Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Paul Ryan Selection and Spectacular Pastoral Failure of U.S. Catholic Bishops

The New York Times on Romney's selection of Paul Ryan: after weeks of hearing nothing but vague, mendacious, marshmallow blather from Romney about the (non-)specifics of how he would govern, with the Ryan selection "voters will now be able to see with painful clarity just what the Republican Party has in store for them":

More than three-fifths of the cuts proposed by Mr. Ryan, and eagerly accepted by the Tea Party-driven House, come from programs for low-income Americans. That means billions of dollars lost for job training for the displaced, Pell grants for students and food stamps for the hungry. These cuts are so severe that the nation’s Catholic bishops raised their voices in protest at the shredding of the nation’s moral obligations. 
Mr. Ryan’s budget “will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment,” the bishops wrote in an April letter to the House. "These cuts are unjustified and wrong."

And I'll say it again: the fact that a top leader of a major political party in the U.S. could claim to be representing the values of the Catholic church as he calls for a radical dismantling of social safety networks sustaining the lives of the least among us among us speaks volumes about the lack of bona fide pastoral leadership of the U.S. Catholic bishops for years now.   It is nice that, retroactively, the bishops spoke out about the disordered priorities of a proposed federal budget that brutally punishes the poor and adulates the rich.

But the fact that a significant proportion of American Catholics now believe that the kind of ruthless individualism and disdain for the poor represented by Ryan and the tea party are consonant with Catholic values speaks strongly to the pastoral failure of the U.S. bishops in recent years.  Someone led us to this point, after all.

And the voices of those someones remain alive and well among the U.S. Catholic bishops.  Throughout the current campaign, they have done everything short of standing on their heads to convince Catholics that one party protects religious freedom while one party attacks it--just as, for years now, they've tried to convince Catholics that one party protects life while the other undermines it.

Only last week, just as Romney came back from his I-♥-JPII tour of Poland and just as he released attack ads depicting himself as the defender of religious freedom against President Obama, who's said to be assaulting religious freedom, the religious freedom guru of the U.S. Catholic bishops, William Lori, played the typical vote-GOP election-cycle trump card of the USCCB for some years now, speaking of Catholics' obligation to select candidates who do not advocate "intrinsically evil" acts.

Lori spoke those words at a Knights of Columbus gathering.  The head of the Knights, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, a man with enormous influence in the Vatican due to his ties to the Vatican bank, is a Republican activist who once served as an assistant to North Carolina Republican Senator Jesse Helms and who served in the administration of Republican President Ronald Reagan.  Anderson has overtly politicized the Knights of Columbus and turned the group into a GOP voting machine.

Catholics know--because we've been taught this by our bishops for years now, after all, and they claim to be uniquely qualified to teach the Catholic faith--that the rhetoric about "intrinsically evil" acts is all about voting Republican, because the Republican party protects life.  And the Democratic party doesn't.

The chickens of this duplicitous "pro-life" rhetoric have now come home to roost with the selection of Catholic Paul Ryan as the vice-presidential candidate of the Romney ticket.  The bishops worked very hard to create the conditions under which Ryan and the GOP can represent themselves as the Catholic "pro-life" party even as they call for dismantling social safety networks for the least among us--or as they work hand in hand with the bishops to roll back a program that provides healthcare for millions of citizens who have no access to basic healthcare.

Nice-sounding words about the need to be more concerned about the poor as we work against "intrinsicially evil" abortion and "intrinsically evil" gay anything won't disguise the message most Catholic voters have long since understood the bishops to be providing us as their flock: that message is to vote life (and now, to vote against the gays), and to make our choices on no other basis.

It's a message to vote Republican.

It's also a message to close our eyes to the enormous ways in which the Republican party's agenda has, for years now, fallen far short of any authentic pro-life ethic as it promotes militarization, gleefully drums up wars, cuts taxes on the rich and transfers the tax burden to the poor and middle classes, attacks women's rights and the rights of gay citizens, and dismantles social safety networks.  It's a message about enjoying the thrill of cheap grace and Catholic self-righteousness as we pull the lever of the party of death and tell ourselves we've just voted pro-life.

The nice message the bishops have been giving us for years now about voting "pro-life" is as duplicitous as is their nice message about having cleaned up the abuse crisis in the Catholic church and about how they take the harm done to abuse survivors to their hearts.  In both cases, empty, cheap words, when we can see from their actions where their hearts really lie.

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