Catholic Hypocrisy on Full Display

Joe Biden is only the second Catholic to serve as President of the United States in US history.  What’s more, his Catholicism is a big part of who he is as a man — not only did he attend Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew (no relation) the morning of his inauguration, inviting congressional leaders from both sides of the political spectrum to break bread with him in an effort to bridge the gaping divide his predecessor wrought by starting on day one to move beyond the Trumpian ethos that those who oppose your ideas are adversaries or enemies, but he started his first Sunday in office by attending Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington DC’s Georgetown neighborhood, where the nation’s only other Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, often went to Mass.

This should be a PR bonanza for the Catholic Church; they could have pointed out that President Biden won the 2020 election with the most votes ever received by any presidential candidate, defeating Trump by a margin of more than 7 million votes, due in large part to a surge of young voters; they could have made an appeal to Biden’s young supporters to check out the Catholic faith for themselves, in a bid to boost their dramatically declining membership, presenting Catholicism to the nation and to the world as a modern and thriving faith well-suited to a multicultural, multiethnic democracy, using Biden’s reputation for kindness, compassion, and decency to offset the Church’s reputation as a cold, heartless, unwelcoming factory of exclusionary dogma, silly anachronistic beliefs, and cliquish behavior.

Abandoned Church

But no, of course, they did the opposite.

On Inauguration Day, Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a damning statement about the new president, which angered the more liberal factions of the US church and reportedly ruffled feathers in Rome. “Our new president has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity,” he wrote. “Most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender. Of deep concern is the liberty of the church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.”

Immediately, Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, issued a damning rebuke of Archbishop Gomez exposing the deep division line in the American Catholic Church, condemning Gomez’s statement in no uncertain terms and pointing out the USCCB’s procedures for issuing a statement of this magnitude on behalf of the Church in the United States had not been followed:

Pope Francis in Rome had just congratulated President Biden.  The Gomez statement is said to have angered him and many in the curia as it was issued without consultation and represented the more hard-nosed, creepily obsessed with abortion and genitalia views Gomez is known for.  Probably without realizing it, Gomez had taken a page from the Evangelical Christian playbook — a woefully out-of-touch member of the hierarchy presuming, by virtue of his (and its always a man) position, to speak for the entire faith.  When conservatives gain power within a Church, they loudly proclaim that only conservative political views are acceptable like a bunch of screaming banshees; this has the effect of driving more moderate and liberal voices to the fringes, or even to leave, which makes conservatives that much more powerful and they double down on their positions — before you know it, you’re left with a Church that’s nothing but a mouthpiece for far-Right conservative views.  Even the somewhat-more-liberal Pope Francis has not been able to counter the illiberality and dogmatism which insists that only conservative political views are acceptable.

Think I’m overstating the case, thoughtful reader?  Have a look at what Fr. James Martin, SJ, a Jesuit Catholic priest, pointed out in a piece he wrote entitled "How Catholic Leaders Helped Give Rise to Violence at the U.S. Capitol:"

At the end of last August, the Rev. James Altman, the pastor of St. James the Less Parish in La Crosse, Wis., uploaded a video to YouTube that has been viewed over 1.2 million times. The video’s title voiced what an increasing number of Catholic bishops and priests were saying in the run-up to the presidential election: “You Cannot be a Catholic and a Democrat.”

“Their party platform absolutely is against everything the Catholic Church teaches,” said Father Altman, as music from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 swelled in the background. “So just quit pretending that you’re Catholic and vote Democrat. Repent of your support of that party and its platform or face the fires of hell.”

…A few weeks later, the Rev. Ed Meeks, the pastor of Christ the King Church in Towson, Md., preached a homily, also uploaded to YouTube, under the title “Staring into the Abyss,” in which he declared the Democratic Party the “party of death.”

Father Meeks’s video, which has received over two million views, was warmly commended by Bishop Joseph Strickland, of Tyler, Tex., who tweeted it out to his 40,000 followers with the message “Every Catholic should listen to this wise and faithful priest.”

Let’s be clear.  These Catholic priests are not taking issue with a certain policy in light of Catholic teaching.  They are using the vocabulary of their Church and the authority of priesthood and the pulpit to condemn all Democrats, including our new President, to hell and suggesting in no uncertain terms that the party of white supremacy and anti-Semitic, violent, name-calling that ripped helpless children from their mothers arms because they were brown and locked them in cages, the party that gave a huge amount of money to the disgustingly wealthy in this country in the form of a tax cut, the party led by a misogynistic adulterer who paid off porn stars with ridiculously huge tits to keep them quiet (the porn stars, not the tits), the party that cleared the way for Iran to develop nuclear weapons and sold us out to the Russian despot who poisons and imprisons his critics, the party hell-bent on denying science at a time we need it to address a global health crisis and a planet in peril because we have failed to care for it — that party is good, righteous, and worthy of Catholic support.

In their single-minded, puerile, unthinking, and ill-informed obsession with abortion (which isn’t even mentioned in the Bible, not once!), which they have cynically packaged as “the right to life” and elevated above all other issues in a disgusting display of idolatry and intellectual shallowness, these misguided fanatics are making an obvious show of their fundamental hypocrisy.

chittister-quote

On August 2, 2018, the Vatican announced that it had formally changed the official Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty (cf:  New revision of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty – Rescriptum “ex Audentia SS.mi”), calling capital punishment “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and deeming it “inadmissible” in all cases.  The same conference of US bishops which Archbishop Gomez presumes to speak for said:

Twenty-five years ago, our Conference of bishops first called for an end to the death penalty. We renew this call to seize a new moment and new momentum. This is a time to teach clearly, encourage reflection, and call for common action in the Catholic community to bring about an end to the use of the death penalty in our land.
(USCCB, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death)

The Catholic Church is clearly against the death penalty, the Republican party and a sizable majority of rank-in-file Republicans support the death penalty:

Republican support for the death penalty currently sits at 76 percent, which is down from 85 percent two decades ago. Republican views on the death penalty have decreased in support far less than the views of their democratic counterparts.

Has Archbishop Gomez spoken out against Republican support for this barbaric practice deeply rooted in the Bible?  Have priests taken to YouTube to condemn the Republican Party or threatened Republican Catholics with damnation to hell?

Of course not.

By making abortion the one issue that supersedes all others, the Catholic Church’s far-Right lunatic fringe encourages simple-minded, fundamentalist-style thinking; it divides the world into US, who represent absolute good, and THEM, who represent pure evil.  The danger of this approach is that Catholics are encouraged to engage in black-or-white thinking.  When religious fanatics consume a steady diet of their own increasingly radical rhetoric, they start believing they’re the only good ones around and that everyone outside their sect is demonic and deserving of scorn and hateful rhetoric.  What’s more, lunatic archbishops, like Gomez in Los Angeles and recently retired (last year) Charles Chaput, the former archbishop of Philadelphia, are fine if their fundamentalism leads to shrinking membership.  How do I know?  Chaput said so; he encouraged liberal and moderate Catholics to leave the Church:

[W]e should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness.

They are likely to get their way.  In the long run, these hardline, un-nuanced positions are driving people away from the Church in record numbers, especially young people who see little of value in an archaic creed which offers them nothing in terms of dealing with the trials and travails of modern life in a pluralistic, democratic society.  As the Catholic Church loses the young, just like many other religions are losing the young, the ultra-conservatives who remain are reinforcing allegiance to unpopular dogmas, hitching their wagon to one party over another.  Ultimately, this makes the Church seem even more out-of-touch and unappealing to the next generation.

political Christianity

Moreover, let us keep in mind the words of our 2nd president and founding father, John Adams:

The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.

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