TAG | Roman Catholicism
Ross Douthat mourns (prematurely, I fear) ‘the end of a Catholic moment’:
The mid-2000s were the last time the Catholic vision of the good society — more egalitarian than American conservatism and more moralistic than American liberalism — enjoyed real influence in U.S. politics. At the time of John Paul’s death, the Republican Party’s agenda was still stamped by George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” which offered a right-of-center approach to Catholic ideas about social justice.
I have no particular objection to “faith-based initiatives” and the like (in fact, under the right circumstances they can be thoroughly good things), nor, for that matter, with the notion that the embrace of (ultimately disastrous) “compassionate conservatism” was what it took to win the 2000 election, but let’s be clear that Catholic ideas of “social justice” are part of a corporatist ideology that (as some of Benedict XVI’s pronouncements remind us) is very difficult indeed to square with traditional American notions of individualism and the free market. To his credit, I don’t think that’s what George W. Bush was trying to do.
Mr. Douthat continues:
Whereas eight years ago, a Catholic view of economics and culture represented a center that both parties hoped to claim, today’s Republicans are more likely to channel Ayn Rand than Thomas Aquinas, and a strident social liberalism holds the whip hand in the Democratic Party.
It’s interesting to read of a “Catholic view of economics and culture” (in the sense that Douthat defines those terms) as representing “a center” either now, or then. I have my doubts.
As for Rand or Aquinas, I would have distinct reservations about channeling either, although—if really forced to choose— I would prefer the former to the latter (I suspect that I would have even more reservations about old Aquinas, if I could ever bring myself to devote any time at all to his endless—and dreary— theological and philosophical musings, but life’s too short, and there’s only the one).
More importantly, I suspect that the broader point that Douthat is making about the GOP will turn out to be wrong. As he notes later on, “a synthesis of social conservatism and more egalitarian-minded economic policies could have a great deal of mass appeal”. That’s true, I reckon (so long as the social conservatism is more—so to speak—Edmund Burke than Todd Akin), and that is why the Republicans will end up, I have long thought (and Tea Party notwithstanding, still do), as an Americanized version of Europe’s Christian Democrats, with all the baggage that that will entail.
De Tocqueville would weep.
With so much talk of late of the supposed attack on religious freedom represented by Obamacare’s contraception mandate, this passage caught my eye:
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently renewed their call for measures to address gun violence by echoing their 2000 statement, Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice. Bishops have called for “measures that control the sale and use of firearms” and “sensible regulations of handguns.” The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in a 1994 document, “The International Arms Trade,” urges political leaders “to impose a strict control on the sale of handguns and small arms” and states that “limiting the purchase of such arms would certainly not infringe on the rights of anyone.”
Well, it’s good to know where people stand.
It’s no great secret that the Vatican has never been particularly fond of the idea of free markets, but here is yet more nonsense from Benedict XVI to remind us of just that.
The BBC reports on the Pope’s New Year address:
The Roman Catholic Church leader spoke at a Mass in the Vatican, then greeted a crowd outside St Peter’s Basilica.
He deplored “hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor”.
Those “hotbeds” also grew out of “the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism”, as well as “various forms of terrorism and crime”, he said.
I don’t know what is worse. The ignorance (if there’s one thing that the financial markets were not, it was unregulated; whether they were sensibly regulated is a different question), or the clear signs of a visceral loathing for “financial” capitalism and, of course, the Pope’s attempt to smear it with guilt by association with “various forms of terrorism and crime”.
We’ve heard a lot from the Roman Catholic church of late about how its “religious liberty” is supposedly infringed by the Obamacare “contraception mandate”. It’s a dodgy and unconvincing argument for any number of reasons (and hypocritical too, given the church’s earlier support for universal healthcare), to which one can now add this (via the National Catholic Register):
BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has voiced his support for over-the-counter access to birth control, a position that Church representatives say goes against Catholic teaching on contraception.
“The Archdiocese of New Orleans disagrees with Governor Jindal’s stance on this issue, as the use of birth control and contraceptives are against Catholic Church teaching,” Sarah Comiskey McDonald, communications director for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, told EWTN News Dec. 14. Robert Tasman, associate director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, also echoed the archdiocese’s statement.
Making the pill available OTC is a generally excellent idea, but Jindal is approaching it from the perspective of a (very) devout Roman Catholic. His cannily pragmatic argument is based on the idea that making the pill available OTC will remove much (all?) of the rationale for including it under the HHS rules, but even this still is not, apparently, good enough for the Archdiocese. Note that these clerics’ objection to Gov. Jindal’s proposal is based on religious, not medical grounds. That their opposition to contraception is not shared by many of their coreligionists, let alone by most Americans of other faiths—and none—is, apparently, an irrelevance. Their ideology must be imposed on everyone, and that’s it.
Remind me again why should we pay attention when this church starts talking about “religious liberty”. I must be missing something.
Cross-Posted on the Corner:
There are blasphemy laws in India too, and in this instance a case there comes with a possibly somewhat unexpected twist.
The Guardian reports:
When water started trickling down a statue of Jesus Christ at a Catholic church in Mumbai earlier this year, locals were quick to declare a miracle. Some began collecting the holy water and the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni began to promote it as a site of pilgrimage. So when Sanal Edamaruku arrived and established that this was not holy water so much as holey plumbing, the backlash was severe. The renowned rationalist was accused of blasphemy, charged with offences that carry a three-year prison sentence and eventually, after receiving death threats, had to seek exile in Finland….
… “The Catholic archbishop of Bombay, Oswald, Cardinal Gracias, has said that if I apologise for the ‘offence’ I have caused he will see to it that the charges are dropped. This shows that he has influence in the situation but he will not use it unless I apologise, which I will not do as I have done nothing wrong,” [Edamaruku] said….
Edamaruku makes a fair point. The cardinal should also ponder the tacit encouragement he is currently giving those elsewhere—far harsher than he appears to be— who use blasphemy laws as a weapon against free speech in general, and, I might add, Christians in particular.
To quote (yet again) what was written in Jyllands-Posten at the time of the Mohammed cartoon controversy: “free speech is free speech is free speech. No buts.”
That’s a pretty good principle.
Over at Patheos, Kathy Schiffer is running a series on the “Best 100 Catholic Speakers” and here she is with seminary professor Dr. Janet Smith, author of Contraception: Why Not?
Choice quote from Dr. Smith:
I think contraception is an insult to women…. [W]omen basically apologize for their fertility. “I’m sorry. When I have sex I may get pregnant. Sure, I’ll be glad to mess with my body to correct this humiliating and inconvenient feature of my sex.”
I don’t know what it worse about that, the simpering pastiche of political correctness, or the utter logical breakdown.
And then I note this:
As a seminary professor, Dr. Janet Smith is helping to shape the next generation of priests.
How the Roman Catholic Church chooses to decide who is—and who is not a Roman Catholic—is up to that church. Even so, this is quite a story (from Reuters):
Liberal and conservative Roman Catholic activists in Germany criticised a decree that came into effect on Monday to deny sacraments and religious burials to people who opt out of a “church tax”.
The German bishops issued the decree last week warning Catholics who stop paying the tax they would be excluded from all religious activities, also including working in a church job, becoming a godparent or taking part in parish activities.
“‘Pay and pray’ is a completely wrong signal at the wrong time,” the reformist movement We Are Church said on Monday. The decree “shows the great fear of the German bishops and the Vatican about further serious losses in church tax revenue.”
A conservative group called the Union of Associations Loyal to the Pope asked why Catholics who stop paying the tax would be punished but those it called heretics could stay in its ranks.
“So sacraments are for sale – whoever pays the church tax can receive the sacraments,” it said in a statement, saying the link the decree created “goes beyond the sale of indulgences that (Martin) Luther denounced” at the start of the Reformation.
German tax offices collect a religious tax worth 8 or 9 percent of the annual regular tax bill of registered Catholics, Protestants and Jews and channel it to those faiths. An official declaration that one is leaving the faith frees the citizen from this tax….
Anthony Davies and Kristina Antolin, writing in the WSJ:
The bishops dance with the devil when they invite government to use its coercive power on their behalf, and there’s no clearer example than the Affordable Care Act. They happily joined their moral authority to the government’s legal authority by supporting mandatory health insurance. They should not have been surprised when the government used its reinforced power to require Catholic institutions to pay for insurance plans that cover abortions and birth control.
No they should not.
Reason cites a New York Times editorial discussing Paul Ryan’s budget proposals:
These cuts are so severe that the nation’s Catholic bishops raised their voices in protest at the shredding of the nation’s moral obligations.
Mr. Ryan’s budget “will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment,” the bishops wrote in an April letter to the House. “These cuts are unjustified and wrong.”
Paul Ryan is so evil, argues the Times, that the Roman Catholic congressman has even drawn the ire of Catholic bishops with his budget proposal. The word of the Catholic bishops, in this case, should be taken at face value. But the Times is no friend of religious institutions or even of those same Catholic bishops. From a Times op-ed on “the politics of religion,” published just a few months ago:
“Thirteen Roman Catholic dioceses and some Catholic-related groups scattered lawsuits across a dozen federal courts last week claiming that President Obama was violating their religious freedom by including contraceptives in basic health care coverage for female employees. It was a dramatic stunt, full of indignation but built on air…”
This is a clear partisan play. The real threat to religious liberty comes from the effort to impose one church’s doctrine on everyone.
Except, apparently, when that doctrine happens to align with a liberal agenda, then its a moral obligation for our political leaders. Thanks for clearing that up, New York Times!
Fair point, well made.
Equally, one must again point to the contradictions of a church that urges increased government spending, but benefits from substantial tax privileges, a church that argues for universal health care but tries to reserve for itself the right to opt out of those parts of universal healthcare legislation with which it disagrees.
Religious institutions have every right to be in the public square (in fact it’s good that they are there), but once they are in it, they should not be allowed to claim “rights” that exempt them from the rules that bind everyone else in that same venue.
Via Der Spiegel International:
Until into the 1990s, doctors and nuns in Spain allegedly stole newborn babies and sold them to couples hoping to adopt. The vast scope of this lucrative baby-snatching network is only now coming to light as courts heed victims’ calls for investigations and possible trials….
After the victory of the rebels under General Francisco Franco over the Republicans, the organized theft of babies became a political tool, a way of depriving leftists of their offspring. In 1941, Franco enacted a law that made it permissible to erase evidence of the ancestry of such children by changing their last names.
Most of these stolen children were entrusted to the care of Catholics loyal to the regime. The aim behind this was to rid an entire people of the “Marxist gene,” at least according to the theories of Antonio Vallejo-Nájera, the national psychiatrist of Francoist Spain, that were widespread at the time.
This specter of a Spanish national Catholicism even survived Franco’s death in 1975. Nuns, especially members of the Hijas de la Caridad, or Daughters of Charity, whose training was more religious than intellectual, worked in the maternity wards of hospitals and in baby nurseries. They blindly obeyed their mothers superior and priests who, in turn, decided who deserved a child and who didn’t. As a result, what were generally young or unmarried women became victims of baby theft. After all, the reasoning went, according to the Church’s teachings, these mothers were living “in sin.”
But even rising prosperity and Spain’s transformation into a democratic constitutional state apparently did not protect young mothers from this religious mafia of baby thieves. What may have begun as an act of misguided altruism appears to have grown into a business, in which adoptive parents allegedly paid up to a million pesetas, or the equivalent of about €20,000 ($25,000), for a child. Indeed, in a society that essentially considered it the legal right of married couples to have children, there was great demand for babies…
A deeply disturbing story, to say the very least.