Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and the Future of American Catholicism: Laity Defending Human Rights Tradition Abandoned by Bishops

One of the themes about which I've blogged persistently on this blog, when I've dealt with the pro-life movement, is that I find many of the claims of Catholic pro-lifers not at all credible, due to the lack of a consistent commitment among Catholic pro-lifers to the value of human life--across the spectrum, from the prenatal stage to death.  I've noted, in particular, that the constant attacks of the ardently "pro-life" U.S. Catholic bishops on the human rights and human worth of gay and lesbian people radically undermine, as far as I'm concerned, the claim that the bishops really believe in the value of human life as they work to outlaw abortion.  I've come to the conclusion that factors other than a defense of human life--chief among them, the desire to control women and women's reproductivity--lie behind the bishops' "pro-life" crusade.  

And because this is how I've come to see the pro-life movement within American Catholicism, I'm very interested in what has happened in recent weeks in the state of Illinois, where a Catholic governor, Pat Quinn, supported and signed into law legislation providing for civil unions for same-sex couples in that state.  Acting, as he did so, against the fierce opposition of the Catholic bishops of Illinois, including the past president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Francis George.

And here's what has happened in Illinois since the civil unions bill passed: Pat Quinn has also recently signed into law a bill abolishing the death penalty in that state.  And as he did so, he noted that he was moved to take this step by meditating on the teaching and example of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago (and see also Tom Gallagher at NCR).  

Bernardin was a leading proponent of what is called the seamless garment or consistent ethic of life understanding of Catholic teaching about life.  This calls for a consistent approach to the value of life from prior to birth to the grave.  This approach to Catholic pro-life teaching argues that it is inconsistent--it is not coherent or credible--for Catholics to defend the value of life only in the area of abortion.  When Catholics focus exclusively on pre-born life while ignoring the value of the lives of some human beings following birth, they completely undermine the credibility of their pro-life stance when it comes to the issue of abortion itself.

I'd argue that we're seeing an interesting development with what has taken place in Illinois recently, and with its Catholic governor: we're seeing lay Catholics of sound conscience taking the lead in promoting a consistent ethic of life, while the bishops themselves undermine that ethic by rejecting Cardinal Bernardin's consistent ethic of life for a hard-line abortion-exclusive focus, and while attacking their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.  The morally based political decisions taken by Pat Quinn in recent weeks illustrate the importance of being consistent, of linking support for the human rights and human worth of gay and lesbian persons to the pro-life debate.  

The bishops continue to miss the point, and as a result, they continue to lose credibility as moral teachers.  As Michael O'Loughlin points out in a recent posting at America's "In All Things" blog, in his "60 Minutes" interview two weekends ago, the president of the USCCB, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, equated gay marriage with incest, and last Friday, the USCCB issued an appalling news statement asking the federal HUD agency not to add sexual orientation and gender identity to protected categories in HUD program anti-discrimination guidelines.

The bishops want to keep discrimination alive against gay and lesbian persons in the area of housing.  They are actively defending discrimination against LGBT persons, while (as they speak insincerely out of the other side of their mouth) they claim that Catholic teaching prohibits such discrimination.  

Meanwhile, as they also continue to promote an argument they have to know is false--that permitting same-sex couples the right of civil marriage will undermine heterosexual marriages--data from the Netherlands on the tenth anniversary of the legalization of same-sex marriage in that nation show a five percent divorce rate for gay male couples in the Netherlands in the past ten years.

As opposed to a 38 percent divorce rate for traditionally married (heterosexual) couples.

Governor Quinn in Illinois, along with the majority of American Catholics who defend the human rights of gay and lesbian persons, points the way to a Catholicism that is truly pro-life, and that retains some credibility in the public sphere as it proclaims the values of life.  The bishops don't.

They seem intent on abdicating moral leadership hand over fist these days, as they also remain largely and conspicuously silent about the organized attack on the value of the lives of working Americans in Wisconsin and other states.  An attack spearheaded by the political party with which they have worked long and hard to align American Catholicism, to their extreme discredit as pastoral leaders . . . .

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