An esteemed Hispanic theologian is the latest victim of the American Catholic Church’s apparent campaign to shame and marginalize LGBT people and silence the voices of those who support them.
The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports today that Christian Brothers University has withdrawn its support for the seventh annual Gerard A. Vanderhaar Symposium, a conference founded to honor a late CBU religion and peace studies professor by “bringing a noted scholar or peace activist each year to the Christian Brothers University campus to address social and moral issues related to peace and justice and/or Catholic social teaching.” Yesterday’s cancellation came just two weeks before scheduled start of the conference, forcing organizers to relocate to a nearby Congregational church.
CBU’s stated reason for the sudden move? This year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Ada María Isasi-Díaz, gave a sermon at her nephew’s 2009 wedding to his same-sex spouse in a Washington, D.C. Unitarian church.
Dr. Isasi-Díaz co-authored the first book on Latina theology in English and is widely recognized as a pioneer of mujerista theology, a spirituality developed through the lens of the American Latina experience. She is Professor Emerita of Christian Social Ethics and Theology at New Jersey’s Drew University and contributor to Newsweek and the Washington Post. Dr. Isasi-Díaz noted that although she’s had other speaking engagements at Catholic-affiliated institutions canceled at the last minute due to her outspoken support for women’s ordination, “…this is the first time I’ve been canceled because of the sermon at my nephew’s wedding.”
According to the article, Isasi-Díaz was selected as the Vanderhaar Symposium speaker by a committee that included Dr. Vanderhaar’s late wife and several members of the CBU faculty. The university administration issued a statement to the committee explaining that they decided not to host the conference because Dr. Isasi-Díaz’s views on marriage equality for same-sex couples “[diverge] from a basic Catholic teaching.” The Christian Brothers University Faculty Assembly responded angrily, passing a resolution yesterday afternoon which states,
“The Faculty Assembly respectfully asserts that the administration of this university does not hold proper authority to render judgments about an individual’s divergence or adherence to basic Catholic teachings. The decision to rescind the invitation to Dr. Isasi-Diaz to speak on our campus has a chilling effect on academic freedom at this university.”
If you’re feeling a little déjà vu, it’s because today’s revelations are only the latest in a string of high-profile salvos fired by the Catholic Church in its crusade against loving LGBT relationships. On Monday the nation learned about Barbara Johnson, a lesbian woman who was denied communion at her mother’s funeral in Maryland because she lives with her same-sex partner. And just two days later, we heard the awful story of Al Fischer, a popular and openly gay music teacher at a St. Louis-area Catholic school who was fired in February when an archdiocesan official overheard him talking with co-workers about his upcoming New York wedding to his same-sex partner of nearly 20 years. Fischer’s firing was fast-tracked last month when his partner posted the news on Facebook, but it was originally scheduled to take effect one week from today — on his wedding day.
And now the Catholic Church appears to have widened the scope of its anti-LGBT witch hunt, targeting a person whose only “crime” is that she had the temerity to publicly express love, support, and affirmation for a married same-sex couple. What were the horrible, evil, subversive words in Dr. Isasi-Díaz’s wedding sermon? Here are a few:
“This union celebrates the presence of God in our lives, a God who chooses to be present in the love this couple has for each other. This is why this is a religious ceremony: not because it is in a church but because it celebrates the essence of our God, love . . . This wedding is a celebration of justice, for that these two men can publicly celebrate their love, can get married today in this church in front of this joyful cloud of witnesses, is a moment of triumph in the long struggle for justice for LGBT people.”
Apparently, expressing the belief that God is present in the love of a married same-sex couple — and that such a marriage is cause for joyful celebration — defies the basic teachings of the Catholic Church to such a degree that it renders even widely respected theologians unfit to speak at Catholic-affiliated universities. It’s funny — the attempted silencing of Dr. Isasi-Díaz reminds me of another theologian who religious leaders tried to silence because they felt threatened by his radical beliefs about love…