Did I just say that the yuuuge affection of large numbers of (white) Catholics in the U.S. for the outright racist (and misogynist and xenophobic) Donald Trump bespeaks colossal moral and pastoral failure on the part of the U.S. Catholic bishops — as do the ugly comments now piling up at the website of the liberal Catholic journal Commonweal, some from Commonweal subscribers, after that journal dared to publish an editorial chastising the Republican party for seeking to deny the right to vote to minority voters? As all of this happens, here's where the U.S. Catholic bishops are, where they want to lead their flock:
As I noted on Sunday, the U.S. Catholic bishops have just produced (in collaboration with the Knights of Columbus) a fright video about "religious freedom" warning their flock in the direst and most hysterical terms possible that the U.S. government is out to get true Christians who are clinging to traditional Christian morality. This is a bogus "religious freedom" fright video pushing phony claims about government persecution of true Christians that is rooted in the most direct way possible in the reaction of white Southern evangelicals and working-class white Catholics allied with them to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It's A bogus "religious freedom" hysteria video directly linked to the story of Bob Jones university and the attempt of that church-based school to assert that it should be allowed to receive federal funding while practicing racial discrimination citing religious belief as its warrant.
The "religious freedom" video of the USCCB and the Knights of Columbus has been critically analyzed in the past several days by Frederick Clarkson of Political Research Associates and by Michael Sean Winters at National Catholic Reporter. Fred points out — and isn't this interesting? — that the bishops have chosen to release this video in the lead-up to the 2016 elections: he writes,
In preparation for the campaign [i.e., their "Fortnight for Freedom" campaign], the bishops recently released a ten minute video produced by the Knights of Columbus, titled "The Right to Religious Freedom." If the video is any indication, Church leaders are urging their flock to militancy – warning of the threat to religious freedom in America and in the world; mixing soft-focus Catholic evangelism with edgy political propaganda that by any reasonable standard has more in common with the garish partisanship of election years than thoughtful commentary on contemporary issues. Indeed, the video's claims that religious persecution and martyrdom may be at hand play into the hyperbolic Christian Right narrative of a looming tyranny in America – a tyranny that the faithful must prepare to resist, violently if necessary.
It is worth focusing on and answering a few themes of the Christian Right's current campaigns, which are well crystalized in this election year video.
The U.S. Catholic bishops are politicking, in other words. They continue to politic, as the church they are charged to lead pastorally and morally suffers tremendously due to their partisan politicking and their lack of pastoral and moral leadership. The fact that the U.S. Catholic bishops have chosen, in collusion with the Knights of Columbus under the leadership of Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, protégé of Ronald Reagan and Jesse Helms, to prioritize partisan politicking over pastoral and moral leadership is — or should be — a huge embarrassment to Catholics concerned about authentic Catholic teaching and real Catholic values. The abysmal pastoral leadership offered by the U.S. Catholic bishops to their flock, which is on full display in this bogus "religious freedom" fright video, accounts to a very large extent for the choice of many American Catholics to walk away from the Catholic church at this point in time.
And then there's Michael Sean Winters' analysis of the bishops' faux-"religious freedom" video, which is interesting, because Winters was an early and fervent advocate of the bishops' "religious freedom" campaign against the Obama administration, who himself contributed in no small degree to its hysterical edge by writing a silly, over-the-top "J'accuse!" article claiming that the administration was assaulting Catholics and their values with its contraceptive mandate in the ACA.
And so it's all the more noteworthy that — at last, long after many of the rest of us — Winters now begins to see the ugly partisan political intent that has been front and center in the bishops' "religious liberty" campaign all along, and how that intent stands real religious liberty on its head. Here he is writing about how the bishops' "religious liberty" fright video features Hillary Clinton:
There are other problems with the video. The editor seems to go out of his or her way to include a segment with a clear shot of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while Professor Helen Alvaré says that "the government lately has been forcing us more and more to cooperate with its view but I see that as the flip side of the coin, of the government stopping us from practicing our faith." How has Hillary forced anyone to stop practicing their faith? Why is she in this video? This conflation of Alvaré's words and the image of Clinton is not Alvaré's fault, but is the fault of the editors and whoever at the conference signed off on the final product.
Why is Hillary Clinton in this fright video, as Helen Alvaré of the right-wing Witherspoon Institute founded by right-wing Catholics Robert P. George and Luis Tellez (an Opus Dei member), which funded the Regnerus Study attacking same-sex parents, solemnly intones that government is forcing "us" to violate our consciences? I suspect Mr. Winters knows the answer to his question: because it's an election year. And Mrs. Clinton is the presumptive nominee of a political party the U.S. Catholic bishops want to characterize as demonic while they deliver their blessing to the other major American political party — albeit one now running a reality-show television star with a fake tan and interesting hair, who spouts racism, misogyny, and xenophobia at the drop of a hat, as its candidate for the White House.
And because they're releasing this video in the lead-up to the 2016 elections . . . .
I thought twice about circulating Winters' essay, because of a very cheap shot he took yesterday at a fine Catholic theologian whom I very much admire, Mary Hunt. Winters sneers at what he calls "the ever-expanding acronym for sexual difference" (read: LGBTQ) that is the calling card of "feminist theologian" Mary Hunt. Winters has done this kind of thing before to Mary Hunt and to other women he evidently sees as mouthy — and I don't like it.
And silly me: I had understood that "ever-expanding" is precisely what the Catholic vision of mercy and redemption is all about, as it tries to reach out to the here-comes-everybody that is the quintessential definition of a church catholic.