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Is Bishop Rene Gracida Going for Another Coughie?

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

The new year is barely two weeks old, and the race is already on for the 2012 Coughie Award. It was just a few weeks ago that we said good bye to 2010 in awe as New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan swept up the 2010 Coughie in a dramatic, unexpected victory. The Coughie Award is, of course this column’s annual recognition of a fellow Catholic who epitomizes exclusionary, strident interpretations of Catholicism. The award is named for Father Charles Coughlin, the notorious radio priest of the 1930s who is the role model for today’s Religious Right radio and television evangelists and other conservative media personalities.

The competition has become so fierce that Bishop Rene Gracida, 2008’s award winner, is already making a bid to reclaim the coveted place as America’s Catholic Right demagogue. The retired bishop of Corpus Christi’s launched his campaign for the Coughie by injecting himself into the recent race for the Speaker of Texas House of Representatives by threatening Catholics who voted for one candidate with eternal damnation.

Longtime readers will not be surprised. Indeed, it was another such political attack during the 2008 Presidential Election that earned him the first Coughie ever awarded by this column:

This is Bishop Rene H. Gracida, reminding all Catholics that they must vote in this election with an informed conscience. A Catholic cannot be said to have voted in this election with a good conscience if they have voted for a pro-abortion candidate. Barack Hussein Obama is a pro-abortion candidate.

Bishop Gracida’s partisan attack was bad enough, but it was the gratuitous twist of anti-Arabism that clinched the award for him, emphasizing, as the far right was wont to do at the time, Mr. Obama’s middle name.

That press release was turned into a radio ad courtesy of radical anti-abortion activist Randall Terry, also known for using divisive, inflammatory rhetoric to advance his agenda; rhetoric that has even justified the murder of abortion provider George Tiller.

His Eminence has only become shriller in his political attacks since then.

A bona fide member of the Catholic Right, Gracida has since used his personal blog site, Abyssus Abysussum Invocat (Latin for “deep calls to the deep”), to rail against “dissident” Catholics; opposing a funeral Mass for Ted Kennedy; and of course to attack President Obama.

But it was the January 11, 2011 reelection of moderate, prochoice Republican Joe Straus as Speaker of the Texas House of Representative over two antiabortion Tea Party favorites that really raised Bishop Gracida’s ire and led him to threaten eternal damnation for the Speaker’s would be Catholic supporters.

In a December 31, 2010 press release, Gracida fumed more like a Tea Party activist than a retired prelate:

There can be no better example of how the Speaker of the House controls legislation than by citing the record of Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the House of Representatives in Congress during the past two years. Obamacare, the bailouts, the deficit spending, all the damage done to the United States in the past two years could not have been done without the exercise of raw power by Nancy Pelosi that we witnessed.

The potential for damage to the State of Texas by the Speaker of its House of Representatives may be limited in scale compared to that done by Nancy Pelosi, but it still too great to great to be risked. That is especially true with regard to respect for life issues.

This was then followed by a strong dose of fire and brimstone:

In 2007 Joe Straus co-authored House Bill 2707 that would have allowed the creation of living, human embryos by “any method other than fertilization” (human cloning) and would have required the destruction of embryos.

The re-election of Representative Joe Straus as Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives would be a legislative and moral disaster for Texas.

I cannot believe that any Catholic member of the Texas House of Representatives could with a clear conscience vote for the election of Joe Straus as Speaker. And if a Catholic member of the Texas House of Representatives cannot vote for Joe Straus with a CLEAR conscience, that member would be committing a serious sin by casting a vote for Joe Straus.

Translation: Any Catholic member of the Texas House of Representatives who votes for Joe Straus risks eternal damnation.

Bishop Gracida’s abortion-only litmus test for political viability is troublingly reductionist — excluding all other social justice issues such as poverty, environmental stewardship and above all, religious freedom. This very last point pertains to Catholics such as myself who view abortion as a matter of conscience, one that be more subject to the grey areas of equity rather than stark pronouncements of blind obedience.

And what of the other faiths that do not share Gracida’s strident views on abortion? Are their beliefs to be subordinated to an orthodox Catholic point of view? That would seem to be the case in Bishop Gracida’s universe.

In light of the post-Tuscon discussion of rightwing rhetoric and the culture of violence it is worth highlighting that Gracida employs toxic language in the service of intimidation and demonization of those with whom he disagrees. And judging by his ongoing involvement with Randall Terry, he at least implicitly endorses those who applaud violence.

This can only serve to encourage those whose minds sit at the margins of sanity. Murdering elected officials who support pro-choice legislation no longer seems that far out of the question in light of the assassination of George Tiller and the attempted assassination of Representative Giffords. And I hear little reflection or reconsideration from any sector of the Religious Right for their incendiary contributions to the current political climate.

Meanwhile, there is a competition already underway, and Bishop Gracida has already got to be considered the front-runner for the Coughie. But its a long way to December, and I have no doubt that the competition will be fierce.

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