Catholics for Equality: Laudable, Laughable, or Simply Oxymoronic?

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[Because of this post, an ad for CatholicMatch.com is now appearing here on the site. Apparently it’s only for straight people. Surprise, surprise. Meanwhile, there is some great discussion taking place on the crosspost on Pam’s House Blend.]

This week, a group called Catholics for Equality officially launched.

Catholics for Equality empowers pro-equality Catholics to put our faith into ethical and effective political action on behalf of the LGBT community and their families.

Something about “pro-equality Catholic” just doesn’t sit right with me. There’s very little in Catholicism that in any way resembles “equality” and Catholicism has never been known for being pro-anything. Let’s hear a little bit more from their website:

Drawing on the rich tradition of Catholic social justice teachings, grounded in the Gospel message of Love, American Catholics are among the strongest supporters of equality for LGBT people of any religious group in the U.S.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HO HO HO HO HO HO HO HE HE HE HE HE HE HE!! WHOO! I’m rolling around on the floor. Seriously ROTFLMFAO!!! That’s the best joke I’ve heard all day. You can’t be serious, right? I mean, the Catholics come close, but it’s definitely the Mormons who are the strongest supporters of LGBT equality, by far. Oh, that’s rich, or it would be if it weren’t so offensive to all the religious groups who do actually support LGBT equality.

Now, mocking aside, what they’re talking about is that there is a rift between congregants and the leadership. Catholics for Equality is a group designed to oppose the bishops. The Catholic Church isn’t exactly democratic or egalitarian in any conceivable way, so if congregants don’t want to accept what the leadership is spoon-feeding, they have to form a separate group to represent their point of view, and this is such a group.

The question here is: what does it mean to be “Catholic?” Is it anyone who maintains belief in the holy trinity? Is it anybody who just chooses it as a cultural identifier regardless of belief? There are a lot of folks in these categories who can be heard to say, “Well, I was raised Catholic.” Is it anyone who is technically still on the books as Catholic? If that’s the case, then I’m Catholic too.

When I think of people who openly identify as Catholic, I think of people who are still actively participating in the Catholic Church. This seems a fitting assumption for Catholics for Equality; they want to mobilize Catholic voters, influence legislation, and even get some pro-equality Catholics into office. I don’t think a lapsed Catholic (and flagrant atheist) like me would count as a victory for them.

Let’s grant the premise that there is a difference between Catholics and the Catholic Church. I despise the Catholic Church, and without writing an extensive rant, I think it’s safe to say that centuries of oppression of women and children, hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of anti-gay ballot measures, and the withholding of safe-sex education that would slow the spread of HIV in Africa are plenty of leg to stand on. (The fact that I was involuntarily assumed into Catholic membership is just icing on the cake for my unabashed bias.) I don’t despise Catholics, but if someone is going to identify as a Catholic for Equality, that person must convince me that they are actively working against all the injustice the Catholic Church stands for. And it does; platitudes about social justice teachings in Catholicism do nothing to excuse the behemoth of bigotry that was and is the institution of the Catholic Church.

So if there are several key points in Catholic dogma you don’t agree with, what does it say if you still identify as Catholic? That sounds like cognitive dissonance to me. I would ask such a person, “Why do you still identify as Catholic?” Sure, it could be for reasons I mentioned above, like it’s the term that still best resonates with a person’s personal religious belief or it’s an ethnocultural marker (like Irish Catholic or Italian Catholic). But if you’re actively participating in the Catholic Church or any of its ministries, that strikes me as a huge conflict.

The bottom line, I think, is whether or not a person contributes any money to the Catholic Church. I can get past a person identifying with the word “Catholic” and I can even keep my cool with people enjoying Mass. I think it’s boring as hell (and I’m still going to challenge you on your religious beliefs), but I can at least appreciate how someone might like the pageantry and ritual. However, if you allow a single penny from your pocket to make it into that offering basket or tithing envelope, we have a problem.

Giving the Church money is giving the Church your blessing. It’s enabling the Church to continue doing what the Church does. It’s an investment. It’s an assumption of accountability for the Church’s actions. And honestly, if you give to the Church and then tell me you support LGBT equality, I will probably just laugh, because knowingly or unknowingly, you are participating in hypocrisy.

That’s why I really struggle with Catholics for Equality. I want to support them; I really do. I am sure that they will educate some Catholics and make some positive change. I also truly appreciate the way they stand for separation of church (Church) and state. But ultimately, it’s just political masturbation. More Catholic influence on our culture is not going to do anything to help me in my life as a gay man. I don’t want more Catholics in power. As it is, I have to worry that the Supreme Court won’t uphold my right to equal protection specifically because it’s got so many Catholics on it. If you’re supporting the Church and working against the Church at the same time, are you actually making any progress?

The whole reason I started blogging is because I saw beliefs to be the problem. The intellectual fallacies I could understand as a freethinker were the same ones I saw oppressing me as a gay man. We wouldn’t have a problem with homophobia and transphobia (or heck, even patriarchy) if religious organizations did not continually push negative beliefs that ignore our modern-day understandings of sex, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Why should we applaud members of an organization hell-bent on resisting social justice for trying to support social justice without disavowing the very group they’re working against?

Were this group Ex-Catholics for Equality or even Lapsed Catholics for Equality, I’d applaud them for organizing. But Catholics for Equality? That sounds about as absurd as Quakers for War, Jehovah’s Witnesses for Blood Transfusions, or Muslims for Female Immodesty. If you want to support equality, take responsibility for resisting it in the first place.

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There are 19 Comments to "Catholics for Equality: Laudable, Laughable, or Simply Oxymoronic?"

  • LOrion says:

    All good points ZACK. But American Catholics have been known to follow ‘independent’ thinking for ages. Just look at Birth Control use! How many are excommunicated for it anymore? Now I expect a few leaders of this to be expelled, but I assume they realize that.

    • Tony Adams says:

      Dear LOrion, exactly the point of the new C4E organization, and Zack – when he was done rolling on the floor – actually understood the reason we have created C4E – “because there is a rift between congregants and leadership”. It’s a sad time when Catholics need to redirect their addled and misguided bishops, and a strong voice is needed to counter the homophobes and haters who style themselves as Catholic and always get the microphone whenever the pope does or says something ridiculous. Personally, I have never been suspended from the priesthood. That may change. I’m not religious, but I do believe in the teachings and parables of Jesus, and I think that if the Catholic Church were to be brought back to its roots, it could be a good entity. I am participating in C4E because this is what I think I was ordained for. I don’t need a religion to guide me, but I do need to follow my conscience when it tells me to be an activist where there is a need for one. Meanwhile, I am encouraging Catholics to stop giving money to the church because money is what those bishops love and need above all else. If you have Catholic relatives or friends, send them the link to C4E and tell them to withhold support until their church comes to its senses.Nothing provokes change faster than the snapping sound made by the American Catholic woman closing her purse when she is finally tired of being treated like a second class critter. C4E embraces not just gay rights but women’s rights and even the rights of straight married men who ought to be allowed to be priests. I hope this is a helpful clarification. Let the new reformation begin.

      • ZackFord says:

        Thanks for your comment, Father Tony. With all due respect, my impression is that if they were to “withhold support until their church comes to its sense,” they’ll probably never give to the Church again in their lifetime.

        That said, do you think it’s important to be Catholic or more important to find a religious community that jives with your values?

        • Tony Adams says:

          Dear Zack, Personally, I don’t need a religion, but others want one. Some folks like to convene and share their spirituality. The Catholic Church of the first two centuries was composed of small groups of people discussing the teachings of jesus in private homes with freedom of thought and interpretation. The efforts of control freaks throughout the centuries have made the church moribund and deadly. Still, at root, it could be a way for people to celebrate and infuse their lives with hope and good direction. That makes it worthwhile in my book, even if I am not the type to participate much.

          Regarding speculation about how long it will take for the withholding of funds to be effective, I’d remind you that the Catholic church is a business (and one that should be taxed) that relies on cash flow for its infrastructure. Turn off that faucet, and it would soon collapse – very much in our lifetime. It is like any other business in that regard.

          In the 12th or 13th century, in Viterbo, the cardinals gathered in the local cathedral to elect a pope. They squabbled for months. The lay people outside the cathedral grew impatient and locked the cardinals inside. Still no agreement. They reduced their food to bread and water. Still no agreement. Finally, in the dead of winter, they tore the roof of the Cathedral open and exposed the cardinals to the elements. They finally felt the “Holy Spirit” and elected a pope. We are now in similar circumstances. The Catholics in the pew must direct their bad bishops and force them to see the light about inequality. Starve’em out. It worked then. It will work now. Bishops crave and rely on money more than grace from God.

  • ZackFord says:

    To my knowledge, I haven’t been excommunicated yet. Publicly blogging my apostasy apparently hasn’t been enough. Maybe they’re that desperate to count people, however lapsed they may be. If my excommunication does ever happen, I will proudly frame and hang the letter.

  • Paulesso says:

    Zack, I’m a lifelong gay man and Catholic who believes that the Catholic clergy sins are beyond belief, and that the curent Pope is probably a pedophile. Criticise the clergy and church policies all you want, but your comments are no better that the anti-gay comments of Jerry Falwell, Fred Phelps and their kind. I have suffered anti-gay oppression as you have, I have also suffered anti-Catholic oppression as well. Don’t react to oppression against you by becoming an oppressor.

  • ZackFord says:

    Paulesso, I invite you to share in more detail what exactly “anti-Catholic oppression” is and how you have experienced it.

    • Paulesso says:

      Imagine you’re a gay man who wants to put his kid in a private school that has a great reputation. Imagine after you are interviewed by the staff and have been given a warmish greeting you overheard one of the staff say, “Yeah, he thinks his kid is coming here, that’s a laugh, HA, HA, HA, HA, HA. I led him on, we’ll send him a letter saying we’re full, no gay man’s family is coming here!” Imagine that hurt your feelings. Change the word “gay man” to “catholic” and you’ll get the idea. I didn’t post a comment to tell my life story. I can blog if I want to do that. I just suggest you take care to examine what you write so that you do not to become the oppressor. It’s difficult to come back from the dark side.

      • ZackFord says:

        I’m not sure I completely understand your school analogy. You might read this post of mine from earlier this year to see why I might not relate or sympathize, depending on what kind of private school and why you were discriminated against.

        Do you think the oppression you’ve experienced as a Catholic compares to the oppression that persists against the LGBT community?

        Also, what about my post would you characterize as oppression? What about it did you think made it oppressive?

        I hope you don’t mind my questions. I do appreciate your feedback; however, you’ve accused of being oppressive, so I’m just trying to understand where you are coming from.

  • Paulesso says:

    I was going to go through your post and detail what I think can be listed under the term “oppression” in your writing, then after the 15th item I decided it would take too long. Instead I was going to point to the greater subject of your post, and say that the Catholics for Equality is probably a group of gay catholics and their friends and family who want to come together as catholics and support gay civil rights, and you probably shouldn’t belittle their good intentions with mockery. We need as many allies as we can get, especially when you cross post on Pam’s House Blend.
    But, then I went to the post you suggested from earlier in the year and read:

    Do I hate all people who identify as Catholic? No. In fact, I really try hard not to
    hate any people.

    I now realize my efforts would be futile. As an admitted Catholic hater who has to try really hard to not hate all of them, I fear you’ve already gone over.
    Zach, I know there’s good in you, I can feel it. Come back to the good side, the side of the non-haters.

    • ZackFord says:

      You’ve continued to paint me as an oppressor and now as a hater, but still without indicating what it is I said that is oppressive or hateful, even with your added emphasis to a quote out of context.

      The point of my post is that if people are coming together as Catholics to support gay civil rights, they’re just spinning their wheels, or treading water, or whatever metaphor you prefer. If you want to be a pro-equality Catholic it means you want to have it both ways: you want to defend an institution you identify with while standing against that same institution. It just doesn’t work.

      “Oppression” means that there is a power imbalance. Given that there is an immense amount of Christian privilege in our nation, I think you would have a hard case to make that anything I said constitutes oppression. You very well might not like what I’ve written, and that’s fine. I doubt, however, that your problem is with me, but more with the challenging legitimacy of what I have said here. I am trying to hold people accountable and not let them earn credit they don’t deserve. I imagine many wouldn’t like such a message, but that doesn’t make me oppressive or hateful.

  • Paulesso says:

    You admitted to hating catholics, I quoted your statement. I emphasized all because you added it where it was not needed. You could have said “Do I hate people who identify…” which would have been a benign statement, but you didn’t, you said “Do I hate all people who identify…” which means you hate some of them, and it’s really hard for you not to, you said so. Give up the hate, you’ll feel better, I promise

    As far as the ““Oppression” means that there is a power imbalance” canard, it’s crap. All you need to oppress is the power to hurt someone’s feelings, which is how a lot of oppression happens, especially in America where physical oppression is against the law, mostly.

    You’re right my “problem” isn’t with you. I thought Pam wrote it at first. I’d probably think you were a great guy if I met you. I’m just tired of reading anti-catholic tirades about catholics who are probably great people if you met them.

    Why don’t you meet the Catholics for Equality group and find out something about them, then report about them on your blog, just a thought.

    • ZackFord says:

      Well sure. Do I hate those who have abused hundreds of children, and those who helped cover it up, and those who scapegoated people who are gay for their actions? Yes. So I admit to hating some Catholics, Catholics I know to be cruel and hurtful and who have found protection from the Church. They will not earn my forgiveness.

      The definition of oppression is “the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner,” it’s the consequence of privilege. Call what you’re feeling something else; it’s not oppression.

      I don’t think I said anything to suggest that the group isn’t made up of “great people.” What I said is that it’s people who care more about their own agenda than the integrity of what they’re standing up for. I called them hypocrites, not bad people. And just because you don’t think it’s nice to call them that doesn’t make me hateful. It just means you think me not nice because I hurt your feelings.

      I’m tired of people painting themselves as victims just because people try to hold them accountable for their religious beliefs. If you want to continue to defend Catholicism, go ahead, but just recognize that in doing so, you become accountable for the actions of the Catholic Church. If you’re okay with that, fine. We’ll just agree to disagree.

      I still contend that what you’re experiencing is the same cognitive dissonance I referred to in my original piece. The Catholic Church stands for inequality, but you still want to be Catholic. Okay. Keep wrestling with that. It’s good for you.

  • Paul D. says:

    Yeah, I wonder if members of the KKK told the Negroes that they disagreed with the central teaching of the KKK. I wonder if they told the Negroes that they didn’t support discrimination and thought they were fine human beings, but they shouldn’t be forced to share a water fountain. I wonder if they told the Negroes that they were still their friends, and that they should overlook their attendance at KKK ralies and their support of an organization that worked against their rights.

    What is different about the KKK and negroes from today’s Catholic Church and gays? Nothing.

  • Pete says:

    Zack, you wrote: “But ultimately, it’s just political masturbation. More Catholic influence on our culture is not going to do anything to help me in my life as a gay man. I don’t want more Catholics in power.”

    Catholics for Equality is not about putting more Catholics in power. It’s about putting more pro-equality people in power with the help of millions of straight Catholics who disagree with their bishops and support legal equality for LGBT people. I don’t understand why you call that political masturbation – it’s political organizing. You may not like their religious beliefs, or their decision to stay in the church with all its failings, but right now the freethinker voting bloc is pretty small. There are a lot of Catholics. And a lot of them are on our side. Mobilizing them is more useful than mocking them.

    • ZackFord says:

      Not trying to mock them, just trying to hold them accountable.

      I called it “political masturbation” because I feel it’s more an exercise in apologetics and PR than anything else. If being Catholic is just as important to a person as being for equality, then that person is in conflict and might only be breaking even, if that. If mass waves of Catholics start disavowing their church and refusing to tithe, I will bow in awe and admiration.

      Until then, I’m not going to applaud Catholics for being Catholic.

      • Tony Adams says:

        You know, Zack, you could embrace a higher modus operandi and encourage all activists who work for equality on any front, including this annoying church, because success come incrementally and cumulatively. To dismiss or discount this fledgling group is rather “bitter-party-of-one”ish. You are better than that.

        • ZackFord says:

          I have a higher modus operandi, which is to dismantle religious privilege, the undeserved respect that religious beliefs have in our society. If folks weren’t so entitled to their beliefs that questioning them is offensive, then we wouldn’t even be needing to have this conversation.

          Unfortunately, we care more about kowtowing to personal belief than upholding reasoning and secular morality. I want LGBT Equality, but I am not going to enable religious belief to get it. You are welcome, as many have, to frame me as “not nice” for not playing along with the religion game, but it’s not exactly a convincing argument.

          I am not dismissing or discounting this fledgling group. I am simply saying that adding the words “for equality” does not excuse them from the burden they carry by identifying as Catholic.

  • Alan E. says:

    My mom remains a Catholic, but wants to move to an Episcopal church. The only reason she hasn’t yet is because of her mother and the guilt and drama that would ensue if she left. My mom is waiting for my grandma to die to change churches because she doesn’t need to stress. Fortunately, she doesn’t give money to the church.

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