Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Priests, Queers, and Bridges

Last week, as I stewed in a sticky, stinking, sad hospital bed at St. Vincent's Hospital, a priest appeared and broke through my morphine haze.

"Would you like to receive the sacraments of communion or healing?" the priest asked.

"No honey, I'm gay."

"I can still offer you an anointment for healing."

"No, thanks."

"I will keep your health and recovery in my prayers," he said, pityingly, then checked a box on his clipboard and retreated to the nurses' station.

A few moments later I began to bawl uncontrollably.  Alone, afraid, and abject, to me it seemed the massive weight of history had descended on our simple exchange, fixing in antagonism the words of two otherwise gentle, loving people.  In Greenwich Village, on the isle of Manhattan, in the heart of one of the most sophisticated cities on the planet, could we not overcome a few silly obstacles and get to the seriously important business of human compassion?

Of course I'm melodramatic.  The priest probably deals with a variety of more hostile responses, every day.  No doubt he has also held and comforted any number of queer people at the hospital.  My hospital stay, while terrible in many ways, was not a brush with death.  The titans of modern sexual philosophy did not clash in that little beige room on the 15th floor.

Yet I suspect that the devil is in the details, in the quiet moments when people are just living their lives and doing their jobs.  I doubt the priest has any problem at all with queers--in fact he may well be one--and I imagine he felt called to the priesthood at least in part because he enjoys helping others.  I certainly have no problem with taking comfort in centuries-old religious rituals, regardless of my otherwise agnostic views.

Getting ready for work this morning, I listened to another story on NPR about the embattled Pope and the ever-inflating Roman Catholic child molestation scandals.  Without minimizing the suffering of the abuse victims, I must say that I tire of the church bashing.  The perpetrators of such crimes and the willing accomplices who protected the guilty should be brought to justice.  Then, I sincerely hope, the Catholic church--and all churches--can turn their energy toward finding a way to bridge the everyday gap between those who want to help and those who need it, regardless of where our hearts find love.

We are so much more alike than different.


  1. Are you out of your mind, riot? You "tire of the church bashing"? How do you expect anyone to be brought to "justice" if we don't make them admit to the horrific crimes they've perpetrated? If we don't get mad as hell and bash the goddamned motherfuckers until they can't stand the bashing anymore? Would you prefer we ask them politely to do the right thing? The other day, Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, compared the anger directed at Ratzinger—whose job it was from 1982 to 2005 (when he was elevated to his current post) to COVER UP THE WIDESPREAD CHILD RAPING that was taking place—with the persecution of Jesus. Do you think people who have the chutzpah to make a claim like that are going to go away quietly? Do you believe that if we only treated them nicer, we could expect sincere repentance in return? And btw, the Pope already has immunity from any prosecution here in the U.S. Thanks to the Bush administration, Ratzinger isn't going to experience any comeuppance whatsoever, at least not in this country.

  2. @ Bill: There's a time and place for everything. I think we should also be rational folk when dealing with this: the majority of church officials are wonderful people. I've known so many who cared more than they could afford to. These scandals threaten what they've given their lives to and that is scary as anything. But they have been raised to believe that a meek attitude is best. Heavens does that hurt them in the end.

    Because when they won't come out and condemn the few people who make the rest look terrible, they, by extension, look awful. I noticed that few on the left seemed bothered by the general Muslim desire not to contradict the radicals vocally, but apparently the Christians are fair game. That doesn't sit well with me. -No one- should remain silent on this, and so these good people share -some- blame, but not like this.

    We -must- be unilateral in how we react to this sort of thing and blind ourselves to whom we feel affinity or distaste for or, frankly, we're participating in our own form of prejudice, hate, and corruption.

    The Church is not the entity to blame. Let me put it another way; you want those guilty condemned, yes? Then focus on the individuals who commit the crimes and those that aid them. If you rail at the Church, the Church will react, but if we as a people make it clear that we will hold individuals responsible, regardless of affiliation, and will brook no ill towards that greater group, then perhaps instead of hiding the guilty, the Church will learn to place proper responsibility where it is due.

    Also, the problem existed long before Bush and his eight years of idiocy. Let's not blame an individual (useless and angering though he might have been) for the shortcomings of a nation.

  3. Bill, I said I want the perpetrators brought to justice. I feel just as strongly about child rape as you.

    At the same time, I feel that anger, hatred, and bashing are absolutely the wrong direction to take. Yes, of course I would prefer to ask them politely. Sometimes, unfortunately, that's not possible, but I think we resort to these negative approaches far too easily. Justice should be dispassionate.

    Peace and love are the answer.

  4. I, of course, didn't blame the child molestation problem personally on George W. Bush. If you read the article I linked to, you'll see that right after he became Pope, Ratzinger requested that Bush's so-called "Justice" Department grant him immunity from prosecution for any child-molestation-related crimes, and the department did so. I think that's deplorable, and yet that turn of events isn't terribly surprising considering the players involved. For decades now, the church's game plan has been to cover up its sex crimes, set the stage for more of those crimes to take place in new locales by moving the perpetrators around, and make sure no one is ever held accountable. And once the extent of the crimes and the conspiracy behind their coverup began to be revealed, it blamed the sexual assaults of children on the "homosexuals" and accused the media, the victims, and those who support them of "bashing" the church for daring to reveal the truth. I'm not supposed to be angry about that? Isn't it blindingly obvious that these are not people we can reason with or ask politely to do the right thing? They've demonstrated that time and time again. Though there are new revelations everyday, the root problem—priests molested children and their supervisors covered up those horrifying and criminal acts to avoid bad publicity for the church—has long been known and precious little has been done to bring anyone to justice. I'm horrified that there are still parishioners sitting in the pews every week who are content to let the bastards get away with it and pretend they're not part of the problem themselves. And I'm floored that you, kittiethedragon and riot, would act as apologists for the church and lament the anger directed it. It's incredibly naive to suggest that if we could only be dispassionate about the widespread child rape and the church's conspiracy to hide it, the church would do the right thing. How could anyone possibly, credibly believe that now?

  5. I did not apologize for the church. I do not defend these crimes. Bill, you assume to much and incorrectly to put such words in my mouth.

    I reject your assertion that parishioners sitting in the pews every week are content and complicit in the crimes of their leaders. The relationship of individuals with their church and faith is far more complex than this issue alone. Faith is not like politics. People don't leave a church as they would switch parties or change their votes based on the latest scandal or issue. Nonetheless, membership and attendance at nearly all churches is falling, so you are already well on the way to getting your desire in this regard.

    In addition to the crimes currently in the spotlight, the Roman Catholic church and most other religions do significant works of humanitarianism and good in this world. One reason I disapprove of church bashing is because of these positive components of religion. I believe that in the process of tearing down the tyrannical, evil leaders who have perpetrated these crimes, we risk losing our own humanity and decency to anger and hatred. I see a pervasive rejection among many of my queer friends of all things religious, and I despair of losing what I view as the good parts--a system of ethics and morality that emphasizes peace, love, understanding, and forgiveness. (And I don't even consider myself to be a Christian, except nominally.)

    It seems you miss the complexity of my original post. My feelings about the Catholic church prevented me from accepting the little bit of human compassion offered by a priest, though I very badly needed it in the moment. All of these things of which you accuse me of being naive bore directly upon that decision and my feelings. I, too, feel the anger and outrage, and I also feel a deep sadness at the ridiculous state of things, that a simple and beautiful moment could be ruined by this mess and the general oppression that the church has dealt to queers over the years.

    I could rant and rail, but to what purpose? There are plenty like you who will use our queer community's new-found political power to demand answers and extract revenge. I feel strongly that a voice of moderation and cooperation is critical at this time. I think it is appropriate to mourn the need for this anger and these vitriolic demands for accountability. I think it is deplorable that so many queers react with glee to every new discovery of crime and culpability. Schadenfreude is shameful.

    Millions of Catholics are not going to abandon their faith overnight. We need to find ways to work together, to benefit us all.

    Here's a relevant blog post I read just this morning:

    Yes, I'm a hippy-drippy anarcho-pacifist who would find real value in us all holding hands for a minute. I won't apologize for that. I think my viewpoint deserves more consideration and less disparagement, please.

  6. Dear riot and Brooklyn Bill,
    I love that you are both using this forum to explore these issues intelligently. The funny thing is that I know you both well enough to know that when you meet, you'll like each other and will have much in common. I would hate to think that this dispute would leave either of you feeling offput by the other. I'm coming home soon and will host the detente.

  7. My very favorite people are those with whom I can have a friendly and intense debate!

  8. I'm sure I'll like riot when I finally get to know him in person. But I refuse to hold hands with Timothy Dolan if riot somehow manages to get him to come to our meeting. :-)