Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pope Francis vs. U.S. bishops

AP religion writer Rachel Zoll penned an informative piece, "Pope's blunt remarks pose challenge for bishops", contrasting Francis' recent remarks criticizing the church's focus on abortion and other controversial issues with U.S. bishops' guarded responses.

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan thought the Pope's remarks were directed at everyone, not just Church officials.

"I don't know if it's just the church that seems obsessed with those issues. It seems to be culture and society," Dolan said on "CBS This Morning." "What I think he's saying is, 'Those are important issues and the church has got to keep talking about them, but we need to talk about them in a fresh new way.' If we keep kind of a negative, finger-wagging tone, it's counterproductive. "
Yeah, right, Cardinal Dolan, the ordinary citizen is all riled up about abortion and gay marriage. If one needed a sign that Catholic Church leadership in the U.S. is stuck in an echo chamber — one inhabited by fellow religious fundamentalists of all stripes — his remark was it.

Ordinary people are concerned about a lot of things these days: the economy, the possibility of further conflict in the Middle East, pollution of our air and water, whether twerking is a sign of the end of days. Abortion is one of those concerns, to be sure, but it doesn't obsess us the way it obsesses you and your coreligionists. And telling us that compassion for women who must decide whether to have an abortion is not just misplaced but positively evil, well, what that really tells us is, you guys don't give a shit about women.

Think that's too harsh? Here's what U.S. bishops have said and done in the last ten years.

During the 2004 presidential election, then Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis launched what was dubbed "wafer watch" when he said he would deny Communion to Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, a Catholic who supported abortion rights. Other bishops followed suit or suggested that abortion-rights supporters refrain from the sacrament. (Benedict later appointed Burke head of the Vatican high court and elevated him to cardinal.)

By 2007, the bishops revised their moral guide for Catholic voters to put a special emphasis on the evil of abortion, so the issue wouldn't be lost amid other concerns such as poverty or education. The document, called "Faithful Citizenship," warned voters that supporting abortion rights could endanger their souls.

In the 2012 campaign season, it was much more common to hear bishops warning Catholics that voting for a particular candidate would amount to "formal cooperation in grave evil." Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., compared the policies of President Barack Obama to those of Hitler and Stalin. At Mass on the Sunday before the presidential election, Jenky instructed his priests to read a letter saying politicians who support abortion rights reject Jesus.

Endangering one's soul? Rejecting Jesus? Are you guys seriously telling your flock that this one issue, out of all those that face human beings, is the one that can make or break one's fate as a Catholic? For eternity?

You consistently and bullheadedly insist that the most difficult decision a woman is ever likely to face is not a decision at all. It doesn't involve a tradeoff between competing and weighty considerations. To you it's purely a matter of good and evil, and there is no possible good on one side of the scale.

This blinkered, black-and-white morality story you tell yourselves about abortion is intolerably, insufferably cruel. And so are you.

Your absolutist stance on abortion is only one sign of your intolerance. You consistently elevate dogma above compassion. You've decided that rather than adapting to the complexities of the modern world, you will mulishly and incessantly chastise and threaten it for not conforming to your standards. Your words and deeds show remarkably, lamentably little room in your hearts for understanding.

In a perfect world I would oppose prematurely terminating a pregnancy. But this isn't a perfect world. Even worse, the Church stands foursquare in the way of making the world better by firmly opposing contraception as well. For the love of Mike, guys, why? Do you not see the intolerable vise in which your positions on contraception and abortion place so many of your poorest, least powerful adherents? Do you not see the cruel choice you're inflicting on them?

I'm sorry, that was a dumb question. Of course you conservative bishops understand. No one has ever accused you of being stupid. You know what you're doing.

That's what's so appalling. You think punishment is the answer. Not compassion, not preventative help — punishment. In the criminal realm, no less. You know why you're getting pushback from the rest of us? Because you're supposed to keep your self-righteous mitts off our criminal justice system. You don't have a monopoly on morality or rectitude.

Pope Francis, it sounds as if you might be inclined to push the Church in a less confrontational direction. If so, I wish you luck. You have your work cut out for you with the deeply rule- and dogma-obsessed Church leadership in the U.S.

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