Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sarah Posner and Peter Montgomery on U.S. Catholic Bishops' Religious Freedom Initiative

The U.S. Catholic bishops' new "religious freedom" initiative continues to attract the (critical) attention of many observers beyond the boundaries of the Catholic church--who have every right to be concerned about the disproportionate influence the leaders of one particular faith community demand the "right" to exercise in the public square, via secret meetings with presidents, intense back-room lobbying sessions with congressional leaders, and copious amounts of tax-free lobbying dollars at their disposal, for whose use they are not required to account to anyone.  

Today at Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner offers further analysis of what the bishops are all about right now.  And it's not a pretty picture.

As she notes, the new religious freedom hype of the U.S. Catholic bishops demonstrates the extent to which they have gotten into bed with the religious right, and are determined to turn their church and all its adherents (and money) into a machine to serve the goals of the political right.  Posner writes, 

There have been numerous instances in which this "infringement of religious liberty" strategy has been deployed; yesterday I wrote about Republican charges that the Obama administration is anti-Catholic for denying federal funding to a USCCB project to help victims of sex trafficking because the USCCB will not provide or refer clients for reproductive health services. This phony charge that rights for others means infringement of Christian (and Catholic) religious liberty has reared its head in every fight over same-sex marriage, in the religious right's smear campaign against Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools director and anti-bullying activist Kevin Jennings, in the fight over the Stupak amendment and health care reform, and in other instances in which a particular version of Christianity does not get enshrined in the law.

As she notes, the Catholic bishops of the U.S. appear to have been energized by what they consider the success of the Manhattan Declaration, which seeks to create an overt, politically powerful coalition of various groups of the religious right, and to cement the alliance of Catholics (as represented by the bishops) with right-trending evangelicals and others determined to resist the movement for women's and gay rights.  The Manhattan Declaration was the brainchild of Republican Catholic activist Robbie George, and the new "religious freedom" initiative of the USCCB as well as the new USCCB committee to "defend" marriage have George's fingerprints all over them.

American Catholics who want their parochial donations to go to feeding the hungry and healing the sick may want to take a very careful look at what's currently in the works for these donations.  I learn from Peter Montgomery, who also has an article about the USCCB's "religious freedom" initiative at Religion Dispatches today, that the USCCB has just imposed what amounts to a new tax on all U.S. dioceses, who will now be required to submit 3% of their budgets to support the expensive USCCB campaign to attack gay and reproductive rights.  Montgomery is citing Fr. Joseph Palacios of the group Catholics for Equality, who teaches sociology at Georgetown.

Someone has to pay for all those glitzy new videos promoting real marriage (and bashing the gays in the process).  And as I read this, I wonder if the U.S. bishops are taking a leaf from their Mormon allies, since it was widely reported during the campaign to remove the right of civil marriage from gay citizens of California that the aggressive Mormon contributions to that campaign were being funded by direct "taxes" levied by church leaders on all Mormons.

Just when you think the Catholic bishops of the U.S. cannot sink any lower and cannot abdicate their moral and spiritual leadership more grossly, you read something new like this that demonstrates to you how wrong you were.  But I wonder what else one can expect from a group of men one of whose erstwhile rising stars now finds himself cutting plea-bargaining deals with a court, in a desperate attempt to avoid taking the witness stand and reveal all that he knows about his actions to shield a priest abusing minors in recent years.  As the Kansas City star asks in an editorial statement about Robert Finn yesterday, this is leadership?

After all we've learned in a hair-raising decade (and more) about how to recognize and effectively address the dangers that some priests pose to children, a Catholic bishop now has to call in a court-delegated supervisory committee to help him do his job?  When a school principal who permitted a teacher who endangered children's safety to remain in place would be yanked immediately from his position, while Finn, who wants us to imagine he couldn't quite fathom that Shawn Ratigan represented a serious danger to children despite the child pornography the priest had stored on his computer, is permitted to continue in charge of a diocese?  Which operates numerous schools that need to assure the safety of large numbers of children?

And now it comes out that Finn brought in a therapist connected to the group Opus Bono Sacerdotii--a Catholic organization designed to help priests accused of child abuse to defend themselves!--to assure him that Ratigan was not a problem and his pedophilia was under control.  A group whose president goes around the country telling Catholic audiences that "a large number of accused priests are innocent and that, abandoned by bishops and laity, they are denied the resources to clear their names" . . . .  And which has sought to raise money to defend a priest credibly charged with abusing 13 6 boys*--causing chagrin to bishops in whose dioceses they make such pitches for financial support . . . . 

I wonder if it can get any worse than this.  And whether U.S. Catholic know what downright filth they're subsidizing as they drop their dollars into collection baskets each Sunday--filth from which the bishops are desperate to divert our attention by mounting expensive, high-profile public campaigns to attack a vulnerable minority . . . .

*I've corrected the number here (later in the day) after Chris Morley pointed out my misreading of the article to which the preceding link points.  I very much appreciate this correction.  See Chris's comment below.

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