Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More on Debates about Same-Sex Civil Unions in Britain: Mystifying Case of Dr. Oddie and Catholic Herald

Dr. William Oddie

I wonder if I'm the only person in the world reading William Oddie's column in the Catholic Herald yesterday that found its opening sentence gobsmacking--and not in the positive sense of that term.  Oddie continues to beat the anti-gay tom-tom for English Catholics.  Recently, he's determined to take Archbishop Nichols to task for suggesting that permitting same-sex couples the right of civil partnerships serves some positive social values--though Archbishop Nichols made it quite plain in offering this analysis that he is defending "traditional" opposite-sex marriage, to which same-sex partnerships aren't to be compared as if the two are equal.

Oddie opens his article yesterday with the following statement: 

I refer you first to an article which appeared last week on the website of the Catholic News Agency, which is based in Rome, and which refers to a piece which I wrote last week – one which it seems led to the CNA telephoning Archbishop Nichols to ask him whether or not he really did support civil unions.

But see, here's the thing: Catholic News Agency is not "based in Rome."  It's an American enterprise whose "about us" page plainly states that its contact address is in Englewood, Colorado.  The Wikipedia  page for CNA states that "[i]t is headquartered in Denver, Colorado."  Englewood is just outside Denver, to its south.

And none of this information is difficult to discover, and should, one would think, be information Dr. Oddie ought to know as a high-profile journalist who has edited a Catholic newspaper--the Herald, in fact.  And so why open an essay lambasting Archbishop Nichols for having, as Oddie thinks, failed to clarify his remarks about same-sex civil unions with the strange, and entirely counterfactual, assertion that Catholic News Agency is "based in Rome"?  What on earth does that journal's provenance even have to do with an English Catholic controversy about how English Catholics ought to respond to same-sex civil unions?

Part of the answer to that question, it seems clear, is that Oddie wants to take Archbishop Nichols to a very specific woodshed--to the Roman woodshed, in fact--since he ends his article with the somewhat minatory suggestion that, given that CNA is "read in Rome," this is where "the matter" of what the archbishop has said about same-sex unions ought to be taken up.

But there's another, and I suspect less ingenuous, reason that Dr. Oddie wishes to preface his latest remarks about Archbishop Nichols with the bizarre counterfactual claim that Catholic News Agency, which is collaborating with Oddie in attacking the Archbishop of Westminster, is "based in Rome."  This is the startling fact that an American Catholic newspaper which has no obvious connection at all to an intra-ecclesial discussion of issues in English Catholicism has taken it on itself to call an English archbishop on the carpet for his supposed lapses in representing official Catholic teaching.

And isn't that a strange development?  An American Catholic publication with no connection at all to a Catholic church across the Atlantic, imagining that it not only has a right to meddle in the affairs of another national church, but even to demand that one of the archbishops of that church explain himself to the American outfit . . . ?

There's clearly more to this story than meets the eye, and I strongly suspect that Oddie's opening comment about how CNA is based in Rome is designed to disguise that "more."  In the first place, CNA has, from its inception, been very closely connected to the powerful former archbishop of Denver, now archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput.  CNA is very much a Chaput baby, and it is, like Chaput himself, strongly bent in a political direction with a pronounced partisan cast.

Chaput, who was appointed by the Vatican to fly hither and yon several years ago to peer into the affairs of dioceses around the world as he investigated the Legionaries of Christ.  And Chaput, who then took it on himself (at Rome's bidding, of course) to fly to Australia and insert the knife into the back of a brother bishop in Australia, William Morris.  Chaput, who wrote the damning report on whose basis Morris was deposed from his position as bishop of Toowoomba--a report Morris has never even seen, though it resulted in Morris's being sacked.  

Archbishop Chaput is a man with a great deal of clout in the church universal.  And he's one disposed to use that clout.  He's also a man who appears to have no compunction at all about meddling in the internal affairs of national churches over which he has not a scintilla of authority, on the face of it.

He's as well a man with exceptionally cozy ties to well-heeled American Catholic corporate leaders, who are thought to be the driving (and monetary) force behind CNA itself, and behind CNA's strong and persistent attacks on the gay community and on its pro-Republican, pro-business, anti-Catholic social teaching stances.  And so there's a certain politically tinged picture hovering behind the current English Catholic controversy about Archbishop Nichols's remarks and same-sex unions, and it's one that, I believe, Dr. Oddie's remarks about how CNA is based in Rome are designed to disguise.

The picture is this: the anti-gay movement in the British Isles is being ginned up, to a large extent, by right-wing American organizations and right-wing American funders, who absolutely do not want to see Britain continuing to move down the path to greater acceptance and inclusion of gay and lesbian people in British society.  As Jane Carnall notes in the Guardian this past weekend, the arguments being deployed by the current leaders of the stepped-up anti-gay movement in Britain--including some leaders of church communities--are cut almost whole-cloth from those advanced by the powerful, well-funded American anti-gay movement, with its strong ties to the religious right.

A political-religious movement in which Dr. Oddie himself appears to be more than a little enmeshed, given that he has taken it on himself to comment on intra-political matters in the U.S., with claims that our current president is "an enemy of the Catholic church"--claims that so strongly echo the assertions of the American political and religious right that one has to wonder about precisely what Oddie is seeking to do now, in collaboration with the American Catholic newspaper Catholic News Agency, as he attacks Archbishop Nichols of Westminster.

Chaput's baby Catholic News Agency is no more based in Rome than Westminster is a suburb of D.C.  The fact that William Oddie wants his readers to imagine that CNA is a Roman publication, as he collaborates with this highly political, right-wing, and very American Catholic rag in attacking an English archbishop: this speaks volumes about the less than honorable political intent and less than honorable political motives of those who are now hyping up their attacks on the rights and humanity of gay citizens of the British Isles.

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