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Opinion from Rainbow Sash Movement

Response to Fr. Richard McBrien - Theologian

The month of July is vacation time around the Rainbow Sash Movement. Our web site committee takes their vacation, our board of directors is usually gone, and so are the chairs of our various committees. For me vacation was a time of rest, reading, and reflection. So it was with some enthusiasm I began to read an article in the National Catholic Reporter, "Between the two extremes" written by Fr. Richard McBrien.

Fr. McBrien Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame and a consultant to ABC News for papal events and is known to the media as source person on Catholic affairs. He is the author of many books, and articles on Catholic thought. Most of us are theologically illiterate so I saw this as an opportunity to learn something new. I was impressed that someone of Fr. McBrien stature would take time out of his busy schedule to address the issue of GLBT Catholics.

After reading the article I must say Fr. McBrien was preaching to the choir. He was not talking to GLBT Catholics. The article sounded like a course he taught "Catholicism", with a lot of winks and nods on Catholic Teaching.

Most troubling was his analysis that the debate going on within the church on the issue of GLBT ministry and human rights as something that is happening between the two extremes camps in the Church, the ultra-conservatives on one hand, and those in the extremes of the left, on the other hand. These are interesting generalizations, but the issue is more complex than that. I wonder which camp do GLBT Catholics fall under? The comparison sounds logical, but when you look at the premises of his position it really does not hold much water.

How can he compare the debate on the issues of human rights for GLBT people/ministry with the present debate over amnesty for illegal aliens? On the one hand he is talking about an unchanging Catholic Church that refuses to update it's theologically thinking to include the sense of the faithful, and on the other a democratic process that will be decided by the voters. Simply put one has do with autocratic theology, and the other with law and two should never be confused. Sadly the issue of human rights/ministry cannot be openly debated in the Church. Fr. McBrien knows this, or at least he should.

So I disagree with Fr. McBrien that this is a debate among the extremes.

The state can develop a means to remove illegals from the United States, no matter how unjust that might be. It is delusional to think the Church has the ability to remove all gay priests/religious in its mist by fiat, that is unless they self identify. The closet mentality is alive and well in the seminary system, as it is among the clergy.

The only response to the closet mentality among the Bishops and the clergy is an open and visible ministry to GLBT Catholics. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being very bad, and 10 being very good I would grade the Church's attempts at ministry to GLBT Catholics a -1. It is time the Bishops stop trying, and start doing. It is also time for theologians like Fr. McBrien to begin addressing the rampant homophobia in the Church. Making decisions in conjunction with individuals who live in the closet will only muddy your understanding of GLBT Catholics.

I agree that Bishop J. Terry Steib of Memphis, Tenn. who announced a ministry to GLBT people in his Diocese was a good thing to do. He needs to do more, if he does not want to leave anyone behind. I do not doubt the bishopís sincerity, but words can only take you so far, they must be followed by concrete actions. Is this ministry being treated like any other in Diocese, with appropriate funding, and staffing? Or is it a weekly mass said in the shadows, and cannot be advertised? Been there done that, separate but hidden does not work.

Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson according to Fr. McBrien is another Bishop that is trying his pastoral approach at ministering to GLBT Catholics. I also respect Bishop Kicanas, and applaud his first step. However, he appears to be seeking approval before he moves, or at least a broad based concensus. What is needed here is a prophet not a politician. This approach certainly did not work Selma for civil rights, and itís not going to work in Tucson for ministry. In my opinion, he must be willing to take a risk if he wants to reach GLBT Catholics in his Diocese. The bishop needs to meet openly with more than pastoral leaders, has he included GLBT Catholics in open discussions? I do agree with Fr. McBrien that "many gay and lesbian Catholics feel like strangers in their own home - unwelcome and looked down up." However, I will say that while the institutional Church does everything to make me feel unwelcome, my parish community does everything to make me feel welcome.

If a bishop cannot openly talk to self identified GLBT Catholics; in my opinion, Fr. McBrien's observations are nice words without any real merit. Constantly tell us we are children of God and acting otherwise is hypocritical. Perhaps that is what needs to be addressed in an open manner. I would ask Fr. McBrien, do you really think the Church is ready to minister with integrity to GLBT Catholics?

To that end I am inviting Fr. McBrien , Bishop J. Terry Steib, and Bishop Gerald Kicanas to take place in cyber roundtable discussion to be sponsored by the Rainbow Sash Movement on its web site, in the fall of this year. The theme of the roundtable will be "Effective Ministry to GLBT Catholics."

Dismissing individuals who disagree with you as being on the extremes of the debate, does not represent a genuine effort to find common ground.

God bless.
Joe Murray
US Convener
Rainbow Sash Movement


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