Why I DON’T “Walk Away From the Crazy”

At Bilerico, Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer presents a challenge  to gay Catholics, “When Do Catholics Walk Away From the Crazy?“. Writing about the tragic case of Al Fishcer, the Catholic teacher who was fired when he announced his planned  marriage to his long time partner, he responds to Fischer’s statement that he hadn’t expected that response:

My sympathy is just about used up for people like you. I don’t doubt it’s complicated for you. What is not complicated, what is in fact crystal clear, is that you are supporting an institution that has for centuries caused vast pain for GLBT people.

You are the problem.

Really?

I’ve faced precisely the same question decades ago, in an entirely different context. As a young student activist in South Africa, early 70′s, I participated in many anguished discussions about the supposed moral obligation on White liberals to leave the country, because by staying we were said to be propping up the system, “part of the problem”. Over  the years, I heard the same challenge rephrased in different ways, and saw many of my peers take that decision to leave. Some of those who did, participated as exiles in “the struggle” from abroad, others simply got on with their lives and built successful careers – making no more contribution to ending apartheid than if they had stayed. Some of those who remained behind likewise simply got on with their lives, raising their families. It is arguable (but I’m not convinced) that in itself made them part of the problem. Others who stayed were emphatically not. The story of South Africa’s transition to democracy has many strands, and the role of progressive activists inside the country is one of them.

To put the same challenge in yet another context, one could ask of progressive Americans, in the light of some well-publicized atrocities in a series of military adventures, from Vietnam to Aghanistan, why they continue as tax – payers to prop up the American system. We could say to them, too, “You are the problem. You should leave”.

We could, but I don’t, because the possible responses are obvious. The military atrocities are not essential to what the United States is, and in fact contradict true American values; the appropriate response to these horrors is not to walk away, which in any case achieves nothing, but to hold the those responsible to account; and that in any case it is not a realistic possibility for most Americans to simply walk away, renounce citizenship and cease paying taxes.

Much the same applies to the suggestion that LGBT Catholics should simply walk away from the Church. The disordered teaching on sexuality (all of it, not just the gay bits) and the  occasional horrors of its pastoral application in practice, are not central to Catholicism; walking away does nothing to help, and probably just makes things more difficult for those who remain; and in any case, is just not as simple as it sounds.

I have shown why sexual matters are not central to Catholicism before, in several posts: for example, in “True Catholic Belief“, and in “Catholic Priorities and the English Church” . The idea that Catholicism is obsessed with sexual matters is a false misperception. We must also recognize that reports of the occasional horror stories, of a child with two moms turned away from a Catholic school, or a lesbian denied communion, or a teacher fired for announcing his marriage to  a man, make such dramatic headlines precisely because they are so rare. There are probably kids being raised by gay parents in the majority of Catholic schools in North America and in Europe, countless openly lesbigaytrans Catholics receiving communion, or administering it every Sunday, and if all our gay organists were fired, church music in would simply cease in a high proportion of our parishes.

The claim that by staying we are part of the problem sounds like a high moral principle, but it is not. It is nothing but a slogan, devoid of any real meaning. It could only be true if it meant that leaving could solve anything, but it does not. There is no reason at all to believe that if all gay men and lesbians left the Catholic Church, it would somehow lead to improved sexual teaching. There is in fact good reason to believe that our continued presence and increasing visibility is in fact contributing to a gradual shift in tone, if not yet in formal doctrine. I suspect that doctrinal change too will come, but I leave that aside, for a far more pressing issue: the problem that we leave, if we walk away, to those left behind.

I am certain that change in Catholic sexual teaching, along with reform of the abuse of power and clerical culture must come, but I do not see it as my task to bring about that change. That task is too big for me. I leave it to those better equipped and more influential – and to the help of the Holy Spirit. My concern is with those other Catholics who, for whatever reason, stay within the Church, to help them survive the nasty bits, for the sake of the much bigger picture, that is the true meaning of Catholicism, and of Christianity. I try to do that here, writing at Queering the Church, by assisting at the Soho Masses for LGBT Catholics, which by their simple existence stand in prophetic witness that we too are welcome in the Catholic Church, and by participating as fully as I can in my local parish, as an openly gay and partnered Catholic. If I were to simply walk away, as suggested, I believe I would be simply abandoning those others who are still struggled with the issues that I dealt with and resolved for myself, years ago.

Finally, I can not simply walk away, because is is just not that simple. I am not a Catholic because I have signed on to a set of beliefs or programme of action, as one does when joining a political party. I am a Catholic because I was baptized and raised a Catholic, which is part of my identity, who I am. I can no more easily stop being a Catholic, than I can just stop being gay. I am Catholic, furthermore, for the very simple reason that the church is indeed “catholic”, that is, universal and inclusive (even if the practice of some churchmen attempts to deny that). This universality and inclusion is at the heart of true Catholicism, which I embrace by staying in – and would sacrifice if I were to leave.

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19 comments for “Why I DON’T “Walk Away From the Crazy”

  1. Chris Morley
    March 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    There isn’t a right or wrong about staying in or getting out of the Catholic Church, whether you are gay or heterosexual, female or male, living with HIV or not, ….

    Steven’s post, blames ALL liberal Catholics who remain active members of the Church and calls them part of the problem.
    “Couldn’t all the liberal Catholics, who are supposedly in the majority,
    say “enough is enough” to the Pope, walk away from the crazy, and start
    your own apostate denomination?”
    But Catholicism itself is acceptable:
    “I’m not saying you have to give up the faith, the tradition, the
    culture, that you grew up with and that you cannot imagine feeling
    complete without,”

    Most of the comments on his post are from LGB people and women who quit because they’d had enough. None seem to point the finger of blame and incomprehension at the liberal heterosexuals who have remained, despite Steven’s clear message to all that they must quit, but seem more than happy to stick it to remaining liberal gays / women.

    The world and all its institutions, including Churches and Faiths, is thoroughly messed up and compromised. Individually we have to figure out what makes sense for us to work to improve and influence that is within our reach and capacities, according to our values and priorities.

    It is clearly difficult for many LGB people, women, people living with HIV, ethnic minorities among others, to work from inside the Catholic Church for reform, but  Al Fishcer and his husband were making that work within their congregation and with their Priest. It was really bad luck, and especially the absence of decent employment protection laws (he could have claimed and expected to win unfair dismissal under British employment discrimination law), that led to the homophobic Archbishop hearing about his situation and abusing his power by leaning on school and priest to engineer his dismissal from his two posts.

    Blaming the victim is not part of Jesus’s / Catholic traditional values and it’s very mean of Steven and many of those posting comments to do that to someone when he and his husband have been so comprehensively dumped on.

    Let’s be clear, these sackings by the agency of the Archbishop would almost certainly not have happened to a divorced heterosexual Catholic teacher / organist living with another partner. Double standards regarding sexual morality operate throughout the hierarchy.

    Terry, you along with Al and his partner among many others, are working from within the Church in individual ways. I see people in this situation as more resilient and stronger than I. To me they are treasures.

    I am working for similar reform, but from the outside. I have never been able to throw off the excellent things I gained through my Catholic heritage and especially its social care values, which is why I have spent my working and personal life as a community activist for social reform supporting the struggles of LGB people, women, migrants, people with HIV, the poor etc. I may not return inside the Catholic tent but I can see that the core of its work is good and well worth supporting.

    Many people work through very flawed political parties to achieve social reform, although the dilemmas and compromises there are very similar to those affecting membership of Faiths and Churches. Each to her / his own.

    • March 13, 2012 at 2:37 pm

      Chris, by highlighting your work  “as a community activist for social reform supporting the struggles of LGB people, women, migrants, people with HIV, the poor” goes to the heart of one part of what Catholicism is all about – and it’s no more about obsession with sexual rules, than the Gospels are.

  2. March 13, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    Great post. I think this deserves to be linked in your “start here” box (it’s a question commonly asked, isn’t it?).

  3. Ben
    March 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    Thanks for writing this, I have been asking myself the same question recently. Why stay when there appears to be no room for dialogue, when the best we can hope for amounts to the hierarchy turning a blind eye, rather than actively condemning us? I see a lot of good in the Church, for example the sacraments, the focus on combining faith with action, the celebration of reasoning and scientific discovery, even the teachings on sexuality and gender come from the basis of wholly integrating our spiritual and natural selves. There is so much potential for the Church to become a champion of justice in the world, but instead the word ‘Catholic’ is becoming a synonym for ‘bigot’ to some people 

    However, I don’t think leaving is the answer; I care about the Church too much to stand aside and watch it becoming increasingly insular and irreleva. Maybe it is time to start actively taking a stand? There must be some way to engage with the Vatican that they won’t see as a secularist attack and will actually get our point across?

    • March 13, 2012 at 4:02 pm

      Ben, I’m not convinced that there’s any hope for “actively engaging with the Vatican” – yet. (Although the recent Vatican conferences on AIDS, and on sexual abuse, held in conjunction with secular experts leave me wondering whether that day will come).
      I’m more interested in what I think of as “self-ministry”, support groups, gay Masses, and internet resources such as this site. I’ve been looking closely at the history of the past 50/60 years, and see a remarkable pattern. Before Troy Perry started MCC, with a handful of people in his living room, there was no ministry to or for LGBT people, in any denomination. Then came Dignity, Quest, Integrity, More Light Presbyterians, Methodist Welcoming Ministries, and a host of others. Today, there are support and ministry groups in every denomination, on every continent. The really interesting thing, is how in every denomination (including Catholics), church authorities have responded by initiatives of our own.
      My belief is that there’s no point in simply waiting for the bishops to come around. But the more we support each other, and speak up wherever we can, the more they will follow, trying to catch up.

  4. Advocatus Diaboli
    March 14, 2012 at 3:28 am

    This is the first post that I have found solidarity with in several weeks. Thank you for posting. 

    As for Steve, he is an example of someone who does not know what it means to have a religion. he has nothing but his own ego to be devoted to. People like him are the only type of people in the world that I absolutely refuse to interact with. Not to mention, the fact that he refers to LGBT people before the 1800;s means that he is completely ignorant about how world-view and identity are shaped by concepts like ‘sexual orientation’. Why do people like him not stop to think and ask why not a single ‘gay’ person in 1,850 years speak in favor of ‘gay rights’? No one had a concept of sexual orientation, ‘gay’ people could not be made to ‘suffer’ if there was no label or definition to refer to them as separate from anyone else. Besides, seeing as how there are MORE references to same-sex relationships throughout history Catholic history that were tolerated than ones that were not is further evidence that he is uneducated.  Notice how he is apart of LGBT NATION, and other groups that make their sexual feelings their primary identity and being human only secondary.

  5. Frank DeFrancesco
    March 15, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    To make a very long story short:

    My Catholic identity too, was almost as ingrained as my gay identity, being of Italian descent and having attended Catholic schools all the way through graduate school.

    In the ’80s I was quite involved with Dignity, a LGBT Catholic organization in the US.  We were very hopeful of effecting change in the Church and were in dialogue with a local Archbishop.  Then came the “Ratzinger Letter”.  We were expelled from the church property – no longer able to have Mass there and had to move to an Episcopal church and then to a Quaker Meeting House.Dignity members began to defect, and the Chapter became essentially schismatic. I did tire of the politics.  But returning to mainstream parish life was even more distasteful.  I got tired of hearing the latest pronouncements against LGBT persons from the pulpit and sermons that had veiled anti-gay references.

    With the Catholic Church now headed by Ratzinger himself, I no longer recognize it as the inclusive, compassionate, merciful and loving Mother it once was.  It is much too painful to endure the emotional abuse.

    I have not attended Mass or actively participated in the Church for several years.  The distance has given me some perspective and if there is change it has been in the opposite direction from that envisioned by John XXIII.

    I cannot be a part of this unrecognizable institution I once called Church.  Whether we as the people are Church, is not the relevant issue.  It is a very personal matter for me and I do not condemn anyone who remains faithful in love and hope.

  6. Brian Hutchins
    March 27, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    I realize this post has been up for awhile, but it was just posted at “Sensus Fidelium” where I left a response.  Here it is:

     “The Catholic Church is not a country.  The author’s examples would have it so, however, and this conflation of church with country makes it clear what prompts Catholics to stay in their church, but does not provide a sound or moral rationale for doing so. 

    What prompts allegiance to the Church is emotional (identity issues) and the belief that the Roman church really is “the one true church”.  This is a kind of nationalism. For centuries, Rome has instructed Catholics to regard the Protestant churches as not really good enough (or heretical).  Catholics who stay clearly believe this.  Attempts to reform “the” Church are grounded in this belief.  For centuries those who have wanted to reform Christian Practice, have done the more difficult and ultimately better thing and left the Catholic institution (a political and social construction) in favor of ever more open and affirming churches.

    While I am sympathetic to the current political goal of Catholics for Marriage Equality, I do believe that more would be accomplished, both politically and spiritually, if you all made the harder choice, as I did, and set aside identity issues in order to embrace a fuller understanding of the work of Jesus in the world.”

    • March 27, 2012 at 3:05 pm

      Thanks, Brian. I appreciate your trouble in formulating a response, and posting it here as well as at Sensus Fidelium. 

      The Australian theologian Michael B. Kelly has written a powerful reflection on the Bible story of the road to Emmaus – and in his telling, back again – in which he agrees that for queer Catholics, the decision to leave the Church is not only valid, but may even be an obligation. Where he differs from you, is in a recommendation that this departure should be followed eventually by a return in prophetic witness – just as the disciples who had met the risen Lord at Emmaus, returned to Jerusalem, where the supposed leaders of the embryonic church had been holed up in fear, to share the good news.

      I agree with you that the Church is not a country, and that part of the personal issues for me are purely cultural. However, there is also something bigger here. The whole point of the Catholic church is that it is “catholic” – that is, universal. I simply cannot go along with the idea that we should splinter away over what is really a very small part of the fullness of Catholic teaching and practice, even if it is a large and hurtful part of what it is to be gay. On that score, it also worth pointing out that whatever formal doctrine might say, and Bishops promote, the evidence is that ordinary Catholics on the ground are a prominent part of the coalitions in favour of LGBT equality and inclusion.

      However, these are intensely personal decisions. In my post, I was sharing my take on it, as I see my path. I have no desire at all to prescribe to others the paths they should take, or to judge them for the paths taken.

      • Brian Hutchins
        March 27, 2012 at 3:51 pm

         Thanks, Terence, for a thoughtful and helpful response.  It may not have come across in my post, but I do have a deep respect for lay catholics making their way in the world.  I do sincerely hope that many more will see that what we have been taught to see and feel as a splintering away is many times a branching that grows toward a true universality. 

  7. Jmccrea
    March 28, 2012 at 12:34 am

    I decided to follow the advice of that US theologian, Kenny Rogers:

    “You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold ‘em,
    Know when to walk away, know when to run.”

    I now call myself a “Roaming” Catholic.  It is very healthy to no longer worry about the self-serving narcissistic clericalist unmitigated nonsense that spews from the unelected unrepresentative  Ontologically Favored tighty-righties of this church.

  8. Jon
    April 30, 2012 at 5:42 am

    I am a former catholic who has a very different take on what the church actually is. I used to think that the church was simply irrelevant to my life, so for years I practiced in a non-christian tradition. But more recently I’ve come to the deeper understanding that the institutional catholic church is in fact malevolent. So now I would say that I am anti-catholic in the sense that I will no longer let pass situations were I can speak the truth about this corrupt institution. I don’t go out of my way, but I do as best I can to discourage family and friends from supporting the church. I am proud to say that most of my family has also left the church. I would also make it clear that I do not believe in the fundamental teachings of the church. I think it’s mostly myth.

    • Advocatus Diaboli
      May 1, 2012 at 1:44 am

      well, as a historian, I can tell you that your interpretation of the church as a malevolent entity is simply not factual. Now, your personal experience is may have been such. But I can confidently tell you that despite its failings the church has done more good for the human race than any other single institution, philosophy, or anything at all in human history. Something that is fundamentally evil cannot live for 2,000 years without falling once. The soviet union was inherently malevolent, and it did not even last 100 years. Again, your personal experience is not something that I can dispute, but historically speaking that is factually incorrect. Never mind that the whole idea of human rights and the dignity of every human individual is sourced uniquely, directly, and SOLELY from the Catholic Church. People in it do not always do the right thing, but at its essence it is far from an evil institution.

      also, your use of the term myth is most likely misplaced, as there is a factual historical meaning of the word myth, and it does not at all meaning something that is “made up and false”. Also, your pride is rather revealing of your general attitude. You say non-christian religion, what religion precisely did you practice that was just so “positive”, because I guarantee that historically speaking it is much more of a “myth” as you use the term than the church’s view. If practiced some form of buddhism or hinduism and believed the church to be ‘wrong and evil’ then you have completely failed to understand it, as Catholic Theology is essentially the same exact world-view and concepts explained in very different vocabulary. If you want to see a religion that is truly evil, look up the practices of John Calivn and his consistory system that made the spanish inquisition look like a libertine institution.

      • Jon
        May 1, 2012 at 5:12 am

        Thanks for your reply, although nothing you say will affect what I now do to consciously harm the institutional church. I would very much like to see the catholic church persecuted publicly for its crimes against humanity (which you deny). I would like to see its cardinals and bishops imprisoned, and its churches razed. Since I’m not a christian, your idea about “my pride” means nothing to me. The church in northern Europe has little power and influence these days. I would like to see the same thing happen to it in the USA and eventually in Central and South America. However rather than simply fading away, I would prefer to see the institution decimated in a conscious way as an example to future generations who seek to impose their particular religious views on humanity.

        • Advocatus Diaboli
          May 2, 2012 at 11:41 pm

          First I never denied that the church has not harmed anyone. Second, you are pitifully ignorant as you clearly have no formal or accredited education over the things that you have discussed. Third, the statement “nothing you say will affect me” is the definition of irrationality because it means that you are not interested in verifiable facts nor objective understanding. Clearly you are a very wounded person, and my over empathetic heart reaches out to you immensely. However, while I DID feel for you at first, I now no longer do, due to my own wounds. People like YOU are the reason why I used to be absolutely disgusted that I am gay. The idea that I shared anything in common with immature, hate filled, and immoral people like YOU is the reason why I have scars on my body from hurting myself. The church never actually harmed me, the actions of people like YOU did. Ill have you know that it was CATHOLIC LAY PEOPLE in a CATHOLIC CHURCH who expressed concern over my self hate over my sexual orientation, and it was a CATHOLIC PRIEST who stopped me from committing suicide. He told me that it was ok that I was gay and that God still loves me just like everyone else and I did not have to be like YOU ARE just because I am gay. After the realization that I did not have to be like YOU I went home and took the bullets out of the gun I bought and sold everything back to the military surplus store. 

          So what you are saying, essentially, in your reply, is that you are a fascist. You reject objective historical fact that even ATHIES PROFESSIONAL HISTORIANS FROM HARVARD, YALE, and OXFORD agree on (which shows how self-centered and narcissistic you are to think that you know more than they are) and instead of accepting the objective and balanced accounts of history you blindly believe beyond all reason in an a-historical mythology that suits your narcissistic and Nazi style goals. And, you want to persecute and harm people, most of whom are guilty of nothing other than being Catholic. You are against religious freedom, you are against healing (instead you want to spread your hate and wounds).  
          You subjectivize reality and promote persecution – you are no different than the rest of the bitter, immature, self-absorbed failures that caused me to want to kill myself for having anything in common with you. 

          Your blind, a-historical, irrational ideology and desire to harm makes you no better than Islamic suicide bombers; you are no better than stalin. you are no better than hitler. you are no better than moussolini. Funny how all of those characters also hated the church. You have a lot in common with those monsters. But you wouldn’t know that now would you because you do not accept real historical fact. 

          Did you know that in the 1960′s the Catholic Church was the first ever organization to declare that homosexuals deserved the same dignity and treatment as everyone else? This was years, decades in some cases, before professional psychiatrist organizations began removing homosexuality off of the “mental illness” lists. But you are not interested in that, you are interested in your fascist ideology of hate. You refuse to leave your irrationality and ignorance because it sustains you.

          Meanwhile, gays are rounded up and tortured to death and dumped in the street in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran. They’re favorite tactic has been to molest and gang rape the suspected “homo”, then beat the crap out of them, then seal their anus with silicon glue and force feed them laxatives so that their intestines explode and they die a long and painful death. THis is conducted by the STATE POLICE and supported actively or passively for by the religious establishment leaders. More lgbt people have been brutally tortured and killed there in the past 2 years than all of the people executed during the entire 350 years of the Spanish Inquisition COMBINED. Furthermore, the Spanish Inquisition involved an objective trial process hundreds of years ago, where as today in the 21st century State Police torture and kill homosexuals for sport simply for being SUSPECTED of being gay. Funny how you dont have any anger about that. Funny how you target THE RELIGION THAT INVENTED THE IDEA OF HUMAN RIGHTS for persecution but you dont give a flying fuck about the single WORST source of atrocities in existence today. You want to persecute people, most of whom are not ACTUALLY guilty of harming anyone, for things that occured hundreds of years ago, and that have occurred to day at a rate of LESS THAN the percentage that it occurs in the general population. 

          I wish I could sit down and have a conversation with you and show you just how ignorant and irrational you are. You are like an animal, because you refuse to use your higher brain process and instead are just a slave to your biochemicals and your hurt ego. I want to show you all of the scars on my body inflicted out of self-discust that I have some part of my essence shared with people like YOU, but you probably wouldn’t care because people like you are too self-absorbed to ever truly care about anyone else (not to mention COMPLETELY incapable of admitting that you might be wrong or that your actions might have negative consequence, not that you would care about harming other people anyways). Come to think of it, I dont think it would be good for me to meet you in person, I might throw up with disgust that such  self-righteous pig is standing in front of me, and I’d likely have an inclination to inflict the physical scars that are on my body on to you so that you can know how people like you have made me feel – But I would never allow myself to do that, becuase then I would have degraded myself to be just like you. 

          By the way, Fascist Jon, how old are you? I am 24, and if you are older than I am then you need to wake up, grow up, and start acting like a mature adult and start working for peace and reconciliation instead of trying to INCREASE the level of hate and suffering. You make me sick, I’d like to see YOU persecuted in public, but even if I had the power I would stop myself JUST so that I could prove to myself that I am a better and more mature person than you are.

          Despite my anger I am still willing to be kind and friendly if you show a little humility and rationality. I REALLY want to meet you and have a discussion in person. Too bad you live so far away.

  9. Joseph Gentilini
    May 5, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    I stay Catholic for all of the reasons mentioned above. I left once between 1978 and 1979 but became cynical and bitter and I missed the Eucharist. I decided that My hunger for Christ was more important than the craziness of the hierarchy. I believe that living my life contemplatively will help to bring about the change in the church, even if I do not live to see that day. One of my ministries is to write the American Bishops showing them God in my life as a gay man in relationship with my partner Leo (32 years) and with God. Some of this is contained in a book coming out in a few weeks: Hounded by God: A Gay Man’s Journey to Self-Acceptance, Love, and Relationship. Peace, Joseph Gentilini

  10. August 22, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Comparing a church or organization of churches to a nation-state is, to be blunt, apples-to-oranges.

    It is expensive (often prohibitively so) for most people to fly or drive themselves and/or their families and belongings across one or more borders, and there are only so many nation-states which exist on this planet. In comparison, there are no known limits to the numbers of religions, denominations of religions, leaders of denominations of religions, allegiances, patron saints/deities, etc., which could possibly be produced from the human mind (including Catholic Christianity).

    I don’t know how you, or anyone, can make such an exaggerated comparison and pretend that it is valid. It is a bit cringe-inducing to read that what was done to you (baptism) unconditionally defines what you are, that you, in adulthood, can’t stop retaining an identity that was mentally foisted on you post-natally by (if I’m correct) your parents.

    An organization whose operations traverse continents is not comparable to a nation-state. A religion – any religion or none – is an individual choice.

    • Joseph Gentilini
      August 22, 2013 at 10:27 pm

      It is true that staying with a religion is a individual choice. Just because a person is “right” does not mean that that person won’t be “crucified” by the hierarchy. What the church did with his firing is wrong and unjust but does not mean (at least to me) that one would have to stay in that religion. It could also mean that he transcends the institutional church structure and remain a Catholic on his own terms. This is how I stay in the institutional church. I deal somewhat with this in my book, “Hounded by God: A Gay Man’s Journey To Self-Acceptance, Love, and Relationship.
      Joe Gentilini

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