Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Of Demons and Demagoguery

Maureen Dowd has an excellent Op Ed in the New York Times today in which she reminds us that the same Church that is up in arms about President Obama's mandate that health insurance plans cover contraceptives for women, has recently trained dozens of "Exorcists" to purge possessed souls of their literal demons. In so many ways this is an institution that exemplifies pre-Enlightenment thought. And I might add that, in this absurd sidestepping of psychiatric medicine, they also resemble the cult of Scientology.

It is telling that just days ago, in an interview in Connecticut Magazine, Cardinal Edward Egan, a central figure in the Catholic Church's scandalous cover-up of hundreds of incidents of child sexual abuse and rape by priests recently withdrew the apology he offered on the subject in 2002:

CT Magazine: In 2002, you wrote a letter to parishioners in which you said, “If in hindsight we discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry.”

EGAN: First of all, I should never have said that. I did say if we did anything wrong, I’m sorry, but I don’t think we did anything wrong. But I hate to go back over this. I think there’s more to life than that one issue, especially when I had no cases

It is truly astonishing that an institution that was guilty of the cover-up of hundreds (if not thousands) of incidents of child rape by hundreds of its top employees could survive such a scandal, let alone rise up a few years later (while the results of these crimes are still making their way through the legal system) and attempt to claim a moral mandate to oppose the practice of contraception. My feeling is that this institution should shut its piehole for the next 50 or so years, butt our of the culture wars, and spend its every waking minute atoning for its sins by ministering exclusively to the poor. Andrew Sullivan has rightly pointed out, on his blog, that the same Catholic Cardinals who raged from the pulpit in righteous fury when President Obama decreed that businesses aligned with the Catholic church should cover contraceptives for their employees, were largely silent when the President was pushing a plan for universal health coverage that would mostly benefit the neediest in society.

In an odd way, I suspect that the fury that greeted the ciontraceptive coverage mandate from the pulpit was a direct result of the priestly child sexual abuse scandal of recent years. What led me to this conclusion was a radio interview I was listening to recently in which a person sympathetic to the church (I've forgotten pretty much all the details of the show, even the name of the show) stated that the church has been battered over the last 10 year's, and this is the last straw. Now, it's common hyperbole (and lies frankly) among Evangelical figures to claim that Obama is mounting a "war on religion", so at first I didn't really give this statement a second thought. But sometime later it dawned on me that the 10 years battering this guest was referring to probably involves the justified criticism the church leadership has endured for its handling of the child sexual abuse scandal.

So I suspect that, as much as anything, the violent reaction we have seen to the health insurance mandate from the Catholic hierarchy is as much a cynical move to put the child sexual abuse behind them by attempting to claim some high ground in the culture wars.

Of course this shallow move has backfired. In their continued opposition to the president's newly modified coverage proposal (where the Church affiliated institutions are no longer required to offer such coverage, but insurers themselves are required to offer it separately and for free) the leadership has demonstrated not just that it opposes being forced to pay for contraceptives, but that it would use its power over employees to demand that they adhere to an outdated, medieval morality that is rejected by even 98% of its own parishioners.

Nothing brings out the Pharisee in men like a desire to cover up the hideousness of their own sins.

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