The Theocon Panic

Andrew Sullivan —  Sep 23 2013 @ 1:21pm

Pope Francis Visits Sardinia

The people in the hierarchy and the hard-right of the American Catholic church have put their best face forward after Pope Francis’ categorical rejection of their entire project. So allow me a big bucket of cold history and fact to show just how over they are.

For the last couple of years, their overwhelming theme has been that basic freedom of Catholic conscience has been denied by a small rule in Obamacare that makes public Catholic institutions, like hospitals and colleges that employ non-Catholics, provide contraception if women want it. The Catholic institutions do not pay for it; there’s a work-around. In the face of this and civil marriage for gay couples, the American hierarchy, backed by rightist Catholic entities such as National Review, launched a veritable crusade. Last summer, the Bishops even launched a Fortnight of Freedom, two weeks in which the hierarchy devoted itself almost entirely to the questions of contraception, homosexuality, marriage and abortion in the context of religious liberty. These themes were deafening and clearly designed to affect the presidential election. So let’s recall Francis’ words of last week:

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods… The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

In that context, remember something that wounded me more deeply than any other in recent years, when, in 2009, my own then-archdiocese went to rhetorical war against gay people, using the homeless and sick as pawns:

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn’t change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.

In the end, the archdiocese, mercifully, relented. But do you not hear the fresh relevance of Francis’ words:

The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules?

One of those whose writings have been almost obsessed with abortion, gay marriage and contraception is Kathryn-Jean Lopez. She’s still spinning as if nothing just happened:

As for [Pope Francis], Church teaching on sexual morality is about fruitfulness and surrender. That won’t be understood if catechetical fundamentals aren’t — and none of it will make any sense if Christ’s love isn’t encountered.

But that latter point got lost, did it not, in the recent past as an authoritarian Pope demanded “catechetical fundamentals” on everything all the time, often with more dictatorial fear than Christ’s love. Nothing better illustrated this in recent years than Benedict’s disciplining of America’s off-message nuns – even as orthodox child-rapist priests were routinely allowed to retire in peace. The final report on the nuns was as brutal as it was insensitively delivered:

The assessment accused the sisters of “corporate dissent” on homosexuality and failure to speak out on abortion.

The assessment also castigated LCWR for ties to NETWORK, a Washington-based Catholic lobbying group that supported the Affordable Care Act … Leaving the Holy Office, Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell felt numb. “It was in the press before we had time to brief our members,” she recalled.

Let us again recall Francis’ words. Here he addresses the role of nuns and monks in religious orders and the need for them to speak their conscience, even if they ruffle papal feathers:

In the church, the religious are called to be prophets in particular by demonstrating how Jesus lived on this earth, and to proclaim how the kingdom of God will be in its perfection. A religious must never give up prophecy…Let us think about what so many great saints, monks and religious men and women have done, from St. Anthony the Abbot onward. Being prophets may sometimes imply making waves. I do not know how to put it…. Prophecy makes noise, uproar, some say ‘a mess.’ But in reality, the charism of religious people is like yeast: prophecy announces the spirit of the Gospel.”

And yet Benedict attacked this very charism in favor of top-down papal control of every minute doctrinal issue. On this, how can the theocons ignore the following:

If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing.

To whom do they think the Pope was referring? Who else if not them? Or do they have alternative suggestions?

(Photo: Pope Francis delivers his speech during a meeting with young people on September 22, 2013 in Cagliari, Italy. By Franco Origlia/Getty Images.)