Pittsburgh bishop David Zubik caused quite a stir when he recently remarked that by requiring employers and insurers to cover contraception and other FDA-approved reproductive health benefits without an additional co-pay, "the Obama administration [is telling] the Catholics of the United States, 'To Hell with you!'" Zubik's incendiary comments are just the latest iteration of the narrative du jour among America's Catholic bishops: that they, and by extension America's Catholics, are being persecuted by a government-sponsored "war on religion."
The adoption of this victimization complex by Zubik and his brother bishops is especially galling because these same men are waging a concerted campaign against the basic civil rights and human dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people across the country.
This hypocrisy is intensely personal for me. Before returning to Pittsburgh, Zubik was the bishop of my home diocese of Green Bay, Wis. I was a local music minister who also happened to be the bishop's favorite cantor. The first time I sang at a Mass at which he presided, Bishop Zubik confessed to the congregation that he did a double take upon initially hearing my voice; he thought they had somehow managed to hire Josh Groban! After that glowing review, I sang at all sorts of diocesan functions, including Chrism Masses, diaconate ordinations, and priestly ordinations. When Bishop Zubik's beloved mother Susan died, I sang her funeral Mass at his request.
One evening, one of Zubik's vicars informed me that we needed to have a serious talk. We met a few days later at a local park, and as the two of us walked along a wooded trail, this priest told me that my ministry was no longer welcome in the Diocese of Green Bay. "John, your voice is beautiful," he said. "Even so, it would be inappropriate to have you sing at the Cathedral anymore. I've heard that you are married to a man, so your continued presence at diocesan functions would cause a scandal."
I never hid the fact that I was married -- in fact, every time I raised my hands at Mass to invite the congregation to sing, my wedding ring was on my finger -- so when Zubik's vicar confronted me about my marriage, I refused to lie about it. It is, after all, the single most important relationship in my life. Being true to my marriage came at a painful price: I was pushed out of my diocesan music ministry. In fact, the punishment Zubik's diocese dealt to me because of my marriage, and the way he continues to decry loving, committed same-sex couples just like my husband and me, is what initiated my journey out of the Catholic Church.
But I'm only one of the scores of people who've been shunned by the Catholic Church because of sexual orientation, and Bishop Zubik is only one among many Catholic bishops actively persecuting LGBT people. New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan led the opposition to marriage equality in that state, saying that allowing same-sex couples the freedom to marry would turn New York into a North-Korean-style communist dictatorship. After the Marriage Equality Act passed, he falsely claimed that Catholic churches were being threatened with lawsuits intended to force them to perform same-sex weddings despite the fact that such suits were specifically prohibited under the law. Zubik's brother bishop in Minneapolis, John Nienstedt, recently injected a prayer for marriage discrimination into the text of the Mass itself and ordered his parishes to steer tax-exempt church resources into the political campaign to pass the state's proposed ban on same-sex marriage. And just last year Dan Avila, the Policy Advisor on Marriage and Family to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, resigned in disgrace after claiming that homosexuality is caused by Satan entering the wombs of pregnant mothers and wreaking havoc on their hormones.
The American Catholic Church is facing gravely serious problems. Catholic schools and parishes are closing across the country. In the Pittsburgh diocese alone, at least 17 parishes have been closed in the last decade. Eight Catholic dioceses have filed for bankruptcy protection because they cannot afford payouts to victims of child sexual abuse by priests. Vocations to the priesthood have cratered, dropping by almost half. Catholic values like economic justice, financial reform, justice for immigrants, and the right of workers to organize are under constant threat. Yet instead of addressing these pressing issues, the bishops have decided to maliciously attack loving, same-sex couples, fighting against our basic civil rights and human dignity in the name of God.
I'm sure that I wasn't the only LGBT Catholic (or former Catholic) who winced when reading Bishop Zubik's words, "To Hell with you!" The sad truth is that that's exactly what the leaders of the American Catholic Church are saying to their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children.
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