The music of Dan Schutte, a composer of Catholic hymns, is a staple at Visitation Parish in the heart of Kansas City.
The man himself is less welcome. The renowned composer has been disinvited from a scheduled April 28 concert. That alone is shocking, as the lyrical, soothing tones of his work are heard in churches nationwide.
The reasons for his disinvitation differ depending on whom you wish to believe. According to Bishop James V. Johnston Jr., who made the decision, to the bitter disappointment of many parishioners, it’s a matter of paperwork and proper channels. Schutte, a former Jesuit priest, did not provide the sign-off (it’s called a letter of suitability) from his home diocese. Instead, he provided a letter from the Chancellor of the University of San Francisco, where he is the composer in residence.
Others believe, and it’s not a stretch to go there, that there’s a different reason behind Schutte’s disinvitation: He is the latest high-profile Catholic to be targeted by what can charitably be called homophobic Catholic trolls.
Recent hit pieces produced by Church Militant, a Detroit-area right-wing Catholic news site, have labeled Schutte an “active homosexual,” dishing out slams that his music is sappy and includes a “gay anthem” for LGBT Catholics.
Schutte doesn’t comment on his personal life, as is his right. It’s his ability to bring people closer to God through song, first honed as a member of the group The St. Louis Jesuits, that is his gift.
A Visitation parishioner, a supporter of Schutte, reiterated an old saying among the faithful: “Those who sing, pray twice.”
But the decision in Kansas City was elevated by Father James Martin, a popular Jesuit author and social media savant in his own right, who called the episode in a Facebook post “another triumph of hatred and homophobia in the Catholic Church.” He’s probably right, whether the bishop wants to see it that way or not.
Martin, too, has been the subject of this type of attack because he advocates for the Catholic Church to embrace gay and lesbian people of faith. He says he has been disinvited from appearances at various Catholic institutions after Church Militant followers badgered these hosts with phone calls and letters. In rescinding the invitations, some institutions have said they support Martin but want to avoid the controversy he’s generating.
What a spineless, un-Christian stand.
Martin’s book, “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity,” presses Catholics to have this very discussion. How will the faith, its conservative voices and its liberal ones, exist within a society that has thankfully largely moved beyond discriminating against gays and lesbians?
Indeed many parishes practice a form of don’t ask, don’t tell, lest they irk conservative parishioners.
It’s unfortunate that this controversy has landed at Visitation, greatly distressing many parishioners and the dedicated staff. They’ve asked for patience toward the bishop. And in statements, they have reiterated “our commitment to all the members of our community, including gay and lesbian people” — a stand, they stress, that is not disputed by the bishop.
The concert will move, probably to an Episcopal church nearby.
All of this recalls the memorable words of Pope Francis in 2013: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
That statement did not challenge doctrine, but it prompted Catholics to ponder their views more closely.
Oddly enough, Church Militant is run by a man with more than a passing interest in the subject of sexual orientation. Michael Voris, a former news reporter, has admitted that in his 30s, he “lived a life of live-in relationships with homosexual men.” He made this admission in a piece fraught with regret. He details the distress of his mother, and how she prayed that God would cause her suffering if it would bring her straight son back.
She was diagnosed with stomach cancer and died a few years later. And Voris “pledged at her coffin that I would change.”
So the man who is so dedicated to stirring scandal among fellow Catholics is calling out for their compassion as well. There’s a biblical lesson there, the very sort that this struggle with moral conscience asks of the faithful.