The Requisite Papal Post


“And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome, which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood.”

Pope Francis

Pope Francis, by Milt PriggeeAmong the billions of people around the world who are not Catholics, many look upon the papal pomp and circumstance with a certain measure of curiosity ranging from the benign to the banal to the belligerent. The personality cult surrounding the pontiff is a strange enough, given the bland personalities required for such a storied and bound office, but even those who see nothing more than a bunch of old men playing dress-up might take a note about reverence. In tumultuous times that often seem devoid of solemn respect—well, that is the question, is it not?

Modern perceptions of religion are sharply caricaturized. One need not give over to religious belief in order to acknowledge that cynicism toward mystical fantasy need not include derision of ideas like sanctity and veneration. Perhaps this is a classic first world problem, a contrast that stands out clearly amid American affluence; we have the luxury of such discussions.

But the world needs next Medici pope only slightly less than the next Honey Boo Boo; there is only so much modernization critics of the Catholic Church can reasonably demand. Imagine Rick Santorum as pope.

Continue reading

For the rights of organs everywhere ….


    “When a physician removes a child from a woman, that is the largest organ in a body.”

    Mary Sue McClurkin

Alabama Republican Party logoCan we skip the litany and just note that 2012 was a strikingly bad year for conservatives in the War of the Lady Parts? It’s a depressing review, to be certain. Unfortunately, 2013 is off to a bad start for the social conservatives, who are apparently quite happy to continue the trend of refusing to make any sense.

A big hint dropped last month when a two year-old court filing emerged in which a Catholic hospital turned the Church’s longstanding fetal personhood argument upside down, giving the impression that money is more important than life. The Church hierarchy has since reiterated its life-at-conception stance, and repudiated the filing, but the damage is done.

This month the personhood argument takes another hit from the anti-abortion crowd as the Alabama legislature works to pass a new TRAP law aimed at making pregnancy termination services more difficult to provide and receive. Arguing in support of HB 57, state Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin (R-Pelham) explained:

“When a physician removes a child from a woman, that is the largest organ in a body,” McClurkin said in an interview Thursday. “That’s a big thing. That’s a big surgery. You don’t have any other organs in your body that are bigger than that.”

Continue reading

Anne Frank and the Pearl Necklace?


Mike Scott - New Jersey Newsroom - March 24, 2010The inimitable Mark Steel, on that grimmest of papal scandals:

The Pope’s own preacher managed to make life even trickier for his boss, complaining that criticism of the Catholic Church on this issue was similar to anti-Semitism and “Collective punishment for Jews.” Of course. I’m sure when a priest is told the children he abused want action to be taken against him, he thinks “I tell you what, now I know exactly how Anne Frank felt.”

Still, I suppose we should be grateful he didn’t add “But none of the priests used condoms so at least they’re all good Catholics.”

(Cartoon by Mike Scott for New Jersey Newsroom, March 24, 2010.)

Faithless


I had a curious discussion the other day about church and state. In recent years, it seems a tendency to demand very narrow definitions has become more prevalent, with the result that you start wondering where people have been that they are unfamiliar with the common context of words and phrases. In this case, the discussion had to do with church and state, and the assertion that there is still some crossover taking place. A person of faith wondered what century an associate was living in, so I gave a twenty-first century example of the Bush administration appointing a woman named Pam Stenzel to a task force within the Department of Health and Human Services to promote and implement guidelines for an abstinence education program.

The thing is that abstinence education doesn’t work, and Stenzel knows it. According to Michelle Goldberg, Stenzel addressed the 2003 Reclaiming America for Christ conference, and told them a story about a man she met on an airplane, who asked about how well the program works:

At Reclaiming America for Christ, Stenzel told her audience about a conversation she’d had with a skeptical businessman on an airplane. The man had asked about abstinence education’s success rate, a question she regarded as risible.

“What he’s asking,” she said, “is ‘does it work?’ You know what? Doesn’t matter. ‘Cause guess what? My job is not to keep teenagers from having sex. The public school’s job should not be to keep teens from having sex.”

Then her voice rose and turned angry as she shouted, “Our job should be to tell kids the truth!” And I should say that up ’til then, I agreed with her. But here’s what she means by the truth:

“People of God,” she cried, “can I beg you to commit yourself to truth? Not what works, to truth! I don’t care if it works, because at the end of the day, I’m not answering to you. I’m answering to God.

“Let me tell you something, People of God, that is radical, and I can only say it here,” she said. “AIDS is not the enemy. HPV and a hysterectomy at twenty is not the enemy. An unplanned pregnancy is not the enemy. My child believing that they can shake their fist in the face of a holy God and sin without consequence, and my child spending eternity separated from God, is the enemy! I will not teach my child that they can sin safely!”

My associate asked what church that was promoting. The answer, obviously, is Christianity in general. But he wanted something more specific.

These aren’t the old days of the Maryland colony; indeed, if you look at the First Amendment and the judicial history thereof, everything pertains to religion as opposed to sects or denominations. The idea of one promoting specifically a Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, or other such agenda always comes back to the root faith: Christianity. It’s not simply about denominations, branches, or sects, but also—and perhaps fundamentally—the broader religious paradigm. One need not be a constitutional scholar to recognize this; the legal layman can certainly do something like examine judicial decisions and compile a list; Torcaso v. Watkins, for instance, pertained not to sects or even religions, but a question of theism and atheism—the state cannot compel a person to swear belief in God as a prerequisite for holding public office.

Questions of church and state in the twenty-first century have a slightly more subtle context, and this isn’t really anything new. In the twentieth century, we still fought over whether to adopt a faith-based definition (life begins at conception), faith-based “science” (creationism/intelligent design), faith-based civil rights (homosexuality), and so on. The Oregon Citizens’ Alliance and its decade-long crusade against gays wasn’t a sectarian issue, but rather a Christian-values issue.

Continue reading