Thursday, December 10, 2009

In the News: Catholic Bishops, Abortion, and Health Care; Rick Warren and Uganda

A long day winding down (collards and turnip greens—and turnips—simmering on the stove, cornbread baking, cookies cooling on racks), and as evening arrives, I want to take note of several news items and postings on blogs elsewhere that have caught my eye in recent days.

First, as a continuation of the discussion on this and related blogs of the growing concern of many American Catholics to make public statements of protest against the partisan political involvement of high-profile Catholic bishops: I highly recommend Frank Cocozzelli’s latest article in his series on Catholic remonstrance. A copy is at Talk to Action (see the preceding link), as well as several other religion-and-politics websites now.

This article links to two previous articles that Frank has written on this topic—one noting that many of those Catholic politicians most in the pocket of Catholic bishops seeking to impose their sectarian religious views on the nation at large in the abortion debate have strong ties to the tobacco industry. Which is conspicuously anti-life rather than pro-life.

Frank Cocozzelli notes in particular the lethal effects of maternal tobacco use on fetuses—something totally ignored by bishops who are mono-focused on abortion as the sole pro-life issue on whose basis Catholics should form their political conscience.

In a previous article, also linked to the article cited in the second paragraph above, Frank explains his call for Catholics to engage in “dignified acts of resistance”—in acts of remonstrance—as some bishops play political games with the Eucharist. The current article in the series notes the large contributions that the tobacco lobby has made to leading “pro-life” Catholic political figures including Rick Santorum, David Vitter, and Bart Stupak, the latter the bishops’ point person in their latest drive to impose their understanding of pro-life positions on the nation at large in the health care debate. Frank concludes:

Archbishops Burke and Chaput, as well as others in the hierarchy, have made the relatively small amounts of money that might go to subsidizing insurance policies that includes abortion coverage -- coverage that most women will never actually use -- a deal-breaker on pending health care legislation. Relatively small amounts of taxpayer funds touching on abortion is their sole reason for threatening to kill health care reform, with all that it means for saving people's lives or abandoning them to medical ruin -- but nothing is said about these politicians' hypocritical relationship to tobacco money.

But as I observed above, I cannot think of one elected official has been threatened with loss of the sacraments for taking tobacco money.

Absolutely right, it seems to me. And because the wildly partisan “pro-life” approach the bishops have taken in the current health care debate does not, in my view, reflect a compelling, integrated pro-life theology or politics, I will continue to dissent from what the bishops are trying to do, as they seek to strong-arm our elected representatives and use health care reform as a political bargaining chip in this coercive political game.

I am also dismayed at the bishopsattempt to impose their understanding of Catholic values on the political process, at a point in history in which they’d be far better served—and more respected, I believe—if they gave honest, soul-searching attention to what they’ve done in the abuse crisis. I have long since concluded that letting the bishops score political points now in the health care debate will actually be destructive to the Catholic church in the U.S., long-range. Now is time for them to put their own house in order, not to try to dictate how others’ houses ought to be set up.

Also at Talk to Action right now is an important piece by Frederick Clarkson about the creeping influence of the religious right in the Democratic party. This summarizes a lengthier article at Public Eye in which Fred develops this argument with scholarly citations.

Fred Clarkson argues persuasively that a coalition of conservative evangelicals and Catholics with increasing clout in the Democratic party seek, under the guise of reducing the number of abortions, an America “whose politics and public policy advances reduce abortions while seeking to build political clout sufficient to criminalize abortion forever." Though he doesn’t note this, many of the names he cites here—Dobson, Robert George, Weigel, and others—played a key role in drafting the recent Manhattan Declaration.

These folks’ political agenda goes way beyond reducing abortions. It is overtly theocratic and overtly anti-women’s rights and anti-gay.

Meanwhile, I’m delighted to read that Rev. Rick Warren has now denounced the viciously anti-gay legislation under consideration in Uganda as “terrible,” “unjust,” “extreme,” and “un-Christian.”

I agree with Andrew Sullivan that Warren’s call to other pastors to disown this draconian legislation is a “real step forward.” Like Andrew Sullivan, I also wonder why, if Rick Warren can speak out, Benedict continues to choose to remain silent. And I think that John Aravosis is correct when he notes that Rachel Maddow’s brilliant, unrelenting journalism about the Ugandan situation has played a significant role in pushing Warren to do the right thing.