Citing conflict with Church teaching, the local Catholic Diocese has for the second time in six months rescinded an invitation—made by one of it own Catholic clergy members—to a local interfaith group to meet in one of its churches.
Father Patrick Kibby invited a group hosting a four-week discussion about the intersection of religion and politics, jointly sponsored by the Interfaith Alliance of Middle Tennessee and the Tennessee Alliance for Progress, to use facilities at the Cathedral of the Incarnation for this week’s meeting. Instead, the group—whose series is titled “Doing Justly: Integrating Our Deepest Spiritual Beliefs Into Our Professional Lives”—received word late last week that Diocesan Bishop David Choby objected to the positions of the Interfaith Alliance on abortion and same-sex marriage and that, therefore, the group would not be allowed to gather on church grounds. It will meet instead at Belmont United Methodist Church.
The Diocese doesn’t dispute that characterization of the situation and appears more than happy to sit out this citywide discussion among religious people of various backgrounds.
“We encourage people to rely on their faith as they play an active role as citizens in our society,” Diocese communications director Rick Musacchio says in a statement issued to the Scene. “However, serious confusion is likely to arise in the minds of many when political groups hold events on church grounds. We have asked the sponsors…to find another venue for their event after it became clear that one of the primary sponsors is an avowedly political group endorsing many positions that are in conflict with Catholic teaching.” When asked which sponsor the Diocese considers “avowedly political,” Musacchio cites the Interfaith Alliance, a diverse group with members of many faiths and whose local members include several Catholic priests.
Rev. Dan Rosemergy, board chairman of the Interfaith Alliance and an eternal optimist, tells the Scene he’s aware of Choby’s reasons for changing the venue and has scheduled a meeting with him this week to discuss the situation. He feels reasonably hopeful that Choby will come around.
“Our goal is to simply respect differing religious perspectives, and we believe that no one perspective or position should be imposed on the entire faith community, let alone society,” Rosemergy says of the alliance. He says the meeting will be “an attempt to clarify whatever his impressions are” of the Interfaith Alliance. “One would like to be able to come to the table with people of differing positions. If we’re not going to welcome people who disagree with us, you never can have the kind of growth as a society in celebration of our diversity. I will be deeply disappointed if he does not change his position.”
Sadly, the shrinking tent mentality within the Diocese isn’t an isolated occurrence. Back in May, Father James Mallett of Christ the King Church was forced to deliver the news to published theologian Dan Maguire that he would not be welcome after all to speak at his parish about justice and the poor. A group of local Catholics invited the Marquette University instructor here, only to see Bishop Choby weigh in against the plans, putting the priest in an embarrassing situation and forcing the group to find an alternative location.
“I am unfamiliar with most of your work, but I did not hesitate to agree to host the event,” Mallett wrote in an email to Maguire at the time. “I am also quite familiar with a number of the group…who invited you. I am at a total loss to explain the tide of vitriol and stupidity that has followed in the wake of our publicity of this event.” (See “All About Pelvic Orthodoxy,” May 25.)
Viewing the speaking engagement as hostile fire upon its narrow orthodoxy, Bishop Choby himself criticized Maguire in the diocesan newspaper, the Tennessee Register, for Maguire’s “extensive published record of positions which stand in clear opposition to teachings on the sanctity of life.” Maguire had not planned to, nor did he, speak about abortion when he visited the Nashville group.
What’s disturbing here is that, once again, the Catholic Diocese is on the record as being unsupportive and unwelcoming of those who may hold different views. This time, it has marginalized not only one of its own—Father Kibby—but also those attending the “Doing Justly” meetings, which the group characterizes as “a dialogue on the interface of spirituality, politics, economics and the environment from the progressive and prophetic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam…to be held at four different places of worship.”
It doesn’t sound like such a blasphemous group to us. Meanwhile, gone is yet another golden opportunity to create goodwill in a community where the Catholic Diocese could definitely use some.