Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Catholic Bishops

As a person brought up as an Episcopalian, I know something about bishops. The difference between Catholic Bishops and Episcopalian Bishops is that Catholics receive their marching orders from a font of infallible truth, whereas the Episcopalians arrive at their teachings essentially by consensus. Catholic Bishops, in a way, are relieved of a personal responsibility to their flocks by virtue of their subordinate status; that is, they have not to evaluate individual cases, but only to carry the message devised in Rome.

And so, many of them are carrying a message these days, it seems, especially in "swing states" by some odd coincidence. Catholic Bishops are ordering members of the Roman Catholic Church to vote against John Kerry—who definitely is a Catholic, by the way! We will never be able to prove it, but the intrusion of the Catholic Bishops into the political affairs of this country, appears to be a conspiracy, which is, of course, an agreement beforehand to act illegally. The bishops are not doing this on their own, they are under orders from Rome.

The issue is abortion, of course. Abortion is serious. The Roman Catholic Church position is that abortion is never, ever, ever, ever permissible. In the case where the life of the mother is in the balance with the life of the baby, the mother is sacrificed. And, the Catholic position is that a pregnancy at any stage is a life. This idea flies in the face of biology and physiology and medicine, of course, but when did the Catholic Church follow these matters closely! The Catholic position is based on old standards and many will take issue with them. Of course, many Catholics take issue with them. Many Catholics take issue with the surrounding Catholic positions, too, especially on divorce.

The American Catholic Church is part of the Church of Rome. There is no separate sect called American Catholic. Catholic means "universal," after all. What is at stake in the abortion controversy is not reverence for life (as we shall soon see), but rather the discipline within the Catholic Church, the discipline that insures that no separate version of the Church develops in America ... or anywhere else, for that matter. Catholic Bishops are under strict orders from the College of Cardinals and from the Pope to toe the line and permit no variation on these teachings of the Church.

They are only "teachings" of the Church, however, and these teachings are not supported by Biblical references, except ... and this is important ... except that Life is considered sacred. The idea about abortion that is being promulgated was developed relatively recently, since abortion was essentially murder of the pregnant mother until the late 19th and 20th centuries. The Catholic doctrine on abortion corresponds to the much older doctrine on the priority of infant birth over mother's life established largely during the medieval period, by clergy. The celebate clergy knew full well that for the Church to survive it must grow. This idea was carried out in early, middle, and late Christianity (and in Islam) at the point of a sword. In Christianity it was also brought about by the decisions about the duty of married couples to procreate (more or less endlessly), to value the child's life, and to never divorce. To repeat, there is no Biblical reference for these decisions that creates the current regime of intolerance, except for the general reverence for life.

Doubtless, many have noticed that the Catholic Church has had a rather mixed view on the sacredness of life, for capital punishment and war are not considered blasphemies. Just so you will know, there is absolutely no justification for this mixed message, none whatsoever. If you are a Catholic then killing soldiers and foetuses has the same basis in Scripture, but not the same basis in the teaching of the clergy. Same for capital punishment. In both cases, it should be obvious that the significant advantage accruing to the Church from war and capital punishment could not have been applied to foetuses. War extends the territory over which the Church may hold spiritual sway; and, capital punishment provides a solemn warning to those who might break the law and the commandments, but also it is a handy way to get rid of dissidents. And, I guess it is necessary at this point to mention that the Holy Inquisition of the Catholic Church was a murderous century that took no notice whatsoever of the pregnancy status of women it condemned.

The point is and the point always has been that the Catholic Church views life as sacred when it chooses and views it as expendable when it is beneficial to the Church to do that. In the case of American Catholics who, like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, pick and choose their reverence for life among those that are convenient to them for other than religious reasons, the whole debate about abortion resolves inexorably and completely into a matter of discipline within the Church. Kerry represents what we believe are the vast majority of Roman Catholics in America, that is, he sees that there are times when a nation must send its military into the jaws of death—certain death—and times when a criminal has committed such a heinous crime that no hope of reconciliation or correction can atone for the damage done and so their life must be taken, AND consistent with this, that there are times when abortion of a foetus is the right thing to do.

The decision to abort a foetus should be the decision of the mother who bears that foetus. When the mother and father are bonded in marriage or by personal and mutual decision, then the father should have a vote—probably best described as a "minority vote." The decision to abort should not be taken lightly, we think, but we recognize that it is one thing to speculate about these things in the abstract and quite another to be faced with giving birth to the child conceived because of rape, conceived under the hazard of chemical or biological contamination of the development process, or conceived by accident in the face of medical advice to the mother not to bear children, and a number of other reasons, as well. Let us be clear about this: all of these amount to what is known as "birth control." It is, in fact, taking into our own hands the decision on whether a life is to emerge from the conception or not. There will be people, given the wide range of ethics and standards, who will use abortions to make up for precautions that could have been taken in advance. I know that some of these people will be untroubled by their decision, and others will carry with them forever a lurking doubt.

The Catholic Bishops using their pulpits as political stumps and their scepters and orbs as blunt instruments of polical persuasion are hypocrites and are in violation of the extremely important injunction of our nation to maintain a separation of church and state. The penalty for their willful abuse of their spiritual authority, whether they see it for the blatant hypocrisy that it surely is, is the power of taxation. If Kerry wins, then the Department of Justice and the IRS must move forcefully and swiftly to tax the real estate and all the assets of the Roman Catholic Church in America. If Kerry loses, we all lose ... even the Catholics who believe they are being righteous. For there is no liberty and no freedom when the people of a nation are treated as if they are unable to make an important private decision!