Fundamentalists thrive in times of rapid social change. Fundamentalists generally champion emotionally charged issues that can be reduced to unambiguous black and white terms. Fundamentalists succeed in making a show of strength by humiliating and marginalizing “deviants” who are unable to protect themselves. Thus the Taliban sends out men and women each morning who are employed as “morality police,” armed with paint brushes on three foot poles and cans of black paint. They are charged with painting the bare ankles or the hair of any woman “immodestly dressed.” They can arrest any women without a relative acting as chaperone or any unrelated man and women conversing together at the bus stop.
The self-appointed “morality police” among Catholic fundamentalists are often bishops who can be just as intrusive and menacing, but they use different forms of intimidation peculiar to their office:
Archbishop John Myers of Newark just told Catholics in his diocese who support same-sex marriage that they should “refrain from receiving Holy Communion” and calls [for] “a proper backing of marriage,” a fundamental issue for Catholic voters heading into the election. Catholics in Minnesota will receive a letter this week from the state’s bishops encouraging them to donate money for television ads asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The new archbishop of San Francisco has said gays and lesbians who are in a sexual relationship of any kind should not receive Communion. In Omaha, the archbishop is encouraging priests to preach against the city’s recently passed sexual orientation anti-discrimination ordinance. Meanwhile, the Seattle archbishop, who is overseeing the Vatican crackdown on Catholic nuns while he lobbies for an anti-gay marriage ballot initiative, cheerily warns that “human society would be harmed beyond repair” by same-sex marriage.[i]
The Seattle archbishop did not need to invent his emotionally-charged words of doom upon society, he borrowed them right out of Cardinal Ratzinger letter on same-sex marriages.
Notice here that Pope Francis has nothing to do with encouraging bishops to crack down on supporters of same-sex marriages inside and outside the Church. The image of the Church favored by the Pope is that of a “field hospital” that welcomes in those injured and heals their wounds. Meanwhile, for fundamentalists, their image of the Church is “the fortress on the hilltop” that protects “true believers” and defends the true faith against all the enemies of God.
On the other hand, Pope Francis, up to this point, has not taken any strong steps to discourage bishops like Archbishop Schnurr and Archbishop John Myers of Newark from punishing and humiliating the supporters of same-sex marriages. And, more to the point, when the US bishops meet in their bi-annual meetings, there is no attempt to call for moderation and to challenge whether the excesses promoted by the zealots violates the Gospel of Love and denies the “dignity” that Cardinal Ratzinger affirmed for homosexuals.
Not a week passes when I don’t hear of this or that horror story of how gay and lesbian Catholics have been openly abused by those who imagine themselves to be the self-appointed “morality police” of fundamentalism.[ii] Two cases will suffice:
Case #1 Father Kneib Denies Communion to the Mother of the Deceased
Carol Parker and Josie Martin have been same-sex partners for twenty years. They had served as lector, cantor, and choir singer for twelve years at Columban Catholic Church in Chillicothe, Missouri. Then Carol’s mother died. Their recently appointed parish priest, Father Benjamin Kneib, decided on his own initiative that, in conscience, he could not give the lesbian couple communion at the funeral mass. Both of them were devastated: “It was a shock to hear him say that,” Parker said to the News-Press. “I never expected that, especially at my mother’s funeral.”[iii] Many of those in the parish who knew and respect the couple refused to accept communion themselves in solidarity with the grieving couple.
Parker and Martin expressed their sadness that [Fr.] Kneib would choose to compound their grief by preventing them from participating fully in the funeral. “It was very important to me, my last opportunity to worship here at the church with her.” [iv]
It would have just been one additional small step for a handful of the members of the parish to receive communion in the hand as was their custom and then to break the host and to give half to each of the grieving women sitting in the front pew while saying the usual, “The body of Christ.”
This would be done not so much as a silent rebuke to the insensitive priest but as a remedy to heal over the wound that Fr. Kneib had carelessly caused. Upon noticing how many had declined to take communion, Fr. Kneib later apologized to Parker for taking action at the time of her mother’s funeral. But the bond of trust had been broken:
The couple has found a new church to attend, one hour away. Parker said to Fox, “My faith is strong enough that I wasn’t going to let this deter me to go to church.” “We’re all God’s children, and we have every right to receive Communion,” Parker told the News-Press. “Even the pope has said, ‘Who am I to judge?’”[v]
This is the sad legacy of Ratzinger Doctrine and of the fundamentalist movement within the Catholic Church that takes the issue of homosexuality and misuses it as an excuse to rebuke “sinners” and to justify driving a wedge between the lesbian couple and their spiritual family. This is not the true faith of the Catholic Church; it is the recent fanaticism of the few imposing itself upon the whole.
Case #2 Father Coelho Denies Anointing of the Sick to Stroke Victim
Lifelong Catholic Ronald Plishka wasn’t sure that he that he would survive when an ambulance brought him to the emergency room of Washington, D.C.’s Washington Hospital Center to treat his heart attack, so he requested a priest to give him communion and administer last rites[vi].
Father Brian Coelho, a priest assigned to the hospital’s Department of Spiritual Care, arrived at his bedside to perform the sacrament of anointing of the sick, but stopped preparing for communion once he found out that Pliskha was gay. . . . Plishka told The Blade that Coelho offered to take his confession before proceeding with communion and sacramental last rites. “We started talking and I told him I was so happy with this new pope because of his comments about the gays and his accepting the gays,” Plishka said. “And I mentioned that I was gay. I said it and then I asked him does that bother you? And he said, ‘Oh, no, that does not bother me.'”
. . . Plishka said that after his revelation, Coelho simply “would not continue” with the anointing of the sick sacrament or administration of communion, offering Plishka no explanation.
“He said, ‘I will pray with you,’ but that’s all he’d do. That was it.” Plishka was shocked and angered by Coelho’s reaction. He told The Blade, “He wanted to pray. That’s what he wanted to do. He said well I could pray with you. And I just told him to get the f*** out of here — excuse me. But that’s what I told him.”
. . . A spokesperson for the hospital, So Young Pak, released a statement to the Huffington Post that said, “MedStar Washington Hospital Center has taken our patient’s concerns very seriously. While the priest is not an employee but rather is assigned by the Archdiocese of Washington to provide spiritual care at our hospital, it is our expectation that all who support our patients adhere to our values. This includes offering pastoral and spiritual support to all patients, regardless of their faith traditions.”
Pak continued, “Our hospital was recognized last year as a “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality” by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. We want to hold true to this important commitment to the LGBT community and to all of our patients. Our Department of Spiritual Care has reinforced our expectations with this particular priest and his superiors.”
After Plishka told Coelho to leave, “The doctors came in and told me to calm down or I’m going to have another heart attack,” he said.
. . . The hospital sent a Methodist pastor to Plishka’s room, who prayed with him and gave him communion. However, Plishka noted that “it’s not the same. It’s not my religion, you know? I’ve been a Catholic all my life and for them to refuse me a sacrament and to refuse me communion? It destroyed me.”
Plishka chose to speak out about the experience in the hopes of making a difference. He said, “I think there comes a time when as a gay man you have to take a stand, you know? It’s just intolerable to be treated like you’re nothing. And I could have died. And all I did was ask for the rites of the church that are due to me. But because I’m gay I’m denied that.”[vii]
This is the tragic legacy of Ratzinger Doctrine in action. This priest and many others like him lose all sense of good pastoral judgment. Instead of allowing the rite for the Anointing of the Sick to bring the one suffering into the presence of a God in their time of anguish[viii], it would appear that, given the story narrated, the stroke victim was effectively denied this sacrament because he is a homosexual. This is not the true faith of the Catholic Church; it is the recent fanaticism of the few imposing themselves upon the whole.
Fr. Coelho should have done what Fr. McMonigle, my former parish priest who is now long dead, would have done. If Ronald Plishka was lucid, he would have asked him if he was aware of having on his conscience any serious sin that he never confessed. If so, he would have heard his confession.[ix] If Ronald Plishka, on the other hand, understood himself as ready to meet his Creator and his Final Judge with a clean conscience, then that would signal that any reservations that the priest had with regards to what he imagined was “the gay lifestyle” of Plishka needed to be set aside. These reservations were his problem; they were NOT the problem of this dying man.
For there to be a mortal sin one has to have awareness that a particular action is a grave offensive to God and to go ahead and to do it anyway.[x] If Ronald Plishka accepted his gay lifestyle as a gift of God, then Fr. Coelho’s would have to say, “Who am I to judge?” and to proceed with the Anointing of the Sick. But Fr. Coelho was infected by the disease of fundamentalism and he was unable to do this. This is an offense against our merciful God and against the primacy of conscience. The fact that the Archdiocese defended Fr. Coelho against the serious reservations of the hospital administrator is a sign of just how far the Ratzinger Doctrine has gone to blind and confuse so many members of my Church. As Jesus aptly observed, “”Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides [of the blind]. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matt 15:4).
What Does Pope Francis Think About Fundamentalists?
Pope Francis understands the corrosive effects of fundamentalism. He knows full well that it has infected the Catholic Church and that it subverts true religion and causes tremendous suffering[xi] whenever it shows its ugly head. Let Pope Francis speak for himself:
So some may ask, “Pope Francis is the pope. Why isn’t he fixing this?” If one of the reporters had asked this question, Francis would have probably said, “I’m doing what I can. But I’m not a Superman that can see and hear the evil being done by fundamentalist in ever diocese in the world and then rush faster than a speeding bullet to provide a papal remedy. So that’s why I said a moment ago ‘We have to combat it.’ I’m recruiting you to challenge this menace[xii] wherever it shows up in your part of the world. Be fearless!”
##Have you made any discoveries here? Have you been unsettled by what has been said? Have you been pleased? How so? Go to the bottom of this page and post your heartfelt reflections. In your post, make clear what text you are examining. In fact, it might help to copy and paste those lines that are pleasing/confusing/discouraging you.
[i] John Gehring, “Catholic Bishops Rev Up Political Machine to Fight the Gays,” Faith in Public Life 26 Sept 2012 (http://www.faithinpubliclife.org/blog/catholic-bishops-rev-up-political-machine-to-fight-the-gays/). Notice here that I’ve used a report from 2012 by way of indicating that the anti-gay fundamentalism within Catholicism is not a recent innovation. For more details on this issue, go here: http://www.churchonfire.net/?author=1
[ii] I write here “guardians of fundamentalism.” They, of course, see themselves as “guardians of Church doctrine.” The “doctrine” they are endeavoring to impose upon the Catholic population, however, is largely limited to an ultra-conservative code of sexual purity that has become widespread only within the last fifty years. In their eyes, however, this code expresses “God’s will for us” in these modern times and carries with it the approval of the last three popes. Hence, they feel obliged to impose it on themselves and on everyone else as well. For an example of how fundamentalists “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders” (Matt 23:4), see Monsignor Charles M. Mangan, “Married Couples Who Intentionally Chose Sterilization For Contraceptive Purposes And Lasting Repentance,” Catholic Online (http://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php?ID=655).
[iii] “Lesbian Couple Denied Communion At Mother’s Funeral By Catholic Priest; Carol Parker And Josie Martin ‘Shocked’,” HuffPost 05 Feb 2014 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/05/lesbian-denied-communion_n_4731562.html).
[iv] “Lesbian Couple Denied Communion.”
[v] “Lesbian Couple Denied Communion.”
[vi] The “last rites” is the older phrase because it refers to the sacrament of Extreme Unction (Latin, “Last Anointing”) prior to death. After Vatican II, this practice was altered and this sacrament was renamed “Anointing of the Sick” and the faithful were encouraged to make use of this sacrament in the case of an severe illness and not just when the patient was dying. Confession (a separate sacrament) can be administered prior to the Anointing if the sick person requests it. If the person is alert, s/he can request receiving Communion after the Anointing.
[vii] Ronald Plishka, “Gay Heart Attack Patient, Says Catholic Priest Refused Him Last Rites,” HuffPost 20 Feb 2014 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/20/ronald-plishka-gay-heart-attack_n_4823914.html).
[viii] The Catechism of the Catholic Church details the benefits of this Anointing as follows:
The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death. This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God’s will. Furthermore, “if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” (§1520)
[ix] One reader endeavors to completely exonerate Fr. Coelho on the assumption that he did hear the confession of Ronald Plishka and, in order to preserve the seal of the confessional, he was not able to explain his strange conduct to outsiders because, to do so, he would have had to reveal what Ronald said to him during his confession. This assumption seems unwarranted and goes against the reported stream of events. For more details and interesting commentary by readers, see “The sad story of a priest, a partial-penitent and the press,” PATHEOS (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/getreligion/2014/02/the-sad-story-of-a-priest-a-partial-penitent-and-the-press/).
[x] Here are the relevant texts that Fr. Coehlo should have been using to direct his pastoral care:
For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1857
Pastoral care does not consist simply in the rigid and automatic application of objective moral norms. It considers the individual in his (or her) actual situation, with all his (or her) strengths and weaknesses. The decision of conscience… can only be made after prudent consideration of the real situation as well as the moral norm… the pastoral counselling of homophile persons cannot ignore the objective morality of homosexual genital acts, but it is important to interpret them, to understand the pattern of life in which they take place, to appreciate the personal meaning which these acts have for different people… Catholic Bishops of England and Wales Catholic Social Welfare Commission, An Introduction to the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People, 1979
When one is dealing with people who are so predominately homosexual that they will be in serious personal and perhaps social trouble unless they attain a steady partnership within their homosexual lives, one can recommend them to seek such a partnership and one accepts this relationship as the best they can do in their present situation. Fr. Jan Visser, co-author of the 1975 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, quoted by Sean O’Riordan, C.Ss.R., in The ‘Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics’: A Discussion, James McManus, C.Ss.R., Sean O’Riordan, CSs.R., and Henry Stratton, The Clergy Review, London, June 1976, v. 61, no. 6, p. 233.
The pastor may distinguish between irresponsible, indiscriminate sexual activity and the permanent association between two homosexual persons, who feel incapable of enduring a solitary life devoid of sexual expression. This distinction may be borne in mind when offering pastoral advice and establishing the degree of responsibility…. Catholic Bishops of England and Wales Catholic Social Welfare Commission, An Introduction to the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People, 1979.
A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his [sic] conscience. If he were to deliberately act against it, he would condemn himself. Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1790
If a man (sic) is admonished by his own conscience—even an erroneous conscience, but one whose voice appears to him as unquestionable—he must always listen to it. John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, 1994, p. 191
[xi] Karen Doherty, an organizer of the Conference of Catholic Lesbians, tells her own personal story of the meeting that she had in 1984 with Cardinal John O’Connor in NYC:
So again, [this] was one of those naïve, hopeful beliefs that if they [the Church leaders] would only hear us and hear our story, then they’d change. And I did remember thinkin
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