Friday, June 27, 2014

The church chooses its words carefully

I know this probably makes me a cad, but I’m simply following W. C. Fields' advice never to give a sucker an even break. I’m going to pick a few nits here.  I don’t think they’re nits; you may. But stick with me and maybe you won't.

After all these years of circling the Vatican wagons and covering-up the many cases of sexual abuse of children by clerics, at long last – and seriously, folks, it’s been decades! – the official Roman Catholic church is actually taking steps to disassociate themselves from these sickos.  Instead of shuffling child abusers from parish to parish, they're actually tossing one out of the priesthood.

Trouble is, in doing so, they can’t resist an opportunity to hide behind words.  There’s a perfectly good word in English for removing a priest from his priestliness.  It’s called “defrocking,” and that's the word Guardian reporter Lizzie Davis uses in reporting the story.  Church sources, however, are going with laicization.”  What do you suppose that’s all about?  Is it so that it doesn’t sound so bad?  Defrocking sounds pretty harsh.  But shouldn’t it be?

Laicization, first of all, is a foreign word in English.  Most English speakers haven’t a clue what it means.  Those who do, think of the French word, laïcité.  There is an English equivalent in “laicism” but it isn’t in common use.  It’s the French way of speaking of the separation of church and state.  Historically, it was a way of getting the church out of the public sphere.  (Like not colluding with retrograde politicians to restrict civil rights, for example, and yes, the U.S. might take note.)

A “lay” person is a person who is not a cleric.  The collective noun is “laity” and it is understood to be the opposite of “clergy.”  And that’s the sense in which the word “laicization” is being used in this defrocking case.   A priest is returning to the state of being a lay person, which he was before he was ordained.  All very innocent and gentle sounding.  And a hell of a clever way to water down an awkward reality.

The word came up in the news today in connection with Józef Wesołowski, the Vatican’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic and latest of their many boy-diddlers.  At least teenager-diddlers.  Don’t know the age of Eminence Józef’s erotic fantasies actually realized.

While the Guardian article used the good Anglo-Saxon defrocking instead of the French laicization, it twisted words in another direction, in my view, when they referred to Wesołowski’s activities as sex abuse.  Child abuse suggests intimidating a kid in the confessional, using parental devotion to the church to persuade them to allow their kid to go camping with Father John and sleep in the same tent and then telling the kid his parents will go to hell if he speaks of what goes on in the tent.   What Father Józef is guilty of is paying a child prostitute for services.  Speak of child abuse and the focus is on the sick puppy individual within the institution.  Speak of prostitution and the focus is on the institution and a means of channeling sexual satisfaction. 

The distinction is important.  In the first instance, the harm done to the kid’s psyche can cause life-long trauma.  In the second, the kid gets lunch and maybe feeds his family.  Secondly, it frames two issues that shout to the rooftops what is wrong with Roman Catholicism.  It is erotophobic.  It takes something beautiful – sex – and makes it dirty.  And the “doctrine” (talk about abusing words) of celibacy is just another phase of a seriously disturbed sexuality the church pushes on its adherents.  If the priest were free to enjoy his fleshly appetites as he enjoys the good cigar, glass of wine, or plate of oysters, with another adult human being choosing to do the same, there would be no problem at all.  It wouldn’t affect his devotion to Jesus, Mary and Mother Church one iota.  It wouldn’t make him less compassionate, less generous, less kind.  It would make him a happy man, a living illustration of how one can be catholic and embrace life.   Instead, by making sex dirty, something for the confessional, it drives people like Father Józef to secret hidden illicit pleasures.

The second issue this story highlights is the vulgar display of silks and satins and jewels still worn by the clergy in Józef Wesołowski’s position.  In a country like the Dominican Republic, where poverty is rife and many young people sell their bodies for basic needs, the vulgarity of the display is all the more evident and all the more loathsome.  For clergy to take advantage of kids living in poverty for their own sexual satisfaction reveals a great deal about the personal morality of the man.  And his church, which has for centuries accepted the right of “princes” of the church to live like princes among paupers.  If the church put its money where the current pope’s mouth now fortunately seems to be, it would stop this display of wealth immediately and turn the efforts of the church toward caring for the poor, like this guy the church is supposedly a follower of advocated.

Józef Wesołowski is only one priest among dozens who likes sex and finds satisfaction in young bodies.  He’s not a monster.  In my view, johns of teenage prostitutes are hardly heroic figures, but not living up to the highest of standards is not the same as acting out a moral depravity.  The focus really ought to be not on him but on the seriously hypocritical and dysfunctional institution he personifies.

The whole business makes you want to keep the curia after school and wave your finger at them. Get your priorities straight for once, I want to tell them.  And cut the crap with “laicization”.  Laicization, the way you use it, simply means turning somebody into somebody like me – a lay person.  Józef Wesołowski isn’t being “sentenced to laicization.”  Being a lay person isn't a criminal punishment.   He’s being defrocked.

Like the whole damn bunch of you ought to be.

photo credit  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Missing the World Cup

Got up this morning fully intending to watch the World Cup battle between Germany and the United States.  I naively assumed that since it was the World Cup one of the networks would carry it, as they carry the Olympics.

Wrong.  Wrong.  Wrong.
I got real annoyed at Comcast when we bought our high definition TV some time ago and I decided I'd maybe subscribe to Showtime and HBO.   It wasn't long before my eyes were spinning as I pored over all their "bundles" that provide phone service and internet service (which I know is nowhere near as good as the one I have) and orthodontic care as well as television for $89.99 the first year and half a million bucks a year thereafter, so I decided I’d just take the opportunity to watch a whole lot less television.  This morning, that decision bit me on the behind.  The game was available only on cable, and that means I was out of luck.  Tried in vain to get it online via ESPN, but they too will only stream to you via one of the cable connections.  Then I heard that Spanish-language Univision would carry it free.  But for some reason when I went to their site all I got was stills.  Never did figure out what was going on there.  By the time I got there, the game must have been over.  
If you choose not to make TV a priority every day, you're out in the cold.  What a way this country runs its railroads.  
The best I check with Google News every fifteen minutes and see what was being reported about the game there.  I learned that Germany was ahead by one to nothing, and that only made me want to see the game all the more.
I heard some shouting from a neighbor’s house at one point and almost went and knocked on the door to see if I could invite myself in.  It sounded like they were watching some sports event.  It could have been Portugal, though.
When Germany beat Argentina and then lost the cup to Spain four years ago I happened to be in Berlin.  The country just about closes down.  (Try logging into one of their talk shows.  You'll see an announcement that goes like this:  "Due to the World Cup we are taking a break.  Regular broadcasting will resume on ..."  )

Berlin has big wide boulevards and restaurants often pull their tables and chairs out onto the sidewalk in the summer.  For the World Cup that meant television sets, as well.  I remember rushing home to watch one of the games building up to the finals, worried I was going to miss something.  I needn’t have worried.  As I walked back from the station to the apartment, I was able to go from TV set to TV set and not miss a thing, so ubiquitous were the cheering crowds sitting on the street.  A German friend invited me over to watch the game with Argentina and when Germany won I phoned my friend Luis in Buenos Aires to rub it in.  When Germany lost to Spain, my friend showed a lot more class.  "Naja," he said.  "Sie haben besser gespielt!"  (Well, they played a better game!")  

The chance to wrap myself in the black, red and gold and gloat over the win was my first time ever losing myself to this kind of sports idiocy, and I loved every minute of it.   I have never been into professional sports at all, but the World Cup made me a believer.  I am bitterly disappointed that the U.S. doesn’t take soccer seriously.

Because I have such emotional ties to Germany, I really wanted to see this game.  Last night, walking the dogs, I went past a house displaying a huge German flag out the window.  Almost went over and introduced myself.  Wish now I had.  I might have had a place to see the game.  Still have my dumb German hat from 2010.   Could have put it on and rooted for Germany.  And then switched sides when the U.S. started losing and become a U-S-A grunter. 

I love it that the U.S. coach, Jurgen (I leave the umlaut off since he is an American now) Klinsmann is a close friend of the German coach, Joachim Löw (the umlaut makes him a lion) and there were even rumors the two were going to conspire to cause a tie so that both would advance to the next round.  I’d like to think that would not happen, but it has happened before – in Gijon, in Spain, thirty-two years ago, when Germany conspired with Austria against Algeria.  It wouldn’t have made a difference, anyway, since even with the loss against Germany, the U.S. still advances to the Round of 16 (he says, flaunting his new-found sports knowledge.)     How often do you watch a world-class sports event where the coach of one national team used to play on the other side’s national team?  Klinsmann is German.  I love it, too, that he lives in the U.S., and his son plays soccer here at UC Berkeley.    If I feel split, imagine the split loyalties in that family!   And this split is not limited to the Klinsmann household.  Five of the players on the American team – Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, John Brooks and Julian Green ­– are sons of U.S. servicemen and were born and raised in Germany.  What emotions they must all be feeling.  What a great opportunity to get your priorities straight and just play the game to win.  Which something tells me is what they did in the end.  

This is the way the world should work, where we are all a piece of each other’s cultural space and the rivalries are friendly and just add to the excitement.

Wish I could have seen this event!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Mary Magdalene goes to Damascus

When my friend Achim from Berlin got off a bus in San Francisco from Ashland, Oregon, where he was visiting friends on his great tour of the United States, he kept repeating, “Die Entfernungen!  Die Entfernungen! – The distances!  The distances!”  He had, like many Europeans, not been exposed to the distances one travels in this country to get from one part to another.  It’s one thing to read it’s 3500 miles from coast to coast.  It’s another thing entirely to get on a Greyhound bus and feel the distances in your bones.

I was reminded of Achim’s bafflement that one could sit on a bus and travel for days, not hours, to get from Point A in America to Point B when I was trying to orient myself to the Middle East cities and towns in the news these days as Iraq falls apart and Syria falls apart and Cheney blames Obama for losing Iraq because he withdrew troops too soon and Israel is forced into bed with Iran, if you can imagine that, in order to fight ISIS.

Damascus today
As my eyes roamed over the map from Damascus, I noted right there, not far away at all, was the Sea of Galilee, maybe about two hours away on a good highway, if there were no borders to cross or dozens of opportunities to get shot along the way.  Migdal, right there on the western side of the big lake.   It was a ship-building town back in the day when one of the local boys named Jesus walked the land.  It used to be called Magdala, and was the home of one of Jesus’s girlfriends, one of his disciples, you might say, although the patriarchal world of the day would not admit to female disciples.  Mary (the) Magdalene, she was called and she lived as close to Damascus (or, for that matter to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, in the other direction) as I lived from New York as a kid.  Less distance than from San Francisco to Monterey, which I used to drive back and forth every weekend, practically, all the years I lived there.

I love the internet.  You can entertain yourself mightily like this, figuring out how Mary of Magdala might have run away to Damascus as a kid, as I did to New York one weekend, scaring the hell out of my parents, back when I was sixteen and in desperate need of breathing space.

You can go to Google Maps and type in Migdal, Israel and get directions to Jerusalem, and see that it’s two hours by car on the Yitzak Rabin Highway.   Or four hours and a quarter, if you take the bus, which comes every two hours.

About the same distance to Damascus, if you take the road north, as Saul did when he was bopping up the lane (God knows why he would be going to Damascus!) and was struck with a vision and turned into Saint Paul.  Only if you type in Migdal on Google Maps and then Damascus as a destination you’ll see it’s not two hours away, but forty-five hours, because they route you all the way to Aqaba in the South of Israel*, then over to Suez in Egypt, then south to Safaga, where you catch the ferry over to the port of Duba in Saudi Arabia.  You then travel up Route 5 and all across the sands of Saudi Arabia, through Tabuk, Sakaka and Arar, where you cross into Iraq.  You take Route 22 toward Karbala through hours and hours of wasteland, turn left onto Route 21, continue through more wasteland to Route 1, then turn left and go straight on into Damascus, a total of 3112 kilometers in all.  I suppose you carry your own gas.  And guns, of course.  Not Saul’s road to Damascus.

You’ve got to be sure to turn left on Route 1, not right, or you’ll end up in Falluja, what’s left of it, which I understand is in the hands of ISIS.  You don’t want to go there.

If Mary Magdalene were alive today and wanted for some reason to get to Damascus in her beat-up BMW, she'd run into serious trouble the minute she got off the ferry from Egypt and discovered women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.  And where would she go in Israel to get a Saudi visa in the first place?   In any case, if she did, she'd still need a boyfriend to drive her.

Then there's the crossing into ISIS controlled Iraq from Saudi Arabia.  Good luck with that, MM.  Once in ISIS territory, if they didn't steal your BMW and eat you for breakfast, you’d probably be OK crossing the Syrian border, since they consider that one big caliphate these days.  But then crossing into Assad’s territory, which includes Damascus, would be another challenge to the imagination.

Fantasizing how Mary Magdalene might get to Damascus by car these days is no more insane or absurd than turning on the news and reading about how America, who once armed Iraq against Iran is now considering supporting Iran against Iraq, what’s left of it after we smashed it to pieces with our nation-building ways.  Remember when our leaders told us the Iraqis would welcome us with open arms?  When the war would be over in maybe three months?  When it would all be paid for by Iraqi oil money?

Four million people have been displaced.  That’s four million.  And the lowest estimate anybody has come up with of deaths is 300,000.  That’s about 100 people dying every day for eight years.  The actual figure is likely to be more like 500,000.

One third of the population today lives in dire poverty.  Unemployment is at 60%.  Thousands of Americans lost their lives.  Thousands more suffer from post-traumatic stress.   We will spend countless millions, possibly billions of dollars on medical care for people missing arms and legs and eyes and jaws for years to come.    The world used to think of the United States as a beacon of democracy.  Today it knows us as the country who lied our way into war and then sent in private contractors who shot Iraqi civilians with impunity, because while we don’t have money for universal health care or universal college educations, and can’t justify sending more young people than we already do to die there, we can justify paying private contractors to do the dirty work.   Nor are our own soldiers unaware of how low we sank as a people in the process.  They're killing themselves at a rate of 18 a day.  More die by their own hand than died in the war.  

The bitterest part of the story is that we might have learned how war grinds up our young people from our time in Vietnam.  We obviously didn’t.  We acted like an Empire fighting the Soviet Empire in Afghanistan and generated the Taliban.   We created a situation in Iraq which fostered a new and more fierce division between Shia and Sunni than they had before. Not that we are responsible for it all, but while we’re insisting we are not responsible for it all, we’re ignoring just how much we are responsible for.

Because we are an Empire, and because our people believe what the Emperor's boys tell them, we think reality is whatever we want it to be.  That means we won the war.  And our leaders are heros, not war criminals.  But they are war criminals and they should be treated as such.  Bush lied.  Condoleeza Rice lied.  Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld lied and at least half a million people have died, including thousands of our own would-have-been next generation.  Don’t tell me there’s not a case for charging these people with war crimes.

Just checked the news.  Maliki’s government has just suffered ten billion dollars in losses to ISIS, and this time around the money set aside to rebuild the country isn’t there.  It has disappeared into Maliki government officials’ pockets.

What will America do?  Allow Assad to stay in power and massacre all his enemies, like his father did?  Most likely.  So much for the Arab Spring coming to Syria.  Will we now allow Iran to kill everybody in ISIS and then establish an independent Kurdistan and a Saudi protectorate of Sunnis and eliminate the nation of Iraq once and for all?  Also quite possible, even likely.

More tragedy, this time for the Syrians who tried to stand up to the tyrant who governs them.  They will have to become permanent refugees or die, most likely.  Syria and Iraq have both travelled back in time and become fiefdoms.  About the only thing all the big guys on the outside, Russia, China, the EU and the U.S., agree on is the oil has to keep flowing.   So it’s going to be all about oil, as usual, and not about outside help for nation building, or nation saving.

There will be nation building, all the same.  Kurdistan, for example.  And that will cause trouble for Turkey, which likes to forget about how it wiped out the Armenians in the East because they didn’t want to be Turks and is now faced with increasingly restless “Mountain Turks” – their name for the Kurds who live in Turkey.  You can only imagine the problems that lie in wait there.

From Damascus to Jerusalem it’s only 135 miles.  That’s San Francisco to Yosemite, a drive we take at the drop of a hat when visitors drop in.  From Damascus to Baghdad, or to Ankara is just under 500.  About the same as from San Francisco to San Diego.   Hard for Americans to recognize how folks living so close together can come to hate each other so much.  When we get on each other’s nerves, we move across town.  Across the state.  Across the country.  I moved 3500 miles within my own country to get established anew.  (I then kept going, all the way across the Pacific, but that’s another story.) 

Playing with maps and looking at distances is a useful pastime when you can’t see political solutions on the horizon.  A total distraction.  A way of treading water.

Beats staring too intently at facts which reveal just how badly the American Empire has messed things up in the last few decades of our broken democracy.

*correction (9:21 June 26):  Aqaba is in Jordan, not Israel, as a friend just pointed out to me.  I should have looked at the map more attentively.  Google does not, in fact, send you into Jordan at this point, but to Eilat, and you continue down the coast on Route 90 and cross into the Sinai in Egypt at Taba.  I stand appreciatively corrected.

Photo credits: Mary Magdaleneanother day in Damascus

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Glenn Greenwald at the Nourse

Went to hear Glenn Greenwald the other day at the Nourse Auditorium.  Sold out crowd. Cheering.  Standing ovations.  The guy is overwhelmingly popular in this corner of the nation. Reminds me of the Vietnam War days when we would march down Market Street and end up at a rally at Kezar Stadium with speakers like Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland and wonder how there could possibly be anybody out there not opposed to the war.

And yet the war went on and on.

The issues of America at war and support of Edward Snowden separate in the same way those who question authority from those who go along to get along, and it would be easy to dismiss this enthusiasm for a cause on those grounds and label the cheering 1500 people in the audience lock-step ideologues.  But what Greenwald had to say is powerfully logical.  He's a brilliant speaker and articulate as they come.  And you can pull that off only when you think clearly.  I don't know when I've been as impressed by anybody.

The arguments are still there that the government has to snoop in order to work with international terrorists and with crime-fighting agencies.  But if you are inclined to support such efforts blindly, have a close look at Greenwald's arguments.  I bought his book when it first came out - No Place to Hide.  It's filled with technical detail, which is a bit heavy going at times, but necessary, I think.  Listening to him in person it all goes down a lot more smoothly.  If you can catch him on his tour, don't miss the opportunity.

Alyssa Figueroa of AlterNet has a good review of his talk. 

His point came home for me when he mentioned the names of MSNBC anchor Lawrence O’Donnell, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus and Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker, three people whose views I share pretty much all of the time. These people he includes among those who argue if you have nothing to hide there is no reason to object to wholesale NSA data collecting. Greenwald points out the obvious - you don't test a democracy by allowing free speech - or, in this case, privacy - for people who keep their nose clean. You test it by allowing it for outliers. To live in a country where conformity to groupthink is the norm is to live in a seriously impoverished democracy.

Which, of course, is where we live.  The question is whether there is something we can do to fix it.

The photo above, of Greenwald with his partner, David Miranda, and two of their ten dogs, is from another good article on Greenwald, in Rolling Stone, and is credited (although his name is misspelled) to the famous British photographer Max Vadukul.  I did not get permission to use this photo and hope that by crediting it in this way I can get away with calling attention to it.  I will, of course, take it down immediately if there is any objection.

I may lose credibility by showing my prejudices here - for dogs, and for handsome Brazilians. But think about it.  Doesn't that obvious evidence of good taste on Greenwald's part only enhance his believability?  You be the judge.

Added 2:43 p.m., same day - A friend pointed out that he would appear to be getting standing ovations wherever he goes.  Here's a good review of his talk at Carnegie's Zanker Hall in New York.  The question remains how much he is preaching to the choir.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Falls - A Film Review

I just watched a Netflix rental called The Falls - Testament of Love (2013).   It’s the sequel to The Falls (2012).   As if the original was not pushing the limits of endurance.

The only reason I can think of to watch this painfully amateurish attempt at movie-making is to work yourself into a frenzy of anger and resentment at the Mormon Church for brainwashing its adherents into psychologically abusing their children beyond endurance.  I know Mormonism shares with Protestant fundamentalism and curia-centered Catholicism the dubious distinction of being home to the mental illness that is homophobia.  But I also know that evangelicals are falling away from their practice of demonizing gay people, and most Catholics have long since left their medieval clergy behind in this regard.  But I know less about what’s going on in the Mormon Church.  I suspect this movie is an indication that they too are moving - painfully slowly, but they’re moving - in the direction of understanding that being gay is a sexual orientation, and not the work of the Devil.  But oh, what a bumpy ride.

I say “this movie” but I’m reviewing the two together.  Neither one of them strikes me as worthy of a review.  While everything within me wants to support any and all attempts at fighting homophobia, I can’t get past the idea that some things can be done so badly that they almost work against such a goal.  First off, movies with a message seldom make good art, but if deftly handled, they can.  This pair of films - “The Falls” and its sequel “The Falls - Testament yada yada” misses by a mile.

Almost nothing is done right.  It’s way too long and you’ll want a medal for not pushing the fast forward button on your video player every few minutes.   The characters are shallow, the dialogue seems designed to make you want to run rather than spend five minutes in a room with any of these dullards, the editing is non-existent, and even simple things are overlooked - at one point somebody puts food on the table, but the plates are set down out of sight at the bottom of the screen.  You sit there and instead of listening to the dialogue, you wonder if there is something wrong with the food.

It would be hard to find more shallow people.   Robots with canned facial expressions going through the motions of playing father, mother, brother, wife and prodigal son.  You imagine decent real people in there somewhere, and hope they will somehow clue in before the film runs out.  No such luck.

In Part One the two protagonists meet as Mormon missionaries assigned together, and fall in love.  Enter Sturm und Drang and soul-searching and agonizing and lots of references to the will of Our Heavenly Father.  RJ eventually accepts, kind of, that he’s gay (he hangs onto his Mormon underwear, however).  Chris gets drawn back into the church, marries and has a child. But not until they run off together and have what they report as a hell of a good time.

Part Two begins when Chris and RJ get back together after five years.  One never knows what’s going on in their heads.  No show about Chris' reconversion, only tell.  They come to the funeral of a guy who taught them to smoke pot.  You’d expect some indication they recognized the part he played in their growth.  The dialogue?  “He was a great guy.”  “Yeah, really was.” Chris and RJ  display hostility one moment, maudlin surrender to passion the next.  It would help if there was chemistry between the two.

At the same time the story development is totally predictable.  Not because the characters develop in a predictable way - their motivation seems to turn on a dime and it’s impossible to figure why they reach the conclusions they reach.   There is total, painfully dragged-out predictability in their confrontations with hostile parents, and the noble I-gotta-be-me speeches followed by more churning.  In the end, you simply feel sorry for everybody.  Makes you wish there was a button you could push and make Mormonism (and possibly this film) go poof. Which is ironic, since it is evident the filmmaker was attempting to portray the religion sympathetically.  It just didn’t work.  

There are moments when you realize the actors are not the problem.  Given a better script and better direction, they might carry the story.  If they could somehow give each other a reason for being drawn to one another.  And if there were some real character development, as opposed to just one more cliche-ridden treatment of how one must struggle to rid oneself of a soul killer of a religious upbringing.  And if you cut away the empty silences, and the “Are you OK - Yeah, I’m fine”s that lead us nowhere.

At one point Chris’s mother tells him, “If God won’t love you, I will.”  Thanks, ma.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Still going through the motions

Salvatore Cordileone, all dressed up (and nowhere to go?)
As a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m aware of the man who has headed the Archdiocese of San Francisco since October of 2012.  His name is Salvatore Cordileone and he is a conservative member of the church hierarchy who follows in the steps of conservatives before him. That includes George Niederauer, who will go down in history as the instigator of Proposition 8, the 2008 campaign run on lies and scare-tactics, which amended the state’s constitution and led to the overturn of the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.  That decision was later found unconstitutional by a federal court, fortunately, and an appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court.   

Then there was the really awful William Joseph Levada, who was archbishop in San Francisco for ten years before making cardinal.  Levada is known locally (and beyond the Bay Area, as well, obviously) for his cover-up of the child-abuse scandal and for his support of others among the clergy who participated in cover-ups (I'm thinking of Mahoney of Los Angeles).  Whether it was in spite of or because of these efforts I can’t be sure, but he was subsequently made cardinal and rewarded with a prestigious job in Rome.

But that is now water under the bridge.  The current problem is Cordileone, who is now making headlines for agreeing to join NOM’s protest march in Washington, D.C. next week against same-sex marriage.

Actually, whether that is even a problem any more is now a question worth asking.  As a bishop, he is saying what bishops are required to say, no matter that most Catholics no longer dance to their tune. According to an October 2011 article in the National Catholic Reporter, fewer than 20% of Catholics believe the church’s views on abortion are authoritative.  When it comes to homosexuality, that figure drops to 16%.  On the topic of contraception, only 10% admit to taking their cue from the church.   One study showed that while there were 205,000 Catholics attending mass in San Francisco regularly in 1961, that figure had dropped to 107,000 thirty-five years later.  Another showed that while half the people in San Francisco identified as Catholic in 1950, no more than 20% did so in 2011.    Put those figures together and you have to wonder who is actually listening  to the archbishop anymore.  

At the same time, things flare up when the church actually takes steps to try to control the behavior of teachers in Catholic Schools, as was shown recently, when the church pressed its teachers into a contract that entitled them to fire them if they were caught behaving badly, according to church teaching.  At the same time, when push came to shove, the church demonstrated that it prefers not to run gay people and gay-friendly people out of their jobs.  It simply wants them to follow a don’t ask/don’t tell policy of lying by omission. If they insist on being honest about who they are, well, that's not the church's problem.

In contrast to the clericalists are Catholics like Hans Küng, for example, the Roman Catholic theologian who argues that
(t)he requirement of celibacy is not a tenet of faith.  It is a medieval canon law that should have been abrogated long ago in response to the well-founded criticism of the sixteenth-century reformers.*
Küng also argues that
(t)he traditional arguments against preaching by women and the ordination of women are not merely outdated, they are also theologically dubious and untenable.*
I wonder why it is more people don’t insist we ought to get together and pass a law requiring the Catholic Church to change these unsound practices forthwith.  They are not in keeping with our civil laws supporting marriage and equality between the sexes.  

The reason, obviously, is that we have separation of church and state in this country, and Cordileone is way over the line in suggesting non-Catholics should be governed by laws an ever-diminishing minority of Catholic clerics would impose on them.

I might wonder as well why it is that Cordileone is scheduled to address his fellow bishops next week in New Orleans to urge them to use their power and influence to get an amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed which would prohibit gay and lesbian couples from marrying.  But I know the answer.  He knows he’s right, and when you’re right, you have to get out there and make things go your way.

You have to appreciate the cojones it takes to appoint a man like Cordileone archbishop in San Francisco, America’s most gay-friendly city.  The man is, after all, the official church’s head of the USCCB's Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.  The USCCB is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the organization that runs the Catholic Church in America, subject to the pope’s approval.  

Most people in the know seem to believe same-sex marriage rights in this country are just a question of time.  Gay liberation advocates are falling all over each other, in fact, in amazement at the speed of attitude changes.  The topic came up on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air on NPR yesterday. Gross asked Hillary Clinton if she had been pro-gay all along but had to hold back her support till the time was right.  Clinton said no.  She, like Obama, had “evolved” on the issue. She then went on to make my point - that the speed of change has been nothing short of astonishing.

In San Francisco, where gays and lesbians still flock daily to City Hall to marry, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee are among the dozens of civic leaders urging Cordileone to disassociate himself from NOM, arguably the leading homophobic organization in the nation, and the anti-gay protest march they have scheduled for next week. The letter ends with
We ask that you will reconsider your participation and join us in seeking to promote reconciliation rather than division and hatred.
A group called Faithful America has put out a petition to Cordileone to withdraw, which the National Catholic Reporter reports  already has 20,000 signatures.  

Actually, Brian Brown, of the National Organization for Marriage, is worried not enough people will show up.    

Huckabee will be there, of course.  And Santorum.  

And Cordileone, with his photo up there with the rest of them.

I am not surprised that Cordileone would continue to toe the party line of the official church. Win or lose, the Catholic Church still holds the official position that gays are flawed human beings and he has to carry the banner, no matter how frayed it is becoming.  He still has to go through the motions.  

But surely he has had a look at how the NOM site video creates an absurd image of “Americans fighting for freedom” - cue Martin Luther King, using his photo.  What is the matter with the man that he would allow such wretched abuse of language and reason?   We stand strong.  We will not be moved.  We shall overcome.  We are church.  We are victims of oppression. We demand our right to make you buy into our notion of sin.  We will amend your constitution.

Has this man no shame?

*I have the Kindle version of Küng’s latest book to appear in English, Can We Save the Catholic Church?  Kindle, unfortunately does not show page numbers.  These quotes appear at the 36% mark, i.e., about a third of the way through.