Somehow, not mysteriously, the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) chose the days preceding the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) “Sanctity of Human Life Sunday” [today] to renew their anti-choice attack on health care reform.
The SBC officially celebrates Sanctity of Human Life Sunday every year at Roe v. Wade anniversary time, and again this year, those promoting it mirror the USCCB arguments, saying, for example, that health reform would set off a “surge in taxpayer funded abortions in this country.”
In some regards, this celebration tends to make over the issue a delusion.
Among Southern Baptists, however, it is most visibly Richard Land, the SBC ethics chief, who raises the rhetorical stakes beyond the possibility of reasoning together to argue that the entire nation is “offering up its unborn children in a kind of pagan sacrifice.”
I can still remember as a young boy having a Sunday School lesson about how the children of God had become so paganized that they sacrificed their little children to the pagan god Molech. I could never have imagined then that I would live to see my country offering up its unborn children as a type of pagan sacrifice.
Given the embedded arguments, certainly well-summarized by Land, the SBC might well also call this the “impossibility of further civil debate” Sunday.
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
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.
Brazil’s Archbishop Emeritus Jose Cardoso Sobrinho — best known for his efforts to prevent a raped nine-year-old pregnant with her stepfather’s twins from receiving an abortion and his immediate public declaration of the excommunication of her mother and others involved in the abortion — proclaimed last week that pro-abortion candidates “cannot represent honest citizens.”
That’s a long public step beyond the private denial of communion to pro-choice Catholic political figures in this country — a practice Randall Terry would like to see in widespread use.
Agree or disagree, it is nonetheless an honest expression of the doctrine which underlay the conflict over the nine-year-old Brazilian girl’s abortion.
Catholic figures have since protested that there was no medical necessity involved. But it is not clear that for Catholic clergy the debate was fundamentally over medical necessity, as senior Vatican official was quoted as saying at the time:
“We have laws, we have a discipline, we have a doctrine of the faith,” the official says. “This is not just theory. And you can’t start backpedaling just because the real-life situation carries a certain human weight.”
Remember that the Vatican’s top bioethics official, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who argued in the Vatican newspaper that human and theological “mercy” should have been applied to those involved in the abortion, saw his view rejected in a “clarification.”
His goal is to persuade as many as possible to withhold communion from Catholic officeholders who insufficiently anti-abortion.
This time, the group dubbed Insurrecta Nex and founded by Terry will travel to 13 Cathedrals in 9 states to hold demonstrations asking Catholic Bishops:
Your Excellency, if any Catholic US Senator from your state, or member of the United States House of Representatives from your diocese votes to fund the murder of children by abortion in any ‘health care reform’ bill, will they be denied Communion?
He is making his usual aggressive case. He says:
Will Catholic Bishops truly defend babies — not with mere lip service, but with true valor — and hold pro-death Catholic Congressmen accountable? Or will they turn a deaf ear to the cries of innocent blood, the pleas of the faithful, and the canons of the Catholic Church that obligate them to withhold communion from Catholic politicians who promote the murder of babies by abortion?
Demonstrating against bishops in an attmpt to use the parishioners they serve to pressure them into actions they have either already taken (communion denial is typically private) or decided not to take.
Maybe not the best idea Terry has ever had. Bishops, who don’t necessarily take well to theatrically delivered pressure, whether from one another, the public or the press. Are you sure about this, Randall?
Randall Terry got himself in trouble by using an interview (below) with the Vatican’s Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, in an attempt to pressure U.S. Catholic bishops:
Burke rebuked Terry and apologized for the use of his comments to attack Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl and Arlington Diocese Bishop Paul S. Loverde. Terry was using the interview to pressure more U.S. Catholic bishops to deny Communion to politicians who support abortion rights, and those two were in the cross hairs.
The Rev. Thomas Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, told the Washington Post that Burke “violated the episcopal etiquette. You don’t criticize other bishops in public and you don’t tell other bishops how to run their diocese.”
Terry shoots back that Burke has been “deceived” about how the videotape is being use. Uh huh.
The Vatican’s path forward includes paying more attention to how news spreads over the internet. After all, there had long been ample information on the Web documenting Williamson’s incendiary holocaust-denying stands.
From a full translation of the letter by Chris Gillibrand at Cathcon we read:
Several groups, however, accused the pope of wanting to return to the time before the Council and an avalanche of protests began to move, which made bitter injuries visible and this could be seen immediately. So I am under an obligation to you, dear brethren, to provide a clarifying word, which should help to understand the intentions, which I and the competent organs of the Holy See have been following with this step. I hope in this way to promote peace in the church.
One for me unpredictable mishap was that the lifting of the excommunication was overtaken by the Williamson case. The quiet gesture of mercy to four validly but not legally consecrated bishops appeared suddenly as something quite different: as a rejection of Christian-Jewish reconciliation and the withdrawal of what the Council in this matter has declared as the way of the Church.
An invitation to reconciliation with a separated Church grouping became the reverse: an apparent return from all the steps forward in the reconciliation of Christians and Jews, which had gone on since the Council and whose achievement had been from the start a goal of my theological work.
Thursday, when the full text of the Pope’s letter is issued, he is to resume a Jewish/Catholic dialogue suspended by the Israeli side because of Williamson. He is receiving a delegation of Israeli rabbis.
In some regards, timing is everything, even for the Pope.
The Pope has lifted the excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church of four bishops appointed by a breakaway archbishop more than 20 years ago.
One of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s appointees, Briton Richard Williamson, outraged Jews by saying the Nazi gas chambers did not exist.
Two of the other three appointees are French while the fourth is Argentinean.
Israel’s envoy to the Vatican said the papal decision would “cast a shadow on relations with Jews”.
Listen to Williamson (who for remarks like these is under investigation for violation of German hate crime laws):
The antisemitism goes on. The other three use a liturgy which calls for the conversion of Jews. Williamson has endorsed such anti-Semitic forgeries as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Certainly the anyone concerned about ant-Semitism is likely to view the decision with unease. Along those lines, The Jerusalem Post reported:
The American Jewish Committee’s director of Interreligious Affairs, Rabbi David Rosen, said that “while the Vatican’s reconciliation with the SSPX [Society of Saint Pius X] is an internal matter of the Catholic Church, the embrace of an open Holocaust denier is shameful, a serious blow for Jewish-Vatican relations, and a slap in the face for the historic efforts of Pope John Paul II, who following his predecessors, made such remarkable efforts to eradicate and combat anti-Semitism.
The Vatican’s position is that he is lying but lying is not grounds for excommunication.
So the excommunication, amid complexities of canon law and the drive to undo a schism in the church, is undone.
But Williamson’s views are repudiated and he and the others are still not functioning bishops in the Roman Catholic Church.
Bernard Fellay is one of the Roman Catholic “traditionalist bishops,” as they are termed, and head Swiss-based Priestly Society of Saint Pius X.
The Associated Press reported:
The head of the Swiss bishops’ conference, Kurt Koch, later released a statement saying the gesture followed a letter from Fellay on December 15 asking the pope to lift the excommunications and recognising “the teachings of the Church and the primacy of the Pope.”
Some additional process of reconciliation is to follow and through it we will see whether evil views are indeed somehow being embraced.
Update: The troubled history of the Lefebvre movement
Historically immersed in anti-Semitism. Read about it here.