Editors' Note: Guest blogger Ned Flaherty was bred and born into a Catholic household, but the spell didn't take. He writes from Boston, Massachusetts, where he manages the Election 2012 project for Marriage Equality USA.
The increasingly arch bishop of New York recently left his house wearing a hot-pants-pink frock worthy of New Year's Eve, and clearly ready for the inevitable retirement of his reigning superior, and his own succession to the coveted throne. This tableau is not unlike those overly long, self-centered ceremonies in which a regional drag queen explains the process of passing her crown to the next Temptress Empress, who then shall reign until dethroned by some newer, younger hussy-in-waiting.
In last month's letter, signed as the "Most Reverend Timothy Dolan" (no one else can be any more reverend than he is), he decreed that he knows exactly what the supernatural laws are, what they say, and what they mean, and that he has "moral authority" over every mortal in his sales district, also called the New York bishopric (does that last word hint at two other words?).
Timothy Dolan (right) models his favorite frock, looking like either a cathedral dome decorated by Maybelline for Pride Week, or a Hostess Pink Snowball tarted up for the winter solstice.
Puffed up by what a nutritionist might call Morbidly Excessive Over-pious Wonder (MEOW), Dolan has issued an announcement justified by how close to supernatural he himself already is (compared to everyone else).
In it, Dolan decreed that no church employee may celebrate or participate at any same-sex wedding, or provide any facilities, accommodations, goods, privileges, or advantages for such a devil-dance.
So a sales clerk employed by the Perpetual Poverty Catholic Relic Shop is forbidden to pay honor at his own brother's same-sex wedding? This low-paid salesman is forbidden to donate the rental fee for the social hall, or buy flowers, or address invitations, or even attend? And a seamstress employed by the Star-of-the-Ocean Chicken-of-the-Sea Altar Boy Orphanage can't cook some food, or even throw rice at her best friend's same-sex wedding? Not white, brown, wild, or genetically modified rice? Not even converted, ex-gay, closeted, or mostly-celibate rice?
Nope. They can't. Dolan's orders.
His decree also stipulated that any place, once it has been used for any Catholic worship, may never be used for a same-sex wedding. The U.S. military spent millions of tax dollars building hundreds of non-denominational chapels all across the globe to provide a modicum of spiritual support to armed forces personnel who are risking their lives for their fellow countrymen. But Dolan decreed that all those chapels, merely because they've been already used for Catholic worship, are forever barred from hosting any same-sex wedding. And he's serious, despite his resemblance to an overinflated, festively colored beach ball (watch Beach Blanket Bingo, 1965, MGM/United Artists.)
Dolan even decreed that no clothing or books used in Catholic worship may ever be used in any same-sex wedding. He routinely dresses like Divine on a weekend bender at a Coney Island dive bar, but won't let anyone else compete?
I erupted in scared, sacred cooties just reading his edict, especially because of the penalty: Dolan sternly warns that anyone violating his supernaturally inspired decree risks "canonical sanction."
At first, canonical sanction sounds like it might mean internal organ failure ("her spleen initially shrank, then drastically shriveled, and ultimately underwent total canonical sanction, so there was no hope"). Or, it might be an obscure Jesuit literary form ("this semester, instead of iambic pentameter, your final exam essays will be written entirely in canonical sanction"). During the Middle Ages, it might have been some alchemical, papal rite ("the dying often need extreme unction, but start with a dose of canonical sanction and see what that does").
Alas, canonical sanction is none of those intriguing possibilities. Officials define it as "depriving the offending religious criminal of some good that is enjoyed only in the Church." Well, among all the "goods enjoyed in Church" (oh, my!) several spring to mind which, if denied, might constitute quite a penance, indeed.
And the duration of a canonical sanction punishment? Well, don't call Mother Church inflexible, because this sentence can run for any number of years. Or, it can be what the Church calls "Ad Nutum of the Superior" -- which sounds like another medical condition ("his previous Duke Nukem of the Posterior maliciously worsened into Ad Nutum of the Superior").
And don't underestimate the fact that this punishment can be administered "perpetually."
Unlike most state prisons, which offer time off for good behavior, and also unlike a mere life sentence, which would seem brief by comparison, perpetual canonical sanctions, like diamonds, are forever. So while dying may get you out of your diamonds, it'll never get you out of your sanctions. Picture this sad, sunset scene on a heavenly, angel-filled beach: "Oh, if I could just get out of these wet things and my perpetual sanctions, then we could all have a lovely clam bake."
In summary then, Dolan's threatened canonical sanctions relieve religious criminals of what they suffer within Holy Mother Church, and for a duration that can last as long as, well, forever.
Now it's finally clear why Maya Angelou's caged bird sings. It sings because it performed at a friend's same-sex wedding in New York, and consequently was brought up on some bird-brained morals charge, and now faces the punishment of a canonical sanction.
Religious criminals imprisoned in the gilded cage of Roman Catholic thought might see a canonical sanction as the equivalent of someone opening that cage door, depriving them of the things they "enjoyed" while caged, and inviting them to fly away -- for as long as forever.
Same-sex couples who are about to marry might want to invite to their sacrilegious event a few guests who can bring wheelbarrows of prayer beads, books, and apparel already used in Catholic opposite-sex weddings. A devilish re-use of those accessories might slap everyone present with the unexpected liberty of perpetual punishment via canonical sanction, which, like a stay at a vegetarian health spa, can be refreshing, especially if it excuses the religious criminal from further exposure to Mr. Dolan's increasingly regrettable outfits.