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Feb 10 2012

Freedom of secularism

The Catholic bishops have been gearing up for this fight for months.

Hours after President Obama phoned to share his decision with Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bishops’ headquarters in Washington posted on its Web site a video of Archbishop Dolan, which had been recorded the day before.

“Never before,” Archbishop Dolan said, setting the tone, “has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”

Ah yes Archbishop Timothy Dolan. We’ve encountered him before.

In April 2009, for example, claiming that “traditional, one-man/one-woman marriage is rooted in people’s moral DNA.” In March 2010, for another example, arguing that it’s all so unfair because other people failed to stop child abuse too so why pick on the Catholic church? Yes really. He kept a blog, the then archbish of New York did.

What causes us Catholics to bristle is not only the latest revelations of sickening sexual abuse by priests, and blindness on the part of some who wrongly reassigned them — such stories, unending though they appear to be, are fair enough, — but also that the sexual abuse of minors is presented as a tragedy unique to the Church alone.

That, of course, is malarkey.  Because, as we now sadly realize, nobody, nowhere, no time, no way, no how knew the extent, depth, or horror of this scourge, nor how to adequately address it.

The Catholic church, which wants us to think it’s morally better than the rest of us, pointing at others like a three-year-old and shouting that they did it too. This is the man who thinks he’s entitled to tell Obama and all of us what to do. This is the man at the head of the organization which officially believes that a mother of four in Phoenix should be dead now, instead of having an abortion that saved her life.

This is the man who is bitterly aggrieved that not everyone bows the knee to his church.

The speed and passion behind the bishops’ response reflects their growing sense of siege, and their belief that the space the Catholic church once occupied in American society and the deference it was given are gradually being curtailed by an increasingly secular culture.

When, exactly, was that “once”? When was that lost Golden Age when the Catholic church was given deference in American society? Not in 1960 when Kennedy was running for president, certainly. Not before that, when immigration from mostly-Protestant countries was heavily favored over immigration from mostly-Catholic ones. So, when, then? After 1960…and probably not during the later 60s either, given the fact that deference wasn’t much in fashion then. Shall we date it from Jimmy Carter’s run for the presidency? Let’s do that. 1976 to now – not a very long Golden Age, is it. Not such an extended Golden Age that the bishops have much reason to think they have a permanent right to it.

And as for an increasingly secular culture…well let’s hope so, because the alternative is letting Timothy Dolan and his few benighted male officially-celibate colleagues tell us all what to do and what we can have. I don’t want Timothy Dolan having any say whatsoever in what I do and what I can have. I think he’s wrong about nearly everything, and that he got there for all the wrong reasons.

The bishops have found allies among conservative evangelicals, who do not share the Catholic Church’s doctrinal prohibition on contraception but are delighted to see the bishops adopt the right’s longstanding grievance that government has declared a war on religion. They have been joined by the bishops of Eastern Orthodox churches (like Greek, Russian and Ukrainian) and two Orthodox Jewish groups — small constituencies but ones that lend the cause a touch of diversity.

Diversity shmiversity. I don’t care how “diverse” they are; I don’t want them and their bossy unavailable god telling me (or anyone) what to do and what we can have.

Catholics may be persuaded by the argument that the mandate is a violation of religious liberty. One indication is that several prominent Catholic Democrats who supported Mr. Obama in 2008, supported the health care overhaul and defended the president at many junctures, have broken with him on the birth control mandate.

Michael Sean Winters, a writer for National Catholic Reporter, a liberal independent weekly, said: “I think they misjudged that no matter what people think about contraception, that’s an internal Catholic debate. Catholics do not like interlopers.”

But they are running hospitals, hospitals that are used by non-Catholics, often hospitals that are the only ones available for hundreds of miles. Therefore it’s not an internal Catholic debate. The bishops are the interlopers in the health care system.

It is of course possible to see the whole thing as an issue of religious liberty, but that’s a good reason not to let the Catholic church take over chunks of the health and education sphere the way it has.

19 comments

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  1. 1
    Gwynnyd

    Obama should stick to the law and pull the funding. It will quickly be seen that money trumps their poor excuse for morality as they all “sorrowfully” grab for the cash.

  2. 2
    Brigadista

    Sorry if it’s a little off-topic, though it’s kind of linked in a government vs. church sort of way: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/atheist-victory-on-council-prayers-6700032.html. Lots of juicy material for future posts in the various remarks made by the pro-prayer lobby, particularly as regards the inevitable and entirely disingenuous use of the word “tradition”, but for the time being I’ll just leave you with the article itself.

  3. 3
    Sajanas

    Perhaps the Golden Age of Catholicism in America was so much when it was respected by the outsiders, but when it was respected by the people within the church itself. Dolan must sit in his office surrounded by old men watching as Catholics today ignore prohibitions on contraception, no longer feel the need to force their children into the priesthood or into being nuns, and or even fade out of the religion entirely. Perhaps Dolan longs for the time when a priest was welcomed into parishioner’s homes without question, giving advice that couldn’t be questioned, and getting to hear everyone’s darkest secrets.

    All of this moving and shaking against birth control and gay marriage is perhaps just to try and keep themselves feeling like the powerful Princes of the Church that they used to be, instead of a totalitarian anachronism, in a sea of churches where the membership controls the finances and hiring and firing powers.

  4. 4
    yoav

    Why the fuck would anyone want to give respect, let alone deference, to the catlick church an organization with a long history of promoting hate and bigotry. The only reason Europe no longer have a legal system that is indistinguishable from the one imposed by the Taliban is not because the church think that there is anything wrong with burning people alive for crimes against the imaginary but because the increasingly secular culture mean they can no longer get away with it.

  5. 5
    eric

    “Never before,” Archbishop Dolan said, setting the tone, “has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience.

    1. The government forces parents to do things which cost money for their kids all the time. Like, buy health services that violate the parent’s religious proscriptions. Now, in many of these case hospitals and doctors will provide the service free if you can’t afford it, because they’re ethical like that. But the fact that the vendor voluntarily cuts you a price break doesn’t change the fact that you are being forced to buy the product.

    2. The only reason they are forcing you to go out into this marketplace and buy this product is because you insisted it be this way. In every other 1st world country, the government collects taxes and uses those taxes to fund health care directly. But no, YOU didn’t want that system. So you got this one instead – mandated private-sector health care. The moral issue does not come up at all for systems like the VA, medicaid, European health care, and so on.

    IOW, you chose your bed. I don’t feel any sympathy for your complaint that you now find it morally lumpy.

  6. 6
    baal

    This ‘controversy’ is a cynically ginned up pile of malarkey. Mother-Jones has reported that the Catholic Church has been paying for insurance plans to cover birth control since 2002 and that some 80% of its hospitals and schools are on board with paying. 17 States (2/10 NPR, I might be mis-remembering) already have the rule in place so I’m convinced that this issue is far from new and far form controversial.

    Why then the fuss? I suspect the Catholic Church of the US decided to launch a political broadside against the admin.

    On a personal note, Dolan’s been doing morning shows and I’ve given up trying to see what he’s saying. It’s been a smiling-face-of-evil host of lies, misstatements and glib truisms.

  7. 7
    Eric MacDonald

    Golly, well said, Ophelia! What a great critique of the role of the Catholic Church and its intrusiveness in society. It never ceases to amaze me, truly, how overbearing and power hungry this celibate male patriarchy can be. Cardinal Egan withdraws his apology, and tells lies about his role in the sexual abuse of children. Dolan whines about the offended Catholic conscience. It’s and out and out scandal that should be condemned with all the force at one’s command — like a bunch of kids holding their breath and threatening to do it until they die — and you’ll be sorry! — and you’ve done a great job of doing just that. Thanks.

    By the by, R. Joseph Hoffmann has a very good piece (I thought) on “The Bloody, Awful, Horrible Catholic Church.” Worth a couple minutes of your time:

    http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/the-bloody-awful-horrible-catholic-church/

  8. 8
    cpt banjo

    @5 “The only reason they are forcing you to go out into this marketplace and buy this product is because you insisted it be this way. In every other 1st world country, the government collects taxes and uses those taxes to fund health care directly. But no, YOU didn’t want that system. So you got this one instead – mandated private-sector health care.”

    Of course, these aren’t the only alternatives. One might buy her own contraceptives. As the Wall Street Journal put it in an opinion piece today:

    “The critics fell for a trap. By focusing on an exemption for church-related institutions, critics effectively admit that it is right for the rest of us to be subjected to this sort of mandate. They accept the horribly misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and they resign themselves to chipping away at its edges. No, we should throw it out, and fix the terrible distortions in the health-insurance and health-care markets.

    Sure, churches should be exempt. We should all be exempt.”

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204136404577210730406555906.html#articleTabs%3Darticle

  9. 9
    Emily Isalwaysright

    What gets me, Eric, is not simply “how overbearing and power hungry this celibate male patriarchy can be,” but, as Ophelia implies, their sense of absolute entitlement to power. It seems they are shocked and offended less by actual acts of contraception than by acts which demonstrate a greater authority than their own. They have been reduced, and now their silly hats and robes feel all the more like silly hats and robes.

  10. 10
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    But they are running hospitals, hospitals that are used by non-Catholics, often hospitals that are the only ones available for hundreds of miles.

    … hospitals that get significant funding from the government. How significant? Must be pretty substantial if they don’t think that ONE OF THE RICHEST ORGANIZATIONS IN HISTORY depends on government funding. More to follow, as I attempt to work my Google-Fu and hunt down the financial statements of some Catholic hospitals.

  11. 11
    Stewart

    Ah, Timothy Dolan, the one Bill Donohue mentioned in such an interesting context a little while ago:

    http://www.catholicleague.org/boston-victims%E2%80%99-summit-bombs/

  12. 12
    John

    From the article by Joseph Hoffmann linked to above, and a few of my observations.

    The equation between pleasure and sin is so firmly entrenched in Catholic psychology that it has to be seen as programmatic orthodox Catholic moral theology: a celibate priesthood, the veiling of women religious (nuns), a virgin birth, an immaculate conception, and a sexless apostolic community are just the doctrinal excrescences of an institutionalized fear of the flesh.

    In this regard there is something about the Catholic church that I’ve never understood.

    If The Church has such an institutionalised fear of the flesh, then why is so much of its art so sensual?

    Even the most moderate Muslim, for example, could never broker what is painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

    Also why is life in so many majority Catholic countries so sensual as well?

    Catholic Bavaria has Oktoberfest with its highspirits, music, copious food and the endless cleavage of waitresses.

    Oh-so Catholic Brazil has its Carnival, a baccnalian celebration of music, food, dance in which many of the participants are half naked, and which is used to mark the beginning of Lent, a very Catholic time of the year.

    And why is it that nearly all of the world’s very best wines, Baccus’ favorite beverage, all come from majority, or at least formerly majority, Catholic countries such as Italy, Spain and France?

    I once cycled through Tuscany ( years and years ago) and couldn’t hlep but notice how every last village and hamlet was a total work of art.

    And to watch the interactions between the young men and women, and to notice the sensuality and eroticism displayed in those interactions all those years ago makes you wonder if there’s any basis at all to this fear-of-the-flesh thesis.

  13. 13
    Svlad Cjelli

    “Ah yes Archbishop Timothy Dolan. We’ve encountered him before.”

    I thought it said that we’ve dismissed that claim for a second.

  14. 14
    Veronica Abbass

    Off topic but amusing,

    MacLean’s magazine, February 20, call Obama “Denier-in Chief” for refusing to give the Keystone XL pipeline the go-ahead.

  15. 15
    John

    @Veronica Abbass

    The capacity of that pipeline would have been such that America could have completely eliminated ALL oil imports from Saudi Arabia, a country that uses its oil revenues to spread and finance religious obscurantism of the worst kind.

    A group promoting the Keystone pipeline did a series of ads called “Ethical Oil” in which they compared and contrasted the freedoms enjoyed by Canandians with those of the inhabitants of the Mid East.

    The Saudis were livid, complained the ads portrayed Saudi women in a misogynistic light (!?), and insisted the ads be pulled from Canada’s largest private broadcaster, the CTV network.

    The network smiled and complied.

    It’s a huge story, but I won’t derail the thread.

  16. 16
    Alyson Miers

    “Never before,” Archbishop Dolan said, setting the tone, “has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”

    Oh, yawn. Dolan and his fellow defenders of “conscience” don’t give a flying puck about the religious liberty of people who don’t agree with them. They care about Catholic employers’ liberty to penalize their employees for having active sex lives. Freedom of religion only counts to them if it’s freedom of THEIR religion.

  17. 17
    Willie Keicher

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  18. 18
    Francisco Brohawn

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  19. 19
    Carry Showe

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