The Catholic Right: Intermezzo
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 04:48:03 PM EST
Let us return to where we began:

"The great tragedy of Spain was that in the nineteenth century the working masses apostatized from the Church, as Pope Plus X once remarked.  And, it is well to remember, it was poverty, destitution and injustice which made them apostatize. They got to hate the Church because they hated the friends of the Church, who exploited them and whom the Church did nothing to rebuke or correct.  The words of Pope Leo XIII 45 years ago went unheeded and his great encyclical Rerum Novarum was neglected.

The lesson of all this for us is that we should meet the evil of Communism not merely by denouncing it, and not at all by stigmatizing as communistic all fundamental reforms.  We must attack the main causes of Communism.  Among these are poverty, insecurity and inequitable distribution of wealth and income.  Failure to remove these evils will do more to strengthen Communism than all the propaganda and all the "boring-in" methods of the organized Communist movement."

                             Rev. Wilfrid Parsons, S.J., 1936
At this point in the series it is a good idea to take a brief time to explain a few things, mostly where it will be going next and to clear up some loose ends that may have resulted from the first six segments.

The Purpose of the Series

There is one overriding goal of this series and it is to identify certain actors outside of the mainstream Right who are abusing Catholicism for purely political purposes. As a Catholic myself, I have come to know that there are some in my church who will stop at nothing less than establishing a Catholic theocracy in the United States. Using a two front approach, they will employ the Institute on Religion and Democracy to transform the mainline Protestant churches while using the Catholic League and well-placed Opus Dei leadership to condemn those Catholics who loyally dissent on non-infallible teachings. They will play fast and loose with the truth to succeed on matters from stem cell research to pedophilia.(i)  As a fiercely proud Catholic American I find such actions to be abhorrent.

As the series unfolds, I will also continually try to shed some light upon a very misunderstood dynamic: Catholicism and liberalism. While trying to identify nefarious actors in the Church, I also want to identify those of my faith who can be counted on to refute these arrogant authoritarians. For every George Weigel there is both a Garry Wills as well as a Father Charles Curran, for every Phyllis Schlafly there is a Sister Joan Chittister as well as Sister Karol Jackowski and for every Pope Benedict XVI there is a Pope John XXIII as well as a Cardinal Walter Kasper .

Catholic political thought is not as monolithically authoritarian as either the Catholic League or Opus Dei would have you believe. In fact, there are many inconsistencies in their arguments. As Sister Joan Chittister has often noted their definition of being "pro-life" is nothing more than being "pro-birth. Once born, individuals become fair play for tobacco merchants, being used as fodder for expeditions of unilateralist empire and then cast as economic commodities denied a   a living wage. Some of their number have even put together an enemies list of progressive Catholics. These ultra-traditionalists hypocritically reject the very Catholic notion of communal responsibility solely to hype outrage against what are at best, attenuated examples of anti-Catholicism. Such exaggerated examples are then conveniently directed at "immoral liberals" to help elect supposedly "moral (i.e., non-mainstream) conservatives.

It should also be understood that many politically mainstream conservative Catholics are simultaneously religious liberals. I know numerous Catholics who support the GOP on tax cuts and deregulation but who are pro-choice as well as pro-embryonic stem cell research. Many of these same folks vehemently disagree with the Vatican on not letting clergy marry, birth control and the terrible shell game it is playing with pedophile priests. Much like their more liberal co-religionists they demand accountability from a privileged hierarchy.

The Abuse of Privilege

The afore-mentioned Sister Karol Jackowski has pinpointed the issue that drives much of the corruption the ultra-traditionalist "Church within a church:" privilege. And it is not a privilege born of meritorious achievement, but from undemocratic authority. Unfortunately there are still Catholics who oppose the separation of church and state, hoping for a day when an increasingly orthodox Vatican has the final say on American morality. Conservatives of a more libertarian bent may well resist societal change, but they also fear "Caesarism;" the concentrated power in the hands of a privileged few. This is one group of Catholics who should be natural allies in containing the agents of theocracy.

And it is privilege in the hands of unaccountable leadership that should be predominant argument against theocracy. Any institution, religious or otherwise that is not accountable for its harmful actions is a threat to democracy. Just as crime in the streets prevents the small business owner from safely operating his enterprise or as corporate crime erodes large market confidence, an unaccountable clergy leaves our most vulnerable citizens--our children--in a state of insecurity.

For far too long, a small number of ultra-orthodox Roman Catholics have been making their pundit appearances on the cable news circuit, often venting non-mainstream opinions on private-sphere issues as if they spoke for Catholics everywhere. Cable news program hosts never question them about their political activity with organizations such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy. As a Catholic, I hope to use this series to pull back the curtain on some of these folks so that the American public cannot only understand their true agenda, but how it is out of whack with Catholics teachings. The Catholic Right's leadership too often uses religion as a tool to get working and middle-class Catholics, as well as other citizens, to vote against their economic self-interests. But then again this is the common thread that runs through the leadership of the Religious Right.

All of my ancestors came from Southern Italy. It was then, and in many parts, still is one of the poorest regions in Europe. In that part of the world, the church hierarchy often consorted with "the nefarious friends" described by the opening quote by the Jesuit Priest Wilfred Parsons in of part one of this series. One of the reasons my ancestors came to this country was to escape a world where the church's hierarchy acted as a quasi-official arm of the government. As Dr. Richard Gambino wrote about the Italian-American experience:

In the Mezzogiorno the major force of the Church was  for centuries allied with the exploitive landowning class. In fact the Church was the single largest landowner, owning fabulous acreages of land until the government of the newly unified nation of Italy forcibly confiscated them in 1873. The clergy more often than not regarded its interests as identical with those of the propertied class. In addition, many of the clergy, especially the upper hierarchy were the scions of lattifondo and galantuomo families (ii)

I believe as Reverend Parsons did in 1936, the greatest threat of apostasy is not from those who seek to rectify "...poverty, insecurity and inequitable distribution of wealth and income," but from those who will use religious institutions such as the name of the Catholic Church to continue such injustice. And in studying this question over many years I have concluded that many on the non-mainstream Right believe that the best way to continue such economic injustice is to dress it in religious garb and stifle dissent. Theocracy is a very useful instrument in such a scenario. Folks such as William Donohue, John Neuhaus and George Weigel are all very adept at taking any justified criticism of the church and spinning in a manner so that it will be framed as an attack on faith. It is a deliberate blurring of the lines designed to intimidate complicators.

If both the Catholic Right and the extreme Protestant Right succeed in infusing their commonly held orthodoxies into our secular laws, then a theological showdown of sorts could easily follow. Allies would then become enemies, fighting over whose subjective version of "the truth" will prevail as the one privileged truth. And as Jonathon Hutson and others have demonstrated in their exposes on the video game Left Behind: Eternal Forces conversion at gunpoint is far from off the table.

Just imagine the consequences. Domestic tranquility would then be severely endangered. Prosperity and upward mobility would be held hostage to violence and internal strife. Businesses would cease to function and interstate commerce would be disrupted. A theological showdown could be very, very messy. A reign of interfaith violence rivaling "the troubles" of Belfast, Bosnia in the 1990s or of Beirut of just twenty years ago cannot be ruled out.

And that is why the Founding Fathers desired the separation of church and state. Well, 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. If we fail to understand this, the result could be a time in the future where fundamentalist Protestantism and Opus Dei Catholicism would square off against each to decide whose Christianity will be imposed upon the national will. And if such a battle comes, it will all be about which religious orthodoxy obtains the highest position of privilege.

Those who oppose the church and state demarcation clearly are willing to take a step into a more dangerous world. The Founding Fathers clearly wanted to avoid the earlier problems of Europe where Catholics and Protestants persecuted each other with horrible ferocity, or for that matter, a central Europe of the 1930's, replete with its poisonous anti-Semitism. It is here where liberals, secular and religious alike, need to make their stand. By doing so, religion will not be defaced, but will instead be honored, respected and freely practiced.

Coming Installments

But as we know, the best way to go toe-to-toe with a determined foe is to know both his strength and weaknesses. To that end, this series will continue to research and inform about the "nefarious friends" of the Church's hierarchy that make up the Catholic Right. In the weeks to come I will profile Thomas Monaghan, Father Frank Pavone and his organization, Priests for Life, among others. But first a closer look will be taken at Carlism, the very anti-democratic philosophy often found at the heart of much of the Catholic Right. And it is in Carlism its members' agenda can be truly understood.

The Catholic Right: A Series, by Frank Cocozzelli :  Part One  Part Two  Part Three   Part Four  Part Five  Part Six


(i)  Opus Dei's founder taught his followers to put away their scruples in his bookThe Way, Nos. 258 and 259, seemingly teaching that the ends always justify the means.

(ii)  Dr. Richard Gambino, Blood of My Blood, pages 229-230. The Mezzogriono is comprised of the provinces both east and south of Rome, including Sicily, Lattifondi is the landowning class while the galantuomo was the nobility.

It is my hope that this series will show that Catholicism is not a monolithic political force in America. As an exstension of that idea, I believe that much of the Religious Right's stregnth can be neutralized by first understanding the political power of dissenting Catholic. If the Catholic Right is exposed not the true voice of American Catholics, it begins to become less influential.
A more important tool however, is to begin discussing what would happen to society if both the Catholic Right and the Protestant Right were to fight it out for the privilege of imposing its subjective morality as law.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 04:51:53 PM EST

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