Bishops' campaign twists logic

Stories about what “the church” does, thinks, teaches usually refer to the hierarchy, but we all need to be reminded that Vatican II defined church as the whole community of people—we are the church. Catholic bishops who disapprove of contraception—including Benedict XVI—are out of step with the morality of the church as defined by Vatican II. Without question, the Catholic Church as a whole accepts contraception as a blessing, not a sin, because it prevents a variety of health problems for women and enormous financial stress for the poor.

When the Health and Human Services Department of the Obama administration ruled that religious organizations must offer contraceptives in the insurance packages of their employees, I rejoiced. Then the outcry from Catholics, even those who use birth control (Why??), followed by what I thought was brilliant—the administration saying that insurance companies will bear the cost (in the long run, no cost, because contraceptives save money). The bishops stubbornly refuse to accept this and wage a campaign claiming the Obama administration violates religious freedom. What twisted logic!

The Catholic hierarchy wants to deny insurance coverage of contraceptives to all persons who work for their organizations. A tiny minority wants to impose its standard of morality on the majority, inflicting real hardship on some. The administration will not let them do this. And it is accused of violating religious freedom!

I understand the point that the HHS definition of religious organizations excludes some that should be included in the definition, but the practical results are fortunate—more religious freedom because less moral tyranny by a religious minority. It should be obvious that the egregious violators of religious freedom are the bishops who want to deny birth control, thus preventive health care, to persons who need it.

Orthodox Rabbi Arthur Waskow has it exactly right:
Claiming [the HHS rule] violates religious freedom is an Orwellian perversion of thought—attacking religious freedom in the guise of defending it.
Campaigning for “religious freedom” sounds so righteous, but it is a defensive move by a group fearful of losing its status and feeling cornered. Consider only a few actions of Catholic bishops:
• Attacking those who uncovered sex abuse
• Criticizing nuns for not condemning the bishops’ pet sins—contraception, homosexuality, and women’s ordination.
• Attacking women priests and those who support them
• Attacking nuns who corrected them about health care
• Attacking renowned women theologians
• Attacking the leadership conference of nuns
• Attacking the rights of gays
• Continuing to cover up the cover-up of clergy sex abuse by the top of the hierarchy
Doesn’t it all sound like paranoia? Like patriarchs protecting their power?

Psychologist, Kathy Galleher worked with men who committed sexual abuse and resisted taking responsibility for it. They became aggressively defensive. She sees the parallel in the Catholic hierarchy and gets it exactly right:
. . . feels like someone is picking a fight, and the intensity of it hints at the enormous amount of still unworked pain at the heart of the church’s sexual abuse crisis. . . . this fight looks like a distraction.
Galleher is talking about the bishops’ fight with nuns and Waskow is talking about the bishops’ fight with the Obama administration, but I apply their points to the whole story of the Catholic hierarchy lately. Think of the scene in Hamlet where the queen says, “The lady doth protest too much.” The bishops do protest too much.

How many Catholic bishops are appalled by the posturing of their fellow bishops? Would it not be interesting to find out! It must be painful for them.

Francis affirms Benedict's rebuke, April 17, 2013
The news that PopeFrancis reaffirmed Pope Benedict XVI's rebuke of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious does not promise changes that both Colman McCarthy and I want from the hierarchy.

McCarthy asks, “What will it take to get me back?” For me the question is, “What will it take to get me back to respecting Catholic leadership?” Besides some changes, McCarthy demands some confessions from the hierarchy:
  •  “Go to confession collectively . . .”
  • “Confess to the sin of harassing the American nuns, . . .”
  • “the sin of stonewalling the appeals of pedophile victims.”
  • “the sin of expelling Fr. Roy Bourgeois from the priesthood . . .”
  • “the sin of demeaning gays and lesbians, . . .”
  • Give the laity equal status.
  • Put an end to priestly celibacy, male-only clergy, bans on contraception and altar girls.
A pretty thorough list that still leaves out a critical piece for me—stop the sexist God-talk. This tops all the rest because correcting it would naturally correct all the rest.
Readers, look at McCarthy’s list and see if you can find one not related to male domination. You think maybe pedophilia?  Can you really believe the scandal would have happened if women had been equally represented in clergy and hierarchy?

Official and non-official explanations of sexist liturgical language insist that the He’s and Him’s do not stand for worshipping a set of males. Then why insist on keeping it? Why continue training the Christian world to value male over female? I believe Catholic leadership is conditioned and sabotaged by its own sick God-talk. Its deep-seated core belief, its North Star, is belief in the supremacy of males.
Speaking in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis repeated the old saw that women have “a special role,” code for no role in leadership or decision making. Combined with affirmation of Benedict’s rebuke of LCWR, this signals an intention to bar women from leadership. Francis’ rejection of papal pomp and his solidarity with the poor, welcome and attractive as they are, do not make up for his apparent acceptance of female subordination.

He can’t succeed, of course. Inside and outside of the Church the rise of feminine power proceeds, because Spirit does not take orders from the pope. To unseeing eyes it is not apparent, but we are moving toward equality between males and females, between colored and white, between various sexual orientations, between ethnic groups, and between religions. We are moving away from European and male domination of the globe. Despite loud splashes of evangelical color in the media, the Christian era is closing in the West as we move into the post-Christian era.

What would it take for me to respect Catholic leadership? I only ask the question rhetorically because I don’t expect the hierarchy to change collectively. I do expect continuing challenges to the official narrative, including those by individual bishops and cardinals. Little explosions of resistance will pop up here and there, in starts and stops, in a relentless, inexorable process of crumbling hierarchical domination and intimidation. 


Laura said…
Catholics have the right to follow the tenets of their religion. Non-Catholics should not be forced to follow them.
Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
Sorry, but you are the one who has the twisted logic. The government is the one who is violating religious freedom, not church hierarchies. This is because only the government can really impose its will through the threat of force. No religion can use force in this country to impose its will, no matter how much it may wish to do so.

Those who are griping about not having contraceptive coverage are completely free not to work for the Catholic Church, or any employer who does not provide the health insurance they desire. As for those who are already working for the Church, they chose to do so even though they knew that the Church does not provide contraceptive coverage (at least not until now). Employees of the Church have freely chosen their situation. So, the Church has imposed NOTHING on them.

As for "a tiny minority... imposing its standard of morality on the majority;" it is obvious that employees may form the majority of people in a business. But the employers still have a right to run their business as they wish. It is not a surprise that the employers in the Catholic Church are the hierarchy or those loyal to the hierarchy. So, of course, they will not wish to provide contraceptive coverage. As employers, the Church hierarchy has no obligation to be more representative of the erring Catholics who are part of their religious flock, even if they form a majority of the flock.

Therefore, don't bring the religious freedom of liberal Catholic employees into the question. The question is what right does the government have to impose certain mandates on employers (not employees). The answer is that it has no right. There is a growing consensus that we should not have employer-based health insurance anymore. In that case, employers should not have to provide any health insurance at all, much less be mandated to do so by government, much less be mandated to provide a certain kind of health insurance (one with contraceptive coverage) and not just any kind.
Anonymous said…
The bishops see that it is pointless to compromise with this administration and have concluded that it must now take a stand on religious freedom. That is why the bishops won't accept the supposedly "brilliant" compromise. For the issue really is about religious freedom, not contraception. The bishops can see other ObamaCare mandates coming in the future. They are worried about the government taking away conscience protection. During his campaign, Obama actually expressed support for the Freedom of Choice Act which was crafted to do just that. Obama and other far-left extremists would ultimately like to force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions.
Florence Steichen said…
Excellent commentaries. Thank you!
Florence Steichen

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