Saturday, February 14, 2009

Weekly News Roundup: Austrian Church Crisis, Rabbi Yehuda Levin, Knoxville Shooter

Lots of stories today following up on ones discussed in recent postings on this blog. A number of websites are reporting that the Catholic bishops of Austria will meet on Monday to deal with the crisis caused in the Austrian church by Benedict’s rehabilitation of SSPX and his naming of Gerhard Maria Wagner as auxiliary bishop of Linz (here and here). These decisions are having the following effect:

Four times as many Catholics have officially quit the Church in Linz so far this year as in early 2008, the Austrian Press Agency APA reported, and departures have also been running higher than usual in Vienna, Salzburg, Tyrol and Lower Austria.

On Tuesday this week, 31 of the 39 deans of the Linz diocese issued a statement of no confidence in Wagner. On the same day, Salzburg Archbishop Alois Kothgasser said that the church must avoid shrinking into "a sect ... with few but strictly obedient members" through such decisions that alienate more and more Catholics of good conscience shaped by Vatican II.

Meanwhile, as my e-friend Colleen Baker reported on her Enlightened Catholicism blog this week, Rabbi Yehuda Levin of the right-wing Rabbinical Alliance of America, has praised Benedict’s choice to rehabilitate SSPX and anti-Semite Richard Williamson (here and here). Levin, who supported Patrick Buchanan in his failed 1996 presidential bid, and who has participated in anti-gay demonstrations with Fred Phelps (who maintains the God Hates Fags website), has told Lifesite news that Benedict deserves support because he is seeking to weed the church of left-wing Catholics and fill its pews with morally upright believers. Levin states,

I understand that it is very important to fill the pews of the Catholic Church not with cultural Catholics and left-wingers who are helping to destroy the Catholic Church and corrupt the values of the Catholic Church. This corruption has a trickle-down effect to every single religious community in the world.

Levin believes that there is a conspiracy of a “strong left wing” in Catholicism, which is using events like the media furor over Richard Williamson’s outspoken anti-Semitism to undermine Benedict’s platform to purify the church of dissidents. In his view, this conspiracy involves an alliance between the “strong left wing” of the Catholic church and the “homosexualist” movement. Levin calls on Benedict to preserve his version of Catholic orthodoxy, and states that he is willing to overlook the anti-Semitism of SSPX because of that group’s other morally and politically upright views.

Vis-à-vis that “homosexualist” conspiracy, also in the news this week is an allegation by Tony Perkins of the influential religious-right organization Family Research Council that lesbians are ultimately responsible for the choice of Nadya Suleman to have octuplets through in vitro fertilization, in addition to the six children she already has. Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin has that lesbians-made-me-do-it story (here).

Also in the news this week is the sentencing of Knoxville, Tennessee, church shooter Jim David Adkisson for his rampage in a Knoxville Unitarian Universalist church in July 2008. Adkisson opened fire in the church without warning and killed two people. He was sentenced this week to life in prison.

At the time Adkisson was apprehended, he indicated that his motive for the shooting was his hatred of liberals and gays. A manifesto Adkisson wrote before the shooting has just now been released (here). It indicates that he hoped through his murderous actions to spur similar actions across the country to rid the United States of the “cancerous pestilence” of liberalism and homosexuality.

Adkisson writes,

The worst problem America faces today is Liberalism. They have dumbed down education, they have defined deviancy down.

I’m struck by that oft-heard complaint of the American political and religious right: "[T]hey have defined deviancy down.” It appears that, in the view of Jim David Adkisson, taking a gun and walking into a church full of people (including children) and opening fire is not deviancy. This act, is, rather, a response to deviancy.

And there, in a nutshell, we see, I would argue, just why the rhetoric of the American religious and political right has become so dangerous to our democracy and should be monitored vigorously by those concerned to safeguard our democracy. Shooting unarmed gays and liberals at worship and placing their children at risk in the process,is not deviancy. Being gay and/or liberal is.

And finally, headlines I like this week:

"Next Time, Let’s Have the Women Study the Men” at NCR, on the recent Vatican announcement that it will be "studying" American women religious to ascertain whether they are doing a proper job of carrying on their founders' charisms (here); and

“Reaching Right” at America on Benedict’s decision to rehabilitate SSPX (here).