Friday, February 17, 2012

Politics and the Catholic Bishops

The editorial "Bad Reaction" in the current issue of Commonweal is must reading for any thinking person (especially Catholics) concerned, as I am, about the right-wing alliance between the U.S. Bishops Conference and the evangelicals to protest anything related to "Obamacare." (See for 2-26-12.)

At issue now, of course, is the recent compromise offered by the President on the contraceptive issue that the bishops have rejected out of hand, with apparent haste and with little thought. Even before the details of the president's proposal were known, says Commonweal, the bishops were opposed; they are now demanding that no employer be required to offer free contraception coverage to its employees.

What bothers me is what upset me in 2004, when the same coalition of the religious right contributed substantially to the re-election of G. W. Bush. Now the USCCB is urging priests to speak out in churches across the land, during an election year, indicating that the president is either opposed to religious freedom or is inherently anti-Catholic, both of which are nonsense.

As the editorial asks, why were the bishops not opposed to the Bush administration's use of torture? Why is it only the issues involving women and sexuality that inflame them? Do they not see that their political activism is counter-productive, playing into the hands of abortion-rights advocates who will claim, understandably, that (in the words of the editorial) "the church's opposition to abortion is motivated by a larger disregard for the health of women"? Anyone seriously opposed to abortion should be in favor of contraception, which lowers the rate and risk of abortion, among other things, as thinking Catholics have known since the unfortunate 1968 encyclical of Paul VI banned contraception.

As Andrew Sullivan wrote this week, "I find the protectors of child rapists preaching to women about contraception to be a moral obscenity." Garry Wills has a more thoughtful and lengthy response, "Contraception's Con Men," in the New York Review of Books ( for 2-29-12). Wills notes that contraception is not a religious matter but a matter of arguable "natural law" rejected by most Catholics.

The bishops do not see that people attend church for many reasons, but these do not include listening to veiled messages that support the Republicans, whop are more than happy to attack Obama as anti-Catholic. I have heard these messages in my own parish and protested, and I will do so again.

The public perception of religion as divisive and judgmental, with negative views of human sexuality, will only be reinforced, and more church-goers driven away, by more political activity by the bishops. Milton attacked the "blind" bishops of his day (1637); thinking Catholics should do the same today.

Of course, to mention "thinking Catholics" may be a stretch. I am reminded of what Adlai Stevenson said to a supporter of his presidential candidacy in 1956 when she told him, "Every thinking person should vote for you."

He replied, "Madam, that would not be enough; I need a majority."

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