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by Peterr

God Laughs at Prop 8 and DOMA

4:08 pm in LGBT, Religion by Peterr

SCOTUS made one of their periodic announcements of the schedule of arguments for upcoming cases for which they had granted a hearing, and I could not help but hear God laughing in the background. Let me draw your attention to this portion of the announcement, via SCOTUSblog:

Tuesday, March 26:

12-144 Hollingsworth v. Perry – constitutionality of California’s “Proposition 8″ ban on same-sex marriage; also, question of standing to appeal

Wednesday, March 27:

12-307 — United States v. Windsor – constitutionality of Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s benefits limited to married opposite-sex couples; also, question of standing for U.S. government and for House GOP leaders to appeal the case

The laughter I hear comes from looking at the calendar.

On March 26th, Ginsberg, Breyer, and Kagan (the three Jewish members of SCOTUS) will be hearing about the injustices levied by the state against gays and lesbians on the first day of Passover — an eight day commemoration in the Jewish calendar of the liberation of the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt. For Jews, the repetition of Moses’ cry “let my people go!” figures prominently in the Passover story, as God’s spokesman went to Pharaoh again and again to demand freedom from slavery and oppression.

Given what LGBTs have endured at the hands of the modern state, “Let my people wed!” has a nice contemporary ring to it.

And then there are the Catholics . . .

For Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Kennedy, and Sotomayor — the six Roman Catholics — these two days of arguments take place between Palm Sunday and Easter. It’s Holy Week, when Western Christians recall Jesus and his entry into Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowd, his betrayal and arrest on trumped up charges, his show-trial and execution at the hands of the state with the blessing of the religious authorities, and his resurrection. For Christians, Holy Week is the commemoration of a perversion of justice, set right by a divine veto.

Given how justice has been denied to LGBTs in ways great and small by the enactment of DOMA, it strikes me as divinely ironic that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives will be defending injustice during a week when Catholics and other Christians are in the midst of remembering the injustices perpetrated by Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas as they tried — unsuccessfully — to preserve their own power.

I fully expect to hear more from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on this, in the same illogical vein as Chicago’s Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis George’s recent missive. (The best reply I’ve seen to it is from Neil Steinberg in the Chicago Sun-Times.) But using this style of argument during Holy Week will make Cardinal George sound like Caiaphas, not Christ, and I don’t think BLAG will have any more success than did Pilate or Herod.

Back in 2008, five sad days after Prop 8 was approved by California voters, I had the pleasure of hosting an FDL Book Salon chat with Mitchell Gold, discussing his book Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America. As I wrote in the set-up piece, these are stories of pain, power, struggles, partnership, and surprises (both nasty and wonderful). But discussing this book just after Prop 8 was enacted really altered the discussion:

In my head, I actually had two posts ready for this Book Salon, depending upon the results of the Proposition 8 vote in California. If “No on 8″ had prevailed, we could talk about how wonderful it is that the largest state in the US had taken a stand in favor of civil rights and fuller acceptance of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people. We could talk about the positive message that this would send to anyone who is GLBT or who loves someone who is. That post, sadly, will have to wait for another day.

But that day is coming — make no mistake about that — just not as soon as we’d like.

Ultimately, these are stories of hope. In reading this book, I was reminded again and again of SF Supervisor Harvey Milk‘s famous “Hope” speech (YouTube excerpt here) :

And the young gay people in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias and the Richmond, Minnesotas who are coming out and hear Anita Bryant in television and her story. The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us’es, the us’es will give up. And if you help elect to the central committee and other offices, more gay people, that gives a green light to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward. It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone.

Hope. By the end of the book, that this what these stories are finally about. Hope that life can be better for all of us, and that pain and trauma are not the last words for any of us, regardless of our own sexual orientations or the orientations of those we love.

I truly believe that day of justice and hope is getting closer.

Some might call the connection between the SCOTUS calendar and the Jewish and Christian religious calendars a mere coincidence, but being a pastor, I can’t help but see a little divine humor at work. As BLAG will soon find out, trying to make arguments in defense of injustice during two powerful religious commemorations of justice is hard to do.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and let all the courts say “Amen!”

_____

No, I’m not suggesting religious appeals have any place in the secular legal discussions at the heart of this case. But that doesn’t keep folks like the USCCB or the evangelical fundamentalists from making them, and I’d like to give these religious appeals a little theological attention before they really start cranking up. Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

Seattle Archbishop Leads the Charge Against Marriage Equality, Women Religious, and Others Who Think

10:50 am in LGBT, Religion by Peterr

The bishops will direct you to notice that "The Thinker" is a man

Seattle’s Archbishop J. Peter Sartain is a busy guy. Like every bishop, he’s trying to run his diocese, but he’s also involved in getting his flock motivated to put an anti-marriage equality measure called Referendum 74 on the ballot in the state of Washington.

Several weeks ago, he and his auxiliary bishop wrote a letter [pdf] to all the priests of the diocese and leaders of the parishes, asking them to help with signature gathering. That effort is not going too well, at least in some places, including one very close to the archbishop’s heart.

“After discussing the matter with the members of the [St. James] Cathedral’s pastoral ministry team, I have decided that we will NOT participate in the collecting of signatures in our parish,” Fr. Michael Ryan, the cathedral’s pastor, said in a letter.

“Doing so would, I believe, prove hurtful and seriously divisive in our community,” Ryan explained.  St. James Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle.

Other parishes and priests have taken the same approach, with an interesting reaction during a mass eight days ago when a similar decision was announced: a standing ovation. Said the priest, “I only wished the archbishop could have experienced the sustained applause — the ‘sensus fidelium’ — of the people.  He needs to listen to this ‘voice.’”

As if Archbishop Sartain didn’t have enough to do in his own backyard, now he’s been given a new side job by the Vatican: overseeing a Vatican-ordered reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the umbrella organization of most of the women’s religious orders in the United States.

Citing “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life,” the Vatican announced a major reform of an association of women’s religious congregations in the U.S. to ensure their fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality.

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle will provide “review, guidance and approval, where necessary, of the work” of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

The “areas of concern” identified in the report from the Vatican office that led the investigation, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, [pdf] were (a) addresses at LCWR assemblies, (b) policies of corporate dissent, and (c) radical feminism. Dominican Sister Laurie Brink’s 2007 keynote address came in for particular criticism, perhaps because it seemed to embody all three of these concerns.

Most of Brink’s (very readable) address is pretty solid and basic stuff about leadership and ministry on the margins. Some of it is descriptive of what she sees in the church, not prescriptive about the way she thinks things ought to be. In the descriptive sections, she pauses from time to time, inviting the attendees to reflect on what she has just said. Brink also includes a strong disclaimer at the top, indicating she is speaking only for herself when she gets into more prescriptive critiques.

And make no mistake, she gets into some very substantial critiques, taking direct aim at the bishops, the Vatican, and Pope Benedict like this Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

Sorry, Bishops, But the Answer Is No

8:08 am in Health Care, Religion by Peterr

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is trying to play the martyr once more. This time, they are trying to claim the mantle of James Madison and Martin Luther King Jr. as they self-righteously hold themselves up as the defenders of religious liberty.

What they really are doing, though, is the opposite. They are asserting their desire to take over the religious and moral beliefs of anyone with whom they come in contact. Their desire is not just to operate freely themselves, not just to restrict the freedoms of others, but to affirmatively take over the moral thinking of everyone else.

You’re LGBT and want to adopt? Unmarried and want to be a foster parent? “Sorry,” say the bishops, “but we’ve taken over your moral and religious beliefs, so the answer is no.”

You or a loved one want to come to a catholic hospital or nursing home and be able to unplug life support when YOU decide to, in consultation with doctors and according to your moral and religious beliefs? “Sorry,” say the bishops, “but you signed your moral and religious beliefs over to us (and so did your doctors) when you (and they) walked in the door, so the answer is no.”

You want to have your tubes tied after a C-section, following a difficult and dangerous pregnancy, according to your moral and religious beliefs? “Sorry,” say the bishops, “but you signed your moral and religious beliefs over to us when you walked in the door, so the answer is no.”

You want to have a pregnancy terminated after your doctor tells you the fetus in your womb will never live outside it and you are increasingly likely to die if you try to carry the fetus to term, a decision you’ve made in accordance with your moral and religious beliefs? “Sorry,” say the bishops, “but you signed your moral and religious beliefs over to us when you walked in the door, so the answer is no.”

This isn’t protecting religious freedom. It’s an attempt to coerce the political powers at every level to give legal cover to the discriminatory, patronizing, and highly parochial views of the USCCB, especially in situations where they are using public money to carry out these views. They want to enforce by law what they cannot accomplish by persuasion and preaching, even to the people in their own pews.

If the bishops were truly honest and transparent about what they are doing here, there’d be a revision of Dante’s sign, hanging over the door to every bishop’s office and over the entrances to far too many catholic churches: “Abandon all independent thinking, ye who enter here”.

Sorry, bishops, but the answer is no.

It appears I am not alone in this line of thinking, with the emphasis and delightfully direct language in the inimitable original of Mr. Charlie Pierce: Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

More Spelunking on Contraception

8:28 am in Religion by Peterr

(photo: Ðariusz/flickr)

The Obama administration continues its caving to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, and seeks input on ways in which to continue its spelunking in the future. From the National Catholic Reporter:

Coming after a month of continued opposition from the U.S. bishops to the mandate, which was first revised in early February to exempt certain religious organizations, today’s announced changes from the Department of Health and Human Services make a number of concessions, including allowing religious organizations that self-insure to be made exempt.

Also raised is the possibility that the definition given for religious employers in the original mandate could be changed.

HHS did not announce final rules, but put forward a 32 page proposal for comment [pdf] on religious organizations and their obligation (or lack thereof) to provide coverage for “certain preventive services.”

That “self insurance” loophole is a huge exemption. Look for any Roman Catholic institutions that aren’t self-insured already to set themselves up that way in short order.

If you wish to take HHS up on their offer to listen to comments on this proposal, page 3 of the pdf has four ways to submit your thoughts. The first is electronically, via www.regulations.gov. They say to “follow the instructions under the ‘More Search Options’ tab.” Unfortunately, regulations.gov is down for maintenance today. (You’ll probably need the file code: CMS-9968-ANPRM.)

But wait! There’s more from HHS on contraception. Again from NCR:

News of the changes also came as a separate ruling on student health insurance coverage was announced by the Department of Health and Human Services this afternoon. Under that ruling, health care plans for students would be treated like those of employees of colleges and universities — meaning the colleges will have to provide contraceptive services to students without co-pay.

Religiously affiliated colleges and universities, however, would be shielded from this ruling, according to a statement from the HHS.

Sandra Fluke and her classmates at Georgetown — a Roman Catholic institution — continue to be out of luck, it seems. Unlike the first announcement, this is a “final rule” [pdf] and not a proposal.

But they can look on the bright side. At least HHS didn’t call them sluts when they said “pay for your own contraceptives!”

by Peterr

No One Could Have Anticipated, Vol. #249

6:39 am in 2012 election, Religion by Peterr

Karen Handel, the new presidential advisor for women's health? (photo: Rich Lacey/flickr)

Who didn’t see this coming?

According to the AP, via the Washington Post, Obama is going to make an announcement today with regard to the growing fight with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops over the requirement under the new health care laws that employers provide insurance that covers contraception with no co-pays or deductibles. Speculation is rife as to exactly what this “compromise” will look like.

I’m guessing the announcement will end with “. . . and I’d like to introduce my new presidential adviser for women’s health, Karen Handel.”

Scarecrow is right: this is not about freedom of religion. It’s about power, specifically the power of Catholic bishops to impose their strongly held beliefs about the superiority of their consciences over the consciences of anyone else.

And this “compromise” — whatever it may be — will do nothing to satisfy the bishops. It will, on the other hand, embolden them to push for more . . .

No one could have anticipated . . .

by Peterr

Nice Diocese You’ve Got Here, Bishop . . .

7:06 pm in Religion by Peterr

St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, rendered in stained glass. (photo: Fergal OP via Flickr)

Yesterday evening, Irish television station RTE One broadcast a new episode of their news documentary series “Would You Believe” that came with the title “Unspeakable Crimes.” These unspeakable crimes are described on their website like this:

Just when the Irish bishops were beginning to come to grips with how to deal with the clerical sexual abuse problem, Rome intervened and tried to enforce Vatican policy which put the interests of the priest, not the victim, first.

In a strictly confidential letter seen by WYB, the Vatican threatens the Irish bishops that if they follow their new child protection guidelines it would support the accused priest if he were to appeal to its authority.

The letter tells the Irish bishops that the Vatican has moral reservations about their policy of mandatory reporting and that their guidelines are contrary to canon law.

The letter itself is here [PDF], and it says exactly what RTE claims it says.

The study document referred to in the letter are the 1996 guidelines that the Irish bishops proposed, which included mandatory reporting of abuse to the secular authorities. (PDF of the study document is here.)

The Vatican’s reaction to that section of the study document was to say this: “In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature.” The Vatican goes on to say something to the effect of “you English-speaking people seem to have this problem all over the place, so while WE study what WE want to do about it, you just keep on doing what you’re doing, according to the rules WE laid down earlier in canon law, and forget all about YOUR study and its proposed mandatory reporting clause.” The actual phrasing of that last part is more delicate, of course, but the implication is clear: shut up, and “at the appropriate time” we’ll tell you all what to do.

They also attach a nice theological threat at the end: “in the sad cases of accusations of sexual abuse by clerics, the procedures established by the Code of Canon Law must be meticulously followed under pain of invalidity of the acts involved if the priest so punished were to make hierarchical recourse against his Bishop.” IOW, if you don’t follow the old way, and thus punish a priest, and the accused priest appeals to Rome, Rome is going to back the priest and you will end up with a black eye.

Shorter Vatican: “Nice diocese you’ve got here, bishop. It’d be a shame if anything were to happen to it . . .”   Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

Bishops vs Catholic Healthcare West, and Why We All Should Worry

6:27 am in Religion by Peterr

A year ago, the medical staff of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix was faced with a painful situation. A pregnant mother of four was in serious medical trouble in the 11th week of her pregnancy. The doctors’ opinion was that she was at extreme risk of death, and the odds of her own survival were diminishing with each day she remained pregnant. After consultation with the hospital’s medical ethics board, the patient, and her family, the doctors terminated the pregnancy in order to save the woman’s life.

Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix was not pleased when he heard about it. Not at all. His reaction was to deliver an ultimatum with three specific conditions:

    • The hospital must “acknowledge in writing” that the procedure was an abortion.
    • The hospital must agree to a diocesan certification process to guarantee compliance with Catholic doctrine.
    • The hospital must provide its medical personnel with ongoing training in the Catholic directives governing health care, “as overseen by either the National Catholic Bioethics Center or the Medical Ethics Board of the diocese of Phoenix.”

      Refusal to agree to these conditions, said Olmsted, would cost St. Joseph’s the ability to call itself a “catholic” hospital, and he would revoke the chapel’s permission to have masses said there. In addition to these direct consequences, removing the ability of the hospital to call itself catholic would also have financial repercussions that could cost them money from donors, foundations, and of course from the diocese itself.

      The bishop’s tone with the hospital and its administrators was unmistakable. I am the ultimate authority in this diocese, he tells them in his letter last month [pdf], and not you. Olmsted’s concern throughout the letter to Catholic Healthcare West (the owner of St. Joseph’s) is first and foremost about protecting and projecting his own authority and power: Read the rest of this entry →