Monday, April 2, 2012

E.J. Dionne on Moral Obligation of Centrists: Turning the Critique to Catholic Centrists

E.J. Dionne is absolutely correct with his analysis of how far to the extreme right the Republican party has now moved under the management of the Koch brothers and their tea party puppets.  And he's absolutely right to decry the wink, nudge complicity of beltway centrists (Dionne calls them moderates) in legitimizing views  that are, as he puts it, so far beyond any measure of intellectual or moral sanity that they're plainly "nuts."  Dionne is indubitably on target with his analysis suggesting that Republicans of the ilk of Eisenhower or Taft would be regarded as socialist redistributionists by today's GOP.

His critique of centrist complicity in the turn of a major American political party to the hard right is morally persuasive--particularly when he argues, 

But those who regard themselves as centrist have a moral obligation to make clear what the stakes are in the current debate. If supposed moderates refuse to call out the new conservatism for the radical creed it has become, their timidity will make them complicit in an intellectual coup they could have prevented.

As I read Dionne on these points, however, how can I overlook or forget his own complicity in hopping into bed a few weeks ago with the U.S. Catholic bishops and their "radical creed" of a Catholic religious liberty supposedly under assault by the Obama administration?  Dionne writes that the radical right has been able to seize control of the Republican party "because moderates are too afraid to acknowledge what all their senses tell them."  He notes that centrists in the beltway media persistently provide cover for outrageously extreme ideas of the political right, because "moderate opinion bends over backward" to act as if absurd tenets of the far right are intellectually respectable and deserve serious consideration.  He notes that when the beltway center caves, it always caves to starboard.

And in all of these respects, he seems to me to be describing--very precisely and accurately--the behavior of Catholic centrists such as himself, Michael Sean Winters, Phyllis Zagano, Kevin Clarke, and the Commonweal editorial set vis-a-vis the U.S. Catholic bishops.  The extremism--the toxic extremism--of the bishops' understanding of religious liberty and what they intend by the term "religious liberty" has, after all, been very easy for some of us to see for some time now.  

Gay Catholics, survivors of clerical sexual abuse, many Catholic women: we've wondered for some time now why our centrist Catholic brothers and sisters can't decipher with their senses what we've long deciphered with our senses.  Because we've had no choice.  Because what the bishops mean by the concept of "religious liberty" is inscribed across our backs.

Because for survivors of clerical sexual abuse, the term has persistently meant that the state has no business looking into the internal governance mechanisms of the Catholic hierarchy to see how the bishops and Vatican manage the clerical abuse crisis--by hiding and transferring abusive priests; by lying to the public about the abuse situation; by mounting morally reprehensible image-management campaigns designed to pretend that the abuse situation is a thing of the past and that church leaders have learned their lesson and will henceforth be accountable and transparent; by shifting church funds around in dirty sleight-of-hand games to thwart legal and fiscal accountability on the part of the church when survivors ask for justice; by playing ugly hardball legal games designed to smear survivors and destroy organizations working to assist survivors.

Abuse survivors have long seen what the current leaders of the Catholic church mean and intend when they talk about religious liberty, about their religious liberty.  Abuse survivors have had no choice except to see, since the concept--religious liberty for me but not thee--is inscribed across their backs.

As gay Catholics have also had no choice except to see, while one openly gay teacher or one openly gay music leader of a Catholic parish after another is summarily fired, given his or her walking papers, told that the church has a "right" grounded in religious liberty to ignore laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace.  And while the U.S. Catholic bishops work hand and glove with a national organization "protecting" marriage which broadcasts noxious lies about gay and lesbian human beings and deliberately fans the flames of hostility between minority communities.  While the U.S. Catholic bishops work hand and glove with this morally bankrupt political organization masquerading as a religious group to block the human rights of gay and lesbian persons, or to snatch away those rights insofar as law recognizes them. And while leading Catholic centrists anoint court decisions permitting religious bodies to discriminate against disabled women in ministry as "big wins" for religious freedom.

I like Dionne's analysis.  But I'd be more persuaded by it, and more convinced by the moral vision at its center, if he turned that analysis towards himself and his fellow Catholic centrists, and began to ask why Catholic centrists have remained so conspicuously blind to who the U.S. Catholic bishops are and what they intend, as they continue their highly politicized and very destructive partisan politicking for "religious liberty" in the current election cycle.

The graphic is from a January 2012 exhibit of the Center for Land Use Interpretation.

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