The Consequences of Papal Priorities
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Jan 06, 2008 at 09:35:46 AM EST
The Catholic Right, Forty-eight in a Series
When I opened up The New York Times on December 26, 2007, I was pleased to see that Pope Benedict XVI used his Christmas Day homily to speak out for a greater environmental awareness.

But as we enter another Presidential Election year, one thought cannot escape this Catholic's mind: a significant portion of this environmental abuse Pope Benedict now bemoans has been greatly enabled by the Vatican's continued pursuit of putting biological issues -particularly its opposition to abortion-- above all others. And in doing so, it has openly assisted in electing American politicos notoriously hostile to Catholic teachings on social justice, the environment and peace.

This observation by the Times was particularly refreshing:

Benedict referred to one early father of the church, Gregory of Nyssa, a bishop in what is now Turkey. "What would he say if he could see the state of the world today, through the abuse of energy and its selfish and reckless exploitation?" the pope asked, according to the Vatican's English translation.

A powerful admonition for a world that may be fast approaching a a point of no return when it comes to global warming. Nor is this the first time this Pope has taken a position that conflicts with a significant portion of his American supporters on the political Right. From the outset, he has expressed his displeasure over the war in Iraq.

But lest we begin to think of Benedict as forward-thinking...  like his neoconservative boosters--he is no fan of what he perceives as modernity. Incumbent in this hostility is his opposition to feminism with its call for reproductive rights. Therein, lies the rub.

From virtually the very moment in the late 1960s when abortion restrictions were rolled back (and especially after the US Supreme Court's 1973 ruling for Roe v. Wade) more neo-orthodox Vatican figures made abortion -- and to a lesser extent homosexuality and stem cell research litmus test issues. These increasingly became the trip wires for censure and excommunication. In contrast, destruction of the economic safety net for the poor as well supporting unilateral wars in defiance of papal disapproval elicits hardly a word of rebuke.

The more reactionary members of the Catholic hierarchy constantly read too much into any issue that clashes with their cloistered philosophies.  Matters of sexuality are readily conflated with "nihilism" and "moral relativism." They fail to grasp that using the fruits of science and the institutions of the state to spread happiness to all is not intrinsically futile, self-defeating, and likely to end in terror and tyranny, as they often imply and sometimes claim outright.  Indeed, unquestioning loyalty to archaic orthodoxies and to their enforcers is much more likely to bring about such ends.

And so out of a combination of fear, reaction and yes, isolation, the faction that now controls the Vatican gives aid and comfort to those who share their dislike of modernity; neoconservatives and others who look disapprovingly upon the Enlightenment and its progeny. They do so at the expense of the natural born mostly for the protection of the fetus and embryo. The Vatican and their allied neo-orthodox Americans such as Richard John Neuhaus have made abortion such a litmus test issue to the points where one's position on "life" is too narrowly defined as "abortion or not." Other "life" issue, such as healthcare insurance for children and curing disease are unjustifiably given the short shrift.  That the hierarchy might now be pulling back slightly from that position does not excuse the radically poor judgment and abandonment of all else.

The Catholic Church is entitled to its opposition to abortion. But what is desperately needed is a better sense of balance. This was once the case when more of the hierarchy shared the common sense of bishops such as Brooklyn's Francis J. Mugavero of whom The New York Times noted at the time of  his 1990 retirement, "...he never deviated from his church's teachings on such issues as abortion and celibacy. But he tended to air his opposition to policies and politicians in private, and to look upon human foibles with charity." Bishop Mugavero wisely observed, "In terms of human services, you've got to be liberal."

Sadly, leaders of Bishop Mugavero's caliber and discretion are increasingly in short supply. They have recklessly chosen to eschew his "liberalism for human services," in favor of quelling dissent within and without Catholicism's ranks. And in doing so the current Pope (as well as his immediate predecessor) have almost wholly abandoned issues of war and peace on a horrific scale - giving these issues not much more than lip service; all this over their continued obsession with the fetus. The disastrous neglect of environmental issues must be laid at the feet of the Church's neo-orthodox. In their open hostility to candidates such as John Kerry in 2004 it can safely be said the Vatican failed to act on global warming because of its misplaced priority in valuing potential life over the well being of flesh and blood human beings -- and for that matter, many other future potential lives.

According to The United Nations' Report on global warming, sea levels could rise an average of four-and-one-half feet. This would obliterate many millions of coastal inhabitants around the world, as well necessary agricultural land. Starvation, homelessness and strife would obviously soon follow for millions, if not billions. When weighed against these foreseeable consequences, abortion and homosexuality pale in comparison. With this in mind it is incomprehensible that the Vatican would approve of excommunicating pro-choice, pro-stem cell research politicians who stand not only for social justice, but taking decisive action on poverty and global warming.

But perhaps the Church's hierarchy might be beginning to see the costs of throwing in their lot with politicians of the American political and Religious Right. If so, perhaps they should either refrain from all political machinations -- or better yet, roundly condemn and move prophetically against those who deny global warming, practice buccaneer economics and wage unnecessary war.

The Catholic Right: A Series, by Frank L. Cocozzelli :
Part One  Part Two  Part Three  Part Four  Part Five  Part Six   Intermezzo   Part Eight   Part Nine  Part Ten   Part Eleven   Part Twelve   Part Thirteen   Part Fourteen   Second Intermezzo   Part Sixteen   Part Seventeen   Part Eighteen   Part Eighteen   Part Nineteen   Part Twenty   Part Twenty-one   Part Twenty-two   Part Twenty-three   Part Twenty-four   Part Twenty-five   Part Twenty-six   Part Twenty-seven   Part Twenty-eight   Part Twenty-nine   Part Thirty   Part Thirty-one   Part Thirty-two   Part Thirty-three   Part Thirty-four   Part Thirty-five   Part Thirty-six   Part Thirty-seven   Part Thirty-eight   Part Thirty-nine   Part Forty   Part Forty-one   Part Forty-two   Part Forty-three   Part Forty-four   Part Forty-five   Part Forty-six   Part Forty-seven

Is this uneven approach, one whereby liberal dissenters are punished while more reactionary ones are usually not even given a slap on the wrist, based upon a single issue obsession or by a desire by some in the Vatican to promote the agenda the recklessly greedy?

As a Catholic, I nope that it is the former and not the latter.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Jan 06, 2008 at 09:38:12 AM EST

I don't know how soon you will see people fighting back, but it's good to know that other people are just as concerned as I have been.

by khughes1963 on Sun Jan 06, 2008 at 04:13:58 PM EST

I'm not a catholic, so I don't exactly have a dog in this fight, but I wonder, what do you need to do to get excommunicated in today's catholic church?  Do liberals who dissent from the Vatican's and heirarchy's party line about abortion and sexuality face the serious possibility of it, or just in areas where  the heirarch is ultra-orthodox (like Nebraska)?  Wikipedia, not exactly the best source of information, has an entry, but it isn't all that helpful.  What is the lay of the land here?  

"I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair" - JFK, Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association
by hardindr on Sun Jan 06, 2008 at 11:43:08 AM EST
...either speak a heresy or challenge an infallible teaching of the Church. The neo-orthodox (under Neuhaus's lobbying) are raising the threat with increasing frequency. For example, Archbishop Burke of St. Louis is pretty quick on the draw in using this tool.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Jan 06, 2008 at 09:08:00 PM EST

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