Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Patricia Miller's Good Catholics: The Battle Over Abortion in the Catholic Church — Concluding Excerpts and Reflections

A concluding set of excerpts from Patricia Miller's book Good Catholics: The Battle Over Abortion in the Catholic Church (Berkeley: Univ. of CA Press, 2014):

As she comments on why the U.S. Catholic bishops worked (with the Vatican) to create a religious freedom narrative attacking the contraceptive mandate of the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act, Miller notes:

And it wasn't just about birth control. The religious freedom, anti-Catholic narrative was essential to the bishops' efforts to beat back the rising tide in favor of same-sex marriage (258-9).

Then she points out how the bishops' behavior regarding the Affordable Care Act, and their claim of a right to impose peculiarly Catholic notions of contraception on society at large in the name of religious freedom, betrays longstanding Catholic practice in the American public square:

Catholics had fought for some hundred-plus years for an equal role in society by showing they could play by the same rules as everyone else. Now the bishops were telling them to thrust that aside and ask the government to give religious beliefs that emanated directly from the Vatican special preference under the law (259).

And, finally, there's this powerful observation from Catholic theologian Mary Hunt: 

"We thought there were differences of theology that we were grappling with," said theologian Mary Hunt. "We thought we were dealing with people of good will. What we didn’t know then was that we were up against criminal behavior—people participating in criminal behavior. The hierarchy blew issues like abortion out of proportion as cover for their long-term duplicity on issues like pedophilia," she said. Hunt credits pro-choice Catholics, gay and lesbian Catholics, and Catholic feminists for laying the groundwork for the reassessment of the church that many understood when the pedophilia scandal hit (267).

I highly recommend Patricia Miller's book, and hope that the excerpts I've provided here in recent days might spur you to read it in its entirety. One of the most valuable services it does for any of us trying to understand why the U.S. Catholic bishops have ended up in the strange place they now occupy, in which, as Miller notes, they're betraying a long tradition in American Catholicism of trying to make Catholicism "fit in" to the American public square, is that it roots the bishops' current behavior solidly in their decision to oppose the women's movement and women's rights from the outset of that movement.

The opening section of the book provides a grim reminder of the many courageous Catholic women who worked, despite the odds, to obtain theological credentials at a time in which women were barred from studying theology, and who then found themselves savaged by the men running the church as they attempted to pursue their vocations as theologians. The book pieces together a narrative line, a deeply shameful one, which connects the current attack on the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act with the attacks of hierarchical leaders earlier in the century on women like Jane Furlong-Cahill, Mary Daly, and others.

At the bottom of much that the U.S. Catholic hierarchy has chosen to do in recent decades, with tremendously destructive effect on the church as a whole, runs deep, bitter, sustained resistance to the rights of women. This is the strand that ties together many of the baffling political decisions made by the hierarchy in the latter part of the 20th century, including the decision to ally itself with a religious right whose core theological values are antithetical to those of Catholicism in its classic expressions. 

And as these fateful decisions have been made and imposed on American Catholics as articles of politico-religious loyalty for anyone who wants to partake of the Catholic brand, the same bishops imposing them have been betraying traditional Catholic moral teaching in the grossest way possible, as Mary Hunt points out, in their cover-up of the crimes of priests abusing minors, and in their willingness to lie to the public as they engage in such cover-up — as the chilling documentary just produced by Minnesota NPR about the bold lying of three archbishops covering up abuse in the archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis reminds us all over again.

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