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Memo to the Catholic Church: When You Insert Your Religion Into Politics, You Open Your Religion to Questions

Anti-Catholic! Outbursts! Hatred!

Writers for the Catholic Church in America have been waving their hands in dismay at “attacks” on their religion. In their minds, criticisms over the activities of the Catholic Church are “attacks” that are inappropriate in American society and to be squelched. But criticism of the Catholic Church doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It stems from the Church’s decision to actively mandate its religious answers to political questions and to advocate for laws that enforce Catholic religious standards upon everyone, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. As the Catholic Church uses its wealth and voice to exercise influence over the direction of politics in the United States, it expresses dismay that anyone else would do the same in a manner that questions, evaluates and critiques the Catholic Church’s own positions. For the Catholic Church, political expression is appropriate in only one direction: from the Church leadership on down.

DC, Maine, Rhode Island: It is Ours to Advocate, It is Yours to Pipe Down

Consider Thomas Peters, an advocate for the interests of the Catholic Church. In the wake of the loss of gay and lesbian Mainers’ legal rights earlier this month, Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic wrote the following:

It is time to acknowledge that the Catholic church hierarchy can no longer pretend that it isn’t the active enemy of gay people and our families. That this church hierarchy – especially in its more conservative wing – is disproportionately gay itself and waging war against their fellow gays through the cowardly veil of the closet, is not new. But it is, as we flinch with the sting of defeat, harder to take than ever.

It is time to demand that gay priests who are actively fighting against the dignity of gay people own their enmeshment in injustice, stigmatization and cruelty.

The large numbers of gay clergy in the Catholic Church is an open secret, and the efforts of the Catholic Church to repeal the legal rights of gay and lesbian people in Maine, even at the cost of their own congregations’ survival, are demonstrable.

How does Thomas Peters respond to Sullivan’s statement?

The Atlantic is a major publication, Andrew Sullivan is a significant figure. This is serious. And authors such as Sullivan are getting a free-pass for legitimizing lies and hatred against the Church.

All this is especially ironic when one considers how the gay marriage movement tries to cast itself as one that is seeking tolerance and acceptance of all. Well, apparently the Catholic Church isn’t a legitimate recipient of such treatment. I would be more encouraged if leaders of the gay marriage movement would call out or apologize for outbursts against the Church like the ones I’ve cited above.

Thomas Peters declares Sullivan a liar for stating as a gay man what straight Catholics have been saying about Catholic priests for some time. But it’s not just that Peters is calling Sullivan a liar when it’s not clear at all that Sullivan’s lying. More strongly than that, Peters asserts that it’s illegitimate for Sullivan to criticize the Catholic Church. Peters thinks an apology is in order when Sullivan accurately names the Catholic Church as the major financial backer of the anti-gay crusade in Maine.

It’s not just Thomas Peters, and it’s not just in Maine. In Washington, DC, Catholic news services themselves report that “D.C. Archdiocese Threatens to Axe Social Service Programs over Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ Law.” That’s what Catholic news services are saying openly in articles meant to be read by Catholic churchgoers, but when non-Catholic media discuss the same news in writing for a broader audience, what’s the response? “Anti-Catholic!” “Bludgeon against the Church!”

In yet another locale last week, news organizations covered the fact that a Catholic Bishop had issued a deny-communion policy to Rep. Patrick Kennedy for his voting positions on abortion and other issues. Kennedy had dared to question the Catholic Church’s policy positions, saying of the Catholic Church’s decision to physically insert themselves on Capitol Hill in negotiations against health care reform provisions:

I thought they were pro-life. If the Church is pro-life, then they ought to be for health-care reform because it’s going to provide health care that’s going to keep people alive.

In response, the Archdiocese of New York declared Kennedy’s statement a “blast” and indicated that “Mr. Kennedy owes us an apology.” Rhode Island Catholic Diocese Bishop Thomas Tobin also responded that for the sin of Kennedy’s temerity, he owed the Catholic Church penance:

Congressman Kennedy continues to be a disappointment to the Catholic Church and to the citizens of the State of Rhode Island. I believe the Congressman owes us an apology for his irresponsible comments.

Patrick Kennedy’s apology is required because he dared to speak his own mind on subjects of politics. As Bishop Tobin spelled out in a letter, Kennedy’s questioning of the political activities of the Catholic Church is not to be permitted:

The faithful receive with docility the teaching and directives that their pastors give them in different forms… being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially.

Get back in line, Kennedy, toe the line, and make it public! Tobin declares that if Kennedy uses his own mind to question the Catholic Church’s political activities, he has engaged in “a deliberate and obstinate act of the will,” which is apparently a bad thing (“scandalous”) requiring an apology for the offense.

People Will Notice

The pattern in these three different locales has been the same:

First, the Catholic Church uses its voice and wealth to try and influence American policy in a manner that would enforce Catholic standards on everyone.

Second, media report on and people criticize the Catholic Church’s positions.

Third, the Catholic Church and its public advocates declare these to be incidents of “anti-Catholic” “hatred” and “bigoted” “outbursts” that are “illegitimate” and require “apology.” Be docile, sheep!

The Catholic hierarchy continues this pattern at its own peril. I don’t write this out of a desire to force the Catholic Church into silence; fighting against freedom is the Church’s bag, not mine. Rather, I write this as a piece of strategic advice because eventually, you know, people will notice. The more that the Catholic Church asserts its own prerogative to curb Americans’ freedoms while declaring criticism off-limits, the more people will notice the contradiction, and the less they will attend to the Catholic Church’s restrictive admonitions.

The old political hand Mario Cuomo, wincing at these developments as a politician and practicing Catholic, offers similar advice:

If you’re required to make everybody follow your Catholic role, then nobody would vote for Catholics because it’s clear that when you get the authority, you’re going to be guided by your faith. Don’t ask me to make everybody live by it because they are not members of the church. If that were the operative rule, how could you get any Catholic politician in office? And would that be better for the Catholic church?

Here’s our memo to the Catholic Church: when you use your religion to justify interference with matters of policy that mess with the freedoms of everyone, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, your religious justifications and your religious behavior become legitimate matters for public debate. In America, we like our policies to have reasons and our political players to have answers. If you make yourselves into politicians, we’ll treat you like politicians. If you want your activities and your positions to be placed beyond question, beyond criticism and beyond reproach, place yourself out of the political arena.

6 comments to Memo to the Catholic Church: When You Insert Your Religion Into Politics, You Open Your Religion to Questions

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