Saturday, October 8, 2011

John Allen on Religious Freedom: Premier Catholic Concern of 2011

Remember how, when 2011 began, I started blogging about the sudden discovery of the notion of religious freedom by Catholic pastoral leaders, and by the religious right in general?  I pointed out Pope Benedict's sudden preoccupation with the concept right as the year began, and then I noted how Cardinal Pell, ever the pope's loyal man and a darling of the Catholic right wing around the world, took up the theme that Catholics' religious liberty is under assault and that religious freedom is the Ur-value on which all other values rest, immediately after Benedict began pressing these points from the very beginning of the year.

In the second week of January, I wrote,

In several postings as the new year began, I predicted that we'd see much more of what I regard as a subject-changing rhetorical ploy of Catholic officials today: when the subject needs to be, as Nicole Sotelo argues, an honest and effective engagement of the longstanding cover-up of cases of clerical abuse by members of the Catholic hierarchy, the issue that the top Catholic leaders want to press today is the issue of religious freedom, instead.  With the attendant claim that the Catholic church is under attack by those who do not want to respect its right to religious liberty, and who do not recognize that religious freedom is the fundamental right on which all other human rights depend.

And guess who has discovered now--several days after the president of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference announced that preserving Catholic religious freedom against the supposed "assaults" of the Obama administration is a hot new priority--that religious freedom is the Catholic topic of the year?  John Allen of National Catholic Reporter, who writes this week,

Predictions are always hazardous, but here's one I feel pretty good about: 2011 will be remembered as the year when religious freedom came into focus as the premier social and political concern of the Catholic church in the early 21st century. 

Though, of course,  since Mr. Allen is an unofficial mouthpiece for the Vatican and the U.S. Catholic bishops, his reading of what this new-found preoccupation with religious liberty supposedly under assault means is entirely different from my own.  Where Mr. Allen sees a noble crusade to protect a religious liberty said to be in imminent danger, I see something considerably more ignoble.

I see a cynical shell game designed to change the subject from the pastoral malfeasance of Catholic leaders during the abuse crisis, and to gin up Catholic paranoia about an imaginary attack on their values by secular democratic societies--the same societies that happen, interestingly enough, to be pressing the Vatican and the bishops to be transparent and accountable re: their care for (or lack thereof) minors under their authority.

In other words, I think the change of subject is designed--and deliberately so--to make us run down fictional rabbit holes where no rabbits exist at all, while the rabbits we ought to be looking for are in plain sight.  I also see it as designed to try to push Catholics into the camps of the political and religious right.

What Allen admires, I deplore.  But, then, I don't have invitations to cardinals' and bishops' palaces, and am not invited to do interviews with Archbishop Chaput about the many sports teams he follows.

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