George Bush’s religion has gotten a lot of attention in recent days, and it probably should, given his messianic justifications for the war in Iraq. In fact, the left is having a field day pillorying the caricature that Bush has made of Christianity and of conservatism.
Perhaps Bush has been under the microscope because, as a protestant, he doesn’t have any church authority to answer to. Like millions of believers in countless Christian sects and denominations, he is free to interpret Scripture any way he wants to. If someone disagrees, they can just switch churches — or start a new one, as thousands have done before them. But the Catholic Church teaches (to its adherents and to the world) that certain truths are necessary for salvation. And John Kerry’s policies on human life fly in the face of those teachings.
But altar boy John Kerry’s attempt to harmonize his "Catholic" faith, with his support of partial-birth abortion, embryonic cell research, and homosexual unions — all fundamentally opposed to Catholic teaching — has gotten a free pass from America’s Catholic bishops.
It’s worth asking why the Church doesn’t, in its teaching authority, correct him, since it has the authority to do so. After all, isn’t that what bishops are for?
Well, don’t hold your breath.
Kerry has gotten a free pass because he’s played a game of "chicken" with the American Catholic hierarchy and he’s won. In fact, it’s been no contest. He knew all along that the last thing he had to worry about was a bishop publicly correcting him for masquerading as a Catholic in good standing.
He had some leadblockers on his end-run. Last May, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, second wife of Senator Edward Kennedy, published an op-ed daring any bishop in America to deny her husband the Eucharist. No bishop took her up on it. (Mrs. Kennedy and her husband, by the way, had received Communion the day he voted to sustain Bill Clinton’s veto of the partial birth abortion act several years back. The pastor of the parish, Saint Joseph’s on Capitol Hill, shared a few laughs with the Kennedys on their way out of Church, so the Kennedys and the Kerrys have made a point of taunting the bishops regarding Communion. Senator Chris Dodd, also a Catholic, told me — in a public conversation — that “I know I can’t go to Communion because I’m divorced and remarried.” So are Kennedy and Kerry, but no bishop has ever stopped them from receiving the Eucharist. The Catholic Church calls that “scandal,” and the reason most American bishops don’t do anything about it can be found in another scandal — this one caused by the bishops themselves.
As we all know, for the past forty years or so, dozens — perhaps hundreds — of bishops shuffled predator homosexual clerical child rapists (including some who later became bishops) around, instead of turning them over to the civil authorities as the felons that they were.
Instead of resigning en masse as a gang of criminally negligent enablers, America’s bishops decided to hang together, lest they hang separately. And the last thing they want to do right now is to enrage a Democratic Party that has prominent prosecutors and lawyers and judges galore in every big city (every one with a bishop) in the country. Add to that tens of thousands of Democrat trial lawyers fervently supporting their leader, Democrat VP candidate John Edwards, and you have all the ingredients necessary for the bishops’ "silence is golden" policy.
Of course, this didn’t all happen in a vacuum. Most Catholic bishops grew up Democrats, not only in the sense of family affiliation, but also in the more fundamental sense of culture and ideology. Given the sad shape of Catholic seminaries in the past forty years, their tribal preferences have survived and thrived as they have promoted each other into higher office.
Today’s church attitudes are the product of a long struggle against the anti-Catholicism had prevailed in America for two hundred years. By the mid-twentieth century, many American faithful had been longing for decades to exit the "Catholic ghetto" and be accepted by and even to shape and to influence the broader secular culture.
They failed. Instead, the popular culture devoured them whole, a process that has been admirably analyzed in the ground-breaking work The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America, by David Carlin.
Add to this the sad prevalence among many modernist clergy — whose number swelled in the 50s, 60s, and 70s — of active, even rampant homosexuality and the promotion of a homosexual subculture in the Church. (Father Paul Mankowski has written a probing analysis of the reasons. And Catholic layman Paul Likoudis has produced a masterful study documenting hundreds of flagrant cases of criminal clerical rape and Episcopal neglect so widespread that it is fair to say that it became official church policy. Supposedly, that ended in January 2002, when decades of rampant clerical crime in the Boston Archdiocese burst into the national media — even though many of them had been known to concerned Catholics for years, and some for decades.)
Since 2002, then, American bishops have been preoccupied with their own survival as thousands of clerical crimes have been tallied by independent investigators, and tens of billions of dollars have been demanded by victims represented by a pack of very aggressive trial lawyers. Boston is now closing many parishes and selling church properties to pay settlements in the first wave of victim lawsuits; the dioceses of Portland, Oregon, and Tuscon, Arizona, have declared bankruptcy, and Davenport, Iowa barely escaped that fate as it settled its first wave of suits last week, although the bishop said there were more suits to come. (Many dioceses find bankruptcy appealing because it puts up another barrier between its secret records and the public — including prosecutors, investigators, and lawyers representing victims. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles has spent millions of dollars fighting to keep secret the church records regarding two accused abusers — not to protect the priests, but to protect himself and his brother bishops from the prying eyes of the law lest they suffer the same fate as Cardinal Law and the countless others who have been charged with criminal negligence.)
Not only are dozens of dioceses on the brink of financial bankruptcy, but countless bishops are also morally bankrupt. Milwaukee’s Archbishop Rembert Weakland, a notorious liberal and outspoken enemy of Church moral teaching, retired last year to the news that he had used hundreds of thousands of dollars (donated by the faithful) to pay secret hush money to his former homosexual partner. The Archbishop of Phoenix and the bishop of Manchester, New Hampshire, threatened with jail for their parts in the cover-ups of clerical crimes, negotiated plea bargains with government prosecutors that kept them out of prison but that delivered the nuts-and-bolts of the Church’s personnel policies over to secular authorities. In past centuries, bishops went to the stake or to the gallows to prevent such travesties — but those bishops were of a different mettle than today’s. (In fact, Cardinal Avery Dulles has observed that today’s bishops are of only "ordinary" qualifications in times that demand "extraordinary" men.)
After this recitation of the fact pattern, it’s hardly surprising that the bishops have done nothing to defend the faithful against the public scandal of prominent politicians flaunting their attack on basic church doctrine while insisting on being treated by the universal church as practicing Catholics.
The occasion of Ted Kennedy going to Communion before voting to support partial-birth abortion is instructive in this regard. The parish pastor was clearly basking in the attention he was receiving from this almost mythical figure, according to an eyewitness, and perhaps it never occurred to him, amidst the hearty laughter and back-slapping, to mention the church’s teaching regarding the killing of the unborn. Why? We can only guess, but in 2002 that very pastor was removed from ministry because of multiple allegations that he too had criminally homosexually assaulted young boys years before.
Could it be that many bishops fear the same fate? And that the rest of them, with only a few exceptions, have decided not to rock the boat? After all, thousands and thousands of boys, children of the people in the pews, had been raped for decades by priests and bishops. These priests and bishops, of course, continued to go to Communion for years, usually while celebrating Mass and scanning the pews for prospective new victims. In the light of that sad history, it’s no wonder that the bishops might not relish the prospect of telling the laity that they can’t go to Communion because they advocate the wrong legislation. As a Kerry supporter might put it, "hey, he didn’t rape anybody."
Paul Likoudis explains in AmChurch that the pro-homosexual mentality is so actively advocated and advanced by the Catholic hierarchy today (with a few valiant and applauded exceptions to be sure) that any attempt by this group of bishops to teach against the grain on any divisive moral issue would be the more newsworthy event — not their abandonment of church teaching in the face of concerted popular opposition, which is, after all, only their job.
The other abiding reality is, of course, that liberal-left mentality of most bishops. Years ago, the Church created a huge bureaucracy, put it in Washington, and staffed it with notorious socialists, advocates of Marxist "liberation theology," and other varieties of leftist apparatchiks. In fact, in recent weeks a visitor noticed that a surprising number of cars parked in the private lot of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops sported Kerry stickers. When a reporter returned to the lot a few days later to photograph them she was immediately escorted off the premises by a security officer. The very next day, an employee reports that most of the bumper stickers had mysteriously disappeared.
Hilaire Belloc said many years ago that clerics make terrible politicians. Every cleric knows that, but today’s bishops appear to believe that they have no choice. Inundated with lawsuits and criminal indictments, and confronted with an enraged laity that demands accountability, they have retreated behind a phalanx of lawyers, bureaucrats (many of them “sex abuse experts” on leave from government agencies), and PR specialists (whom one sensible pastor refers to as the “paid liars”). Desperately trying to preserve their jobs and their insurance policies, they are striking out in every direction, especially at the laity. (For years they concentrated on attacking the victims. The accounts are as sickening as they are numerous.)
In some cases, bishops attacking the laity actually demand that they apologize to the clerical perpetrators. Arlington Virginia bishop Paul Loverde did just that when a Charles Molineaux, a prominent Catholic layman in his diocese, suggested in the Wall Street Journal that Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston should resign. (Which the Cardinal did soon after, once the magnitude of his negligence was established. Although Molineaux was proven correct, Loverde never apologized.) This year, Bishop Loverde has continued his attack on the laity, insisting that "parents might be the abusers," and requiring that children of five years and older (in the words of his sex-abuse "expert") be "desensitized of their sense of embarrassment and shame" about sex. In the spirit of Knute Rockne ("The best defense is a good offense"), Loverde recently mandated that 15,000 parents and other laity be fingerprinted by state authorities if they want to continue to participate in church programs, including those involving their own children.
It would take a miraculous transformation for the bishops to actually do their job. After all, for decades few bishops ever took notice of those millions of Catholic laity that rejected other fundamental Catholic teachings. Believe it or not, the Church still teaches that contraception, fornication, or civil remarriage after divorce are moral failings that constitute grave sin. In fact, in America these days, the mere "technicality" that the Church teaches something doesn’t necessarily mean that the bishops will teach it. No bishop that I know of has even bothered to ask Senator Kerry why he is personally opposed to abortion — what is it about the procedure, or the baby, or the results, that he finds so repulsive?
Under these circumstances, don’t expect the Cardinal Mahonys of the world to deny the Eucharist to John Kerry. Quite the contrary: the bishops fear Kerry and his fellow Democrat prosecutors, judges, and trial lawyers much more than Kerry fears the bishops. For, while bishops can be sued, prosecuted, and even jailed for the crimes of the sex abuse scandal, no bishop will ever get in trouble with the law because he allows John Kerry to receive the Eucharist.