Nov 27, 2012

50 Reasons to Boycott the Catholic Church: Repost

The following is an alarming summary of recent 'crimes' and negative actions perpetuated by the Roman Catholic Church. I hesitated re-posting it from Alt. Net.Org, because it is harrowing and depressing, and clearly the view of an outsider - yet this is how most non Catholics view the Church, and it makes for a salutary and very necessary shock to the system. The time for complacency is long past.

50 Reasons to Boycott the Catholic Church

The Church uses its resources to oppose social progress and positive change all over the world.
Photo Credit: AFP

Last month in Ireland, Savita Halappanavar died, and she shouldn't have. Savita was a 31-year-old married woman, four months pregnant, who went to the hospital with a miscarriage in progress that developed into a blood infection. She could easily have been saved if the already doomed fetus was aborted. Instead, her doctors did nothing, explaining that "this is a Catholic country," and left her to suffer in agony for days, only intervening once it was too late.
Savita's death is just the latest in a long line of tragedies directly attributable to the doctrines and beliefs of the Roman Catholic church. I acknowledge that there are many good, progressive Catholics, but the problem is that the church isn't a democracy, and those progressives have no voice or vote in its governance. The church is a petrified oligarchy, a dictatorship like the medieval monarchies it once existed alongside, and it's run by a small circle of conservative, rigidly ideological old men who make all the decisions and choose their own successors.
This means that, whatever individual Catholics may do, the resources of the church as an institution are bent toward opposing social progress and positive change all over the world. Every dollar you put into the church collection plate, every Sunday service you attend, every hour of time and effort you put into volunteering or working for church organizations, is inevitably a show of support for the institutional church and its abhorrent mission. When you have no voice, there's only one thing left to do: boycott. Stop supporting the church with your money and your time. For lifelong Catholics, it's a drastic step, but it's more than justified by the wealth of reasons showing that the church as an institution is beyond reform, and the only meaningful response is to part ways with it. Here are just a few of those reasons:
1. Throughout the world, Catholic bishops have engaged in a systematic, organized effort going back decades to cover up for priests who molest children, pressuring the victims to sign confidentiality agreements and quietly assigning the predators to new parishes where they could go on molesting. Tens of thousands of children have been raped and tortured as a result of this conspiracy of silence.
2. Strike one: "What did the pope know and when did he know it?" The current pope, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was personally implicated in a case from the 1970s in which at least three sets of parents reported that a priest in his diocese had sexually abused their children. In response, Ratzinger assigned the priest to therapy, without notifying law enforcement, and washed his hands of the matter. That priest was back on duty in just a few short days and went on to molest more children.
3. Strike two: In 1981, again when the current pope was Cardinal Ratzinger, he got a letter from the diocese of Oakland asking him to defrock a priest who had acknowledged molesting two children. Ratzinger ignored this letter, and several followup letters, for four years. Finally, in 1985, he wrote back saying that more time was needed, and that they had to proceed very slowly to safeguard "the good of the Universal Church" in light of "the young age of the petitioner" -- by which he meant not the victimized children, but the pedophile priest. (By contrast, when a rogue archbishop ordained married men as priests, he was laicized six days later.)
4. Strike three: In 2001, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a letter, De Delictis Gravioribus, to all Catholic bishops advising them how to handle accusations of sex crimes by priests. There was no recommendation to contact the police, but rather an instruction for them to report such cases only to the Vatican and tell no one else: "Cases of this kind are subject to the pontifical secret."
6. They threaten to cut off funding for immigrants' rights advocates because they sometimes work with gay-rights advocates. Preventing immigrants from getting legal and medical aid is less important than ensuring the church isn't contaminated by even indirect contact with anyone who helps gay people.
7. In a sign of how ridiculously disproportionate and unhinged the church's martyrdom complex is, the current pope has compared expanding the rights of women and gay people to the murderous anticlerical violence of the 1930s Spanish civil war.
8. They've used their official UN observer status to team up with Islamic theocracies like Iran and Libya to oppose calls for family-planning services to be made available in the world's poorest nations.
9. They've gone to desperately poor, AIDS-ravaged regions of Africa to spread the life-destroying lie that condoms don't prevent transmission of HIV.
10. In the mid-20th century, they appointed a special papal commission to study whether Catholicism should permit the use of birth control. When the commission almost unanimously recommended that they should, they ignored that recommendation and doubled down on their absolute ban on contraception.
12. They did not excommunicate the stepfather.
13. Savita Halappanavar wasn't the first: Catholic-run hospitals are willing to let women die rather than get lifesaving abortions, even when a miscarriage is already in progress and no possible procedure could save the fetus.
17. They've announced an inquisition into the Girl Scouts to get to the bottom of its association with morally suspect groups like Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam.
18. They've been one of the major forces attacking Obamacare, filing lawsuits arguing that non-church Catholic employers should be able to decide whether or not employee health insurance plans will cover contraception. This is effectively an argument that a woman's employer should be allowed to force her to pay more for medical coverage, or even place it out of her reach altogether, based on his religious beliefs.
19. In Australia, they allegedly derailed a police investigation of an accused pedophile, putting pressure on higher-ups to get an investigating officer removed from the case.
20. They demanded that Sunday school teachers sign a loyalty oath agreeing to submit "will and intellect" to the proclamations of church leaders.
21. Some top church officials, including the current pope, have advocateddenying communion to politicians who support progressive and pro-choice political ideas. Notably, although the church also opposes preemptive war and the death penalty, no conservative politician has ever been denied communion on this basis.
22. They've cracked down on American nuns for doing too much to help the poor and not enough to oppose gay marriage, condemning them for displaying a seditious "feminist spirit."
23. In Germany, where parishioners pay an officially assessed tax rate to the church, they've tried to blackmail people who don't want to pay the church tax, threatening to fire them from jobs in church institutions. In some cases, if the person opts out but later loses the paperwork, they demand on-the-spot repayment of decades of back taxes.
24. In America, bishops have compared Democratic officeholders, including President Obama, to Hitler and Stalin and have said that it jeopardizes a person's eternal salvation if they don't vote as the bishops instruct them to.
25. They fight against equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. It's not enough for the Catholic church hierarchy that they refuse to perform church weddings for gay and lesbian couples; they want to write that prohibition into the civil law and deny marriage equality to everyone who doesn't fit their religious criteria, and have invested vast amounts of money and effort into doing so. In the 2012 election cycle alone, the church spent almost $2 million in an unsuccessful fight to defeat marriage-equality initiatives in four states.
26. They've compared gay sex to pedophilia and incest and called for it to be forbidden by law, saying that "states can and must regulate behaviors, including various sexual behaviors."
27. They've shut down adoption clinics rather than consider gay people as prospective parents. The church's official position, apparently, is that it's better for children to remain orphans or in foster care than to be placed in a loving, committed same-sex household.
28. They barred an anti-LGBT bullying group, anti-teen-suicide foundation from a Catholic school ceremony, explaining that the group's mission is "contrary to the teachings of the Catholic church."
30. They have a history of dumping known pedophile priests in isolated, poor, rural communities, where they apparently assumed that local people wouldn't dare to complain or that no one would listen if they did.
31. They've given huge payouts -- as much as $20,000 in some cases -- to pedophile priests, to buy their silence and quietly ease them out of the priesthood, after specifically denying in public that they were doing this.
32. When the Connecticut legislature proposed extending statute-of-limitations laws to allow older child-abuse cases to be tried, the bishops ordered a letter to be read during Mass instructing parishioners to contact their representatives and lobby against it.
33. To fight back against and intimidate abuse-survivor groups like SNAP, the church's lawyers have filed absurdly broad subpoenas demanding the disclosure of decades' worth of documents.
35. When a Catholic official from Philadelphia, William Lynn, was charged with knowingly returning predator priests to duty, his defense was to blame those decisions on his superior, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, thus acknowledging that the corruption reaches to the highest levels of the church.
36. When confronted with hundreds of complaints about child-raping priests spanning decades, a Dutch cardinal used the same "we knew nothing" excuse once given by Nazi soldiers. Several months later, it was reported that this same cardinal had personally arranged to move a pedophile priest to a different parish to shield him from accusations.
37. In one case, Mother Teresa successfully persuaded the church to return a suspected pedophile priest to duty because he was a friend of hers. Eight additional complaints of child abuse were later lodged against him.
40. They abducted tens of thousands of babies from unwed mothers who gave birth in Catholic-run hospitals all over the world throughout the 20th century, forcing drugged or helpless women to give their newborn children up for adoption against their will.
41. They tried to have the Indian skeptic Sanal Edamuruku charged with blasphemy and imprisoned for debunking a claim of a miraculous weeping statue.
43. Their finances are a disorganized mess, lacking strong accounting controls and clear internal separations, which means parishioners who give to the church can have no assurance of what the money will be used for. According to an investigation by the Economist, funds meant for hospitals, cemeteries and priests' pensions have been raided to pay legal fees and settlements in several diocesan bankruptcies.
45. They've silenced priests who call for the ordination of women and other desperately needed reforms, exhorting them to instead show "the radicalism of obedience."
47. They lifted the excommunication of an anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying bishop who also thinks women shouldn't attend college or wear pants.
48. When it comes to the question of who's financially responsible for compensating the victims of sex abuse, they argue that priests aren't employees and therefore the church bears no responsibility for anything they do.
49. They canonized Mother Teresa for doing little more than offering a squalid place for people to die. Outside observers who visited her "Home for the Dying" reported that medical care was substandard and dangerous, limited to aspirin and unsterilized needles rinsed in tap water, administered by untrained volunteers. The millions of dollars collected by Mother Teresa and her order, enough to build many advanced clinics and hospitals, remain unaccounted for.
Adam Lee is a writer and atheist activist living in New York City. Follow him on Twitter, or subscribe to his blog, Daylight Atheism.

Nov 20, 2012

A Gay Classic for Teens: SONG OF ACHILLES

Thanksgiving approaches for US Citizens, the day we give thanks for all of the   Divine Blessings to our country and our families - as well as a day of mourning and repentance for our criminal betrayal of the Native Americans who first welcomed us so warmly and so generously to the New World (new to whom?). Repentance is also in order for our contemporary crimes as a nation, which are very grave, of which many Americans are aware. 

In the true spirit of the feast,  I give thanks for a significant work of fiction, Madeline Miller's Orange prize winning book, The Song of Achilles, a dazzling retelling of the Achilles & Patroclus myth from the Iliad, which is one of the finest gay teen love stories ever written.  

Madeline Miller is a classics scholar with degrees in Greek and Latin from Brown University, plus postgraduate work at Yale Rep theater, where she worked specifically on transferring the classics to the stage. This is what has given her brilliant novel such vivid verisimilitude. It is such a fresh retelling of the old story, but with a passionate, vulnerable heart at its center, the heart of its narrator the gentle, 'non-violent' healer, Patroclus.

But it's not simply a retelling. Ms. Miller has consciously chosen to anchor the story in a passionate, tender gay love affair between Achilles and Patroclus, an affair which begins, in Ms Miller's retelling, when both boys are in their early teens. And the affair is consummated when the boys are about fourteen.   While the Iliad itself leaves the relationship ambiguous, and most Greek scholars of our day pass over the homoerotic overtones of the affair, the Greeks of the time, especially some hundred years after the epic's appearance, took it for granted that the affair would have been sexual. (See Wikipedia insert below).

There are so many reviews of this book, the glowing ones linked at Ms. Miller's website:

There are also a few pissy ones, notably the New York Times, whose reviewer could barely contain his homophobic disgust. And another snotty one at the Telegraph, insinuating that the work only won the Orange prize because of the riveting plot of the Iliad itself, upon which Ms. Miller piggy backed into the Orange Prize.

Some critique the quality of the writing, finding it a mix of pop teen culture and attempts at highbrow subtlety, but most reviewers are raving about the thrilling narrative thrust of the story (no pun intended), and the heartrending love story at its center.

As a gay author myself, who is currently writing a crime novel with a gay teen love story at its center, I was hugely impressed by Ms. Miller's creation of a viable teen love story between boys that is not the slightest bit self consciously 'gay.' This is what gives the story it's power. The affair is made to seem quite natural (as it is) and unsurprising (as it is not, by our contemporary less enlightened standards). The tenderness and passion, the loving touches and embraces - and the one instance of climax - are seen as one part of the rich pattern of life, disturbing few of the boys' acquaintances. The one exception might by Achilles' mother, Thetis, but even her objections are not phrased in homophobic terms. She simply thinks Patroclus, as a cast away, is not worthy of her god like son.

And that is the heart of the matter. Achilles is the son of a goddess and therefore half divine himself. And out of the fusion of divinity and humanity the boy has emerged as - not a Christ like figure of peace and forgiveness - but an heroic warrior who simply happens to loves other men. In fact he is the greatest warrior of his day, a god-like, near invincible figure of superhuman powers whose sexual love is directed towards a gentle male companion. Ms. Miller makes it very clear that her Achilles loves Patroclus because of his 'orientation'. He has no sexual interest in women. Even Patroclus comes close to a brief affair with a woman, but avoids it because he knows 'it is not for him'. Both boys are orientated towards other males. 

There is no angst here, no 'coming out,' in fact no necessity for coming out at all, no self conscious guilt or shame, no looking over the shoulder, no ridicule, derision, rejection. There is some slight discomfort on the part of some of the characters, how could there not be, but it is minimal. The love between the two boys, passionate, tender, sexual, loving - simply is as a miracle of nature, and accepted as such by those around them. 

As soon as I finished the book, it became so clear how important, in fact, how necessary fiction of this sort has become. There is a place for the 'coming out' stories, chronicling all of the pain, humiliation, heartache, freedom and joy of such a singular event in a gay person's life journey. But we also need to see the love of two males in the context of a homophobic free environment. What would it look like, what would it feel like, and what effect would this have on the characters themselves? More importantly, what effect would this have upon young gay teen readers themselves to see their love reflected so naturally, without the burdens of a disapproving society. 

Perhaps this is one reason Ms. Miller decided to tell the tale - in her own very gay friendly fashion. The love story is so positive, without self conscious guilt or even the need to reflect on the uniqueness of the experience. Nothing has damaged these boys' self-confidence in themselves as loving sexual beings. And one of them is a champion and a hero.  Open-minded, liberal high schools in the US and the UK are already putting the book in their libraries and on reading lists, and it is so right and fitting that they do so. 

We do have other gay teen romances out there (gentle gay nerd and high school quarterback), but so many of them are of the 'teen flick' variety, slightly trashy and gossipy, though I can think of half a dozen heartbreaking classics - A Boys Own Story by Edmund White, At Swim Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill, Rainboy Boys by Alex Sanchez, and finally, Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley, to mention just a few of the gay teen classics out there.

But The Song of Achilles is in a class of its own. It's Orange Prize has given it wide recognition and catapulted it onto best seller lists. A god like golden boy birthed of a divine mother and a human father, the greatest warrior of his age, is not 'Gay' in our sense of the term. He simply falls passionately in love with a gentle, non violent boy with powers of healing (with one spasm of violence at the end of his life), and this love is essentaial to his nature. His lover's violent death is the catalyst for the hero's own moral transformation. The boys are both normal and extraordinary, one hardly notices Achilles' divinity, if such it is, but his glory shines through the book and casts a light upon the love affair of his life as well, rending it normal, unsurprising and astonishing.  

For gay teens everywhere, this is what normal love looks like in a wholesome, tolerant environment -  love without fear, recrimination, shame or guilt. It simply is and it is glorious. 

For those who are interested, here are a few snippets - from Wikipedia and from the pissy NYT review of the book. 

WIKIPEDIA ; Some scholars claim that the exact nature of the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles has profound literary and artistic implications. As Kenneth Dover points out in his Greek Homosexuality,[11] knowing whether Achilles was erastes and Patroclus eromenos or whether their love was egalitarian, was crucial to understanding the thematic makeup of the Iliad, from the perspective of later Greeks.
There are many possible interpretations on the nature of the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. Three popular ones are:

1-Achilles was the dominant lover, and he learns from Patroclus' that sacrifice is rooted in a startling role-reversal: in death, the student becomes the teacher. The change in Achilles' character hinges on having believed that only glory mattered, and learning otherwise by losing the only thing that mattered more to him than acclaim. Patroclus, the eromenos, in leading the Myrmidons, is elevated beyond the moral caliber of his mentor, and Achilles is redeemed only when, having reflected on his follies, he returns Hector's body to Priam.
2-Patroclus was the dominant lover, his death represents a deliberate lesson to his pupil, Achilles. In this case, the teacher had to die in order to redeem the student, and the pivotal change in Achilles' character occurs when he resumes leadership of the Myrmidons and takes the field against Hector despite his grievance with Agamemnon.
3-Achilles and Patroclus represent an egalitarian homosexual pairing, the time and nature of Achilles' pivotal character development are shaded with gray and open to interpretation.

NYT Review: The problem reaches crisis proportions in the handling of the “love affair,” which begins with an embarrassing breathlessness (“My chest trilled with something I could not quite name”) and climaxes — sorry! — in the long-awaited and, it must be said, cringe-inducing consummation: “He seemed to swell beneath my touch, to ripen. He smelled like almonds and earth. He pressed against me, crushing my lips to wine. He went still as I took him in my hand, soft as the delicate velvet of petals. . . . Our bodies cupped each other like hands.”

Nov 18, 2012

Reflections After the Euphoria: US Elections and This And That

Another hiatus in blogging, due to writing pressures and some very rich, rewarding reading. Also, I'm rapturously enjoying retirement of sorts, working as a drama teacher only 1 day a week in a charming Czech village in the forests outside Prague. The rest of the six days of the week, I spend writing, reading, reflecting, praying. I've just finished Madeline Miller's 2012 Orange Prize winning novel, The Song of Achilles, in which she quite consciously chooses - among many options - to frame the tale as a 'gay love story' and the result is fresh, moving and inspiring, especially for gay teens, because the story is told quite naturally, as the  passionate love between two humans who just happen to be boys. I will follow this posting with my own reflections on the novel.  

First a word of thanks to William Lindsey for alerting me to the fact that this blog, together with his own, Bilgrimage, has made it onto a list of "the 66 Very Best Blogs by LGBT Christians in the Entire World", at Fred Clark's Stackvist. I assume that designation was wittily designed to elicit a chuckle, which it succeeded in doing with me. Surely, Fred has not read or seen all of the LGBT Christian blogs in the world, for example the few that do exist in Turkey and Saudia Arabia, not to mention Turkmenistan, Samarkand and China. But it is nice to be included and seeing Gay Mystic on the list gave me an extra spur to keep on blogging on a more regular basis.

I've been following the news these past weeks, first the euphoric reaction by gay folks, including myself, to the US election, which saw four anti gay marriage proposals defeated and the election of the first openly gay, Lesbian senator, and the first US president to openly endorse gay marriage rights. 

However, I did have my misgivings about the level of joy and celebration within the gay community, and it took Chris Hedges at Truth Dig to articulate my own misgivings, or rather my unvoiced question - are we too focused on our own single issue (or double issue, women and LGBT's rights) to the extent that we are blinded to horrendous human rights abuses by the Obama admin that just happen to be off the radar of most Americans. And are we, in our enthusiasm for the gradual success of our own causes, complicit in this act of blindness. All is far from well with the world with the election of Obama, and there are life threatening issues that surpass in moral gravity the issue of gay marriage, gay rights, and even the desperate issue of young gay teens in need of self respect and protection from bullying. It's all a question of proportion, and in much of the euphoria I failed to see much in the way of balance or recognition. Just take a look at GAZA at the moment

Here is Chris at his most powerfully prophetic (keeping in mind his Catholic background):

The liberal class clung desperately during the long nightmare of this political campaign to one or two issues, such as protecting a woman’s right to choose and gender equality, to justify its complicity in a monstrous evil. This moral fragmentation—using an isolated act of justice to define one’s self while ignoring the vast corporate assault on the nation and the ecosystem along with the pre-emptive violence of the imperial state—is moral and political capitulation. It fails to confront the evil we have become.

Liberals have assured us that after the election they will build a movement to hold the president accountable—although how or when or what this movement will look like they cannot say. They didn’t hold him accountable during his first term. They won’t during his second. They have played their appointed roles in the bankrupt political theater that passes for electoral politics. They have wrung their hands, sung like a Greek chorus about the evils of the perfidious opponent, assured us that there is no other viable option, and now they will exit the stage.

Read the rest of Chris Hedges prophetic diatribe here at TruthDig. 

However, for another view, more dispassionate and perhaps more wise, Noam Chomsky says that if he had lived in a 'swing state' like Ohio, he would have voted for Obama.

“Between the two choices that are presented, there is I think some significant differences,” he said. “If I were a person in a swing state, I’d vote against Romney-Ryan, which means voting for Obama because there is no other choice. I happen to be in a non-swing state, so I can either not vote or — as I probably will — vote for [Green Party candidate] Jill Stein.” (Chris voted Green and urged all his readers to do likewise, regardless of swing states, a highly principled position, but perhaps not as calmly rational as Chomsky's.)

So, seen from the comfortable distance of my terraced apartment on the Vltava River, far from the din and noise that is US culture today, there are causes to rejoice in the clear signs of forward movement for LGBT people which the recent US election evidenced. At the same time, however, its impossible to be a person of conscience and not be profoundly disturbed by the insidious and destructive policies of the Obama rule, which will now continue unabated and unchallenged in any truly meaningful way. And this destructive forward movement dwarfs in importance the significant gains in gay rights; in fact the momentum - towards increased deaths abroad and the undermining of civil liberties at home, threatens to capsize the whole boat within which we all, gay and straight, seek refuge from the storm. Chris is more right than not, but Chomsky, the wise and practical sage, has the last word. 

Terrible things going on as well within the Roman Catholic Church, in a state of implosion that can only wring the heart and which I continue to monitor from afar. A convicted pedophile protector Bishop sitting in at the recent US Bishops' conference, without a word of rebuke or comment, because the men's club will not publicly rebuke it's own. The truly horrendous story out of Ireland of the non Catholic pregnant woman in a Catholic hospital denied an abortion of her already fated fetus, resulting in her death. See Colleen Colcoch's coverage of this story at her great blog, Enlightened Catholicism.  And lastly the absurd, yet inspiring story of the young teen denied Confirmation because he publicly supported gay marriage on his facebook page. In my opinion, this public ordeal and humiliation which the teen and his family are now undergoing, with massive media coverage, constitute his true grace-filled rite of passage into maturity.

Isn't the whole point of the sacrament of Confirmation to 'put on the mind of Christ,' and to have the courage of one's moral convictions and to stand up for what one believes is right? This certainly being the case, this young man has now, publicly at least, surpassed all the other members of his Confirmation class in following the prophetic witness of Jesus, the wandering teacher from Galilee. He has been conformed, through contradiction, trial and witness, into the image of the Crucified. Would that all of us Christians could have so fitting a Confirmation. On the more cheerful side, the local bishop of the Evangelical Catholic Church graciously offered to confirm the boy, a magnanimous gesture that elicited sputterings of rage from the Vicar General of the boy's Catholic Diocese. These sputterings of rage and denial - on all fronts in the RCC - are going to continue for some time, so I really feel it is not too healthy for the spirit to give them too much mind. Though that injunction is not a call to passivity and indifference. But the seeds of change have sprouted and there is no stopping them. See Joan Chittister's great column at NCR as an appropriate sign of hope:

The future of the church: Discernment or intimidation?