Flaccid ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ fizzles for fathers


The “Fortnight for Freedom” was a flop.

This was supposed to be a game-changer — the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ big display of political might. But instead it exposed the bishops as inept campaigners and as generals without an army.

This man colored his hair for the event!

I thought they’d be better at this sort of thing. They had some formidable assets to work with. For weeks ahead of time, Fortnight events were publicized and promoted in every diocese and every parish across the country. And they had some serious money to work with thanks to deep-pocketed (anonymous) donors. They even got a big boost of support from their allies in the evangelical religious right.

But still, it flopped. Big time.

This two-week extravaganza was supposed to redefine the political conversation, but instead it went mostly unnoticed and unattended. It was supposed to show massive grassroots support for the bishops’ contention that allowing women to purchase comprehensive health insurance constitutes an intolerable threat to the religious liberty of employers who wish to prohibit that. But instead it showed, definitively, that there is no grassroots support for that strange argument.

The bishops declared themselves the grand marshals of what was to be a glorious parade, but no one showed up to march behind them and only a meager handful turned out to line the route as spectators.

It was pathetic, really. A bunch of nuns on a shoestring-budget bus tour drew more enthusiasm and more support for their polar-opposite message. For all the millions spent and all the weeks of elaborate, top-down fanfare, the Fortnight for Freedom came and went almost without notice.

“Oh, right, the bishops’ big rally, when is that again? Oh, it happened already? Oh.”


All that time and money invested and almost nothing to show for it.

Part of what we learned here, I think, is that if you’ve got a top-down, hierarchical mentality that regards listening to anyone else as beneath you, as an affront to your righteous authority, then you’re probably not well-suited to rallying grassroots support. When that arrogant mentality shapes your outlook, it seems, you’re probably not even capable of recognizing that you’ve utterly lost all grassroots support.

The bishops did their best to put a happy face on their embarrassing fortnight of failure. “Thousands rally in Washington,” one press release said. And that was true — “thousands” plural because two is a plural number. The largest Fortnight event drew about 4,000 — or, in other words, it was a bit smaller than the crowd at a Bowling Green Hot Rods game on Fireworks Night. (Yes, the Rays’ single-A farm team may outdraw the bishops despite a much-smaller PR budget, yet as far as I know the Hot Rods are not making any claims that this gives them the right to dictate national policy to the president.)

By the end of the fortnight, the affiliated Republican effort “Conscience Clause” had also collected 6,000 signatures for a petition in support of the bishops — or nearly half the number of signatures collected so far in the “Save Pan Am” campaign to get ABC to revive that failed show.

The Fortnight for Freedom was a failure. I suppose, though, that it did succeed in at least one way: providing a handle for plenty of insightful commentary on the bishops’ demands for religious privilege and their increasingly partisan political activism. A sampling of some of that commentary below the jump.

Jessica Coblentz: “Fortnight for Freedom: Whose Religious Liberty?

In the reaction against Fortnight for Freedom, some are responding to the bishops on their own terms. If the campaign is about religious liberty, they ask, then whose liberty is at stake? The bishops present the Catholic exercise of religious liberty as the ability to reject the use of contraception, or at least the financing of insurance plans that cover contraceptive services. The irony, to those on the other side, is that a campaign meant to promote religious liberty actually denies the religious freedom of many Catholic women, who rely on their personal religious convictions to determine their stance on contraception and the mandate. Studies show that as many as 98 percent of sexually experienced American Catholic women over the age of 18 have used contraception. A recent PRRI/RNS poll reports that a majority of American Catholics do not see the contraception mandate as a threat to religious freedom, indicating that many hold a broader understanding of religious liberty than the bishops maintain. The debate surrounding the mandate, then, is not only about contraception and religious liberty. It is also about who gets to define religious liberty’s very meaning.

… Critics of the bishops’ current battle can call on this Catholic history of religious liberty and individual freedom. In their view, women’s choices are an issue of religious liberty — not merely a threat to it. Still, who defines religious liberty remains a matter of authority — and a highly gendered one at that. When the USCCB conveys that the rejection of contraception is the only religiously-motivated choice that warrants the protection of religious liberty among Catholics, they assert the message that only church leaders have the authority to determine what counts as religious behavior. This strips other Catholics of the legitimate authority to negotiate their tradition when determining their own religiously-motivated actions. What is more, so long as the all-male Catholic clergy solely possess the authority to identify what does and does not constitute a free, religiously-motivated choice worthy of legal protection, women have no official authority in Catholic religious liberty conversations whatsoever. As it stands, the religious decisions and actions of all Catholics other than clergy — be they for or against contraception and contraceptive coverage — are seemingly insignificant in “Catholic” concerns about religious liberty.

… The bishops, or anyone for that matter, need not theologically condone the contraceptive decisions of Catholic women in order to recognize them as exercises of free, religious choice. Yet the current rhetoric of the USCCB’s “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign does not. … If the bishops continue to exclude so many American Catholics from their representation of religious liberty — notably, the majority of Catholic women — the USCCB fails in its own stated aim to protect the religious liberty of all.

Katherine Stewart: “How Corrupt Catholics and Evangelicals Abuse Religious Freedom

In the writings and speeches of Catholic bishops and evangelical leaders in recent months, “religious freedom” has come to mean something close to its opposite. It now stands for “religious privilege.” It is a coded way for them to state their demand that religious institutions should be allowed special powers that exempt them from the laws of the land.

… This is a war of conquest, designed to expand the power of religious institutions at the expense of the rest of society and the state. It is about carving out an even larger share of the special privileges and exemptions that are already made available only to organized religious institutions.
Such privileges are already substantial. Religions already receive hefty subsidies – by some estimates, as much as $71bn a year – through broad tax exemptions, deductions, and faith-based government programs. A “ministerial exemption” allows them to hire and fire people directly involved in religious activity without regard to anti-discrimination laws.
But they want more. And they are willing to turn the meaning of the word “persecution” on its head to get it.

Sally Rasmussen: “The Bishops on Religious Freedom: ‘We Get More Than You’

The Catholic bishops have been talking a lot recently about the First Amendment. They’ve made the remarkable claim that their tradition is a source of First Amendment freedoms, but their interpretation of such freedom is that it should shield them from prosecution for collaborating in the sexual abuse of children, at the same time that they are doing their best to deny freedom of religion, speech, and assembly to American nuns. Nor do they believe in freedom of conscience for the Catholic Church which is the people of God – a Church that has thoughtfully concluded that contraception is morally acceptable.

Mark Silk: “Religious Freedom, Becket Style

I can’t help suspecting that the bishops’ rage against the contraception mandate is actually displaced anger at losing their de facto power to decide the fate of sexually abusive priests.

The real lesson of the conviction of Msgr. William Lynn in Philadelphia last month and the impending trial of Bishop Robert Finn in Kansas City is that if church authorities don’t behave like secular executives when confronted with a subordinate suspected of abuse, then they too will be criminally prosecuted. Archbishop Becket would have considered that an assault on his religious freedom. No one in America can do so anymore, Fortnight or no Fortnight.

Complete Article HERE!

Diocese seeks relief from clergy sex abuse verdict

The Catholic Diocese of Green Bay says its First Amendment rights protect it from liability in a civil lawsuit filed by two childhood victims of clergy sex abuse.

Brothers Todd and Troy Merryfield were awarded $700,000 in May by an Outagamie County Court that found the diocese committed civil fraud. The brothers claimed the diocese knew of the Rev. John Feeney’s illicit sexual history when it installed him as a priest at Freedom’s St. Nicholas Church and misrepresented him as safe while knowing he was a danger to children.

The Merryfields, then 12 and 14, were molested by Feeney in 1978. Feeney was sentenced to prison in 2004 for the assaults.

Sarah Fry Bruch, an attorney for the diocese, said the jury verdict should be overturned, arguing the court is constitutionally barred from reading any meaning into Feeney’s assignment to a pastoral role. The Merryfields didn’t show evidence the diocese represented Feeney as safe.

“Nor could they, as the assignment of a priest is a canonical act which the civil courts may not evaluate or explain,” she wrote. The First Amendment gives broad latitude to religious organizations in the conduct of their internal affairs.

Judge Nancy Krueger will hold a hearing Tuesday on motions filed by the diocese that seek a new trial, dismissal of the case, or overturning the jury’s findings.

John Peterson, an attorney for the Merryfields, disagreed in a written response, arguing the Merryfields’ claims against the church were secular. The diocese’s representation of Feeney as safe, by virtue of his unsupervised access to children, “has nothing to do with the Catholic Church’s religious beliefs.”

Granting the diocese immunity from Wisconsin law by finding in its favor “would raise grave Establishment Clause issues by actually advancing religion,” he wrote.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from establishing a national religion or giving preference to one over another.

The First Amendment argument was one of several made by the diocese in a 40-page document asking for relief from the court.

One motion asks for a new trial, claiming bias on the part of a juror.

Another requests a dismissal, claiming the Merryfields unreasonably delayed filing the lawsuit and hamstrung the diocese’s ability to mount a defense. Several key witnesses died before the case reached trial.

The diocese also wants Krueger to rule the verdict excessive and change jury findings on the verdict form it returned.

Jurors awarded $475,000 to Troy Merryfield and $225,000 to Todd Merryfield. The brothers decided to not seek punitive damages after the diocese was found liable, saying the case was about revealing the truth, not money.

“A jury may have sympathy for the plaintiffs, but that alone cannot support a damage award,” Bruch wrote in arguing that evidence wasn’t sufficient.

Claims of juror bias arose after a member of the panel contacted the court about comments made by a fellow juror at the end of the case.

The juror mentioned to peers that a family member had attended St. Therese School in Appleton during the period Feeney was assigned to the church, and wondered aloud about the family member’s experiences with Feeney.

In addition, the juror was a friend of a cousin of the Merryfields’ mother, the diocese argues.

“One can only conclude that the juror purposefully kept back what she knew to get on the jury,” Bruch wrote.

Peterson said the juror’s recollections didn’t materialize until after the trial was under way, and she indicated so during an interview after concerns came forth.

The juror “did not exhibit any bias and stated that she could be fair and impartial,” he wrote.

Complete Article HERE!

Man who attacked priest in revenge is not guilty of felonies

William Lynch, who beat the Catholic priest he said molested him as a child, is acquitted on elder abuse and felony assault charges. He may be retried on a misdemeanor assault charge.

SAN JOSE — A jury has found a San Francisco man not guilty of felony assault and felony elder abuse, despite his admission that he attacked the priest accused of molesting him nearly four decades ago.

The 10-man, two-woman panel also said Thursday that William Lynch was not guilty of misdemeanor elder abuse in the 2010 attack on Father Jerold Lindner. The 67-year-old Catholic priest has been linked to more than a dozen alleged victims — including his own nieces, nephew and sister — but never has been brought to trial because the statute of limitations in every case had run out.

The jury was split on a final charge against Lynch: misdemeanor assault. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge David Cena declared a mistrial on that count. Dist. Atty. Jeffrey Rosen said his office would decide in the coming days whether to retry Lynch.

After the verdict was read, Lynch said he had felt certain that he would be going to jail — and was pleasantly surprised that he would not. But he also spoke haltingly, and with deep emotion, about justice and responsibility.

“I was wrong for what I did,” said Lynch, 45. “If I’m going to be taking responsibility, I have to take it fully. And in [beating Lindner] … I was perpetuating the cycle of violence.”

Surrounded by family, supporters and his attorneys in front of the courthouse, Lynch said: “I wanted to … be accountable, unlike the church and Father Jerry up to this point.”

Rosen said that his office too had had a responsibility: to charge Lynch for lying his way into the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, where the retired Lindner lived, and attacking him.

Using “a fake name, gloves. Beating and bloodying someone. That’s not justice under the law,” Rosen said after the verdict, giving a shorthand account of Lynch’s actions. “That’s revenge.”

Rosen said that although his office understood what motivated Lynch’s behavior, “we do not condone it.… A just punishment is delivered through our justice system, not through the acts of one traumatized and troubled man.”

The two-week-long trial was filled with dramatic turns and punctuated with tearful, graphic testimony — not about the attack in question, but about what happened in 1974. That is when Lindner allegedly lured Lynch and his younger brother, then 7 and 4, into his tent during a Catholic family camping trip. The boys said that the priest raped them and forced them to perform oral copulation on each other while he watched.

As the trial opened, Deputy Dist. Atty. Vicki Gemetti told the jury that Lindner, who was a spiritual advisor for the outing in the Santa Cruz Mountains, had indeed molested the Lynch brothers.

She played a gut-wrenching video of a San Jose Mercury News interview in which Lynch recently talked in graphic detail about that camping trip years ago. Gemetti told the jury that Lindner would “probably lie” when he took the stand.

When Gemetti asked whether he had molested Lynch and his brother, Lindner said: “No.”

Defense attorneys called for a mistrial, insisting Gemetti had committed prosecutorial misconduct by inducing perjury. Cena disagreed, and the trial continued.

But when Lindner returned to the stand, he refused to testify further on the grounds that he might incriminate himself. The judge then struck Lindner’s testimony entirely and told the jury to ignore the priest’s description of Lynch’s “vicious” attack.

And that, Juror No. 12 said, was key for him in deciding the case.

“The victim in this case disappeared,” said the retired accountant, who declined to give his name. “His testimony disappeared. To me, if you have no victim, do you have a crime?”

The juror, who walked with a cane and sported a silver brush cut, described the nine hours of jury deliberations over three days as cordial and professional.

“There were 12 people who simply agreed to disagree,” the juror said. “There was some disagreement with the law. There was disagreement with some of the testimony. There was disagreement with each other.”

The juror said that everyone on the panel believed that Lindner had committed “absolutely heinous” crimes against Lynch and his brother. But, he said, he was one of the eight who voted “guilty” on the lesser charge of simple misdemeanor assault because Lynch “got up and said he did it.”

To defense attorneys Pat Harris and Paul Mones, Lynch’s testimony was an act of courage fueled by his desire to protect other children from Lindner — and to fight the Roman Catholic Church and other institutions that cover up child sexual abuse and protect perpetrators.

“Will had the strength to speak for many people who can’t speak,” said Mones, who called the jury’s verdict “an example of what’s been happening around the country today.”

Complete Article HERE!