LGBTQ Magazine

"When Wolf Meets Sheep": On the Possibility of Safe Dialogue Spaces to Discuss Same-Sex Lives and Love in the U.S. Catholic Church

Posted on the 11 October 2017 by William Lindsey @wdlindsy

At New Ways Ministry's Bondings 2.0 blog today, Robert Shine cites Damian Torres-Botello, an out gay Jesuit who writes the following in The Jesuit Post about the possibility of open, respectful dialog about same-sex love in the Catholic church after anti-LGBT right-wing Catholics succeeded in having a talk by Father James Martin cancelled recently:
I respect people who, with love and good intentions, seek to understand Church teachings in concert with contemporary thought. I welcome the dialog. It is, however, another thing altogether to continue giving weight to voices which seek only to tear down, to shame, and to reject the truth of Gospel love. It is, however, another thing altogether to continue giving weight to voices which seek only to tear down, to shame, and to reject the truth of Gospel love.

And then he cites theologian Emily Reimer-Barry writing in Catholic Moral Theology, who notes how right-wing Catholic groups like Church Militant employ shaming techniques and shaming language in their encounter with queer people. Reimer-Barry thinks that queer folks can find themselves damaged by shaming discourse employed in church settings and within their Catholic families. For effective dialog to take place within the Catholic community regarding same-sex peoples' lives and loves, respectful listening coupled with trust is necessary:
[T]here has to be a sense of trust first. . . It starts with humility and vulnerability and a desire to really know what someone else's experience is like, even if that experience is different from one's own.

Bob Shine concludes:
The right-wing groups that attack people in the church and use dehumanizing language about LGBT people show that they are not ready for the conversation about Catholic LGBT issues that is now underway. Their bullying tactics undermine the trust and healing on which the bridge must be built. Their venomous rhetoric prevents better relationships between church leaders and LGBT people. No one should be allowed to cause another harm or instill shame. All are welcome to come to the discussion, but if they do not come with respectful language and love, they may find that no one will converse with them.

There cannot be — there will never be — any effective dialog about these matters within the Catholic context, as long as queer people are the sheep invited to dine with the wolf — and the wolf is not restrained. Unless safe spaces are fashioned for dialogues in which the weak are asked to sit at table with the strong, or the vulnerable brought together with those rapacious to wound, "dialogue" and "inclusion" become covers for damaging attacks on those who lack power, and have been invited to sit at the table of dialog with those who have power. 
To create such safe spaces requires that those invitations to the table of such dialogues take sides with the sheep and commit themselves to protect the sheep against the wolf. To create such safe spaces may well require that those setting the table of dialog muzzle the wolf as long as the wolf is determined to attack the sheep.
Creating safe dialog spaces for the sheep to sit down with the wolf requires that we be honest about the nature and intent of the wolf. It may require that we recognize that we have spent much of our own lives siding with the wolf and ignoring the wolf's rapacious attacks on the sheep — while daring to pretend that such behavior  is "love" or "inclusion" or "everyone must have a voice."
Siding with the sheep and making it safe for the sheep's voice to be heard may well mean that, as we manage a Catholic dialog space in which same-sex lives and loves are discussed, we recognize that it matters very much that this particular participant in our discussions is an Opus Dei member who never stops defaming Father Martin in any discussion of same-sex lives. Siding with the sheep and making it safe for the sheep's voice to be heard — finally! — may require us to to begin to see that the Opus Dei member who persistently uses Father Martin as a foil for his nasty attacks on queer people is there not to dialog with and hear the voice of the sheep, but to do harm to the sheep. It may mean that we open our eyes and see that the person who for years has persistently used our "open" Catholic dialog spaces to disseminate lies about queer people and their lives — that they are sick; that they rape children; that they spread disease — are not about "dialogue," but about damaging vulnerable people in the name of what she calls Catholic truth. Such that the "open," "respectful," "inclusive" dialog spaces of Catholic discussion online sites online become exceptionally dangerous places for queer people — especially young ones — to visit . . . .
They become spaces in which queer people can be persistently attacked, lied about, and told that all of this is being done as an expression of the harsh and peculiar "love" Catholic teaching offers to queer people — and in which queer people can find that they have no right to speak back against the malicious, hateful lies, because they will be censored as people not respecting the nice discourse rules of the Catholic discussion space. 
Siding with the sheep and restraining the wolf's attacks on the sheep may also require that we recognize that some of those we take for sheep are actually wolves in sheep's clothing. It may require that we recognize that many people representing a religious community and its dogmatic orthodoxy, many people who speak with authority about the teachings of a given religious tradition, are — though they present themselves as sheep — actually wolves, when it comes to how they want to treat LGBTQ people when they encounter them.  It may require us, sadly, to extend to Catholic dialogues between queer folks and church leaders the very same recognition we have had to develop with great sadness as we've listened to people sexually abused as children by Catholic religious authority figures: namely, that some kinds of abuse are built right into the Catholic system, and if we remain connected uncritically to that system, we ourselves become complicit in the abuse through our connection to the Catholic system.
Until and unless we choose to stand apart, take sides, speak out on behalf of those reporting their abuse by Catholic religious authority figures . . . . 
Taking sides is not at all easy for those steeped in American cultural ideals of "both-sides-have-a-point." It's uncomfortable. It makes us begin to look at the world through the eyes of those who suffer tremendously as things are now arranged. It makes us start to see our own complicity in structures that silence, demean, and abuse the powerless.
It also makes it incumbent on us to reach out to those we have ignored as we have listened exclusively to the wolves' voices while we told ourselves that the sheep never demanded much attention in the first place, that the sheep deserves her fate of being gobbled up by the wolf because she did not work hard enough to protect herself, or because he chose to stray from the flock and wasn't that silly? 
To be honest, I'm not by any means convinced that American Catholics — including American Catholic groups working for the full inclusion of queer people in the church — want or intend to do the hard work required to manage dialogues in which sheep are made safe and wolves are restrained. How can they be serious about doing such hard work, when they bridle at the very mention of wolves and at the suggestion that the wolf be muzzled until he chooses to behave himself at table?

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