From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Friday, May 14, 2004

Kerry, Catholics, and choices

John Kerry's status as a practicing Catholic has been fodder for the media for a while now, really ever since he became the presumptive nominee. But the latest development (free registration required) over this matter has finally nudged me to say something about the matter.

The Roman Catholic bishop of Colorado Springs has issued a pastoral letter saying that American Catholics should not receive communion if they vote for politicians who defy church teaching by supporting abortion rights, same-sex marriage, euthanasia or stem-cell research.

Several bishops in the United States have warned that they will deny communion to Catholic politicians who fail to stand with the church, but Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs is believed to be the first to say he will extend the ban to Catholic voters.

Jesus General lampoons this ridiculous escalation pretty succinctly on his blog today:

I think we need to put the fear of God into them by reinstituting the Inquisition. Imagine how quickly errant parishioners would remove their Kerry bumper stickers once they've been shown the instruments of confession. I bet the mere mention of the rack would be enough to convince them that election day might be best spent in the company of lonely monks at some remote monastery.

This post plus the mess at Abu Ghraib suddenly has planted an image in my head of Rumsfeld in a monk's robe doing a musical number
"The inquisition...let's begin
The Inquisition...look out sin!

Leaving aside Secretary Torquemada for a minute, this notion is almost laughable were it not so ridiculously scary and hypocritical. As Atrios mentions in his comments on this story, such an overt movement to influence votes should clearly deny the church its tax exempt status. If such action is sanctioned and enforced by any of its ruling body, it ceases to be a religious endeavor/enterprise and moves well into the territory of PAC. If the church wants to play the game in that way, it has to be prepared to pay the piper.

Many other blogs have also touched on the very readily apparent hypocrisy in the way Kerry and other Democratic pro-choice candidates have been targeted. The Catholic Church has so emphatically stated a universal opposition to the death penalty. Yet nowhere in any of the stories on this "issue" has this been touched on. Father Andrew M. Greeley commented on this briefly when he appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews (transcript here):

GREELEY: Well, I wonder when they're going to refuse the Eucharist to those who support the Iraqi war, which the bishops themselves have said was an unjust war.

I mean, it seems that the only people that get punished for their political stands are Democrats, never Republicans.

The motives for such omissions are speculated on by Father Greeley in this editorial he wrote for the New York Daily News. They are far from noble:

I can think of a couple of reasons. First, denouncing abortion will get you attention in the Vatican. Attacking the death penalty and the war are not likely to promote your career. Second, the rules are different for Democrats and Republicans. It is curious, to say the least, that 30 years after Roe vs. Wade, the issue of denying the sacraments would be raised during this election year.

Ironic that even when dealing with matters of spirituality, politics still plays a heavy part.

Greeley also touches in his editorial on another issue I have with the Church now saying I, if I support a Democrat in elections, can not take communion (since these Bishops don't address pro choice Republicans, I don't think I need to either). Considering theabhorrentt way the Church hierarchy has handled the sexual abuse scandals of the last few years, it seems the height of folly and arrogance for these people to tell me what actions are and are not permissible for my support as a Catholic. From the story linked above (this was on Wednesday May 12th):

The head of the review board set up to monitor Roman Catholic bishops' response to the clergy sex abuse crisis has accused the church leaders of returning to "business as usual" to impede reform efforts.

Some bishops are trying to block the National Review Board from conducting an audit this year to determine whether all 195 U.S. dioceses are following reforms aimed at ridding the priesthood of abusers, Illinois Appellate Court Judge Anne Burke wrote in a letter published Tuesday.

So we shouldn't take communion on Sunday if we support a pro-choice candidate, not worry our pretty little head about whether the priest giving it to us once we have found the path of righteousness is perhaps a pedophile. Nice.

I don't pretend to be a good Catholic. I fell away from the church some time ago, and have only recently fallen back into the habit of going with the intention of finding my personal faith and along what lines that faith lies. I would imagine that I am like a lot of people who are Catholic these days. I know what general stances the Church takes, but am very foggy on the specific ins and outs of doctrine.

Yet something in what Bishop Sheridan says makes me really wonder whether he has faith in mind with his position:

In the interview, the bishop said that his aim was to clarify the standards for Catholic voters and that he hoped they applied them in their choice of candidates. He said that on the "basic moral teachings of the church,'' there is no "wiggle room."

He also said he hoped to reform the "cafeteria Catholics" who believed it was acceptable to pick and choose the doctrines they agreed with.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but adherence to the doctrine without understanding behind it isn't faith, it's dogma. It's doing what one is told without knowing why it is right or wrong. Faith to me has always been about what lies in the heart as well as the head. I can not wrap my brain around the notion that someone who does good works in the context of the world and improving it is somehow less a Christian for supporting one stance that is contrary to Church teaching than an individual who follows the letter of Church law absolutely but is otherwise a completely amoral person.

In a lot of respects, I feel there's a parallel between the Church's double standard and the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Just as the institutionalized abuse at Abu Ghraib makes it more difficult, if not flat out impossible, to claim a moral high road regarding the treatment of prisoners during times of war, so too is it difficult to reconcile a section of the clergy telling us that supporting a candidate may be contrary to Church doctrine and jeopardize a person's salvation when that same body seems so (pardon the expression) hellbent on preventing any meaningful reforms to prevent very un-Christian behavior from traumatizing those whose journey into faith and the Church is just beginning.

Practicing what one preaches is more than just a saying. It needs to be a way of life. One way or the other.

My two cents.