After denying communion to Patrick Kennedy, the Catholic Church is holding American politics hostage. James Carroll on the Church’s rightward turn.
How reactionary has the Catholic hierarchy become? Let me count the ways:
• Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence “respectfully” tells Congressman Patrick Kennedy to refrain from receiving communion, a harbinger of what every pro-choice or pro-gay-marriage Catholic politician faces.
• Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington threatens to cancel Catholic provision of services to the homeless and poor if the D.C. City Council passes a law giving equal rights to gays.
• The Vatican, uneasy with the relative liberalism of American nuns, launches an intimidating investigation of U.S. religious orders of women, which, when criticized by Maureen Dowd, prompts New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan to complain of anti-Catholicism in the New York Times.
• In October, Rome violates a generation-long tradition of inter-denominational respect to invite disgruntled conservative Episcopalians to join a special new wing of the Catholic Church. Hostility to gays and rejection of equality for women trump theology, tradition, and even courtesy.
• Last week, more than a dozen of the most influential U.S. Catholic bishops (including Dolan and Wuerl) join far-right-wing Evangelicals like James Dobson in “The Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Christian Conscience.” Its co-author Chuck Colson (of Watergate fame) describes “a hierarchy of issues,” but the Catholic Church now has an issues hierarchy.
• On Capitol Hill this month, the Catholic bishops make clear their readiness to scuttle the entire package of health-reform legislation if they do not get their way on abortion restrictions. Health-care reform hangs in the Senate by a thread, which the bishops prepare to cut.
All of this defines a watershed moment. The Catholic Church is more than its hierarchy. Polls show that most Catholic laity dissent on multiple moral questions. But the bishops define the public face of Catholicism–and that face is now marked by a scowling moralism. In days past, the immigrant Church was defined by its core commitment to serve workers, the poor, and the marginal. Catholicism was a powerful partner in the New Deal, Labor, War-on-Poverty, and Civil Rights coalitions, and though there were always conservative bishops (like Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York), the Church did not make doctrinal or ethical conformity a precondition of its participation in the struggle for equal justice. That is why, across the 20th century, it was a force for progressive social change. That is over.
Read the full article at: