Taking orders from the priests is exactly what JFK had to promise he wouldn’t do when he ran for President.
Several Democrats, including Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pennsylvania, said they are in touch with their Catholic bishops back home. Altmire said he must have the approval of his bishop in Pittsburgh before he can vote yes.
That’s from CNN by way of Ed Brayton by way of Mike the Mad Biologist. And Altmire was talking about a health care reform bill that hadn’t been amended by Stupak-Pitts yet. He was planning to ask his bishop for permission to vote to expand health care to the poor and protect the sick from losing it.
Any one from Altmire’s district, PA-4, want to call his office and find out which other of his votes he’s asked his bishop to give him permission for?
You would think such a grovelingly good Catholic like Altmire would already know the Church’s views on leaving the poor and the unfortunate to go suff.
But it turns out Altmire simply knows what truly matters to the bishops.
Long time readers know I have a longstanding grudge against the church. I don’t think I’ve ever written a post explaining why in detail. I’m not going to do that now. Don’t have the time or the heart this morning. But here’s the gist.
I was raised Catholic but my parents didn’t have to work that hard to do it. I was devout all on my own initiative. I used to use my allowance money to buy statues of saints. I had a shrine to Mary on my dresser that I decorated with flowers every May. I was an altar boy and proud of it. I was prouder still when I earned my Parvuli Dei medal in Cub Scouts. I still have it. I’m still proud of it. Over time I drifted away from the Church. But when I married a good Catholic girl I came back, not with any of the old enthusiasm or even faith, but with the best intentions. I promised that we would raise our kids Catholic and to that end we sent them off to start school at our parish’s elementary school.
Then our oldest began to have his troubles.
We needed help and didn’t know where to turn.
Our pastor came to our aid.
He threw our kid out of the school.
We called the bishop’s office to complain and ask for the bishop’s help.
The priest we talked to lied to us.
When I finally called him on his lies, he told me my wife and I were bad parents.
I told him to go to hell.
And those are the last sincere words I’ve said to a priest since.
Actually, those are practically the last words I’ve said to a priest at all. I avoid they’re company as much as I can.
Shortly after this, though, the news began to come out about the abuse.
And the cover-up of the abuse.
And the justifications and excuses for it!
It wasn’t the fault of the pederasts themselves. It was the fault of seductive pubescent boys who lured the priests into sin with their charms. And if any priests were at fault, well, that’s because they were homosexuals. It was all the gays’ doing, so let’s bounce them from the church, because if we ban open homosexuals from the priesthood then no lying closet cases are going to sneak in in their place, are they?
Now, just about every priest I served mass when I was an altar boy had turned in his collar and chalice by the time I graduated from high school, and they all got married very shortly after they left the priesthood. I always thought that they’d left because they’d decided they wanted families and the changing times allowed them to make that decision without the old stigmas, guilts, and fears.
But, knowing how far back the scandal goes and how widespread it was, I wonder how many of them were fleeing in disgust.
I wish a few of them had stayed around for a while to call the cops, although I expect that if Father C had stayed he’d have been arrested himself, for “inexplicably” beating some other priests bloody.
But they gave up their vocations, and so who was left? Old men, saints, and those who found a life of celibacy and secrecy congenial. The old men died off. There are never enough saints on hand when you need them. Which means it was from the third group that the current crop of bishops has been recruited.
In other words, Congressman Altmire and his good Catholic like are taking their orders from men who either covered up for the molesters---actively or by turning a blind eye---or who were part of the gang themselves.
This is why I can’t sit in a Catholic church without having to fight the urge to hurl a missal at the first grown man in a dress who dares put a foot on the altar. And I don’t understand how anyone else is able to sit there without wanting to rush the pulpit with a horsewhip, let alone stay put quietly in their pews, paying attention and saying their prayers as if that’s still Bing Crosby or Pat O’Brien up there.
No still practicing Catholic I’ve talked to about it has been able to make me understand. They tell me they don’t go to mass for the priest. They’re there for Jesus and God. I have trouble with this because one of the things I discovered when the Church and I parted ways was that I didn’t believe in God anymore. I only thought I did. Turned out my faith was a part of the habit of being a Catholic and once I broke the habit I was through with all of went with it. I figured I was like an ex-smoker who’d only thought he liked the taste of tobacco and realizes now that he’s quit that he doesn’t miss it in the least.
But besides that, there’s this. Even if you go to mass for Jesus’ sake, to hear His words and to talk to Him, you’re expected to do it by going through the priest. He’s Jesus’ representative on the altar. It’s why he can work the transubstantiation magic. It’s why he can forgive you your sins…or not forgive them, if he sees fit not to. It also happens to be part of the justification for not allowing women into the priesthood. Jesus was a man so no woman can stand in for him. We can accept that a piece of stale bread is God’s flesh, but we can’t be expected to believe a woman can be Jesus’ stand-in. This is an idea it took the Church over 400 years to come up with, by the way. The early Church let women be priests and allowed all its priests to marry.
Everybody knows the Church’s stands on abortion and gay marriage and women in the priesthood. What’s easy to forget is that on a slew of other issues, the Church is supposedly on the side of the Progressive angels---the death penalty, immigration, the environment, health care!
The reason it’s easy to forget is that the bishops seem to forget it themselves. How many Catholic Congressmen who voted for Stupak but against the final bill are going to hear more than a mild tsk tsk between holes on the golf course?
If they hear that much?
In 2004, a number of bishops and priests announced they would deny Communion to the good church-going Catholic, John Kerry, because of his pro-choice positions. This is in an election in which he was running against a man who lied us into an unnecessary war, a war Pope John Paul II spoke out against, and whose administration turned the US into a torture state, and whose economic policies were not just a disaster for the poor but an active assault upon the poor and the middle class. And although President Bush himself was somewhat actually compassionately conservative on immigration reform, his party was rabidly xenophobic and racist on the matter. Top this off with the fact that as governor of Texas Bush presided over a record number of executions and made fun of a woman on death row who was asking for clemency.
Of course, the bishops couldn’t deny Bush Communion because he wasn’t Catholic and he didn’t go to church anyway. But they could have spoken out, and they could have left Kerry alone instead of setting out to show him up as a candidate for excommunication in the minds of Catholic voters.
They could have, if those other issues mattered to them as much as abortion.
The bishops might defend themselves on the grounds that when it comes to articles of faith the catechism is not a Chinese menu. There’s no choosing from Column A and Column B. There’s one column and you have to eat everything the Church puts on your plate.
By the way, as far as I know, Kerry was able to take communion whenever he wanted, so it wasn’t all the bishops and all the priests. But when have you ever heard that a prominent pro-death penalty, pro-torture, anti-immigrant, screw the poor to enrich the already rich Catholic Republican or conservative Democrat was threatened with being denied communion?
For that matter, have you heard of a prominent Pro-Choice Republican getting threatened like that?
Liberal-minded bishops and priests are probably more inclined to keep criticisms of specific politicians and partisan positions to themselves, partly because, I suspect, they have good philosophical and practical objections to blurring the lines between church and state, but partly because they know that if they don’t watch it Rome will come down on them, hard.
Here in New York State, back in the late 1980s and early 90s, our archbishop, Cardinal John J. O’Connor, hated our governor, Mario Cuomo. It was probably more personal than political, but if you went by what O’Connor said the issue between them was abortion. Cuomo was decidedly pro-choice. But worse from Churchman’s point of view, Cuomo had articulated a pro-choice position that was both Catholic and American, which was that Catholics themselves should not choose to have abortions, they had no business trying to impose on non-Catholics what was purely an article of current Church teaching. Want to make an anti-abortion Catholic’s head spin? Remind them that the Church used to permit abortions until “quickening,” which is to say the Church’s position used to be the same as current US law.
At any rate, O’Connor openly despised Cuomo and wanted to see him gone from the governor’s mansion and not to move onto the White House, as it was expected Cuomo would do. O’Connor got his wish finally in 1994 when Cuomo was defeated for re-election by George Pataki.
But Mario Cuomo had been all that stood in the way of New York’s reinstitution of the death penalty. The state legislature would pass it just about every session and Cuomo would veto it. Which should have earned him lots of points with the Church.
George Pataki was pro-death penalty and he’d hardly settled into the governor’s chair when the legislature passed the death penalty again and he happily signed it into law.
George Pataki’s Catholic.
He was also pro-choice.
Which means that here in New York women still had access to abortions while we started putting people on Death Row.
I never got the sense O’Connor was bothered by the irony. But then I never got the sense he was bothered by the death penalty.
At the time I thought this was just O’Connor being O’Connor. There were still some relatively liberal bishops who took the Church’s whole catechism seriously. But John Paul II went to work taking care of that with the aid and advice of the cardinal who is now Pope Benedict XVI.
The catechism isn’t a Chinese menu, but under John Paul and Benedict it’s become a two-item menu with a salad bar. You take the anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage without complaint, but you’re free to help yourself to the other stuff, have as much as you like and if that’s none, then that’s fine with Rome.
But apparently this only applies to the United States. In Central and South America, in Asia and Africa, eradicating poverty and taking care of the poor and the sick are still among the, ahem, cardinal virtues. But I’d guess this is because in those places the priests and the politicians toe the line on abortion and gay rights and the proper role and place for women in the Church hierarchy.
Andrew Sullivan thinks Stupak-Pitts proves that for the Church it’s all about abortion. Other people might point to what’s going in on Washington DC and say that proves that it’s abortion and gay rights.
I would add that the Pope’s recent invitation to Anglican and Episcopalian clerics who can’t tolerate the idea of women and gay colleagues to trade in their Book of Common Prayer for rosaries, shake the dust of Canterbury from their sandals and join up with Rome shows that it’s gays and uppity women.
It’s probably all three, but all three have this in common, and it’s not just fear of sex. It’s obedience.
This is what it’s intended behind the talk of a smaller, purer church. A church full of the unquestioningly obedient. An American church full of the unquestioningly obedient. Rome doesn’t need there to be a US Congress full of Jason Altmires. It just wants the pews full of them.
It wants no more parishoners who’ll tell a priest go to hell, literally or figuratively by rejecting the Church’s teachings, the ones the church really cares about, that is.
It wants none who are inclined to distrust the priests and the bishops and ask what’s going on behind the closed doors of the rectories.
It wants Catholics who will go down on their knees, not only to pray but to kiss the bishops’ rings.
Then maybe we can talk about doing for the least of our brethren.
From the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, the text of JFK’s Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. You can also listen to the speech here.
And here’s the text of a great speech Mario Cuomo delivered at the University of Notre Dame in 1984, Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor’s Perspective.