The Catholic Church: Love Story or Scold Story? by Dawn Morais Webster


Dawn Morais Webster, the Pope off to his summer palace, Castel Gandolfo. He tells the world he will now become just a “humble pilgrim.”

 “We, the women and men of the church, we are in the middle of a love story: each of us is a link in this chain of love. And if we do not understand this, we have understood nothing of what the Church is.”   Pope Francis

Welcome words of love and acceptance.

Not so the words and actions of Cardinal Tim Dolan who shut of the doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the faces of LGBT Catholics and their supporters on Sunday, May 5.

Leading a silent—but eloquent—protest in New York in response to the  Cardinal’s recent likening of LGBT Catholics to “dirty hands” that needed to be washed clean, Joseph Amodeo describes what happened when the group tried to quietly enter the Cathedral with symbolically charcoal-blackened palms:

We were greeted by four police cars, a captain, and eight uniformed officers. We were informed by the NYPD’s LGBT liaison that the Archdiocese was prohibiting us from entering the Cathedral, because of our dirty hands. When we tried to enter the Cathedral, security advised us that we could not enter. The representative for the Cathedral said that we could only enter the church if we washed our hands. I truly believe that Christ would have welcomed and embraced us. Instead, we stood vigil in front of the Cathedral for an hour. The Archdiocese’s response further reinforces the feeling of spiritual homelessness that many LGBT Catholics and their friends feel.

Pope Francis, Cardinal Tim Dolan, Joseph Amodeo, “Dirty Hands,” Puanani Burgess, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Weather Ball, Women in the Church, LGBT Catholics, Zen, whited sepulchresThere was no word on whether the Cardinal refused others with truly dirty hands entry to the church. Whether the NYPD was called in to bar entry to every Wall Street banker, every politician and every businessman or woman whose hands are stained with the blood and suffering of those who have been sent off to fight illegal wars, been put out of their homes through dishonest mortgage and re-financing practices, been made to work under exploitative labor practices, been denied help to feed their families. Are we to conclude that “whited sepulchers” are more welcome in the church than people whose God-given sexuality makes some clerics act in ways that Jesus would have denounced?

Spiritual Homelessness and Estrangement

How, if the church is a love story, and if each of us is a “link in this chain of love,” is this kind of rejection possible? How long will Pope Francis let this managing of the church as if it were a fiefdom, this posting of guards at the gate, continue?

Why, if we are indeed all links in this chain of love, are women and LGBT Catholics made to feel like the weakest links; unworthy of equality and respect in the church?

What about these passages from the Gospels do the Bishops not understand?

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. – Matthew 23:13

When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal. Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.  You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. – Luke 11: 37-41

Offer a Weather Ball

Puanani Burgess, Hawaii Mediator, Zen Priest, Builder of the Beloved Community. Pix by Ginger Miller

Puanani Burgess, Hawaii Mediator, Zen Priest, Builder of the Beloved Community.
Pix by Ginger Miller

The world that multi-cultural Zen priest, mediator and community organizer from Hawaii, Puanani Burgess envisions as she talks about “Building the Beloved Community” is filled with stories of her children and grandchildren, her husband and other family members and neighbors from her beloved rural Wai`anae. We hear about little Poha who remained disappointingly unmoved by the cows and horses and other sights and sounds of his neighborhood as his grandmother walked him around, pointing them out– until she bent down and realized that at his level, he was not seeing much beyond the long grass. Lifted up on her shoulders, he squealed in delight at the world now visible to him.

Seeing what others see. Feeling what they feel. That too was the lesson of the “weather ball.” This is a small squeezable ball that Puanani offers anyone who comes looking for advice or wanting to talk.  “Tell me what the weather is like inside you,” she asks, before they even begin talking about the issue at hand.

Cardinal Dolan. Bishops. Pope Francis: Offer women a weather ball. Offer LGBT Catholics a weather ball. Ask what the weather is like inside us, where our deepest hopes and fears, our longings and our love resides. And ask of each of us, as the very wise and attentive Puanani Burgess asks: what is your gift?  Because we come bearing many, ready to share. Why would a church that is a love story, a chain of love, belittle us or turn us away?

 “Special” but not Equal?

Before Pope Francis tells women once again that they are “special” or reaffirms the actions taken to investigate women religious, he might try following the example of Poha’s grandmother. The Pope has named a new advisory panel to help him with some much needed spring-cleaning of the Vatican. That’s the good news. The bad news is the panel is entirely drawn from the very group whose activities need to be cleaned up.

The panel made up of eight cardinals—all men, of course—will pronounce on women’s reproductive rights and obligations among other things without the benefit of counsel from any women in their midst. They will tell women how they should behave, what they should think and how they should discern the lessons of faith and keep serving a church that regards them as “special”—just not equal.

All this without once asking women to tell them what the weather is like inside their hearts and minds and the core of their being.

Without asking us what gifts we bring.

Dawn Morais Webster was born in Kerala. She is the mother of two young adults, and wife of a man with Quaker and Episcopalian roots. She was raised Catholic in largely Muslim, cosmopolitan Malaysia and had her schooling with Franciscan nuns who remain an inspiration. Her blog at http://freecatholic808 is a small voice–but she believes she is part of a much larger community of faith-filled dissenters. Hawaii has been her home for more than a decade. The islands’ mindfulness of its past and the wisdom of those who have gone before, as well as its attention to place and people, help the soul to sing.



Categories: Catholic Church, Christianity, Jesus, Justice, LGBTQ, Reform, Social Justice, Vatican

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 replies

  1. Sad. The contradiction between the message of love and the structures of privilege and exclusion is painful to witness.

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  2. Dawn, please keep writing and bringing this issue to our attention. As a British Anglican, I see very similar attitudes here, but voiced more covertly. The secular world has moved, very rapidly (at least here in Britain), to acknowledge and respect LGBT people in all aspects of society, except religion. Catholic and Anglican leaders believe that they are controllers of some kind of “divine hierarchy”. And so, people continue to leave the church in western Europe.

    This is a blasphemy and doesn’t speak of or show Jesus’s love for all of us, and our diverse world. If I was younger and had more money, I’d found a church purely for the ‘outsiders’ because these people should be welcomed, loved and included, when they still have to endure others’ criticisms and sneers too often.

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    • Understand the more covert discrimination, Annette. Harder to fight that in some ways–but the Anglican Church is still way ahead of the Catholic Church in its level of acceptance and diversity in the church. I simply cannot understand the lack of shame at the blatant hypocrisy at the highest levels. Love your Church of the Outsiders! I’m there when you start it. Dawn

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      • Dearest Dawn, I became a Christian, aged 7, in an agnostic/indifferent family, constantly moving because of my father’s job. I left religion behind at 18 to pursue ‘success’ but listened and observed the treatment of LGBT people very carefully: my younger brother was gay, one of my hairdressers transgender and I worked with LG people – all of whom were lovely. The criticism/sneers and violence they experienced made me feel very ashamed of our humanity.

        I was born again in 2003, and chose to keep those stories in my heart, and to spend time talking to homeless people and addicts (my younger brother was also one) – the very least I could do was buy them a coffee, or lunch, in return for connection and hearing their story. My younger brother committed suicide in 2009, on Good Friday.

        The injustice in our world is heartbreaking, but I do what I can. And I hear the self-satisfied smirks of local Christians, and choose to challenge their opinions (as I did in apartheid South Africa in the ’60s.)

        Of course, I’m always criticised for this, but my heart is free, and I choose to do my best to reach people where they are, just as our Lord did. Blessings to you – we quiet people CAN change the world……

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        • So sorry to hear of your brother’s suicide, Annette. I hope the willingness of people like you to share such heartbreak helps bring about much needed change and a softening of the sanctimonious, judgmental stance of those in power.

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  3. I just reread the post–what the F&&& was the NYPD doing at the Cathedral?

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  4. Thanks for your post, Dawn, a very informative outcry!!! I am certain it is not lost on anyone that so many stories in the Gospels have been played out almost to the letter, every time the flock wants to set itself free or release the chains of others. The Church patriarchy even incarcerated Galileo for his heretical teaching that the Sun, not Earth, was at the center of our solar system. He had been previously incarcerated for declaring that our solar system is not the center of the universe: of course neither is the pope, nor the patriarchy. Outspoken women and gays in the Church today are all prophets and Galileos.

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