The idea that the American Roman Catholic bishops of ALL PEOPLE -- given the actual history of the church on human rights and religious freedom -- are lecturing President Obama and the American people on religious liberty is supremely ironic. The bishops must be counting on Americans' amnesia and/or ignorance of history.
Just about anyone who comes from a Protestant missionary family as I do grew up on horror stories about how the Roman Catholic Church worldwide trampled the religious liberties of all other religions. For instance in my family my mother wrote a bestselling book called "L'Abri" about how our family was kicked out of the Roman Catholic canton of Valais in Switzerland in 1953 because my pastor dad converted a villager to evangelical faith. When my father -- Francis Schaeffer -- later became a leader of the religious right (as I describe in my book Crazy For God) we made common cause with the Roman Catholic Church here in America to fight against abortion rights.
We buried deep seated suspicions in order to win political battles. Put another way our politics came to mean more to us than our religion. What we began in the 1970s and 80s has now come to full fruition in this election year wherein the Roman Catholic Church and the evangelicals are making common cause to beat President Obama at the next election.
But what of the actual issue of religious liberty?
The New York Times (March 3, 20120 "Dolan Urges Catholics to Become More Active in Politics") reported that Dolan was declaring that the bishops' ideological war on President Obama over providing health care to women was really all about "religious liberty."
As the Times noted:
"Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan told Roman Catholics... that in an era when the church was fighting the government on several fronts, they needed to make their voices heard more clearly in the political sphere. Speaking at a diocesan convocation Cardinal Dolan, who is the archbishop of New York and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, 'We are called to be very active, very informed and very involved in politics.'... Cardinal Dolan told the crowd that the government sought to make the church do something 'we find unconscionable.... It is a freedom of religion battle,' he said. 'It is not about contraception. It is not about women's health.' He added: 'We're talking about an unwarranted, unprecedented, radical intrusion into a church's ability to teach, serve and sanctify on its own.' The cardinal mocked a secular culture that 'seems to discover new rights every day.'... Obama officials have pointed to recent polls showing that most Catholics favor the new contraceptive rule... Cardinal Dolan said, 'If you want an authoritative voice, go to the bishops. They're the ones that speak for the truths of the faith.'"
Following Cardinal Dolan's demand that we all "go to the bishops" to learn what the Roman Catholic Church teaches about religious civil liberties, here's what I found (emphasis added) :
- "Heretics may be not only excommunicated, but also JUSTLY PUT TO DEATH." - "Catholic Encyclopedia", Vol. XIV, Page 768
- "The Catholic Church has the RIGHT and DUTY to KILL heretics because it is by fire and sword that heresy can be extirpated. ...The only recourse is to PUT them to DEATH." - Jesuit Dr. Marianus de Luca (Professor of Canon Law at the Georgian University in Rome; 1901)
- "Non-Catholic methods of worshipping God must be branded COUNTERFEIT." - "Living Our Faith", by Flynn, Loretto, and Simon; the widely used RC high school textbook; Page 247)
- "We declare it to be altogether NECESSARY TO SALVATION that every human creature should be subject to the Roman Pontiff." - Pope Boniface VIII
- "Into this fold of Jesus Christ NO ONE can enter if not under the guidance of the Sovereign Pontiff and men can securely reach salvation ONLY when they are united with him, since the Roman Pontiff is the Vicar of Christ and represents His person on this earth." - Pope John XXIII
- "The true Church can tolerate NO strange churches besides herself." - "Catholic Encyclopedia", Vol. XIV, Page 786.
- "Individual liberty in reality is only a deadly anarchy." - Pope Pius XII [pope: 1939-1958]; April 6, 1951
- "It is NOT lawful to demand, to defend, or to grant unconditional freedom of thought, or speech, or writing, or religion, as if these were so many rights given by nature to man." - Pope Leo XIII ("Libertas"; 1903)
- "The absurd and erroneous doctrines or ravings in defense of liberty of conscience, are a MOST PESTILENTIAL ERROR - a PEST, of all others, most to be dreaded in a State." - Pope Pius IX (pope: 1846-1878; Encyclical Letter; August 15, 1854)
- "CURSED be those who assert liberty of conscience and of worship and such that maintain that the [Roman Catholic] Church may not employ FORCE." - Pope Pius IX (pope: 1846-1878; "Syllabus Errorum" of December 1864)
- "FASCISM is the regime that CORRESPONDS MOST CLOSELY to the concepts of the CHURCH OF ROME." - "Civilta Cattolica" (official Jesuit organ)
As the Rev. Joseph Michael McShane, S.J., (a Jesuit priest, noted theologian and the current President of Fordham University and former President of the University of Scranton) wrote in "The Catholic Experience at Taming Pluralism" (Christian Century, April 26, 1989)
"No church benefited more from American religious liberty than the Roman Catholic. In evaluating the American religious settlement, however, Catholics have had to weigh the practical advantages of pluralism against its challenges and ideological difficulties... In describing the situation in America, John Carroll, the first bishop of Baltimore, the bicentennial of whose episcopal election and consecration is also observed this year, told Rome that 'our Religious system has undergone a revolution . . . more extraordinary, than our political one.' A shrewd and patriotic man, Carroll supported the religious revolution as fervently as he did the political one. His status as the leader of a previously persecuted church at least partially explains his enthusiasm for the American religious experiment. To his mind, the First Amendment freed Catholics from the stigma of second-class citizenship and offered the church not only equal status with other churches but protection from enemies and freedom to govern its own affairs... But Carroll also saw that pluralism was a mixed blessing...
"Carroll formulated an ingenious solution to the Catholic dilemma. Perceiving that a pluralistic environment demanded both civil tolerance and theological intolerance, he was convinced that any church that lacked a lively sense of its uniqueness and its necessary role in securing human salvation would fail in the religious marketplace. On the other hand, he realized that competition among religious groups of strong conviction could have disastrous consequences for civic life. Unless the nation was firmly committed to protecting the legal equality of all churches and all believers' freedom of conscience, it would suffer the fate of the Old World, where the civic order was disrupted by persecutions and the natural rights of religious minorities were abridged. Therefore Carroll cautioned against religious convictions that were fanatical, civilly disruptive or politically imperialistic."
Today as a key part of the Republican Party's war on President Obama the bishops like Cardinal Dolan are the very fanatics that Carroll warned against. Now these far right anti-President Obama fanatics want to cry foul because of pluralism itself. They also are trying to start a new war of religion here. They are " fanatical, civilly disruptive or politically imperialistic."
What irks me is that because Americans don't know the history of religion we take Dolan and the rest of the bishops seriously at face value instead of just laughing at them for their hubris in claiming for themselves what they have denied others through history.
How ironic that Dolan and the bishops are claiming "freedom" to impose their will on women. Thus their argument is "we have the religious right to deny what we're demanding for ourselves." And all this is in the service of denying women equality while also trying to destroy an American president.