Thursday, November 25, 2010

News on Thanksgiving Day: Necon Catholics Resist Pope on Condoms, Benedict on Media and Maciel, and Mormon Musings

In the news this morning of American Thanksgiving: three articles that have caught my eye online in recent days (though I'm finding far too little time to read the news):

First, neocon Catholics are perturbed--perturbed, I tell you!--that the pope has spoken out about condoms.  And contradicted their messages of hate, transmitted for years now to anyone struggling with decisions about whether it might be morally better to use a condom to avoid infecting someone else with a fatal illness, than to refrain from using a condom. 

At Huffington Post (I think this may actually be an AP article picked up by HuffPo), Rachel Zoll reports that leading American neocon Catholics are refusing to accept what Benedict has said about condoms, and are claiming (variously) that the always anti-Catholic media have made all of this up, or that the pope's spokesman Fr. Frederico Lombardi is an unreliable source for a statement by Benedict, or that they'll accept the papal verdict on condom use in cases where someone may infect another person with serious illness only when it's officially defined by the papacy. 

I find this reaction deliciously ironic, given that these are the same folks who have, for years now, been telling their brother and sister Catholics that it's the papal way or the highway.  Though they've always been highly selective in reading church teachings, following in the footsteps of one of the founding members of the American Catholic neocon movement William F. Buckley, who refused to accept John XXIII's encyclical critical of ruthless capitalism, Mater et Magistra.  And who famously said in response that he'd take the mater but forego the magistra.

One can't escape the impression that for some Catholics, keeping hate alive--in the case of the condom discussion, keeping hate of gays, in particular, alive--trumps almost any other value.  What theocon Catholics obviously fear in any sane, rational, nuanced discussion of matters like condom use is the opening of a door to sane, rational, nuanced discussion of the whole shaky edifice of natural-law based sexual ethics.  They fear opening the door to any discussion that might in any shape, form, or fashion moralize homosexual behavior and homosexual lives and relationships.  Or might bring into the light for honest discussion the important fact that the vast majority of married Catholics in developed nations practice contraception and affirm its use as moral.

And they fear--the constant, disingenuous bugbear of the Catholic right, anytime discussions like this arise in the Catholic church--the "confusion" of the laity.  Who are imagined to be too dull to understand theological fine points or to handle nuance, but who need the firm hand of guidance from above and the simplistic bullet points from on high that tell believers precisely what to think about any matter at hand.  As Zoll's article notes, the "confusion" that the recent papal statement is now said to be causing will create real headaches for the U.S. Catholic bishops, given the extent to which they have realigned the U.S. Catholic church in recent years around the hardest possible positions on issues of sexual morality.

I can't say I'm sorry to see the bishops cope with this new papal headache. Sometimes a headache serves the valuable purpose of reminding us that we have a head on top of our shoulders.

And on the new book of interviews with Benedict by journalist Peter Seewald, Light of the World, in which the papal remark about condoms first appeared: as Paddy Agnew notes in the Irish Times, while media attention is focused primarily on the condom remark, much more that is newsworthy in the book is going unnoticed.  For instance, Benedict continues to slam the media, without which we would not even know what we now know about the abuse situation, since church officials have hardly been intent on divulging information about this situation to the public.  As Mark Serrano notes at SNAP, the continued attempt of Catholic officials including the pope to divert blame to the media for doing its job, while they refuse to admit or deal with their own involvement in cover-ups of abuse, is "inappropriate and hurtful."

And then there's Benedict's astonishing observation that, though the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Marciel Maciel, who is now known to have sexually abused seminarians for years, to have fathered children while heading the Legionaries, and to have raped some of his own children, was "a false prophet," the order he founded is "by and large sound."  Though that order long made a cult of Maciel's personality and defended him tooth and nail when all of this information began to become public.

Like another of its right-wing counterparts, Opus Dei, the Legionaries of Christ are a cash cow for Rome, and the Vatican is not about to repudiate this lucrative cow.  Both religious communities are closely connected to wealthy business leaders and social elites in Europe and the Americas, and both have disproportionate influence in the Catholic media throughout the world.  The pope is not about to lose the milk offered by this particular cow, or the power its adherents wield in the political, economic, and media lives of many nations.

Finally--a complete change of subject--I'm intrigued by Holly Welker's recent article at Religion Dispatches explaining why she won't leave the Mormon church alone, though she has left this church in which she was raised.  I find strong parallels between Welker's argument about why the LDS church deserves her critical attention, though she is not now an active Mormon, and the situation in which many Catholics find ourselves today.  

First, in both cases, there's a strong push from those who remain in these churches--particularly those intent on shielding the church from critical scrutiny--to keep their errant brothers and sisters decisively locked out.  I'm interested to read that some Mormons, including members of her own family, complain that Welker won't leave the church alone though she's left it.  These complaints sound very much like the taunts that many Catholics issue to their brothers and sisters who have serious reservations about the sharp turn to the right the church has taken under the last two papacies.  These taunts constantly reiterate, "If you don't like it, leave it; find a wishy-washy mainline Protestant church that accepts anybody and believes anything."

Welker notes that, though she has left the LDS church in the sense that she is no longer an active member and she openly criticizes some of its positions, she cannot leave behind what is woven into her own being from childhood.  She was a pious and committed Mormon, and the formative influence of Mormonism on her life remains strong.  The LDS church continues to affect her and many people she loves, and she will not leave it alone:

That, of course, is one primary reason I cannot and will not leave the church alone: it continues to exert its influence in areas that affect my life and the lives of people I love. Most of what I have written recently about the church deals with gender and sex; as long as the church has opinions that move it to action on these topics, I will have opinions on the church’s actions, which I claim the right to express.

And I suspect quite a few Catholics on the margins, including me, could say the same of the Catholic church and our relationship to it from the margins.

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