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Using Catholic Church discipline to shape American public policy

InsideCatholic.com director Deal Hudson’s denigration of two progressive Catholic groups as “fake Catholic” provoked push-back from Bryan Cones, managing editor of U.S. Catholic magazine. Cones
wrote:

Well, I disagree with him, and if he wants to have a debate about whether I’m a Catholic, I say: Bring it, Deal. It’s time for Catholics with actual knowledge of the breadth of the Catholic tradition to start speaking up for themselves before we all get read out the church.

This is no mere parochial quarrel. It is part of a conflict over how much the Catholic right will use church discipline to bend national policy to its will.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent interview with Eleanor Clift of Newsweek, and reaction to it, indicates what the right has in mind.

In the interview, Pelosi expressed concerns about the Catholic Church’s position on abortion and gay rights and touched on the difference between pastoral care by her bishop and lobbying by bishops.

Patrick Archbold at the Catholic blog Creative Minority Report called this “text-book definition of scandal (a grave offense which incites others to sin). He argued that “it should, at this point, be dealt with in a direct and public way lest no one else think that you can hold these positions and consider yourself a ‘practicing’ Catholic.”

“Direct and public” appears to imply something more than the 2007 letter Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., received from Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, R.I., requesting that he not receive communion because of his stand on abortion. The letter was revealed in the wake of a conflict between Tobin and Kennedy after Kennedy criticized the U.S. bishops for threatening to oppose health reform unless the legislation banned the use of federal funds to cover abortion. Kennedy said their stance was “fanning the flames of dissent and discord.” And Tobin demanded an apology.

Archbold’s shaping and interpretation of Pelosi’s studied answers into an assault on the Catholic Church is less important here than the coherence of his conclusions with Tobin’s application of force and perhaps even Randall Terry’s theatrical attempt to pressure bishops into denying communion to Catholic public officials who take positions like Pelosi’s.

The emergent pattern is one of using the hammer of church discipline to direct the behavior of Catholic public officials and through them to shape public policies to a narrow view of Catholic theology.

Defining some as “fake Catholic” follows the pattern of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) fundamentalist takeover which among its effects made the SBC a mainstay of the right wing of the Republican Party. Those bidding for power tarred opponents as “liberal” (rather than “fake”) in order to drive them out. That process of narrowing continues as the SBC shrinks.

The resulting SBC is more politically right-wing than the Catholic Church is currently.

Most recently, the Roman Catholic Church found ways to oppose Uganda’s anti-gay legislation. Yet the SBC through its political arm — the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission — remains scandalously silent on that matter. One which has otherwise attracted sweeping opposition from religious leaders and human rights groups.

A part of what has been ironically dubbed Batholicism, there lies the future of a Roman Catholic Church whose members permit some to be defamed and either silenced or driven out because they dissent from ideological narrowness.

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December 30, 2009 - Posted by | Catholic | , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments

  1. Excellent round up. Thank you.

    Comment by James | December 30, 2009

  2. Deal Hudson is a neo-con defender of the liberal and uncatholic so-called reforms of the 1960’s. He has deep pockets with neo-con political publications. Unlike the SBC, where there are just liberal and conservative (neo-con) where both are in error, the Catholic Church has liberal (heretics), neo-cons (on the verge of heresy), and traditionalists, who are the true keepers of the Catholic faith.

    Comment by Matt | January 10, 2010


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