This past February, I wrote:
From the moment that Mr. Winters broke the news of the Obama administration's decision (and how it outraged him), I've been struck by his (and his colleagues') persistent insinuation--it's overtly spelled out in Winters's piece announcing the HHS-decision news--that the president of the U.S. is somehow obliged to give special consideration to the Catholic bishops that she or he is expected to give to the leaders of no other religious body in the land. In Winters' following statements, I was struck from the outset, and I remain struck, by the rather bizarre notion that the president should adopt vis-a-vis Archbishop Dolan and the USCCB the attitude of a deferential Catholic schoolboy sent to Father's office for instructions on good behavior:
"NCR has learned that the President called Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, this morning to tell him the news. Wouldn’t you have liked to be on an extension to listen in on that conversation. The president looked Dolan in the eye in November and said he would be pleased with his decision. I am guessing that Dolan is not pleased. He is not alone."
"Wouldn't you have liked to be on an extension to listen . . . ?" Why, I wonder? To hear the president receive the kind of shellacking a bad schoolboy should expect to receive from Father? From Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. bishops' conference--since the more imperial titles we can roll off our tongue, the more outrageous we make the president's refusal to do what Father tells him to do sound?
And now, as Michael Sean Winters announces he can't possibly vote for Mr. Romney (though he told us in his January "J'ACCUSE!" column that he can't vote for Mr. Obama, so he's now in what my aunt would call a mell of a hess), he writes once again about that hotline that he imagines the president of the U.S. must have to Cardinal Dolan:
I will grant that if elected, Mr. Romney would likely be more responsive to a call from Cardinal Dolan than President Obama, but Republican Catholics are fooling themselves if they think Mr. Romney would take any political risks on their behalf. Is it not stunning that a Republican candidate is running an ad that basically champions his views on abortion for their moderation?
And I have to say, I don't get the hotline idea any more now than I did last February when Winters introduced it. The president of the U.S. has a special obligation to pick up the phone and call the USCCB president, or to treat calls from the USCCB president as special message-from-God calls, precisely why . . .?!
I'm not enchanted, frankly, with the notion of a president feeling obliged to make special calls to or take special calls from Rev. Billy Graham, the president of the LDS church, the pope, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, or any other religious leader in the land or elsewhere. For my money, we live in a pluralistic secular democracy in which religious leaders and religious people are perfectly entitled to their beliefs and opinions, but should not have the kind of veto power and special hotlines Winters envisages for the leader of his Catholic church.
Dangerous. Corrosive of the fabric of a pluralistic secular democracy. This is precisely why Jefferson and others worked so hard to set into place the wall of separation between church and state. His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan does not deserve the right to pick up the phone and call the president of the U.S. and demand special consideration for Catholic ideas, Catholic values, Catholic policies when that consideration is not given to all other religious leaders and all other religious groups.
And when you start shelling out those special considerations, where do you stop and how do you adjudicate the conflicts, when His Eminence wants you to deny women contraceptives while the Jehovah's Witnesses are demanding that you stop blood transfusions right this minute and Rev. Graham is insisting that you
declare Mormonism a dangerous cult? (Oops, that last possibility has suddenly and mysteriously gotten eliminated, hasn't it?)
Where does it end? And how do you deal with the bellicose clashes of religious group with religious group, since nothing elicits blood quicker than religious differences? This is precisely why Jefferson and the other founders were intent on separating church and state: they had seen just what happens, at first hand in Europe in preceding centuries, when state and church combine and engage in bloody religious warfare as a result.
I suspect that Michael wants a hotline for His Eminence purely and simply because Michael happens to be Catholic. I suspect it's that elementary and that crude. But Mitt might prefer a hotline to the LDS president, while . . . . And therein lies the rub. Start this policy of religious favoritism for any one group, and then . . . .
I don't quarrel with Winters's reason for rejecting Romney: as he states explicitly, Romney has calibrated and re-calibrated himself, and after initially being against the HHS guidelines that have Michael and other Catholic conservatives hot under the collar, Romney is now for them--for the nonce:
During the autumn debates, Mr. Romney calibrated again. His performance in the first debate was impressive to be sure, but it was also somewhat bizarre. Gone was the “severe conservative,” and out popped Mr. Happy Time. But it was during the second debate that I was truly appalled. The discussion turned to the HHS mandate, which is an issue about which I care deeply. Mr. Romney said that of course he had no intention of letting employers decide whether or not their female employees could get insurance coverage for their contraception. Really? Back in the spring, he had expressed his unqualified support for the Blunt Amendment. Ah, but that was then. Does anyone really know what Mr. Romney thinks about the principles at stake here?
(Though Michael has repeatedly said that it's not the contraception thing at all that has him concerned, even when, as his "J'ACCUSE!" article maintains, he thinks Humane Vitae was "prescient" in condemning contraception . . . . And though many Catholic conservatives like Ken Berg in this Commonweal thread can be informed in black and white, flatly, that Mr. Romney most certainly does not uphold "the" Catholic position on abortion and can come right back with the declaration that they will most certainly vote for Mr. Romney because he stands for "morality," unlike the immoral "pro-choice" Democrats!)
There are dark days lately when I wonder if the motto of Catholics who still play along with these totally cynical and totally corrupt political (and pretend-moral) games emanating from the hierarchy ought not to be "I'm confused" rather than J'accuse. Confused, as in royally screwed up in the head, after years of pretending that up is down and right is wrong, anytime a Catholic authority figure commands that I engage in such pretending.
The thought that this set of Catholics, whom the bishops intend to drive to the polls in droves to vote for "morality" in this election regardless of the declared "pro-choice" stance of both Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan, may elect one of the most spectacularly morals-challenged tickets we've seen in American politics for a very long time, is more than a little sickening. This election gives the away the bishops' dishonest political game in an absolutely decisive way: all the rhetoric about abortion and contraception and morality hasn't meant a hill of beans to them all along.
What has counted for the bishops is seeing Republicans elected, and they'll do or say anything to achieve that end. Because that's what their super-rich handlers intend.