Patheos blogger Rebecca Bratten Weiss penned an important post this week entitled “Here’s What You Need to Understand About Catholic Media Conflicts,” in which she examines the recent toxic environment of some Catholic “debates,” especially on LGBT issues. As if mirroring the general temper in the political world around the globe, some Catholic discussions have gotten so polarized as to no longer really being debates at all. Weiss points out that “it’s erroneous to frame a conflict as being between “’two sides’.”
What Weiss means is that in some situations, one side has become so virulent and vitriolic, that they can no longer be seriously considered to be a respectful interlocutor. Her prime example is how some conservative Catholic web outlets have tried to demonize Jesuit Father James Martin, who for the past two years has been speaking and writing about compassionate ministry to LGBT people. Weiss explains:
Father Martin is not a far-left Catholic, and has never advocated for a reversal of the magisterial teaching on the morality of homosexual acts, nor on gay marriage. For this, he has sometimes been criticized by leftist Catholics for not going far enough. I’ve been in many conversations with feminist academics who are critical of what they perceive as his unwillingness to push back against the existing magisterial teachings. And right-leaning Catholics get upset with him for not reiterating more strenuously the ‘homosexual acts are bad’ element of magisterial teaching (for which, honestly, I commend him: gay Catholics have heard those lines all too frequently).
“Yet Fr. Martin is constantly being attacked, denigrated, and demonized by a far-right contingent represented by fascist groups like the American TFP, and anti-Francis tabloid media platforms such as Crisis and LifeSite News.”
Weiss points out that despite the targeted campaigns against Martin, he has not responded in like manner to those who disagree with him:
“Fr. Martin is not sitting at his desk writing attacks on enemies and trying to get people fired. He’s not trying to get the talks of other thought-leaders cancelled. But the far right repeatedly attacks and slanders him. This is not a “both sides” issue. This is one man trying to follow the Gospel as he feels called to, and a cluster of vicious organizations living only to destroy. It’s one thing to criticize and disagree with Fr. Martin. Civilized people can do this. But the attacks on him are far from civilized.”
As we saw at the end of 2018, this escalating rhetoric has turned into violent acts–such as a priest burning a rainbow flag–and constant, perilous threats–such as those against a gay pastoral worker, leading to his resignation out of fear for his and his family’s safety. Such actions and threats show that some on the “other side” of the Catholic LGBT debate have given up on conversation, debate, discussion, and moved instead toward force and practical acts designed to cause fear (sometimes known as terrorism).
Weiss’ blog post reminded me that in the U.S. during the 1970s, when Rev. Fred Phelps of the viciously anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, began misquoting Scripture to promote hatred, the Kansas Journalists’ Association issued a statement that journalists would not be in violation of their profession’s ethics if they did not use Phelps’ statements as the “other side” to create a balanced news story. The journalist association recognized that Phelps’ discourse was not the other side. It had gone beyond the pale of reasonable views. I think it is about time that we recognize that these vicious websites should not be viewed as responsible interlocutors.
Catholic bishops and leaders have, for the most part, not said a word about the websites that have been spewing vitriol in the Catholic LGBT discussion. They remain silent at their own peril, since it is not beyond the strategies of these groups to go after bishops, too. Without the courage to stand up to them, the bishops are allowing the church to erode into irrelevance.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 11, 2019
Bondings 2.0: “What Would Cause a Catholic Pastor to Burn a Rainbow Flag?”