Catholic Church: Right-Wing Pawn or Left-Wing Front Group?

Political enthusiasts are by turns infuriated and delighted by the church.

Today's pop quiz: A religious organization that seeks to influence public policy is (a) bravely "speaking truth to power" or (b) "trying to impose its values on the rest of us."

For many people, the answer to that question is: It depends. If the religious organization is, say, the Roman Catholic Church, the policy in question forces Catholic institutions to pay for employees' birth control, and the church is opposed, then conservatives (generally speaking) will praise the church for its principled stand in defense of religious freedom, while liberals (generally speaking) will denounce it for theocratic oinkery.

That certainly was the scene earlier this year, when the Obama administration first laid out the details of the contraceptive mandate, and throughout the ensuing debate, and again a few months later when the administration floated an ostensible compromise.

The compromise—under which insurance companies supposedly would foot the bill for contraception, thereby leaving the church entities out of it—amounted to more of a P.R. stunt than a genuine concession, because many Catholic agencies and institutions self-insure. So more than 40 dioceses, schools and other Catholic units filed suit—prompting many to echo the complaint from The New Yorker's Margaret Talbot. The lawsuit, she lamented, "will embed the Church in partisan politics." Oh dear.

Oddly, few seem to have raised this concern about the Nuns on the Bus, a group of Catholic sisters who in late spring undertook a nine-state tour to denounce budget proposals by Republicans, and especially by Rep. Paul Ryan, as miserly and cruel. Nor did many seem to object when the nuns challenged Mitt Romney to spend a day with them so they could show him the error of his ways, or when a group of Catholic Bishops tartly rebuked Ryan for the moral failings of his budget proposal.

Some of the church's critics, in fact, suddenly wanted to be its best friend forever. Take ThinkProgress, the website of the liberal Center for American Progress and the id of the conventional left. During the contraception debate ThinkProgress cranked out scores of pieces explaining why the Catholic Church was wrong to "impose its values on fellow citizens," as an April 13 post put it. Yet by August, ThinkProgress had discovered the virtues of religion's participation in politics: "Catholic Nuns Send Letter to Romney Challenging His 'Woeful lack of Knowledge' About the Poor," it bugled a few days ago.

This is all the more odd when you look at what each group of Catholics was trying to achieve. Catholic institutions that did not want to underwrite contraception for their employees were not forbidding those employees to use birth control. They clearly were not constricting the activity of non-employees. They were not trying to overturn the mandate for anyone else—and they certainly were not trying to outlaw the sale of contraception at the corner pharmacy.

By contrast, the Nuns on the Bus and the bishops who objected to Ryan's budget proposals want the federal government's coercive taxing power to achieve their social-justice ends. They want the government to make other people underwrite programs that reflect their particular interpretation of the Gospel. That seems a far greater imposition of religious values on non-believers than a request simply to be left alone.

William McGurn certainly saw it that way. A few months ago, the conservative columnist for The Wall Street Journal took the view that the Catholic Church "represents possibly the only institution in the world that still speaks the language of the American Declaration." That was during the contraception fight. Last week, after Catholics began hammering Paul Ryan, McGurn sang a different tune: "Today," he lamented, "the liberal impulse in American Catholic life has substituted political for religious orthodoxy." Margaret Talbot sends her sympathies.

Such whipsawing is, literally, old news: During the 1980s Catholic bishops were everywhere denouncing Reaganomics, and calling for a nuclear-weapons freeze, and sticking up for the poor, misunderstood Communists in Nicaragua, and so on. In 1985, the bishops condemned the 7.1 percent unemployment rate as "morally unacceptable" and publicly urged Congress to reject funding for the MX nuclear missile—all of which left many on the right in a purple rage. It was widely felt in conservative circles that the church was a bunch of useful idiots being exploited by the Kremlin. Those on the left, meanwhile, saw in the church a proud, clear model of sanity and compassion in a world gone mad.

So it was again a few years ago, when the church was defending the rights of illegal immigrants (thereby earning the opprobrium of William F. Buckley) and expressing reservations about free-trade pacts. The Catholic position on the death penalty irks the right; the Catholic position on abortion irks the left. Political enthusiasts are by turns infuriated and delighted by the church. Yet the church, which reasons from first principles to policy conclusions rather than the other way around, seems never to check its positions against their partisan predispositions. How refreshing.

This column originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. 

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  • BarryD||

    Uh, so groups should not acknowledge their allies on any issue, if they don't agree 100% on every issue, all the time, throughout history?

    Oh wait... That's the Libertarian idea of politics, isn't it?

    That's why I'm not a dues-paying member of the LP any more, myself. Someone involved with the LP somewhere espoused some political position that I only agreed with about 99%. So I said, "Fuck this!" and quit.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I think you have Hinkle's point reversed. I believe what he is trying to say is that too many people assume the Catholic Church is a monolith, and that all of the positions it holds fit nicely into one of the two artificial divisions of modern American political ideology.

  • BarryD||

    Really?

    Who assumes the Catholic Church is a monolith?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Who assumes the Catholic Church is a monolith?

    A lot of people unfamiliar with its positions.

  • Randian||

    Who assumes the Catholic Church is a monolith?

    The Catholic Church.

  • joeo||

    All too many supporters of Congressman Paul have stated they would rather Romney lose than anyone but 9/11 truther Ron Paul win; they will have a long, long wait. Reminds me of Islamist who hate co-religionist who differs as much as the infidel. Logic, rational, non-ideological thought seems equally foreign to Islamist and Libertarians.

  • John||

    The Catholic Church are a bunch of assholes. There is no defending about 90% of what they do. And I wouldn't join the church for love nor money.

    But last I looked the 1st Amendment didn't have an "asshole oppressive liberal" exception clause. They have every right to act with their conscience. And how they have acted in the past or how generally loathsome they are is irrelevant. A right is a right for everyone, period.

  • Brutus||

    I think that goes a little far, but I'd say that the RCC goes off the rails when it confuses ends with means. Feeding the hungry and clothing the naked is a commandment of Christ, obliging every Christian to do so, but it goes horribly wrong when that moral and spiritual mandate turns into a legal one enforceable at bayonet-point.

  • John||

    They do a lot less of that then they should.

  • Brutus||

    I'd agree completely with that. They've substituted actually helping the poor with loobying the State to help the poor.

  • John||

    And campaigning on abortion. I get the abortion thing. Yes it is important. But they sometimes seem to care about that at the expense of everything else.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    "Seem" is the operative word. The legacy media suggests that any effort spent on "social issues" takes away valuable tokens which you could redeem for "economic justice" points.

    Yet the Church has been issuing numerous statements on non-abortion-related issues. If the legacy media ignores these statements, it's because they conflict with the narrative of social issues versus economic issues, and how picking one set of issues ignores the other ones.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    but it goes horribly wrong when that moral and spiritual mandate turns into a legal one enforceable at bayonet-point

    Liberation theology was never a orthodox Catholic belief. Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI is one of its greatest critics.

  • Randian||

    So all that talk about a global redistribution of wealth is...?

  • Brutus||

    JPII was a foe of it, too, despite his wooly media reputation. I remember him scolding some Latin American bishops and priests for putting their politics before Catholic doctrine.

  • BarryD||

    Clothing the naked? Sometimes, that's charitable, but all too often, it was only to keep people from seeing the semen running back out of the little boy's ass.

    Seriously, a hardcore atheist could just put the Catholic Church's organized worldwide long-term serial rape of countless young boys as something that crazy cult people are likely to do. A Christian would have to look at this and see something that's actually evil, given over to Satan, or whatever.

    That comes BEFORE the philosophical libertarian stuff. Supporting armed robbery is a whole separate problem that I have with the RCC (and a number of other groups of course).

  • LibertyMark||

    BarryD, you're such an asshole. Way to paint with a broad brush and think collectively about a huge group of people. I thought libertarians tried to avoid that kind of thinking.

    Your "organized worldwide long-term serial rape of countless young boys" is pure hogwash.

    I'm a Catholic, and I see the church first hand doing good, and I know the vast majority of clergy have not engaged in boy-rape.

    I don't agree at all with the Church's advocacy of state-provided welfare, but many good people think that state support of the poor is morally the same as individuals helping the poor. They are wrong, but it doesn't mean they are a boy-raping cult.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Your assessment of what BarryD is said is right on the mark, and if we someday have a significantly more libertarian society, it'll be because lots of Catholics, among others, embraced libertarianism.

    I'm so sorry libertarianism has become so associated with atheism in so many people's minds. They seem to revel in being a never ending source of embarrassment.

  • BarryD||

    Catholicism and libertarianism are incompatible and always have been. Catholicism and individualism are fundamentally opposed.

    Martin Luther was hardly an atheist. Read a book, as they say, Ken Schultz, because your ignorance is the embarrassment.

  • LibertyMark||

    Oh, so is BarryD a Lutheran who has been taught to hate Catholics?

    I was once one of those.

  • BarryD||

    No. I am not a Lutheran and never have been. I don't hate Catholics. People can do and believe whatever they want. I don't hate anyone for that.

    I am, however, educated. I know some history here and there, including about Martin Luther, who he was, what he did and why. There's no place in my world for people who use the power they gain by scaring the ignorant, in order to rape boys.

    And calling someone an "asshole" for talking about the truth you wish you did not ever have to confront reflects only on you. Denial ain't a river in Egypt.

  • LibertyMark||

    BarryD, I called you an asshole because you were NOT "talking about the truth" in a good-faith manner, you were impinging an entire group of people and calling them a cult.

    You were also wildly exaggerating the problem and collectively throwing all priests in the same evil bucket. That is untrue, and it is wrong.

    I know some history, too. The Catholic church has a lot of blood on its hands, and has made many mistakes and evil acts. Martin Luther performed a huge and courageous act and may have paved the way for individual freedom in the western world.

  • Ken Shultz||

    A lot of people who identify as Catholic aren't about the theology. Their Catholicism shows up as Irish pride on St. Patrick's day or getting a tattoo featuring the Virgin of Guadalupe...

    Is there something about libertarianism that's incompatible tattoos?

    You may know something (or not) about Catholic theology, but, apparently, you don't know anything about Catholics.

    And in terms of sheer numbers, if I could trade every socially incompetent atheist libertarian out there for a Catholic? I'd do it in a heart beat.

    Seriously. Around one in four Americans identify as Catholic, and when you consider that Americans are breeding below the replacement rate? And that our population growth in the future is likely to come by way of immigration--from places where people identify culturally as Catholic..?

    Then if you stayed up all night trying to think of a better way to hurt the libertarian movement, I doubt you could come up with anything better than pointlessly insulting Catholics for being Catholic.

    If your strategically stupid attitude weren't so typical, I'd think you were an agent provocateur or something. With bigotry like that, you'd do more for the libertarian movement if you told people you were a Marxist instead.

  • BarryD||

    LibertyMark, go to Hell. You and your filthy pope, and the entire authoritarian anti-Christian pile of shit that is your so-called "church." You call me names for nothing because I simply type the truth you don't want to think about.

    Like I said, a Christian would have to condemn the Catholic Church for its being usurped by the forces of evil. There was a long-term worldwide effort to keep child rapists in positions where they could rape and rape and keep raping. And it went all the way to the top. That's what authoritarians who use the threat of eternal damnation to secure their power do.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03......html?_r=1

  • Enough About Palin||

    But none of those boys got pregnant, so in point of fact, they were not legitimately raped.

  • joeo||

    Name call rather than debate, is hate speech all Libertarianism has to offer?

  • Alecto||

    Based on your comment, I assume you're also opposed to public schools, which have an even more prolific rate of child rape?

    Ah, school days!

  • BarryD||

    So it's okay for a priest to rape a couple hundred deaf boys, and have the Catholic Church cover for him, because some teacher, somewhere, rapes kids?

    That's ludicrous.

    And no, I'm not a big fan of public schools, which rape minds as well, but that's beside the point.

  • ||

    The inherent, causal connection you've drawn between authoritarian hierarchy and rape would suggest opposition to public schools, government of any kind, military, the corporate structure... I mean hell, given that kind of unbreakable link, it's a wonder every little boy and girl in America hasn't been raped 4 or 5 times over.

  • joeo||

    No, it is not beside the point. A crime is a crime if a priest, rabbi, minister, teacher, John Wayne Gacy or Wayne Williams commits it. Greater scandal is committed by the cover up than the crime. The problem with those who oppose the public schools is they do not support the funding of any other schools so that primary and secondary education could have the variety as that found at the college/university level.

  • ||

    Collectivist asshole is collectivist.

  • BarryD||

    Dumbest post I've ever read.

  • BarryD||

    Dumbest post I've ever read.

  • ||

    I'm sorry, you weren't collecting all Catholics together in your comment?

    If you weren't I apologize. If you were, you're a collectivist asshole.

  • Carston||

    Well, those Catholics who want gov't to take from some and give to others to feed the hungry forget about the "Thou shalt not steal" commandment.

    Just because its the gov't doesnt mean that its not theft, its just legalized theft.

    Charity needs to be voluntary, or its not charity, its coercion.

  • joeo||

    That is what a republic is all about. Elect representatives who are against corporate and citizen welfare. Establish a flat income tax with no exemptions. Abolish non-profit status in the tax code. Taxes would be such a small percentage of gross income that Catholics and others who wanted to give to welfare could.

  • Ken Shultz||

    But last I looked the 1st Amendment didn't have an "asshole oppressive liberal" exception clause. They have every right to act with their conscience. And how they have acted in the past or how generally loathsome they are is irrelevant. A right is a right for everyone, period.

    Yeah, The Beast of Revelation 13 may very well be a pope, but as far as I'm concerned, the Beast of Revelation 13 has First Amendment rights just like everybody else.

    We should try to keep in mind that my right to be from establishment (which they inspired) is the same right as their right to free exercise. Always has been. Always will be.

  • joeo||

    So people who disagree with your world view are assholes? How tolerant, enlightened, liberal. President Obama is no doubt your candidate.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    I think some people get indignant when an organization doesn't fit itself neatly into the existing political framework. Who do they think they are?

    Historically, the American Church has been (a) a mainstay of the Democratic Party, (b) a defender of the idea of a social safety net and govt economic policies tilted toward the working classes and (c) a defender of traditional marriage, the right to life, and similar issues.

    These positions don't fit neatly into the early-21st-century divisions, where there's supposed to be one faction made up of Ayn Rand worshippers who kow-tow to the Religious Right for religious purposes, and a rival faction of secular-minded socialists. This division is a very bizarre historical development, and it shouldn't be surprising that not everyone sees the universe through that particular prism. Yet to the shrieking partisans, a group which fails to fall neatly into one or the other of the divisions is evil.

  • BarryD||

    The one place where that church clearly does not fit, is libertarianism, either in any practical sense, or any philosophical one.

  • Question of Auban||

    Actually, you are very wrong:

    http://www.tomwoods.com/books/.....he-market/

  • wef||

    Maybe this is colored by a Latin American perspective, but the papist hierarchy could do itself some good credibility-wise, if the church carried out a few high-profile excommunications of pelosi-like polticos who flout the basic moral canons - a few excommunications latae sententiae regarding abortion, say, would make the other unicorns-and-rainbows puffed-up-religious excuses for buttinski government a little less bullshit. But as it is, the tias abuelas in the hierarchy come across more as scheming byzantine eunuchs than ready to sacrifice a little of their evermore marginalized position at the power table.

  • BarryD||

    Power is what the Roman Catholic Church has always been about. That includes withholding religions texts from lay readers, crowning kings, and torturing people to death for questioning Church authority.

    This history is not a pretty history.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Another criticism of the Church is that it wasn't deferential *enough* to the authority of kings.

  • joeo||

    Do not forget the Salem witch trials! Oh, the Massachusetts Bay Colony did that. The murder of six million Jews in Europe, ops Germany did that, the murder of 20,000 Polish officers, the USSR did that. The killing of 50 million Chinese, the Communist Party of China did that. Inflecting African-Americans men with syphilis while denying treatment, US Government did that. The trail of tears, oh no, President Andrew Jackson proudly claims credit for that. 9/11 if not the US government, the Catholic Church not the terrorist who flew the airplane into the WTC is to blame.

  • Paul.||

    Zzzzz.

  • Tim||

    The Catholic Church is a global entity with centuries of history. The idea that it could be co-opted and subsumed by our shitty political parties is far fetched.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Joe Biden favors gay marriage and a woman's right to choose--but he's a "good" Catholic.

    Ryan is denounced as a bad Catholic for not towing the line on social justice.

    Ask the present Pope how he feels about Liberation Theology in Central America.

    Hell, some Protestant denominations have been coopted by the Republican Party, there's no reason why the Catholics can't be coopted, too, by the Democrats.

  • BarryD||

    The Roman Catholic Church has a long, long history of forming alliances to protect and expand its power.

    It acts like a corrupt government, and it always has.

    That can be and is true of other religious organizations, but in the West, the Roman Catholic Church has had the broadest reach. Others have been regional.

  • Doctor Whom||

    I remember having this discussion with people in the eighties. While I am no fan of the Catholic Church, I acknowledge that it has no duty to be a yes-man to your, my, or anyone else's secular political views. Also, plenty of people "understand" Catholic doctrine better than do the people whose job it is to define that doctrine, and by the most amazing coincidence, Catholic doctrine when "correctly understood" agrees with them on everything.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Today's pop quiz: A religious organization that seeks to influence public policy is (a) bravely "speaking truth to power" or (b) "trying to impose its values on the rest of us."

    For many people, the answer to that question is: It depends.

    Well, yeah of course it depends. Replace "religious organization" with "individual" (and change necessary pronouns). The issue isn't that it depends, it's what it depends on. For people being intellectually honest, that would be "what is the public policy" they are trying to influence (both current and their target). If current public policy was "kill Catholics on sight", then trying to influence that policy away would be a good thing, even if it was in their self-interest.

  • LibertyMark||

    I have been very proud to see the Church reacting against the contraception mandate. The reaction has been very broad-based and unified within the American church.

    I'm a Catholic, and I support this action even though I don't agree with my own church on contraception. (Look how many Catholic families only have 2 kids nowadays versus the 5 or 6 common a while back.)

    I am not proud of my Church when they advocate for government support for the poor. However, this idea is much less broad-based within the church. There is disagreement within the church as to if it is right. This is an area where I try to point out that taking other people's money by force to give to the poor is not a virtuous course of action.

    So, just because a group of nuns is out there making noise, doesn't mean they represent the whole church.

  • fin-tastic||

    The Catholic Church is a religious organization, not a think tank. It does not claim infallibility in matters of public policy. Its political voice is meant to inject moral concerns into the national dialogue, not to be a "final decider" in matters of State. For example, the Church defends the welfare state because it believes in helping the poor. The Church does not, however, address concerns about sustainable spending, perverse incentives, and coercive wealth redistribution. As a result, its policy recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt. Journalists and voters are expecting too much of the Church by demanding a substantive and cohesive set of policy positions.

  • Alecto||

    Half the RCC is schismatic - broken from the church but no one wants to say that out loud. Catholics would rather have a sizable faith majority, half of whom are apostates, than a cohesive group.

    Vatican II created social justice nabobs, forgetting the reason for the church's existence: salvation. That is why most Catholics have opinions on Ryan's budget, but don't know the conditions for mortal sin. I have zero respect for most of the Catholic clergy who protest at nuclear plants, but not abortion clinics, and write op-ed pieces castigating Paul Ryan while neglecting to teach their own about the nature of charity and its importance or can't think why the Church opposes gay marriage.

    Revelations of child rape and abuse emptied pews creating an economic necessity to pander to the only predominantly Catholic demographic remaining: Hispanics. Presto! Push for amnesty. Push for government entitlements as long as they were taxpayer funded. My aren't we bishops and nuns generous with OPM!

    The issue of free exercise under the Constitution applies to any Catholic organization, Catholic business owner, or any practitioner of any religion, not only Catholics. The Administration's cram down of its hideous mandate is offensive to those of us who seek to conform to any belief which the government has not sanctioned. Even atheists understand the concept of conscience and being forced to accept that which violates it.

  • LibertyMark||

    Yes! The last part you said is true.

    All government mandates that force yout to take an action that you do not want to take are immoral, whether they involve religion or not.

  • Question of Auban||

    "The Catholic position on the death penalty irks the right"

    Because, according to the right, the government is incapable of making any mistakes and is so pure and holy that it can be trusted with the decision of whether or not to continue a human life. Oh, wait ....

  • AndrewKarl||

    Catholic Church- the self-appointed social workers of the welfare state. They may be the most effective anti-libertarian organization on earth. The Church combines the very worst paternalistic policies of the right and left. Instead of persuading its members to give to charity willingly it lobbies government to impose socialism. Instead of making a convincing case against abortion (or contraception), it seeks to use the power of government to enforce its dogma on all of society. It lobbies for Obamacare and then wants to be exempt from the parts of Obamacare it doesn't like. Last year the Vatican basically called for an end to global finance. They are socialist who hate gay rights and abortion slightly more than they love redistribution.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    The Catholic church owns a sordid history of hundreds of years of despotic oppression. The only reason the institution has survived its lengthy repulsive past is due to the boundless faith of the deluded. They have a right to exist as a defunct gilded charlatan serving crackers of emptiness to silly masses who desire such but why is this institution of cultish madness given respect at the public policy table?

  • Ardelle||

    Paul Ryan, as miserly and cruel. Nor did many seem to object when the nuns challenged Mitt Romney to spend a day with them so they could show him the error of his ways, or when a group of Catholic Bishops tartly rebuked Ryan for the moral failings of his budget proposal.

  • Lisa||

    In my experience (knowing many different denominations of Christians in my life), rich Catholics are more likely to be socially progressive than other Christians. I think that faith in their religious institution (it is interesting to me how preoccupied many Catholics are with the fact that they are Catholic) tends to extend to trust in political social constitutions. Not all Catholics are like that. The ones who are more involved with the church's practices, ironically, focus more on what THEY should do and not how great the building is and by extension how great they are for being in it. Generally, devout Christians are too busy with their faith to be political.

  • Lisa||

    *political social institutions, not constitutions

  • Sonderegger||

    Such whipsawing is, literally, old news: During the 1980s Catholic bishops were everywhere denouncing Reaganomics, and calling for a nuclear-weapons freeze, and sticking up for the poor, misunderstood Communists in Nicaragua, and so on. In 1985, the bishops condemned the 7.1 percent unemployment http://maxsale2012.overblog.com/ rate as "morally unacceptable" and publicly urged Congress to reject funding for the MX nuclear missile—all of which left many on the right in a purple rage. It was widely felt in conservative circles that the church was a bunch of useful idiots being exploited by the Kremlin. Those on the left, meanwhile, saw in the church a proud, clear model of sanity and compassion in a world gone mad.

  • ||

    That certainly was the scene earlier this year, when http://www.airmaxsalle.com/hom.....-c-32.html the Obama administration first laid out the details of the contraceptive mandate, and throughout the ensuing debate, and again a few months later when the administration floated an ostensible compromise.

  • Ardelle||

    In 1985, the bishops condemned the 7.1 percent unemployment rate as "morally unacceptable" and publicly urged Congress to reject funding for the MX nuclear missile—all of which left many on the right in a purple rage. It was widely felt in conservative circles that the church was a bunch of useful idiots being exploited by the Kremlin. Those on the left, meanwhile, saw in the church a proud, clear model of sanity and compassion in a world gone mad.

  • jason||

    These reforms are did by the catholic church, because of this reason the church is divided into two wings, left and right.

  • KB Marx||

    The Catholic Church should not have a place in government and policy. I thought Libertarians were for secularism?

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