The dogma of bigotry

Pamela White | Boulder Weekly

In1610, Italian astronomer and inventor Galileo Galilei used a telescope to observe the heavens and concluded that the earth revolved around the sun.

His assertion contradicted the established dogma of the Catholic Church, leading to no end of difficulty for the brilliant scientist. He found himself accused of heresy and was eventually hauled before the Inquisition, which offered to resolve the dispute through torture if necessary.

Imagine the gut-deep frustration Galileo must have felt knowing he was right but having to “confess” before a tribunal of stuffy old ignoramuses that the church was right and he was wrong. It wasn’t until 1992 that the Catholic Church formally cleared Galileo of wrongdoing and acknowledged that he’d been mistreated by the church.

Religion has undergone a spectacular loss of authority since Galileo’s day thanks to the Enlightenment and the secularization of society. No longer able to enforce dogma through torture and murder, churches have now become kind of like clubs. They’re made up of voluntary members, and they set the rules for membership.

Boulder’s Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School recently clarified its clubhouse rules when it informed a lesbian couple that their child would not be welcome to re-enroll in the school. The school, a private institution, has the right to do this under the First Amendment. There’s no disputing that.

But those of us who find bigotry intolerable have a similar right to speak out against the school’s decision — and the list of lame-o excuses used by church brass to justify it.

Boulder Weekly interviewed Jeanette De Melo, the director of communications for the Archdiocese of Denver, last week, and some of us are still rolling our eyes at her answers.

Let’s take, for example, her statement that the decision to cast out this child was “centered on the mission of the schools and on the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

There’s no doubt that the Catholic Church opposes gay and lesbian unions.

The church teaches that if people are going to have sex, it must be within the context of heterosexual marriage. Just like the earth-centric solar system of 400 years ago, this position is viewed as God’s immutable truth.

It doesn’t seem to occur to the church that it has gotten “God’s truth” wrong many times before and could be wrong again.

Of course, it’s easier to get away with being wrong about this because, unlike the rotation of the planets, there’s really no scientific way to prove what’s right or wrong.

De Melo dodged our reporter’s question about other family members. If having openly gay or lesbian parents gets one kicked out of school, what about a child who has an openly gay grandparent or divorced parents or who was born to an unmarried mom? Perhaps De Melo had nothing to say about that because the question itself exposes the punitive nature of the school’s decision.

And then there’s De Melo’s insistence that this policy of exclusion holds true for “any open discord.”

That’s patently untrue. De Melo might want to look through the school’s enrollment. There, she’ll find heterosexual couples raising only one or two children. Does she think all of these families are practicing “natural family planning” with amazing success? Or does she know, as the rest of us do, that contraception is as widely used among people who consider themselves to be Catholic as it is among any other segment of the population?

Chances are she knows, but that the archdiocese, and the Catholic Church in general, has decided not to question couples regarding their dearth of offspring, knowing that excluding the children of parents who actively use contraception would hit the school where it counts — in the bank account.

But gay rights stand on much shakier footing in the United States. The civil rights issue of our time, it’s a topic that divides society deeply. Kicking the children of gay parents out of school is much less risky from a public-relations standpoint — and less of a blow to the school’s bottom line.

The most despicable thing De Melo said during her interview with Boulder Weekly was this gem: “To allow children in these circumstances to continue in our school would be a cause of confusion for the children themselves in that what they are being taught in school conflicts with what they experience in the home. It isn’t in the best interest of the child that they are subjected to these mixed messages.”

So… she’s saying that they talk about the evils of homosexuality in their classes at Sacred Heart of Jesus and how this child’s moms might burn in hell? No. Probably not.

What she’s asserting here is that the decision to exclude this child was made with the child’s best interests at heart.

Oh, spare us! How many times in human history has the desire to control other human beings been expressed as “concern”? From the forced removal of American Indian children to government boarding schools to the enforcement of gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia, it’s always about “concern.” Concern for Indian children. Concern for the well-being of women. Concern for children of two mothers who might realize — if they haven’t already — that their family is different.

What’s most confusing in all of this, however, is why so many people cling to a church that actively seeks to exclude them. Like trying to win the love of a bigoted father who will never approve of you, it’s a waste of time. Those who disagree in silence with the school’s decisions and continue to pay tuition only empower the church to maintain its current set of club rules. And to what end?

Look how long it took the church to welcome poor dead Galileo back into its arms.