The bishops are desperate to beat Obama, so desperate, that they are willing to risk the tax-exempt status of their dioceses as they stump for their lesser-of-two-evils candidate: Mitt, the notorious flip-flopper who once favored legalized abortion, but now joins those who view it as genocide.
The "Bishops versus Obama" drama is pushing Vatican fiscal corruption off the front pages. It's pushing the "gunning for the nuns" embarrassment off the front pages. It's pushing the scandal-plagued Legionaries' top priest, who was recently found to have a baby mama and a child, off the front pages. Most of all it's pushing pedophile priests and the bishops who served as their accomplices off the front pages.
Cascading scandal has provided the U.S. bishops a crash course in becoming media savvy. There's Catholic news every day. The bishops know this, and that it is in their best interests to spin and, whenever possible, make Catholic news. These stories distract and deflect. The bishops would much prefer to see a "Notre Dame Sues Obama" or "War on Christmas" headline on the front pages of newspapers than a fresh report of sex crimes involving children, perpetrated by clerics abetted by bishops. Think of it as a virtue-less circle.
Earlier this week a Catholic fringe "spokesman" purchased some of the most expensive print advertising space money can buy for the purpose of publishing an hysterical diatribe against a popular comedian and political satirist. My first response, upon reading this drivel was to laugh.
But I thought again, and realized what I was reading wasn't funny. How many bags of rice, how many winter coats, how many pairs of sneakers for the needy might those so very devout Catholics have bought with the money spent to make public that hissy fit? Whose Catholic dollars were squandered on that maundering?
But the bishops and their toadies have come to understand that publicity and spin matter. What we saw this week was the bishops and their "people" putting their understanding of the publicity machine to work in the are electioneer without technically electioneering.
Timothy Dolan has been making liberal use of the term "freedom of religion" lately. Are the bishops really waging a war to protect freedom of religion? Or freedom of religion for them and the wee and waning percentage of Roman Catholics who adhere to church teaching on contraception?
It's interesting to think about religious freedom in the context of the bishops' support of a Mormon for president. The Church of Latter Day Saints, to which Mitt Romney belongs, has long disavowed plural marriage, but fundamentalist Mormon men, who, no doubt, see themselves as the old guard of their "true church" -- much in the same way conservative Catholics do -- marry more than one wife in the belief that their divinely inspired sacred texts prescribe it. If such a fundamentalist Mormon man were to find himself employed by Notre Dame and sought medical coverage for all of his children and three wives, would Timothy Dolan, cardinal of New York and president of the USCCB (United States Catholic Conference of Bishops) defend his "freedom of religion?"
Is the time-honored Mormon mandate to marry more than one woman in the interest of filling God's creation with children less sacred to a fundamentalist Mormon than the obligation to bear a child each year is to a young, orthodox Roman Catholic wife?
What about the religious freedom of a parent who, for religious reasons, refuses medical treatment for his child? What about religions that require the circumcision of pubescent girls? Would Dolan safeguard all religious freedom, or just his own?
Is Timothy Dolan suggesting that orthodox Catholics should decide where to draw the "freedom of religion" line? Is Timothy Dolan really campaigning for "freedom of religion" -- Or is he just campaigning?
It's the latter.
The bishops' concern for religious freedom begins and ends with their own. They want religious freedom for the themselves and for and the papal chauvinists fringe who have aligned themselves with white conservatives and "bring a gun to church" Christians so desperate to oust a black president (the common enemy) that they are willing to strike a deal with the statue-worshipping Catholics in order to get the job done. (As long as the fundamentalists don't pay too close attention to the bishops' position on immigration, the less than holy alliance should hold until November.)
"Religious freedom" is a catch phrase. The "God and country" echoes that abound In the "ObamaCare" contraception debate are, by the way, no accident. "Fortnight for Freedom," the patriotically-flavored Catholic "freedom of religion" extravaganza the bishops are planning coincides with the Fourth of July by careful design. The bishops are playing politics. The first order of business is to blur the line between church and state. They want linkage -- between Roman Catholic patriarchy and U.S. patriotism.
The lawsuit against the Obama Administration has the effect of rendering the bishops' unofficial endorsement of Romney official.
The apologists can point out that the bishops are not formally, technically "endorsing" candidates from the pulpit, but certainly the lawsuit itself eliminates entirely any need for priests exhort flocks, from the pulpits, to "vote against the candidate we are suing."
The lawsuit functions as an unofficial official endorsement.
Most non-Catholics would have little interest in the bishops' refusal to limit women's access to medical care that includes contraception if the bishops were doing so in private, tax-paying organizations that receive no government funding. But Roman Catholic churches do enjoy tax-exempt status. Agencies and schools that operate out of them and in conjunction with them do receive government funding.
Perhaps, in the heat of the current jittery moment in time, preserving the tax-exempt status of its dioceses matters less to the bishops than the greater good of saving "pre-born" babies and preventing people (gay) they regard as "disordered" from entering into civil same-sex marriages. But in campaigning for Romney, the bishops may be playing a dangerous game of chicken in which they risk the tax-exempt status of their dioceses.
If I were a Catholic bishop campaigning for Romney, I might be worried about being prosecuted under RICO statutes (Racketeering Influenced Criminal Organizations) -- especially if I were in charge of a diocese under investigation for sex crimes.
RICO statutes are designed to make it easier to prosecute violent crimes within corrupt organizations wherein financial criminality or fraud exists. RICO was also designed to address indirect violent crime by making prosecuting accomplices easier. (E.g. The person ordering the hit is more easily charged with a murder executed by another party.) It's not much of a stretch to imagine how this reasoning might apply to bishops who shuffled predators from parish to parish.
I think the Dolan and the bishops are running off the rails. "Fortnight for Freedom" will fizzle like a Roman candle in the rain. I think suing the Obama Administration will backfire. I think this latest publicity stunt and the cant that attends it are leading even religious citizens to seriously question whether granting tax-exempt status to religious organizations that would impose their doctrine on citizens isn't a violation of their religious freedom -- which, in the view of many, encompasses freedom from religion.
I'm a Roman Catholic who is active in ministry and faithful to worship; I don't want my tax dollars used to bankroll Timothy Dolan's stumping for Mitt.