If you’re not tired of and worried about the Roman Catholic Church at this point, you ought to be, as my colleague RMuse wrote here recently with regards the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The Catholic Church is a group that for the better part of 2000 years has insisted upon the right to tell people what to believe, how to believe it, and punished them – severely – for failing to do so, including as I mentioned yesterday, burning these folks at the stake – ‘a holocaust very great and pleasing to God’. This is a group that for very legitimate historical reasons was feared in this mostly Protestant country (not that many of the Protestants who feared the Catholic Church didn’t turn around and behave in exactly the same fashion once on these shores).
There are sound (if ultimately hypocritical) historical reasons JFK was our first Catholic President.
This is not to say prejudice against somebody because of their religion is something that is okay or that should be permitted; it is not and should not and our Constitution is meant to protect us against this. But at the same time we have to recognize that there are reasons for most things and the prejudice against the Catholic Church comes from its long history of persecution of other sects as heretics. As recently as the sixteenth century they were burning French Protestants (Huguenots) and my ancestors on my father’s side were among those Huguenots who fled rather than burn. All these events were of fairly recent memory in colonial times, not half a millennium in the past.
Little has changed in 2000 years. The Catholic Church is still insisting upon the right to tell people, Americans in this case, what they can and cannot do. They are insisting that our having contraception violates their religion: therefore we can’t have it. They are also telling us that they have a right to spend our taxpayer dollars to persecute those who aren’t Catholic. So we have no right to our own taxpayer dollars because it violates their “rights of belief” but they can spend our taxpayer dollars to persecute because telling them no violates their “rights of belief.”
Never mind the Constitution. Nothing about our “rights of belief” even if that means there is no belief at all. People think fundamentalists are bad but folks, the fundies got nothing on the Roman Catholic Church. There is a reason the Catholic Santorum did so well with Protestant fundies: it’s the same song and dance, different costumes.
These people have been there, done that, many times over. Anything the fundies have done or can think of doing, the Catholic Church has already done. It is no surprise at all that the Papacy has kept its office of the inquisition or that Pope Benedict XVI was its head before he was elevated to Pope. Wake up, America, and know your enemy.
I’m not arguing that individual Catholics – like JFK – are the enemy. Polls show that most American Catholics blithely ignore the ranting of the Church hierarchy. The enemy is the institution of the Catholic Church. It is the enemy now and it has always been the enemy of individual human rights. And so Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU.org) are right to warn us in a press release yesterday that the “Catholic Hierarchy’s ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ Campaign Is ‘Thoroughly Misguided.'”
Personally, I’d say Barry Lynn is treating them with kid gloves. Here’s the details:
In a statement issued today, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called on every diocese in the country to engage in a “Fortnight for Freedom” during the two weeks leading up to the Fourth of July. Parishioners will be asked to study, pray and take action about alleged infringements on religious liberty.
As AU says (correctly), “The Catholic bishops’ new “religious liberty” campaign jeopardizes the rights of all Americans.”
This is the simple and absolute truth. Another simple truth is that the Catholic Church says their “rights of belief” trump the rights of belief of all Americans, no surprise again when you consider Pope Benedict’s book Truth and Tolerance (2004), written as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, as head of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – once known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Here Benedict insists that Catholic Truth (always a capital ‘T’) trumps tolerance. He even tries to make it sound reasonable, like how could anyone possibly disagree?
But back to the bishops. According to the AU press release:
Another topic is government defunding of church-affiliated agencies that refuse to comply with public policy mandates. The bishops’ statement complains that Catholic agencies have been denied government funding because they refused to provide adoption services to gay couples or reproductive health care to women who are victims of sex trafficking.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said, “The bishops’ campaign is thoroughly misguided. What they want is massive taxpayer funding of their ministries without complying with the fairness rules that everybody else observes. Maybe their two-week venture should be called a ‘Fortnight for Taxpayer Funding.’
“The bishops want to maintain their privileged status,” Lynn continued, “even if it means that other Americans’ freedoms are infringed. It is imperative that President Obama and Congress refuse to cave in to this outrageous assault on church-state separation.”
Lynn is right to call out the Catholic desire for “privileged status”. That is what is behind the fundamentalist threat to our democracy, a claim of privileged status. Remember: when they talk about “rights of belief” they aren’t talking about yours.
Lynn said the bishops’ religious liberty isn’t in danger but the freedom of other Americans is:
“When taxpayers are forced to support sectarian agencies that refuse to meet the needs of women, gay people and other communities,” concluded Lynn, “that’s a real violation of religious liberty. Public funds should go only to agencies that serve the public interest. If the bishops want to run sectarian social services, they ought to collect the money from their parishioners, not the taxpayers.”
Again, Lynn hits the nail upon the head. Fundamentalists complain about their tax dollars going to causes that violate their “rights of belief” but fully expect us to sign off on the expenditure of our tax dollars on things we don’t believe in. That’s where their privilege comes into play. That’s where Truth trumps tolerance.
These people don’t share; they don’t play well with others. They never have. I’ve used this quote before and I hope I can be excused if I use it again because it speaks so eloquently to where we are and why we are here – A.H. Armstrong relates for us the legacy of Christian intolerance:
The choice of the way of intolerance by the authorities of Church and empire in the late fourth century has had some very serious and lasting consequences. The last vestiges of its practical effects, in the form of the imposition of at least petty and vexatious disabilities on forms of religion not approved by the local ecclesiastical establishment, lasted in some European countries well into my lifetime. And theoretical approval of this sort of intolerance has often long outlasted the power to apply it in practice. After all, as late as 1945 many approved Roman Catholic theologians in England, and the Roman authorities, objected to a statement on religious freedom very close to Vatican II’s declaration on that subject. In general, I do not think that any Christian body has ever abandoned the power to persecute and repress while it actually had it. The acceptance of religious tolerance and freedom as good in themselves has normally been the belated, though sometimes sincere and whole-hearted, recognition and acceptance of a fait accompli. This long persistence of Theodosian intolerance in practice and its still longer persistence in theory has certainly been a cause, though not the only cause, of that unique phenomenon of our time, the decline not only of Christianity but all forms of religious belief and the growth of a totally irreligious and unspiritual materialism.
Armstrong concludes that “the triumph of Christianity carried in it, as perhaps all such triumphs do, the seeds of future defeat. The Church in the fourth century took what it wanted and has been paying for it, in one way or another, ever since.” That Christianity has never learned this lesson can be proven through the simple act of opening your eyes to the world around you.
You live in a modern world only because you have insisted on living in a modern world, not because the Church has ever agreed to or condoned it, but simply because since the Enlightenment they haven’t been able to do anything about it. Never forget that, or what the price will be if you waver in your resolve. They haven’t forgotten what could be (and in their eyes should) – and you mustn’t either.
 A.H. Armstrong, “The Way and the Ways: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in the Fourth Century A.D.” Vigiliae Christianae 38 (1984), 1-2.