Yet Another Example of Precisely Why I Left My Monastic Order

 

Here is the irony of the situation: I wish I didn’t have plentiful examples of how the Catholic Church has failed its mission of creating a “universal church” open to all people. I wish that I was just some random dude with a conflicting soul…that I was the only individual who felt torn apart by the institution.

 

But I’m not… Unfortunately, there are far too many individuals and couples and families who have been demonized and excluded from what should be a joyful celebration of service and social justice through Christian community and fellowship.

 

New Ways Ministries published a guest blog by William di Canzio who was recently barred from acting or participating as lector at the Catholic institution where he has participated and celebrated the Catholic rites for more than 30 years. Worse, this directive was administered from a monastic abbey, a community of religious whose campus is known as a gathering place of Catholic celebration and commitment. It’s not certain why the abbott of that religious community felt compelled to adhere to the archbishop’s directive that same-sex couples should “not hold positions of responsibility in a parish, nor should they carry out any liturgical ministry or function.” Religious communities within the district of a particular archdiocese are, in fact, subordinate to the rulings of an archdiocese (in contradiction to the blog author’s assertion that an abbey is not a diocesan dependent). But, with that said, a parish or religious order has the right to protest.

 

But also, unfortunately, the archbishop has ultimate authority since the Catholic institution is set up as a monarchical-authoritarian hierarchy. The archbishop, therefore, has the right to make pronouncements, and even to make punitive or restructuring decisions regarding his diocese. The abbey, therefore, remains at risk of sanction or (at the ultimate end of the spectrum) disassembly or dissolution.

 

 

And within this impasse is where gay and lesbian people sit—with no real recourse to appeal. That’s the problem with a monarchical-authoritarian hierarchy. Many people scoff and dismiss my personal theological impasse with distain, claiming ignorantly that a diocese would never go to the extent of dissolving a monastic community for insolence or disobedience. This distain is spoken from a comfortable place of heterosexism and non-minority privilege. It is also spoken from an ignorance of the number of such directives and an inattentiveness to the publicly stated positions of United States bishops and archbishops on the whole. Part of the sad episode of my exodus from my monastic order has to do with the solidarity I needed to express with my fellow gay and lesbian Catholics, but another facet had to do with an irreconcilability with remaining silent—to pretending an adherence and obedience to diocesan dictum of a reprehensible magisterium that discriminated against gay and lesbian Catholics…and which potentially could have put my monastic community at risk of admonishment or punitive actions from the bishop if I had not remained silent. Why do I know this? Because my monastic community had experienced admonishment, censorship, and punitive action from the diocese previously in its history.

 

It was not out of the realm of possibility that inadherence or protestation to the magisterium might result in rebuke again. And why should I feel the guilt of my brothers’ punishment simply because they decided to support me in my disobedience? Or if, ultimately, they decided not to support my disobedience…how could I stay true to what I felt was being truly Catholic? Inherent identity should not be a weapon with which the Church rules. Ultimately, it was an existential situation…which is the greatest sin of the Catholic Church’s stance in opposition to the true nature of gay and lesbian individuals—that we are constantly placed in Sisyphean existential circumstances that force us to deny our true selves, or sacrifice ourselves for our LGBT brethren.

 

So I am reprinting here, in whole, the guest blog of William di Canzio from New Ways Ministry’s blog bondings2.0, as one example of the unjust directives of bishops vainly trying to administer the magisterium on gay and lesbian individuals. It should be a jumping point for non-minority Catholics and others to try to understand the discrimination suffered by LGBT people. Personally, I very much connected to di Canzio’s description of the “several phases of grief” that he experienced through his personal trial, and recognized his feelings as my own…

 

A week ago Saturday the abbot of Daylesford Abbey, a Norbertine community near Philadelphia, emailed me requesting a meeting; he said he would rather not disclose its purpose. A few days later we met for coffee. Abbot Richard Antonucci started our conversation by saying that he’d heard that Jim Anderson and I had been legally married. “I want you to believe this,” he said: “I sincerely wish you many, many years of happiness together.”

Then he passed me a copy of a directive from Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia stating that members of same-sex couples should “not hold positions of responsibility in a parish, nor should they carry out any liturgical ministry or function.” Richard said he intended to enforce the directive. Our talk was frank but friendly. I reminded him that the abbey is not a parish and nor is Chaput his superior. True enough, but, Richard tells me, all Catholic laypeople in the archdiocese are subject to Chaput’s authority. I argued that I knew of local pastors choosing not to enforce the directive because of its injustice. Richard said he was unwilling to take the risk.

“You’re the spiritual leader of the place I’ve been part of for thirty-five years,” I said. “How do you counsel me?”

Richard said that he hoped I might find it in my heart to remain in the abbey community.

This pain of this decision can only be felt where there is love. Here’s why it hurts: when I first came to Daylesford Abbey in 1981, I had just undergone what I later learned is called a conversion. Raised Catholic, educated in a parish school and at Jesuit prep school, I’d become disaffected with the church in college. Then, at 30, I got knocked off my horse and struck blind, so to speak, and returned to a church much different from the one I’d known as a kid. My discovery of Daylesford Abbey, with its refined architecture, enlightened preaching and ravishing liturgy, was a revelation within the revelation. Though I’d never seen the place before, when I entered its church for the first time, I had the uncanny feeling that I’d come home.

In those early days, the abbey’s liturgical director befriended me and put me to work immediately on special projects: revising a hymnal with an eye to amending sexist language; arranging a psalter and canticles to be used in the Daylesford Rite of the Hours. We likewise collaborated on liturgical events—the consecration of the Abbey’s Church of the Assumption, a children’s mass for Christmas morning, and the Good Friday Veneration of the Cross, a service that has since become Daylesford’s signature. From the beginning, even before lectoring, mine has been a ministry of words.

Even during the many years I lived in New Haven, I kept close to the Abbey. I was commissioned me to write a three-year cycle of penitential rites for its Sunday mass based on the scriptural readings for the day. In 1988 I became an Affiliate (one considering entering the order); in 2001, an Associate (a layperson with an especially active role in the abbey’s life). During the declining years of my parents (who loved the place), the Abbey was a source of solace to me as caregiver. Two Norbertines celebrated my father’s funeral.

Lectoring has been a particular passion for me. On my conversion, I was drawn to the lectern because of the beauty of what I heard and my desire to know it better. A writer myself, I prepare my assignments as if I had written them, so that I can present them to the assembly with understanding and conviction.

Forgive me if this sounds like a resume. My point is Charles Chaput knows none of this about me. Richard himself, who came to Daylesford in 2000, did not know how very long is my history there. Neither of these men know that Jim decided to be confirmed a Catholic after attending Pentecost mass at Daylesford, though Richard remembered fondly Jim’s magnificent chanting of the Passion narratives, solo, from the Abbey pulpit on three consecutive Palm Sundays and Good Fridays.

My meeting with the abbot on October 20 was not first my first encounter with the episcopal directive. I’d read about it in the news some months before. Of course it made me angry: it’s very offensive. Chaput asserts that same-sex couples “offer a serious counter-witness to Catholic belief, which can only produce moral confusion in the community. Such a relationship cannot be accepted into the life of the parish without undermining the faith of the community, most notably the children.”

This strikes me as hypocritical, perhaps even cynical, especially the phrase concerning children: we remember that Benedict XVI appointed Chaput to Philadelphia in the midst of the legal consequences of disclosures of the history of clerical pedophilia in the archdiocese.

In his administration, Chaput has crossed a line into alienating the laity whom he was entrusted to serve. He has advocated, even lobbied, against extending the Pennsylvania commonwealth’s statute of limitation on crimes of sexual predation. Perhaps alienation is a deliberate strategy: like the failed pope who appointed him, the archbishop has spoken publically about the advantages of a “smaller, lighter” church.

Since my meeting with Richard, I’ve gone through several phases of grief: betrayal, anger, self-pity, sorrow, and worst, I realize now, was a sense of shame and disgrace. These latter emotions are what victims of abuse are made to feel in its aftermath, but they’re also familiar to gay men of my age. And I thought I was done with those—years and years ago.


–William di Canzio, November 4, 2016

 

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of other LGBT-related church worker and parish volunteer disputes, click here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 60 incidents since 2007 where church workers or volunteers have lost their positions over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

 

 

William di Canzio, is a playwright who has taught at Smith College, Haverford College, and Yale University. At Yale, he was also appointed dean of Trumbull College, academic director in residence to four hundred undergraduates. He has published essays in Commonweal magazine. He holds a PhD from Johns Hopkins University and MFA from the Yale School of Drama, where he was awarded the Eugene O’Neill scholarship in playwriting. He now teaches in the Pennoni Honors College of Drexel University, Philadelphia.

 

 

 

 

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