Monday, August 30, 2010

Catholics For Equality, an analysis on the Eve of their launch.

Catholics For Equality states the following as the mission of their organization:

Catholics for Equality empowers pro-equality Catholics to put our faith into
ethical and effective political action on behalf of the LGBT community and their families.

Zack Ford writes an article in Pam’s House Blend on Catholics For Equality (C4E), an organization scheduled to launch on 14 September 2010. Zack makes the following points:

"Something about 'pro-equality Catholic' just doesn't sit right with me. There's very little in Catholicism that in any way resembles 'equality' and Catholicism has never been known for being pro-anything. Let's hear a little bit more from their website:

Drawing on the rich tradition of Catholic social justice teachings, grounded in the Gospel message of Love, American Catholics are among the strongest supporters of equality for LGBT people of any religious group in the U.S.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HO HO HO HO HO HO HO HE HE HE HE HE HE HE!! WHOO! I'm rolling around on the floor. Seriously ROTFLMFAO!!! That's the best joke I've heard all day. You can't be serious, right? I mean, the Catholics come close, but it's definitely the Mormons who are the strongest supporters of LGBT equality, by far. Oh, that's rich, or it would be if it weren't so offensive to all the religious groups who do actually support LGBT equality.

Now, mocking aside, what they're talking about is that there is a rift between congregants and the leadership. Catholics for Equality is a group designed to oppose the bishops. The Catholic Church isn't exactly democratic or egalitarian in any conceivable way, so if congregants don't want to accept what the leadership is spoon-feeding, they have to form a separate group to represent their point of view, and this is such a group.

The question here is: what does it mean to be 'Catholic?'"

With all respect Zack, you may be asking the wrong question. A better question is "How will C4E move Catholic voters to support Pro-Equality legislation and candidates?" 25% of the American electorate is Catholic. They do not vote in “lock step” with the dictates of their bishops. Most Catholics do not follow the dictates of the bishops on artificial birth control. Many have suffered painful marriages that ended in divorce and they have subsequently remarried. The Catholic Church in the USA has attempted to accommodate many of these divorced and remarried Catholics through annulments. However, the Vatican has tried to make annulments more difficult to obtain. Many Catholics are now simply opting for Civil Marriages.

The point is that Catholicism is not a monolith and Catholics are not blind fanatics mindlessly following every dictate of the Vatican. Most significantly for LGBTQ people, most Catholics are not blindly following their bishop’s dictates in the voting booth. Catholic lay people tend to be progressive on many social issues and are far more progressive than most of their Protestant counterparts.

An organization such as “Catholics For Equality” should be welcomed, encouraged and supported by LGBTQ people because it could make a real difference on Election Day with Pro-Equality legislation and candidates. Zack, this is why I suggest that a better question would be, “How can Catholics For Equality reach Catholics and help foster pro-equality thinking and voting?”

The pro-equality thinking end of the equation could be addressed by the C4E foundation. Assembling progressive theologians and people engaged in pastoral ministries to speak to their Catholic brothers and sisters. Equality for LGBTQ people is a question of human dignity. Translating that into votes and political action is the missing piece in C4E.

As a former member of the founding board of directors, I do have very serious reservations about C4E’s ability to move Catholic voters and advance the cause of equality for LGBTQ people. At several Board meetings, Phil Attey (the current Executive Director) stated, “We do not want to change the [Catholic] Church.” Phil, why start Catholics for Equality if you are happy with the status quo? Phil also stated, “This is not an LGBTQ organization.” OK, then what is it? At one point, Father Joe Palacios, a priest of the LA Archdiocese, a board member of C4E and a Sociology/Latinos studies professor at the Jesuit Georgetown University, suggested that it was a Latino organization.

What emerged was a fragmented, insecure and vague set of goals. It is unclear how Catholics For Equality will move Catholics to vote for Pro-Equality legislation and political candidates. Anne Underwood is a board member of C4E and is also the head of an overlapping similar group in Maine called Catholics for Marriage Equality. She seemed concerned that C4E would replicate some of her own organization’s work in the drive for same sex marriage. This seems like this would be a conflict of interest.

The timid leadership currently in place at C4E fails to articulate (or more importantly agree on) how C4E will actually move Catholic voters. Additionally, some of board members gave me the distinct impression that they were there to make sure that C4E did not infringe on their “turf.” These conflicting agendas do not bode well for the success of this group and must be resolved.

An organization needs to have very clearly articulated goals and an understandable methodology in place to realize those goals. Here C4E breaks down and fails internally. If you visit the GetEQUAL website, they state their goal clearly and their methodology is the Direct Action/Civil Disobedience approach used by Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King. C4E offers “Brunch Captains.” I assume a "Brunch Captain" is someone who will host coffee and donuts after mass. Charming, to be sure; however, most parishes already offer coffee and donuts after Sunday Masses. The C4E website fails to explain how C4E "Brunch Captains” will make a real world difference on Equality issues. The C4E website invites visitors to submit reports of anti-LGBTQ speech/actions by Church officials; however, they fail to state how they will follow-up on those reports.

The C4E Board, as currently composed, lacks a clear vision and a forceful purpose. This exemplified by their launch date. The organization was scheduled to launch on 24 May 2010 and then this was changed to 16 August 2010 and then changed again to 14 September 2010. My fear is that C4E will focus on donations/fund raising and quickly degenerate into another “black tie, write us a check” LGBTQ organization. My hope is that the Board will grow a backbone and that its leadership will develop a clearly articulated vision and an effective methodology for actualizing Equality in the real world.

Some ideas that might help them would be to organize parish cells in the 17 states whose majority of voters currently support same sex marriage. The Woman Priest Movement is a good example of what can be accomplished on the parish level. These women made a real difference in my own parish by encouraging parishioners to question the hierarchy’s intransigent prohibition of women priests. Their members wore purple stoles, a scarf like cloth used by priests, at Sunday Mass causing parishioners to ask them about their unusual dress. Through their conversations with the parishioners, they engaged in theological discussions and moved people to understanding their position.

There is another organization called “The Rainbow Sash Movement” which does something similar for LGBTQ Catholics. Their members appear at Catholic Mass, and like the Women Priest movement, they quietly participate in the Mass while wearing rainbow sashes. Their high visibility provokes the same sort of discussion and thought that leads to greater understanding of their cause, which leads to real change.

Since they are “Catholics For Equality,” it would be a good idea for them to establish working partnerships with other Pro-Equality Catholic groups. Some suggestions would be: Federation of Married Priests; The Women Priest movement; Rainbow Sash; Bishop Accountability and SNAP.

I sincerely hope that Catholics For Equality will realize its potential to inform and move the conscience of millions of US Catholic voters. I am concerned that their current leadership cannot, or will not, provide a clear vision and an understandable methodology of how to obtain the goal of Equality. Without focus and a strong resolve, C4E will fail.

Let’s hope that they do not miss the opportunity to move significant numbers of voters into the Equality camp. That would be a loss for us all.


Tony Adams said...

Dear Geoff,
Your worries about the fledgling C4E are also my worries. Last time I checked, the founders are almost 100% gay. I think it is silly to think we ought to downplay this in order to attract the moveable Catholic middle. That disguise is an old and failed one. It would be better to clearly inform American Catholics that their clergy is mostly gay and that their leadership has failed and that it is time for the sheep to lead the shepherds back onto the right path.
I have repeatedly asked that the brunch thing be removed from the website or at least buried deeply so that it will not invite the immediate laugh. Also, I've asked that the line about "drawing on the rich tradition of yadda yadda" be rewritten so as not to invite a belly laugh at a time when the richest tradition of the contemporary church is its decades of abuse and cover-up.

It is my sincere hope that this fledgling org succeeds but you are right about the motives of some of the founders. Careers, job with medical benefits and turf are at play. I am considered a thorn because I have nothing to gain or lose and because I will write what I feel is true and because I think caution and timidity and guilt about what and who we are will be the death of us.

Tony Adams said...

Geoff, this is in addition to my comment below:

It is important to note that new orgs like C4E can sometimes succeed despite the weaknesses of the founders. Catholics who believe in equality need a voice and this could be it. In their hearts, the founders can do good work for equality. They all think that women deserve rights in the church. That gays and married men both straight and gay deserve equality. That nuns deserve equality and should not be treated like servants to a Higher-Archie. In their hearts they are not afraid to correct their bishops and to challenge the addled and silly pope.
I urge C4E to grow some serious balls before its launch on the 14th, but they don't much listen to me. They caress old strategies that they think are diplomatic and they are overly preoccupied with attracting money. Sounds like the American bishops?
Still, if my role is to say the inconvenient thing for the betterment of C4E, I'll stay with it and I hope that someday you'll be back with us.
PS: some praise to Father Joe Palacios who makes it clear on the website that he is a Catholic priest. He has a lot to lose. I can't imagine that the Archdiocese of LA will turn a blind eye to a gay priest teaching at a Catholic University who is one of their own. (Although, I myself have never been suspended or reprimanded, if that should now happen, my life would not much change.) You never know how/where/when grace will move through people to the betterment of the church. Maybe it will happen here. If not, it will surely happen soon because all the polls show that young Catholics are overwhelmingly in favor of equality and that these issues which are so big for us today will be non-issues in just one or two short generations.

Father Geoff said...

Fr. Tony Adams is a current Board Member of Catholics for Equality. It was my pleasure to work with him earlier this year at our initial founding meetings. I hope that the rest of the Board will listen to his advice regarding C4E.

I studied with Fr. Joseph Palacios at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, CA. It is the seminary for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Like many priests still in active ministry, he has to look over his shoulder. Especially since the election of Joseph Ratzinger as Benedict XVI.

Electing to serve on the Board of a national Equality organization inevitably puts him on a collusion course with his Diocesan Bishop, Cardinal Roger Mahony and with the Jesuit run Georgetown University. I had cautioned him about this many months ago, hopefully things will work out happily for Joe. I know of many priests in active ministry who live in fear of being thrown out on the street (literally) if the truth were known about them. Jesus said, “Fear is useless” it seems that the Vatican and Mahony disagree with Jesus on that point.

Jesus also said, “The truth shall set you free.” It is time to speak the truth in the light of day. Only this will free us from the fear, bigotry and hatred that have been so unjustly imposed on the LGBTQ community.

Jeff said...

Kudos to you, Fr. Geoff and to Fr. Tony for your frank observations of this fledgling idea.

Phil Attey, the self defined 'activist' doesn't want to change the Church and Fr. Joseph Palacios isn't free to stand up to it- so the organization is Dead On Arrival.

We don't need another half baked organization fumbling toward equality.

Mareczku said...

This was an interesting article and interesting comments also. Hopefully the oganization can do positive things but I wonder what impact it will have on people in the hinterlands. I think a lot of small town and rural Catholics (like myself) tend to be invisible.

Jordan said...

This is a great idea. However, C4E better be prepared for a _massive_ backlash from the EWTN, fundie, and Latin Mass sets. Those people will try to destroy anything that threatens their group psychosis. They're convinced that very few priests are gay and that the Vatican is handling the sex abuse nightmare with the utmost skill. Their "arguments" are like a kid that sticks his fingers in his ears and has a screaming temper tantrum.

There are a many priests that will feel extremely threatened when confronted with happy and healthy LGBT people in loving marriages and partnerships. Heck, there are some priests out there that can't even say the word "gay", let alone "I'm gay".

The non-fundamentalist laity are often very accepting of gay people (especially 20 and 30 somethings.) It's the clergy that need help. Maybe it's better to help the clergy accept their homosexuality than try to convince the already convinced laity.