Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Catholic Bishops' Image Problem and Cordileone's Gays-and-Devil Rhetoric

Salvatore Cordileone

And here's why the U.S. Catholic bishops now face a problem that goes far beyond image management and concerns about credibility (I'm building on what I've just posted about Michael Sean Winters' USCCB reporting).  Here's why the bishops have a problem that drives to the very heart of the most fundamental claims the Catholic church makes about itself as a sacramental sign of God's all-embracing and healing love in the world:

When I blogged some days back about the controversy that then-USCCB advisor Daniel Avila ignited when he wrote an article for the Boston Catholic archdiocesan newspaper The Pilot suggesting a genetic connection between gay human beings and the Devil, I noted that Avila was merely restating something I understood the head honcho of the U.S. bishops' "defense of marriage" initiative, Mr. Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, had already said.

Avila was merely restating what his boss Cordileone had previously said.  Though Avila has now resigned from his USCCB position and his Pilot article has been yanked from the paper's website, Cordileone continues to spew his anti-gay venom promote the anti-gay cause on behalf of the U.S. bishops with impunity.  As I noted in my blogs yesterday about Michael Sean Winters' reporting on the USCCB meetings, Cordileone was center-stage yesterday at the bishops' meeting, announcing the launching of a new image-manipulation propaganda tool website by which the bishops can communicate their message that "defending" marriage is a "sacred duty" to the American public.

When I blogged about Cordileone in the posting to which the second link above points, I could not find a statement of his that I knew I'd read, but was failing to find as I sought verification of my memory.  Yesterday, Jim McCrea helpfully posted a link to the 2009 interview with Cordileone by Chris Johnson that I had cited when I posted about the Avila-Cordileone connection (and their shared use of diabolical imagery to describe their gay brothers and sisters) on 4 November.  

And in response to Jim, Colleen Baker then excerpted the comments of Cordileone for which I had searched in vain on 4 November, as I wrote about how Avila's statements linking the gays to the devil merely echoed his boss Cordileone.  Cordileone's comments are in Chris Johnson's interview, and I had somehow overlooked them as I blogged about this topic.

Here's what Sal Cordileone, who now heads the U.S. Catholic bishops initiative to "defend" marriage, said to on a radio show called "Body of Truth," about which Chris Johnson reported in 2009:

As the show was winding down, Bishop Sal mused upon gay marriage one last time. "The ultimate attack of the Evil One is the attack on marriage," he said. "If you take marriage apart, everything comes unraveled. It's been frayed at the edges, and now moving more and more toward the center. But you take marriage out, it all comes unraveled. It all comes tumbling down. And again, the evangelicals, they understand that. They understand this is an attack of the Evil One at the core institution."

And there you have it in a nutshell: the man the U.S. Catholic bishops have delegated to lead the charge in their "defense" of marriage has equated the attempt of gay citizens of the U.S. to claim the right of civil marriage with the Evil One.  And he's baldly admitted that, in adopting this theologically abhorrent and rhetorically over-the-top language, the U.S. Catholic bishops are taking a leaf from the leaders of the American religious right, conservative evangelicals who blindly bless the Republican party as God's chosen party, who claim that the accumulation of wealth is a sign of God's blessing and poverty signifies God's curse for immoral behavior or laziness, who promote militarization and the equation of American wars with the will of God, who demonize and attack immigrants and the Muslim community, who have a long history of accusing the Catholic church of being a vehicle of the anti-Christ, and so on.

Through their ill-advised political games in recent decades, the U.S. Catholic bishops have now succeeded in completely undermining the core claims they make as Catholic spiritual leaders, and are willing to take their cue from religious leaders who are so blindly partisan and so theologically and spiritually bankrupt that they have long since come to represent a lunatic fringe for many American citizens.

As Terry Weldon puts the point with admirable lucidity, through their collusion with the fringe right in the battle to "defend" marriage, the Catholic hierarchy now lives in "the outer fringes of crazy town."  And as Colleen Baker astutely notes in her response to Jim McCrea, Avila's published rhetorical lapse attributing the very nature of gay human beings to diabolical influence can hardly have been accidental, given his position as a USCCB advisor.*  

It was an attempt of the U.S. bishops to test a p-r marketing meme in advance of their fall meeting.  And it failed abysmally.  What the bishops are selling, the public doesn't want.

The public (including growing numbers of Catholics) aren't buying.  Because this kind of language has nothing in the world to do with the love about which Mr. Dolan, the bishops' leader, spoke eloquently yesterday.  As Rebecca Kaplan tells Chris Johnson in his article reporting on his interview with Mr. Cordileone, "My great-grandparents were rounded up and put in Nazi prison camps by people who used that sort of language."

The bishops have far more than a credibility problem on their hands right now.  With people like gays-front-for-the-Devil Sal Cordileone calling the shots and occupying center stage at their meetings, they have a serious problem convincing anyone at all that what they stand for is love.  Or healing.  Or redemption.

And not hatred.

*Must-read commentary on the USCCB meeting: Colleen's last two postings at Enlightened Catholicism analyzing Mr. Dolan's opening address to the bishops, and the fear-based "junior-high" level theology (to use Colleen's brilliant term) Dolan and the bishops are employing to try to keep a remnant of the faithful in the fold.

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