National Catholic Reporter‘s editorial team made waves this week after publishing a piece rejecting claims by Cardinal Timothy Dolan that the bishops were ‘out-marketed’ on marriage equality. Several weeks ago, the New York cardinal made the remarks on NBC’s Meet the Press, as well as rejecting claims the bishops were anti-gay which many criticized him for saying.
NCR‘s piece begins by noting that Dolan lives on Madison Avenue, blocks away from the world’s finest marketing agencies to whom he could turn for advice. The editors continue:
“If the church faces a marketing failure on issues of sexuality, the failure is in listening to its people. In recent years, the U.S. bishops have been deaf to the people of the church — and the American voters — on the issue of same-sex marriage. When it comes to contraception and divorce and remarriage, the church has tuned out what the faithful have been saying for 50 years. The church’s teaching on sexuality is unpersuasive because the church advances teachings that actually reduce human sexuality and sexual activity to its most banal, utilitarian and mechanistic level, detaching it from the deepest possibilities of genuine human intimacy.
“They’ve detached it from human experience, and according to sociologist William D’Antonio, whose life’s career has been studying Catholics, ‘Lived experience is trumping abstract teaching. Wins it all the time.’ “
Speaking specifically on the issue of LGBT people and sexual orientation, NCR writes:
“The same is quickly coming true on the topic of homosexuality, because among Catholic parents who know their children as all manner of things — curious, funny, loving, mischievous, talented, gracious, annoying, musical, athletic — all the things that parents revel in and come to love, some are also coming to know their children as gay. Thank God that today most parents are not cowering before a catechism characterization of their children and sending them off in a panic to a Courage meeting to be remade into something more acceptable.
“We dare suggest that some of the Catholic faithful, particularly the family and friends of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender persons, might be a bit further down the road in loving as God would have us love, that they might understand Pope Francis’ teaching about encounter to a greater degree than many of us…
“Should the cardinal want respite from the fight [over marriage], he might take an evening or two and meet with some gay Catholics and their parents. Ask them to tell their stories, ask them why they stay in the church, ask them how they pray, what they hold as their hopes and dreams. Really listen, maybe even make allowance for certitude to melt a bit.”
The editorial is worth reading in its entirety, which you can do by clicking here. LGBT people, their parents, and their allies have long urged clergy to encounter those marginalized in the Church. This suggestion skips marketing altogether and aims for human relationships to form, which can instruct bishops and others more than natural law and syllogisms.
Pope Francis exemplifies this pastoral, personalist approach with his hugs, letters, and charitable acts, but as NCR points out Cardinal Dolan prefers to speak only in the abstract and reject encounters altogether. If Cardinal Dolan insists on new marketing tips, he should turn to Pope Francis who has won accolades as Person of the Year from Time, The Advocate, and won both Religion Story of the Year and Relgious Newsmaker of the Year from the Religion Newswriters Association.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry