It seems patriarchical religious zealots who often favor medieval robes and rituals have descended on the nation’s capitol recently. Strategically placed in the offices of fearful congressmen and holding brow-beating sessions with parishioners not toeing the selective edicts of their secretive hierarchy, they seek to conform the nation’s secular laws to their random religious preferences.
If such an organized effort was put forth by Islamic clerics or Buddhist monks, investigations would be held as to why our elected leaders are holding audiences with such obvious fanatics, much less reshaping essential legislation to meet their unyielding demands. But these are representatives of the Catholic faith. Those not unduly impressed by their paternalistic zeal to keep women underfoot will be struck like so many of their cloistered nuns wielding metal rulers.
I know these people. I have spent more time on my knees in the service of various Vicars of Christ (mostly John XXIII, as I recall) than most of the right-wing commentators that use Catholic doctrine to beat up on those who would dare to let a woman control her own body. Sure, it was mostly back in the ‘60s, when I was a kid, a dedicated altar boy throughout grade school, back when we had to go to Mass every morning before class. I sang the ritual cants and even played in some of the first guitar Masses at the small parish in my small town.
Back then, the only politics the church involved itself in was a quaint notion of social justice. We gave lip-service to the poor, while spending most of our money on vestments and gold chalices. There was even an anti-war tinge back during that ugly Vietnam thing.
But now, the Catholic church is in the middle of a hard-right swing, careening around in political circles like a bull in a Holy Hill gift shop, slapping down any politician who would dare show independence or common sense on issues related to women’s health. When the House of Representatives was debating a health insurance reform bill a couple of weeks ago, a conservative German “pope” headquartered in Rome sent various functionaries (called “bishops”) – all, incidentally, carrying some fine health coverage – scurrying across Capitol Hill in an effort to scuttle the legislation if it dared to allow coverage for reproductive services, even in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the woman (read: incubator). The foreign, medieval effort was scarily effective, weakening and almost killing the bill.
This week, comes word that one of the scions of the Catholic family that has done more for the church’s historical goal of social justice than any other in the nation’s history – Patrick Kennedy – has been informed by one of the costumed clerics that he shall not be allowed to receive the sacrament of Communion until he toes the religious party line on the disfavored right of a woman to control her own body. “If you freely choose to be a Catholic, it means you believe certain things, you do certain things,” declared the bishop. One wonders what would happen if, say, Keith Ellison, the congressman from Minnesota who happens to be Muslim, would receive such a threatening directive from one of his religious leaders. You would hear the screeching all the way from here to Mecca.
But, we allow the Catholics to interfere in the most important issue of our time on the grounds of their narrow, male-centered campaign to rid the women of the world of their right to choose. “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament,” Florence Kennedy famously said. Such irony is lost on the Soldiers of Benedict as they fan out to undermine social justice in the guise of protection of the “unborn”, even at the expense of the lives and health of adult women. Jesus famously threw the money-changers out of the temple. It’s time for someone to throw the medieval prelates out of the Capitol.