A humble little blog about books, information, and other things that are good to know.

Posts tagged ‘Catholicism’

Catholic Students and Gay-Straight Alliances

Archbishop of Toronto, Thomas Cardinal Collins

Image via National Post.

Today’s episode of Ontario Today on CBC radio featured an interview with Catholic Archbishop Thomas Collins, who argues that anti-bullying legislation giving students the right to form gay-straight alliances infringes on freedom of religion. It’s less than fifteen minutes long and well worth listening to, primarily because of the way Collins deals with the question of Catholic doctrinal objections to homosexuality and whether those are at the root of his objection to GSAs.

Because he doesn’t.

It’s a bit of amusing to listen to him straining so hard to avoid the very blatant question, “Is this really about Catholic teachings on sexuality?” It really obviously is. You can’t complain that gay-straight alliances infringe on Catholic religious freedom without calling attention to the fact that Catholicism is very much against homosexuality. But gosh darn it, he sure does try.

In order to skirt the issue of church teaching on homosexuality, Collins essentially invents a made-up world in which the government forces GSAs on schools that don’t want any, while non-LGBT victims of bullying get ignored in favour of the glamorous gay kids. Then he describes what he finds objectionable about that scenario. He’s right. That’s a horrible way to combat bullying . . . but it’s got nothing to do with what is actually being proposed.

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The Bishop’s Man

The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre.

Image via Chapter and Verse: A Showcase for Canadian Talent.

Title: The Bishop’s Man

Author: Linden MacIntyre

Year of Publication: 2009

Genre Keywords: CanLit, Catholicism, Nova Scotia, pedophile priests, priesthood, scandal, sexual abuse, suicide, trauma.

Summary: Father Duncan MacAskill has spent his priesthood as “the Bishop’s man”, the priest who swoops into a parish in the wake of sex-abuse allegations, removes the offending clergyman, and attempts to set the community right in whatever way will best preserve the holy image of Mother Church. Now he’s been placed in a different role for a change: returning to his hometown on the Nova Scotia coast to be a parish priest. It’s a somewhat quieter life, in which he has a chance to reflect on some of the demons in his past: the time when he witnessed a priest’s abuse of another young man, for instance, or his experience of love and death in South America. But when he becomes close to the family of a friend from his youth, he begins to confront the consequences of his life’s work: did a priest he once moved to a nearby parish assault his friend’s troubled teenage son?

Who’ll Love It: Fans of a vivid setting, realistic action, and a delicately-woven tapestry of past and present will find this story delightful. Be warned, though: if you have trouble following stories told out of sequence, or tales in which key information is fed obliquely (and sometimes ambiguously) to the reader, you might have a hard time making sense of this subtle tale. I’m sure there are new bits and pieces I could pick up on reading the book a second time; it seems like the sort of work that would reward that. So even if you don’t have all the details straight by the last page, it’s a worthwhile journey just for the vivid portrait of life in coastal Nova Scotia. Having read the book, I felt like I had been there – and of course it doesn’t hurt that Father MacAskill spends some time in Ontario, visiting some local landmarks I see on a regular basis.

Authors Abounding: Linden MacIntyre is a frequent guest host on CBC Radio One’s The Current. It’s available for download, but I usually listen to it on the radio; CBC can tell you which frequency you’ll need to hear it on weekday mornings at 8:30 (EST).

Rice the Queen: Losing Her Religion

Raise your hands if you’ve been here: Anne Rice quit Christianity. She insists she’s still “committed to Christ as always”, but the Christianity label – and all the intolerance that tends to go with it – is too much for the Vampire Queen. I can’t say I’m surprised, but my heart goes out to her. It can be such a struggle to be unconventional when you’re surrounded by the most conventional kinds of fundamentalists.

When Anne Rice became religious, she made sure everybody knew it. She renounced her vampires (to the dismay of  many) and pledged to keep her work forevermore at the Jesus-loving heart of the Christian universe. She followed through, too, with novels like Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt or her spiritual memoir Called Out of Darkness. It certainly seems that Rice was quite committed to proclaiming the Good News. There’s nothing like a revert trying to prove she’s got the spiritual street cred to run with the cradle Catholics who’ve been flocking to Mass all their lives. And that’s not easy when you have to read a missal to know the Mass responses . . . or when you’ve written a series of extremely popular and rather sensual novels about vampires.

Anne Rice

Image of Anne Rice courtesy of Random House Academic Resources.

But like so many before her – including the one writing this post – it seems she couldn’t get rid of the nagging feeling that some of those more controversial Catholic tenets were flat-out wrong. And finally, she reached the breaking point. I don’t know what did it, but she got there. Calling her fellow Christians “quarrelsome, hostile, [and] disputatious”, she proclaimed: “In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life.”

That’s brave. That’s hard. After all the flak she took for walking away from vampires to write about the life of Jesus, it took a lot of bravery for her to speak up about her break with the mainstream beliefs of the Catholic Church – which, as her bold statement seems to indicate, often seem to focus more on what a person is against rather than what they stand for.

I’m particularly intrigued by her insistence that she doesn’t want “to be anti-life”. I was Catholic for long enough to know this much: the Church loves to talk about being pro-life. It’ll tell you day and night how it’s the most pro-life institution around. She can’t possibly be talking about “anti-life” in the way abortion opponents use the term. So what does she mean?

Personally, I think she’s being informed by the complexity of human emotion any writer has to observe to create even remotely convincing characters. That’s what life is about. When the Catholic Church creates their narrow list of acceptable beliefs, requiring Catholics to eschew birth control and con

demn homosexuality and impose their strictures on the broad range of human experiences they consider “sinful”, they limit the extent to which we can experience life. We’re meant to live it. I believe, fully and completely, that we’re meant to learn. We can’t have much compassion for the human experience if we turn away from it at every opportunity. It’s better to experience life in all its richness.

But Christianity, at its most fundamentalist, often advises us to turn innocent eyes away from the full range of hour experience, to condemn our own inner worlds with all their unflattering emotions and scandalous desires. You don’t deal with that part of yourself face-to-face; rather, you try to not be that part of yourself. That’s a sin against life that Anne Rice – creator of lush vampire worlds and even a few erotic novels – just doesn’t seem willing to embrace.

Personally, I’ll stand by her on that one.

I’m particularly interested to see how this influences her upcoming works, and whether she returns to some of the darker themes she’s considered in her past writings. And even though I admit I never had much interest in her Christ the King series, this latest public conversion has got me curious. I wonder how much she let her misgivings filter into her novels about the life of Jesus. Or did she keep to the orthodoxy she had to know was expected of her?

I’ve heard they’re not her best work, and I’m not surprised by that. Vampires are her subject matter, no doubt about it. But maybe there’s still some value here. Even if the story isn’t particularly captivating, it might be worth a look just to see what the subtext tells me about her experience. After all, we’ve got something in common: she’s a fellow traveler on the same road I’ve been on ever since I came to understand that Catholic orthodoxy and birth control just don’t mix. It’s a religion that (at least in its official manifestation in Rome) has trouble being one-size-fits-all. Some people just don’t fit.

Anne Rice didn’t fit, and neither do a lot of other people who can probably relate very deeply to her experience of renouncing the “anti-life” religion that restricts their hearts so painfully. God bless Anne Rice for speaking up, and for continuing to tell her story.

Maybe that way, the rest of us Catholic castaways – and we are many – won’t feel so alone.

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