For over three decades, the Republican Party has used the Religious Right to energize conservative Christians to political activism and to get out the vote. Republicans running for office in numerous states and the U.S. Congress are preparing for battles in 2016 over discrimination protection for LBGT persons, religious exemptions for nonprofits and businesses objecting to gay marriage and contraception, and greater restrictions on abortion and Planned Parenthood.
At the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) annual General Assembly in November, “their first assembly since gay marriage became legal nationwide, they vowed to uphold marriage as only the union of a man and a woman and to seek legal protections for those who share that view. Some bishops said they were committed to reversing the U.S. Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling last June … Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City said a concerted effort was needed to ‘build a consensus’ to do so. As a model, he pointed to new state laws that have made it harder to obtain an abortion.”
USCCB president, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, “highlighted the bishops’ push for religious exemptions for charities, schools and individual for-profit business owners who oppose gay marriage and other laws and regulations.”The assembly “also heard an address from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican’s U.S. ambassador who was behind Pope Francis’ controversial meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who briefly went to jail rather than comply with a court order to issue same-sex marriage licenses … The ambassador received two standing ovations from the bishops.”
Confirming the reason for his “secret, emotionally charged” meeting with Davis, Pope Francis stated that “conscientious objection” by “government employees” is a “human right” on the flight back to Rome.
Pope Francis proved Religious Right issues really matter to him during his trip to the U.S. He also met with the Little Sisters of the Poor. The U.S. Supreme Court said on November 6 that it will hear their case against the Affordable Care Acts’s requirement that non-profits and businesses submit a form to get an exemption allowing a third party insurance carrier to provide coverage for contraception, one of the exemptions President Obama has made to religions and others who object to birth control. “The pope’s visit to the Little Sisters was a sign of support for them in their legal battle, Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, told reporters.”
(No, the pope does not meet with “everyone.” He has never met in private with an American Democrat other than President Obama. Yes, the Republican Romneycare provided coverage for abortions in addition to birth control with no serious objections from Catholic officials.)
Catholic Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia, who will be deciding that case and “the most important Supreme Court battle over abortion in a generation” in 2016, told an audience on January 2 that government support for religion is justified by the Constitution. New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond introduced Scalia to the 600 who had gathered for the cause of religious freedom at a Catholic high school.
“Religious liberty and marriage [i.e. their ability to deny women and LGBT persons their human rights] were the focus of the bishops’ gathering … ‘What a great tragedy it will be if our ministries are … driven out of the public square because of short-sighted laws or regulations,’ said Kurtz.”
In Philadelphia, Pope Francis emphasized the “various forms of modern tyranny [that] seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square.” The pope’s defense of religious freedom at the White House was “hugely significant,” said the chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore. He said the pope “supported the efforts of the U.S. bishops to defend religious freedom.”
The Marist Poll conducted a survey the week after the pope’s trip to the U.S. It showed “about 62 percent of Americans voiced support for life at every stage of its development, including the unborn,” their “support for marriage as a union of one man and one woman increased four percentage points to 55 percent” and “support for religious freedom appeared to increase by seven percentage points to 85 percent … Fewer than 24 percent of Americans saw the papal visit as political.”
A Call to War
The bishops agreed on limited revisions to their voting guide issued every four years in the November preceding a presidential election. In addition to their anti-abortion, anti-contraception and anti-gay marriage, adoption and employment efforts, “the document was updated to take account of recent developments in the United States in both domestic and foreign policy” i.e. “the deadly attacks on fellow Christians and religious minorities throughout the world” and “wars, terror, and violence that threaten every aspect of human life and dignity.” The 2016 voting guide states: “We support the proportionate and discriminate use of military force to protect civilians in a way that recognizes the continuing threat of fanatical extremism and global terror, minimizes the loss of life, and addresses the humanitarian and refugee crises in war-torn regions, and the need to protect human rights, especially religious freedom.”
In sync with Republican calls for “escalating U.S. military involvement in the Middle East,” the prelate of Wall Street, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, addressed the conference, “The Islamic State’s Religious Cleansing and the Urgency of a Strategic Response” sponsored by the Hudson Institute. Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, is senior vice president. The institute is funded by “many of the foundations and corporations that have bankrolled the conservative movement,” and some of the trustees, staff and fellows are the men who took us to war in Iraq.
“Inspired by Christianity’s new martyrs,” Dolan later asked, “Why don’t we Christians have our own Holocaust literature?”
Pope Francis’ “foreign minister,” Archbishop Paul Gallagher, favors “widening the possibilities of a legitimate recourse to the instrument of war as a solution to international conflict” and a strategy “towards a more widespread use and easier access to the use of force.” The pope’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said he supports military intervention to disarm ISIS. Parolin argued for “a general mobilization of France, of Europe, and of the whole world to root out this evil.” The Vatican’s “top diplomat” at the United Nations in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, “called for a coordinated international force to stop the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq from further assaults on Christians and other minority groups.”
While not explicitly condoning military action, citing the suffering and deaths of Christians, Pope Francis has called for “tangible help in the defense and protection of our brothers and our sisters,” urged the international community to “take action,” and said the international community would be justified in stopping Islamist militants.
“It’s unfortunate for a Catholic bishop to say that military action is needed, but in a very limited and targeted way to fight ISIS,” Archbishop Bashar Warda of Iraq responded when asked “What message do you want to share with the US government?” Warda gave the keynote address at the Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention held August 4-6 in Philadelphia and attended by 11 cardinals and 98 archbishops and bishops. The Knights will launch a national television ad campaign to draw more attention to persecuted Christians. “Christians in the Middle East are facing a dire situation and even extinction, while the response from the international community has been woefully inadequate,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said.
The International Catholic Legislators Network, of which U.S. Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) is a member, meets annually in Rome. Among the issues in the working document presented to Pope Francis in August are the persecution and “genocide” of Christians and Europe’s addressing those who enter the continent “seeking to recolonize it in the name of Islam.”
A letter was sent to President Obama dated October 5: “We humbly request that your office publicly acknowledge and denounce the Islamic State’s actions as genocide and act with all due haste to ensure that this ongoing, abominable crime is halted, prevented and punished.” Signatories included two officials from the Hudson Institute, Georgetown University, the Catholic University of America and Supreme Knight Carl Anderson.
Lee Marsden, professor of international relations specializing in religion and security at the University of East Anglia, said there could be an element of Islamophobia in some Christian campaign organizations, “but there is also an element of victimhood – a view that the Church has always been persecuted, which feeds into the martyrdom narrative.”
Before ISIS began targeting Christians in mid-2014 and the victims were Muslims, Pope Francis held a day of prayer for peace in Syria on September 7, 2013. Addressing tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square, he issued a long, impassioned appeal for peace in Syria and across the Middle East and urged the international community to make every effort to bring about peace based on “dialogue and negotiations.” “Violence never leads to peace, war leads to war, violence leads to violence,” he said. He proclaimed “War, never again.”
The Right Wing Church and Their Proxies
Pope Francis and his bishops pretend they are non-partisan but they are not.
When the progressive Fernandez administration in Argentina “pushed for mandatory sex education in schools, free distribution of contraceptives in public hospitals, and the right for transsexuals to change their official identities on demand,” Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio accused the president of “demagoguery, totalitarianism, corruption and efforts to secure unlimited power.”
Argentine historian Ernesto Semán said that the election of this “very conservative cardinal from the region might help bolster forces that are opposed to continuing this enormous change [to left-leaning governments] that’s occurring in Latin America.”
Brazilian feminist theologian Ivone Gebara noted that the press says nothing about Cardinal Bergoglio’s “well-known criticism of liberation theology [which addresses the causes of poverty, not just “handouts to the poor”] or his disdain for feminist theology … The See of Peter and the Vatican State are positioning their pieces in the world game of chess in order to empower political projects championed by the North and its allies in the South. [His] highly touted commitment to evangelization as a Church priority seems instead to be a commitment to a hierarchical order in a world where the elites reign and the people applaud in great plazas.”
Pope Francis referred to those protesting his appointment of Bishop Juan Barros in Osorno, Chile, as “lefties.” Barros is accused of concealing clergy sex abuse. “When a group of Chilean Catholics in Rome asked the pope to send a message to those in Osorno disappointed by the arrival of Barros, he told them, ‘Think with your heads and do not be led by the noses by the lefties who orchestrated this whole thing.’”
Pope Francis has packed his Vatican with practitioners and supporters of the plutocracy. Now “there are huge multinational corporations and international lobbies anxious to keep their hands inside the Vatican.”
On December 21, Pope Francis promoted Greg Burke as his “No. 2 spokesman.” Burke had been with Fox News over a decade. He is the “heir apparent” to the long-time official Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, when he retires. “New appointments in communications also signal another point: that the Holy See wants to pay ever greater attention to the way that secular media perceives it.”
I can’t recall the USCCB ever making such a direct endorsement of any other politician as they did recently in commending Rep. Paul Ryan, “best known for his far-right budget plan that cuts taxes for the wealthy by hundreds of billions of dollars, while slashing investments in programs that benefit working families,” on his election as House Speaker.
Observers from Catholic agencies who have worked with the former House budget committee chairman call him intelligent and ready for the task … They said he appears to want to solve the problems facing the country, especially the needs of 46.5 million Americans living in poverty …
Ryan also is said to have cemented his relationship with the some members of the U.S. Church hierarchy and counts as close advisers Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who is former archbishop of Milwaukee, and Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, 40 miles northwest of his home parish, St. John Vianney, in Janesville.
Catholic observers also credit Ryan, a nine-term veteran of the House, for his pro-life votes on abortion and his support for the U.S. Church’s stance on religious liberty.
The Koch brothers have funded the bishops’ own Catholic University of America’s “research and educational program focused on the compatibility of capitalism and Catholicism” and the Jesuit Creighton University’s business school.
U.S. bishops make occasional statements in favor of immigration, gun control and against the death penalty. But no employee has ever been fired for holding a contrary position and almost all the bishops’ political efforts and funding go towards engaging in Religious Right culture wars.
They command 195 dioceses and there are state level Catholic Conferences who lobby on behalf of the local bishops. Additionally, the bishops directly control approximately 40,000 organizations. Unlike evangelicals, all carry the same message and speak as with one voice.
The bishops also have powerful proxy organizations such as universities, the EWTN global media network, the Knights of Columbus, NOM (National Organization on Marriage), Legatus, the Becket Fund, the Thomas More Society, Acton Institute, the Ethics & Public Policy Center, the Napa Institute, FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), etc. All are concentrated on attacking women and/or LGBT persons’ human rights.
At immense cost to American taxpayers, “dozens of U.S. dioceses and Catholic nonprofits are suing the Obama administration over the birth control coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act.”
As New York Times op-ed columnist, Ross Douthat, reminded us in the January 2016 edition of First Things, “the social doctrine of the Church is fully embodied in political conservatism.”
Legislation Against Our Children, Too
In 2016, the Church will continue “using its legal and political clout to oppose bills that would extend the statute of limitations for victims of child sex abuse. A statute of limitations forbids prosecutors or plaintiffs from taking legal action after a certain number of years. ‘It is the bishops who have blocked any kind of meaningful reform,’ said Marci Hamilton, a professor at the Cardozo School of Law in New York who studies statutes of limitations. ‘The bishops and the pope have a lot of explaining to do as to why it would be in their mission to keep all of these victims from seeking justice.’”
Those who have seen or know about the Oscar-contender movie, “Spotlight” – the true story of the Boston Globe investigation resulting in some 200 articles detailing the sexual abuse of children in that archdiocese by almost 100 of its priests and the carefully concealed cover-up, over decades, of that abuse – will understand the significance of Bishop Christopher Coyne recently being named chair of the USCCB Committee on Communications. Coyne, Boston Cardinal Bernard Law’s “former mouthpiece, for years, time and time again, repeated deceptive public relations spin about heinous child sex crimes and callous cover ups by Law and other Catholic officials.”
Fourteen years after the first Boston Globe report, in the U.S. there are still at least 14 credibly accused predator priests who remain in ministry.
Professor Hamilton reminds us that:
Children will never be fully protected so long as the identities of predators are secret from the public. Simple fact: Perpetrators, like Boston’s John Geoghan, abuse into their elderly years.
The 40-year-old who abused children 30 years ago may still be dangerous, and parents will not know who all of those priests, rabbis, teachers and family members are until the state’s statute-of-limitations stranglehold is released and victims can come forward in the safety of the court system. The bishops typically claim that reform bills are not fair to them because they are being ‘targeted.’ Actually, these bills open courthouse doors for victims in every arena.
During his visit, Pope Francis praised his U.S. bishops for their “courage” and “great sacrifice” in handling the sex abuse crisis. He also met with survivors, including some who had been molested by teachers or relatives, to make the point that he thinks his Church has been treated unjustly. The pope had stated that, as regards the sexual torture of children, “The statistics on the phenomenon of violence against children are shocking, but they also show clearly that the great majority of the abuses come from the family environment and from people who are close. The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution that moved with transparency and responsibility. No one else did as much. And yet, the Church is the only one being attacked.”
(Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America (Clarity Press, 2009))
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