"If the Religious Right were to succeed in establishing an American theocracy, or anything even close, the devil would be in the details. A preview is now being played out between the Catholic League on the theocratic Right and the Voice of the Faithful representing a full spectrum of mainstream centrist, liberal and conservative Catholics.
In the last installment of this series, the role of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights was discussed. By most objective standards, the League actually spends little time on defending the rights of ordinary Catholic individuals. Their definition of protecting Catholic civil and religious rights is increasingly limited to defending hierarchy and dogma: a self-evident fact that plays out in the Church's pedophilia scandal.
When the scandal broke several years ago, the Catholic League rightly expressed indignation that sexual abuse was visited upon our children. But it was in its subsequent pronouncements that it reverted to its automatic reflex to shield Church hierarchy from even justified claims of abusing power. As recently as June 7, 2006, the League placed an advertisement in The New York Times . Besides misrepresenting the age range of the majority of victims--describing 81% of the victims as "postpubescent," "male," and "not little kids"--almost as if that makes the abuses less heinous, the League attempted to change to the focus of the Church's responsibility by comparing its track record to other institutions.
To its credit, Voice of the Faithful issued a press release in response. VOTF correctly described the real issue at hand not as, "...how the Church is doing in response to the sexual abuse crisis compared with other organizations." Instead, The organization noted, "The issue is what changes has the Church implemented and how are they being followed to dramatically reduce the chances that children will be abused by priests in the future." Additionally, VOTF demonstrated how the League misrepresented the findings of the Cara Study by explaining how at least 83% of the victims were minors under the age of 18. (i)
And as USA Today reported, "The board's analysis, written by Washington lawyer Robert Bennett, sharply criticizes the nation's 296 bishops' "shameful" failings including: failure to grasp the problem, "unwarranted presumptions in favor of accused priests"; "excessive reliance" on therapeutic programs; greater concern for church legal and financial liability than for victims; and lack of accountability by bishops." (ii) This was a conclusion the Catholic League conveniently failed raise in its New York Times advertisement.
But why should a pedophilia scandal matter in a discussion about the Religious Right's ongoing attempts to break down the walls separating church and state?
Well, actually it matters a great deal.
We who have studied the political agendas of Dominionist and Reconstructionist Protestants as well as their ultra-Orthodox Catholic counterparts understand the obvious dangers they present to our democracy. To this end we constantly warn of their intentions to erode privacy rights as well as wanting to subjectively impose limits upon freedoms of expression. But perhaps even we have failed to grasp the everyday implications of a theocratic society. If certain denominations are allowed to be elevated to a co-equal status with government as society's lawgivers, subjective orthodoxies may well replace objective notions of justice. That problem arises with many on the Catholic autocratic Right who see the church as a sovereign institution that should be able to handle its own problems internally, free from the oversight of a local secular government.
Such a scenario runs contrary to our cherished notion of Equal Protection--treating similarly situated persons or institutions in the same manner. But a more ominous, but less commonly anticipated result of such reduced scrutiny could be catastrophic. We as a society must consider what would happen when either the inner workings or internal self-interest of any given denomination runs contrary to objectively held notions of the common good. It could foreseeably end in the dissuasion of accountability in ways that directly affect the security of the family structure, leaving the most vulnerable---our children--at increased risk.
But what is it that causes the Catholic League to attack any group with such ferocity, especially when those targeted have the best interests of minors as their priority? It is simply because VOTF members want the clergy to consult them on what the church is doing to prevent further abuses. They want accountability. And true accountability requires a reasonable measure of transparency.
In order to understand the Catholic League's scorched-earth policy toward lay groups such as VOTF, it's President William Donohue's view of the church sovereignty must first be understood. Both he and the League operate under the antiquated belief that the Church's dirty laundry should be washed internally, even out of the eyes of its own congregants, the same congregants who pay parochial school tuition, fill the Sunday collection plates and ultimately pay the price for settling court case resulting from this scandal. Indicative of this belief is a Catholic League press release issued on April 22, 2005, entitled "Time For Non-Catholics To Butt Out," in which Donohue bitterly complained about non-Catholics interfering in internal Church Affairs.
Nor is Donohue alone in this belief. Ultra-traditionalist and former Bush administration confident Deal Hudson starkly called VOTF "...simply another group of dissenters, plain and simple" as well as "...a wolf in sheep's clothing." (iii) It is also a belief commonly held among many of the Institute on Religion and Democracy crowd that makes up the Catholic League's Board of Advisors, notably, George Weigel.
Weigel, like Donohue, has also miscast the pedophilia crisis as one due primarily to "a culture of dissent" he derisively describes as "Catholic Lite." Weigel's proposed remedy is for the faithful "... to recover...a sense of the great adventure of orthodoxy." According to Weigel, a significant part of this "great adventure" is not to ask any inconvenient questions. As he told the Zenit News Agency in 2002:
"By 'culture of dissent' I mean men and women -- including priests, women religious, bishops, theologians, catechists, Church bureaucrats, and activists -- who believed that what the Church proposed as true was actually false. If you really think that -- if you really believe that the highest teaching authority of the Church is teaching falsehoods and is leading the Church into error -- you're not in full communion with the Church. And that has consequences, including behavioral consequences." (iv)
Such an incomplete diagnosis is both inaccurate as well as self-serving. It is inaccurate since it fails to explain other incidents of pedophilia that occurred well before the 1960s, and it is self-serving in that it is being used as means to stifle justified dissent. But beyond that, it is an unvarnished attempt to evade the very thing VOTF is after: simple accountability.
Bill Moyers recently observed, "An unconscious people, an indoctrinated people, a people fed only on partisan information and opinion that confirm their own bias, a people made morbidly obese in mind and spirit by the junk food of propaganda, is less inclined to put up a fight, to ask questions and be skeptical. That kind of orthodoxy can kill a democracy -- or worse." (v)
Well, that is what the William Donohues of the world do. They use dissembled propaganda to confirm bias and they do so not in the pursuit of commonly held notions of justice, but instead to achieve special dispensation from protecting the common good, in this case, the safety of our children.
And this brings us back to why the Founding Fathers desired the separation of church and state. It must be remembered that the American Revolution was a conflict born of the Enlightenment and that our Constitution was a direct product of the Age of Reason. While many of the Founding Fathers were themselves religious, they were also cognizant of Europe's recent past where Catholic and Protestant populations often waged long bloody wars against each other. They understood that such upheavals severely disrupt domestic tranquility. But beyond that, they also did not want to reestablish a society where any one denomination was the sole arbiter of morality and to be able to use that power to shield the transgressions of its individual members. We are citizens first, replete with duties and responsibilities owed too each other. If we fail to understand this, the result could be a time in the future where fundamentalist Protestantism and Opus Dei Catholicism would be given extreme latitude to impose their brands of Christianity upon the national will without the attendant accountability.
An extremely scary thought indeed.
THE CATHOLIC RIGHT: A SERIES By Frank Cocozzelli : PART ONE PART TWO PART THREE PART FOUR
(i) The John Jay study pointed out that 40% of the victims were boys between the ages of 11 and 14.
(ii) USA Today, February 29, 2004, "Catholic Abuse Reort Paints Disturbing Picture," Link: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2004-02-29-abuse-reports-usat _x.htm
(iii) Catholic Commentary, "A Close Look at Voice of the Faithful;"
Link: http://www.catholicity.com/commentary/hudson/voiceofthefaithful.h tml Hudson was in charge of Catholic outreach for the Bush 2004 reelection campaign until the National Catholic Reporter ran an expose' on a sexual liaison he had with an 18-year-old student in 1994, an action that at Fordham University. The incident cost Hudson his professorship as well as his advisory position with the Bush campaign.
(iv) Link: http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0568.html
(v) Speech to the National Conference for Media Reform on May 15, 2005"
Note: Content reposted with the permission of the author.