Thursday, November 15, 2012

Catholic Bishops Meet: People of God Talk about Dumb Doubling Down, Laughing, and Crying

On her Posner Show, Sarah Posner interviews Anthea Butler about the U.S. Catholic bishops' "takeaway" from the recent U.S. elections.  Do the bishops get what's wrong?  Will they get it?

Hint: Anthea Butler talks good sense and honest-to-God truth.  Hint: listen for phrases like "double down" and words like "dumb."  (And don't miss Posner's and Butler's rollicking take-down of Rev. Mike Huckabee's weasely defense of General Petraeus's adultery because David Petraeus = King David of the bible!  Posner and Butler demonstrate in that part of the interview precisely why the men running things are so frightened that women are rising up now and daring to read the bible for themselves and talk about what it means among themselves.)

The bishops clearly do not intend to get it.  They are, to be blunt, spectacular failures as an episcopal body at being pastoral leaders for American Catholics.  That they permitted a bishop convicted of criminal charges of protecting a pedophile priest, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, to sit among them at their annual gathering in Baltimore, while they remained utterly silent about his presence, speaks volumes about their loss of moral credibility as they exercise pastoral leadership.  (See David Clohessy's powerful statement about this at National Catholic Reporter.)

You don't convincingly teach people to lead good moral lives while you deliver your moral pronouncements with a convicted criminal who has protected pedophiles sitting among you.

Evidence that the bishops don't want or intend to get it?  

1. Instead of reading last week's election results as a call to their consciences from the Catholic people, which invites the bishops to listen to the sensus fidelium on the issue of the civil right of marriage for same-sex couples, the bishops continue to brandish their swords and spears.  The new archbishop of Baltimore, William Lori, who led the bishops' spectacularly failed "religious freedom" campaign against the Obama administration this summer, told the media with a straight face this week that the real challenge the bishops face due to the victory of marriage equality at the polls last week is "communicating the true nature of marriage and its importance to society."

Rates of divorce have skyrocketed in recent years.  Divorce is far and away the primary threat to the integrity of marriage as an institution in the U.S.  And yet the bishops lack any comprehension at all that when they target gays as an incomparable threat to the institution of marriage, while they have never mounted expensive national campaigns to deal with heterosexual divorce, they reveal themselves to most people of any moral awareness at all as mean-spirited bigots--not defenders of marriage.

They don't get it.  They have no capacity to see themselves as they truly are.  Or to listen to anyone outside their club of aging males most of whom are white.  They don't intend to get it.  

And so at this USCCB meeting, they did precisely what Anthea Butler predicted they'd do: they doubled down on the issues of gay marriage and contraception, announcing that they are right and the rest of the people of God wrong.  And that they're noble heroes who will go down fighting for what's right no matter what the rest of the church does or thinks: the USCCB leader His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan told the media this week, "Every door is open but capitulation." 

Listening, discerning the Spirit among the people of God: this is "capitulation."  We're right.  You're wrong.  And we'll keep doing the same dysfunctional things all over again despite your appeal to us to stop and talk about what we're really communicating to the world and to the Catholic community by our belligerent, dumb intransigence: what we're really communicating is the truth of Einstein's quip that the very definition of insanity is doing the same stupid thing over again in the expectation of achieving different results.

2. And contraception: though it's almost impossible to believe after they have just taken a huge shellacking at the polls, the bishops intend to continue with the beyond-silly Taco Bell argument.  They continue to argue that conscience exemptions vis-a-vis the HHS guidelines requiring contraceptive coverage should be extended to private employers who are in no way church-affiliated but who have qualms about providing contraceptive coverage to their employees.

And they continue with the rhetoric about the party just defeated at the polls as the party of God and morality and the Democratic party as the party of secularism and immorality.  Aided and abetted in this rhetoric by the Vatican itself, as the article to which I've just linked indicates . . . . 

Why are the bishops so spectacularly dysfunctional, so unable to listen, to critique themselves, and to recognize their failure as pastoral leaders?  The answer to that question is quite simply that they have sold themselves and their souls to the 1%.  They are in captivity to the economic elite that desperately wanted the Republican party to win the 2012 elections.

And they cannot and will not admit that this captivity is a betrayal of the gospels and of the Lord they're called to emulate in their exercise of pastoral leadership.

I'm with Sister Maureen Fiedler in her assessment of this week's USCCB meeting: I don't know whether to laugh or to cry at the spectacle of these men who claim to be moral and spiritual leaders doubling down on dumb, belligerent, dysfunctional intransigence, refusing to listen or to learn from their glaring failures.  But expecting to be listened to with respect as they declare that this or that door is, by God, closed to "capitulation"!

In the words of James Baldwin (The Fire Next Time [1962, repr. NY: Random House, 1993]), the current leaders of the Catholic church are "lost, and unable to say what it was that oppresse[s] them."  They'd be pitiable, if they didn't wield so much baleful influence over the lives of so many hapless human beings.

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