Wednesday, April 18, 2012

USCCB Addresses Ryan Budget, USCCB Cheerleaders Respond

It's to the credit of the U.S. Catholic bishops that they have issued several mild statements about the moral shortcomings of the Paul Ryan budget.  This is in keeping with a rather predictable game the USCCB has played for some years now.  Here's the game: as a first step, when an election approaches, the members of the USCCB give every outward appearance and every strong sign possible of anointing the GOP as God's own party.

Then having done their utmost to assure that "real" Catholics will cast their votes for God's party and that the deck of public Catholic conversation will be strongly stacked in favor of the GOP as God's party, they make a few ineffectual whispers in the direction of support for Catholic social teaching--whispers that mean absolutely nothing in light of their overweening endorsement of a political party that has no vital connection at all to this social teaching, but which, indeed, stands for its opposite.

I have long since grown disenchanted with this game, and with the dishonesty of Catholic centrists who continue to act as cheerleaders for the bishops, as they issue statements to which the bishops know perfectly well no one will listen, since what they whisper has already been effectively drowned out by their loud, coarse, and persistent pro-Republican proclamations.

And so when I read Michael Sean Winters doing his predictable song and dance today about the "magnificent letters" the bishops have written re: the Paul Ryan budget, I simply shrug--as I always do now when I read Winters's USCCB propaganda headlines, or when I hear anything the bishops have to say.  Winters claims, astonishingly, that the USCCB is a strong voice for the poor, who do not have "well-financed, well-organized special interest" lobbying money behind them.

You know who does have such "well-financed, well-organized special interest" lobbying money behind them?  The USCCB does.  The bishops are near the top of the list--they're number two--among faith-based lobbying groups in D.C.  And you know what they're spending their lavish political lobbying funds to accomplish?  They're spending that funding to try to yank rights from a marginalized community, from LGBT citizens.  And to restrict women's access to contraceptive coverage in their health care plans.

From where I stand, the rights of women and marginalized communities belong on the side of the ledger called "assisting the weak and vulnerable."  And so when the bishops are not only not assisting the weak and vulnerable as they seek to block the human rights of gay citizens and of women, but are actively assaulting these folks and their rights, I have an exceptionally hard time seeing them as the champions of the poor.  In any shape, form, or fashion.

And when they're spending their lavish millions to do political lobbying attacking these members of the human community and not assisting the poor, I find the claim that the bishops stand with and assist the poor astonishing.  I find it dishonest in the extreme.

And when the article I have read just before I light on Winters's proclamation about how the USCCB is the best thing going for the poor these days is this morning's number one lead article at Think Progress, "Catholic Bishop Claims Obama Is 'Following a Similar Path to Hitler', then I know that I haven't misunderstood what the bishops want to say loudly and clearly to the American public.*  And I know that their message is not in the least what Winters wants us to imagine it to be.  Because if you want to support the weak and vulnerable and the poor, you don't keep asking Catholic voters to cast their votes for a party that exists primarily to serve the interests of the 1%--at the expense of the 99%.

All this after the bishops have bombarded Congress with messages at special called hearings about how religious liberty is under attack (by the Obama administration), have asked parishes around the land to read letters about how religious liberty is under attack (by the Obama administration), and have just issued another document calling for political rallies this coming summer to protest the attack on religious liberty (by the Obama administration).  I hear the bishops's real message loudly and clearly.  And it is decidedly not a message that they stand on the side of the poor.

As for the claim that the U.S. Catholic bishops stand pre-eminently with the weak and vulnerable, I'll keep thinking about that claim as I continue reading the stories coming out of the trials of Bishop Finn in Kansas City and of Monsignor Lynn in Philadelphia.  For my money, you can't get more weak and vulnerable than a child coerced by an adult into unwanted sexual activity.

And if the bishops' response to those children has been a demonstration of their concern for the weak and vulnerable, then my understanding of terms like "concern," "compassion," and "weak and vulnerable" must be upside down.

*For more on Bishop Jenky, see here and here.

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