Patriarchy in the Bible and Homophobia in the Dome
Mary Rose D'Angelo
Quite a few strange and rather parochial things have happened at Notre Dame in the name of catholic character; one of the more recent of them is Student Affairs' need to deny gay and lesbian students a group that can elect officers, invite speakers or choose their own faculty moderators. Is there any reason to see this rejection as a requirement or even an outgrowth of catholic theology? My own expertise for addressing this question is limited to the biblical "foundations of theology." Numerous biblical scholars have already suggested that the biblical texts used by some Christian (including Roman Catholic) authorities to condemn homosexuality and to promote homophobia offer a less than secure theological foundation.
A first approach begins from the prohibitions, and reflects on their relative weight in their biblical contexts. This approach is important as a reminder that the real force behind the biblical prohibitions of homoeroticism is not the authority of the bible but twentieth century homophobia. Lev 18:22 and 20:13 which forbid a man from "lying with a male as with a woman" occur in the holiness code, which also proscribes fabric blends, mules and planting mixed crops (19:19) and limits private profit from agricultural land (19:9-10), as well as applying the death penalty to men who have sex with their wives during their menses (20:18). In the New Testament, Paul spends far more energy on the demand that women cover their heads (1 Cor 11:2-16) and on a nuanced approach to the eating of temple sacrifices (1 Cor 8:1- 11:1) than on homosexuality, to which he refers only as an example of vice (Rom 1:26-27, 1 Cor 6:9).
The second approach is to reread the texts in their own social context. This approach underlines the inappropriateness of the term "sodomy" which in twentieth century English refers to homosexuality and in legal terminology to anal or oral intercourse. But the sin of Sodom is seen quite differently in Bible. The supposedly prototypical of sin in Sodom in the story in Genesis 19 is not homosexuality, but the violent and gratuitous violation of guest-friendship, of the sacred and ultimate obligation to protect a guest that pertained throughout the ancient Mediterranean. References to the sin of Sodom or Gomorrah in the bible rarely if ever involve homosexuality; violence and exploitation of the poor are more often the concern of the biblical authors (see e.g. Is 1:10-18).
Both approaches help to shift attention to twentieth century investment in homophobia, as well as opening an avenue to biblical ethical concerns with the poor and with profit. But they inspire my anxiety as a biblical scholar because they do this at the cost of absolving the bible from homophobia. I believe it is important to acknowledge that the biblical texts are in fact implicated in the production of twentieth-century homophobia and sexism in such a way that every women, gay or straight, must challenge these texts. These texts, like twentieth-century homophobia, are guardians of a sexual hierarchy that is violated when a male is reduced to the status of a woman. Homophobia is a product of patriarchy: it is one feature of a complex gender system which requires and enforces the subordination of women. Homoeroticism is seen as wrong or unnatural because it interferes with, violates, the superior status of men.
According to story relating the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) two angels are sent to Sodom to convince Abraham's relative, Lot, to flee the divine wrath coming upon Sodom. The men of Sodom demand that Lot put the visitors out of the house so they can rape them. To avoid this violation of hospitality Lot offers his virgin daughters in their place. The angelic visitors intervene, so that his offer is never acted upon. With identical features the second story in Judges 19 offers no deus ex machina salvation; a Levite and his concubine arrive in Gibeah and are taken in by an old man. Once again the men of the town demand the opportunity to rape the male visitors. When the old man offers his own young daughter and the Levite's concubine, the Levite himself pushes the concubine out, and she is raped all night, and ultimately dismembered by the Levite himself in order to invite his tribesmen to revenge him.
As I conceded above, these stories condemn the perpetrators not of homosexual sex but for the violation of hospitality. But they also cast light upon the prohibition of "lying with a male as with a woman." While it is far from "all right" to rape a woman, it is worse to rape a man, not because sex between men is "intrinsically evil" but because sex between men reduces the superior male to the status of the inferior female.
If this is implicit in the Hebrew bible, it is quite explicit in the Roman imperial context of Paul. John Winkler has convincingly shown that "natural" sex in Greco-Roman antiquity involved a penis, penetration and an appropriate display of power relations: the penetrated passive partner is the inferior of the penetrating, active partner. Thus, in the view of Paul's older contemporary, the Greek-speaking Jewish philosopher Philo, homosexuality "debases the coin" of the male nature by submitting a man to the inferior sexual role of a woman (On the Special Laws 3.38; cf. On the Special Laws 2.50, On Abraham 135-136, On the Contemplative Life 59-62). Conversely women who take an active role, especially an active role in sex with another woman, are liable to the charge of unnameable and unnatural use (Rom 1:26-27). Thus the biblical texts that appear to condemn homosexuality function to maintain a social and sexual hierarchy, as do the household codes which demand submission from women and obedience from slaves (Col 3:18- 4:1, Eph 5:22-6:9, 1 Pet 2:18-3:7). The desire to render these biblical texts innocent is ultimately dangerous to the lives of women.
This function of homophobia is by no means limited to antiquity. Its role in twentieth century became clear to me during the controversies over de-regulating homosexuality in the military, when a sailor insisted that he didn't want gays in the navy because he didn't want to be looked at "that way" in the shower. That is, tolerance of gays might reduce him to the status to which I, like every woman, have always been subject, -- the status of sexual prey for the male gaze, available for consumption or rejection. Thus homophobia is a protection for male homosociality, and ultimately for patriarchal rule.
While ending the condemnation of male homosexuality will not ensure the end of sexism, sustaining homophobia is central to the maintenance of patriarchy. Visible, validated homoerotic relationships would threaten systemic hierarchy by providing sexual symbolism that might engender collaborative men and fully empowered women. Notre Dame's administration has chosen to maintain homophobia and the rule of the fathers by the old and entirely dishonorable catholic tactic of silencing. Academic freedom is ostensibly not at issue because the silencing applies to student groups rather than faculty speech. But silence is always inimical to education.
Mary Rose D'Angelo is an Associate Professor in the Department of Theology at Notre Dame.
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Let Freedom Ring Rally at Notre Dame
Don't fall off your chair in complete shock. Yes, it is true. The students of Notre Dame came together in a beautivul rally to celebrate our diversity and dedicate ourselves to reviving Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's dream. The African American Student Alliance, Amnesty International, Campus Ministry, Center for Social Concerns, Filipino American Student Organization, Student Affairs and Student Government banded together to sponsor the event. Unfortunately, few white students were present in the audience to hear proposals on bringing Dr. King's Dream to the campus of Notre Dame and helping to improve its rating as the 13th worst university in regard to race relations.
The use of music throughout the rally was definitely one of its highpoints. Students sang the "African-American National Anthem," "This little light of mine," and ended with hands joined together in the air for several rounds of "We Shall Overcome." Jimmy Friday, an African-American computer engineering major, spoke earnestly of the contradictions he faces here on the Notre Dame campus. He noted the stares and glances he receives when he enters the engineering building as opposed to the cheers he encounters on his way out of the tunnel. He urged the students at Notre Dame to "polish the Dome," as it is currently tarnished in respenct to the amount of discrimination that occurs.
Representing the feminist students at Notre Dame, here is a fragment of my speech:
Notre Dame is a university steeped in tradition. It can be a magical place where athletic competition goes hand in hand with spiritual growth and academic enlightenment. Among these everlasting traditions are imposing and repressive ones that are being broken one by one- give us some time, we women have only been here twenty-five years now....In all seriousness though, these ugly practices continue to stifle those truggling voices that have traditionally remained silent. My dream for Notre Dame is to augment, encourage and respect these voices. For only then can the Dream be fully realized. Not the American Dream of a fancy car, good job and three story home, but Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream of a truly equal and just society.
Following the rally there occurred a genuine emotional high. Students hugging one another and pledging to help spread the message did not ignore the fact that....those in attendance were not the ones who actually needed to be there.
Molly Gavin is a junior in the College of Arts and Letters.
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Yesterday I opened a bag of cinnamon-coated pecans, put a few into my mouth and began enjoying their distinct taste. Suddenly I was flooded with memories from almost twenty years ago, of gathering pecans under a tree in my grandmother's garden on the kibbutz where she lives.
That a simple object like a pecan can bring back sensations from my past is not a feature unique to my psyche. In his monumental book, Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust tells his readers that often the past is hidden "beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) which we do not suspect." And indeed, an accidental sensory encounter with an object, be it some kind of food, clothing, or show on television, can awaken memories from the past.
Marcel Proust is not the only one conscious of this remarkable dimension of the human psyche. The people who practice torture in Argentina, Turkey, Iraq, and Indonesia, and in the other 73 countries targeted for torture by Amnesty International are also well aware of it.
Have you ever asked yourself why torturers use cigarettes to burn their victims or shoes to hit them? Why, when raping women or connecting electrodes to men's testicles, do torturers have a radio on in the background? Torturer's know that the objects they use will continue to haunt their victims. Perhaps while sitting in a coffee house talking to friends, someone will light a cigarette triggering harrowing memories from the interrogation room. Or maybe while driving a car, the tortured person will recognize the voice of a radio broadcaster, taking her back to the cell in which she underwent horrendous violation. It is not by chance but precisely for this reason that torturers use everyday objects -- they know that their victims will reencounter the objects outside the prison walls.
Dr. Pierre Duterte, who wrote The Body's Memory, points out that the victim's body is also an object which brings back the torture: "Not being able to endure the sight of your own naked body in a mirror, because of memories of forced stripping in front of laughing torturers. Not being able to stare into the mirror which endlessly reflects the image of your body forever marked by the imprint of barbarity. That's what your body can be, your own image transformed in the representation of torture."
Duterte continues: "Every time you notice that you cannot hear someone talking on the side where your ear has been destroyed by beating, you return to your Iranian prison cell. When this happens countless times every day, you end up preferring to be alone..."
So, why is torture used? What goals does this monstrous practice attempt to achieve? The prevailing conception people have -- the conception propagated by "60 Minutes" in one of its recent programs dedicated to torture -- is that torture is used in order to extract information from enemies or members of insurgent groups.
For example, on November 14th last year, the Israeli Supreme Court lifted an interim injunction that prevented interrogators from using physical force. According to Human Rights Watch the court's ruling was based on the State's contention that there was a well-founded suspicion that the defendant "possesses extremely vital information, the immediate procurement of which would help save human lives and prevent serious terrorist attacks in Israel, and that there is real concern that these are to be carried out in the near future." The State invoked the so-called "ticking- bomb scenario" to justify the practice of torture, and the Israeli Supreme Court approved its use.
One should remember that unlike Israel, totalitarian countries which practice torture rarely need to provide an excuse to justify their inhuman actions. Yet when they do offer some sort of justification, it runs along the same lines: "there is hidden information that the State needs to know."
The fact of the matter is, however, that the opposite is closer to the truth. The major reason behind the use of torture is to silence and control. When Galileo proved the motion of the earth, he was declared a heretic by an assembly of Cardinals, hauled before the Inquisition and compelled to recant under pain of torture. The Church was determined to stifle any view that threatened its orthodoxy, its order.
Yet torture is not only about controlling the victim, who more often than not will be unable to speak-out for the rest of his or her life; it is also about controlling the population as a whole. As an imminent threat, torture is used to intimidate groups or individuals -- ranging from peasants in Mexico and protesters in Apartheid South Africa to the Islamic Front in Algeria -- which oppose the existing order within the country they reside. When one analyses the history of the use of torture, where it was practiced and why, one will see that torture is not simply about inducing a person to speak, but rather it is about silence -- ensuring that particular activists are broken and popular opposition remains suppressed.
Neve Gordon is a graduate student in the Department of Government at Notre Dame.
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In the Beginning...
Isaac McDaniel, OSB
On a wet Sunday afternoon in early October, 1986, Michael Dini, a Notre Dame graduate student in biology, and I met with Ann Pettifer and Peter Walshe in the living room of their two-storey house on North Niles Avenue, overlooking the St. Joseph river. Our meeting began in a mood of futility and frustration. The Notre Dame administration seemed determined to keep the school safely sanitized of all fresh ideas and serious controversy. The Observer not only continued to refuse to take advertisements for Gays and Lesbians at Notre Dame/St. Mary's College, a large and spirited organization which had long struggled in vain to win official recognition from the school's administration. The newspaper was rejecting feminist writing, and had also recently announced that it was no longer interested in commentary on Notre Dame's considerable financial investments in companies that did business in South Africa. (The previous February, when a cardboard shantytown bearing the words "FREE MANDELA" had suddenly sprung up on the lawn beside Howard Hall, campus security efficiently removed it within twenty-four hours.) Moreover, the undergraduate magazine Scholastic endured the constant scrutiny of school administrators and would shortly thereafter be shut down for printing an abstract painting which offended bureaucratic sensibilities.
Dismayed by the shrinking circle of acceptable ideas, the four of us discussed how we might jump-start a serious journalistic conversation on campus. We finally decided to create an ad hoc news-paper concerned with issues of social justice and prepared to feature ideas and opinions which were usually excluded from undergraduate organs. We spent the ensuing weeks soliciting articles and gathering financial contributions from beneficent faculty members.
On a cold Monday evening in late January of the following year, about a dozen of us met at the home of Ann and Peter. The following day we would distribute three thousand copies of the first issue of Common Sense. We sat around the fire crackling inside an iron stove, drank too much champagne, pored admiringly over copies of the issue, offered innumerable toasts and danced in a conga line around the tall, tidily bound stack of newspapers. With encouragement from Mutombo Mpanya (who hailed from Zaire), we poured a libation to the ancestors - not least Tom Paine.
The first issue was an eight-page spread which featured eight articles (including an essay against nuclear weapons and a meditation on the ideas of Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci), two poems and three advertisements. The paper's "Statement of Purpose" lamented that "no adequate forum exists at Notre Dame for the dissemination of a wide variety of viewpoints on controversial issues." The paper promised "to nurture thoughtful controversy on a wide range of topics... On a campus strewn and cluttered with icons, too many of them gathering cobwebs, we pledge to do our best to stir an occasional breeze of fresh thought."
A front-page essay by theologian Daniel Maguire lamented the recent firing of Fr. Charles Curran from his tenured teaching position at Catholic University, and the Vatican's punishment of Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen for the pastoral way in which he sought to shepherd Seattle Catholics. Maguire asked: "Does the Catholic future hold only the pallor and drabness that obtain when dictatorial power, in Church or State, overshadows our institutional souls?"
Alas, a decade later, Maguire's question has taken on new urgency. The pervasive silence which beset Notre Dame ten years ago, now increasingly afflicts the church at large. Who, a decade ago, would have predicted that an American prelate would seek to excommunicate Catholics for belonging to Call-to-Action? Who would have predicted that a popular basketball coach would be fired from a Catholic high school because he subscribed to the wrong Christian denomination?
Last year, at the seminary where I taught for nine years, a tenured professor was summarily fired for having signed a petition which called for discussion of the possibility of ordaining women to the priesthood. Needless to say, the ensuing climate among remaining faculty members has not been one of vigorous intellectual discussion. As the Italians used to say: "Terror is like garlic in a salad: a little goes a long way."
The firestorm of episcopal criticism which has already been directed at Cardinal Bernardin's modest Common Ground Project, shows the long odds against launching any sort of serious dialogue within contemporary American Catholicism. Fr. Richard McBrien recently compared Catholicism to the proverbially dysfunctional family with an elephant in the living room which no one will dare to acknowledge. Today one wonders if the elephant has not somehow managed to mate with itself and thereby multiply, eventually becoming a whole herd of forbidden topics. As the list of taboo controversies continues to lengthen, one thinks of John Courtney Murray's famous warning that: "Civility dies with the death of dialogue."
As silence continues to settle across the face of the church, it becomes more imperative than ever that publications like Common Sense, continue to survive, flourish and even multiply in order to keep alive the last scattered sparks of conversation. One recent issue included an investigation of under-the-table hiring practices in the Notre Dame Theology Department, a critique of Billy Graham's resistance to the Civil Rights Movement and a call for the abolition of the CIA. How many of these topics would have been explored as fearlessly or as creatively by officially sponsored campus publications? One freezing night ten years ago, a few weeks after we decided to launch Common Sense, several dozen of us gathered on the mall beside the new War Memorial for a vigil honoring the victims of apartheid in South Africa. We stood in a layer of fresh snow, held slender candles (secured after considerable resistance from the Sacred Heart sacristy) and shielded their sputtering flames from the cold wind. Peter Walshe spoke briefly and observed: "When the going gets tough, then hope becomes paramount." A decade later, it is still hard to keep alive that flickering light of conversation, while authorities work in the dark to blow a chill wind towards every remnant spark of spontaneity and fresh thought. But few projects have done more in the past decade to engender hope than this feisty and provocative little newspaper.
Isaac McDaniel, OSB has a Ph.D in History from Notre Dame.
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Catholicism in Crisis: A New Orthodoxy Test
Daniel C. Maguire
Professor Mary Buckley when she taught at St. John's University in New York commented that there is a "gentle fascism" that prevails on all American Catholic campuses. Fascism, of course, is never very gentle. It is at root an authoritarian effort to control. Professor Buckley was referring to the fact that certain topics (those that I have been referring to as the issues of pelvic orthodoxy) cannot be freely discussed on Catholic campuses by professors who want tenure or promotion. That is true and I don't know any Catholic campus where it is not true. The silliness of this repression might lead to the conclusion that there is no orthodoxy, no essential belief that should mark all these American universities that are linked to the Roman Catholic Church.
That's wrong. There are truths that need not be imposed fascistically but, if well taught, could generate enthusiasm, commitment, and delight.
So let us hereby solemnly declare, through the authority invested in us by our Baptisms, a moratorium on Catholic pelvic obsessions. And let us inaugurate a new test for Catholic academic orthodoxy.
It shouldn't be hard to do. After all, you could go blind searching the scriptures and never find Jesus saying:" By this shall people know that you are my disciples: that you do not contracept." It's not there. What is there is the banner that should fly from every Catholic institutional gate: "Blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom of God." Or listen to the lady atop the Golden Dome. In what is arguably one of the most radical left-wing speeches ever given, Mary told us that in her moral orthodoxy, the poor are "lifted high" and the "rich" and the "arrogant of heart" are "routed" and "sent away empty." (No wonder they never let her speak again!) Commitment to the poor is the prime orthodoxy of biblical religion. This commitment is not out of a morbid masochism but it is the font of strategies that will lead to the absolute elimination of poverty. "There shall be no poor among you!" is Deuteronomy's summation of Torah. Catholic universities, like Jesus, should be "good news to the poor." They are not orthodox if they are not, whatever their alleged pelvic correctness. The ancient Roman Tacitus said "the Gods are with the mighty." Israel and Christianity demurred. Our God, said the Book of Judges is a "God of the humble...the poor...the weak...the desperate...and the hopeless."
So there it is. A real orthodoxy test. Our institutions should be specialists on poverty and champions of the poor. If you want to do poverty law, to study the sociology of poverty, to develop an economics and a politics that while concerned for all people is biblically obsessed with the poor, to learn science as service, come to us! There would be no academic loss in this. It would merely be a change of bias. The current bias is for the rich. The poor of the world have had little reason to look to our universities as their protectors and champions. We have been, as the saying goes, non-prophet organizations, more for the posh than the poor.
So now, in honor of the moratorium, how about a quick lesson on poverty, a lesson that in a truly orthodox Catholic (or Jewish, or Protestant, or Islamic) university would be woven into the mental and cordial sinews of everyone we, at graduation, call educated. Because we have not cared, we do not know the heart of poverty. Let's give it a quick analytical look.
Poverty: What Is It?
"The poverty of the poor is their ruin," says the Book of Proverbs. And the ruin is not just material. Poverty rapes and kills the spirit of the poor. We underestimate its complexity and cruelty. There are four dimensions to poverty:
Insult is treatment that implicitly denies that we matter. African Americans in the United States, for example, eat insult with their daily bread. As law professor Derrick Bell says, there is no white person in this country who at some level of their being does not think blacks to be inferior, and there is no black person who does know that and resent it. Given the persistent record, the same could be said for the often subterranean but ever active belief of men that women are inferior and that their disempowerment is the law of nature. Women have noticed this and felt the pain. The result is called feminism and its success is our last best hope for our bi- gendered species).
- Material limit. Poverty does mean a lack of material necessities. For the 1.3 billion people in "absolute poverty" (70% of whom are women) the most basic essentials are critically lacking and death is fastening it grip on them. Note too that fewer than 3 billion people could eat as we eat, i.e. on a North American diet. We are almost 3 billion beyond that now. Limits have already been passed.
- (2) Poverty strips the human spirit of its two indispensable prerequisites, the two things we cannot do without. They are, I submit, respect and hope. The opposite of respect is insult and as Aristotle said, insult is the root of all rebellion. Respect is the recognition that our humanity is valued at its worth, that others recognize that humanity is a shared glory and our possession of it is acknowledged. Poverty turns the goodness of the world into a taunt for it denies the poor the ecstasy of life that is their birthright. It is galling and killing to be so disvalued.
Hope is also best described by its opposite. Its opposite is paralysis. Only hope activates the human will. Only possible good motors our affections and stirs us to action. Without hope, we are catatonic. Even Sisyphus had to be hoping for something or he would have left that rock where he found it. Poverty suffocates hope for it repeatedly shows possibility to be illusory. Infants reach for hope starting with their birth and the infants of the poor already show with their eyes that there is no hope for them. Hunger and pain have already told them that their humanity does not count.
The stripping of respect and hope from the poor is well systematized. Capitalism from its start had poverty in its train. Serfs in the feudal, pre-capitalist system did often have a kind of paternalistic social security. They were part of a unit that shared the essentials out of a kind of practical necessity. With the dawn of modern capitalism, the serfs were cast out to look for work and security. Capitalism had two choices from the beginning, either to correct its deficiencies and care for those who were cast out by the blind mechanisms of the market, or to embark on the systematic vilification of the poor implying that their plight was their own doing and not an indictment of the system. Capitalism embraced the second alternative with passion.
The Statute of Laborers in 1349 in England made it a crime to give alms to the poor. In modern terms this meant cutting off welfare from these "lazy drones" who opted freely for idleness. This same spirit was in The Poor Law Reform Bill in England in 1834 which said explicitly that the main cause of poverty was the indiscriminate giving of aid which destroyed the desire to work. Again, there was nothing wrong with the system, only with those left out by the system. Of this 1834 bill Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli would say decades later, "it made it a crime to be poor."
In the United States, 19th century writers like Herbert Spencer said that poverty was the direct consequence of sloth and sinfulness. One writer said: "Next to alcohol, and perhaps alongside it, the most pernicious fluid is indiscriminate soup." Cotton Mather had set the tone. "For those who indulge themselves in idleness, the express command of God unto us is, that we should let them starve." (The recent Republican Contract With America is not discontinuous with this villainy).
Religion joined the attack on the poor in a big way. Drawing from Augustinian and Calvinist predestinationist themes, it divided humanity up into the saved and the damned. Wealth came to be seen as a sign of God's favor, and then, of course, in a double whammy, poverty came to be seen as a mark of God's disgust. Bishop Lawrence of Massachusetts intoned: "In the long run, it is only to the man of morality that wealth comes...Godliness is in league with riches." It is hard to get further from the Gospels that put God in league with the poor: "Blessed are the poor...of such is the kingdom of heaven." And of the rich? It would be easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than to get them to take a God's eye view of their hypocrisies. Privileged classes, as Reinhold Niebuhr prophetically reminded us, have always been shamefully full of self praise. They have traditionally heaped moral encomia upon themselves, dubbing themselves "nobles" and even, in that classical misnomer, "gentlemen."
So the poor must not only be stripped and starved. They must also be insulted and blamed for their poverty and painted as too lazy to go out and get those mythical decent jobs that are not even there!
Orthodoxy means getting it straight. It means not missing the main point, not getting corrupted by good but secondary issues.. Orthodoxy means not wasting time bickering over issues where good people with good reasons disagree. The elimination of poverty as the only path to peace is the main point of biblical morality. Institutions that exemplified this main point of biblical wisdom would be exciting and good news to a troubled earth. That it could happen seems like a dream. But what a dream. To fuss with Yeats' words: "Tread softly if you would tread on that dream!"
- It is an insight of the Jewish and Christian scriptures that poverty and wealth are correlative. As Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza says: "In Israel poverty was understood as injustice." Guilt was assigned to the system, not to the poor. The temple of prejudicial economic deals had to be attacked, and the prophets from Jeremiah to Jesus undertook that mission with gusto.
- Poverty is genocidal and the malignant indifference and masked barbarity that underlie upper class virtue are complicit in the quiet slaughter of the poor. Poverty kills with an efficiency that could only be matched by all-out nuclear war. The wars that we have had are pikers in inflicting death compared to poverty. What war could kill 40,000 infants a day and do so with a silent efficiency that allows the polysaturated guilty to sleep comfortably in their beds, consciences fully anesthetized, with no rumble of distant guns to disturb their rest.
Daniel Maguire teaches Moral Theology at Marquette University.
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Homosexuality: An Ecclesiological Approach
Richard P. McBrien
My own area of specialization is ecclesiology, or the theology of the Church: its nature, mission, ministries, and structures. The questions that I shall address, therefore, are other than moral or biblical. They have to do with the nature and ecclesial responsibilities of a university in the Catholic tradition, and with the nature and authority of the Church's official teachings on homosexuality. I shall also add a personal comment at the end of my presentation.
First, regarding the nature and ecclesial responsibilities of a university in the Catholic tradition. According to the papal document Ex corde ecclesiae, Notre Dame is not a Catholic university in the strict, canonical sense of the word. It does not have the word "Catholic" in its official name, as does, for example, The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., nor does it have a formal canonical relationship with the Holy See. In other words, it is not a pontifical university, with the right to grant pontifical degrees, as does The Catholic University of America, for example. According to Ex corde ecclesiae, only those universities which have been "established or approved by the Holy See, by an Episcopal Conference or another Assembly of Catholic Hierarchy, or by a diocesan Bishop" are to incorporate the General Norms laid down by this papal document and to submit their statutes "for approval to the competent ecclesiastical Authority." A second category of Catholic universities is not required to do that, namely, "those not established or approved in any of the above ways..." (General Norms, a. 1, n. 3). Therefore, whatever the University of Notre Dame does with regard to the profession and enforcement of official Catholic teaching on any subject is a matter of voluntary action. Neither the Vatican, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, nor the local bishop has any canonical right to dictate what the University of Notre Dame can or cannot allow, must or need not prohibit, with regard to the academic activities of homosexual students, faculty, and staff. This is not to say that universities in the Catholic tradition, that is, universities usually founded by religious orders and explicitly affiliated by choice with the Catholic tradition, have no responsibility whatever toward that tradition. To be sure, if Notre Dame or any other university in the Catholic tradition absolutely prohibited its employees from forming a labor union, it would be in direct violation of one of the clearest and most consistent teachings of the Catholic Church. That prohibition, by itself, would not automatically disqualify the university from any claim to Catholic identity, but it would compromise that claim substantially and, in tandem with other violations of basic Catholic values, should lead any self-respecting institution to reconsider its public identification with the Catholic tradition.
But the issue before us here is not comparable to that of the rights of workers to form labor unions. Granting recognition to GLND/SMC as a bona fide student organization, with the right to hold and publicize meetings, is not clearly and unambiguously against the teaching of the Catholic Church. Indeed, there are several other Catholic universities and colleges which do recognize such student organizations, and these institutions are no less Catholic than Notre Dame. They include DePaul, Loyola of Chicago, Loyola of New Orleans, The Catholic University of America, St. Louis University, St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas (a Congregation of Holy Cross institution), Fordham Law School, the University of San Diego, Seattle University, the University of San Francisco, Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, Maryhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania, St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. Georgetown and Boston College have groups of gay and lesbian students which receive all the rights and privileges of a student organization, including funding, but do not have formal recognition. The contrary practice of these other Catholic institutions, and particularly The Catholic University of America, undermines Notre Dame's claim that the teaching of the Catholic Church on homosexuality requires a Catholic institution to refuse to recognize such student organizations. Furthermore, there is no evidence that other student organizations at Notre Dame are subject to the same type of scrutiny regarding their faithful adhesion, for example, to the social teachings of the Church.
Second, regarding the nature and authority of the Church's official teachings on homosexuality. There is no question about the current official teaching of the Catholic Church on the morality of homosexual activity. In 1992 the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed the previous teachings that all homosexual acts are at once unnatural and gravely sinful. Indeed, in 1986 the same Congregation characterized homosexuality as "an objective disorder," and in 1975 described homosexual acts as "intrinsically disordered."
But that's not the end of it. The Church's official posture toward homosexuality and homosexuals took a significant turn with the publication, on the authority of Pope John Paul II himself, of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church. After repeating and reaffirming previous teachings on homosexuality, the Catechism states: "The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided" (n. 2358).
I submit that the singling out of gay and lesbian students by prohibiting them from exercising the same right of association open to other student groups is a form of the "unjust discrimination" to which the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers. If the student group were asking for university space to engage in activity that is directly opposed to the teachings of the Church, that would be one thing. But if the student group is simply asking for the same resources open to other groups for the purpose of mutual support and solidarity, and if such a group is prohibited from doing so simply because the group is composed of gay and lesbian students, who are not responsible for their homosexual orientation, as the Catechism explicitly acknowledges, then it seems to be a clear case of "unjust discrimination." And to repeat: it is a form of discrimination not practiced at other Catholic universities and colleges, which are as committed to the Catholic tradition as Notre Dame claims to be.
A final personal word. I happen not to be a homosexual, but that fact does not give me or any other heterosexual person a moral advantage over gays and lesbians. None of chooses our sexual orientation, any more than we choose our gender, our color, or our ethnic roots. I know that I, along with many other heterosexuals, harbor homophobic tendencies in my own soul. One cannot be part of this culture without being exposed constantly to homophobia and its often subtle and regularly reinforced influence. But I frankly do not understand why there is so much fear and loathing of homosexuality and of gays and lesbians, especially within the Church, unless it is a fear and loathing of one's own self, of the latent homosexual tendencies that are part of the heterosexual's own human make-up. And I especially do not understand why so many gays and lesbians themselves--gay clergy included--allow themselves to become part of anti-gay and anti- lesbian initiatives unless it is their sub-conscious way of denying their own homosexuality and of placing distance between themselves and this "demon force" within them. Much like some old-time priests who suffered under the scourge of acute alcoholism often became super-orthodox defenders of the pope and the magisterium, as if to compensate for the terrible guilt they felt over their addiction.
There is no biblical evidence of which I am aware that Jesus had a problem with gays and lesbians. Neither is there any historical evidence of which I am aware that the Catholic Church was so preoccupied with or concerned about the existence of gays and lesbians in the Church as we are in our own time, when gays and lesbians began coming out of the closet and laying claim to their own human dignity and civil rights. In any case, it seems to me that homophobia--meaning the loathing as well as the fear of gays and lesbians--is at least as much an ethical problem for the Church and for Notre Dame as the homosexual behavior we presume to judge and condemn.
Fr. Richard McBrien is the Crowley-O'Brien-Walter Professor of Theology at Notre Dame. This paper was presented at a Gender Studies Roundtable discussion on "Homosexuality and Homophobia".
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Has it Come to This?
In the grip of yet another spasm of millenarian distemper, the Vatican decided to celebrate the New Year with a touch of Grand Guignol theater - an excommunication. Excluded from the community of believers for his heretical views is an elderly Sri Lankan priest, Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, OMI. Not well known in the west (Roman Catholic theology is notoriously Eurocentric), Fr. Balasuriya has garnered plaudits in Asia for helping Catholic theology address the considerable social, political and economic ills which plague third world countries, including his own. The runes of this excommunication, when read carefully, yield disturbing information about the racism of the heresy hunters in Rome.
To the modern mind, heresy has an odd, anachronistic ring - which may explain why the media covered the story with little more than a shrug. The New York Times report quoted a Rome-based Catholic scholar (the brave soul asked not to be identified) who rebuked the Vatican for the fuss and "making a somebody out of a nobody." The odious Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the neoconservative journal First Things, seemed to think that Balasuriya's head on a pike had saved Catholic doctrine from contamination. He went on to claim, in a bizarre non-sequitur, that this would help the Pope "promote dialogue among the world's religions."
With nearly a billion Roman Catholics in the world today, an effort must be made to investigate Rome's motives when it does something as unhinged as separating an old man from his life-long community. Human and natural rights are at stake. The spotlight in this horrible drama must fall principally on the Pope's grand panjandrum, the Bavarian Cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger. Ratzinger, arguably the most powerful man in the Roman Catholic Church today, has never made any bones about his admiration for the pre- war German Church in which he grew up. No apologies for that Church's accommodation and concordats with Hitler have ever tripped off his tongue, nor for his own stint in the Chancellor's Youth Movement. It is a pretty kettle of fish when the man in the Vatican calling the shots on heresy cut his teeth politically in a fascist context.
Fr. Balasuriya was an obvious target for a rabid Occidentialist like Ratzinger. Oriental and other, the Sri Lankan couldn't help but make the Bavarian nervous, even before he had written a word. While a fear of syncretism is one hobgoblin haunting the Cardinal, the proximate cause for the heresy verdict was liberation theology. Fr. Balasuriya does social analysis, entertaining the quaint notion that theology should provide folk with the tools to free themselves from grinding, dehumanizing poverty. His books on Jesus, Mary and the Eucharist have taken on, variously, capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy. Like Marx before him, he is afraid of the opiate potential of religion and has observed that prayers like the Hail Mary play a role in "tranquilizing Catholics."
The Prosecutor in Fascist Italy responsible for imprisoning the Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, said "We must prevent this brain from functioning for twenty years." Without prison, the stake or the rack at his disposal, the Roman Inquisitor sought Fr. Balasuriya's silence through excommunication. Rome has battled modern political and economic ideas for more than one hundred and fifty years. Its suspicions are also raised whenever lay-folk appropriate the Bible and read it as a manifesto for deliverance from institutions that oppress them. Pius IX, in his encyclical Qui Puribus, published in 1846, condemned "crafty Bible societies which renew the skills of the old heretics, and ceaselessly force on people of all kinds, even the uneducated, gifts of the Bible." Three years later, the same Pope exhorted the poor "to recall the teaching of Christ himself, that they should not be sad in their condition since their poverty made lighter their journey to salvation, provided that they bear their need with patience and are poor not only in possessions but in spirit too."
The current papacy has given permission for contemporary representatives of anti-modernism to crawl out from underneath their rocks. Recently I read a promotional brochure for a publication of theirs called Catholic Dossier. The noun "Dossier" is not one we usually associate with faith. There is something positively Freudian in a title that gives the game away - all those associations with police or CIA secret files! Promised in an upcoming issue is a rewriting of the history of the Spanish Inquisition: "It wasn't what the Church's enemies claim." These people never apologize - they just revise. Also scheduled is a rehabilitation of Pius XII who, as we now know, could have done so much more in standing up to Hitler.
Balasuriya's excommunication has lifted the veil on Cardinal Ratzinger's racism and cowardice. He has been itching to make an example of a controversial theologian. His choice of victim, a brown-skinned man without powerful friends, living half a world away, is no coincidence. While there are theologians in Europe and the United States whose theology gets up the Inquisitor's nose, they have never been subjected to the full force of his spite. The Swiss theologian, Fr. Hans Kung, is a master of lese majeste, and though he may no longer teach seminarians (probably more of a relief than a punishment), he retains his clerical faculties, He remains a priest. Ditto for the very civilized, mildly progressive American, Fr. Charles Curran.
What is finally so shocking, wicked even, is that Ratzinger has almost certainly never set foot in Sri Lanka and seems indifferent to its grave problems. Shortly after the excommunication was announced, the BBC World Service broadcast a report by Sue Lloyd Roberts on the widespread paedophilic skin- trade in Sri Lanka. Young boys' bodies are being bought and sold, mainly by German consumers and purveyors - in other words, the Cardinal's fellow countrymen. Political violence is a constant threat; Sri Lanka continues to be mauled by the Tamil Tigers in a civil war rooted in long standing ethnic tensions.
Shortly after having silenced the pesky liberation theologian, the Pope, in a feat of breathtaking humbug, proceeded to lecture diplomats assembled for his annual New Year address on the need for a moral code to keep stronger, richer nations from dominating others and "imposing their cultural models, economic diktats or ideological models." How are we to understand such contrariness? The answer, I think, lies with Rome's ingrained paternalism. Lofty pronunciamentos from the Pope on justice are one thing. Having an indigenous prophet teach and activate folk at the grassroots to seek justice and dignity for themselves, is quite another.
Ann Pettifer is an alumna of Notre Dame.
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Prisoners from the U.S. War on the Poor
Have you received any calls recently from AT&T tele-marketers? If so, you probably talked to a prisoner working for one-tenth the normal wage. In Washington State, Microsoft uses the same slave labor to package its products. Prisoners are quietly becoming the most sought-after labor pool for American companies; corporations that employ felons can dodge bad press about outsourcing work to Indonesia and Mexico and still pay basement wages. As a steady stream of America's poor tripled the prison population in the last fifteen years to 1.5 million inmates, the corporate squeeze on the impoverished has never been tighter. Even those who can't who can't buy Starbuck's latte and Nike footwear from behind bars fill big business' trough.
The American government uses a barrage of misinformation on behalf of its corporate bedfellows to convince citizens of prison's efficacy. The most sordid example of the fronting used to legitimize America's "prison next to every McDonald's" mantra is the 1995 smokescreen group called the "Council on Crime in America" (COCA). Ostensibly created as a nonpartisan crime research team, COCA was hardly objective - bankrolling $450,000 from the conservative Bradley Foundation for its services. In accordance with its sponsors, COCA obediently glorified prison as a "socially beneficial crime restraint tool".
COCA - and other hired talent - bestow intellectual seals-of- approval on prison construction instead of suggesting solutions for the desperate poverty from which most criminals come. They brew a destructive elixir, bamboozling Americans into thinking prisons are the only answer. It's working; Californians now spend more money building and maintaining penitentiaries than on their vast education system.
The COCA report hailed prison as a necessity for criminal adults and their children - a generation of "fatherless, godless and jobless" youngsters. Here's the crux of America's crime problem, according to the Council's leader - John DiIulio of Princeton:
"All that's left of the black community in pockets of urban America is deviant, delinquent, and criminal adults surrounded by abused and neglected children, virtually all of whom were born out of wedlock."
What preventative proposal did the respected intellectuals on the Council recommend for these "deviant" adults? Prison, of course! People who don't contribute to political campaigns or research committees are expendable in "three strikes, you're out" America. If current rates of convictions hold, the majority of African-American males age 18-40 will be imprisoned by 2010.
Both Clinton and Dole, in no small part because of powerful groups like COCA, pledged to attack the "root cause of crime" during Campaign '96. Neither of their "get tough" programs addressed urban poverty; instead, each essentially focused on using taxes for more cops to weed out the troublemakers. The causes of crime are multiple and complex, but it doesn't take a sociologist to understand most felons are shaped by a society which prioritizes corporate "wealthfare" over economic justice. Corporate taxes have plummeted 20% since 1970, while the minimum wage has its weakest buying power since the 1950's. Congress can afford $11 million annually for the Pillsbury Dough Boy's advertising world tour, but, somehow, it can't guarantee food stamps to poor children. Is national security secretly threatened by Cambodians desperate for blueberry muffins?
On top of demonizing black adults, COCA's proposals for salvaging their "abused and neglected children" amounted to segregating them in orphanages and holding them to mandatory curfews. (Apparently, segregated orphanages safeguard morally pure whites from biologically criminal blacks.) This racist mush is supposedly the research of our best and brightest; DiIulio was lauded for months on talk shows and wrote speech text for Dole's campaign.
When asked why American youth need firm discipline, politicians invariably point to the explosion in juvenile crime statistics. But violent crime hasn't skyrocketed 70% among 13-19 year-olds since 1985 because of racial depravity. Kids are more violent today in the U.S. because youth poverty has doubled here since 1975. A 1995 non-profit study by a group from Luxembourg found that "poor children in the U.S. are poorer by objective measures of housing and nutrition than poor children in fifteen other industrialized countries." It's a short leap linking these figures with the surge in juvenile crime.
Groups like the Council on Crime in America dutifully provide the politico-corporate hegemony with phony intellectual ammunition against reform. But recidivism studies consistently show that prisons exacerbate criminal behavior. They will never substitute for genuine solutions to America's institutionalized poverty: affordable housing, education, and jobs at a living wage. Too bad our taxes pay for prisons and Pillsbury Dough Boy marketing instead.
Tom Rinehart is an alumnus of Notre Dame.
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My old friend Donald often drank so much
his mornings-after were practically rhapsodic
with unpleasant surprise. But this one time,
he woke to find it otherwise - two women
snuggling close beside him in bed. When he lifted
the sheet - what do you think? - they were all three
naked as jays. Obscurely he remembered the press
of a hand on his knee, two sweet kids with
nowhere to go; and hey there was always his
until something better came along. So many hands
and lips eager to perfect this or that form
he'd only seen before in certain graphic movies.
Well, things like this weren't meant to go on forever,
and what began as a bold experiment in togetherness
soon became quarrelsome and petty. He couldn't stand it -
they were pilfering from his spare change pig.
And so he ventured on to greener ports: the long-
stemmed digits from an Ivory Soap commercial,
the silky fleece from L'Oreal. Once, of a giddy holiday,
he found himself engaged to Winston Churchill's niece;
but in the end, she bore to familial a resemblance
to her famous uncle, for him to carry on with it.
And finally settled in with a comedienne whose father
had written the score to "Gone with the Wind". She was
a regular guest on the "Merv Griffin Show", but gave up
her career when she had their first, a baby daughter.
Suddenly he was ordering seltzer-water instead of double
martinis, and taking more interest in his trust fund
than simply cashing the monthly check. To everyone's
surprise, he taught himself how to invest and diversify.
Now he slowly fills my glass, then his, with nothing
but the best: a "Chateau Margaux" from the year
we first met, three decades ago. Of course, we're discussing
the vagaries of grace; the blind luck that allowed us
to jump off the edge of the world and somehow survive.
He smiles the smile that used to mean, I'm up for just
about anything. Between him
and me, he sometimes finds himself missing
those bad old days; though he doesn't know why,
being perfectly content and all. Still,
what he wouldn't give to startle awake beside
two strange women and not remember who he is.
Max Westler teaches English at Saint Mary's.
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