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Cardinal Pell: Catholic Defense of Human Rights = My Right to Religious Freedom vs. Your Right to Same-Sex Marriage


At my Bilgrimage blog site ysterday, I blogged about the recent and rapidly developing rhetorical ploy of top Catholic officials–including Pope Benedict himself–to claim that the right to religious freedom trumps all other rights, and is foundational to all human rights.   And I noted, citing Simon Barrow, that this claim is being made in the face of the continued insistence of these same Catholic officials that the church has a “right” to discriminate against gay and lesbian human beings.

As I noted, the behavior of Catholic pastoral leaders towards their LGBT brothers and sisters completely undermines the human rights claims on which the assertions about the right to religious freedom rest.  There is a kind of sleight of hand at work in the attempt of Catholic pastoral officials to claim victim status for themselves, while they victimize others–as Louis A. Ruprecht points out yesterday at Religion Dispatches.

As Ruprecht notes, this sleight of hand trick, in which I claim the right to oppress and discriminate against you while claiming victim status for myself if you challenge that “right,” is borrowed right out of the playbook of neo-conservative political thinkers, who selectively isolate ideas of their critics in order to subvert the critical force of those ideas by turning them onto their heads.  So Sarah Palin becomes an embattled feminist, fighting for “true” feminism against all those feminist predecessors who have misunderstood feminism by failing to understand that a woman’s true fulfillment is in being connected to a man who dominates her . . . .

Ruprecht writes:


Pope Benedict XVI seems to have borrowed an important ploy from the broader neo-traditional and neo-conservative culture on the rise worldwide: appropriating the critical tools of the left when they suit your purposes and claiming the mantle of victim as a mode of self-defense.


The correctness of Ruprecht’s analysis was powerfully demonstrated recently by the top Catholic prelate of Australia, Cardinal George Pell.  A controversy has arisen in Australia following a Christmas sermon preached by Fr. Pat Cassidy of Queensland.  Three times in his Christmas sermon, Fr. Cassidy called on parishioners to write their political representatives and demand that the right of civil marriage be denied to gay and lesbian persons.

Fr. Cassidy’s repeated insistence–at a Mass celebrating the birth of Christ, God’s love taking flesh–that faithful Catholics must work to prevent a marginalized minority from enjoying a human right has elicited controversy in Australia, including among Australian Catholics.  A same-sex couple attending this liturgy walked out during the sermon, along with their family members.  A Brisbane woman who had been considering converting to Catholicism, since she is married to a Catholic, has told the media that she will not convert now, because she does not wish to raise her children in a church that celebrates “discriminatory and hateful” messages.

And here’s what Cardinal Pell is saying in response to this controversy:


It is entirely appropriate for priests to support and encourage the people in their parishes to take part in this consultation about the meaning of marriage.  In doing so, they are continuing a proud tradition of working with lay people and members of religious orders to defend important values and the rights of others – in this case, the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, which has been significantly eroded and constrained wherever same-sex marriage has been legalised.


Got that?  In promoting the “discriminatory and hateful” message that faithful Catholics will oppose in every way possible the right of gay couples to civil marriage, the Catholic church is “continuing a proud tradition of working with lay people and members of religious orders to defend important values and the rights of others”!

But please note: the right that matters here is not the right of gay and lesbian persons to marry and enjoy all the privileges of marriage afforded to opposite-sex couples.  It is my right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.  And even by asking for your right to be protected from discrimination, you are threatening my right–my right to discriminate, while claiming that I am a staunch defender of human rights.  The very fulfillment of your right threatens my right, so that in denying you rights, I am actually promoting human rights.

This inversion of the rhetoric of human rights in the service of a discriminatory movement seeking to disguise itself as victimized is absolutely mind-boggling.  It’s obscene.

And if the signals given by Pope Benedict in his various utterances during the Christmas season and new year are any indicator, we can look for much, much more of this obscene rhetoric to come from the mouths of Catholic pastoral officials in the coming year, as an institution whose leaders have victimized and re-victimized those who suffered clerical sexual abuse as children seeks to portray itself as the real victim.  And as an institution whose leaders insist on the right to discriminate against LGBT human beings seeks to masquerade as the great champion of embattled human rights around the world.

How long will faithful Catholics continue to put up with this nonsense, I wonder?  And when will the influential thinkers and journalists of the Catholic center in the U.S. begin to blow the whistle on this obscene perversion of the rhetoric of human rights by religious leaders intent on trampling on the rights of a vulnerable minority?

H/t to Clerical Whispers for the link to the Star Observer article cited above.

This post is cross-posted from Bilgrimage, 4 Jan. 2010.


2 Responses

  1. I find it sad that some in the Church think that is acceptable to discriminate against groups that they dislike. Didn’t they learn any lessons from Nazi Germany in the 1930’s. How many Catholics spoke out against discrimination against the Jews? Did Catholic Germans have a right to discriminate against Jewish people in the 1930’s? Do American, Australian Catholics and others have a right to discriminate against gay people today? I wonder if Pope Benedict would have different views on this if he had been raised in a society where all people were worthy of respect.

  2. Thanks, Mark. I find your last observation intriguing. And I think you’re right: the cultural milieu in which the current pope was raised may well affect his thinking about these issues. He was raised in the Oberpfalz region of Bavaria, a region I’ve visited a number of times, which is almost exclusively Catholic and rather conservative, in contrast with the rest of Germany, and even with other Catholic regions of Germany. This surely has to affect Benedict’s cultural outlook on many issues.

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