Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Benedict's Smaller, Purer Church: Room for Antisemites, Misogynists, Homophobes . . . But Not for Us

Strange week last week. The right-to-lifers were out in full force, claiming to be marching for life, but appearing (to me, at least) to be marching primarily against President Obama, knowing full well that he would certainly reverse the Mexico City policy and its global gag rule at some point early in his presidency. And so lots of noise and lots of dire warnings from these anti-Obama marchers, noise and dire warnings picked up and amplified by editorialists across the land, who love to give center stage to right-wing Christians opposing progressive political platforms. These editorials demonstrate that the political and religious right have just been waiting for an opportunity to pounce, using the abortion issue against the new administration if they can do so effectively.

This year’s demonstration was clearly staged as a muscle-flexing event to warn the new president of what he should expect if he crosses the religious right, including its powerful Catholic contingent. The odious Bob Dornan spelled it out for us, lest we were in any doubt: addressing the new president (who did not attend the march) in front of marchers gathered in the nation’s capital, Dornan shouted, “. . . [W]e will defeat you and defeat the culture of death or we will perish as a nation!” (http://ncronline3.org/drupal/?q=node/3163).

Yes, that Bob Dornan—the defeated California Congressman who once called Russian journalist Vladimir Posner a "disloyal, betraying little Jew” (http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F5071EF93F5B0C728CDDAA0894DE484D81). Yes, the same Bob Dornan who enjoys taunting female opponents as “lesbian spear chuckers” (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990CE7DB163DF934A15755C0A963958260&sec=&spon=&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink).

Yes, yes, the Bob Dornan who claims to be leading a crusade to return the nation to strong moral foundations, but who once enjoined us not to use the word “gay” unless we mean “Got AIDS yet?” (www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Bob-Dornan). Bob Dornan the Catholic, one of the illustrious leaders of the illustrious American Catholic right-to-life movement . . . .

And in the same week, Pope Benedict XVI grabbed headlines by rehabilitating the excommunicated adherents of the St. Pius X Society (SSPX), followers of French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who reject the second Vatican Council. The news flurry around this event has focused (rightly, I think) on a particularly troubling aspect of this choice to fold the SSPX crowd back into the bosom of Rome: this is the record of SSPX bishop Richard Williamson, a Holocaust denier against whom German authorities are currently contemplating legal action, since denying the Holocaust is a crime in the present pope’s country of origin.

Williamson is on record as having stated that he believes the concentration camps of Nazi Germany contained no gas chambers, and that the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis was between 200,000 and 300,000, not 6 million, the commonly accepted figure. The good bishop has made incendiary statements about how Jews and Masons are united in a global conspiracy to attack the Catholic church. He opposes university education for women and pleads with women to return to “truly womanly” roles, which includes eschewing trousers and wearing only dresses and skirts. He calls on men to reassert their manliness, and mocks gay human beings in bitter lisping monologues (on Williamson's views, see www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2009/01/25/8347 and http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/01/the-man-benedic.html).

See, for instance, the 8 Oct. 1997 letter in which Williamson responds to the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ “Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children,” with its call for parents and Catholic parishes to love and understanding gay persons, with reminders that homosexuality cries to heaven for vengeance, and is a sin that elicits “violent repugnance” akin to the repugnance we feel for coprophagia. Imagining objections to his vile, hate-inducing rhetoric, Williamson responds with a mocking observation voiced in what he considers a stereotypical gay voice:

Oh, but Our Lord had chawity, (unlike thumwun we know who wath tho nathty to Pwintheth Di!). Our Lord loved thinnerth, and faggotth, and tho thould we!! So runs the objection! (www.sspx.ca/Documents/Bishop-Williamson/October8-1997.htm).

Yes, this is whom Benedict chooses to let back into the church even as he and his followers—chief among them, the leaders of the American Catholic pro-life movement—have willingly driven millions of Catholics inspired by Vatican II out of the fold. This professional hate-monger who questions the Holocaust, accuses Jews of conspiring to destroy the church and of being enemies of Christ, tells women to return to servitude, and mocks gay human beings and those who urge pastoral outreach to them: he has a place in the church. I and those like me do not, in this pope's view.

It is their church—Richard Williamson’s church, the church of a pro-life movement that has done all in its power to weed the church of those who call for continued dialogue about complex moral issues, of those for whom abortion is not the end-all and be-all of Christian existence. It is clearly not my church, nor the church of many other Catholics whose ecclesiology is rooted in Vatican II. And I have spent much of the past week and the weekend thinking about this and how that makes me feel.

Since my feelings about these matters run deep, and since—too typically!—I do not know how to say it briefly, I intend to post a series of interconnected reactions to the two events I’ve just discussed. I'm choosing this serial-posting approach in part because I want to acknowledge the valuable suggestions of Jennifer in her Progressive Mama blog. I appreciate very much the kind words Progressive Mama blog had to say about this blog yesterday, and I'm hoping to develop a posting style that doesn't tax readers with overly long postings, as I taken Jennifer's comments into consideration (http://progressivemamablogger.wordpress.com/2009/01/26/take-a-pilgrimage-to-bilgrimage).