“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
Fr. Matthew — Thank you for a more reasoned response to Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out and the current conversation around trans* identities than I have seen on many Catholic sites. Your insight that there may be trans* people in our faith communities where we minister, especially youth who are more vulnerable, is nearly absent from non-progressive Catholic spaces.
That said, I have to contest your proposition that gender transitions come from psychological hurt. I work closely with the LGBT Catholic community and have come to understand that these transitions, or simply presenting as one’s authentic gender identity, are holy paths and part of trans* folks road to saintliness. It is one of the processes by which they become their truest self, the person to which God is calling them to become. I recently wrote about this in a blog post and would add my invitation in the post to you if you’d like to learn more about gender identity: https://newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/11/caitlyn-jenner-the-archbishop-fr-barron-and-me/
Caitlyn Jenner and other trans* people have prompted a graced moment for all of us to learn more about gender identity and, for ministers, the particular pastoral care implications that trans* folks provide — and the gifts they offer our faith communities! Let us all pray we may grow in love as we seek greater understanding.
Thank you for landing on love’s side in your June 2, 2015 response (“I’ve been invited to attend a gay wedding. Should I go?“) to a question about attending same-sex marriages. Your nuanced evaluation of the situation, ending in a conscience decision, is greatly appreciated.
One question is whether it is fair to characterize a vowed religious’ participation, even leadership, in such a ceremony as “defiance of Rome” and as “open rebellion”?
Such religious – sisters and priests – would understand that the hierarchy of truths mean certain teachings trump others and, if they performed such a ceremony, it would likely be because they appeal to a higher doctrine superseding the lower level teaching on what constitutes marriage (which is a not irreformable teaching of the church). These could be the higher teachings about the nature of the sacraments or social justice, as only two examples.
Doctrine and love cannot be pitted against each other and choosing between them is a false choice. In essence, they would be acting in fidelity to the Church’s traditions and to their vows to care for the People of God.
Should not their conscience rights have a place in the example you have proposed?
Should not these religious be free to choose in Christ and through fidelity to the church the path of equality for all people?
Perhaps a clarification added to the post would be helpful. Thank you for your time.
I don’t have much time to blog here, as I’m writing regularly on Catholic LGBT issues at Bondings 2.0, the blog of New Ways Ministry. However, I’m starting a ‘Morning Prayer’ series of excerpts, articles, stories, images, etc. which inspire prayer through my engagement with them. These will be the moments where I’m praying with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other as Karl Barth is rumored to have said. As these are spontaneous, the series will be occasional and act primarily as an archive. I may not comment at all, but where I do it will be limited. I share with the hope others may pray through these items with me and our world.
From The Guardian’s series of pieces on the Guantánamo Diary…may God have mercy on these victims of US torture and abuse, on those who tortured who are themselves victims of US militarism, and on our nation for all this to happen and continue.
I started to recite the Koran quietly, for prayer was forbidden. Once ________ said, “Why don’t you pray? Go ahead and pray!” I was like, How friendly! But as soon as I started to pray, ____ started to make fun of my religion, and so I settled for praying in my heart so I didn’t give ____ the opportunity to commit blasphemy. Making fun of somebody else’s religion is one of the most barbaric acts. President Bush described his holy war against the so-called terrorism as a war between the civilized and barbaric world. But his government committed more barbaric acts than the terrorists themselves. I can name tons of war crimes that Bush’s government is involved in.
This particular day was one of the roughest days in my inter- rogation before the day around the end of August that was my “Birthday Party” as _______ called it. _______ brought someone who was apparently a Marine; he wore a ________.
_______ offered me a metal chair. “I told you, I’m gonna bring some people to help me interrogate you,” _______ said, sitting inches away in front of me. The guest sat almost sticking on my knee. _______ started to ask me some questions I don’t remember.
“Yes or no?” the guest shouted, loud beyond belief, in a show to scare me, and maybe to impress _______, who knows? I found his method very childish and silly.
I looked at him, smiled, and said, “Neither!” The guest threw the chair from beneath me violently. I fell on the chains. Oh, it hurt.
“Stand up, motherfucker,” they both shouted, almost synchronous. Then a session of torture and humiliation started. They started to ask me the questions again after they made me stand up, but it was too late, because I told them a million times, “Whenever you start to torture me, I’m not gonna say a single word.” And that was always accurate; for the rest of the day, they exclusively talked.
_______ turned the air conditioner all the way down to bring me to freezing. This method had been practiced in the camp at least since August 2002. I had seen people who were exposed to the frozen room day after day; by then, the list was long. The consequences of the cold room are devastating, such as ______tism, but they show up only at a later age because it takes time until they work their way through the bones. The torture squad was so well trained that they were performing almost perfect crimes, avoiding leaving any obvious evidence. Nothing was left to chance. They hit in predefined places. They practiced horrible methods, the aftermath of which would only manifest later. The interrogators turned the A/C all the way down trying to reach 0°, but obviously air conditioners are not designed to kill, so in the well insulated room the A/C fought its way to 49°F, which, if you are interested in math like me, is 9.4°C—in other words, very, very cold, especially for some- body who had to stay in it more than twelve hours, had no underwear and just a very thin uniform, and who comes from a hot country. Somebody from Saudi Arabia cannot take as much cold as somebody from Sweden; and vice versa, when it comes to hot weather. Interrogators took these factors in con- sideration and used them effectively.
You may ask, Where were the interrogators after installing the detainee in the frozen room? Actually, it’s a good question. First, the interrogators didn’t stay in the room; they would just come for the humiliation, degradation, discouragement, or other factor of torture, and after that they left the room and went to the monitoring room next door. Second, interrogators were adequately dressed; for instance ______ was dressed like somebody entering a meat locker. In spite of that, they didn’t stay long with the detainee. Third, there’s a big psychological difference when you are exposed to a cold place for purpose of torture, and when you just go there for fun and a challenge. And lastly, the interrogators kept moving in the room, which meant blood circulation, which meant keeping themselves warm while the detainee was _________ the whole time to the floor, standing for the most part. All I could do was move my feet and rub my hands. But the Marine guy stopped me from rubbing my hands by ordering a special chain that shackled my hands on my opposite hips. When I get nervous I always start to rub my hands together and write on my body, and that drove my interrogators crazy.
“What are you writing?” ___________ shouted. “Either you tell me or you stop the fuck doing that.” But I couldn’t stop; it was unintentional. The Marine guy started to throw chairs around, hit me with his forehead, and describe me with all kinds of adjectives I didn’t deserve, for no reason.
“You joined the wrong team, boy. You fought for a lost cause,” he said, alongside a bunch of trash talk degrading my family, my religion, and myself, not to mention all kinds of threats against my family to pay for “my crimes,” which goes against any common sense.
I knew that he had no power, butI knew that he was speaking on behalf of the most powerful country in the world, and obviously enjoyed the full support of his government. However, I would rather save you, Dear Reader, from quoting his garbage. The guy was nuts. He asked me about things I have no clue about, and names I never heard.
“I have been in __________,” he said, “and do you know who was our host? The President! We had a good time in the palace.” The Marine guy asked questions and answered them himself.*Larry Siems: how the manuscript became a book
When the man failed to impress me with all the talk and humiliation, and with the threat to arrest my family since the ______________ was an obedient servant of the U.S., he started to hurt me more. He brought ice-cold water and soaked me all over my body, with my clothes still on me. It was so awful; I kept shaking like a Parkinson’s patient. Technically I wasn’t able to talk anymore. The guy was stupid: he was literally executing me but in a slow way. _______ gestured to him to stop pouring water on me. Another detainee had told me a “good” interrogator suggested he eat in order to reduce the pain, but I refused to eat anything; I couldn’t open my mouth anyway.
The guy was very hot when _______ stopped him because ____ was afraid of the paperwork that would result in case of my death. So he found another technique, namely he brought a CD player with a booster and started to play some rap music. I didn’t really mind the music because it made me forget my pain. Actually, the music was a blessing in disguise; I was trying to make sense of the words. All I understood was that the music was about love. Can you believe it? Love! All I had experienced lately was hatred, or the consequences thereof.
“Listen to that, Motherfucker!” said the guest, while closing the door violently behind him. “You’re gonna get the same shit day after day, and guess what? It’s getting worse. What you’re seeing is only the beginning,” said _______. I kept praying and ignoring what they were doing.
“Oh, ALLAH help me…..Oh Allah have mercy on me” ____ kept mimicking my prayers, “ALLAH, ALLAH…. There is no Allah. He let you down!” I smiled at how ignorant ____ was, talking about the Lord like that. But the Lord is very patient, and doesn’t need to rush to punishment, because there is no escaping him.
Redactions marked in the text were made by the US government when Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s diary was cleared for public release
UPDATE (11/30/14): O’Malley writes in The Pilot about his interview. His comment, in full:
“A topic also of significant concern in the Church that was addressed during the interview is the discussion concerning the ordination of women to the priesthood. This is particularly painful to many Catholic women who feel that the teaching on women’s ordination is a rejection and unfair.
“Throughout history, many wonderful Catholic women have wished to be priests, among them St. Therese, the Little Flower. In my comments I was trying to communicate that women are often holier, smarter and more hard-working than men, and that the most important member of the Church is a woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Church is called to be faithful to Christ’s will, and that is not always easy or popular. Understanding the Church’s teaching is always a process that begins with faith.”
Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley spoke with 60 Minutes over the weekend, making headlines for several remarks. Many applauded his criticism of convicted felon and bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph Robert Finn, while O’Malley’s comments on women’s ordination received harsh criticism. He told Norah O’Donnell:
“If I were founding a church, you know, I’d love to have women priests. But Christ founded it and it — what he has given us is — is something different.”
I don’t have the time to adequately explore his comments, but I want to offer two initial thoughts for why the cardinal’s remarks might not be as negative as it has been portrayed.
First, for a cardinal to say he would “love to have women priests” on this most controversial and closed of issues is noteworthy. Where else in recent years has a member of the hierarchy (and close papal confidant) spoken so positively about the concept of ordained women? What about women’s place in ecclesiastical structures at all? O’Malley readily affirmed in the interview that it is women who are, indeed, leading the church’s efforts in education, pastoral, and social justice.
I’m not the first to point out that even Pope Francis who is doing good work in reforming the church elsewhere has a most notable blind spot when it comes to gender justice — and he is hardly alone. Under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, advocating for women’s equality was among the worst crimes (quite literally in canon law when ordination was compared to the abuse of a child). Every time a woman is ordained, she is excommunicated we’re told and many in the church have suffered, like Roy Bourgeois, for speaking truth to power on this specific issue.
In that context, is it not actually quite radical for one of the most powerful Catholic leaders in the world to say he would “love women priests,” even if it is not possible?
Second, O’Malley needs to revisit his church history. Any claims that Jesus instituted the church or gave the community specific structure are quite problematic. Jesus did not ordain women because he did not ordain anyone. Ordination and the hierarchical structuring of ministry we know today (never mind that ontological change bit, which is another post…essay…book) only developed in the third and fourth centuries. To suggest Jesus gave the church anything institutional without conceding the cultural-social-political realities which formed Christian ministry is not quite honest, as powerful as the narrative may be.
O’Malley is an intelligent and educated prelate. Is his own blind spot church history? Or is he intending something else with what is, in my reading, a fairly weak and understated defense of the hierarchy’s exclusion of women from their rightful place at the altar?
Because what Jesus did give us is the Gospel message, and in this message is all we need to know about women’s place in the church: that women repeatedly understand the Reign of God far better than the men, that a Samaritan woman is the proto-disciple and first witness to Jesus as the Christ, that Jesus’ prohibition of divorce was a critique of patriarchy, that Mary Magdalene first announces the Resurrection, that justice and equality for all is a mandate for our world, and that in Christ gender is irrelevant for all are one.
O’Malley, like most in the church’s hierarchy, is constrained by institutional strictures that curtail (and really, silence) prophecy. I’m not defending what is, in many ways, a lack of courage to preach the Gospel in its fullness. But O’Malley is doing more good than most bishops. He has rehabilitated the Catholic Church in Massachusetts amid the sexual abuse crisis, adding his voice to statewide efforts raising the minimum wage and opposing casino expansions recently. Nationally, he successfully calls attention to the immigration crisis in the US and told me in a conversation the firing of LGBT church workers “needs to be rectified.” Repeatedly at the USCCB, he has championed a more expansive view for anti-abortion advocacy and now appears to be unafraid to call out a fellow bishop who deeply failed the people of Kansas City. Perhaps most importantly, he is the American voice that Pope Francis apparently hears most.
None of this justifies the exclusion of women from all the church’s ministries, as his comments suggest at first glance. But what if O’Malley is playing a longer game? What if he is beginning to plant seeds for us to cultivate and nurture that will eventually lead to women’s ordination?
For better or worse, development in the church is a slow process — and I think advocates for women’s equality have at least a non-enemy, if not an ally in Sean O’Malley.
For a report on the interview, check out Joshua McElwee’s piece at NCR.
UPDATE: Other commentaries on O’Malley’s remarks….
Ken Briggs at NCR: “O’Malley and Muzzled Candor”
Thomas Fox at NCR: “The Good Cardinal’s Revealing Interview“
Dear Pope Francis,
From an early age, I’ve known of my call. My parents tell me that attending Mass calmed me as a young child, when I wasn’t running to the altar to participate that is. I became an altar server at 10 and served through my college years as frequently as possible. By high school I was coordinating liturgies, large and small, at my local parish and engaged in several other ministries, sometimes as the youngest person by decades. The church was a second home and a safe space, able to calm me through my hardest moments of adolescence. In a word, being around the parish and being among the people was ‘natural.’
At 13, a priest asked me if priesthood was a life that might interest me given my involvement in the life of our parish, and the life of the People of God. I’ve seriously discerned this question, is God calling me to ordination, for more than a decade. Over time, my yearning to lead people in our liturgies or be present to them in life’s most profound, daily moments of suffering and celebration grew. Throughout college, each moment of reflection, each liturgy, each protest for justice, and each tender encounter with another person was a coal added to this fire burning within me. I received a degree with honors in theology from The Catholic University of America as a first step to making my desire to minister a reality.
I wanted to answer God’s call. I wanted to say ‘yes’ to being a priest. I wanted, more than anything, to try and explain to those on the margins the immense love of God that I have long known. I wanted to do all this as a priest.
And yet, I could never say ‘yes.’ The more secure this call became, the more I sensed I could never answer it. It is the most painful struggle I’ve known, for while being in ministerial leadership is natural to me and noted by many, I cannot enter the priesthood. I could not discover the obstacle to my entering seminary at first, for I had both the right equipment and was attracted to the right gender according to institutional guidelines.
Now, the obstacle is clear: the Catholic Church institutionally refuses to recognize in full the dignity of every person, especially women.
For the last few years, I have ministered on the Church’s margins among the gay and transgender community and spent many hours speaking with people about the necessary renewal our Church needs. At one such conference, I found myself at a table with seven women discussing how the Church can uproot the current power dynamics structured against women. Three of the seven shared their experiences of feeling called to ordained ministry and priesthood. In their stories, I saw my own journey of discernment and it became clear that I could not, in good conscience, become ordained while so many were denied access to serve in ministry due to their gender or sexual orientation.
As it was well known I was considering priesthood, I’ve spent a good deal of time at vocation events and speaking with vocation directors. The key point always stressed was the increasing shortage of priests our Church is facing. Relatedly, a wise friend of mine, an older woman as so many of my mentors and spiritual companions have been, once told me that the Church must die before it can rise to new life. Pope Francis, I believe the Church’s current priesthood is dying by the persistent failure of our leaders to welcome more fully all those God is calling to ordained ministry and spiritual leadership. Help raise it into new, renewed life and open up priestly ministry to all God’s people!
Yet, the priest shortage is not the main reason to ordain women. As the Body of Christ, we need each person’s contributions to most fully incarnate God’s kingdom. Denying women their divinely ordained place in our churches harms the Church’s much needed voice against the many injustices which disproportionately harm women, and to which women are often the most capable agents for social change. There are so many people who know they are called by God to lead our Church in renewal and into its finest age as a mediator of God’s love and grace for all. Without all and by denying some, we as the Church, in so many ways, severely wounded in our consistent defense of life and dignity.
Lastly, in perpetuating an exclusionary vision of ministry, the Church commits a sin of its own making by denying women their full dignity. The Church perpetuates the sin of sexism that it has condemned in many other contexts. This sin’s structural occupation of our community causes the personal corruption of too many Catholics’ understandings about God, Christian anthropology, ecclesiology, etc. Ordaining women and restoring them to rightful positions of leadership, for they were the ones who remained at the Cross while Jesus lay dying and the men fled, is a necessary action by which the Church can begin to truly undermine sexism in our religious community and in our world.
Pope Francis: I implore you to end the prohibitions against women’s ministry, ordained and otherwise, in our Church. Until that moment when all are welcomed to the Church as the person God created them to be and able to minister in the manner in which God calls them, I refuse to leave the Church’s margins for ordination.
In Christ’s peace,
I’ve recently begun the book Jesus: A Historical Approximation by Spanish priest Jose Pagola. In it, Pagola examines Jesus’ life through different lenses, starting with “A Galilean Jew.” This first chapter lays out the Galilean context in which Jesus grew up and ministered. When read in light of my contemporary world, there are striking comparisons to be drawn between 1st century Galilee and 21st century America.
In 1st century Galilee, nearly 90% of people were peasants farming the incredibly fertile lands or fishing in the Sea nearby. Land ownership in such an agrarian society is the central question, and in Galilee most belonged to wealthy landowners. Pagola describes further:
“These large landerowners usually lived in the cities, rented out their lands to peasants in the area, and supervised them through administrators acting in their name. The leases were almost always very burdensome for the peasants. The owner demanded half or a significant portion of their production, which varied according to the results of the harvest…There are signs that in Jesus’ time, these large landowners were expanding their hldings with new lands from debt-ridden families, and coming to control a good part of Lower Galilee.”
Those farmers who owned their land desperately defended it. Indigent day laborers wandering for work became common. The producing majority provided for the ruling minority, with less and less in return to meet their own family’s needs. Through tributes, taxes, fees, and corruption hefty portions of any harvest disappeared to Rome, Jerusalem, and regional capitals — between a third and half of a given family’s production.
Debt loomed large as an inevitable result of even the most aggressive defenses against such collections, including a turn to monoculture for the most profitable crops. Pagola writes that “The Galilee Jesus knew was trapped in debt.” Losing one’s land meant losing a means of income, and many people turned to itinerancy, slavery, begging, and prostitution, or crime, which all rose in Jesus’ time.
The hallmark of Jesus’ Galilee was this massive (and growing) inequality between the peasants and the urban elite, composed of civil, economic, and religious leaders made rich by a brutal combination of exploiting the poor and violent oppression. Two new cities appeared in Galilee further straining the peasants as elites grew their wealth and prestige by appropriating more and more of the surrounding harvests. Courts ruled for the elites routinely when land foreclosures increased.
Pagola notes of all this that “…this economic organization did not promote the common good of the country, but favored the growing well-being of the elites.”
You can see how Jesus ministered in a Galilean context similar to America today: economic inequality grows due to unjust policies set out by a ruling elite with little regard for the common good.
While not an agrarian society, recent decades have seen an increase in worker productivity for America’s industries not met with a commensurate rise in income. Wages remain stagnant, salaries low, and purchasing power dropping. Predatory lending and unaffordable higher education that is necessary for careers today has led to exorbitant debt for most Americans. Home foreclosures are similar to the land confiscations of Galilee, casting families into itinerancy and instability. Job losses and unemployment from an economy serving profit and not the common good compound all this.
Yet, for the top earners in America there are few problems. They have benefited from the economic system which favors unbelievable profits from risky investment practices while denying mothers the most basic food assistance for their hungry children.
What Pagola wrote of early 1st century Galilee, that”…this economic organization did not promote the common good of the country, but favored the growing well-being of the elites” is similarly true of America today.
This is why Jesus message can be so powerfully proclaimed today: his ministry condemns the same excess and trends, while holding up the same people who have been marginalized and cast out. I find it helpful to quote Pagola at length here:
“Jesus’ activity in the Galilean villages and his message of the reign of God amounted to a strong critique of this state of affairs. His firm defense of the indigent and hungry, his preferential embrace of the least in that society, and his condemnation of the sumptuous life of the urban rich, were a public challenge to the socio-political program of Antipas [the ruler of Galilee]…his calls to have compassion on those who suffer and forgive their debts; and many other sayings can help us understand even today how Jesus shared the suffering of his people and how passionately he sought a new, more just and loving, world in which God would reign as Father of all.”
Having just returned from the Holy Land, the beauty of the Galilee is fresh in my mind. It is a land of unparalleled vegetation where Scriptures words of ‘a land of milk and honey’ comes vividly to life. Yet, when I meditated on all of this after reading Pagola’s chapter what came to mind was Jesus ministering in America. There is the Son of God walking down Wall Street casting out the investment bankers and perusing Congress’ halls questioning why Republicans cut food stamps. There is Jesus healing the many homeless people I pass by while walking through DC and railing outside the Treasury building against anti-Gospel policies.
Why do we make the message so distant, as if 1st century Galilee and 21st century America are more different than they are similar. Sure, 2,000 years and host of cultural nuances separate my world from Jesus’ world — but the humanity in it all remains a constant thread. The inclination to narcissism and greed, apathy and indifference, fear and isolationism.
Most pointedly in the meditation, there is Jesus sitting across the table from me, staring as he asks why I continue to obfuscate Scripture’s message to justify my own unjust excesses.
Dawn Eden and I met unexpectedly. For a free burrito, I had agreed to attend her talk sponsored by a friend’s organization. As someone who works professionally for gay and transgender justice in the Catholic Church, I never expect much from these lectures besides the dinner. Eden’s talk surprised me.
In fact, it surprised me enough that after a conversation with her I ended up reading My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.
Eden’s work is authentic and raw, able to provide necessary detail establishing her experiences with childhood abuse while foregoing an unhealthy indulgence into one’s past.This is not a salient tell-all, nor is it strictly an academic work. In weaving her story amid the tapestry of saints and confronting challenging issues, Eden writes a book encompassing more than can be strictly categorized. My Peace I Give You is a spiritual autobiography, a theological text, but primarily it is a narrative of God’s love, applicable for all who read it.
My Peace I Give You emerges from Eden’s own faith perspective, employing traditional devotions and the hierarchy’s documents in framing discussions. Readers with affection for the Sacred Heart of Jesus or saintly relics will likely find added benefits in the work than more progressive Catholics might. The theology is high quality, but stunted for those looking to expand beyond scholastic formulations. That said, there is nothing stale in Eden’s engagement of faith as she portrays devotions in new ways and saints in new lights.
Aside from her own story’s power, Eden masterfully exposes the saints’ lives in her exploration of suffering and abuse, healing and reconciliation. Well-known figures like Ignatius of Loyola and Thomas Aquinas are given fresh perspectives, while lesser-known saints like Karolina Kozka are highlighted. It is evident that Eden has not only researched, but also prayerfully engaged the witness of each person about which she writes.
However, this more traditional approach lends itself to problems for readers like myself. Use of male language for God is a stumbling point, but more problematic is Eden’s use of purity and virginity concepts that I reject outright. Other questions I have about Eden’s presented theodicy or the value of redemptive suffering linger with me. I criticize her use of the term “transvestite” and choice to offer a dangerously anti-gay ministry in the resources section.
Yet, it is evident in the book – and when I heard Eden speak – that she is an uncompromising advocate for women and for victims of sexual violence. These quibbles I have are not fatal flaws for the book, or I would not have been able to write a review. Eden is correct where it most matters – God’s love is at the core of our lives, forgiveness properly understood can liberate us, and a relationship with Christ among the saints is what must sustain us.
I cannot say how others with more knowledge and experience about childhood sexual abuse might respond. I offer my comments as a Catholic invited to read this book who finished impressed with what Eden has produced. I admire how she strove not to answer every question the reader might have or write a perfected treatise. She opened her own brokenness to the reader, and from this wound shared wisdom with doses of devotion and theology intermixed.
Though Eden cites Fr. Daniel Lord of The Queen’s Work fame in the opening, it is another 20th century saint that came to my mind. Henri Nouwen was himself an author who wrote from his own woundedness, and this insight from him seems most apt for Eden today:
“I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.”
My Peace I Give You is an offering from Dawn Eden of her vulnerable self, that most powerful gift in our modern world, and as such the book contains lessons for every Catholic. Whether they themselves are a victim of childhood abuse, love someone victimized by sexual violence, or simply seek to learn more about these topics which have ravaged the Catholic Church and many in our world this book will offer wisdom for our common journey in Christ.
I tire of a particular argument that has emerged when gun violence happens: if we can’t act on guns, let’s focus on mental health. Once again, those of us with mental illness are appropriated for society’s catharsis — except this time, mental health advocacy groups like the National Alliance for Mental Illness have taken the bait.
How does this myth even emerge?
Pinning mental illness to those who commit mass shootings and other horrific crimes is commonplace in the US today. The stigma surrounding bipolar disorder and other ills remains extremely high, and it assuages communal fears that only a ‘crazy’ person would kill innocent shoppers or gun down a classroom of first graders. It isn’t our neighbor or co-worker (or ourselves) because they’re not mentally ill; they’re ‘normal,’ ignoring the reality that so many are or will at some point struggle with their mental health. You can see why mental illness is so readily tied to gun violence by the media, society, politicians, you name it.
And yet, the problem remains the guns.
These deadly weapons allow a single person to take out that classroom of first graders or the moviegoers or the innocent bystander or the police officer or the…or the…or the… Without the guns, the lethal capacity of an individual is greatly reduced. Sure there are other deadly weapons we hear pro-gun people say, but it’s much harder to create as much carnage in so short a time as these shootings happen with knife or baseball bat. Admittedly, some who commit violent acts have histories of mental illness, but acting upon their illness in destructive manners again becomes much harder without free-flowing weapons floating about.
Addressing mental health in the gun violence debate is merely ducking the real issue. It shouldn’t take mass murder for our society to provide affordable, accessible, high-quality psychiatric and therapeutic care for those, like myself, suffering from mental illness. That should be a reality already, gun violence or not.
So, if we’re going to address the epidemic of gun violence, let’s address the problem: guns. It’s not video games or a violent culture, it’s not mental health support or unsecured schools (what a term in the first place). These are aggravating factors, but they’re not the problem. It is guns and until we fix the gun violence issue in America, 30 or so people will be killed each and every day.
Do we really want to keep talking about mental health and all these other tangential side notes until it is our loved one or ourself gunned down while we simply go about our lives?
September 11, 2001: 19 terrorists kill 3,000 people triggering the ‘War on Terror’ with multi-trillion dollar wars leading to more than a million deaths, mass government re-organization, the use of torture and drones, and inane civil liberties curtailments and outright racist policies enshrined into law to defend against terrorism.
Today: Guns kill Americans in droves, day in and day out like the sun rises each morning. Terror is ever present for too many in simple acts of going to school, enjoying a movie, or just walking a city street. Trauma lingers for the thousands left wounded and without loved ones; these are lifelong scars. There’s been no response besides empty expressions of sadness. Everyone prays, but few move their feet to stop the hemorrhaging of our fellow human beings at the hands of these terrorists: those wielding guns.
Yet, even universal background checks or limiting the sale of military-grade weapons is too much for those who worship not God, but the holy Gun. Those who support gun rights without restriction make daily offerings to the Gun on the altar of the misunderstood, and deliberately misrepresented, Second Amendment. They want Americans to accept that gun violence is standard and the cost of ‘freedom,’ but what is freedom when thousands of children won’t live to graduate school and grow into adulthood.
Today’s shooting at the Columbia Mall in Howard County, Maryland keeps up America’s streak for 2014; a half-dozen school shootings so far and gun violence everywhere else we work and live. 30,000+ people are victims of gun violence every year, repeating the September 11th terrorist attacks ten times annually ad infinitum until something changes.
To be clear, September 11th was an awful day and one which demanded a response, even if we can’t all agree on how best to respond. Why though, does this true terrorism of gun violence at foot in America persist unimpeded by even the simplest efforts to stop 30,000+ deaths each year?