The month of June in American Catholicism these days is always a hoot and a half. Engaged couples often schedule their weddings for late spring or early summer, families with young children have them suddenly at home for summer vacation, lots of people go on pilgrimages to religious sites in the US and abroad, the USCCB has its Spring Plenary Assembly, and (depending on the date of Easter) many years see confirmations and Corpus Christi processions.
On top of all this, all sorts of people come out of the woodwork fulminating about Pride Month, the expression that LGBT people use for June as a month celebrating LGBT culture and advocating for social and political causes. Many Catholics like to invoke the old, but understandable, equivocation fallacy of hearing the word “pride” and assuming that what’s being referred to necessarily is a form of the sin of pride (superbia, hyperephania). People talk a great deal about this every year and, again, I think it’s to some extent understandable given the way the word “pride” generally tends to get used — although after so many years, it’s become obnoxious, fallacious, and itself prideful because it’s accompanied by a refusal to take seriously what other people are saying.
This annual ritual in Catholic culture in America and the even more recent tradition of constant reminders that June somehow needs to be “reclaimed for” the Sacred Heart of Jesus (as if Jesus needed our help with that), have been joined this year by a hyperspecific and immensely unsettling culture war flashpoint. I refer to the decision of the American Catholic press and much of our episcopate and presbyterate to focus their energies on protesting the baseball team the Los Angeles Dodgers over the latter giving some kind of pregame honor to a group called the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. There have been public processions, Masses said in reparation, lots and lots of homilies complaining about the Dodgers and the SPI (including from priests who usually avoid getting tied up in the latest cultural outrage), and on and on and on. Bishop Joseph Strickland, as often, led the charge, officiating at a large paraliturgical protest in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium.
There’s little in this of the style of Jesus, Who, although He was a far cry from the all-condoning or all-tolerating hippie of the progressive Christian imaginary, tended to content Himself with telling people that their behavior was unacceptable rather than launching large public campaigns against them. (There are perhaps a few exceptions in His public ministry, of course, but none that involve sex and/or multimedia campaigns.) It’s difficult even to compare the public hysteria over the SPI to a military campaign, which would involve an element of proportionality and assessing the most promising and most strategically important targets. I am, rather, reminded of Sean Connery’s well-known line from The Untouchables: “He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way.”
I am willing to accept the premise that the SPI’s aesthetic and public image are offensive to Catholicism. I am not trying to defend the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence or even drag culture. I’m generally supportive of the LGBT community and LGBT Catholics but I have long had an aesthetic dislike for drag and have never entirely “bought” its efficacy in critiquing gender roles. What concerns me is that this is what mobilizes the bishops, even thirty or forty years after the AIDS crisis (a time at which the bishops did not exactly cover themselves in glory). There is a whole world out there full of suffering and seemingly intractable social, political, and moral problems, and what gets the American Church on the warpath is a publicity stunt at an LA Dodgers home game.
The Outreach event at Fordham seems to have gone better in the sense that it starts from what I think is a clearer recognition of the United States’ social realities. This isn’t necessarily the same thing as “meeting people where they are,” although an argument might be made that they usually go hand in hand. I use the expression “social realities” in a considered way; I don’t think anybody who believes that what our public square needs is more knee-jerk hostility and insistence on one’s own rightness can fairly be said to live in the real world. I don’t mean to suggest that we should “all just get along” and I hope that this wasn’t what the people at the Fordham event were getting at either. Of course we cannot all just get along. What we can and must do is accept that our perceptions of our own places in the world, and in God’s eyes, aren’t always determinative. Some of us are likelier to be tares than we might want to think.
I often wonder if most bishops, priests, and Professional Catholics in general are even afraid of the Last Judgment. I’m sure on paper they are, but on paper they’re also humble suffering servants, and I think most Catholics these days know exactly how much substance that has. I don’t think that people like Bishop Strickland approach each June in a very humble spirit at all; in fact, they strike me as awfully, dare I say, proud of themselves. One need not, however, even necessarily fear the Last Judgment, in order to fear God; the fact that we simply do not know whether most people currently alive are or are not true friends of God should be sobering enough on its own. “We are all in danger” (Pier Paolo Pasolini), and there is little to be gained from attempting to inflict or deflect that danger onto only those whom we dislike or perceive as our foes. Human dignity demands, at least as a starting point, an honest commitment to a more reconciliatory approach.
Image: Steve Cukrov – stock.adobe.com
Nathan Turowsky is a native New Englander and now lives in Upstate New York. A lifelong fascination with religious ritual led him into first the Episcopal Church and then the Catholic Church. An alumnus of Boston University School of Theology and one of the relatively few Catholic alumni of that primarily Wesleyan institution, he is unmarried and works in the nonprofit sector. He writes at Silicate Siesta.