Thursday, November 15, 2007

Oh, My, O'Malley

The unbelievably clumsy and irrational attack on marriage equality here by the Roman Catholic hierarchy says much on the current and future of orthodox religion. In Massachusetts, the church of the large plurality seems determined to trivialize itself.

In Baltimore yesterday, Cardinal Sean O'Malley did it yet again. He, an Archbishop of the church that has become synonymous with scandal, called supporting Democrats, " times, it borders on scandal as far as I'm concerned." He said he was willing to go beyond "his differences with the Republican Party over immigration policy, capital punishment, economic issues, and the war in Iraq, (viewing) abortion as the most important moral issue facing policymakers."

The analysis is in the Baltimore Sun here. The parochial, he's-our-local-guy story is in the Boston Globe here. A related big picture for trends in the nominally solid R.C. Spain in a two-year-old Washington Post analysis is here.

Our Stereotypes

Hark to stereotypes of our commonwealth, as rich as visions of the Manifest Destiny times of our Great Plains. Here, the huge grazing herds were not bison, rather Democrats and Catholics and Catholic Democrats. That was all we needed to know about politics in the Bay State. It is increasingly inaccurate and meaningless.

We need to keep in mind that heads of nearly all religious organizations are and must be politicians as well. O'Malley has proven himself in general to be a very good one. In his several diocesan locations, he turned around some pretty sick situations, getting congregants, elected officials and priests to work together. In this archdiocese, he faced even more disgrace, scandal and corruption than he had before, and did not fare as well cleaning it up and bringing various publics into line.

Moreover, with the new, strict and even reactionary Pope, we have heard O'Malley joining in those quixotic calls for punishing our elected officials — we should oust them from office and the church should deny them rites if they don't vote the way the Pope commands. Many Catholics seem to think the miters are on a bit too tight.

So the broader effect seems to be that the Vatican continues to grow in influence slightly in Africa and Asia. It loses a bit in members and a lot in clergy in Europe. In both Europe and the United States, congregants continue to self-identify as members, but pay less and less attention to both political pronouncements and calls for strict doctrinal adherence.

Even with their own figures (much higher than anyone else's accounting at 17.2% of world population), the church is stagnant in the balance. That may well suit the Pope, who announced several times that he'd favor a smaller, more obedient membership.

So, what about Massachusetts' native fauna? We do have a lot of Catholics and a lot of Democrats. While Rhode Island leads the nation in percentage (over 50), we are not far behind as number two, with 44% of us being Catholics.

Similarly, Democrats are a common species here, with a plurality of 37%. Republicans are a sorry 13%. However, the unenrolled, what the rest of the nation calls independents, are the remaining 50%. We see the volatility and unpredictability of that several ways. We do send Democrats to Congress and vote for Democrats as President. However, we seem to elect Republican governors who appeal to our fiscal conservatism and have no problem mixing and matching Dems and GOP candidates on more local offices.

Then for the General Court, I won't start on DINOs. I think of them the way O'Malley speaks of pro-choice politicians. Suffice to say that far too many nominally Democratic legislators here are not at all progressive or even liberal.

Lip Service

Back to the politicians who run the Roman Catholic Church. Spanish, French and Italian Catholics have openly, clearly and often broken with doctrine. The Spanish government and voters enabled same-sex marriage for example. Abortion and divorce laws and regulations increasingly become more liberal throughout historically Catholic nations.

Even more than the past few Popes, the current one has made it clear that the Vatican won't reconsider its links to doctrine and politics any more than celibacy or female priests. It's a like it or lump it attitude that has loosened the bonds for a huge number of Catholics.

It may be good for the Church that the elderly Benedict is like a short-timer. After running the former Roman Inquisition, that Vatican arm that enforces doctrine, for 25 years, Benedict is not exactly the flexible sort. He offers a rest from the slow but steady liberalization of some previous Popes, but he is the current doctrinally infallible leader.

Quixotic Campaign

Back in Boston, for the past several years, O'Malley let himself and his bishops and priests fall into the VoteOnMarriage trap on the amendment to halt same-sex marriage here. Still reeling from the many decades of large numbers of sexually abusive clerics, the local archdiocese didn't need to roll in the mud with the basest anti-gay, anti-equality wingers.

O'Malley never said, but I certainly assume that the Pope gave him his orders on this one. O'Malley has always been a loyal officer, apparently even taking his elevation to bishop and beyond with misgivings.

So, we had a military-style campaign as a result. From archbishop to bishops to priests to committee heads and congregants, the orders were both clear and disastrous. Use the pulpit and back of the nave for politics, even shaming people into signing ballot-initiative petitions in church. The clergy appeared with extreme right-wingers for causes that many congregants seemed to disagree with or at least feel inappropriate for their religious leaders' involvement.

Calls to conscience gave way to marching orders. That honestly doesn't play well here, in the rest of this country or in Europe.

After the huge initiative defeat in June, O'Malley clearly had led an ill-chosen campaign into ignominy. From both religious and political views, his drive further damaged his effectiveness here. Further calls for political signatures and funds, as well as voting by mandated doctrine, will be harder for many to hear or act upon.

Short and mid term, there may be no undoing of this mess. Certainly this is not the time and place where the archdiocese will be seen as the leader in working for people's bodies and souls. Instead, it seems to have disdained and squandered the good will and respect of the large number of Catholics here.

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1 comment:

Jessica Bennett said...

Just wanted to point you to a post at our blog today by Karen Kahn, co-author of Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America’s First Legal Same-Sex Marriages, on the fourth anniversary of Goodridge.

I hope you'll come take a look!

Jessica Bennett
Editor, Beacon Broadside