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by Peterr

God Laughs at Prop 8 and DOMA

4:08 pm in LGBT, Religion by Peterr

SCOTUS made one of their periodic announcements of the schedule of arguments for upcoming cases for which they had granted a hearing, and I could not help but hear God laughing in the background. Let me draw your attention to this portion of the announcement, via SCOTUSblog:

Tuesday, March 26:

12-144 Hollingsworth v. Perry – constitutionality of California’s “Proposition 8″ ban on same-sex marriage; also, question of standing to appeal

Wednesday, March 27:

12-307 — United States v. Windsor – constitutionality of Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s benefits limited to married opposite-sex couples; also, question of standing for U.S. government and for House GOP leaders to appeal the case

The laughter I hear comes from looking at the calendar.

On March 26th, Ginsberg, Breyer, and Kagan (the three Jewish members of SCOTUS) will be hearing about the injustices levied by the state against gays and lesbians on the first day of Passover — an eight day commemoration in the Jewish calendar of the liberation of the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt. For Jews, the repetition of Moses’ cry “let my people go!” figures prominently in the Passover story, as God’s spokesman went to Pharaoh again and again to demand freedom from slavery and oppression.

Given what LGBTs have endured at the hands of the modern state, “Let my people wed!” has a nice contemporary ring to it.

And then there are the Catholics . . .

For Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Kennedy, and Sotomayor — the six Roman Catholics — these two days of arguments take place between Palm Sunday and Easter. It’s Holy Week, when Western Christians recall Jesus and his entry into Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowd, his betrayal and arrest on trumped up charges, his show-trial and execution at the hands of the state with the blessing of the religious authorities, and his resurrection. For Christians, Holy Week is the commemoration of a perversion of justice, set right by a divine veto.

Given how justice has been denied to LGBTs in ways great and small by the enactment of DOMA, it strikes me as divinely ironic that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives will be defending injustice during a week when Catholics and other Christians are in the midst of remembering the injustices perpetrated by Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas as they tried — unsuccessfully — to preserve their own power.

I fully expect to hear more from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on this, in the same illogical vein as Chicago’s Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis George’s recent missive. (The best reply I’ve seen to it is from Neil Steinberg in the Chicago Sun-Times.) But using this style of argument during Holy Week will make Cardinal George sound like Caiaphas, not Christ, and I don’t think BLAG will have any more success than did Pilate or Herod.

Back in 2008, five sad days after Prop 8 was approved by California voters, I had the pleasure of hosting an FDL Book Salon chat with Mitchell Gold, discussing his book Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America. As I wrote in the set-up piece, these are stories of pain, power, struggles, partnership, and surprises (both nasty and wonderful). But discussing this book just after Prop 8 was enacted really altered the discussion:

In my head, I actually had two posts ready for this Book Salon, depending upon the results of the Proposition 8 vote in California. If “No on 8″ had prevailed, we could talk about how wonderful it is that the largest state in the US had taken a stand in favor of civil rights and fuller acceptance of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people. We could talk about the positive message that this would send to anyone who is GLBT or who loves someone who is. That post, sadly, will have to wait for another day.

But that day is coming — make no mistake about that — just not as soon as we’d like.

Ultimately, these are stories of hope. In reading this book, I was reminded again and again of SF Supervisor Harvey Milk‘s famous “Hope” speech (YouTube excerpt here) :

And the young gay people in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias and the Richmond, Minnesotas who are coming out and hear Anita Bryant in television and her story. The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us’es, the us’es will give up. And if you help elect to the central committee and other offices, more gay people, that gives a green light to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward. It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone.

Hope. By the end of the book, that this what these stories are finally about. Hope that life can be better for all of us, and that pain and trauma are not the last words for any of us, regardless of our own sexual orientations or the orientations of those we love.

I truly believe that day of justice and hope is getting closer.

Some might call the connection between the SCOTUS calendar and the Jewish and Christian religious calendars a mere coincidence, but being a pastor, I can’t help but see a little divine humor at work. As BLAG will soon find out, trying to make arguments in defense of injustice during two powerful religious commemorations of justice is hard to do.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and let all the courts say “Amen!”


No, I’m not suggesting religious appeals have any place in the secular legal discussions at the heart of this case. But that doesn’t keep folks like the USCCB or the evangelical fundamentalists from making them, and I’d like to give these religious appeals a little theological attention before they really start cranking up. Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

First They Came For the Nuns, But I Didn’t Speak Up Since I was not a Nun

8:34 am in Uncategorized by Peterr

It’s never been particularly easy for strong women to use their gifts within the Roman Catholic church’s hierarchical structure and their understanding of the separate roles prescribed for men and women. These days, though, it’s getting even harder — and the debate is not something that affects solely Roman Catholics.

Look at the ongoing health care battle.

At the height of the debate over health insurance reform last Spring, the Catholic Health Association chair, Sister Carol Keehan, came out in support of the Senate bill, much to the chagrin and anger of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, who were demanding that only the Stupak House version was morally acceptable. Back in March, I described the CHA statement defending the acceptability of the Senate bill like this:

After noting what they [the CHA] see as the positives of the Senate bill, they took a very direct swipe at the bishops:

And despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions. It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments – $250 million – in support of pregnant women. This is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.

They said it politely, but the message is clear: the bishops are either liars or dupes, neither of which is terribly attractive.

As you might imagine, telling the political world that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is wrong about something didn’t go down well with the members of the USCCB.

The USCCB and CHA both had major meetings last week (separately), and the tensions between the two groups are clear. Despite the efforts to put on a nice public face, they are increasingly nasty behind closed doors. In a piece on Wednesday of last week in the National Catholic Reporter, John Allen noted that neither side is backing down:

"We would not have supported the legislation if it were inconsistent with our values as a ministry of the church," said Colleen Scanlon, a lay medical professional and chair of the CHA Board of Trustees, in remarks opening the [CHA] assembly. . . .

At roughly the same time, the U.S. bishops gathered in St. Petersburg, Fla., for their June 14-18 spring assembly. Though designed as a spiritual retreat, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the conference, added a discussion of health care reform at the beginning. Speaking by telephone, George told NCR on June 16 that it was an informational session, and that no decisions were made.

George, too, stuck to his guns, arguing that the dispute with the CHA involves a core ecclesiological principle "about the nature of the church itself, one that has to concern the bishops" – namely, who speaks for the church on faith and morals?

It takes a lot of guts for Catholic women religious to stand up to the USCCB under any circumstances, but the various women’s religious orders in the US are in the midst of a Vatican-ordered "visitation" — an inquiry into their theological soundness and the quality of life in each order. As Tom Fox of NCR wrote in April 2009:

The Vatican assessment has become necessary, according to [Cardinal William] Levada, because at the 2001 meeting between the women’s leadership conference and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [headed by Levada], which took place in Rome, the women were invited “to report on the initiatives taken or planned” to promote the reception of three areas of Vatican doctrinal concern: the 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis [which reinforced the restriction of the priesthood to men only], the 2000 declaration Dominus Jesus from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [which declares non-Catholic Christians to be "gravely deficient" and their communities to suffer "defects"], and “the problem of homosexuality.” . . .

Regarding the investigation of the women’s leadership conference, Levada informed conference leaders: “Given both the tenor and the doctrinal content of various addresses given at the annual assemblies of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the intervening years, this Dicastery can only conclude that the problems which had motivated its request in 2001 continue to be present.”

As a result, Levada said, the Vatican had decided “a doctrinal assessment” of the “activities and initiatives of the LCWR would be helpful.”

(There’s a long history of tension between the women religious and some in the Vatican. See more of NCR’s reporting on the visitation here.)

But back to Wednesday of last week . . .

On the same day as Allen’s story came out, the much more conservative Catholic News Agency released a story that went much farther, with some rather inflammatory quotes from USCCB chair, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, at a closed door meeting (emphasis added):

According to the Archbishop of Chicago, when the Stupak Amendment was defeated in the Senate in December 2009, “everything went south.”

That is when “the Catholic Health Association and other so-called Catholic groups provided cover for those on the fence to support Obama and the administration.”

Cardinal George clearly remarked that “Sr. Carol and her colleagues are to blame” for the passage of the health care bill. He continued by revealing that the bishops repeatedly tried to reach out to Sr. Keehan both before and after the vote. “I personally met with her in March to no avail,” the cardinal reported.

In April, three bishops of the USCCB ad hoc Health Care Concerns Committee, Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Kevin Vann of Fort Worth and Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, also met with Sr. Keehan to try to make her understand the bishop’s concerns and thus bring CHA back in line with Church teachings, however the meeting concluded with “the same frustrating results.”

The president of the USCCB reiterated the bishop’s fundamental opposition to the health care reform. “The bill which was passed is fundamentally flawed. The Executive Order is meaningless. Sr. Carol is mistaken in thinking that this is pro-life legislation,” Cardinal George emphatically said.

The cardinal also expressed disappointment with CHA “and other so-called Catholic groups” because, “in the end, they have weakened the moral voice of the bishops in the U.S.”

"So-called" Catholics? Take that, you uppity women. Note especially that last section: what matters most, George is saying, is that the power of bishops be preserved.

On Monday, Helen Osman, the media person at the USCCB, pushed back, claiming that the quotes were fabricated: "I was in the room, as a member of the USCCB staff, for the presentation. And the official audio file that recorded the session for USCCB archives confirms my memory."

What’s that? Something about "the official audio file?" Says Osman, don’t even think about it:

To honor the bishops’ privacy and confidentiality, we will not be releasing the transcript. It’s unfortunate if someone breached that confidentiality; also unfortunate if CNA tried to take an educated guess at what the cardinal might have said and cobbled together its own fabrication of the session.

But CNA stands by their story, saying that several bishops had confirmed the quotes to them, and they called on the USCCB to release not a transcript, but the actual audio recording of the session.

On Tuesday, back at NCR, John Allen noted that because NCR has gotten pulled into the story with CNA and the USCCB, he was releasing a full transcript of his interview with Cardinal George (which was not confidential) which was part of his earlier story. In that interview, the cardinal’s general viewpoint fits quite well with what CNA reported in their initial story. Cardinal George and others in the USCCB are quite put out that anyone would dare to disagree with them and have the temerity to call themselves Catholic, because it is the bishops who have the role of speaking for the church.

Had Cardinal George left it there, it would have been a pretty benign response, but he then opened himself up to charges of violating Godwin’s law by invoking Nazis. He didn’t directly call Sister Keehan and the CHA folks Nazis, but compared the US bishops today to a WWII era cardinal who was recently beafied for his martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis because of his opposition to euthanasia and the laws that allowed it, implicitly putting CNA on the side of those who made him a martyr.


For those of us on the outside, it would be easy to write this all off as an in-house spat within the Roman Catholic Church. But we’re talking about the same folks that recently strengthened the rules by which Catholic health care providers must operate [pdf here], demanding that such institutions and the medical people associated with them override the expressed wishes of a patient and/or patient’s family if those wishes conflict with what the bishops believe about end of life decisions, abortion, and other health care issues. We’re talking about the same folks who recently backed the automatic excommunication of the senior administrator at a Roman Catholic hospital in Phoenix for approving a life-saving abortion. (Just yesterday, the USCCB reiterated their position again.)

I’ll give you two guesses as to that senior administrator’s gender.

These battles in the Catholic Church affect everyone who enters an emergency room at a Catholic hospital, and everyone who deals with a medical practitioner who works at a facility that receives funds from the Catholic church. The political world got a glimpse of the force that the bishops can bring to bear in the recent health care debates, and from what I’m seeing in the Catholic media, the bishops aren’t done trying to throw their weight around.

It’s the sisters who are taking the first hit, but stay tuned, because the bishops aren’t done in DC. Not by a long shot. If the bishops have their way, they’ll be writing the rules for the entire US health care system, not simply those institution with "Catholic" in their charters. They’re coming back to fix the flaws in health care reform, and going after emergency contraception while they’re at it.

I may not be a nun, but I’m speaking up for them now, before it’s too late.