The National Conference of Catholic Bishops is kicking off a 14-day national campaign to encourage at least 1 million Catholics to write to Congress and lobby the Obama administration. (labeled a Fortnight of Freedom) This will require the Church to expand large amounts of energy and treasure. All of this effort, according to the bishops, is to influence current public policy. Are the bishops concerned about the over 40 million children in this nation who live under the poverty line and face the danger of going hungry each day? Were they moved to take action by stories of millions of Americans losing their homes to soulless bankers? Perhaps all of this effort is being made to challenge regressive budgets which call for cutting food stamps, Headstart, Medicare, Medicaid and shred the social safety net millions of poor and working poor Americans depend upon? No such luck. These solons of Christianity are mobilizing their troops to prevent women, who work in their various institutions, from getting access to contraception through their health care benefits.
I have spent some time now, wracking my brain to think of another such church undertaking, which did not have something to do with sex. I failed. I remember them ordering parish priests to rail against homosexuality and call on Catholics to vote against propositions to expand the right to marry to the gay community. A number of anti-abortion campaigns sprang to mind. Catholic Charities across the country lobbied and fought to keep from having to place adopted children with gay parents, but I couldn't come up with a 14 day, nation-wide, coordinated lobbying effort for a subject not associated with sex, reproduction or gender orientation.
It isn't like the bishops haven't had plenty of opportunities to make their voices heard. They declared the Iraq war to be immoral. Can you imagine what an impact it would have had if they sponsored a nation-wide campaign asking young Catholics not to volunteer for the military or asked Catholics in the military to conscientiously object to fighting in Iraq? As President Bush put together his bank bailout, what if the bishops had lobbied Catholics to pressure Washington to provide help for average Americans? What if they had supported a national back to work campaign built along the lines of the W.P.A. or C.C.C. of the Roosevelt era? It's possible the bishops could have highlighted the dangerous economic gap between the 1% and the rest of us, or come out strongly to condemn states like Arizona for dividing this nation between suspect Hispanics and good white folk. As Mitt Romney and the regressives beat the drums of war towards Iran and Syria, the bishops could rise up as a voice of peace and love of one's enemies. Or maybe, just maybe, they could gather their collective outrage at the amount of debt students have to bear to acquire an education...debt which will crush their ability to own a home, support a family, or choose to work for the betterment of society rather than just for a paycheck.
Over 80% of American Catholics disagree with the bishops on issues of morality and church teaching. The bishops are on the wrong side of contraception, same-sex marriage, women priests and numerous other issues. As the bishops continue to do damage control over priests who abused minors, the Vatican is clamping down on American nuns because they refuse to march in lock-step with Rome's obsession with sex and their abandonment of other pressing social issues. Ironically, in the last week, a small group of nuns have embarked on a bus tour of the mid-west to call attention to the attacks on the poor and needy by regressives in Washington. It goes without saying, they do this with no help from the bishops.
During the Watergate scandal, the phrase, "...follow the money" became popularized. It applies here too. The bishops won't take on Wall Street or the private equity industry...they won't criticize the banks or hedge funds...they will remain silent while Goldman Sachs et.al. grow bigger and more corrupt because they want their money. Rich, regressive Catholics have a disproportionate influence over the bishops and Rome because of the riches they can bestow on a Church, which does their bidding. Once, in the early 80's, the American bishops issued a paper on the economy and criticized the gap between the haves and have-nots...questioned the morality of free market capitalism and called for reforms. They were attacked mercilessly by rich regressive Catholics led by former Reagan Treasury Secretary William Simon. The threat was clear. Shut-up or risk losing millions in donations...they shut-up.
In a recent column, the former managing editor of the New York Times, William Keller, suggested unhappy Catholics should leave the Church and form their own congregations separate from Rome. He could not be more wrong. Catholics who disagree with the bishops and Rome need to raise their voices in a prophetic wail calling on the Church to return to the message of Matthew 25. The collection baskets need to return empty on Sundays until these bishops return the Church to a place, which again walks in Jesus’ footsteps, and stand for justice and a fundamental option for the poor. This will not happen if people of good will leave. It will only happen when they refuse to accept the apostates currently running the American church.
My children see a church obsessed with their sex lives and oblivious to the real moral issues facing this nation. They see a church which panders to its most regressive followers while ignoring their sins and prejudices. A church silent in the face of war and destruction, but agitated when matters of the bedroom are at stake. They see a sexist institution which attacks women religious while protecting male predations. They want moral direction in their lives, but watch as the church is reduced to a bunch of old men fixated on issues for which they know little and whose credibility is in total disarray.
Jesus once compared the Pharisees to "whitened sepulchers" bright on the outside and dead on the inside. What would he say today about Fourteen Days of Freedom?