Friday, October 3, 2014

Catholic University Shoots Self in Foot

Headlines: Catholic University of America postpones screening of 'Milk'

Sometimes, with the Catholic Church, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  It’s in the hands of such dunderheads that, much as you’d like to push a button and make them all disappear into thin air, you know it would be a waste of effort.  They are self-destructing before our very eyes.

It’s a wretched organization.  Retrograde (Galileo’s reputation was restored, yes, but it took 400 years), insensitive (you’ve got AIDS?  You want to make love to your wife?  OK, but no condoms!), and stupid (read on).  There are good folks within the institution peddling as fast as they can to save it, but they are not making much headway, seems to me.  Not if this latest attempt by the Catholic University in Washington, D.C. to assure that its students remain ignorant of history is any indication.  As a “pontifical institution,” when it gives you an ecclesiastical degree, it does so in the name of the pope.    Both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI visited the campus when they made state visits to the United States.  This is not a fringe organization.  It represents the very heart of the church itself.

A political group, the College Democrats, had planned to host a “milk and cookies” event, and had invited a political science professor from the campus and a member of a neighboring Montgomery County (Maryland) Democrat Club to speak on the effect of the gay rights movement on the Democratic Party, after which they planned to show the film, Milk, the biopic on the life of gay activist Harvey Milk.

Event organizers got approval, they say, and advertisements were sent out.  But then somebody hit the panic button.  One of the school officials began objecting to the size of the rainbow flag on the brochures, and the fact that October is LGBT awareness month.   The brochure read: “Kick off LGBT Awareness Month!”  Now it began to look to the school official like advocacy, and not information, and since the school’s charter prohibits advocacy of gay awareness – or anything at all that would suggest being gay is OK - pace Pope Francis and his famous declaration, “Who am I to judge?” – the event had to be canceled until they could do a jesuitical number on the event to assure that it was purely “educational” and did not involve advocacy.

You can see it’s not the old days, when the church preached hatred and everybody simply bowed in submission.  Today the church has to reckon with a new and healthier morality – not one that requires submission of women and disparagement of a healthy sexual life.   The church, as usual, drags its feet.  As usual they’re trying to have their cake and eat it too. 

They’re using reason, at least.  But it’s the sort of reason they used when they came up with the idea that a good approach to the child molestation epidemic would be to pay off the victims and bury the story.  All the logical synapses are firing, but they’re missing the big picture, going for immediate solutions to what they define as problems and not understanding the world is out ahead of them when it comes to human rights.  The Catholic church is one of the main sources of animus against LGBT people in this country.  That’s always been the case, just as it has always been a patriarchal force for the subjugation of women.  But now the country is onto them.

Instead of following the common sense dictum that when you find yourself in a ditch you should stop digging, they’re grabbing the shovels yet again.  I trust somebody will whisper in the ear of the dodo in charge of this fiasco that gay people have broken free.  The shackles are gone.  The Dixie flag has been taken off the state house.  Pick your metaphor.  The Catholic Church no longer has the power to teach hatred and tell lies about gay people.  We are not sinners, you sweet hypocrites, you.  We are people with a God-given sexuality that is what it is and we are done done done with your attempts to turn us into lepers.  Stick that bony finger of yours in your ear, and get out of my face with the “naughty, naughty” crap.

What blows my mind is not that this Catholic institution is anti-gay.  It’s that it is anti-education.  So what if the folks putting on the event – all twenty of them or so (I’m told it was a small group) – crossed the line between “information giving” and “advocacy.”  Do you think a Cinco de Mayo group meeting on campus would fail to make plain they thought being Mexican was a great thing?

The film Milk recognizes the status Harvey Milk has acquired in history.  He is a hero to LGBT people and that fact is not going to go away.  I know you are not to be blamed directly for the views of your defenders, any more than Christ is to be blamed for the despicable institution you run in his name, but you do share considerable responsibility for the way they've taken their cue from your leadership.  Just look at some of the comments of these folks convinced they are rushing to your defense.  Missing the woods for the trees entirely, several of them point out, for example, that Milk has been charged with having had sex with underage kids.  They all fail to mention, please note, that the “kids” were sexually mature teenagers, and not prepubescent altar boys.

Would you have your students remain ignorant of the contributions of Martin Luther?  He certainly did more damage to your institution (arguably by making it more Christian) than Harvey Milk did.  And he, like many clerics of his day, was a raging anti-Semite.  Note that Martin Luther King was known to have had extra-marital affairs.  Note that Gandhi had some seriously wacko ideas.  Note that Nelson Mandela had serious problems in his immediate family life and admitted in his autobiography, “I led a thoroughly immoral life.” 

You may doubt that Milk is up there with Mandela, Gandhi, Martin Luther or Martin Luther King, but you cannot deny his impact on American life and the lives of millions of LGBT people was overwhelmingly positive, even heroic.  And you really ought to know that your effort to make sure that knowledge is kept from your students will only be seen over time as another example of the ugly Catholic hand of censorship.  It will only backfire, in the long run.

We will remember this event, many of us. 

Even more of us will remember that Harvey Milk died at the hands of Dan White*, who was described as a "good, Catholic boy" who always went to church.

Where he learned from you bastards to hate.

If I were a praying man, I’d pray that your path to oblivion might be unencumbered.

photo credit: shooting self in foot

*From Wikipedia on Dan White:  "As a supervisor,  White openly saw himself as the board's "defender of the home, the family and religious life against homosexuals, pot smokers and cynics."


Alan McCornick said...

For an opposing view - i.e., that the church (at least the CUA) did not shoot itself in the foot but actually knew exactly what it was doing, scroll down to Catholic blogger Jerry Slevin's remarks at: Jerry claims the cancellation was a move to bring out the fundamentalist Catholic vote for Republicans in the upcoming election. An interesting notion. But even if Jerry is right, I still maintain the act of censorship will only backfire and in the larger context make the church officials look more foolish. They may gain some ground momentarily in a local election, but will lose hearts and minds of thinking Catholics, who want an increase in human rights as much as anybody else.

Alan McCornick said...

Sunday, Oct. 5 - Check out Frank Bruni's article, "The Church's Gay Obsession" in today's NY Times: