democracy

What's Wrong with the Catholic Bishops, Part II

What’s Wrong with the Catholic Bishops?
Part 2


In my last blog, I challenged a statement by the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty. I suggested that the document disguises a clear bias in favor of Republican political candidates. Nonetheless, the statement cleverly avoids transgressing IRS regulations that prohibit religious organizations from engaging in partisan politics. The rules are the result of granting tax exempt status to religious organizations. In the process, these same regulations should safeguard the free exercise of religion for everyone. That would seem to include not politically coercing congregations during worship services.

Sadly, some individual bishops, don’t seem to understand. Case in point, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, Illinois. On April 14, 2012, he preached a homily that was an extreme affront both to the Gospel and to the Constitution.

Jenky does not seem to appreciate the Constitution or the world of debate. Does he truly see himself as so self-important that he (as well as the Bishops’ conference) is always right about everything? That only bishops have the answers to all of life’s questions? He must have failed the course on logic in the seminary, for he appears ignorant of the basic principle of thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis. The building blocks of compromise and consensus. But his diseased logic is minor compared to the symptom.

He castigated politicians who disagree with the Bishops’ position on health care reform. He then proceeded to compare President Obama to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. He certainly is entitled to approve or disapprove of any politician. He is even obligated to explain Catholic values (as he understands them), and how they apply to policies under consideration by various government agencies and elected officials. After all, freedom of religion does not equate with the elimination of religion. Politics and religion should not be adversaries in the lives of the citizenry.

However, Bishop Jenky is not entitled to abuse the role of preaching the Word of God by using it for partisan politics. He has no right to belittle and demean the President or any other individual politician. He betrays his own corruption by attempting to tell his congregation that they must oppose one candidate and vote for another.

Contraception is at the heart of Jenky’s tirade. Theologically, the Catholic Church is on dicey ground when it comes to this subject. Already, more than 80% of Catholics practice some form of artificial contraception in their sexual activity. Putting that aside, Jenky’s actions are not really about faith or theology.

It seems to me that he is simply drunk with the perception of his own power. His preaching makes a mockery of religion and a caricature of himself.

I do not wish the people of Peoria to suffer because of the vicious rhetoric of a misguided bishop. But perhaps the only way to rein in such hateful speech is for the IRS to investigate and ultimately strip the Diocese of its tax exempt status.

In the meantime, let’s hope that Jenky’s routine only plays in Peoria.

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What's Wrong with the Bishops, Part I

What’s Wrong with the Catholic Bishops?
Part 1


Two recent statements, one by a Bishops’ committee, the other by an individual bishop, raise serious questions about the competence and integrity of U.S. Catholic leadership. The first deals with religious freedom and the Constitution, the second with the upcoming election.

One of the beauties of the American experiment in democracy is the freedom of religion enshrined in the First Amendment. No freedom, however, can exist unbridled. There are limits. The question will always be whether the common good outweighs the actions of any specific religion. It is part of the price we pay for freedom, democracy and diversity. The alternative is the failed experiences of Christendom and other religiously controlled governments.

In the United States today, as in times past, there are those who would seek—contrary to the Constitution—to severely restrict religious liberty and ban all religious reference from public life. However, the April 12, 2012 statement issued by the Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty is both alarmist and disingenuous. The government is not engaged in an anti-Catholic war.

In sum, the committee’s statement is less than defensible. In part, it is dishonest. The selective quote from Pope Benedict XVI implies that the Department of Health and Human Services requires religious organizations, such as hospitals, to participate in intrinsically evil practices. Such language is extreme and misleading. Whatever the Church’s teaching on contraception, it is not an intrinsically evil act.

A careful reading of the ad hoc committee’s statement exposes a thinly veiled intrusion into partisan politics. It is, in reality, an attempt to arouse fear in Catholic citizens and direct their vote toward Republican candidates. As such, the bishops come close to violating IRS regulations. They do not quite cross the line. However, perhaps because the bishops mask their true intent, they dance so close to the edge as to lose their balance. Collectively, the U.S. Bishops are writing and speaking their way into irrelevance.

The heart of the Gospel, and the message that drove the teachings and actions of Jesus, was and must be non-partisan. It also must be rooted in authentic and compelling theology. The committee’s statement is neither. Would that they engaged solid theological principles and applied them equally to both political parties!

That would be something worth reading and listening to!

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The War in Afghanistan--10 years later

President Obama, among others, is fond of saying that the war in Afghanistan was a war of necessity, while the war in Iraq was a war of choice. Those designations have been used, in part, to emphasize the extraordinary miscalculations of the Bush Administration between 2001 and 2009. A significant part of the problem was the way the two wars were prosecuted, coupled with the fact that the majority of our resources were directed to the war in Iraq--the one of so-called choice.

People are divided, and probably always will be, over the issue of these wars and their perceived necessities. Those who supported President Bush feel the hairs on their neck rise in indignation whenever someone suggests that the war in Iraq was about oil. Still, an honest exchange demands that we at least acknowledge what clever pundits have said for years: If Iraq produced bananas instead of oil, we would never have gone there.

The truth to that rather colloquial wisdom can be seen in the way the Bush Administration neglected Afghanistan in its pursuit of Iraq. After all, if one were to grant the claim that Afghanistan was/is a war of necessity, then why was it not the primary focus of military operations? It appears that capturing Saddam Hussein, a personal ambition of Bush, was more important that capturing Osama Bin Laden, a national need of the country and much of the world. Yet, it seems to me that distinguishing these two wars between necessity and choice, does not address the whole truth.

One reason this distinction has been drawn is that Al Qaeda, the group responsible for the 9/11 attacks, was based in Afghanistan. Although not everyone will agree, one can legitimately argue that sending the U.S. military to route Al Qaeda and capture Osama Bin Laden was a justified response. Due to the ineptitude of the Bush Administration, and the unjustified war in Iraq, that is not the situation we find ourselves in today.

It is not my intent here to argue over the justifications of this or any war. I would suggest that those interested in the truth about just wars follow this link to the Just War Doctrine. My purpose here is of a different nature. My purpose is to question why the United States is still in Afghanistan, beginning its 10th year of military operations.

The question is not wholly a political or military one. If we look at the reasons for entering Afghanistan in the first place, then Al Qaeda has been routed. Osama Bin Laden has not only not been captured, but he fled Afghanistan long ago. George W. Bush ran for office expressly opposed to nation building. And yet, that political argument should dominate the discussion today, for it is the only possible reason that the U.S. is still waging this war. Somehow, the war morphed from dismantling and defeating Al Qaeda into dismantling and defeating the Taliban.

I personally despise everything that the Taliban stands for and if they were attempting to run my country or even run for political power, I would oppose them in every justifiable way. But they are not! The Taliban control some 90% of their own country and, for the most part, are supported by the people--at least those in the rural areas that they dominate. So what is the real truth here, 9+ years later?

The United States is engaged in the worst possible example of nation-building. On this issue we find ourselves in contradiction with stated U.S. policy. We are also in direct contradiction of essential Catholic teaching. Embedded within the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church is that all peoples have a right to self-determination, period. People have a right to choose their own government, even if we disapprove of their choice. They are not answerable to the United States of America for that choice!

Democracy in most of its current forms represents a highly evolved form of government. It is certainly a pertinent example of self-determination. At its core is the right to vote, and that means the right to choose. Sadly, most Americans do not want to admit that we are indoctrinated in the principles of our democracy, and that we are unable to understand how any people could choose another form of government. Worse, that indoctrination frequently prevents us from accepting the choices other people make.

The result is that the history of U.S. foreign relations is rife with interference in the internal affairs of other nations. Sometimes it has led America to side with dictators and despots, including Saddam Hussein, while they run roughshod over the civil rights and liberties of their own people. Sometimes we have been directly involved in the overthrow of legitimately elected governments. Arguably, the most notorious example is the democratically-elected Allende government in Chile, and America's subsequent support for the dictator Pinochet.

When the people of Nicaragua voted the Sandinistas into power, the Reagan Administration violated U.S. law, supporting the Contras in their violent attacks against both political and civilian targets. Why these actions still do not shock the conscience of the American people is mystifying. One might argue strongly that the plight of the oppressed is intensified by this kind of American interference.

The political issues aside, the deepest truth remains that all people have a right to self-determination. If they decide that they can no longer abide the despotic and arbitrary actions of a government, such as the Taliban, it is their right to rise up and seek new leadership. But it is also their right to choose the Taliban.

This might be a good time to end this blog. It might also be a good time for the U.S. to exit Afghanistan!
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