By Christine M. Flowers
Philadelphia Daily News
I FOUND myself smiling when I heard the usual suspects criticizing the Conference of Catholic Bishops for poking its nose into the health-care debate.
Actually, it was more like a smirk.
When word got out that the mitered ones had lobbied for the Stupak Amendment barring tax subsidies for abortion, which I wrote about last week, pro-choice groups and civil libertarians erupted in anger at this blatant scaling of the barricade separating Church from State.
That was to be expected. The sky, or the wall, is always falling in their universe.
But what I found particularly smirk-inducing was the total silence from these same quarters over recent decades as the Catholic Church threw its weight behind health-care reform. Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Barack Obama could have had no better champion than the leaders of the church who consistently criticized both Republicans and Democrats in Washington for failing to address the needs of the indigent and lower-middle class.
Apparently, when you're on the side of their own particular angels, the First Amendment is irrelevant. But not so when it comes to secular sacraments like abortion and same-sex marriage. If you start messing with those rights, watch out.
Carol Tracy, director of the Women's Law Project, penned a letter to the Inquirer that reads as if it were ripped from an anti-Catholic manifesto:
"How can an institution that permitted and facilitated the sexual abuse of countless numbers of children dare to proclaim what is moral? What has happened to this country's founding principle of separation of church and state? . . . That Congress is accepting the church's mandates is appalling."
Wow. I wonder if Ms. Tracy felt the same way when the church lobbied for the protection of immigrant women who were victims of abuse at the hands of their citizen spouses? Or when it advocated increased funding from the state and federal governments for low-income mothers? Or supported civil rights. Or lobbied for social services for aliens forced to "live in the shadows"?
And that's exactly what I'm talking about - the hypocrisy of those who have no problem with a religion that promotes and advances their own worldview but who are shocked and appalled by its behavior when the bishops have the temerity to speak out against values that they reject.
I actually have more respect for people like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the professional atheists who see only evil in the divine. They, at least, walk the walk and talk the talk, refusing to condone any intrusion of faith into the public square. While I'm repelled by their myopic perspective on religion, at least they're honest enough to wish a plague on all of our houses of worship.
Then you have the politicians like St. Nancy Pelosi, who bows to kiss Pope Benedict's ring like a good Catholic schoolgirl but fights tooth and manicured nail to make sure abortion remains universally available.
That's fine if you simply say, "I reject the fundamental teachings of my church." But Madame Speaker has decided to be a theologian in addition to a legislator and has actually taken it upon herself to tell the bishops where the church really stands on this issue. (Is there Latin for chutzpah?)
The point is, you can't have it both ways. Either you criticize the church for getting its cassocks dirty in the fight for health-care reform, in which case you also tell it to shut up when it condemns the death penalty, the war in Iraq and the persecution of immigrants.
Or, you praise it for promoting a liberation theology in which the poor must be raised up and innocent life protected, and accept its right to principled and unwavering opposition to abortion.
The problem is, too many people want to have their Eucharist and eat it, too. They are happy to embrace the bishops when it suits their secular purposes, but turn on them when they stray from liberal orthodoxy.
There's an almost patronizing attitude among non- and recovering Catholics these days. I was traveling on the R5 a few days ago, and overheard a conversation between two women, one apparently an Episcopalian minister, the other Catholic. They were involved in a discussion of the flaws of Catholicism.
THE PHRASE that struck me came from the minister: "The difference between Episcopalians and Catholics is that we don't force you to leave your brain at the door."
Apparently, the church's health-care critics don't want the bishops to leave their brains at the door.
Just their principles.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.