Sunday, February 12, 2012

From Her Perspective:  20/20 Vision

Joan Walsh is a national treasure (though I reserve the right to criticize her in the future).     In her most recent post at Salon, where she is editor-in-chief, Walsh reminds us that the intransigence recently on display by the American Church did not proceed from individuals across the land and not uniformly from Catholic institutions, but from the Conference of Catholic Bishops.      She notes

solid majorities of Catholic voters supported Obama’s contraception regulations applying to large Catholic institutions, like hospitals, charities and universities, that employ non-Catholics. I loved the fact that students at Catholic universities held a press conference Thursday to support the president, and that organizations like Catholic Democrats and Catholics for Choice were active and vocal in standing up to their own bishops.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of Roman Catholic pundits, as demonstrated even today on Meet The Press as Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan and liberal columnist E.J. Dionne celebrated tribalism:

 MS. NOONAN: Catholics it was so great for three weeks that we all got along. We were all in agreement.
MS. NOONAN: I mean, this is a church that...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah, exactly.
MR. DIONNE: Persistent Obama united Catholics.
MS. NOONAN: Yeah.    

Imagine if these great minds had agreed on another topic, one of a racial nature, and Noonan or Dionne had remarked "as whites it was so great for three weeks that we all got along.     We were all in agreement."      Yet, here they put aside principle to respond to a political issue on the basis of religion, and they got a warm, fuzzy feeling.         Wrestling with theirs and similar reactions, Walsh writes

Why did we spend 10 days listening to prominent Catholics, including even some liberals and Democrats, insist that the White House had overreached and trampled on “religious freedom” – in this case, the “freedom” of the Catholic hierarchy to impose rules that even most Catholics don’t live by? The great E.J. Dionne led the charge, but Catholic Democrats like Sens. John Kerry and Bob Case and Virginia’s Tim Kaine joined in, and occasionally, liberal TV hosts like MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell and Chris Matthews seemed inclined to depict the controversy as being about the church’s right not to violate its own values. Vice President Joe Biden was said to be the leading voice within the administration warning Obama away from the issue.

“This has struck a tribal nerve in Catholicism,” conservative Catholic scholar George Weigel said to Chuck Todd on “The Daily Rundown” last Monday. “The Catholic Church has been beaten up over the last 10 or 11 years and I think Catholics are tired of the government and others beating up on the church.” His liberal co-religionist on the panel, E.J. Dionne, agreed. I found that fascinating, especially because most of us consider tribalism a bad thing in a multi-ethnic democracy.

Still, while I didn’t share that reaction, I recognized it. It amazes me sometimes, the extent to which Catholics still see themselves – ourselves — as outsiders. There’s a vestigial impulse to circle the wagons and protect our right to practice our persecuted religion (even if it’s no longer persecuted, and many of us don’t practice very much of it anymore).

Left unstated, however, is consideration of the reasons the Church "has been beaten up over the last 10 or 11 years."      I know what you're thinking- it was primarily over the child sex abuse scandal.

It was.       As a non-Catholic, I was pleased (though not especially surprised) that through it all, the vast majority of Catholics joined the chorus of Americans denouncing the Church for its apparent tolerance of pedophilia among many priests and their superiors.      Their sense of revulsion may even have been greater than among non-Catholics because of the concern they might be (or perhaps were) unfairly tainted by the sins of others.     Still, many Roman Catholics no doubt believed that their non-Catholic neighbors were using the scandal as an excuse to attack a church they were not fond of for other reasons.     But they dared not criticize those neighbors, for to do so might have appeared in some way to be condoning those loathsome acts.      Political correctness pops up in so many places.

From the perspective of an Irish-American Roman Catholic raised in a working-class family but who concedes that she herself is not working-class (an admission many successful individuals are loathe to make), Walsh suggests

There may be an element of remorse involved when liberal Catholics defend their faith, especially among those who defy the church (rightly, in my opinion) on its most blinkered teachings in the realm of women’s rights, gay rights and sexuality. For some it may be guilt: OK, I might not listen to the bishops, but I think we ought to demand that they’re respected in the public sphere.

Guilt is a powerful emotion, and one reason I have been uneasy about the political significance recently attached by supporters of reproductive freedom to statistics showing an overwhelming majority of Catholic women having used artificial birth control.      While the numbers show how widespread use is and how out of touch their church is, many Roman Catholics might nonetheless have been defensive about criticism of their church's hierarchy in the recent controversy.     And there can be no assumption that even a Catholic woman who has used contraceptives would be offended at an attempt to prevent other women from using them.      Human beings often believe authorities or experts are talking about thee, not me.

Unlike the likes of Noonan or Melinda Henneberger, Walsh is a Roman Catholic whose sense of kinship with individuals with whom she shares a cultural identity does not smack of condescension.      Recognizing "zealous right-wing Catholics are in the minority, even if blowhards like Bill Donohue sometimes make the most noise," she notes "the craziness of the right-wing Catholic alliance with conservative evangelicals became particularly obvious to me. They’ve locked arms with some of the very forces that once persecuted their ancestors – some of whom still despise Catholicism to this day."      The opportunism of some evangelical Protestants and their GOP allies has been shameless.

Ultimately (or, as politicians like to say, "at the end of the day"), Joan Walsh has a singular understanding that one institution, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks for itself, has been wrong, and has wronged its constituents, who deserve better.

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