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Catholic Identity Politics: A Priest Replies

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newsfisher.jpgMonsignor David Gallivan of Holy Cross Church responds to Bruce Fisher’s essay in last week’s AV about Obama, Reverend Wright and the Catholic identity politics that are exploited by these conversations about race in America. An excerpt:

Many of us, in spite of personal feelings, have endured silently and even participated in family conversations at dinners, picnics and birthdays in which people of any race, gender, sexual orientation or color not our own, have been ridiculed, insulted, accused or joked about. We have endured this or participated in it for years and generations among parents, grandparents, siblings, neighbors, work mates, etc. and others whom we love…

Read the whole text of Monsignor Gallivan’s response after the jump.


March 30, 2007
THOUGHTS WHILE PASTORING

Tomorrow I will escape to a distant shore, so I can risk sticking my head
out on a current matter that is consuming my patience. Barack Obama has
been severely criticized for his silence in the face of outlandish
statements by his pastor. When we gave away 400 winter coats to poor people
2 years ago, one of the recipients confided that her pastor ordered his
people from the pulpit to not enter a Catholic church, even for a child’s
coat in winter. Later I asked a fellow pastor from the same denomination if
their clergy could wield that much control over people’s behavior and
beliefs. I want that power badly! By the way, the coats were all gone
within a half hour; most of the blessed recipients were of other faith
traditions and had disobeyed their shepherds. They aren’t that different
from us after all.

How many of us preachers have given our personal opinions, nonsense and
ideologies instead of gospel truth from the pulpit? Haven’t we all, from
popes down to lower clergy, at times promoted as truth what was later
proven to erroneous non-doctrinal opinions, nonsense or downright lies that
tickled the flock’s ears and made us popular? How often have church goers
gone home year after year without having heard a challenging message, one
that helped them to correct a glaring defect in their Christian behavior
and opinions of people and events?

Many of us, in spite of personal feelings, have endured silently and even
participated in family conversations at dinners, picnics and birthdays in
which people of any race, gender, sexual orientation or color not our own,
have been ridiculed, insulted, accused or joked about. We have endured this
or participated in it for years and generations among parents,
grandparents, siblings, neighbors, work mates, etc. and others whom we love
deeply because of the true goodness of the other parts of their lives. I
have been a racist all my life with preconceived ideas and prejudices.
After more than 45 years of seminary and priestly ministry among people of
more nationalities that I can count, I still find myself at times reacting
with unfair attribution of stereotypes, usually interiorly but not always.
Fortunately there have been a few people in my life who have called me on
it. Here’s an example. In ministering to the family of the victim of a
particularly gruesome murder, it seemed to me that the family should not
have carried on so extremely in their grief, given the frequency of such
crimes in their racial group and neighborhood. When the same thing happened
in my own family, it became clear to me that my racist reaction had been
stereotypical and sinful. I shared this with an apology to my widowed
parishioner and then I confessed it to a priest. When our parish youth go
on retreat or to a convention or play in a basketball league, others notice
their appearance and learn where they are from. The young people are
puzzled to be told “how nice” they are. At first they were flattered but
now react with these or similar words: “Why are they surprised that we’re
such good kids?”

God has blessed me with a ministry among people of most races and
nationalities. They have been colleagues, houseguests, hosts, roommates and
tablemates. No one who has not shared, at least occasionally, such normal
features of human interaction, can know whereof they speak when they
pontificate about “how they are.” Wouldn’t you think that after 45 years I
would be free of stereotypes about “different” people? I’m not. None can
honestly tell me they are. Tomorrow I will travel to Ireland for a cousin’s
wedding. It was the deep similarities between his rural family’s deep Irish
faith and values and those of my Peruvian parishioners and our Hispanic and
African newcomers that have all enlarged my life; I hope they will continue
to do so. I can measure the progress of Holy Cross Parish over 34 years. We
can be proud of ourselves even as we know how much more all of us – black,
brown and white – need to do.

Monsignor David Gallivan