Time for a
Catholic Stonewall

Time for a
            Catholic Stonewall

The Vatican has
released a document banning priests “who are actively
homosexual, have deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or
support the so-called ‘gay
culture.’” Rome has been floating trial
balloons for some time about this document to see what
level of antigay rhetoric it can get away with. After
months of document leaks, the Vatican had already made
its point: Local bishops and religious superiors will be
expected to scrutinize seminaries lest they become
hideaways of gay culture. At this point the actual
text of the document is irrelevant; dictatorships always
rely more on self-censorship through fear and intimidation
than actual punishment to accomplish their goals.

The galling fact
is that this document, while purporting to
“clarify” church teaching or
“purify” the priesthood, is really nothing
more than an effort to link the criminal activity of
pedophile priests with homosexuality and to distract
from the reprehensible behavior of bishops who covered
up their misconduct. This is an absurd gambit on the part of
the Vatican. Homosexuality has no relationship to child
sexual abuse. This scandal has made transparent an
untenable “kyriarchal” system—a
model of church that locates power, both sacramental and
temporal, in the hands of a few men who literally lord
over the laity, speaking and acting in the name of all
believers when in fact they are but a tiny percentage
of the community.

It is time for a
Stonewall moment.

The Stonewall was
a gay bar in New York City where, in 1969, patrons
resisted arrest during one of the police’s regular
gay-bashing raids. Rather than acquiesce to the
harassment that kept up a neurotic minuet between
police and bar patrons, courageous lesbian, gay, bisexual,
and transgender people stood up, spoke out, and
resisted. They probably surprised even themselves at
the power of their own righteous indignation.

Catholics should
respond to the latest Vatican bullying the same way.
After decades of the Vatican implementing a system that
takes authority away from local communities and
presumes to impose its will on Catholics who can think
for themselves, it is time for Catholics to stand up, speak
out, and resist.

Evidence suggests
that U.S. Catholics do not support many of the
narrow-minded tenets of their church. In opposition to the
male hierarchy’s belief that ordaining women
priests is theological treason, more than 60% of U.S.
Catholics say they would support women in the
priesthood, according to the most recent Zogby/LeMoyne poll.
Another poll conducted by The Boston Globe in
the Boston archdiocese—where the incidents of
sexual abuse by priests were among the worst—finds
that nearly 60% of Catholics oppose a ban on gay
priests. Combine this with U.S. Catholics’
clear disregard for the church’s medieval views on
marriage, divorce, and birth control, and increasing numbers
of Catholics who support abortion under certain
circumstances, and it becomes obvious that Americans
find themselves in a church that does not speak to their
everyday concerns in any meaningful way.

The Vatican, in
its patriarchal echo chamber, continues to portray
Western values of tolerance and equality as the fallen
morality of a secular society. In so doing, the
institutional church treats millions of faithful
Catholics in the United States not as spiritual adults but
as perpetual adolescents in need of discipline. The
time has come for U.S. Catholics to claim their full
baptismal citizenship and publicly call for changes in
church policies on sexuality, ordination, and relationships.
Considering the enormous economic and political influence of
the U.S. church, if Catholics here really stood up to
their bishops, loudly and in numbers, the Vatican
would have little choice but to listen.

There is evidence
that despite the dissembling of the hierarchy, U.S.
Catholics are refusing to let the institution scapegoat gay
priests, feminism, and modernity for the
Vatican’s sins.

The Conference of
Major Superiors of Men, the leaders of the U.S. men’s
religious orders, recently said it would send a delegation
to Rome to oppose the antigay seminary policy. In a
welcome response to an inflexible Vatican regime, the
superior of the New York Province of the Jesuits,
Father Gerald J. Chojnacki, wrote, “We know that gay
men…have served the church well as
priests—and so why would we be asked to
discriminate based on orientation alone against those whom
God has called and invited?”

This is a
question that could be asked about women and married men as

Thomas Gumbleton,
Detroit’s auxiliary bishop, issued this call to
action in a recent sermon: “When authorities in
our church say one thing and then act in a different
way, it seems to me that we’re called to
challenge that, to speak out if necessary to try to
counteract what our religious authorities do.”

He went on to
confront the Vatican with the teaching of U.S. bishops,
which says that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender
people are “always our children.”
“They say one thing, ‘In you God’s love
is revealed,’ but then say,
‘You’re not worthy to be in the
seminary.’ It is a terrible cruelty and

The Women-Church
Convergence, a coalition of Catholic feminist groups,
clarified that “all ministers, indeed all members,
are called to be responsible agents of their own
sexuality” and pledged themselves “to
create communities in which all persons can love and be
loved openly as is their birthright. Anything less is
simply not Catholic.”

And ultimately,
as Catholics face their Stonewall moment, where the
choice to submit means a choice to violate one’s
conscience, this is what it comes down to: the meaning
of the word catholic.Catholic means all-encompassing, universal,
comprehensive. Catholic does not mean exclusion
from the community on the basis of misinformed or
capricious reasoning. This message of universal
inclusion was the lesson of the first Stonewall. It is still
being learned by society as a whole. The Gospel
message of love and justice is reason to hope
Catholics will be quicker on the uptake.