I'm a bit confused by news that the Archdiocese of Hartford is about to offer a program to help gay parishioners. I'm not scratching my head over the old bugaboo that if the Catholic Church talks to gay people, it encourages them to be gay. Talking about something doesn't make you do something, and besides, you're gay a long time before you can talk.
What's nagging my noodle is why the diocese is all of a sudden worried about its queer flock. The program, called Courage, was founded in New York in 1980. It does one the favor of recognizing one's gayness in exchange for a pledge to stop doing it with members of the same sex. Fine, but why now?
Because the Church is worried! Deacon Robert Pallotti told local CNN affiliate WFSB that he's vexed by the idea of gays not being able to make friends and influence people. "They could be subject to discrimination; they could be subject to brutality," he said.
Now, I have no doubt that closeted gays stay closeted because they fear retaliation, maybe even violence, by family and friends. I have no doubt that if someone is afraid, it would be of great comfort for a clergyman to put his arm over his shoulder and say, "You're not alone. You can talk to me."
But I also have no doubt that part of the fear of coming out is that being gay is a perversion in the eyes of the Church, and that coming out to one's family and friends is made nearly impossible by the fact that the Church's view of homosexuality acts as a convenient rationale for the bigotry and homophobia of one's friends and family. Nobody wants to feel like a perversion, and nobody wants to talk about feeling like a perversion with the guy responsible for defining your sexuality as a perversion. That's a kind of masochism that's no fun at all.
To be fair, Pallotti does strut out one of the Church's oldest chestnuts: what's naughty is not the sexual orientation, Pallotti said, but acting on it. Well, all right. But what's that to do with discrimination and brutality? Violence is a societal phenomenon, not a spiritual one. Being gay or acting gay -- it's all the same to people afraid of reactionary violence.
Fortunately, we live in a state in which gay citizens enjoy legal sanction of gay marriage as well as statutory protections of LGBT status that rival those of every state in the union. Last year, our socially progressive General Assembly passed the first-ever law outlawing discrimination against transgender citizens. What's the Church got that Connecticut ain't got?
Well, nothing like that, but it does have good public relations! It looks mighty nice to say we are here to help those who can't help themselves, especially after years of headlines about priests raping boys and the Church's cover-up of those crimes.
It looks so accepting to say that we understand that some people can't accept the spiritually unacceptable, because they haven't yet attained the enlightenment of having wrapped their heads around some centuries-old bit of theological hairsplitting. Pallotti offers this bit of ecclesiastical hokum as it if it made perfect, pious sense: the point of the program isn't celibacy "as much as creating what they call a chaste kind of life."
Now it just so happens that good public relations would go a long way in influencing the public's opinion of the Archdiocese's campaign against the Affordable Care Act on the grounds of religious liberty. The Bishops called on parishioners in September to protest the law's requirement that Catholic hospitals provide preventive services to woman.
Condoms, that is. Condoms, as you know, run afoul of Church doctrine. The law does allow for exceptions, but even this displeases the Bishops. They say that the provisions are too narrow, because a hospital can only qualify if it "hires primarily Catholics, ... serves primarily Catholics, and ... attempts to convert to Catholicism anyone who seeks these services."
This is like saying our patients aren't all Catholic, so we can't be defined as Catholic, while at the same time saying that we can't follow this law because, um, you know, we're Catholic. Typical of the Church, it wants it both ways, which is another way of saying that church authority remains stunningly narcissistic. What's important to the Church isn't really helping people but maintaining power over the indigent, vulnerable, and powerless.
The late Christopher Hitchens called Mother Teresa the ghoul of Calcutta, because, he believed, her ministrations to the poor were really a cover-up for her religious fanaticism. Given what we know about the Church in Connecticut, it's not hard to imagine similarly ghoulish behavior.
Maybe I'm cynical. Why don't we put this to the test. Next time you feel a hankering to attend mass, my gay friend, let's do something totally over the top and see what happens when you go in nothing but black chaps and an albino boa constrictor. If no one blinks, then I'm dead wrong.
And I'll be glad for it.