I Always Feel Like, Somebody's Watching Me

I live in Columbus, Ohio, and so the big controversy around here in the Catholic world of late was the firing of Carla Hale.  Hale had been a teacher at Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus for 19 years prior to her termination.  In March of this year, Hale's mother died, and the obituary mentioned that Hale was in a partnered relationship with another woman.  The parent of a Bishop Watterson student saw the obituary in the local paper and wrote and anonymous letter to the Diocese of Columbus informing them that Hale was in a gay relationship.  On March 28, Holy Thursday, Bishop Watterson fired Hale.  The matter has since settled out of court, but a condition of that settlement is that Hale will not be teaching at Bishop Watterson.

Consider also the case of Lennon Cihak.   Last November, Cihak, 17, was parishoner at Assumption Catholic Church in Barnesville, Minnesota, along with his parents. Cihak was in parish's Confirmation class, scheduled to be Confirmed some time during the 2012-13 school year.  That is, until he was told he could no longer be part of the Confirmation class, due to the fact that Cihak posted a picture(see left) on Facebook expressing his opposition to the at the time pending amendment to the Minnesota constitution which would ban gay marriage. Apparently, Fr. Gary LaMoine, the pastor of Assumption, discovered this photo while searching through Cihak's Facebook page.  Cihak was told that he was no longer eligible to be Confirmed unless he publicly repented.  His parents were also excluded from Communion.

While I certainly don't agree with either decision by the Church, I don't think the final outcome of both cases is that noteworthy.
At the end of the day, the Catholic Church is allowed to decide who it will and will not Confirm.  With regard to Hale, things are a little murkier, but private institutions can impose morals clauses on their employees, and Hale evidently signed such an agreement.  It may be a raw deal, and it may be unwise, but it is not improper.

Far more interesting to me is how Church authorities found out about Hale and Cihak.  Hale was, in essence, ratted out by an anonymous informer.  Cihak, evidently, was discovered via Facebook stalking by the pastor and his secretary.  Either way, the lesson for anyone who wants to continue to be a Catholic while holding some unapproved views is that one must actively police one's own media presence, less you get turned in by someone who is watching out for divergent opinions.

I don't think I am going out on much of a limb to say that if parishoners feel as if they have to watch anything they do and say in order to maintain good standing in the Church, then Catholic life will rapidly turn very toxic.  Anyone who has been a part of life in a parish (or any congregation, or any other kind of organization for that matter) knows that busy-bodies and gossips are just part of the deal.  If someone tells someone who tells one of these would-be informers about your Facebook page, or Twitter feed, or any casual conversation you've had, it makes it hard to form an actual community.  You will spend all of your time worrying about who is watching you.

To be fair, I don't actually think that Catholicism will turn into East Germany.  But the reason I don't think it will happen is because I don't think people will put up with it.  They will just walk.  There is a reason that "McCarthyism" is still a term that has resonance in America 60 years after Joe McCarthy was in the Senate.  The idea that you will be punished for what you say, or for your beliefs, runs counter to a core principle of being an American.  That's not how things are supposed to work in this country.  If you try to impose a "watch what you say" regime on a large mass of Americans, but yet give them an opportunity to walk away, I believe they will walk away.

Catholicism cannot afford to go down this road.  No one wants to be a part of a religion that acts as a Thought Police.  And they won't


James the Greater said…
Except Senator McCarthy was correct; the Soviets were actively infiltrating most aspects of american life. See the Venona Project. Please stop further tarnishing the reputation of a great American who has been so unfairly pilloried by the liberal (read- communist) media.


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