Essays on Religion, Faith and Sprituality by Michele Madigan Somerville

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fortnight for Freedom in NY: A Dud?



250 Catholics, not much of crowd, assembled on the first day of "Fortnight for Freedom" at St. Patrick's Cathedral to hear New York's top priest, Timothy Dolan, celebrate mass and reflect on religious liberty.  "Fortnight for Freedom," is a two-week period designated by the USCCB (United States Conference for Catholic Bishops) as a time for prayer and reflection on religious freedom.  What "Fortnight for Freedom" really is -- is a, now scaled-down, effort to mobilize Catholics to vote for Mitt Romney in November.

It's likely Dolan's public relations nosedive has necessitated a few alterations in the plan. So far, "Fortnight for Freedom" hasn't gotten much support in New York, but Catholics made a better showing in Baltimore, where Archbishop William Lori's mass to kick off "Fortnight for Freedom" was well-attended. Perhaps they're a little softer on systematic child-sexual abuse in the birthplace of American Catholicism, for it was standing room only at the basilica on Friday.

At the Sunday June 24th Roman Catholic mass I attended in New York, no mention of "Fortnight for Freedom" was made, and the two announcements following the mass were invitations to parishioners to join in the New York City LGBT "Gay Pride" parade and a request for volunteers to work a few shifts in a an overnight respite program for homeless men.

It would seem "Fortnight for Freedom" has, thus far, been a dud in New York City.

The bishops draped "Fortnight for Freedom" in "Old Glory" because they know that right-wing Protestant fundamentalists like the stars and stripes a lot more than they like Roman Catholics. While the USCCB has no substantive objection to a black president, the bishops recognize that in Obama, they and white, American racist (so-called) "Christians" share a common enemy.  The enemies of the bishops' enemies are the bishops' friends. The red-neck-friendly patriotism packaging bridges the right wing Catholic-funbamentalist Christian gap.

On the other hand, the USCCB must be careful not to overdo the redneck angle. They may find a certain comfort in joining the "bring your gun to church"  "Christians" -- but the bishops are ever mindful that many U.S. Catholics are black and brown. While the bishops know most black and Latino Catholics will probably vote for Obama, they also recognize that a small percentage of black and Latino Catholic locksteppers are the kind of undiscerning Catholics who will simply vote as the bishops tell them to vote.

The great black hope of lockstep Catholics "of color" might explain why William E. Lori and Timothy Dolan et al took the chance of trotting out "Letter of Birmingham Jail" two weeks ago, which they cannibalized quite erroneously for their lecture on the importance of conscience, "Why Conscience is Important" which they disseminated via weekly paper bulletins throughout every diocese in the United State on June 10th.

The Latino vote is of special concern to the bishops at present because both the bishops themselves and Obama favor progressive immigration policies. Hence, the need for the "Why Conscience is Important," a sophomoric and cringe-inducing missive in which the bishops make liberal use of the lyrical, logical prose of a courageous black American patriot and man of the cloth, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in order to make a case for what they fallaciously dub "religious freedom." This morally tone-deaf lecture on conscience was composed and delivered by a conference of bishops whose president was --at the very time the insert was being disseminated to U.S. dioceses -- remaining silent in the face of serious allegations of indirect complicity in the sexual abuse of children.

The lecture on conscience, coming as it did from a group led by a man who unfortunately appears to many to lack one, was a slap in the face to every decent Catholic who read it. (Read more about this document on Indie Theology.) One amusing aspect of "Why Conscience is Important" is that its author missed the point of "Birmingham Jail" entirely, while offering any Catholic with reasonable reading comprehension skill the ideal argument in favor of disregarding the pontiff and Magisterium when informed conscience demands it.

The thesis of both the composition from the bishops, and from "Letter From Birmingham Jail" from which it disingenuously borrows, is that unjust laws (those that prohibit contraception or same-sex marriage, for example) are made to be broken. "Why Conscience Matters," in other words, reiterates the argument advanced by Joseph Ratzinger in his commentary on the Vatican II Pastoral Constitution, Gaudiem et spes:
Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there still stands one's own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority...I was talking with my husband this morning about the fine line between preaching morality from the pulpit and electioneering. "Haven't clerics always preached politics from the pulpit?" he asked. "Sure," I answered, "but preaching that abortion is wrong is not the same as endorsing a particular candidate."
He remembers the day in August 2009, when I came home steamed over a monsignor who had campaigned from the pulpit at a Brooklyn church. Monsignor Kieran Harrington, spokesman for Nicholas DiMarzio, the bishop of Brooklyn and Queens, had somehow snaked his way to the pulpit at one of the churches I attend. There he introduced Steve Levin, then a candidate for City Council in Brooklyn, saying "He's been good for our church." After the noon mass, a few church ladies were recruited to leaflet on the future councilman's behalf on the street outside of the church as the crowd let out. It it walks like a duck applies.
According to a June 21st Reuters report, La Mesa, California pastor Jim Garlow announced his intention to deliberately, conscientiously risk the tax-exempt status of his church in order to campaign for candidates of his choice. He will engage in direct action civil disobedience on "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" on October 7th. He's been conducting "Pulpit Freedom Sundays" for a few years now and sending proof of his electioneering to the Internal Revenue Service. I don't like Garlow's message, but I appreciate that he's not a complete weasel in this. 
Pastor Jim Garlow will stand before congregants at his 2,000-seat Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa, California, on October 7, just weeks before the U.S. presidential and congressional elections, and urge his flock to vote for or against particular candidates.
How stark the contrast! Between Pastor Garlow and the Catholic bishops who routinely, consistently and flagrantly violate the spirit of the law while pretending to adhere to its "letter."
Pastor Garlow is planning to engage in civil disobedience for reasons of conscience, for his "Pulpit Freedom Sunday." The clerics planning "Fortnight for Freedom" are poaching syllables written by the ultimately martyred man of the cloth who gave up his life trying to build Augustine's City of God. As I read about Pastor Garlow in La Mesa, and think about William Lori and Timothy Dolan who have worked so hard to rob LGBT people who are not even Catholic of equal marriage rights, these words from King's open letter come to mind:
.
..all too many others {clergy} have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.
So much, in the analysis of Roman Catholic leadership boils down to a remaining silent behind anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.
So much in the analysis of Roman Catholic leadership boils down to a lack of conscience and courage.
On one hand we have Catholic martyrs who suffered and died for their beliefs. On the other hand, we have the allegedly fugitive Bernard Law enjoying prosperity and clout in La Citta Vaticana. We have the newly incarcerated Monsignor William Lynn, and Timothy Dolan waiting for accusations impropriety to blow over, and way too many Catholics who are willing to do what all of those people who knew about Larry Sandusky did while children suffered: nothing.
We can think of them as latter-day Abrahams carrying their children to sacrifice. Only when God says stop, the latter-day Abraham says "no."
To seriously entertain the whingeing of men in miters who wish to seize religious freedom for themselves while wrenching it from others is foolishness.
Let the bishops give up tax-exempt status and withdraw all government funding for reasons of conscience id they must. If religious freedom is half as important as the U.S. bishops would have us think - if defeating Obama is so very essential - let the Catholic bishops announce from the pulpits that Catholics must cast their votes for Mitt Romney? There'd be a little honor in that.
So much of the analysis of Roman Catholic Leadership boils down to a lack of conscience and courage: and the rest, to economics.
The USCCB is a bit caught between rock and a hard place as "Fortnight for Freedom" begins with a whimper and looks destined to fizzle like a wet Roman Candle. They didn't count on Timothy Dolan's need to hit the mattresses just as "Fortnight for Freedom" was getting under way. They didn't know the Vatican butler did it or would be called, just as "Fortnight for Freedom" was getting started, to take the fall. The USCCB weren't counting on the overwhelming support nuns are receiving in the aftermath of the papal spanking. Obama's immigration policy announcement, which will remind many Catholic voters why he, not Romney, should be president had to have thrown the men in miters for a loop. And the USCCB could never have anticipated how powerful the very public trial of Larry Sandusky, which allowed so many Catholics to see all too vividly just what pedophiles do to children. To have monsignor convicted and sentence to prison on the day the Sandusky verdict is handed down is very bad for morale. Legal precedent has been set. These trials were very bad for Vatican business.
So much of the analysis of Roman Catholic Leadership boils down to business.
If Americans have learned nothing else about the Roman Catholic Church in the United States within the past three or four years, we have learned that the church is big business. Speaking of business-- On Saturday and Sunday (June 23rd and 24th) most Roman Catholic Churches held their annual Peter Pence collections.
"Peter Pence" -- cute name. So often, through the years, I've seen people drop a dollar or two in the (second collection) basket while turning to ask a friend in the pew, "What is the Peter Pence collection, anyway?"
As most Catholics know, the Vatican takes its cut of the weekly collections (a thing the locksteppers like to deny). Peter Pence ducats go straight to Ratzinger et al.
If you dropped a dollar in the basket for the Peter Pence collection yesterday, you might want to say an "Act of Contrition" for doing so today.
Your money might help to support appointments for allegedly fugitive child abuse abetting priests like Bernard Law. Your hard-earned dollars might be used to bankroll lobbying campaigns to ensure that LBGT are denied equal marriage rights. Maybe your Peter Pence money went to fight legislation to extend the statute of limitations for reporting sex crimes against children. Ratzinger may use this cash to send priests to Sub-Saharan Africa to teach women to eschew the use of condoms -- even if their husbands are infected with HIV. Joseph Ratzinger might use your contributions to dig up dirt on the victims as part of legal defenses of pedophile priests. Inquisitions are expensive; the generous contributions of Catholics are much needed to bankroll the investigation of nuns. And if Ratzinger is feeling generous, he might even kick back some of those Peter Pence dollars to William E. Lori and Timothy Dolan for their Romney for President campaign.
If you gave generously to the Peter Pence collection on Sunday, you can be sure you gave till it hurt.
And there's a good chance you gave to causes that fly in the face of everything Jesus stands for.

Follow Michele Somerville on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NYpoet

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