Friday, June 29, 2007

The Marginalized: O'Malley and Chums

The heavy hands of hate and control jerked back bloodied after three years of struggle here. One decisive point came on June 14th, when the anti-marriage-equality forces lost a struggle to stop same-sex marriage here.

This is a first in a series on those who lost the battle and combined with their other follies have marginalized themselves in Massachusetts. Today, it's the Roman Catholic hierarchy here.

For non-Roman Catholics and for non-military/non-bureaucracy sorts there is no real understanding. These were badly chosen battles doomed to failure and with long-term consequences. The local archdiocese head, Sean Cardinal O'Malley, became the front man for a series of loaded political moves. He lost big time and that has further marginalized an organization already in decline.

The RC Church has faced loss of membership, swings in contributions, and a deep, old and wide clergy sex-abuse scandal. It has been closing churches, and unable to replace their retiring, dying and occasionally jailed priests. The previous archbishop skipped out of town with the law sniffing his trail. In short, it was badly in need to good planning, good execution and good PR.

Marching Orders

Instead, it got what appears to be very bad orders from the newish Pope Benedictus XVI, né Joseph Alois Ratzinger. Let's put aside that Benny the Rat, as we are wont not too respectfully to call him, is a caricaturist's delight; that's not his fault.

However, we can all hold him accountable for his hard-line orders that he hands the troops. That nice talk of inclusion and tolerance by the past couple Popes? Forget it. Let's think right/wrong, good/evil, his way/highway.

Given the structure of the Church, it's no surprise who calls the shots. However,
Sean Cardinal O'Malley knows better and has lived better personally. In D.C. in particular, he fit the mold of a leftist, activist priest in the Liberation Theology pattern. He squatted with the poor and participated in rent strikes, for example.

Yet, the political nature of the RC Church at bishop level and above is undeniable. Further limiting action is the extreme hierarchical structure -- God to Pope to Cardinals and Archbishops and on down. Rules are rules. Oh, yeah, and there's that infallibility of doctrinal interpretation thing.

There's no question that the papal election itself is highly political. Unlike a Monty Python skit, no divine finger picks a Pope. The very human and self-interested Cardinals jockey for position, lobby for their favorites and vote.

Perhaps those factors contribute to the looseness of practicing Catholics' practice. Even in nominally Catholic European countries, like Italy and Spain, citizens and their leaders alike nod their heads to the church while their hands behave disobediently. Birth control is common, abortion is a fact of life, don't even bring up adultery, and many have no problem with homosexuals having civil unions or even marrying.

What's a Prelate To Do?

Marginalized seems fine with Benny. He has stated repeatedly that he wants a church of devout followers, even though that surely means a smaller set of congregants. Loyalty to doctrine and leadership is the test.

He did spend the largest part of his career up to the moment he became the Pope as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. That is the knuckle-cracking group that enforces doctrine on prelates, priests and others who act or speak or apparently even think wrongly. It previously carried the now infamous name of the Roman Inquisition. So energetic and thorough was then Joseph Ratzinger's enforcement, he earned the nickname God's Rottweiller.

With that kind of leadership from the top dog, there's not much room for roving free or interpreting. From O'Malley's actions and statements here, you'd think he had also always been a fundamentalist old Testament guy, or least one to pick the verses of Leviticus he wanted to see strictly enforced. (He'd have to make sure he avoided the Greek or Hebrew, or even the Latin, and stuck with the highly politicized, God's-word-by-committee King James version.)

In the same-sex-marriage struggle, the new Pope did not seem to hesitate. Suddenly we saw O'Malley ordering his bishops, who ordered their priests, to make it plain that SSM was evil. They kicked around the idea of denying sacraments to politicians who voted against stated doctrine. They asked lawyers what they could get away with in gathering signatures, lobbying, and other political action.

The Pope is running a big, not little C Catholic church. He doesn't seem to mind that such ham-fisted policies:
  • Alienated homosexual parishioners, and those with family or friends who are homosexual.
  • Appalled the freedom-loving, live-and-let-live Americans.
  • Muddled church and politics, while church leaders would fight vigorously if the government would try to interfere in their business the way they have in public affairs.
  • Further separated parishioners still reeling from the affects of many decades of abuse of children and adults by RC clerics, and dissatisfied with the denial, lies and duplicity.
  • Insulted and in some cases driven away heterosexual couples who are infertile or choose not to have children, with the hard line about marriage being only for procreation.
  • Showed callousness to adoptable children and to marriage by extreme measures designed to control and punish homosexual couples.
  • Hung Massachusetts legislators out to dry trying to appear like good Catholics to their RC constituents and yet uphold the commonwealth constitution and its court interpretations, and existing laws.

Theocratic Missteps

There's no question that the alliance with the odious VoteOnMarriage/Massachusetts Family Institute -- and subsequent drubbing in polls and the ConCon -- were big losses for O'Malley locally and the RC Church. However, those losses are amplified in the corrosive environment church leaders have allowed to fester.

Moreover, only this month, did O'Malley appear to show any sincere and realist concern about the institution of marriage -- certainly far too little, much too late. Last week, in an effort whose timing he pretends has nothing to do with the June 14th ConCon loss on the amendment, O'Malley announced a campaign for marriage. Finally admitting marriage itself is foundering as an institution, he wants his priests to use sermons, prayers and church bulletin boards or urge congregants to merge.

The anti-gay/anti-SSM folk have long appeared as total asses in claiming damage to the institution by association with SSM in Massachusetts and civil unions elsewhere. Marriage rates have been declining at least since WWII, long, long before legal homosexual unions became a spark, much less a flame.

Ironically, the RC Church, as many fundamental Protestant ones, conflates its sacrament of marriage with the legal institution. Even many legislators buy into the idea, apparently because they grew up hearing clerics mix the two.

As virtually everywhere in this nation, in Massachusetts, marriage is a civil contract, and has been from colonial times. Clerics can sign marriage licenses, as can many other classes of government officials, appointees, and in this state nearly any adult who applies to be a one-day designated solemnizer. As far as marriages and divorces here are concerned, priests and other clerics can act as government agent too, but legally they don't marry anyone.

The sacrament is a separate thing entirely, an option, one, by the bye, which most people forgo. The sacrament of marriage in one's church may be real important to those involved, but it's not legal.

Diminished Influence

At least short-term and likely longer, the Pope and our Cardinal have done considerable damage to their credibility. The next rousing call to political action will have even lower response. This time on the amendment, they truly blew it by having petitions at the back of the nave. Many parishioners were certainly responding to peer and priest pressure to sign instead of demurring. I bet that they won't be so shy next time.

Likewise on Beacon Hill, O'Malley's forces smeared themselves in the stain and stench of the nasties. They are not going to be as welcome on the next set of issues. They ended up putting political careers at risk, and as one proof, several of their anti-SSM legislator candidates lost in the last election while the pro-equality ones won.

More to the point, the RC Church as other churches should be about the business of helping people. Christian churches have some pretty clear dictates about feeding the hungry and caring for the other poor. They are supposed to help kids, like orphans.

Here, they haven't been very good at those. On SSM alone, the RC leadership position has lead to opposition to homosexual marriage and adoption. O'Malley decided to close up the archdiocese's adoption agencies rather than permit any homosexual couples to provide homes for needy kids. Then in the amendment fight, he not only tried to legislate his theology into our marriage law -- redefining marriage in Massachusetts to match church law -- but tried to eliminate a healthy, happy class of married couple at a time when he admits marriage has long been in decline.

You can't separate the mean from the dumb on these.

Several people have told me, some in comments here and others in conversations, that O'Malley is both very bright and kind hearted. They would contend that he is locked into his role. That may be so and if so, it's a pity he couldn't move his Pope to his views, assuming he tried.

The effect here is the same whether he believes that Benny says or not. The RC Church here has continued to marginalize itself both with its parishioners and beyond. It should be the social equality and civil rights champion, but has chosen through its leaders not to be. Unless there are some big changes, O'Malley and his team will watch increasingly from the sidelines.

Series Note: Part two on the clown princes of the anti-marriage-equality drive is here. Part three on the VOM folk is here.

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Anonymous said...

Another excellent piece, as usual. Thanks!

John Hosty said...

I would love see see someone find a copy of Cardinal Ratzinger's biography, where his homosexual urges are discussed. That picture of him reminds me of the guy in Poltergeist II....creepy!

BTW, I am a former Catholic, and I harbor no ill will towards those who cause me no harm. Live and let live works just fine for me, but apparently not so well for Pope Beenadick.

massmarrier said...

My mind stumbles and reels at the thought of trying to be reasonable after 25 years running the Inquisition and disciplining priests and bishops. Crazy, perverting stuff!

I was high-church Methodist, back when there was a difference and no United Methodist Church. We were Wesley and an affront to conservative Protestants who considered us the same as Episcopals, who in turn were the same as Roman Catholics.

Pity for the RC Church that they went Benny's way, rather than going with a Pope who might have thought about celibacy and women leading worship and such. He's not that guy.

Ryan said...

I'm glad I finally got a chance to read this whole thing. You have some interesting points - maybe it really was the Pope behind some of his positions. However, two things: The first is that maybe this is all O'Malley. Just because he was progressive and cared for the poor, that doesn't mean he's glbt-friendly. The second and more important point is the fact that O'Malley and every Cardinal has immense power within their own sphere. Even if the Pope's people were pushing, there'd be little they could actually do against O'Malley - I highly doubt the Pope would sack a Cardinal.

Sure, he wouldn't gain some friends he'd like, but it's not like he's going to be the next Pope. For starters, they'd never pick an American pope.

No, if O'Malley stood up in any way he could, he would have been a good influence on glbt rights and humanity in general.

massmarrier said...

I think O'Malley had an excellent shot at the Papacy until this failed political involvement. He had become the fixer, the turn-around manager brought in to repair dioceses slammed by clergy abuse and other scandals. Yet what we saw here illustrates the trend in the rest of the Northern Hemisphere. The presumption of power by RC leaders is overblown and outdated. That influence holds in Latin America and Africa, where the Church is growing.

To your last point, yes, he could influence for the good, but we have seen the limits of his ability to control for ill.

Anonymous said...

An excellent breakdown, once again.

I live in a very Catholic area with a huge lesbian and gay population. I have many friends who are Catholic but are not with the Church on most political issues. My state rep. Peter Kocot did an interview with the local paper about how his Catholic faith was one of the things that led him to his clear vote against the initiative. His faith, he said, taught him that all people should be treated equally by the state.