Breaking news from the New York Times:
Citing advanced years and infirmity, Pope Benedict XVI stunned the Roman Catholic world on Monday by saying he would resign on Feb. 28 after less than eight years in office, the first pope to do so in six centuries.
After examining his conscience “before God,” he said in a statement that reverberated around the world on the Internet and on social media, “I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise” of his position as head of the world’s one billion Roman Catholics.
Given that I believe this Pope has acted both unethically and illegally, in the process causing a great deal of harm to many people, I should be glad he is retiring as head of the Catholic Church. And, on balance, I am.
Yet I am not as overjoyed about the news as many of my secularist friends appear to be. During his tenure, Pope Benedict XVI arguably did more harm to the undeserved positive image of the Catholic Church than all of the prominent atheists combined. In the coming weeks, I’m sure we will hear in the coming weeks that the Church is bound to pick someone who is younger and has broader appeal. But Pope Benedict XVI was extraordinarily successful at pushing people away from the Catholic Church mainly because he was an accurate representative of the Church’s current role in the modern world. The last thing the world needs right now is a candy-coated Pope who will make people forget that the Church spends most of its time and energy not making the world a better place, but advancing Middle Age theology.
Of course, one could argue a new Pope might move the Church forward on a range of issues. But remember: this is an institution which still opposes modern realities like birth control and sex before marriage and abortion — even in cases of rape, incest, and the mother’s life being at risk. For good measure, it also opposes equal rights for gays and lesbians, and secular government. So forgive me if I don’t see much reason to hold out much hope that radical, positive change is coming anytime soon.
That’s what Frank Bruni argues in this fantastic new op-ed in the New York Times. Bruni cites in support of his thinking several devastating examples of the Church’s hypocrisy on moral issues, including the continuing sexual abuse scandals and the recent case of a Catholic health care outfit arguing, contrary to Catholic doctrine, that a fetus is not a person in order to evade a medical malpractice lawsuit:
… the church has simultaneously reserved the right to behave just like any other institution, leaning on legal technicalities, smearing victims and demonstrating no more compassion than a tobacco company might show. “In the name of Jesus,” Anderson told me, “they do things that Jesus would abhor.”
They do things erratically, that’s for sure. From my extensive reporting on the sexual abuse crisis in the 1990s, I don’t recall any great push to excommunicate priests who forced themselves on kids. But when Sister Margaret McBride, in 2009, was part of a Phoenix hospital’s decision to abort an 11-week-old fetus inside a 27-year-old woman whose life was gravely endangered by the pregnancy, she indeed suffered excommunication (later reversed).
So a fetus matters more than the ravaged psyche of a raped adolescent? And Sister McBride deserved harsher rebuke than a rapist? It’s hard not to conclude that a church run by men shows them more mercy than it does women (or, for that matter, children).
And it’s hard to keep track: just when is the church of this world, and when not? It inserts itself into political debates, trying to shape legislation to its ethics. But it also demands exemption: from taxes, from accountability, from health care directives.
And in the Colorado wrongful-death case, the hospital suddenly adopted the courts’, not the church’s, definition of life. Only now, with that argument already made, is Catholic Health Initiatives saying it made a moral error.
A district court rejected Jeremy Stodghill’s wrongful-death claims. He and his lawyer, Beth Krulewitch, have appealed to the state’s Supreme Court.
One final verdict is already in. On the charge of self-serving hypocrisy, the church is guilty.
Of course, one could argue that the Church lost its moral credibility, well, centuries ago. Still, it’s nice to see the case being made in the pages of a prominent newspaper such as the New York Times. Remember, there are many people who consider themselves Catholics yet who are not aware what the Church is doing in their names. Articles like the one above can help to make some of these people aware of the Church’s actions, and push them to either leave the Church, or else demand reform. Or so we can hope …
On Jan. 24, I posted about two news articles which revealed that, in an effort to evade a malpractice lawsuit, lawyers representing a group which owns a Catholic hospital in Colorado have been arguing, contrary to Catholic doctrine, that a fetus is not a person.
Today, weeks after the story attracted widespread attention and criticism, it appears that the group, Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), has changed its tune:
"In the discussion with the Church leaders, CHI representatives acknowledged that it was morally wrong for attorneys representing St. Thomas More Hospital to cite the state’s Wrongful Death Act in defense of this lawsuit. That law does not consider fetuses to be persons, which directly contradicts the moral teachings of the Church."
It will be interesting to see if and how this announcement will change the outcome of the case. I’ll keep you updated as everything moves forward.
As I recently discussed, there is an ongoing battle between the Obama administration and the Catholic Bishops over the federal government’s new rule that requires organizations providing health care plans or insurance companies to arrange or offer free coverage for preventive health services, such as birth control and contraception, without a co-payment.
While I don’t usually post work updates here, the organization for which I work — the Center for Inquiry — has just submitted formal comments to the Department of Health and Human Services, and I think they merit consideration:
As you are probably know, the proposed rule has faced fierce opposition from religious groups. For example, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has argued that the requirements make for bad health policy and violate the “conscience” of some religious individuals and religiously affiliated employers, allegedly infringing their “religious freedom.” The Bishops want the rule rescinded, or its exemption clause radically expanded.
CFI believes the USCCB fails to recognize the scientific basis of the rules, and displays a regrettable lack of understanding of the concept of religious freedom. We also believe HHS has provided sufficient accommodation to religiously affiliated groups. Our letter outlines the reasons in support of our position.
You can read CFI’s four-page letter here.
As you might already know, there is an ongoing battle between President Barack Obama’s administration and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) over the federal government’s new rule that requires organizations providing health care plans to arrange free coverage for preventive health services, such as birth control and contraception.
Much of this debate has centered on which organizations would be exempt from the rule. The current proposal exempts only churches, meaning religiously affiliated organizations such as hospitals, universities, and charities, would have to comply. However, the government has carved out an exemption for these groups: if they object to the coverage, they can pass the weight of the requirement to insurance companies.
This has not pleased the USCCB, which has lobbied to expand the exemption clause to cover even secular objectors, or else to rescind the mandate altogether. Yet it appears increasingly unlikely the USCCB will get its way — which has Cardinal and USCCB President Timothy Dolan now threatening to halt the church’s social programs in protest:
“If these mandates kick in, we’re going to find ourselves faced with a terribly difficult decision as to whether or not we can continue to operate. … As part of our religion — it’s part of our faith that we feed the hungry, that we educate the kids, that we take care of the sick. We’d have to give it up, because we’re unable to fit the description and the definition of a church given by — guess who — the federal government.”
In other words: the Obama administration is allowing religiously affiliated hospitals, universities, and charities — which provide secular services to the general public, and often receiver taxpayer money — to opt out of a rule mandating free coverage for birth control and contraception (which are legal, safe, and effective), but the Catholic Church might end such programs anyway just to make a point.
Does this remind anyone of the whiny neighborhood kid who, when things don’t go exactly as he wants, takes his ball home and ruins things for everyone?
The Vatican has appointed an American bishop to rein in the largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns in the United States, saying that an investigation found that the group had “serious doctrinal problems.”
The Vatican’s assessment, issued on Wednesday, said that members of the group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, had challenged church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”
“I’m stunned,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby founded by sisters. Her group was also cited in the Vatican document, along with the Leadership Conference, for focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping “silent” on abortion and same-sex marriage.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops last week held a major news conference in which they attempted to recast the current debates on hot-button issues like marriage equality and reproductive rights as a struggle to preserve “religious liberty” from a government and culture working to restrict the church’s rights, reports the New York Times.
From the Times:
The bishops have expressed increasing exasperation as more states have legalized same-sex marriage, and the Justice Department has refused to go to bat for the Defense of Marriage Act, legislation that established the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.
“We see in our culture a drive to neuter religion,” Archbishopof New York, president of the bishops conference, said in a news conference at the bishops’ annual meeting in Baltimore. He added that “well-financed, well-oiled sectors” were trying “to push religion back into the sacristy.”
The Bishops also lamented a new Department of Health and Human Services rule that requires private insurers to pay for contraception. While churches are exempt from the mandate, Catholic hospitals and universities are not. They also decried that Catholic adoption agencies in several states have lost government funding for refusing to adopt to same-sex couples.
To the Bishops, these are prime examples of attacks on religious liberty. Yet as astutely noted on Daily Kos, the Catholic Bishops have severely misunderstood “religious liberty.”
There is apparently a new drive underway. By “new” I mostly mean “old”, because it is the same campaign as always, it has only shifted fronts. The premise is and always has been that if government does not act to enshrine one particular religious viewpoint into law, it is oppression against that religious group. It is the worst, dullest, and most hollow notion of “religious freedom” possible, because it of course demands that the government reject all possible religious groups and interpretations except for your own. It demonstrates an inherent bigotry on the part of the asserting party, yes, but it also demonstrates a particular philosophical stupidity, one so egregious that it naturally makes the listener suspect all of the rest of the claimant’s philosophical underpinnings. If you devote your life’s work to the supposed study and expression of ethics and morality, but obtusely misunderstand the meaning of the word liberty, then your life’s work seems to have been considerably less productive than you imagine it to be.
You can read much more here.