Catholic Remonstrance Now!
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Nov 23, 2009 at 09:29:52 AM EST
Lately, the Catholic Right has unabashedly sought to impose its will on society.  From its recent advocacy against marriage equality in Maine; to the inquisition of American nuns who challenge Vatican hard-liners; and now the U.S Bishops who have threatened to sabotage health care reform unless they got their way on abortion policy in the House version of the legislation.

As a Catholic, I am beyond frustration with Church leaders and lay persons who seek to replace American pluralism with an ultra-orthodox form of Catholic morality. I say it is time for remonstrance from mainstream Catholics.

Remonstrance is a word that has gone out of fashion. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary offers this definition:

Main Entry: re·mon·strance
Pronunciation: ri-_män(t)-str_n(t)s\
Function: noun
Date: 1585
1 : an earnest presentation of reasons for opposition or grievance; especially : a document formally stating such points_2 : an act or instance of remonstrating

I think it is a word that best expresses what we need to do now, in the face of an emboldened Catholic Right, and drawing on the vital tradition of religious liberty in America.

Perhaps the most famous use of remonstrance was in the title of one of the key documents of religious freedom in American history. James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. Fortunately for us, more than 200 years later, it still contains the very logic we need to square Christian faith with religiously plural society; and the wisdom we need to address the dangers of the Catholic Right.

Madison's Remonstrance was written in response to a bill, introduced into the General Assembly of Virginia shortly after the American Revolution. The legislation, supported by a faction led by Patrick Henry, would have required the state's citizens to pay an annual assessment to a denomination of their choosing, for the support of religious instructors.  (The legislation was defeated and instead the General Assembly enacted Jefferson's Bill for Religious Liberty.")  Memorial and Remonstrance was widely distributed throughout Virginia in the campaign to defeat Henry's bill.

Over two hundred years later Madison's manifesto is still relevant, particularly in light of the course being charted by reactionaries both within the United States as well as within the Vatican.

A mind-numbing fundamentalism has taken hold in Mother Church; one that replaces the thoughtful discussion of new ideas with the all-too-casual howling condemnation of heresy. Reason and respect is being replaced with outdated orthodoxies and intolerance. Increasingly, a police-state mentality is taking hold.

As an American Catholic, I believe the warning signs are ominous. Catholic reactionaries held up the federal oversight and funding of embryonic stem cell research for eight years with the help of the administration of George W. Bush -- research that had the support of both the majority of Americans (including Catholics) and other faiths. With a sense of misplaced priorities, the Knights Columbus spends millions to fight marriage equality while Catholic schools are closed down for a lack of funds. We see parishes without priests forced to close down, but when nuns step up to seek ordination they and their supporters are denounced as heretics.  And when Catholic politicians vote their conscience in support of reproductive rights, Church leaders go so far as to use the sacraments as a political weapon by publicly denying them participation in the ritual.

Such Catholic Right leaders as George Weigel, Deal Hudson, Bishop Robert Finn and Cardinal Raymond Burke would have church and state entangle themselves to the point where each could strangle the other.

Madison warned us against this. He observed, for example, that the Roman Empire persecuted Christianity for three hundred years -- while the faith grew by leaps and bounds. And when the Empire and Christianity became united as one, corruption of power and ego set in.

These are reasons why Madison warned against the establishment of any one faith, let alone a single sect of Christianity:

"It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties... Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? That the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever."

But the reactionaries who call themselves Catholic seem unable to see that some things are truly the province of God and not government.  But Madison did:

Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offence against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered.

Similarly, these same reactionaries are unable to trust the merits of their own faith and seek to use the power of government to enforce their notions of "the truth." Once again, Madison understood the problem:

Nay, it is a contradiction in terms; for a Religion not invented by human policy, must have pre-existed and been supported, before it was established by human policy. It is moreover to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.

Meanwhile, those of us who are uneasy about reactionary trends in the Church have yet to coalesce. There are those who do bravely speak up. But I believe that there are many more who remain silent not as much out of a sense of fear of retribution but more out of a sense of no support.

While many are tempted to just walk away, I say that doing so only empowers the reactionaries of the Catholic Right. It is exactly what they want.  In fact, it is their plan for conquest through schism. They want those of us who embrace religious pluralism in society and liberalization within the Church to leave a global religion, with its well-organized hierarchy and diplomatic nation-state status, and massive resources, property and prestige -- solely in their hands.

I say that now is the time for rank-and-file Catholic to revive the idea of remonstrance, and draw on the wisdom of James Madison, who provides us with timeless tools with which to understand and to combat theocratic wannabes.  In this way, we can disrupt the disrupters, not rudely or condescendingly but with dignity and firmness.

Our remonstrance can help us confront clergy who use the pulpit as a vehicle to seek to restrict the rights and the freedom of conscience of others. Our remonstrance can remind the media that the dogmatically orthodox do not speak for Catholics, or for Catholicism, but for themselves. And our remonstrance can remind our elected officials that their allegiance is to safeguard the religious liberty of all from an increasingly out of touch Church hierarchy.

And our remonstrance is just the beginning.

Now is the time for bold action. Surrender or grudging compliance is unacceptable. Resistance in the form of a loyal thoughtfulness that seeks reform, not overthrow, is the only acceptable course of action. Arrogance and intolerance are our opponents' way, not ours'. But all the same, it is bold action that will give our remonstrance collective strength.

Our bold action will strengthen the hand of our allies within the hierarchy and hearten those clergy who are waiting to speak out for the Church we believe in. We will rebuke the reactionaries. Some of us may pay a price for our actions.  But sometimes such prices must be paid in order to achieve progress.

There will be those who read this and accuse me of being ant-Catholic. But nothing can be further from the truth. I am a Catholic who desires a vibrant Church, one that exemplifies the tolerant, dissenting, and inquisitive nature of its Founder.  I understand that a Catholicism that uses oppression via secular government to enforce its dogmas is itself insecure in its own position.  And I know that when any one set of religious beliefs become dominant over others then the free practice of all faiths  is also threatened.

That is why I am calling for remonstrance - now!




Display:
Rep. Patrick Kennedy is paying the price for his allegiance to a pluralistic society - ironically, the very type of society that allows Catholicism to flourish. Kennedy is another Catholic politician being denied Communion for his support of reproductive rights. Can the denial of Last Rites and a Catholic burial be that far off?

Speak out and demand that priests just ignore Kennedy's bishop and others like him who would use the Sacraments this casually as a political tool.

And if these hardliners want to fight "a culture of death," they should start with former US Senator Rick Santorum and others like him who took a ton of campaign contributions from the tobacco industry.


by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Nov 23, 2009 at 09:33:35 AM EST

to ultra-conservative Catholicism? (Clarence Thomas, Bobby Jindal, Newt Gingrich, Alan Keyes etc) I can think of many more valid places to start fighting the "culture of death." War would be a good one. How about denying  communion to any politician who voted for preemptive war? Are the lives of hundreds of thpousand of Iraqi civilians who probably just wanted to be left alone worth any less than those of fetuses?

by anastasia p on Mon Nov 23, 2009 at 07:11:08 PM EST
Parent
Santorum went from mainstream Catholicism to being an Opus Dei cooperator.

I believe he attends Church at the traditionalist (Latin Mass) parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Virginia.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Nov 23, 2009 at 07:31:30 PM EST
Parent




However, the reactionary bishops appear to have grabbed the bully pulpit, and I do mean bully. The less reactionary bishops are apparently averse to advertising their disagreements in public. Dioceses don't have enough money, they claim, to keep open schools and parishes, but they can send a ton of money to fight recognition of same-sex relationships.

by khughes1963 on Mon Nov 23, 2009 at 12:32:26 PM EST
...to start doing something more significant; something that sends the message that we're not rolling over and taking it anymore.

It's time to speak up. Silence is no longer an option.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Nov 23, 2009 at 03:46:01 PM EST
Parent

If Catholics do not speak out now, I fear that the mergers of the other Christian far-right sects with the power base of the Catholic right will be a potent force for intolerance and continued attacks on the wall.

I bet the ideologues connected to "The Family" are rubbing their hands together in glee when they see how well the battle is going for their side.

by trog69 on Mon Nov 23, 2009 at 10:30:50 PM EST
Parent


...To become an atheist. :)

by kaori on Mon Nov 23, 2009 at 06:57:34 PM EST
Parent
and not very thoughtful riposte. So, if I run into a corrupt, greedy, power-hungry, destructive atheist (there are some, you know), do I get to say he's an example of why atheism has failed and people should be pressured to join churches? No particular belief system has a monopoly on ethical behavior but no one individual or group of individuals is prove any belief system is invalid.

by anastasia p on Mon Nov 23, 2009 at 07:15:56 PM EST
Parent

is certainly not in the spirit of the site guidelines and terms of service. On this site, we respect one another, whether we are Christian or non-Christian, religious or non-religious.  Everyone who shares the site's purpose is welcome and can expect an environment that reflects that spirit.


by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Nov 23, 2009 at 09:28:42 PM EST
Parent



or at least being quiet and going along with the hierarchy become sort of a requirement for promotion to bishop under John Paul II? I've read a couple of different books that claimed that any priest who rocked the boat was unlikely to rise in the church.

by anastasia p on Mon Nov 23, 2009 at 07:12:55 PM EST
Parent
JP II was looking for "company men" who would go along with his more traditionalist outlook. What it got us were bishops who concealed sexual abuse and then called the press anti-Catholic when the press exposed it (Cardinal Law, anyone?) Tobin's recent outburst is an example of the hierarchy's only wanting uncritical news of the institution. Some of Catholicism's strongest critics are cradle Catholics, and there are many of us who wish the bishops would get out of allying themselves with the Religious Right and the rightists in the Republican Party, and that those bishops that disagree with the institutional church's allying itself with the most reactionary elements in American politics would speak out. As it is, it is often left to the laity to do this.

BTW, I wonder if the traditionalists really understand that their parish, St. Catherine of Siena, was named after a woman who was strongly critical of the institutional church of her time. She was upset at the schism that rent the church in the 14th century and called for the papacy to return to Rome.

by khughes1963 on Mon Nov 23, 2009 at 09:25:37 PM EST
Parent




Whether we are talking about Catholic, Jewish, or Mainline Protestant leaders, it is difficult to understand the extreme choices that many are making in order to partner with the political Right. Some leaders think nothing of rejecting and isolating their own, but will embrace Religious Right leaders who openly disparage and demonize their faith and plot to convert them.

A Kennedy who has been a lifelong Catholic can be told to quit taking communion, while simultaneously Catholic leaders partner with Religious Right demagogues who televise sermons claiming that Catholicism is the apostate church of the end times and belittle Catholic practice and doctrine. The same thing is happening with Jewish leaders who pander to the Religious Right.  There is something terribly wrong with these priorities.  

by Rachel Tabachnick on Mon Nov 23, 2009 at 11:29:51 PM EST



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