My contemporary fantasy of Christian soldiers marching onward as to war, is a combination of the Catholic hierarchy in their medieval regalia, led by Cardinal Dolan, and whatever of his flock he can gather, hand-in-hand with their political partners the Evangelical Fundamentalists.
Unfortunately that army of Christian soldiers is growing and becoming more vociferous. What I wish to question in this commentary is the increasing militaristic tone of the United States Conference of Bishops (USCCB) and the unsuitable lines of attack, which I believe cross over the boundary of conveying their beliefs, and are tantamount to telling their constituents who they should vote for. If I’m correct, their conduct could backfire and put their tax exemption status in jeopardy.
A New Campaign
In my commentary of March 8, 2012 in the Australian website Catholica, I expressed my concern for how the (USCCB) had been abusing its power of the political pulpit to defeat Obama’s re-election in November. But since then the bishops have ratcheted-up the tenor of their attacks, and have initiated a new campaign to convince their constituency to get out there and prove their power at the ballot box.
In order to put the bishops’ strategy for change in perspective, I will go back to the mid-sixties, when I was director of Catholic Charities in Schenectady, New York. One of my assignments was to be a member of The New York State Catholic Conference, which was and is, “The Official Voice of the Catholic Church in the Empire State.” The purpose of the Conference as stated:
The New York State Catholic Conference represents the Bishops of the state in working with government to shape laws and policies that pursue social justice, respect for life and the common good. We provide a unified voice for the eight dioceses of the state to speak on such issues as education, marriage, health care, poverty, abortion, euthanasia, social services, criminal justice and the environment. We apply the principles of Catholic social teaching to critical issues of the day and encourage citizen involvement in the legislative process.
During the time the state legislature was in session, we met on a regular basis to discuss any proposed legislation under the categories listed above. Each of the eight New York dioceses was represented by their bishops or assistant bishops, and the directors of Catholic Charities from each diocese. There were no women members of the conference, and the only lay person was a lawyer, hiredas a strategist/lobbyist to represent us with the legislators. It never occurred to me that I was part of the “good old boys club”.
Our policy was to dialogue with legislators rather than use other approaches such as putting pressure on them by demonstrating or mounting campaigns to mobilize parish members, or other more aggressive social action methods. It wasn’t because we didn’t believe in social action; remember this was the 1960ies. I was a member of several groups that demonstrated against the war in Vietnam. To put it in perspective, here is a speech that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave in 1967 to one of the groups I was active in, the Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam; his speech was entitled Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. Dr. King supported our goals, and shared his own views on the war in Vietnam. I also had the privilege to demonstrate with Fathers Dan and Philip Berrigan; marched with the local civil rights groups; was a card carrying member of the NAACP; became involved with the abortive War on Poverty and was active in the Schenectady Community Action Program (SCAP) etc. My participation was as a person who happened to be a priest. I did not use the power of the political pulpit to tell parishioners whom to vote for or whom not to vote for.
That’s far from what is happening today. I mentioned in my first commentary in this series that, I was shocked when I read in our parish bulletin that the pastor actually compared the Obama administration to the Nazi regime under Hitler. Who is going to vote for a Nazi? Well, I’m still shocked! In our parish bulletin for May 6, the pastor’s usual letter to the parishioners (often promoting such issues as the Tridentine Latin Mass that goes back to the Council of Trent in 1507 or Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, that also dates back to the fifteenth century) was replaced by the USCCB Nationwide Bulletin Insert for April-May, 2012. After giving a little history of their version of separation of church and state, which I believe is debatable, the bulletin goes on to claim, “It is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by government to provide coverage for contraception and sterilization, even when it violates our religious beliefs.” As Frank Brennan points out in his article in the Australian website Eureka Street on-line, US Bishops’ Toxic Tussle with Obamacare,
There is a risk that the US bishops are escalating a campaign of civil disobedience in the name of conscience when they are not willing to allow members of their own church to act according to a rightly formed conscience on matters relating to their own faith and morals but to civil entitlements of others in a pluralistic democratic society.
He goes on to suggest that calling upon conscience against Obama, while enforcing an unyielding Vatican will on all church organizations raises questions, not just with secularist public square. Fr. Brennan also expresses his gratitude that none of the bishops in Australia has had cause to sound as shrill as the bishops in the United States.
At the bottom of the Insert the bishops asked, “What can you do to ensure the protection of religious freedom?” The question is rhetorical, since they answered their own question. which they expect the faithful to follow in blind obedience, “…send your message to HHS and congress telling them to stand up for religious liberty and conscience rights…”
This nationwide Insert for all parish bulletins is just one of the devices designed to defeat the democrats in November. On April 12, 2012 the USCCB issued a statement, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty. The bishops’ statement starts with their reminding us that, “We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both…” It’s as if they were trying to convince everyone that Catholics are just as patriotic as any other religious organization. It reminded me of the lyrics of the satirical song Motherhood from the Broadway musical Hello Dolly when Dolly and the cast sang, “I stand for motherhood, America, and a hot lunch for orphans, take off your hat boys while your country’s flag is passing …” Listening to that song again, I was almost inspired to stand up and sing, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, which I thought of using as a marching song when I wrote a letter to the editors of our local newspaper to tell them I was planning to start the Apple Pie Party to challenge the Tea Party. They never published it. Sorry, I digress!
After sharing their little history lession about catholic patriotism, the bishops list a number of examples of what they believe are threats to religious freedom, to convince catholics and other fellow travelers to join their campaign of political and legal resistance. An Editorial in Commonweal Magazine on-line,Religious Freedom & the U.S. Catholic Bishops doesn’t agree. It states that,
The USCCB’s statement vastly exaggerates the extent to which American freedoms of all sorts and of religious freedom in particular are threatened. Church-state relations are complicated, requiring the careful weighing of competing moral claims. The USCCB’s statement fails to acknowledge that fact. Worse, strangely absent from the list of examples provided by the bishops is the best-documented case of growing hostility to religious presence in the United States: hostility to Islam.
The article goes on to point out that the bishops can’t have it both ways. If they don’t correct the oversight of the animosity against Muslims, their campaign for religious freedom will be seen as being a “political tailored” event. The editorial’s position is that, “This silence is especially striking in view of the parallels between anti-Muslim sentiment today and the prejudice encountered by Catholic immigrants in the nineteenth century.”
I find the editorial’s line of reasoning very persuasive, mainly because I believe the bishops are so intransitive in their positions (my way or the highway!) that in their efforts to protect their religious freedoms, they would impose their beliefs on peoples of other religions or no-religions that don’t hold the same beliefs, eg. contraception. This is not surprising, since the bishops get their marching orders from the Vatican, whose monarchial government still follows the Latin dictum, Roma locuta est-causa finita est! (Rome has spoken-the case is closed!) That doesn’t work in a pluralistic society.
Another line of attack the bishops have planned is what they call a Fortnight for Freedom (FFF). I suspect they’ve hired some super-expensive Public Relation firm to come up with that catchy title. If it wasn’t for my grandfather using the word fortnight, when he would tell us that he and my grandmother were “going on a fortnight vacation”, (two weeks), I would have had to look it up in a dictionary. The section on the FFF in their Religious Freedom document, starts by the USCCB urging that, “…we focus all the energies the Catholic community can muster…” in supporting the FFF’s agenda. It will basically be an opportunity for urging Catholics and others to participate in fourteen days of study, prayer and resistance against the alleged efforts of the government to curtail the free expression of religion, leading up to the Fourth of July holiday. If you want to learn more about the FFF, you can scroll down to the section on the webpage above, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.
PS: I couldn’t help but wonder why the bishops didn’t muster all those energies to attack the problem of pedophile priests? And how about those bishops who covered up for the pedophiles?
Skating on Thin Ice
Apparently there are some bishops and Public Relation folks who got a head start on the campaign. One such bishop, Daniel R. Jenky of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois appears to be on the very far right of most of his colleagues, at least I hope so. Here is the full April 12th text of Bishop Jenky’s “homily” (seems more like a call to battle than a homily) as it appears on the Diocese’s website. The title of his “homily” is A Call to Catholic Men of Faith. He first challenges the men, (I’m not sure if there were any women in the congregation), by saying, “We must be a fearless army of Catholic men, ready to give everything we have to the Lord, who gave us our salvation.” Sounds like another Onward Christian Soldiers battle cry to me. He goes on to talk about Bismarck closing down catholic schools in Germany, Clemenceau the “priest eater” in France, and Hitler and Stalin of unhappy memory. All geared to scare the hell out of the Catholic men of faith. And for a real clincher he reminds them,
This fall, every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic conscience, or by the following fall our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic Newman Centers, all our public ministries—only excepting our church buildings—could easily be shut down.
There’s much more fear mongering language in his homily, but towards the end he offers some solace, “We have nothing to fear,…St. Michael the Archangel, and all the hosts of heaven, fight on our behalf.” I wondered if that’s the same St. Michael that the church has been praying to for peace since I was in grammar school?
One thing that Bishop Jenky might need to fear is the charges in a letter that the Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) filed against him on April 19, 2012 with the director of the Exempt Organization Division of the IRS. The complete letter is available above and can be enlarged to a more readable size. The author of the letter Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the Executive Director of Americans United, and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, presents a clear case to the IRS of how the bishop has violated the IRS publication “Election Year Activities and the Prohibition on Political Campaign Intervention for Section 501(c)(3)Organizations” (FS-2006-17, February 2006), which reminds tax-exempt entities not to engage in any advocacy that “functions as political campaign intervention”. Rev. Lynn goes on to remind the readers that “Even if a statement does not expressly tell an audience to vote for or against a specific candidate…(they are) at risk of violating the political campaign intervention prohibition if there is any message favoring or opposing a candidate.”
Lynn closed by summing up his case to the IRS with a reminder that Bishop Jenky “…compared Obama to Hitler and Stalin and accused Obama of pursuing policies that will close Catholic institutions.” Not only that, but in Jenky’s homily “…he exhorted members of his flock not to vote for candidates who fail to uphold Catholic values.” I’m sure the USCCB has gaggle of high priced lawyer who will try to punch holes in the Lynn’s arguments, but if you’re interested in supporting AU’s position against Bishop Jenky, there is a page on AU’s website where you can take actionIRS Should Investigate Catholic Diocese For Illegal Election Intervention .
Final Example of Abuse of Power
This example is one of the most provocative, offensive, seditious, political ads I’ve ever seen. It outdoes even the most obscene commercial that both political parties have been using during this election season, mainly because it appeals to catholic voters’ quilt and fear.
The commercial below was prepared by Creative-Lab. Among their other productions are: 1) Obama Admits He is a Muslim; 2) 53 Seconds that Should End a Presidency, which is a series of snippets of President Obama struggling with getting the right words out in a number of unrelated interviews; 3) Confirmed: Obama’s Birth Certificate Not Confirmed (2012). So, now that you have an idea of the type of the commercials they produce, here’s the commercial created for the USCCBs’ campaign, titled Test of Fire: Election 2012 (Catholic Version). But before you view it let me give you a synopsis of the plot.
The setting is a blacksmith’s shop. The room is dark and dismal. The only light is from the flickering fire in the hearth that the smithy is using to forge metal letters, which eventually will become three key words: MARRIAGE—LIFE—FREEDOM! The whole scene and background music create a spooky setting.
As the screens scroll on, each scene has a different message. One of the first messages is:
Skipping to the end of the commercial. At this point the screen shows a women coming out of a voting booth, she looks rather downcast the text continues “…Your vote will affect the future and will recorded in eternity!” Recorded in eternity! Shades of fire and brimstones!
I’m not a lawyer, ladies and gentlemen, but I rest my case!