Friday, January 25, 2013

Catholic Hospitals in Germany Refuse Rape Victim: Theocracy as Taking the Queen's Shilling While Flouting the Queen's Rules

I find it interesting to read Betty Clermont's essay on the Vatican and Africa, about which I've just posted, alongside the article on church and state by Frank Hornig, Barbara Schmid, Fidelius Schmid, and Peter Wensierski published yesterday in Der Spiegel. The article reports on a national controversy that has developed in Germany after St. Vincent Hospital in Cologne, run by the Cellitine Sisters, refused to treat a rape victim in mid-December.

When the woman who had been raped went to an emergency medical facility in Cologne, her doctor, Irmgard Maiworm, prescribed the morning-after pill for her and contacted St. Vincent, noting that she needed the hospital's assistance both for treatment and for evidence-gathering purposes. St. Vincent refused to treat the rape victim, as did another Cellitine hospital in Cologne, the Hospital of the Holy Spirit, though the Cellitine mission centers on "care of the sick, the weak and the poor."

A Cellitine spokesperson has told the public that the communities' hospitals have a policy of turning down ambulatory rape victims and insisting that they be sent to public hospitals, in order to avoid having the Catholic community and its hospitals involved in abortions. The policy appears to stem directly from conservative archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meisner.

And here's why this story deserves attention, I think, and why it's useful to read it as a counterpart to analysis that sees Catholic pastoral figures making a bid for stronger influence over the policies of governments in many places in the world: as Hornig et al. note, after the government, the Catholic church is the second largest employer in Germany. Catholic groups run some 420 hospitals in Germany. In some rural parts of the country, the church practically has a monopoly on social welfare organizations running the gamut from kindergarten to hospitals to nursing homes.

This has happened because the philosophy of transferring social services to faith-based groups in recent decades has placed the social welfare system of Germany more and more under the control of churches. Hornig et al. note that in 1950, the Catholic and Protestant churches of Germany had 130,000 civil employees. Today, the number is over 1,000,000. At the same time, the state itself supplies between 90 to 100 percent of the funding for the institutions these religious institutions control, with the money coming from taxes paid by the people of Germany.

And, precisely as the power of the church (and, in the case of the Catholic church, in particular, of the bishops) grows by leaps and bounds through such a system, the Catholic church is, under the direction of its current top leaders, in a mode the authors of this essay characterize as "alienation" mode. As they note, 

The [Cologne] case reveals how far the Roman Catholic Church has distanced itself from German society, especially -- but not only -- in the area of sexuality. 
Catholic facilities are increasingly sealing themselves off, often behaving as if they were part of a state within a state; a cosmos subject to its own rules, which are monitored by the pope and his bishops; and a world in which federal, state and local governments have little say. 
Every year, Catholic dioceses receive billions in funds from obligatory taxes paid by church members. But when it comes to scandals, such as when sexual abuse is systematically covered up and remains uninvestigated for years, citizens have little influence and are left to experience how the church energetically defends its special rights.

Behaving as if they were part of a state within a state; a cosmos subject to its own rules, which are monitored by the pope and his bishops; and a world in which federal, state and local governments have little say: when the money supporting this state-within-a-state model comes directly from tax dollars, but the institutions funded by those tax dollars do not serve the needs of citizens or serve them in a discriminatory fashion, something is radically wrong with this picture. What we're seeing develop in the German system is a model of church-state connection in which control of public services is handed over to religious authority figures who accept that control gladly, but who claim that they have little or no accountability to the public funding their public services.

Theocracy as evasion of transparency and accountability: this discussion has very clear implications for the religious freedom debate in the U.S., where the Catholic bishops and their supporters like Michael Sean Winters want, in the name of "religious freedom," to draw "very bright lines" around their area of authority within institutions supported by the Catholic church--lines that would seal these institutions and the religious authorities sponsoring them off from public canons of transparency and accountability, as the Cologne case suggests, if the bishops are permitted to have their way in their current "religious freedom" campaign.

The grand irony at work here, of course, is that precisely as the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church assert their "right" to control more and more public and political institutions, they simultaneously disavow the responsibility to be accountable to the very public their institutions ostensibly serve--and which funds these institutions. Those "very bright lines" that Michael Sean Winters sees protecting the religious freedom of Catholic institutions ultimately protect Catholic pastoral leaders from responsibility.

And that's why, from the outset, many of us have resisted the rhetoric of embattled religious freedom that Mr. Winters and his bishop friends have so hotly generated for some time now. If you want to take the Queen's shilling, you must play by the Queen's rules, as indefatigable blogger Jim McCrea is fond of reminding readers of various Catholic blogs.

Unless you consider yourself a theocratic ruler protected by very bright lines as you create your alternative religious structures within pluralistic secular democracies, using citizen-donated tax dollars (or euros) handed over to you by the government while claiming no obligation at all to account for how those tax dollars are used, because your "faith" tells you that you stand above the law . . . .

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