JOANN FITZPATRICK: Catholic church, political opportunists fail as role models and leaders


Catholic church, political opportunists froth over perceived affronts but repeatedly fail as role models and leaders.

You cannot be a woman and a Catholic without having a stiff set of blinders to screen out so much about the church that makes women fourth-rate participants.

The Catholic hierarchy operates in a bubble, reconfirming at every opportunity that these men have no awareness of how most Catholics live their lives.

The ruckus over the new health insurance law and contraception is just the latest and loudest example. Never mind that reputable surveys show 98 percent of American Catholics have used birth control, the official church rushes to the barricades, determined to keep reality at bay.

Never mind that the health insurance provision that caused this trumped-up outrage would not force Catholic hospitals or other religious institutions to dispense birth control. That would have been wrong, but that was not the case. The stipulation in the new health care law is that insurance companies will provide birth control to women at no cost. That meant insurance plans offered by religious-affiliated institutions would have to include the birth control provision. The link between the Catholic Church and federal government is that most large Catholic institutions – hospitals and universities – accept federal money for research or services.

The Catholic Church position on birth control would be harder to swallow if it did not have such disastrous results: It condemns the poor in Africa and Latin America to wretched lives in which children, at best, face a future of deprivation and at worst die within a few years of birth. Where is the compassion? The poor we may always have with us but it is painful to observe the church’s active role in perpetuating poverty.

Here in the United State the church rages against abortion while crusading against family planning in general and the organization Planned Parenthood in particular. The illogic of this position – given that family planning is the easiest, cheapest way to prevent abortion – is of no consequence to church leaders, none of whom will ever have a conversation with a gynecologist. Theirs is a unique set of blinders.

The contraception flap was a godsend to the Republican presidential candidates, coming as it did just when economic indicators showed the economy continuing to improve. Mon Dieu! Good news – what’s an angry candidate to do? One-up the Catholic bishops by accusing the president of “waging war on the Catholic Church,” as Newt Gingrich did with relish.

This is the same twice-divorced Gingrich who was baptized into the Catholic Church in 2009 by no less than the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Weurl. Newtie discovered Catholicism some years after discovering his then-mistress Callista, which happened at the time he was married and flogging President Clinton for discovering Monica Lewinsky. I don’t know whether Cardinal Weurl was among the church leaders who had called for denying Communion to Democrats Ted Kennedy and John Kerry – both divorced Catholics. But consistency is a fleeting thing with the Catholic hierarchy, especially where politicians are concerned.

The White House had little choice but to find a compromise that would calm the furor so it decided insurance companies would pay for birth control if women getting their medical coverage at a Catholic institution asked for it. Predictably, the more hard-line bishops continue to see red.

It’s fascinating to watch these men assert themselves so authoritatively as arbiters of personal morality when the fallout from the sex abuse scandal is still very much with us. Church leaders would like to think that’s ancient history but it’s not. Because most priests are good men who were not involved, I and other Catholics are sticking with the church, believing the same horrific actions will not occur again. But the anger over what happened – the enabling and concealing of crimes against children – simmers just below the surface.

Amid the howls over the contraception dispute, little attention was paid last week when one of the best-known American cardinals, Edward Egan, former bishop in Bridgeport and archbishop in New York, said he regretted his 2002 apology for what happened in Bridgeport. Egan, 79 and retired, now says, “I don’t think we did anything wrong.” And he maintains the church in Connecticut has no obligation to report sex abuse allegations to authorities.

This is stunning. It not only reopens wounds for dozens of Bridgeport victims but also reveals once again how impossible it is for some men of the cloth to acknowledge their responsibility in the real world and, most especially, to the law.

Those Republicans, including Sen. Scott Brown – who had better sense on the issue as a state senator – who think they can convert a woman’s health issue into a question of religious freedom are underestimating the good sense of the public at large, just as the Catholic bishops do.

Complete Article HERE!

On the contraception mandate: Can the bishops speak credibly about a women’s health issue?

One thing that’s been bothering me about the contraception mandate controversy is simply that most of those objecting to this attack on Catholic “religious freedom” or “conscience protection”–however the issue it styled–are men, and most of them celibate. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago pointedly stated that “people of faith cannot be made second class citizens because of their religious beliefs.” Does that mean it’s OK to be made a second-class citizen on the basis of gender or your employer? There is a conflict of consciences here: We are talking about hundreds of thousands of women who work at Catholic social service agencies, colleges and universities, and hospitals.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston argued in a USCCB statement on the mandate: “Pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition to be suppressed by any means technically possible.” True enough as far as it goes, but most women I know–both married and single–want to become pregnant after some planning, and an unexpected pregnancy is a serious matter, especially in our rationed health care society. Pregnancy is not a disease, but it is a difficult, costly, and sometimes perilous medical event. Whether he meant it this way or not, DiNardo sounds callous to the health care needs (and worries) of women in their reproductive years.

The fact is, church teaching addresses women’s bodies and their health care in profoundly intimate and different ways than it does the bodies of men. (One wonders how the conversation would be different if we were talking about prostate exams or erectile dysfunction.) It does not help the bishops’ credibility that women have had no deliberative voice in the creation of church teaching on birth control, and since none of the bishops are married, they are not in the position to consider more than intellectually the economic, emotional, and psychological dimensions of an unplanned pregnancy.

The fact remains that half of pregnancies in this country are unplanned, and half of those end in abortion. The emotional, psychological, economic, and moral costs of these pregnancies (and abortions) fall most heavily on the women affected, and I think it incumbent upon Christians to consider these women and their children–born and unborn–as we examine this moral issue.

While the bishops are right to keep the issue of the constitutional right to free exercise on the front burner–and it seems that the USCCB intends to push for a complete rollback of the mandate–I do not see how preventing a woman from using a legal medical means to decide when or if she becomes pregnant impinges on my right to excercise my faith. Indeed, my hope that greater access to birth control would reduce the number of abortions more than makes up for any concerns I have about the legal complexities surrounding the mandate’s effect on Catholic employers.

Complete Article HERE!

Birth Control Debate: Why Catholic Bishops Have Lost Their Grip on U.S. Politics—and Their Flock


The Vatican’s timing was ironic. While Roman Catholic bishops in the U.S. were trying to revive their moral and political clout last week by battling President Obama over contraception coverage and religious liberty, a papally endorsed symposium was underway in Rome on how the Church has to change if it wants to prevent sexual abuse crises, the very tragedy that has shriveled the stature of Catholic prelates worldwide over the past decade, especially in the U.S. One monsignor at the Vatican gathering even suggested the hierarchy had been guilty of “omertà,” the Mafia code of silence, by protecting abusive priests.

The Roman forum was a reminder—and the birth control clash is turning out to be one as well — of just how much influence the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has lost in the 10 years since the abuse crisis erupted in America. It hopes that its protest of a new federal rule requiring religiously affiliated institutions like Catholic hospitals and universities to provide no-cost contraception in their health insurance coverage, even if church doctrine forbids birth control, will help restore the bishops’ relevance. They did win a partial victory last Friday when Obama, acknowledging the uproar, said those institutions would no longer have to pay for the contraception coverage themselves. But the President did not fully genuflect: The compromise will still oblige religious-based employers to offer the coverage, while their insurance providers foot the bill.

Although major Catholic groups like Catholic Charities and Catholic Health Services accepted that revision, the bishops are holding out for more. But their crusade to be exempted from the mandate is likely to fall short of its grail. If so, it’s because Obama read the Catholic flock better than its shepherds did.

Granted, the bishops, led by New York Archbishop and Cardinal-elect Timothy Dolan, did get the White House to acknowledge how high-handedly and ham-handedly it had managed the contraception debate—confirming along the way the public’s wariness of the so-called liberal elite—and convinced it to craft a deal that should have been policy in the first place. Yet in his refusal to cave completely to the religious liberty campaign, Obama has illustrated the reality that the bishops no longer speak for most U.S. Catholics—the nation’s largest religious denomination and a critical swing-voter group—on a host of moral issues, according to polls.

Not on abortion or the death penalty (a majority of Catholics believe those should remain legal); on divorce or homosexuality (most say those are acceptable); on women being ordained as priests and priests getting married (ditto); or on masturbation and pre-marital sex (ditto again, Your Excellencies).

And especially not on contraception. Ever since Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the Church’s senseless ban on birth control in 1968, few doctrines have been as vilified, ridiculed and outright ignored by Catholics – evidenced by a recent study showing that 98% of American Catholic women have used some form of contraception. It’s hard to believe, as the bishops would have it, that those women simply succumbed to society’s pressure to do the secular thing. They’ve decided, in keeping with their faith’s precept of exercising personal conscience, that family planning is the moral and societally responsible thing to do—for example, preventing unwanted pregnancies and therefore abortions. And it explains why a recent Public Religion Research Institute poll found most Catholics support the contraception coverage mandate even for Catholic-affiliated organizations. Presumably most endorse Friday’s compromise.

Far more Evangelical Protestants, according to the PRRI survey, back the bishops than Catholics do. But that hardly makes the bishops, when it comes to the more independent Catholic vote, the same force to be reckoned with that they were in the 20th century. That is, before 2002 and the horror stories of how prelates like Cardinal Bernard Law, then Boston’s archbishop, had serially shielded alleged pedophile priests. It’s true that some bishops, like Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl, confronted rather than coddled accused priests. But when it became clear that so many of the men in miters cared more about safeguarding the clerical corporation than about protecting kids, episcopal “authority” vanished like so much incense smoke—and Catholics increasingly abandoned the 2,000-year-old notion that their church and their religion are the same thing.

That’s essentially what Catholics like me are asking for, especially from my colleagues in the media, during episodes like the contraception and religious liberty fracas: Stop equating what the bishops say with what we think, because we’re not the obedient, monolithic bloc that newspapers and cable news networks so tiresomely insist is in “jeopardy” for this or that party whenever they smell church-state friction. When a hardline U.S. bishop calls for withholding communion from a Catholic politician who supports legalized abortion, stop assuming all Catholics have the prelate’s back rather than the pol’s. When Catholic politicians draft legislation like the religious liberty bills popping up on Capitol Hill right now, stop accepting their assertion that the birth-control ban is “a major tenet” of Catholic faith, as Florida Senator Marco Rubio called it this month. For the vast majority of Catholics, it isn’t.

And for that matter, stop forgetting that in the 2008 election, 54% of Catholic voters ignored their bishops and backed a pro-choice presidential candidate like Obama. I certainly don’t point that out as some kind of endorsement of Obama in 2012. I’m simply noting that pundits and politicians need smarter criteria for gauging the Catholic vote—just as advisers in Obama’s White House shouldn’t have been so clueless about religious issues when they first decreed the contraception mandate. If the tragedy of the 2002 abuse crisis reminds us of anything, it’s that religion does matter in politics. Just ask the church leaders who are still paying a political price for their religious code of silence.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic church stance on contraception policy speaks to subordination of women


The squabble over whether Catholic social service institutions, universities and hospitals must offer insurance covering contraception under the new health plan contains a subplot with roots deep in history.

It’s the relationship between women and organized religion — a relationship that, over the centuries, has been hostile to the aspirations of women for a larger role in the family, the world and religion itself.
A little history is needed here.

Women — as well as men — have, through the ages, experienced the same spiritual stirrings that give rise to faith and firm religious beliefs. But organized religion, with its churches, synagogues, mosques, feasts and rituals, has, from the beginning, been exclusively the creation of men.

Moreover, the bureaucracies that have grown up to run these religions — and to promulgate their codes of moral right and wrong — have, from the beginning, been the work of men. Women had little or no say in this overarching influence in their lives.

Here’s one conservative religious view of woman’s role as expressed by A.H. Strong, president of the Rochester Theological Seminary, in a mid-19th century essay: “She is subject to man,” he wrote. “She is to be helper, not principal. Man has preference in creation, woman is made of man and to supply the felt needs of man.” (How nice for man.)

Even in the modern world, women occupy a subordinate role. Some fundamentalist or ultra-orthodox sects even prohibit women from worshiping in the same room with men. In some Islamic lands, women can’t leave home unless accompanied by a male relative, a rule enforced by “religious police.”
Organized religion, in short, has been a clerical stag party.

It is against this historical background that the tussle between what religious conservatives see as a First Amendment right and many women see as a health issue will be played out over contraceptive coverage.

The marginalization of women is just one characteristic of most major religions. The other, in one degree or another, is authoritarianism. They are not democratic institutions.

Their leaders don’t care much for doctrinal dissent. And they have a point. Why should they give any heed to dissent if they believe they’re following the divine will, that they’re doing God’s work? How can they be wrong?

In centuries past, dissent was punished by imprisonment, torture, even death. The Gnostics, who broke from Catholicism in its early days, were persecuted for several heresies, including a belief that women were, in God’s great plan, the equal of men. (Whatever gave them that idea?)

Some extreme Islamic sects still stone women to death even today, especially for adultery. (Men get a pass on this one.) Similar punishments are meted out by some Hindu extreme fundamentalists.

Something about women having sex for the sheer joy of it seems to unhinge the ultrareligious mind, even here in the West where things are better for women but not exactly benign.

Which brings us to the dust-up over requiring religious organizations to pay for contraception despite their doctrinal objection.

Opposition to contraception in this scientific age seems medieval. Maybe so, but it’s a matter of religious freedom and belief, the Catholic bishops insist. It’s also a political issue for the church.

The Catholic church must oppose contraception if it’s to keep faith with its true believers, especially women who have lived by that rule for generations despite the hardship it often imposed. This is the church’s most devoted constituency — its base, so to speak.

Trouble is, even Catholic leaders know a majority of Catholic women today violate the contraception ban. They’ve seen the polls. And they must appreciate that widespread scorning of this rule can ultimately undermine clerical credibility on other religious matters, especially with the church’s younger, more questioning adherents. But the bishops are trapped in church history.

The Obama administration’s handling of the issue was incredibly clumsy and insensitive. Therefore, it owed bishops a way out, which it tried to do with an about-face Friday on its contraception insurance edict. For their part, the bishops, like conservative clergy in all religions, have got to get off the dime and begin bringing women into the dialogue about dogma.

This is a clash that never should have happened. Then again, considering how organized religion has historically ignored or marginalized women, maybe it had to happen.

Complete Article HERE!