Protestant and Catholic Fundamentalism in action

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 woman who is outdoors without a male relative acting as chaperone.  They can likewise arrest any unrelated man and woman 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 “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; he borrowed them right out of Cardinal Ratzinger letter on same-sex marriages.

Pope Francis has nothing to do with encouraging bishops to avidly strike out at 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 the “true believers” and defends the true faith against all the enemies of God.  However, 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 U.S. 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 even Cardinal Ratzinger affirms for gays and lesbians.

Not a week passes when I don’t hear a 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]  Here are two illustrative cases:

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 ordained parish priest, Father Benjamin Kneib [pic shown at his recent ordination], decided 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 know 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 [my departed mother].” [iv]

Upon noticing how many of those attending the funeral 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 [News], “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 that has infected Fr. Kneib.  He takes Holy Communion and uses it as a way to bless the righteous and as a way to rebuke “sinners.”  And who are the “sinners” according to current Catholic practice?  Those women who procure an abortion and those who assist her.  Those who use any form of artificial birth control or make it possible for other to use birth control.  Those who divorce and remarry (while their initial spouse is still alive) in a civil union.  And, most recently, active homosexuals and anyone who supports same-sex civil marriages.  It is these later persons that my book is most concerned with.

In the long history of the Catholic Church, “excommunication” was used in cases of grave sins that severely harmed individuals and harmed the community.  Three sins in the first five centuries merited excommunication: idolatry, murder, and adultery.

Excommunication meant expulsion from the community and no contact with its assemblies.  No  excommunication was definitive, however.  In fact, those who were repentant after having committed one the three unpardonable sins were admitted to the “order of penitents” which gave them the tools to rectify the causes and the effects of their grievous failing.  After a suitable time of “purification,” penitents who were readmitted were again allowed to take part in all of the church assemblies, most especially, the Sunday Eucharist.

As time developed, various other practices limited the use of excommunication.  Most especially, the emergence of private confession of sins to a priest in the fifth century and the penitential practices associated with Lent (the forty days prior to Easter) were of decisive importance.  Now, a grave sinner could be tolerated within the community as long as they did not receive Holy Communion during the Eucharist.  After confessing their sin to a priest, they were give a “penance” that may have lasted for years.  Once they completed their penance, they were given absolution by their priest and allowed to receive Holy Communion again.  Excommunications still did take place, but they were reserved for special cases where the nature of the crime was very pronounced and very public, e.g., the killing of a priest.

This helps to understand how and why the contemporary Church has used the denial of the right to take Holy Communion as a penetential discipline for someone committing a serious sin.  In the past, each person examined their own conscience prior to going to the altar to  receive Holy Communion.  If one detected an unconfessed grave sin, then one did not approach the altar without going to confession first.  In my youth, I was trained to go to Confession every Saturday afternoon so that I could  receive Communion on the day following.  Those who did not approach the altar were not assumed to be grave sinners.  Far from it.  If one did not abstain from eating and drinking from Saturday midnight onward, one was not permitted to approach the altar.

Did Fr. Kneib deny communion for a just cause?

On an online discussion board, some of those affected by Fr. Kneib’s actions had a chance to express their views.  Here is one such letter posted by 

We are all sinners, even Fr. Kneib. But how does he know the condition of anyone’s soul? He certainly hasn’t been listening to Pope Francis. . . . And those of us who believe we know who is or isn’t worthy to receive communion not only cut off others from an opportunity for grace and renewal with Jesus and his people, but also, and more importantly, deny themselves of the same opportunity to partake in the sharing of grace and christan love.  Fr Kneib has much to learn.

After a lot of give and take, Martin takes issue with Bill.  He writes as follows:

It may be hard to hear for some people, but Fr. Kneib did the right thing asking the woman who was in a sexually-active lesbian relationship from refraining from communion. . . . In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul warns (all of us!) about approaching the Eucharist unworthily.  Fr. Kneib’s actions were in the woman’s best interests and out of love for her. Let us pray for her.

There is some merit here.  Martin gives voice to those Catholics who have been instructed [and innocently misled] by their bishops into believing that lesbian sex is always abjectively immoral. But, for just a brief moment, let’s leave this matter of morality aside and examine the whole tenor of Martin’s letter:

To begin with, it puzzles me how either Fr. Kneib or Martin know that these two women are in “a sexually-active lesbian relationship.”  Do they spy into their bedroom at night?  Or do they simply assume this because they themselves are obsessed with disturbing thoughts of sex every time anyone uses the word “lesbian”?  But I notice that both women are in their late 60s.  Is it not more probable that they are living as “sisters” and as “friends” without any active sex life?  And, even if they are in “a sexually-active lesbian relationship,” how can either Fr. Kneib or Martin know whether the pair might have confessed their sins to another priest so that they would be free to receive Holy Communion at the funeral Mass?

It also puzzles me that  Martin so easily comes to the conclusion that Fr. Kneib’s actions were done “in the woman’s best interests and out of love for her.”  Has Martin revealed his hand here and presumed that “Father knows best”?  Is this the ugly head of arrogant paternalism showing itself and presuming (without any clear evidence) that men always KNOW what’s in the best interests of a woman?

It also puzzles me that Martin affirms (again without any evidence) that Fr. Kneib acted “out of love.”  So much evil has been done to women by men supposedly acting “out of love.”  How does Martin really know Fr. Kneib’s motives?  Maybe Fr. Kneib is just being a meddlesome busy-body.  Does Martin himself feel uncomfortable with the thought that lesbians enjoy unsavory sex on Saturday night and then come to church on Sunday morning and desecrate the “body of Christ” with impure hands?  If so, isn’t Martin exposing his own “dirty thoughts”?  Isn’t  he entirely ignorant of what truly are the “best interests” of Carol Parker?  Is he not likewise entirely ignorant of the motives prompting Fr. Kneib and, as a result, his assertion that Fr. Kneib acted “out of love” is no more or less than his own “pious fantasy.”

It also puzzles me that Martin wants to believe (needs to  believe) that priests are appointed by God as “morality police” who drive “known sinners” away from Holy Communion?  And what of the “embezzlers,” the “wife beaters,” and “those fathers who terrorize their underage daughters into having sex on Saturday night”? Does Martin want Fr. Kneib to expose these “sinners” as well and to drive them away from Holy Communion?  Martin’s letter is unclear on this point.

It puzzles me as to what prompts Martin to defend Fr. Kneib?  Does Martin expect Fr. Kneib to do for him what he cannot himself do, namely, to drive a wedge between this sinning lesbian couple and their spiritual family?  Paul’s letter clearly says, “Everyone ought to examine themselves” (1 Cor 22:28) before taking Holy Communion.  Martin completely overlooks this aspect of Paul’s text.  He wrongly assumes that Paul’s text authorizes Fr. Kneib to examine and to determine who is worthy to receive.  But this is precluded by Paul:  “Everyone ought to examine themselves” (1 Cor 11:28).

Finally, Martin’s final appeal, “Let us pray for her,” makes me cringe. Martin is playing with fire here.  We do well when we pray that God would bless those we love and bless our enemies (Matt 5:44) as well.  But, in this context, I greatly fear that Martin might be offering his readers a piece of self-serving pious nonsense whereby he assumes that God somehow needs our prayers in order to either cure Carol Parker of her lesbian inclinations or to stop her from “loving” her partner.  It never occurs to Martin that God loves Carol just as he made her and that the problem might be that Martin along with the Catholic bishops cannot see the “wonderful work” that God has already done is creating Carol just as she is.

In the “Hail Mary,” Catholics ask the mother of Jesus “to pray for us sinners.”  We are the sinners.  We are praying for ourselves!  Jesus, Mary’s son, was also aware of the arrogance involved in praying for those “others” whom we regard as “sinners.”  Recall how Jesus told the story of how “two men went up to the temple to pray” (Luke 18:10).   Jesus let’s us hear in detail the prayers of both of these men.  At the end, Jesus sternly warns us (his listeners) against those who exalt themselves in their prayers and who humiliate those who are not like us.  With this, I give Jesus the final word.

 

Case #2 Father Coelho denies Anointing of the Sick to a 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 the 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 Plishka 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 LGBTQ Healthcare Equality” by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.  We want to hold true to this important commitment to the LGBTQ 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 the 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, the stroke victim was effectively denied this sacrament because he is an unrepentant homosexual.  This is not the true faith of the Catholic Church; it is the recent fanaticism of the few imposing themselves upon the whole.

Those who want to interact with this blog are invited to “Leave a Reply” below.  A solid way to begin doing this is to offer “readback lines.”  To do this, quickly glace back over the entire blog and pick out the one or two lines that have made a deep impression upon you.  Copy them [CTRL-C] and then paste them [CTRL-V] into an empty comment box below.  If you wish, signal the emotion that you feel when reading your readback lines.  The primary emotions are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise.   No need to further explain yourself.  It is enough to identify the text important to you and to name the emotion(s) that it evokes.  All of this normally takes less than a few minutes.

I and others will “thank you” for your contribution.  If you are tempted to say more, I urge you to hold back.  Your sense of safety and the safety of others is best protected by not getting overly wordy in the beginning.  This will come after a few days or weeks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Endnotes and Leave a Reply~~~~~~~~

[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.

[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 Catholic 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 any severe illness and not just when the patient was dying.  Confession (a separate sacrament) can be administered prior to the Anointing of the Sick 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)

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