Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bishop Joseph Martino Resigns: David Gibson on the Backstory and Health Care Reform

I last wrote (as well as I can ascertain) about Archbishop Joseph Martino of Scranton towards the end of March, when I discussed his attack on Vice-President Biden in a posting which notes that we had just begun to see 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.”

In that posting, I argued that, as a body, the American Catholic bishops have—with notable exceptions—willingly permitted theocratic extremists to capture the center of the American church. I noted that the politico-religious agenda of these extremists is a mishmash of ill-digested Catholic theology and American evangelicalism, and that most U.S. Catholic bishops know this, just as they know that many of those promoting a right-wing theocratic agenda are badly educated Catholics. They know that traditional Catholic values are incompatible with many of the values of right-wing evangelicalism.

But 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 it. They have allowed the American Catholic church to become captive to ideological operatives who promote political goals antithetical to Catholic values.

And not much has changed since I wrote that analysis in late March. If anything, things are growing worse, with open attacks on health care reform by right-wing Catholics (more on that in a moment) and the disgraceful sideshow out of Bedlam we’ve seen in recent days, as the self-professed guardians of orthodoxy have fumed over the choice of the Catholic church to give Christian burial to Senator Kennedy (for a sample of this discussion at its lurid extreme, see Christopher Nowak's recent thread of statements about the Kennedys and the funeral at the Grand Rapids Catholic Examiner).

For readers who want to follow what I’ve written about Martino, I suggest clicking the label with his name at the posting to which I link at the start of this piece. The “search blog” feature at the head of Bilgrimage is not working properly, by the way. It yields partial results for some search terms, but misses others entirely. If you’re relying on it to search the blog thoroughly, I’m afraid whatever is awry with it may cause you to miss information.

And now I want to update the Martino story. Both Martino and his auxiliary bishop, John M. Dougherty, have just resigned. David Gibson has a good summary of the Martino story (and of the possible backstory of this resignation) at Politics Daily yesterday.

Gibson reports that there are suggestions that the polarizing, extremely partisan behavior of Martino and some other bishops may have caused the powers that be to nudge the Scranton bishop to step down. As he notes, that polarizing, partisan behavior has been on full display in the response of a few U.S. Catholic bishops to health care reform, and of a handful of U.S. Catholics of the fringe right to the choice to give Ted Kennedy a Christian burial.

Gibson writes,

Whatever the ins and outs of the internal church maneuvering, the upshot is that a leading voice in the anti-Obama wing of the church hierarchy has been silenced while both Obama and Biden continue to take center stage.
At Edward Kennedy's funeral on Saturday, for example, Biden received communion while Obama gave a moving eulogy. Obama also spoke quietly before the service with Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who himself rejected lobbying from the Catholic right that he not allow the pro-choice Kennedy a public funeral or at least not to appear if there was a public funeral. Some reports say O'Malley sought to open a channel of communication with Obama via their brief chat, which lasted just 2-3 minutes.
Moreover, the lionizing of Kennedy in the wake of his death arguably showed him to be a far more prominent and beloved Catholic figure than most any bishop.
In addition, there are signs that some bishops are growing uneasy with the more strident and even partisan tone of many church leaders, especially in the wake of the shooting of Kansas abortionist George Tiller. The opposition of some bishops to health care reform -- which the pope has declared a fundamental human right -- as well as fallout from the fierce opposition by some to Obama's appearance at Notre Dame in May has also given some bishops pause.

“[There are signs that some bishops are growing uneasy with the more strident and even partisan tone of many church leaders”: if that’s true, I have to wonder what has taken many bishops so long to see the bitter fruits being borne now after several decades of carefully cultivated moral imbecility in American Catholicism around the single issue of abortion.

I’ve been noting this over and over on Bilgrimage from the last campaign period forward: mobs ranting and raving about baby-killing at McCain-Palin rallies, posturing as pro-life when they advocate for unlimited rights to carry guns, for capital punishment, against health care coverage for all citizens, and for draconian measures against immigrants. The real motives of these groups have about as much to do with respect for life as oil has to do with water.

And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see this. How has it taken so long for many of the bishops to see what is right before their eyes, as the self-professed guardians of orthodoxy scream about liberals and socialists and the culture of death (and bashing gays and killing baby killers and denying communion and Christian burial to fellow Catholics)? Bitter fruits. And fruits that have been growing apace for years now, carefully cultivated by many of those who appear suddenly to recognize their incompatibility with the gospel—now that it may be too late to do much about them.

And as Frank Cocozzelli notes in a good article yesterday at Talk to Action about the Catholic right’s attempt to block health care reform, it’s not really about abortion all in the final analysis. No matter how loudly the guardians of orthodoxy shout about baby killing, it's impossible to disguise what their opposition to health care reform is really about, in the final analysis.

It’s about money. It’s about protecting the interests of wealthy economic elites, the same wealthy elites that fund the right-wing Catholic think tanks like the Cardinal Newman Society (on this group, see, e.g., here and here) and the Catholic colleges that such think tanks anoint as more Catholic than the rest, like Patrick Madrid’s Belmont Abbey College (see here and here).

It’s about serving the interests of wealthy elites whose primary concerns seem to have more to do with profit than the common good, with free enterprise than the gospel. Cocozzelli writes,

For the likes of Deal Hudson, Brent Bozell III and Bill Donohue would resort to mendacious means to protect the interests of their benefactors who provide funding to Heritage, MRC or the Morley Institute is not surprising. In doing so they camouflage the considerable corporate opposition to necessary forms of health insurance and for a fair and vigorous public option.
As for Archbishop Chaput, Bishop Nickless and Cardinal Rigali, such recklessness sets a new low. Perhaps these three princes of my faith are genuinely worried about issues of abortion and euthanasia. But to react in such a reactionary manner tells us that they are so obsessed with these what are in reality, peripheral issues that would gladly leave 46 million plus Americans without health care coverage.

So obsessed with peripheral issues that they would gladly leave 46 million-plus Americans without health care coverage. As they try to convince us that they are motivated by respect for life. And that they represent the Catholic tradition in its truest, purest form. When they are, in reality, nothing more than shameless shills for corporate economic interest groups that are bitterly hostile to the Catholic tradition of respect for life and human rights. No matter how much they scream about baby killers and liberals and the culture of death.