Holy Dissent

June 29, 2019

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

Peter was the rock on which Jesus built his Church and to whom Jesus gave the keys of the Kingdom.  Surely, that’s got to count for something, right?  Nonetheless, Paul argued openly with him when it came time to stick up for the marginalized.  Paul and Peter fought, they made up, and today we even honor them on the same day.  What a great model of Church, and one that I see reflected in the dynamic diversity of opinions among my Marist community.  

Because real communion is stronger than any squabble or tension, neither Peter nor Paul ever accused the other of not being a true follower of Jesus.  I wish our leaders today demonstrated similar restraint.

The Archbishop of Indianapolis, Charles Thompson, recently announced that Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School would no longer be recognized as a Catholic ministry due to their decision to retain a faculty member in a same-sex marriage.  Brebeuf Jesuit does not argue with Church teaching about sacramental marriage.  They do, however, see a valued employee who contributes to the mission of the school and who should not face unemployment or risk economic insecurity for exercising a constitutionally protected civil right.  The Jesuits who own the school also believe they have the right to make personnel decisions for themselves.  I’m not sure when disagreements regarding human resources policy came to determine whether or not one was Catholic. 

When Jesus was asked about which was the most important commandment, he named two: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”  As I understand it, every authentically Christian regulation or policy must either fit as a footnote to these general guidelines or be discarded as fraudulent. 

To be fair, Archbishop Thompson has taken the opportunity to verbally affirm the dignity of all, stating that, “[t]here is nothing in Church teaching that says being gay or lesbian is a sin.”  I can believe that neither hatred nor bigotry underlie his desire to remove teachers in same-sex marriages from Catholic schools.  Unfortunately though, his policy reinforces the notion of an intolerant Church: Few people will ever read his pastoral words, and fewer still will remember them.  Contrary to his intention, Thompson’s stance will further embolden those who erroneously misuse Scripture and Church teaching to dehumanize others while simultaneously making it more difficult for people to believe in a Catholic Church founded on truly unconditional love of absolutely all.

Two years ago, James Martin, SJ released his book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity.  It included no challenges to Church doctrine, but rather sought to address a dynamic too often characterized by mutual antagonism and suspicion.  Incomprehensibly to me, several of his post-publication speaking engagements were met with protests, and in some cases he was disinvited to speak about even unrelated matters. 

What about the people caught in the crossfire?  Gay Catholics and those who love them?  How much has it cost them to stay in the middle and hold the tension, while taking flak from both sides?  Imagine loving Jesus so much that you choose to remain in his Church in spite of it all.  While being gay and Catholic may come easily for some, I suspect that many of these rainbow disciples stay on only by dint of an unimaginably heroic tenacity.  Our Church is stronger and better for the witness of their faith and the fervency of their prayers, but each person has her limits.  I would hate to see us lose any more of these extraordinary individuals through our own callous lack of appreciation.

I understand that some Christians see those in same-sex unions as being today’s public sinners.  But what about the public sinners of yesterday?  Of them, Jesus spoke to the chief priests of the Temple, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you." 

Authentic teachings will alternately comfort and challenge us.  For me to accept and eventually benefit from a hard teaching, I need a caring teacher, not an imposing law-giver.  The era when clerics had the power to coerce compliance from their flocks is fading and almost vanished.  Now, such heavy-handedness creates its own reflexive counter-reaction. 

Does anybody truly think that purging Catholic ministries of same-sex marriages will result in fewer of such unions?  The outcomes I predict are increased economic risk for some and heartbreak, disappointment, and alienation for many.  Is that what Catholic identity should be about?  If Church leaders were better at leading with love, the pedagogy of gentle persuasion would be a more effective way to win hearts.  Archbishop Thompson may be able to congratulate himself on taking a tough stance, but does he improve the quality of even one life by doing so?  Who would Jesus fire?

The seat of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis is the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.  May their saintly example remind all of us that we can disagree about many things, even assorted policy decisions, without us becoming any less Catholic. 


Sorry for the long post this week.  As your reward, this week’s “Ear Candy” is All God’s People by Queen, because it seems appropriate.  The “brain food” is an IndyStar article that shares some of the details about events that spurred this week’s reflection.

Ear Candy: “All God’s People” by Queen

Brain Food: “Unanswered Questions about Cathedral, Brebeuf Jesuit and the Indianapolis Archdiocese” by Arika Herron

Come back next Saturday for a new post!