04/26/15

Growing Mormon-Catholic Alliance: Quiet partners behind the Christian Right’s religious discrimination agenda

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While Tony Perkins, Brian Brown, Bryan Fischer, and other Christian Right pundits of the more shrill variety may be easy to ignore as they demand a right to discriminate on Fox News, there is a more dangerous coalition emerging. One of the primary drivers of the movement to corrupt and redefine religious freedom isn’t someone in a shouting match on cable news, but a decades-long alliance of top Mormons and Catholics.

book of mormon

While Mormons and Catholics may seem like unlikely allies, from a political perspective they bring complementary strengths to their partnership.

The Mormon Church has an amazing amount of wealth on hand (it’s estimated to be worth over $40 billion – gathered from real estate and commercial holdings, mandatory tithing collections from members, and even a theme park in Hawaii) and a world-class grassroots mobilization and recruitment force.

The Catholic Church and related groups, on the other hand, enjoy a much higher approval rating with the American public (62 percent) and thus can put a more popular face on public political campaigns.

The political allegiance between Mormons and Catholics dates back at least to the 1990s in Hawaii, during the first U.S. battle over same-sex marriage. As I previously reported, while the Mormons could — and did — provide funding and volunteers to that campaign, the more popular Catholic Church acted as the coalition’s public face.

The Catholic Church and other visible allies would thereby absorb any public backlash directed towards the coalition, while the Mormons could push their agenda without any serious consequences to their public image. The strategy was effective, and one they repeated during California’s Proposition 8 fight.

The alliance grows stronger with each passing year. Epitomizing the relationship is Princeton professor Robert P. George, one of the most influential Catholic conservative activists in the country, who partnered with the Mormon Church to create the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). He also joined the editorial advisory board of the Mormon Church-owned newspaper, the Deseret News.

George is also the founder of the Witherspoon Institute (responsible for the debunked Mark Regnerus study – which was reported first by the Deseret News), was the primary author of the anti-LGBTQ Manhattan Declaration, and is one of the top national strategists leading the charge to redefine religious freedom into a sword religious institutions can use to force their doctrinal positions on individuals.

Last week, Mormon Church-owned Brigham Young University awarded George an “honorary Doctor of Law and Moral Values” degree, calling him “one of the most able and articulate advocates of the proposition that faith and reason are not incompatible.”

Dallin H. Oaks, one of the Mormon Church’s 12 Apostles, has been deeply involved in the effort to redefine religious freedom. He sits on the board of the World Congress of Families, an international culture-warring collection of Religious Right organizations that works all over the world to use (redefined) religious freedom arguments to enact anti-LGBTQ and anti-reproductive health laws (such as the Russian law that criminalizes any positive speech about homosexuality).

In recognition of his work with WCF and frequent speeches before conservative groups extoling the benefits of using one’s faith as an excuse to dodge pesky civil rights laws, Oaks received the 2013 “Canterbury Medal” for his “defense of religious liberty” from The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a conservative Catholic legal organization responsible for the Hobby Lobby ruling at the Supreme Court and one of the top groups in the Right’s religious freedom campaign.

Speaking earlier this month at the Mormon Church’s semi-annual General Conference to all 15 million members worldwide, Oaks quoted a speech given by Philadelphia Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput at Brigham Young University.

“Speaking of ‘concerns that the LDS and Catholic communities share,’ such as ‘about marriage and family, the nature of our sexuality, the sanctity of human life, and the urgency of religious liberty,’ he [Chaput] said this: ‘I want to stress again the importance of really living what we claim to believe. That needs to be a priority—not just in our personal and family lives but in our churches, our political choices, our business dealings, our treatment of the poor; in other words, in everything we do.’” Chaput continued, in his speech to BYU, “Religion is to democracy as a bridle is to a horse.”

Another of the Mormon Church’s top leaders, Henry B. Eyring, met with Chaput and Pope Francis in November 2014 at the Vatican. Eyring described their strengthening alliance and mutual dedication to opposing civil liberties for LGBTQ people and women, saying “I think the thing was, even with other faiths, they have exactly the same feeling that the root of good society is good families.”

The crowning, and perhaps most insidious, achievement thus far of the Mormon-Catholic alliance is the much-hailed Utah nondiscrimination/religious freedom law. While the Christian Right’s state-level Hobby-Lobbyized RFRAs (with their overt anti-LGBTQ intentions) have generated a significant national backlash (particularly in the cases of Indiana and Arizona) and are susceptible to court challenges, the Utah RFRA “lite” law actually won endorsements from LGBTQ groups.

The Mormon Church enlisted the help of Christian Right operative Robin Fretwell Wilson, who works closely with right-wing Catholic groups like The Becket Fund and Alliance Defending Freedom, to co-write the law. The end product was a bill written in such a way that LGBTQ groups hungry for a “win” in a Red state could claim victory in the form of a watered-down nondiscrimination law.

The price — knowingly or otherwise — was the endorsement by high-profile LGBTQ groups of the Right’s false contention that religious freedom is somehow at odds with LGBTQ rights, requiring a compromise – or, as some LGBTQ groups described the creation of Utah’s law, “a collaboration.” Such endorsements have set a dangerous precedent for the advancement of RFRAs and other efforts to corrupt actual religious freedom in various state legislatures.

Right-wing groups can (and do) point to LGBTQ support in Utah as a means of mainstreaming their agenda and deflating their opposition.

Catholic news agencies have hailed the “Mormon law” as a model to be repeated across the country. If that happens, we may well see more such pyrrhic victories, in which gains in non-discrimination legislation are overwhelmed by the emerging “right to discriminate” on the basis of religious convictions. This is where compromising on the true meaning of religious freedom could lead.

We may also see the Mormon Church emerge as a more prominent—albeit less public—partner of the evangelical and Catholic elements of the Christian Right as they continue their quest to corrupt the meaning of religious freedom.
Complete Article HERE!

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04/21/15

Pope OKs resignation of US bishop for not reporting abuse

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File under:  Pretty amazing stuff!

By Nicole Winfiel

Pope Francis accepted the resignation Tuesday of a U.S. bishop who pleaded guilty to failing to report a suspected child abuser, answering calls by victims to take action against bishops who cover up for pedophile priests.

The Vatican said Tuesday that Bishop Robert Finn had offered his resignation under the code of canon law that allows bishops to resign early for illness or some “grave” reason that makes them unfit for office.Bishop Robert Finn

It didn’t provide a reason in the one-line announcement. Finn is 62, about 13 years shy of the normal retirement age of 75.

Finn, who leads the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri, waited six months before notifying police about the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, whose computer contained hundreds of lewd photos of young girls taken in and around churches where he worked. Ratigan was sentenced to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges.

Finn pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failure to report suspected abuse and was sentenced to two years’ probation in 2012. Ever since, though, he has faced pressure from local Roman Catholics to step down, with some parishioners petitioning Francis to remove him from the diocese.

No U.S. bishop has been forcibly removed for covering up for guilty clergy. And technically speaking, Finn wasn’t removed – he offered to resign, in the same way that Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law did in 2002 after the clergy sex abuse scandal exploded in his archdiocese.

Law hadn’t been convicted of a crime, as Finn was, and the failure of the Vatican to forcibly remove Finn for three years after he pleaded guilty fueled victims’ complaints that bishops were continuing to enjoy protections even under the “zero tolerance” pledge of Francis.

In a statement, Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the online abuse resource BishopAccountability.org, said Finn’s resignation was a welcome step but called on Francis to publicly state that he was removed for mismanaging the Ratigan case and failing to protect children.

She noted that bishops had been allowed to resign under the previous two popes, but that the Vatican has never publicly linked their resignations to mishandling abuse cases.

“We urge Pope Francis to issue such a statement immediately. That would be unprecedented, and it would send a bracing message to bishops and religious superiors worldwide that a new era has begun,” she said.

Finn, who apologized for Ratigan’s abuse and took measures to make the diocese safer for children, remains the highest-ranking church official in the U.S. to be convicted of failing to take action in response to abuse allegations.

Even Francis’ top sex abuse adviser, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, had said publicly last year that Francis needs to “urgently” address Finn’s case, though he later stressed that Finn deserved due process and must be spared “crowd-based condemnations.”

The Vatican last fall sent a Canadian archbishop to Finn’s diocese as part of an investigation of his leadership. But until Tuesday, there had been no word about what the pope would do.

In a statement issued by the diocese, Finn said it had been an “honor and joy for me to serve here among so many good people of faith.”

He asked for prayers for the next bishop.

Francis tapped Archbishop Joseph Naumann to lead the diocese temporarily until a new bishop is named. In a letter to the faithful, Naumann said he prayed “that the coming weeks and months will be a time of grace and healing for the diocese.”

The main U.S. victims group, SNAP, praised Finn’s resignation as a “tiny but belated step forward.”

“After centuries of abuse and cover-up done in secrecy … one pope has finally seen fit to oust one bishop for complicity in clergy sex crimes,” said SNAP’s David Clohessy of St. Louis. “That’s encouraging. But it’s only a very tiny drop of reform in an enormous bucket of horror.”

Francis is facing similar pressure to remove a Chilean bishop, Juan Barros, amid an unprecedented outcry over his appointment because of his longtime affiliation with the Rev. Fernando Karadima, who was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for sexually abusing minors.

Karadima’s victims say Barros witnessed their abuse decades ago. He has denied knowing anything until he read news reports of Karadima’s crimes in 2010. The Vatican has defended the appointment.

Earlier this month, members of the pope’s sex abuse advisory commission came to Rome in an unscheduled session to voice their concern about Barros and his suitability for office given he will be responsible for child protection programs.

Complete Article HERE!

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04/17/15

This I Believe: Created in God’s Image

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04/17/15

Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George has Died

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The man who figured so prominently in my ordeal with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate is dead. Despite the fact that he and I never saw eye-to-eye; Rest In Peace Francis.

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“I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history” ― Cardinal Francis George

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After a long bout with cancer, he is gone. It occurs to me, remembering that quote of his (and more on it, here), that we now have an intercessor for our times — an intercessor on the issue of Christian Persecution.

First report, out of the Chicago Tribune:

Cardinal Francis George, the first Chicago native to serve as the local archbishop and a man who during that 17-year tenure became the intellectual leader of the American church, has died after a years long struggle with cancer. He was 78.

Archbishop Blasé Cupich is expected to make an announcement at 2 p.m. at Holy Name Cathedral.

Monsignor Michael Boland, president of Catholic Charities for the archdiocese, released a statement saying, “Today we mourn the loss of an incredible leader, guiding spirit and loyal friend. Cardinal George had compassion for all. You saw this compassion in his eyes as he visited with the poor and most vulnerable in our communities.

Please read the whole story about the fascinating life of this extraordinarily accomplished priest and pastor. I always loved how expressively he shared his thoughts. One of my favorite stories about him was shared by Father Robert Barron, in his excellent book, Catholicism, and which I quoted here:

Fr. Robert Barron recalls a comment made by Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, who had been asked what he was thinking as he stood on the balcony of St. Peter’s after the election of Benedict XVI. George said, “I was gazing over toward the Circus Maximus, toward the Palatine Hill where the Roman Emperors once resided and reigned and looked down upon the persecution of Christians, and I thought, ‘Where are their successors? . . . But if you want to see the successor of Peter, he is right next to me, smiling and waving at the crowds.’”

There is a wonderful meme I once saw on George that very succinctly spelled out how very impressive he was, in faith, and gifts and life-story. I will try to find it, so check back, because I will have more thoughts and links, shortly.

In the meantime, let us pray: Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let your perpetual light shine upon him!

Watch his successor, Archbishop Cupich’s statement, and live coverage.

John L. Allen, Jr: The “American Ratzinger” Dies:

George’s abiding passion was the relationship between faith and culture, and especially the urgency of a “New Evangelization,” meaning a new missionary zeal in Catholicism.

After his appointment as archbishop of Chicago in 1997, and especially during his three-year term as president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2007 to 2010, George was the Vatican’s go-to figure in the United States and one of just a handful of American prelates whose reputation and influence reached around the Catholic world.

Among other aspects of his résumé, George will be remembered as the architect of the US bishops’ battles with the Obama administration over contraception and health care reform, and the leader who made religious freedom a signature concern for the bishops.

His legacy also will be tied to the child sexual abuse scandals in the American Church, both his championing of a “zero tolerance” policy and allegations that he failed to apply that policy himself in a high-profile Chicago case.

Read it all.

Commonweal has full video of George’s last homily.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of USCCB, has released a statement:

“The death of an exemplary churchman such as Cardinal Francis George brings much sadness at a time of joy and resurrection. We find peace in knowing that, after so much suffering, he has been raised up with our Lord. As archbishop of Chicago and president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Cardinal George led as a kindly servant and unmatched intellectual, a man who encouraged everyone to see how God makes us all brother and sister to one another. I join with my brother bishops in thanking God for the gift of his witness and invite all to pray for the faithful repose of his soul.”

Here is the meme I mentioned,

created by Patrick Thornton at Word on Fire

 

Complete Article HERE!

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