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Office Pool: How Long Before James Scahill is Defrocked?

April 13th, 2010 4 comments

I’m guessing three weeks. Scahill had the temerity to say what many sensible lay people are saying: The Pope must go. But Scahill is a priest. Read this article and be amazed at the directness and truth that Scahill spoke. I was particularly surprised at his clear and direct repudiation of the canard that the gossipy media are somehow to blame for the scandal:

“I have met with countless victims of abuse. I have lives I can relate this to, and you know anyone with an ounce of intelligence knows the media has not created this scandal,” he said. “The institutional church has brought this onto themselves.”

Is this the first rupture in the dam of damn lies and misdirection? Don’t count on it; this is the Catholic Church, after all, with an enviable reputation for circling any and all wagons, and for exorcising not just Satan, but any other demons who disagree with the Holy Father. As evidence, consider the backwards response by Scahill’s bishop:

Bishop Timothy McDonnell, whose diocese includes Scahill’s parish, said it was a sad irony that Scahill gave his sermon on Divine Mercy Sunday, “a day on which the church throughout the world re-affirms Christ’s forgiveness, reconciliation and mercy towards all his followers.”

So Scahill was supposed to forgive…whom? Pope Benedict? Before that, how about if the Holy See could see its way to asking forgiveness for its manifold transgressions?

The Best Defense

March 29th, 2010 No comments

With their carefully fortified ramparts collapsing around them, some Catholic bishops have sought to divert attention to demonizing “homosexuals.” See if this one works for you:

The bishop of the city of Tursi has declared homosexuals should not receive communion or be given funerals.

In an interview published last Friday on pontifex.roma.it, a website created to ‘prove and defend Christianity’, Bishop Francesco Nolè declared that ‘irregulars’ such as criminals and homosexuals should not be given communions or funerals. This, he said, is not to be seen as discrimination, but rather as ‘healthy medicine’ for those close to the person: “Our behaviour, which could be perceived as mean or cruel, in the long-run often heals and evangelises.”

He added: “We must have the courage and tact, perhaps first informing the individual, or the families if he has passed, that it’s not possible to administer a communion or funeral. We would perhaps pray for his soul, which must be done.”

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His Holiness [sic] and the “Pro-life” Canard

March 20th, 2010 1 comment

I was Catholic, but only by circumstance, and that was a very long time ago. I didn’t so much leave the Catholic Church as I lost interest in all churches and in organized religion, generally. But it should be said that my experience growing up in the stultifying, boring Church didn’t exactly awaken whatever religious feeling I might otherwise have had. And my family was very low-key about it: No Catholic school, limited instruction in doctrine, little evidence of it at home. We went to Church most Sundays, unless there were swim meets in the way. But that’s about it.

For me, then, leaving the Church was easy and not even so much the product of a conscious decision. It’s more like I would have needed to decide to be a Catholic, rather than not to.

Yet growing up around all of that ritual and history had some effect on me, notably that I follow and in some way care about what the Church is doing more than I otherwise would. Most of the time, I’m either amazed or appalled (or both), but then there are the occasions when the socially progressive, charitably inclined part of what the Church is supposed to champion reminds me that it’s not all one-way traffic to Hell (to use one of their favorite scare words, among many).

Lately, the Church has been in the news and mostly for terrible reasons. The unfolding horror of the sex scandals in Ireland and Germany,1 which have — let’s face it — implicated His Holiness [sic] in the cover-up is just the most dramatic of the stuff coming through the wire. There’s also the benighted response by the Diocese in D.C. in response to marriage equality (ending health benefits to employees’ spouses, discontinuing their foster care program), and the expulsion of pre-schoolers from the Sacred Heart of Jesus (remember him?) because their parents were lesbians. Add to that the bishops’ opposition to the Senate health care reform bill on the ground that it doesn’t do enough to make abortion even more difficult to obtain, and I’m left to say: Enough already.

Just in time, other voices in the Church have come forward to call the bishops on their slick, “pro-life” (read: anti-life) rhetoric. The Catholic Health Association (CHA), which describes itself as “the nation’s largest group of not-for-profit health care sponsors, systems, and facilities,” has taken on the bishops’ abstract, disembodied, and disconnected opposition to the health care reform effort. Here’s why:

The insurance reforms will make the lives of millions more secure, and their coverage more affordable. The reforms will eventually make affordable health insurance available to 31 million of the 47 million Americans currently without coverage.

CHA has a major concern on life issues. We said there could not be any federal funding for abortions and there had to be strong funding for maternity care, especially for vulnerable women. The bill now being considered allows people buying insurance through an exchange to use federal dollars in the form of tax credits and their own dollars to buy a policy that covers their health care. If they choose a policy with abortion coverage, then they must write a separate personal check for the cost of that coverage.

There is a requirement that the insurance companies be audited annually to assure that the payment for abortion coverage fully covers the administrative and clinical costs, that the payment is held in a separate account from other premiums, and that there are no federal dollars used.

In addition, there is a wonderful provision in the bill that provides $250 million over 10 years to pay for counseling, education, job training and housing for vulnerable women who are pregnant or parenting. Another provision provides a substantial increase in the adoption tax credit and funding for adoption assistance programs.

An association of nuns, representing 59,00o sisters, agrees and amplifies, from the point of view of those actually providing health services to the poor (compare the bishops):

We have witnessed firsthand the impact of our national health care crisis, particularly its impact on women, children and people who are poor. We see the toll on families who have delayed seeking care due to a lack of health insurance coverage or lack of funds with which to pay high deductibles and co-pays. We have counseled and prayed with men, women and children who have been denied health care coverage by insurance companies. We have witnessed early and avoidable deaths because of delayed medical treatment.

The health care bill that has been passed by the Senate and that will be voted on by the House will expand coverage to over 30 million uninsured Americans. While it is an imperfect measure, it is a crucial next step in realizing health care for all. It will invest in preventative care. It will bar insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It will make crucial investments in community health centers that largely serve poor women and children.

[T]his is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it….

Did this get Bark Stupak to rethink his position? What do you think? Perhaps because of unpleasant experiences with Catholic nuns in school (write your own joke), he blathered about getting his “pro-life” guidance not from them but from the bishops and organizations like Focus on the Family — the same group that has this advice for parents who find that spanking isn’t working: “The spanking may be too gentle. If it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t motivate a child to avoid the consequence next time. A slap with the hand on the bottom of a multidiapered thirty-month-old is not a deterrent to anything. Be sure the child gets the message….”

If health care reform doesn’t pass tomorrow, it will be because Stupak has been able to hold on to enough fellow slavish devotees of the simplistic pro-life legislators. They should listen to the people who actually deliver health care services. If they did, they might take a position that is actually pro-life; instead of “pro-life,” complete with ironic quotations.

  1. There’s been great coverage of the issue over at the Daily Dish.

Marking Equality Milestones in DC, Maryland

March 3rd, 2010 No comments

Today we mark another milestone on the superhighway to full equality, as DC began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The District joins five states, and, although progress has otherwise slowed for the time being, who can seriously doubt that before long this struggle will be in the rear-view mirror?

There’s always something to drag it down, though. Although the Catholic Archdiocese in D.C. didn’t carry through on its empty, bullying threat to leave the city (and the many poor and homeless it serves) were the law to take effect, it did pull this stunt:

[A]n important change to [Catholic Charities] group health care benefit plan…will take effect on March 2, 2010 due to a change in the law of the District of Columbia. [T]he existing health coverage of current employees will not be affected…. New employees and current employees requesting revisions in benefit coverage will be affected by this change.

Catholic Charities will continue to honor the health plan coverage that current employees have as of March 1, 2010. As of March 2, a new plan will be in effect that will cover new employees and requests for benefit changes by current employees….[S]pouses not in the plan as of March 1, will not be eligible for coverage in the future.

Read their lips: No new spouses — gay or straight. That’s one way of complying with the law allowing same-sex unions. Another, more humane approach that would also have allowed them to stick to their principles would have been to allow each employee to designate one other adult for coverage (isn’t this fairer anyway?), or just to give each employee a certain number of health care insurance dollars to spend. That Catholic Charities instead chose to freeze out every newly married couple strongly suggests that the Church wanted to have its principles and its money, too. This is the cheaper alternative, but of course the Church doesn’t even cite that plain fact.

Well, sorry to spoil the party. It really is a great day in DC, and derivatively in Maryland, as well. As Chris Geidner authoritatively reported last week, that state’s Attorney General recently opined that the state’s supreme court, were it called upon to decide the issue, would rule that out-of-state, same-sex marriages should be recognized. Thus, just as New Yorkers may go to any of several neighboring jurisdictions to marry (CT, MA, VT, or a place called “Canada”), so too may Maryland residents (Marylanders? Marylandites?) now cruise into nearby DC, get married, and then call themselves married back home. The importance of this right hasn’t been sufficiently appreciated. While it’s a nuisance to get them in MD and NY, marriage rights are now available in seven states, as well as in DC.

The slog towards equality continues. As the next post shows, though, it doesn’t run in an unbroken line.

The Catholic Church in D.C. Outdoes Itself

November 12th, 2009 No comments

Just this morning, I was at thinking that it might be time to write a few words in praise of the Catholic Church. Of course, it’s hard for me to do that given (1) my own history as a conscriptee (until old enough to opt out); (2) the Church’s stand on same-sex unions; and (3) Pope Benedict XVI, whose public-health-defying pronouncements on the use of condoms are only the most visible evidence of his complete detachment from reality.

Yet the Church favors expanding health care to the poor, and has long offered a range of social services to underserved populations. I recall hearing Chai Feldblum, a rather insistent LGT rights advocate (who’s lately been tapped for a position on the EEOC), giving the Church props for its work with D.C.’s poor. (This is the thanks she gets for working with the Church on these issues.)

Yet it’s precisely those poor who the Church has just announced it’s willing to put at risk, and for the most offensive reason I can imagine. According to this story, if D.C. enacts  marriage equality legislation, the Church will pull its social services out of the District, thereby leaving 68,000 of the city’s poorest residents high and dry. (At least until another agency steps in; as Emma Ruby-Sachs reminds us, most of the money doesn’t come from the Church itself.)

Why would they do this, especially if the finished legislation retains the substantial “religious liberty” exemption that’s expected to be included in the next draft? Under that exemption, the Church could cheerfully discriminate against same-sex couples by refusing to do anything to facilitate or recognize their unions — such as renting space that they otherwise rent to any and all comers.

So what’s the problem? The Church is “afraid” it would have to extend health benefits to the legal, same-sex spouses of gays and lesbians under the law.

Where to start? It seems that the Church should welcome the chance to provide health benefits to anyone. Does it really want to take the position that someone should go without coverage rather than provide it? Is the Church’s commitment to ideological purity so strong that it swamps all other concerns?

It needn’t come to this. Why doesn’t the Church simply change its policy to allow any employee to designate one additional person to receive health benefits? (This would be fairer to all employees, btw.) The person could be anyone in need of health benefits: an elderly sibling, a poor friend, or…a same-sex partner. By recasting the eligibility criteria, the Church could both expand the pool of those covered and avoid doing something that its steely principles don’t otherwise allow.

I hope that someone reads this and considers such a move, but I suspect they won’t consider such a change. The Church has found a cudgel to use against marriage equality, and it won’t be inclined to think of something that could avoid the issue. Lawmakers should not be intimidated by the Church, though. Pass the bill, and then let the Church explain to the tens of thousands of homeless and other needy residents why it couldn’t find some way around its dogma, and why caring for them is less important than refusing to provide health benefits to same-sex partners.

You think the Church has a P.R. problem now?