Tough questions in Oakland
National Catholic Reporter offers a detailed look at an emerging controversy in the Diocese of Oakland involving a national association that offers pastoral support to gay and lesbian Catholics, and a bishop’s quest to assess its Catholicity. From NCR:
Following a more than yearlong investigation into the group's "adherence to the fullness of Catholic teaching," the future of a national association of ministries to gay and lesbian Catholics is uncertain because its board members refused to sign an "oath of personal integrity" to Catholic teaching given to them by the local bishop.
Declining the oath could result in Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, Calif., declaring the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry, or CALGM, as "not authentically Catholic," a letter to its members from the association president warns.
"In good faith, we have done most everything required of us to maintain a legitimate space within the boundaries of the institutional Church," president Sheila Nelson wrote to members April 5. "Yet, this has not seemed to be adequate or satisfactory to the office of the bishop. We have repeatedly, abundantly and humbly submitted that our work is pastoral in nature and not political or primarily doctrinal."
Bishop Cordileone has not released a formal statement on the situation, but NCR notes that among the challenges he sees with CALGM are:
the omission of specific church documents on its website and publications; its use of the terms gay and lesbian; members' statements deemed critical of the church; and the backgrounds, affiliations and public statements of both conference speakers and board members.
I admit that I was a bit taken aback by the candid language CALGM uses on its website. Many Catholic organizations, whether official or not, usually shy away from even naming gays and lesbians as such, sometimes opting for the condescending and charged term, homosexuals. Does the bishop’s suggestion that employing the words gay and lesbian openly may forfeit Catholic identity suggest that even recognizing these men and women exist is now verboten? Is there room for dissent? Are issues of sexuality closed off to internal debate?
The president of CALGM said that members of the group have tried to work within acceptable pastoral bounds, but seems skittish about having to sign an “oath of personal integrity.” Should employees and members of Catholic organizations be subjected to fidelity oaths? Should priests and bishops? How would these be enforced, and what would the consequences be?
Perhaps tenuous, might there be similarities between the situation in Oakland, and the ongoing controversy with US nuns and the Vatican? Might it be that in both cases, church leaders feel they are losing control over people (nuns) and issues (gay rights), and are perhaps attempting to gain it back through heavy-handed expressions of authority? If so, will this method of management and leadership succeed? Does it affect the image of the church in negative ways, or simply remind Catholics who leads?
I’ve asked many difficult questions, and I’m afraid I’m at a loss for answers. But there are gay and lesbian Catholics who remain in the church, and sometimes it feels as if the church does not welcome a continued presence. Requiring signed fidelity oaths from those who are not be able to sign them in good conscience is perhaps a quick way to root out the opposition, but human beings in need of pastoral care, the Gospel, and the sacraments may be harmed and further marginalized, an outcome that surely no Catholic desires.
A quick aside: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, is struggling with issues surrounding same-sex marriage and gay rights in similar ways as the Catholic Church. A recent piece in the New York Times highlights some of the internal battles, which mirror those in the Catholic Church. Read it here.