Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Amy Sullivan on Catholic Bishops' Paul Ryan Problem, Fred Clarkson on Mitt Romney's Dog Whistle to Religious Right

Some good religion and politics commentary from the last several days:

1. In the New Republic, Amy Sullivan reflects on the serious problem that Paul Ryan poses to the U.S. Catholic bishops.  The bishops love to discipline Catholic politicians who go off-message (in the bishops' estimation) with their political pronouncements.

That is, the bishops appear to love to discipline Democratic Catholic political leaders who, in the bishops' view, misrepresent or oppose Catholic teaching.  Republican leaders?  Not so much.

Sullivan points out that in the lead-up to the 2008 elections, Paul Ryan's bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, attacked Joe Biden's Catholicity in a thinly veiled statement about people who "claim to be Catholic" but misrepresent the Catholic church "by teaching the wrong thing."

That's the same Robert Morlino who recently gave cover to Paul Ryan--to Paul Ryan whose understanding of Catholic social teaching and its preferential option for the poor is woefully inadequate to non-existent--by stating that it's his sacred duty as a bishop to defend Ryan and Ryan's Catholicity.

As Sullivan notes, Ryan's outright contradiction of Catholic social teaching, as well as his infatuation with Ayn Rand, pose a particular problem for the leader of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who characterizes Ryan as a "great public servant" with a "solicitude for the poor(!)."  Dolan has stated that Paul Ryan is a friend whom he admires immensely.

For many American Catholics, the disparity between how the bishops treat Democratic Catholic leaders and Republican ones is glaringly obvious, Sullivan notes.  As she writes,

Let me state here clearly that I don’t believe any politician should have to heed the orders of her religious leaders in her public role. But the Catholic church has spent much of the past three decades making clear to Catholic Democrats that if their voting records or public statements or policy proposals come into conflict with church teaching, then they no longer have the option of calling themselves Catholics. When I interviewed Rosa DeLauro for my book on Democrats and religion, she told me about going to see her archbishop when she first ran for Congress. At the time, she was a trustee for the Catholic high school she had attended, but the archbishop had threatened to decertify the school as a Catholic institution if she remained on the board. DeLauro met with the archbishop to ask him why. “Let me be perfectly clear,” she remembers him telling her. “You, Kennedy, Dodd, Moynihan—you are not welcome in the Church.” 
It is not unreasonable to ask if Catholic bishops are playing favorites if they are content to sit back and let the GOP vice presidential nominee proudly call himself a Catholic and attempt to square his positions with church teaching while taking stands that are at odds with that teaching. Yes, the USCCB has written letters to Congress criticizing the Ryan budget. But Ryan has wrongly characterized those letters as representing the views of just a few bishops instead of the entire conference without being publicly corrected by church officials. And the vast majority of Catholics do not read the letters bishops send to Congress in any case.

And that disparity is, once again, center-stage in 2012, as Paul Ryan is not only given a free pass by Dolan and his brother bishops to flaunt Catholic social teaching, but is actively defended by the likes of Morlino of Madison, with his bizarre distortion of official Catholic teaching about the right to private property--which I discuss in the posting to which the second link above points.

2. And at Talk to Action, Fred Clarkson dissects Mitt Romney's address to the GOP gathering in Tampa and finds that it issued a strong, clear dog whistle to the religious right with its affirmation,

As president, I will protect the sanctity of life. I will honor the institution of marriage. And I will guarantee America's first liberty: the freedom of religion.

As Fred explains,

There are only three-closely related issues for the Christian Right.  Abortion, homosexuality and religious freedom -- in that order.  You might also see such variations on the theme, as life, marriage and religious liberty. But the meaning is essentially the same.  This is not to say that other issues are unimportant, but to say that these are the most important, and they are always stated in this way, in this order. 

As Fred also notes, this dog-whistle formulation of the neuralgic issues that energize the Christian right derives from the Manhattan Declaration.  Which was written by Catholic right political strategist, Robert P. George.  And which was signed by His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan.

Who delivered the final benediction after Mr. Romney issued his dog whistle.  Which was big on the words "freedom" and "liberty" (and on the terms "America" and "Almighty"), but which remembered the poor only one time, with a citation of Emma Lazarus's famous verse that appears as an inscription on the statue of liberty.

P.S. In the first incarnation of this posting earlier today, I mistakenly typed Amy Sullivan's name as Amy Ryan.  I've now corrected that error.

P.P.S. And I now see that the preceding whopper is not the only one in this posting: I attributed the comments about Romney's dog whistle to the religious right to Fred Clark, when I should have written Fred Clarkson.  My sincere apologies to Fred Clarkson for not having given him credit for his work, and to both gentlemen, both of whom I very much esteem, for mixing them up.  I've just now corrected that mistake.

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