WASHINGTON D.C.—For more than a century, the U.S. Catholic Church has methodically trod a path of non-political middle ground. There were groups within the church that tugged to the far right and there were groups that tugged toward the far left of the political spectrum. At times, some of these factions got the ear of the media. But overall, the progress of the whole church was determinedly apolitical.
With the recruiting of the Christian Right into the Republican Party, the Catholic Church kept largely aloof. Sure, they were in the forefront of the anti-abortion movement. The church paid for a lot of actions, but the church continued to describe the issue as one of personal conscience. The rank and file of the Catholic people accepted the theoretical authority of the church without actually choosing to recognize that authority in fact. For example, the church has been consistently against medical contraception and yet 98% of all Catholic women will use medical birth control measures at some point in their lives.The leadership of the Catholic Church has been significantly out of step with its parishioners before. That was called the Reformation.
But why now, when American politics has become so pluralized, when so many people are holding more and more extreme views, why is the church now abandoning the center and embracing a position so far to the right?
There are two political parties of note in this country: the Republican party that has been increasingly the party of big business and the far right, and the Democratic Party of more moderate but also increasingly business oriented right-wing positions. Both parties have some outliers in their ranks. Some Democrats are considerably more to the left of center and some Republicans are way further right wing than most of their party. In the past twenty-five years it has been the Republican Party that has been the active instigator of political action and the Democrats who have reacted to Republican initiatives and been largely inactive otherwise.
Some Democrats will, of course, object to this characterization, but it is a fact that the US government has increasingly championed the wealthy, and whittled away at unions and other populist organizations. Some Democrats have tried to hold the line, but they have mainly refrained from real advocacy or activism.
So the Catholic Church finds itself in deep, deep trouble over the practice of covering up pedophilia among its priests, and the threat of federal governmental action that would threaten its operations in the United States. It does not seem to me at all strange that they should read the writing on the wall and suddenly discover a major focus within their mission to support positions of which the Republican Party is fond. Suddenly, a number of different investigations, proposed legislative measures and judicial probes magically vanish off the face of the Earth. Coincidence? Hardly. Conspiracy? Well, that depends on whether you think caving in to veiled threats and fiscal intimidation tactics is conspiracy or pragmatism.
What it comes down to is that the Catholic Church isn’t going to try to stand up to corporate power (the federal government and its backers) especially with the current pope. The current pope is a wheeler-dealer who was in charge of church cover-ups and government liaison for most of his adult life. So, when you see the Catholic Church suddenly sounding a lot more Texan than Ecumenical, you can blame the church hierarchy for bowing to pressure and following a party line.
Our founding fathers frowned on governments and churches working in collusion. They made special rules about it (see separation of church and state). Properly functioning, governments and churches oppose each other much more often than they support one another. It’s like the relationship that government and the press ought to have. For democracy to flourish, you really need a vigorous and responsible press to harry and confound the government by telling an informed electorate about their schemes and methods while there’s still time to call a halt and send some people to jail. Churches rally people together to oppose the worst kinds of oppression and give them a focus for worthwhile causes.
When churches band together with governments, bad things happen. In this case, we have a war on women that makes no sense and will end up doing no one any good. This is nothing new for the Roman Catholic Church of course, but you’d think they’d get a clue eventually.
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