics worldwide and change in this area is necessary to bring about a better world. That is my prayer.

Cynthia Landrum said…

Get over to St. John the Evangelist's in Jackson (I was at a wedding there last year) and have a long talk with the Priest.

No thanks. I've met Rev. James Shaver from St. John's on the couple of occasions that he has come to the clergy group in the last six years, though I don't know if he'd recall me or my church. He seems a nice enough guy. But if I was interested in understanding the ins and outs of Catholicism, well, I'd be a Catholic, or at least have taken a course on it. My closest connection to Christianity is to Methodism, and obviously communion there works quite differently. Yes, I don't understand it thoroughly. I make no pretension to. But it still smells like hypocrisy to me.
Paul Oakley said…
Rev. Cyn,

I could be wrong, but though you are not interested in learning the ins and outs of Catholicism, I think the following may be relevant to your third objection above:

Another perhaps closer parallel on the communion issue is the refusal of communion to divorced Catholics who have remarried without benefit of annulment from the Church and whose ex-spouse is still living. Until the ex dies or an annulment obtained, there a state of being that cannot be escaped simply by going to confession. The state of being must change.

Of course the Church does not hold that a Catholic who dies in such a state is damned to hell. But this is an impediment to communion.

With somewhat different parameters, the person who is engaged in a promiscuous life or who is engaged in a sexual relationship (as opposed to occasionally slipping off the chastity wagon) that is forbidden by the Church is in a state of being that cannot be escaped merely by going to confession.

It may be unequally applied depending on what the current bugaboo is, but the theory of it does not prevent sexually active gays from receiving communion any more than it prevents habitual adulterers and people engaged in extra-marital affairs. Confession (the sacrament of reconciliation) is, after all, not considered valid if it is entered into with no intent of abandoning the sin being confessed.

I agree with you that the RC Church has much of the sex and sexuality stuff very wrong. But even with the apparent stress in some Catholic quarters on sex, sex, sex and the unfair and unequal application in some quarters, the sexual teachings and rules are part of a much larger picture that, even if wrong, is hardly capricious or arising as a momentary whim.
Bill Baar said…
Yes, communion for a Catholic and a Methodist very different things...

...but if you're not interested in the ins-and-outs of what's after all a large part of our heritage...well, so be it.

I'm a bit shocked though to see UU clergy admit this....
Cynthia Landrum said…

Yes, I think you're hitting on something there with your point about having to believe that you'll change behavior in order for it to be a real confession. Something in me just completely mind-blocks with religious hypocrisy in this way, such that I think if you're gay, and the Catholic church believes that your state of being is inherently sinful, and you are a Catholic, you have to basically believe that. So therefore, when you went to confession, you might be every bit as much thinking it would change you or you would change your behavior and therefore, after confession, you should be able to get communion. Granted, the examples wherein gay people are refused communion are where they are seemingly out & proud, but something in me just doesn't get that--why, then, would you be Catholic? Be something that believes in your goodness, instead. So if you want communion, somewhere inside, thinking that Catholicism is the only true church, and therefore it is right about you?


With as busy as my life is now, I have to pick and choose what I'm going to do in-depth study about. There are many things about many religions that I don't know in-depth. Understanding modern Catholicism could be a life-long pursuit, and no, it's not my passion. Sorry if that shocks you. Strangely, in my five years of seminary for the D.Min., I wasn't required to take Catholic catechism, nor was the Catholic catechism on the required reading list for any course or the MFC. But, then, I got two degrees in English without reading Moby Dick. That's probably shocking, too, and it's also important to our UU heritage. Frankly, I'll get around to reading Moby Dick first.

Meanwhile, perhaps I should suggest to my local priest that we do a pulpit exchange so we can both get to know each other better? Maybe on flower communion. He could learn to perform that while I learn about Catholic communion. :)
IrreverendAmy said…
I agree with Bill that communion is the odd one out on your three examples, and for the reason Paul gave: priests do deny communion to people for lots of other reasons besides being unrepentantly gay. To receive communion in the Catholic tradition, you have to have honestly sought absolution. I think the church is wrong about where it draws the line (its ideas about marriage and divorce show the same cluelessness about the nature of intimate relationships as so many of its sexuality-related teachings), but I don't think it is a case of naming homosexuality Sin #1.

On the other two examples, and particularly the case of the school, I am as boggled by the RCC as you. My suspicion is that they fear that if students encounter a student with G/L/B/T parents, or (horrors!) those parents themselves, they will be less likely to accept the church's position on homosexuality. Better to keep those pernicious influences away.
Matt said…
Rev, I find it appalling that you are criticizing a religion you profess you know nothing about.

Your words are an example of the problem with many of UU ministers, just because you have gone through divinity school and hold the title of REV does not give you right to profess your supposed moral superiority over other religions.

Do I think many of the Catholic churches policies and are right, NO. Do I know everything about Catholicism, NO. As such I do not have the moral or intellectual standing to pass criticism upon them.
Bill Baar said…
It took me all of an hour when I took my kids for their first confession.

The Church has thousands of years of experience conveying doctrine in simple and succinct ways.

If UUA is going to outreach Hispanics, then UU Clergy had best understand the religous heritage of the vasy majority of these newly arrived to USAmerica folks.

The short course would work just fine.
Joel Monka said…
Getting two English degrees without reading Moby Dick is not shocking. But writing a critique of Moby Dick without reading it would be- and maintaining your criticism of Moby Dick even after errors have been pointed out would be more shocking. And that is the position you are in. Would you respect an English teacher who says, "I've never read Moby Dick, and I don't pretend to understand Melville- but I still say he's a hypocrite anyway."?
Cynthia Landrum said…
Be fair. I did not profess to know nothing about; I said I did not know the ins and outs. There's a lot in between. I've studied some Catholic history; I've taken two classes at a Catholic seminary; I've traveled and spent a week in the exclusive company of Catholic priests-in-training as part of that; I'm married to an ex-Catholic; I've attended Mass on a few occasions. I made, yes, a poorly-thought-out statement that I thought communion was open to everyone, when clearly I can't think that because I know people have been denied communion. No, I don't really understand why thoroughly, but part of that is an inability, as I said earlier, to wrap my mind around hypocritical actions. I am, as I said, in some way assuming that LBGT people seeking communion are in some sort of agreement with the church that they are sinners, and have sought confession. Clearly that isn't always the case, but what I'm really not understanding here is not so much why people are being denied communion as why they would want to be part of a faith that tells them they can't have it, if they believe that faith is wrong about that. Once you open the door to the possibility that the Catholic church is not right about everything, and that it is fallible, I think you've opened a floodgate towards Protestantism.

You say I'm professing moral superiority over Catholicism. I'm quick to say Unitarian Universalism isn't perfect, and I critique it a lot. I'm not professing that we're perfect. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to call out bigotry in others. I don't think I have to understand a culture perfectly and intimately to know when prejudice and discrimination is happening that it is wrong.

Never mind that the Catholic leaders in question believe their training gives them the right to profess moral superiority over gay people. And women. And I've experienced plenty of discrimination in the settings I describe above from priests and priests-in-training, both as a woman and as a non-Catholic.

I am willing to believe that they believe they have well-grounded and consistent theological explanations for why they are prejudicial towards LGBT people.

I also believe that this prejudice is wrong.

And I don't have to understand Catholicism fully to understand bigotry when I see it. Why are we willing to excuse bigotry by the Catholic church just because it's a religion, and not everywhere else?
Cynthia Landrum said…
So, getting testy here, let me follow this to it's logical conclusion: if you need to know everything about something in order to be able to criticize it, none of you are therefore free to criticize me.

That's nonsense, of course, as you are freely doing it. You feel you know enough about who I am and what I do and what I believe to pass judgment, because you think my actions are wrong.

Am I wrong about my conclusion here, that the Catholic church is acting in ways that are prejudicial against LGBT people? I don't think so. I think I know enough about Catholicism to say that.
CC said…
Yes, the Catholic church is prejudicial in a lot of ways. Partially because it's big, and old and change takes a long time. In my personal case, I am a Catholic who disagrees with a lot of things that go on. BUT i believe that there are many many great things about Catholicism. AND, I believe that it is my responsibility as someone who cares about the good things in Catholicism, to STAY IN IT and fight against the hypocrisy. If all the people who disagree with the treatment of BGLT folks, women, etc leave, then Catholicism will become MORE rigid, MORE narrow and MORE discriminatory because the community left there will not be diverse.

I don't object to your criticism of Catholicism, but I do object to your call to people to leave because of hypocrisy. If we simply ignored/ran away from/ dropped our communities because they were hypocritical and/or not perfect, no one would be part of ANY group. I think it is our moral imperative to change whatever community we are in for the better, not to shun entire communities for being human and imperfect.
Paul Oakley said…
Rev Cyn wrote: "... why they would want to be part of a faith that tells them they can't have it, if they believe that faith is wrong about that."

And here I fully sympathize with your lack of understanding. I left Christianity a quarter of a century ago at age 25 primarily because there was at that time only MCC that did not either condemn me for being gay or accept me only as a lesser citizen. Certainly there were more liberal individual ministers and congregations across the denominational spectrum, but those and MCC did not exist where I lived.

I have friends, though, who stayed. Who needed to stay. Not because they were condemned or discriminated against but because of what the religion was really about for them: a salvific message within a mythos and tradition that spoke to them and a liturgy that had been ingrained in their consciousness, a sacred rhythm that gave shape to their lives in ways that transcended theological "content."

The fact that a person stays and "submits" to church power does not in itself imply that one believes that power is correct in its execution or even in its official theology but that, for a host of reasons, the person needs to be in a community that gives meaning, and bowing to power to some degree is what is required to remain.

(And yes, of course, there are always also people who stay because, just like the classic battered wife, they believe they are as deficient as they are told that they are.)
Cynthia Landrum said…
@CC & Paul,
Yes, sure, almost no one will agree with 100% of a religion, and you have to choose when to fight and when to leave.

This, of course, gets to the root of something that is both a strength and a weakness in UUism. We are a religion with so many people who are the people who chose to leave other religions. The weakness in that is that we are quick to leave or threaten to leave, perhaps overly so, when we don't get our way. The strength is that we are also a religion full of people with strong principles that they are ready to act on.

In my family history, the things that you leave a church over are these sorts of isms--racism, heterosexism. These are why my parents left their family tradition of Methodism and came to UUism. These are the sorts of things, that if held as an overt policy, would drive me to leave UUism. I cannot hold with that. Sure, we still have prejudices within our church, but we're trying to name and change them, and we don't accept that as the way things will continue to be. And I, personally, couldn't be in a church which didn't hold that I was an equal and loved child of God. I could disagree about a lot of things, but not that. I respect and admire my Catholic laywomen friends who feel called to the priesthood and have that calling denied, but stay in Catholicism anyway. I would never make that choice. I would follow my calling in another faith--and I have. Clearly there is something in the Catholic identity that is so strong that being an Episcopalian or a Lutheran or somewhere else and being able to be a minister isn't enough for them. It's something, unlike Melville or catechism, that I have spent long hours talking to both Catholics and ex-Catholics about, but yet will never truly understand any more than I could understand what it is to be male, simply because it's so not me.
Cynthia Landrum said…
Yes, I made an error in the way I worded things, and didn't think things through, and have been duly corrected, but I do not believe I am wrong about my conclusion that it is still anti-gay, whether it is a rule consistently applied or not. I see your analogy, and I did indeed invite it. Yet it's neither true that I have not studied any Catholicism nor that I have not studied any Melville, and if Moby Dick was being used in our society to promote racist behavior, I would still feel free to call it racist behavior, even without reading Moby Dick, yes. The racism might be entirely consistent with the teachings of Moby Dick, but I would still feel free to call it wrong. And it might interest and inspire me to read Moby Dick in the future, to fill out the obvious holes in my ignorance. And I take the fact that I had some technical details on communion wrong in the way that I worded it, at least, and probably in the way I was understanding it, at least at the time I wrote it. I admit that, and would admit if I got a quote from Moby Dick wrong. But, yeah, I believe fundamentally that the point of view that says we have to fully understand a culture in order to criticize its human rights abuses is wrong. Surely it helps, because you don't get bogged down in this argument, but human rights abuses are still wrong, and so is homophobia, and there's no understanding of any culture or religion that in my mind excuses it.
Bill Baar said…
Every Sunday, more Gay Catholics attend Mass in America than there are UU's: Gay or Straight, at Church or not.

Maybe we're missing something as UUs.

Rev Cyn, were you only to express this anti-authoritarianism against the Doctors of the Church, against the Doctors you'd place on expert panels to govern our health care too.

A Priest is a Priest is a Priest... we're better off with them constrained.
Cynthia Landrum said…
Bill says: Rev Cyn, were you only to express this anti-authoritarianism against the Doctors of the Church, against the Doctors you'd place on expert panels to govern our health care too.

Not sure I'm entirely following you there, Bill. But, yes, as you know, I'm for health care reform. But I'm against homophobia in our health care system, for the record, whether I study anatomy or not! LOL

A Priest is a Priest is a Priest... we're better off with them constrained.

Now I'm definitely not following... Care to elaborate?
Bill Baar said…
An MD 's White coat conveys as much authority as that Clerical Sole you wear in your picture. A Doctor of the Church as much an authority figure as a Doctor of Medicine.

The Catholic Church is an ancient bureaucracy prone to all the failings bureaucracies prone too: civil or sacred.

Health care reform, as "Expert Panels" of Priest-like Doctors setting "evidenced-based" care-algorithims, creates the same disputes and fights as you're finding with communion: denials of care; denials of communion. It's a Priest-Figure deciding all the same.

Our UU heritage teaches the sacredness of our autonomy; freed from commands of Priests: secular or sacred.

So no "expert panels" with their algorithims and doctrines deciding who gets communion, who gets what care...

Lets look for solutions respectful of our freedom.
Paul Oakley said…
Doctors of the Church, Bill?

(A title given to a saint from whose writings the whole Church is held to have derived great advantage. A designation that may be given only by a pope or an ecumenical council.)

I don't understand what the 33 RC saints honored with this designation by the Church as of the end of 2009, from Athanasius to Thérèse de Lisieux, have to do with the current discussion.
Carrie Prichard said…
I think, perhaps, that some (Paul, Bill, maybe others) are missing the point a bit here. Rev. Cyn's post is about prejudice, injustice, homophobia, and “NOT-Standing” on the Side of Love. Her post is not about the specifics of who can and who cannot take communion in the Catholic Church in general or the intricacies of Catholic theology. So she doesn’t know as much as others about Catholicism. That’s not a crime. It is not a necessity for a UU minister to know everything about any other church doctrine or theology. It is important that she fight prejudice, injustice, homophobia where ever she finds it and that she stand on the side of love.

Carrie Prichard
Paul Oakley said…
@ Carrie - It could also be that who is refused admission to a private school and who gets employer-paid or employer subsidized health insurance for which dependents or significant others are issues completely different in kind than who is allowed access to which thing within the ritual and sacramental life of the church.
Bill Baar said…
@Paul Doc's of the Church just stuck in my mind once as I heard a priest use the term when talking about Speaker Pelosi once rattle on about abortion.

@Carrie I don't view Rev Cyn's comments very pro-Gay at all. I know Gay Priests who lead chaste lives, recieve and give Communion, and I think they'd find Rev Cyn's post offensive, and hardly supportive of many Gay Catholics.

There are after all far more Gay Catholics than there are UU's in total. To slam the Church this way and supposedly support them really no support at all.

Where we as UU's differ from Catholics is on Authority. Our tradition is different. We don't submit to clerical authority in the way Catholics do.

I just whish Rev Cyn would be as skeptical of the Medical Authority of ObamaCare's Evidenced Based Practice panels, as she is of Roman Catholic Authority.
Bill Baar said…
@Paul... REP. PELOSI: I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. Pelosi commenting on when Life Begins... this drew a strong rebuke by the way from the Bishops... Catholics appeal to Authority in ways we UUs don't...Doctors, Bishops, Popes... and so on.

Not my kind of Religion but I respect theirs. Join it, follow the rules, or join ours if you can't; which isn't an appealing options for most dissenters.

That frustrates me when I find myself supporting a Church the dissenter uses for marriage, yet the Church the dissenter supports will exclude mine from the Community Council of Churches as Non Christian...

So what gives there?
Cynthia Landrum said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cynthia Landrum said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cynthia Landrum said…
http://www.dignityusa.org/node/669 Dignity USA on the refusal of communion to LGBT people and http://www.dignityusa.org/node/704 - what a gay Catholic group is saying about the denial of communion for political reasons, comparing it to the Catholic Church's treatment of LGBT people.
Cynthia Landrum said…
Sorry - those comments were deleted because I put in the wrong link & such.
Bill Baar said…
Sure it's a weapon.

A weapon against defiance of the Church's doctrine on chastity outside of marriage.

Recall Father Neuhaus's stab (saber thrust really) at Bishop Robinson writing his Alcholism was a disease to be treated.


One might imagine a person severely afflicted with same-sex desires writing something like this: "I thought of it as a failure of will or discipline on my part, rather than a disease over which my particular body simply has no control, except to stop having sex altogether and live a chaste life."

We UUs have a more pragmatic take on sexuality but for Catholic Theology its about will and discipline.

It's not a slam against Gays. When I took my kid to his first commmunion, the Priest said 90% of what was confessed to him involved sex. Every Catholic's taking a hit on sex.

But Catholics have clear boundaries drawn for them.

We do a pretty good job of boundaries in YRUU with our kids, but when it comes to Public Theology, UUism falls flat on it's face with sexual ethics.

We declare Marriage a right but no one wants to deal with the boundaries on that right. (what about that UU Polyamory ad? A UU Minister should marry whomever presents.)

You don't hear much about will or discipline from UU Preachers.

If Catholics are guilty of not practicing what they preach, perhaps we UU's are guilty of not preaching what we practice.

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