In a little more than a month, we have had some interesting initiatives from members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, especially its Chairman, His Eminence Cardinal Dolan.
On March 28, Dolan appeared with Bill O’Reilly on the Rupert Murdoch-owned FOX channel. There he launched the fiction that religious liberty is under attack. What an imaginative way to deflect attention from the USCCB’s silence at its conclave several months earlier on issues raised by Jesus regarding “the least among us”; or from Dolan’s own failure to denounce Congressman Paul Ryan’s draconian budget for fiscal 2012; or from the USCCB’s need to turn attention away from the on-going drama of its failures to protect children from pedophile priests. Dolan then appeared on MSNBC on May 2, and, while acknowledging that most Catholics do not accept the contraception teaching of the Church, repeated that he and his colleagues were fighting for religious liberty. To his credit, he did make a strong case for fairer treatment of immigrants. That merely shows that he understands the differences between the Fox and MSNBC audiences, and prefers to tell each what he thinks they want to hear.
Shortly after Dolan’s O’Reilly appearance, and as if to throw a bone to those who truly care about the most vulnerable in our society and the world, the USCCB issued a paper expressing opposition to Ryan’s 2013 budget. Nice. But it received nothing close to the coverage Dolan’s preposterous claim received from his O’Reilly appearance.
Next we learned of the malignant sermon preached by Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria to a group of 500 men in his diocese. His Eminence Dolan had told O’Reilly that he would never tell anyone how to vote because “…even very faithful Catholics, Bill, don’t like their bishops or priests telling them how to vote…” Evidently Jenky doesn’t agree, for he proceeded to excoriate the government of the State of Illinois and “…the current majority of the federal Senate”. But he saved his vilest invective for President Obama, comparing him to Hitler and Stalin. He then went on to say: “This fall, every practicing Catholic must vote….” After the insults tossed at Illinois’ Government, the Democratic majority of the U.S. Senate, and the Democratic President of the U.S., is there any doubt that this man was telling people how to vote? Dolan is either oblivious to his colleagues’ utterances or, what is worse, he knows and chooses instead to try to pull the wool over people’s eyes.
Jenky flailed out at a variety of enemies: “…the hatred of Hollywood, the malice of the media….” This is straight out of Newt Gingrich’s “liberal, elite, media” playbook. But in light of Hollywood’s hatred, how to explain: “The Ten Commandments”, “Quo Vadis”, “Oh God”, “The Passion of the Christ”, and many other religiously oriented films? Do Jenky and Dolan want Hollywood to be the communication arm of the RC church, subject to its censorship? And if there is a media more malicious then the overwhelmingly dominant right-wing talk radio, it’s difficult to find it. Jenky simply doesn’t know what he is talking about; or, what is worse, he does, but instead chooses the role of right-wing propagandist.
Jenky’s diatribe was preached to an all male audience. He described the apostles after Christ’s crucifixion as without faith and “…trembling with terror, behind shuttered windows and locked doors….When the risen Christ suddenly appeared in their midst…” Not once in that presentation did he use the words "woman" or “women”, despite the fact that it was Mary Magdalene who first saw the risen Christ; who came back to the male disciples and told them what she had seen; and whom the men did not believe.
A mere four days after Jenky’s failure to mention women, the Vatican announced its crackdown on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. These are the very people who do the vital work among those whom Ayn Rand devotee Paul Ryan chooses to kick while they are down and whom Dolan failed to mention in his O’Reilly appearance. The Women Religious are to be “reformed”. By whom? An all male committee from the USCCB. Cardinal Dolan assured us on MSNBC that the nuns are loved and greatly appreciated and that the bishops just want to talk to them. Really?
But let's return to Jenky’s assault. Early in his remarks he uses the words “…the invincible power of Almighty God”. Yet as one reads the text, it becomes clear he is more interested in the invincible power of the Roman Catholic Church, which, whatever Jenky believes, is not the same thing. He references the church’s survival through its early years in the Roman Empire. Here it might be useful to note that those were years in which many women played the roles of priests in the Church. He notes its survival through other trials and tribulations. In his diatribe he makes no reference to the obligation given us by Jesus that we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and heal the sick. Neither does he address our endless wars; offer a compassionate word for our millions of immigrants; or reference the victims of discrimination. No. It is for “The Church” that this struggle must be made. So this might be an appropriate question: just which RC church is he referring to? Is it the church of St. Francis, Pope John XXIII, Cardinal Bernardin, Mother Theresa, Pope Leo XIII (who praised unions) and John Paul I (who as Patriarch of Venice credited socialism and unions for improving peoples’ lives)?
Or is Jenky referring to the church of the Inquisition? Or the one that was in bed with the oppressive French aristocracy thereby making itself a target of the French Revolution? That unsavory relationship goes far to explain the attitude of France's World War I Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau, whom Jenky noted was called a “priest eater”.
Or is it the church of Pius IX, who not only gave us the interesting doctrine of Papal infallibility, but also forbade Italian Catholics to participate in Italian politics? That brilliant ban was issued after the success of the Italian Risorgimento which had deprived the RC Church of the “Papal States”. By forbidding Catholics to participate in Italian politics, he contributed to the rise of Mussolini and Fascism.
Or is it the RC Church whose Secretary of State, Eugenio Pacelli, negotiated an agreement with Hitler, but later, as Pius XII, was silent about Hitler’s atrocities?
Or is it the church of His Eminence, the disgraced Bernard Cardinal Law? Or the disgraced Marcial Maciel, founder of Legionaries of Christ? Or the church that waited over 350 years to admit it had wronged Galileo, one of the world’s great scientists, by forcing him to endure house arrest for the remainder of his life.
As for Jenky’s comparison of President Obama to Hitler and Stalin, the very idea condemns Jenky as a bed-fellow of the Rush Limbaughs and Glen Becks of this world. Fitting company for him indeed.
The church Jenky was referring to is the one that has mixed itself up in politics over the centuries with disastrous results. That church does not resemble a church that puts the teachings of Jesus, the Savior, at its pinnacle. Dolan and Jenky are arguing for protection of a hierarchy devoted to preserving its power and maintaining the good will of the right-wing of American politics. There is nothing sacred about that. That is a church willfully choosing to ignore “the vale of tears” in which the least amongst us are increasingly doomed to wander.
Ben Palumbo is a board member of Catholics United.