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The Culture War Majority of the Catholic Bishops Seize the Day

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

The American Catholic bishops have sent a clear message to Catholics and non-Catholics alike by electing New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: They are going to escalate the culture wars at the expense of economic justice.

Dolan’s dogmatism on non-economic issues concerning priestly celibacy, abortion, birth control, divorce and gay marriage reflects the steady restocking of hierarchy with avatars of conservative orthodoxy that began with Pope John Paul II. Like the late conservative pope, Dolan cloaks his aggressive culture warriorisms with a genial demeanor.

Dolan offers a stylistic balance to the grating take-no prisoners style of Bill Donohue, even as they differ little in substance. “Archbishop Dolan is a moderate conservative” observed the Cathnews.com, “who is willing to put his affable and outgoing demeanor in service of a more assertively confrontational approach to the church’s critics.” Nevertheless, Dolan appeals to the prejudices of socially conservative Catholics by creating strawmen and attacking them. And like Donohue, Dolan has no patience for those who dissent from his notions of orthodoxy.

Dolan has sought to silence critics of the Church – even when the criticism is justified. For example, soon after ascending to the leadership of the New York archdiocese, Dolan picked a fight with one of movement conservatism’s favorite bogeymen: The New York Times. I wrote about this at the time.

In his October 29, 2009 blog posting entitled “Foul Ball!”, Archbishop Dolan described a litany of alleged slights of Catholicism by various reporters, including op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd. In her piece Dowd examined the second class Church citizenship nuns must endure. She even dared discuss (as a Catholic herself) the current Inquisition reactionaries in the Vatican are now carrying out; an Inquisition designed to quiet one of the most compassionate yet progressive parts of Catholicism.

Two of the other journalists were singled out by the Archbishop was Times religion correspondent, Laurie Goldstein and her colleague, Paul Vitello.

Dolan complained that Vitello’s piece, which was about pedophilia within the orthodox Jewish community, was anti-Catholic because, “According to the article, there were forty cases of such abuse in this tiny community last year alone. Yet the Times did not demand what it has called for incessantly when addressing the same kind of abuse by a tiny minority of priests: release of names of abusers, rollback of statute of limitations, external investigations, release of all records, and total transparency”

Goldstein fired back, exposing the archbishop’s flimsy arguments.

I concluded about the affair:

The archbishop’s attack on the Times is nothing more than the tired old tactic of raising up strawmen to attack. There is no anti-Catholicism to be found in the works of Dowd, Goldstein or Vitello; only the discussion of Church issues that, if left unaddressed, could lead to real harm to the Catholic faith. Pedophilia, the lack of accountability and the suppression of new ideas put forth by nuns are the real ticking time bombs that will eventually destroy Catholicism.

Following his election, Dolan made it clear that traditional Catholic advocacy of economic justice would be given the heave-ho in favor of biological issues. As The New York Times‘ Laurie Goldstein recently reported that as USCCB president he intends to stifle dissenters while increasing the Catholic Right’s obsession with all-things-abortion:

Archbishop Dolan said in a news conference after the vote that he would carry on the forceful opposition of his predecessor, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, to the recent health care overhaul because the bishops believed it would permit expanded government financing for abortion.

“My major priority would be to continue with all vigor I can muster what’s already in place,” Archbishop Dolan said. “It’s not like we’re in crisis; it’s not like all of a sudden we need some daring new initiatives. Thank God for the leadership of Cardinal Francis George, things are going well.”

Archbishop Dolan also suggested that he would not countenance other Catholic leaders and organizations when they take public positions that contradict the bishops. That is what happened this year when some groups representing Catholic hospitals and nuns came out in support of the health care overhaul bill, despite the bishops’ staunch opposition.

“We’re pastors and teachers,” Archbishop Dolan said of the bishops’ role, “not just one set of teachers in the Catholic community, but the teachers.”

Apparently, abortion is now the only thing that matters. Never mind that the health care legislation as passed totally denuded women of coverage for abortion services; never mind that the same bill was watered down by excluding a public option — accomplished with the help of several hard-line bishops; and never mind that at least the legislation does prevent the vile insurance company practice of excluding enrollees with a pre-existing medical condition. All that matters to this cultural warrior is abortion.

While this must have sent a thrill up the leg of Catholic neo-conservative leader Robert P. George (which he admits, it did) this episode shows that life issues are more complicated than mere opposition to reproductive rights. Large scale economics are also involved.

Indeed, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops appears to have joined in the Religious Right’s efforts to advance a laissez-faire economic agenda. This is a triumph for for those such as Robert P. George who openly call for the merging of economic and religious conservatism and the voice of Catholic economic justice (since the USCCB’s predecessor organization, The National Catholic War Council in 1919) the very progressive Bishops’ Program for Social Reconstruction, has been neutered.

——————–

(For further discussion, see posts by Frederick Clarkson, Colleen Kochivar-Baker and Betty Clermont.)

The promised Robert P. George/Gold Standard piece will be the next post.

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