Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Michael Sean Winters on U.S. Catholic Bishops' Response to Executive Order Forbidding Anti-LGBT Discrimination: "Bishops As Litigants Is Just Not the Image of an Apostle Set Before Us in the Scriptures"

Yesterday, with a nod to Mark Silk, I wrote that you'd expect the U.S. Catholic bishops to be reeling right now from what Jennifer Haselberger's recent affidavit in Minnesota plainly suggests: namely, that the procedures the American hierarchy have set into place from Dallas (2002) forward to deal with the abuse of children by Catholic priests are largely ineffective, since those procedures rest on the assumption that no more diligent guard can be found for the fox-harried henhouse than the fox himself. 

As Silk writes,

For what Jennifer Haselberger and Minnesota Public Radio have done is far more than expose the hypocritical machinations of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. They have provided reason to doubt all statements from ecclesiastical authorities that sexual abuse in the church is being handled properly.

As I noted yesterday, I agree with Mark Silk's characterization of Haselberger's affidavit as a wake-up call for the U.S. Catholic bishops. But, as I also concluded, instead of dealing with Haselberger's revelations as an occasion to rouse themselves from their slumber, the bishops are now choosing to go full guns blazing after a minority community and the Obama administration, and so, on the same day that Mark Silk posted his essay, they posted a statement at their website calling the president's executive order forbidding discrimination against LGBT employees of federally contracted programs "unprecedented and extreme."

Do you see a pattern here? The problem is not us and our cover-up of sexual abuse of minors by priests.

The problem is not our hiding and moving around priests known to pose a threat to children. The problem is not our persistent lying to the public about how we're continuing to shelter priests who represent a danger to young people.

The problem is them. The problem is the gays. And the gay-coddling Obama administration.

Michael Sean Winters of National Catholic Reporter has now posted before and after essays about the U.S. Catholic bishops' astonishing (and astonishingly belligerent) response to President Obama's executive order forbidding discrimination in federal programs on grounds of sexual orientation. Yesterday, before the bishops had even issued a statement, he warned that they were playing with fire by adopting a "litigation-first strategy" dictated to them by the high-powered lawyers of the Becket Fund, who are now riding high due to their perceived victory in the Hobby Lobby decision.

Winters warns the bishops that the Becket Fund folks live in a right-wing echo chamber oblivious to the sea change occurring in the nation's thinking about gay rights, and the bishops are in danger of seriously marginalizing themselves by listening to the echo-chamber opinion of lawyers while ignoring their charge to be pastors first and foremost — pastors concerned about the well-being of their entire flock.

He writes,

If the Church continues to resist every government regulation with a lawsuit, it will paint itself into a corner politically and culturally. Bishops as litigants is just not the image of an apostle set before us in the Scriptures. And, the USCCB should not consider itself an arm of the Becket Fund. They are flying pretty high over at the Becket Fund after the Hobby Lobby decision, but I fear, and fear greatly that the Church can lose in the long-term by winning in the short-term, turning the slippery slope argument on its head. The Becket Fund lawyers are very smart, but they are part of a conservative echo chamber that often misjudges the political landscape. And, as I have pointed out before, there are real limits to the degree to which the Church can embrace the Becket Fund’s foundational argument that people have the right to be wrong. That is not the basis for religious freedom set forth in Dignitatis Humanae

Today, Winters does a reprise after he has read the statement that the USCCB placed on its website yesterday about the presidential executive order forbidding anti-gay discrimination in federal programs. The statement is, he says, even worse than he had anticipated (and keep in mind as you listen to his critique that Michael Sean Winters is a friend of the bishops who is in their employ at Catholic University, and has supported their attack on the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, just as he wanted more robust religious exemptions in the executive order protecting LGBT employees of federally funded programs from discrimination).

Here's the question he asks about the bishops' response — "unprecedented and extreme"! — to the executive order:

Why the need to pounce and to pounce in full battle armor. The headquarters of the USCCB, or at least the fifth floor, has become the strategic headquarters in the culture war. They apparently see no danger in the public face of the bishops becoming the face of a litigant not a teacher or pastor. 

Why, indeed? Why the need to transform themselves into culture-war litigants and abdicate their responsibility to be pastors? Especially insofar as gays and women, minority groups, after all, are concerned . . . . 

I have an inkling why — and I suspect many Catholics and many members of the American public share this inkling.

Put together what Jennifer Haselberger's affidavit shows us all over again with the full-guns-blazing response to the president's executive order, and the only possible conclusion one can reach about the U.S. Catholic bishops is this: as a body, they abdicated pastoral responsibility a long time ago.

As a body, they've been driven by the advice (and values) of high-powered lawyers closely allied to the 1% for a long time now. The abuse crisis is a direct result of their decision to abdicate pastoral responsibility and adopt, instead, what Winters calls a "litigation-first strategy" in dealing with abuse survivors.

They are now addicted to this approach. They're now addicted to the false values inherent in this approach, which place a premium on oily evasion of truth, on outright lying, on image-management, on diversionary attacks on those perceived as weaker in order to absolve themselves of responsibility and direct negative attention away from themselves and towards demonized others.

They're now addicted to the advice of their high-powered lawyers and the economic elites whose interests those lawyers serve, and the question of how or even whether to be pastors — good shepherds of a flock — doesn't even impinge on the consciousness of many bishops as the first question to be asked about a bishop's responsibility. Survivors have tried to tell the rest of this for years now, and many of us have been slow to learn.

Why are the bishops following the advice of high-powered lawyers who live in an echo chamber to ramp up their attacks on the gay community just as critically important documents tell us all over again that bishops can, one after the other in a single archdiocese (and so this is possible anywhere), shield priests sexually abusing minors and lie to the public about what they're doing as they shed crocodile tears about the suffering endured by abuse survivors even as they're playing expensive hard-ball legal games with those very same survivors? 

Because the two are connected, as hand connects to glove. The ongoing, mean, brutal attacks on the gay community by the U.S. Catholic bishops are intrinsically connected to the choice the bishops made quite some time ago to put lawyers, and legal values, and legal games ahead of the gospels, in their dealings with abuse survivors, with anyone pleading with them to do their duty by children and protect children from abusive priests.

The shift in self-understanding among many U.S. Catholic bishops — from pastor to lawyer — is now structured into American Catholicism through those currently occupying episcopal sees throughout the U.S. To alter the situation would require a dramatic action of replacing the vast majority of sitting bishops with a whole new set of bishops for whom the gospels and not the advice of lawyers constitute the rule of thumb of pastoral leadership.

I don't see this happening. Do you?

The graphic is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cartoon (2003) by Bob Rogers.

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