Sunday, March 21, 2010

Michael Sean Winters on Stupak as a Principled Champion: Just Not Getting It

Michael Sean Winters keeps emitting chirps of praise today (here and here) at the America blog, because Bart Stupak has found his way to a yes vote on the health care bill.  In Winters’ view, Stupak is a principled pro-life champion who deserves praise.

Winters’ latest says it will be interesting to see which Catholic blogs continue denouncing Stupak after he delivered his vote (and his bloc) for the health care bill today.  I very seriously doubt that my blog is on the radar screen of those who “deal,” to use Stupak’s charming word about what he’s been doing vis-à-vis the health care bill.

But in case this blog links to that blog and if my views should ever eventually reach the ears of those who “deal” (and who continue to praise dealers who don’t deal with the nuns, when it comes to pro-life issues), I want to make my position about Stupak clear, if it’s not already crystal clear.  In my view, Winters (and Stupak) just aren’t getting it.

They’re not getting that a large slice of American Catholics and a large slice of the public don’t buy into the pro-life teachings of the Catholic church—for good reasons.  Those teachings are not presented to the public in a consistent, compelling way that demonstrates unambiguously how all issues of life are interconnected.  And most of all, the teachings are not lived in a consistent, compelling way by the church leaders who claim to have the corner on the truth market, when it comes to issues of life (and any other issue, for that matter).

The problem is, precisely, “dealing.”  It’s the choice of the U.S. Catholic bishops to engage in backroom wheeling and dealing, in which they try to force their minority viewpoint about this and other issues on both the majority of Catholics who raise significant questions about that viewpoint, and on the nation at large.  In a pluralistic, secular society . . . .

And the problem is, precisely, that the “dealing” includes only the old boys, who don’t have uteruses, and excludes the other half of the human race—as Stupak himself told us proudly and unabashedly in his comment about how I/we don’t contact the nuns, when we want to “deal.”  Stupak specifically stated that he doesn’t contact the nuns when he/they “deal” about pro-life issues.

That’s a colossal mistake, when it’s the nuns who are doing what the “dealers” ought to be doing, as they seek to convince us of the value of life: they, the nuns, are right there with those walking through life and death decisions about issues of life, struggling to put food on the table, struggling to make the monthly or weekly paycheck stretch even further this week.  Struggling just to keep it together another week.

While the bishops and Mr. Stupak are “dealing.”  While they’re too busy talking to the C Street crowd, to theocratic thugs who want to save the nation for a Christ who’s exclusively for the rich and powerful, too busy talking to the thugs who wheel and deal to bother themselves with single mothers trying to raise children on shoestring budgets, pregnant teens trying to figure out what to do about the fact that they unexpectedly find themselves pregnant, and so on.  Too busy to open the doors of their episcopal palaces to those folks, while the doors fling magically open for the rich and powerful “dealers,” who happen to be 99.99% male.

The women—the ones Stupak disdains by his comments about “dealing”—are doing the pastoral work that the old boys should be doing, as they appropriate the title of pastor exclusively to themselves and deny pastoral validity to what the women are doing.  Though what the women are doing mirrors the example of Jesus in the gospels far more clearly, on the whole, than what the pastors—the shepherds who claim to represent Jesus unilaterally in the world—are doing.

Michael Sean Winters just doesn’t seem to get it.  He continues, as he has in the past, to think of truth as something the “dealers” own for the rest of us, and sometimes graciously hand down to the rest of us when it suits them to set us straight, even as those dealers show themselves to the world to be totally devoid of pastoral intent, pastoral insight, or pastoral acumen at this point of history.  Even as we reel from one revelation after another about the real deals they’ve been cutting behind the scenes, while preaching about respect for life to the rest of us.

If the church is going to survive the abuse its pastors have been inflicting on it in recent decades, it’s going to have to take into account the viewpoints of women as well as those of men.  And of layfolks as well as clerics.

Even about abortion and other issues of life.  Especially about abortion and other issues of life. 

The bishops had already abdicated pastoral responsibility in spectacular ways prior to the health care debate, but their refusal to support the health care bill—while the Leadership Conference of Women’s Religious supported it—has, if possible, undermined their authority as moral leaders even more than all the revelations about their cover-up of sexual abuse had already done.

And right in the center of all the wheeling and dealing, in which the bishops have refused once again to bring any of the issues to the table for open, public discussion, there has been Bart Stupak.

No, Stupak is not a hero.  And no, he is not admirable. 

Neither are the bishops.  “Dealing” is just not what we need right now, to put the pieces of Humpty Dumpty back together in the Catholic church and its moral reputation.

The only way to retrieve and reassemble the shattered pieces—the hard way that springs from fidelity to the gospel—is the way the Vatican and the bishops refuse to take: respectful dialogue that takes into account the views of the laity, including the views of women, and the empowerment of layfolks of both genders in the governing of the church.  That is not the path the Vatican or the bishops intend to take, because it requires 1) an admission on their part that they are far and away more responsible for the abuse crisis than anyone else, and 2) an admission that the abuse is rooted in the abuse of power.  Of clerical power.  And of clerical privilege.  Of “dealing” while refusing to listen—to the people who live the teachings handed down by the dealers, who live those teachings in the real world.  And whose experience profoundly illuminates those teachings, if the teachers would only listen.

But to admit any of this is to admit that the church needs radically to revise how it does business.  And that means to admit that the choice of John Paul II and Benedict to hang the future of the church on the untouchability of the clerical caste system has been spectacularly wrong, and grievously destructive for the church.
Does Bart Stupak get this?  And do the bishops who have used him like a tool throughout the health care deliberations get it?  Obviously not.  They certainly do not deserve praise.