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How the Catholic Church Handles Political Apostasy

One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers makes an important point about Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich and the fact that they favor many policies that violate church doctrine, yet the only thing the Church ever demands political fealty to is birth control and abortion.

Like you, I have serious misgivings about a “moral” candidate for the presidency (i.e. Santorum) defending torture techniques. From the official Catechism of the Catholic Church (2297): “Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.” What I can’t figure out is, why hasn’t a bishop come out publicly to deny Santorum communion? When John Kerry was running for president, no less than future pope Ratzinger stated that Kerry should be denied communion, which he ultimately was. Where is Ratzinger now? Where is Raymond Burke? Sean O’Malley?

Rick Santorum (and Gingrich, too) hold many more stances that directly violate the Catechism than Kerry did. Why do you think they’ve been silent on the two death penalty-endorsing, torture-praising, social welfare-cutting Catholics who could potentially be our next president?

Another of his readers piles on:

The killer fact is that Santorum’s cafeteria-plan Catholicism draws no real objection from the bishops. Why exactly? Perhaps because they secretly feel that he’s right about this; his priorities are their priorities. And this in turn helps us to focus on the psycho-pathology of these church fathers. Why are they so utterly obsessed with female sexuality? Does it have something to do with their own celibacy? With misogyny? The homoerotic orientations that are likely very common in their number? I’d be surprised if these things didn’t in fact pay a large role.

But Merton’s critique is right on the money here: the traditional teachings on abortion and on the role of human sexuality may well be correct as part of a larger scheme, but the obsession with them to the disregard of a multitude of other issues of equal importance in moral terms, issues which plainly were far more important to Christ, weakens the moral teaching of the church. It is the ultimate expression of a love of dogma displacing a dogma of love.

This also has me thinking back to Hitch and his criticism of organized religion and particularly the Catholic prelacy. I tended to be very dismissive of it. But as things are developing now, I find it increasingly difficult to reject Hitch’s criticism. I wish he were wrong about this, but I can’t honestly deflect many of his criticisms.

And Sullivan replies:

The same can be said, and was, of pro-torture Catholics Rudy Giuliani and Marc Thiessen. And the answer, alas, is that the current Vatican has lost the forest for the trees. It obsesses about complicity with contraception – and plans a p.r. campaign months ahead of time – and yet cannot condemn an avowed Catholic defending torture and pre-emptive warfare – two moral enormities next to which the pill seems trivial.

Look, I don’t think a politician or voter should give a damn what the Catholic Church says about any political issue. But the inconsistency here is fascinating to observe. The Church freaks out at the slightest apostasy on birth control, abortion or homosexuality and doesn’t seem to care about other issues. It shows where their priorities lie.

Comments

  1. LightningRose says

    “…the only thing the Church ever demands political fealty to is birth control and abortion.”

    And demonizing queers.

  2. says

    Further to Lightning Rose’s comment above, where in the Bible does it say that a gay person can’t be a parent? I can understand the Church’s objection to same sex activity, but I don’t recall the Bible ever saying that a homosexual or a lesbian can’t raise a child.

  3. says

    It’s possible that the catholic church focuses on those issues because those are the only ones it has a chance of having an effect on. If the church began to interfere with the empires’ military adventures, it would quickly have whatever shreds of power it has left taken away from it. I’m not saying that abortion/homosexuality/contraception are non-issues but compared to the kind of issues the catholic church used to hold sway over, it has been pretty effectively marginalized. And we should all be happy about that, point at the guys in their dresses and foo-foo hats, and giggle.

  4. says

    tommykey wrote…

    Further to Lightning Rose’s comment above, where in the Bible does it say that a gay person can’t be a parent? I can understand the Church’s objection to same sex activity, but I don’t recall the Bible ever saying that a homosexual or a lesbian can’t raise a child.

    It also doesn’t say a murderer, silent rape victim, non-virgin woman or rebellious son can’t be parents, but considering the Bible demands the death penalty for all of them, it would be pretty difficult for them to parents.

  5. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.”

    Loophole alert: It doesn’t list “gather intelligence on enemy operations and planning.” Of course, I wonder why in the first place the Catechism feels the need to provide a (short) list of the specific purposes for which it is wrong to torture. If I’d been writing this I might just have said “Torture is wrong”, full stop.

  6. says

    “…weakens the moral teaching of the church.”

    Eh, that ship sailed a long time ago.

    My suspicion is that the Church likes to team up with right-wing gasbags on those issues important to right-wing gasbags because 1) the right loves to invoke religious authority to shore up their positions; they’re hard to defend otherwise. 2) No one else takes Catholic moralizing seriously anymore. If they ever did, the sex abuse scandals put paid to that. And 3) the church hierarchy is very conservative itself. These are wealthy, old, powerful, privileged men. Whether they’re consciously aware of it or not, their social status cannot help but color their views.

  7. MikeMa says

    Ed,
    I think you missed a blockquote end in the middle of the long block. (ducks)

    I find the inconsistency in the church’s positions pretty damning. but historically acceptable. Popes fathered children and wielded enormous political and military authority in ways not within the catechism. Do what I say and not what I do is pretty crappy dogma.

  8. says

    I’m stunned (stunned!) that an authoritarian group would push the issues that let them snuggle up with the Establishment while failing to adequately condemn the things that would push them from it.
    It’s almost as though they’re more interested in power (and profit) than people (and justice).

  9. says

    “the only thing the Church ever demands political fealty to is birth control and abortion.”

    It would be interesting to see what would happen if Buffett, Gates and Soros offered to settle $100B on the Vatican, in exchange for two things:

    3.) A black, gay pope

    and

    e.) An Ex-Cathedra recantation of GOD’s rules on birth control and abortion.

  10. Phillip IV says

    THE LINE MUST BE DRAWN HERE!

    Because frankly, the RCC has been compromising their principles on core issues like warfare and torture for centuries. As long as they at least stick to their guns on those little, arbitrary rules that only affect lesser people like women and gays, they can at least claim they haven’t sold out on EVERYTHING.

  11. Dennis N says

    One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers

    Oh did Andrew Sullivan finally grow up and allow comments on his site? I don’t want to click through and give him hits to find out.

  12. says

    Senator, I’ve been educated by Catholics, I know Catholics. Catholics are friends of mind. Senator, you’re no Catholic.

  13. D. C. Sessions says

    And this in turn helps us to focus on the psycho-pathology of these church fathers. Why are they so utterly obsessed with female sexuality?

    How’s this for an answer:

    http://www.alternet.org/visions/154144/?page=entire

    And since I might as well, let’s recall that abortion (etc.) aren’t Biblical in the least; the Church dogma on the subject barely goes back two centuries. On the other hand, just about every prophet in the Scriptures (never mind the Sermon on the Mount) spends a lot of column-inches on the horrors awaiting a nation that does not take adequate care of the poor, the ill, widows, orphans, etc.

  14. says

    Oh did Andrew Sullivan finally grow up and allow comments on his site? I don’t want to click through and give him hits to find out.

    No, but he does read the emails from his readers and post selected ones on his blog. I’m not sure allowing comments on his blog would be all that fruitful anyway — if you think Pharyngula gets a lot of comments, Sullivan would likely get several times that volume, making it all but impossible to engage in a proper discussion.

    For something like that, they’d be better off starting a forum, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    But, while I appreciate Sullivan’s opposition to the Catholic Church’s medieval stance on sex-related issues, given that he is still an avowed supporter of the Catholic Church, he is as much of a cafeteria Catholic as those he is objecting to. There has never been anything in the Catholic laws or dogma that should leave him to believe that his own gay marriage, or his use of illegal drugs, his support for pro-choice rights, contraception, etc. are or will ever be acceptable to the Catholic hierarchy. He simply chooses to flatly reject the church’s teachings in those areas.

    Yes, he’s not a priest, but he is a staunch defender of the Catholic faith, and yet he really hasn’t been a Catholic in anything but name for a very long time.

  15. Michael Heath says

    One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers

    Dennis N writes:

    Oh did Andrew Sullivan finally grow up and allow comments on his site? I don’t want to click through and give him hits to find out.

    Andrew Sullivan has long published blog posts which incorporate feedback he gets via emails from his readers. He still chooses not to have comment threads in his blog posts. As a daily reader I’d estimate that he publishes comments from readers on a daily basis. What Ed quotes here comes from Sullivan blog posts.

    I don’t have a major problem with Sullivan not allowing comments simply because the more popular venues which do allow comments have them running into the thousands per article. That’s so overwhelming I end up reading none of them. However in defense of your objection, I do skim a few comment threads per week in WSJ articles; primarily to see how imaginative the conservative base is at turning any topic at all into “proof” that Barack Obama is a despicable person and obvious failure as president. Their defense when called out is that liberals did the same to President Bush, which of course is a major fallacy of balance failure. They can’t help but depend solely on bad arguments.

  16. Michael Heath says

    tacitus writes:

    There has never been anything in the Catholic laws or dogma that should leave him to believe that his own gay marriage, or his use of illegal drugs, his support for pro-choice rights, contraception, etc. are or will ever be acceptable to the Catholic hierarchy. He simply chooses to flatly reject the church’s teachings in those areas.

    Andrew Sullivan goes beyond ‘flatly rejecting the church’s teachings in those areas’. He also makes cogent arguments defending his position as one that can be a Catholic position. Those arguments leverage both biblical passages and Catholic principles.

  17. harold says

    He also makes cogent arguments defending his position as one that can be a Catholic position

    And as soon as he’s pope, that will be meaningful.

    In the meantime, he’s just a guy doing the opposite of what the pope says to do, and calling himself Catholic. It doesn’t work that way.

    For full disclosure –

    I am not religious, and the non-traumatizing religion that I never really believed in was not Catholicism. I have many Catholic relatives and acquaintances, though, and was on faculty at a medical school that is affiliated with a Catholic order for a few years.

  18. says

    In the meantime, he’s just a guy doing the opposite of what the pope says to do, and calling himself Catholic. It doesn’t work that way.

    Agreed, I am prepared to accept that he may have persuasive arguments for his own brand of Christian faith based on various (cherry-picked) Bible verses, but as I mentioned, Catholicism a specified brand of Christianity, and has a vast number of laws and tenets that goes into painful detail about what it means to be a Catholic. Sullivan’s arguments are little more than a peashooter compared to the combined weight of centuries of Catholic dogma that rules the lives of its adherents.

    Sure, many other Catholics are in the same boat, and generally Sullivan’s brand of cafeteria Catholicism is far better than Santorum’s but it will take a Vatican III and a Vatican IV before there’s any chance of the Catholic church looking anything like his own vision for it.

  19. sunsangnim says

    Wait, the Catholic church is against torture? Aren’t they the ones that elevated it into an art form?

  20. says

    I remember going to St. Cecilia’s grade school and hearing the priests talking about “cafeteria catholics”. I was confused as I was not sure if they were setting up another group for the kids who brought their lunch from home.

    Harold:

    “I have many Catholic relatives and acquaintances, though, and was on faculty at a medical school that is affiliated with a Catholic order for a few years.”.

    Oh, that’s great. So, Harold, if I send you a picture of this strange rash on my nether regions can you write me a scrip before my date on friday?

  21. dingojack says

    Torture which uses physical or moral violence to … punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.”

    And it you use torture, as described above*, god will send you to be tortured & burnt in fiery sulphurous pits of hell forever and ever!!
    Such is the mercy of our benevolent god.

    :/ Dingo
    ——
    * say, to frighten children in an unquestioning belief in catholic dogma, or to shame a parishioner into having an unwanted child, or to oppress non-believers and deny them their rights, or to justify fire-bombing a medical clinic whose procedures you think immoral, for example

  22. harold says

    Oh, that’s great. So, Harold, if I send you a picture of this strange rash on my nether regions can you write me a scrip before my date on friday?

    This person’s mentality is no better than that of a brainwashed Foxbot (which they may or may not be; I can’t tell from the comment).

    Saw comment that triggered bigoted response (in this case, a comment that was critical of Catholicism but didn’t express hatred and bigotry of individual Catholics). I can’t be sure if this person is enraged that my comment civilly criticized Catholicism, or enraged that that it didn’t hate Catholicism enough. It doesn’t matter.

    At any rate, this resulted in a flash of infantile, narcissistic rage, combined with a complete inability to formulate a logical response.

    The result? As is typical, a stupid-looking outburst of vulgar, illogical insults.

  23. says

    harold, “I have many Catholic relatives and acquaintances, though, and was on faculty at a medical school that is affiliated with a Catholic order for a few years.”.

  24. says

    Harold:

    I generally like your comments, but lighten the fuck up.

    If you need the emoticons after every ccmment that’s intended to be humorous, you’re doing it wrong.

    Modusoperandi’s comment highlights the part of your comment my last sentence was responding to.

    As for the first part, I DID grow up catholic and was sexually abused by a very devout catholic, my disdain for the religion and a large number of its obnoxious adherents is not prompted by news stories of the last twenty years about the RCC’s crimes and cover-ups.

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