Thursday, March 26, 2009

Readers Write: The Politicization of American Catholicism

I'm slow to blog today for a variety of reasons. Steve had some minor surgery yesterday, and I am in nursing mode, though, as always, even when he's under the weather, he's trying to tend to my needs. Maybe with reason: I'm the world's worst nurse, and by hopping up and down and running to the kitchen for cups of coffee for me, he's avoiding having me experiment on him with my nostrums and potions.

I'm also, frankly, downhearted. The news in the American Catholic church is just so . . . bleak. There's the attempt to punish Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to be its commencement speaker in May, about which I have blogged.

And then there's the bullying of Randall Terry and Archbishop Raymond Burke, about which much is now being written. A good synopsis of the latest on that story, with links to good postings by Michael Sean Winters at America, is on the Whispers in the Loggia blog today (here) in a posting entitled "Burkxploitation?"

I've posted on Randall Terry and his . . . interesting . . . past before (here and here).

And I've blogged about Burke frequently--see, e.g., here. Burke is, of course, yet another of the bishops on the Episcopal Advisory Board of the Cardinal Newman Society--the same Cardinal Newman Society trying to create grief for President Obama by attacking Notre Dame. He is in the country now to pontificate at the upcoming National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, which is yet another of those events/groups founded during the period of neocon dominance to provide a religious gloss to Republican political goals.

As Catholics United for the Common Good noted last year (here),

The National "Catholic" Prayer Breakfast is sponsored by an independent 501(c)(3) of the same name comprised of five Republican political operatives. These partisan activists use the event to foster the false notion that the Catholic Church supports the policies of the Bush Administration and the Republican Party.

As Catholics United for the Common Good also points out, the "Catholic" topics highlighted at this annual event, which welcomes Republican leaders with open arms while turning its back on Democratic ones, contain glaring lacunae. While the prayer breakfast treats participants to a smorgasbord of selections about abortion and same-sex marriage, its agenda somehow fails to examine the war in Iraq, comprehensive immigration reform, poverty, and health care, which, as Catholics United for the Common Good notes, are "all critical issues to the Catholic Church."

Go the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast's website, and look at its announcement regarding this year's event, and you'll see three iconic faces looking out at you: Archbishop Raymond Burke, Antonin Scalia, and George W. Bush. Yes, this year's program features the face of George W. Bush . . . !

Which brings me to the points two good readers made in comments about my last posting yesterday, re: strategies to support Notre Dame (here). Phillip and Colkoch both note that the American Catholic church has been politicized in recent years, to an extent unheard of in its previous history--in particular, to an extent unheard of in the 20th century prior to the period of neoconservative dominance.

And I agree. This is also a point that lifelong Republican and former Ambassador to the Vatican Patrick Thomas Melady makes in an article in National Catholic Reporter today (here). Melady has served in three Republican federal administrations.

He notes that in the past 20 years, the Eucharist has been politicized in American Catholicism in a way that was unthinkable in previous generations. And this is precisely the goal of Randall Terry's crusade right now: he wants the Vatican to pressure American bishops who are not denying Communion to pro-choice politicians, and even remove them from office.

And he has solicited the support of Archbishop Burke, though Burke now professes shock that what he took to be a video of himself giving private entre nous aid and comfort to pro-life activists is now being used as a public weapon by Randall Terry in a crusade to slam bishops who won't use the Eucharist as a political weapon.

Melady states drily, "I fear that the situation is getting out of control." And I would say drily back, "Indeed."

What particularly disturbs him is that Catholics (including some bishops) bitterly opposed to Mr. Obama prior to the election are now unwilling to engage the new administration in any positive way, but are intent only on attacking and destroying--on pursuing a scorched-earth policy. In the name of Christ, they say. He states,

Many had hoped that once the presidential elections took place, Republicans, especially Catholic Republicans, would practice engagement with the Obama administration and those on the other side of the political aisle — that we would present our ideas without the rabid emotionalism that serves only to question the integrity of our opponents. Our role, in the best traditions of a pluralistic democracy, would be that of the loyal opposition.

I agree with Melady, both that the Eucharist should not be used as a political weapon, and that the current situation of scorched-earth politics by some American Catholics is deplorable. I'm surprised, however, that Dr. Melady is only now recognizing that things are getting out of hand.

They've been out of hand. Those now on the attack have been on the attack for some time now. Their agenda is theocratic, and they will not stop until they see that agenda fulfilled--even if its fulfillment requires coercing a majority of Americans and of brother and sister Catholics who do not agree with the agenda.

And that theocratic agenda has made significant inroads in American Catholicism because the American Catholic bishops have, as a body--with a few notable exceptions--willingly permitted theocratic extremists to capture the center of the American church. Their theocratic agenda is a mishmash of ill-considered Catholic theology and American evangelicalism. The bishops know this. They know that many of those promoting a right-wing theocratic agenda are badly educated Catholics. They also know that traditional Catholic values are incompatible with many of the values of right-wing evangelicalism.

And yet they have allowed this mentality to grow, to represent itself as authentic Catholicism, as the only possible Catholicism, and have done next to nothing to correct itself. They have allowed the American Catholic church to become captive to political operatives who promote goals that are antithetical to Catholic values.

They have blessed Bush and Cheney, Gingrich and Erik Prince, while repudiating Obama and Biden, Sebelius and Pelosi. At the same time in which the bishops have deliberately dumbed down their flock, they have also shoved away large numbers of faithful Catholics whose consciences cannot permit us to idolize the Bushes and Cheneys of the world--and their torture, their unjust wars, their callous repudiation of the poor, their shocking lack of concern for the environment.

In the period of neoconservative dominance, a period that Nicholas Cafardi was correct during the election to compare to the Babylonian captivitity of the people of God (here), the leaders of American Catholicism have given spectacularly bad pastoral leadership to their flock. What we are seeing now are the results.

And we are only seeing the beginning. Martino's attack on Biden, the Cardinal Newman Society's attack on Notre Dame, Randall Terry's and Raymond Burke's attack on bishops who give Communion to pro-choice political leaders: these are just the first shots in a bitter war that theocratic right-wing Catholics who are more Republican than Catholic intend to wage against the new administration.

And they do not care who is hurt in this war. Why should they, if they haven't cared about the millions of Catholics who have been hurt up to now, as they seek to impose their theocratic imagination on an entire nation?