Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Man behind the Hate

The Intellectual Architect who transformed American Catholic Bishops into the Choirboys for the Republican Party.

What do former LA Cardinal Mahony’s and San Francisco’s Archbishop Niederauer’s support of California’s Proposition 8, NYC Archbishop Dolan’s opposition to Marriage Equality legislation in New York state, the unified opposition to all Marriage Equality legislation by the American Catholic hierarchy and the Manhattan Declaration all have in common? Is there one person who is the intellectual architect of all the “talking points,” the inspiration for funding of a coordinated political action against Marriage Equality and LGBT civil rights? New York Times reporter David D. Kirkpatrick tells us that many social and political conservatives say one name.

Robert P. George, a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence and a Roman Catholic who is this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker.

He has parlayed a 13th-century Catholic philosophy into real political influence. Glenn Beck, the Fox News talker and a big George fan, likes to introduce him as “one of the biggest brains in America,” or, on one broadcast, “Superman of the Earth.” Karl Rove told me he considers George a rising star on the right and a leading voice in persuading President George W. Bush to restrict embryonic stem-cell research. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told me he numbers George among the most-talked-about thinkers in conservative legal circles. And Newt Gingrich called him “an important and growing influence” on the conservative movement, especially on matters like abortion and marriage.

“If there really is a vast right-wing conspiracy,” the conservative Catholic journal Crisis concluded a few years ago, “its leaders probably meet in George’s kitchen.”

The Effect:

George was invited to address an audience that included many bishops at a conference in Washington. He told them with typical bluntness that they should stop talking so much about the many policy issues they have taken up in the name of social justice. They should concentrate their authority on “the moral social” issues like abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, where, he argued, the natural law and Gospel principles were clear. To be sure, he said, he had no objections to bishops' “making utter nuisances of themselves” about poverty and injustice, like the Old Testament prophets, as long as they did not advocate specific remedies. They should stop lobbying for detailed economic policies like progressive tax rates, higher minimum wage and, presumably, the expansion of health care — “matters of public policy upon which Gospel principles by themselves do not resolve differences of opinion among reasonable and well-informed people of good will,” as George put it.

A few months later, in a July 17 letter to Congress, the bishops did something close to that in the health care debate.

George’s marching orders have transformed the National Catholic Bishop’s Conference (NCCB) into becoming the choirboys for the Republican Party. What is the real world cost both to American Catholics and American Society?


Sixty leaders of Catholic religious orders representing 59,000 nuns sent a letter to Washington leaders urging them to vote for the health care reform bill. Unlike many of the Catholic bishops, who have worked against the current bill on the basis of abortion policy, the sisters argued the pending bill represented a "real pro-life stance" and urged Catholic members of Congress to pass the legislation.

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a national Catholic social justice lobby represents one of the organizations that signed the letter to Congress, in her words,

“But this really isn't so much about a face and morals difference. It's about a political analysis difference where does this or does this not fund abortion? And our perspective is is that it does not. And it promotes life by giving 30 million people in our country access to health care when we know that 45,000 people die every year because they don't have access to health care and to having their needs met.”

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church in this country have chosen to transform the Catholic Church into a far right PAC. As Sister Campbell points out the price that the US bishops have paid is not merely dollars but 45,000 human lives per year.


Robert P. George’s own analysis of the weakness in his appeal to absolute reason:
It is a debate at least as old as the Reformation, when Martin Luther broke with the Catholic Church and insisted that reason was so corrupted that faith in the divine was humanity’s only hope of salvation. (Until relatively recently, contemporary evangelicals routinely leveled the same charge at modern Catholics.) “This is a serious issue, and if I am wrong, this is where I am wrong,” George acknowledges.
Over lunch last month at the Princeton faculty club, George noted that many evangelicals had signed the Manhattan Declaration despite the traditional Protestant skepticism about the corruption of human reason. “I sold my view about reason!” he declared. He was especially pleased that, by signing onto the text, so many Catholic bishops had endorsed his new natural-law argument about marriage. “It really is the top leadership of the American church,” he said.

“Obviously, I am gratified that view appears to have attracted a very strong following among the bishops,” he went on. “I just hope I am right. If they are going to buy my arguments, I don’t want to mislead the whole church.”


First, Professors at Creighton University in a recent book “The Sexual Person” have developed an argument that supports Marriage Equality.

“While some documents from Vatican II, like Gaudium et spes ("the marital act promotes self-giving by which spouses enrich each other"), gave hope for a renewed understanding of sexuality, the church has not carried out the full implications of this approach. In short, say Salzman and Lawler: emphasize relationships, not acts, and recognize Christianity's historically and culturally conditioned understanding of human sexuality. The Sexual Person draws historically, methodologically, and anthropologically from the best of Catholic tradition and provides a context for current theological debates between traditionalists and revisionists regarding marriage, cohabitation, homosexuality, reproductive technologies, and what it means to be human. This daring and potentially revolutionary book will be sure to provoke constructive dialogue among theologians, and between theologians and the Magisterium.”

This work by Professors Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler has already been condemned by American Catholic bishops, since they understand that it threatens to bring down the whole house of cards on their objections to Marriage Equality based on their appeal to the Natural Law (reason) argument. This would unmask the hierarchy’s relentless opposition to LGBT Civil Rights as nothing more than a cynical attempt to deflect attention from the Sexual Cover-Up Scandal and re-vivify their waning social influence and political power.

Also, too much scrutiny into the supposed “objective” role of reason in Anti-Equality arguments threatens fissures in the “Christian” alliance with Evangelicals. I respectfully suggest that LBGT persons with media connections use their influence to publicly air Professors’ Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler Natural Law theories and their logical legal/social implications.

Secondly, I’d point out that we “dropped the ball” and missed a significant opportunity to highlight the confrontation between the American Catholic bishops and Catholic Religious women’s orders (Nuns). The bishops have already been largely discredited by their complicity in the National and International Sexual Cover-Up Scandal. The Sisters on the other hand enjoy a much-deserved sterling reputation as ministers of charity and advocates for the marginalized. Diana Butler Bass ask the following question in an article for the Huffington Post,

“I have one question for you: Whom do you trust to speak for the Catholic faith? The bishops who covered up the sex scandal in the church, ignoring the cries of victims, while rewarding those with "habitually foul behavior" with ever-bigger parishes and positions in the hierarchy? Or the sisters -- the women who nursed your sick grandparents, who taught your children to read, cooked meals for hungry people, who started schools on the prairies and established hospitals in far-away jungles? When it comes to being pro-life, you best listen to the ladies.”

I am amazed that we have failed to do “Sixty-Minutes” type television exposes on this showdown between the hierarchy and these brave nuns. Most Catholics are more progressive, not only than other religious people but, than American voters as a whole on several social issues. Somehow, politicians interact with the local bishops as if he controlled a monolithic voting block that held very socially conservative opinions AND voted according to those opinions---they do not.

It is time for us to recognize the source of our oppression and the hatred & bigotry encouraged by these irresponsible theories. As a Philosophy professor of mine once quipped, “You have to shoot these people with their own bullets.” It is time for us to effectively and more aggressively fight back.

Post Script: An excellent article on Dr. George by Colleen at Open Tabernacle


Mareczku said...

Another excellent article here. Yes, we are better off listening to the good sisters than to some of the bishops who are more impressed by wealth and power.

Joe said...

Father Geoff,

I think you're giving George too much credit. It wasn't George who turned the U.S. bishops away from social justice issues. A fish rots from the head down. The way the Vatican turned its back on Liberation Theology & has consistently supported right wing despots shows that, sadly, the Church is led by corrupt men much more concerned with power, influence, and maintaining the status quo than with helping the poor & disenfranchised. The U.S. bishops are just the local manifestation of the policy.

Father Geoff said...

Dear Joe,

While I believe that you are correct in your allusion to Benedict XVI and his “smaller purer Church.” Evidently, it is one of the lessons he took to heart from his Hitler Youth Days and the NSDAP’s obsession with “purity.” Having said that, however, I do believe it is both accurate and fair to say that Robert P. George is the “in house” political officer for the NCCB. The overall vision may be Benedict’s, but the practical American plan on achieving it is the product of George’s intellect.

matt said...

thanks for the run-down geoff.
everyone concerned about the hierarchy's anti-gay actions knows george is the poisoned well-spring all the worst offenders are drinking from.
given that fact, why has he gotten away with holding up in his office away from the media glare for so long? why hasn't he been forced to publically argue his views? the media is suppossed to get to the source, but they've pretty much left him alone.

Father Geoff said...

Dear Matt,

That is precisely why I wrote this article. Just as NOM fights tooth and nail to hide its list of contributors, the largest of which most probably has an address in Salt Lake City. Authors of hate flee the light of public scrutiny, like cockroaches in a kitchen at midnight.

Matthew said...

I don't know if you read the Waking Up Now blog, but that blogger did a blow by blow analysis of what is wrong with George's analysis. He did it over a month or so so its like 10-12 separate blog posts.

R. S. Hoffman said...

It is not often that I am particularly proud to say that I am a Creighton University alumnus, but I'm happy to have this occasion to say, "Cheers for Salzman and Lawler!" and for the bit of Jesuit intellectual tradition of CU that leads to the university's refusal to silence them.

The other Achilles' heel to George's arguments is that one has to be willing to ignore all knowledge of psychology, and in fact all intellectual life after Sigmund Freud, in order to conceptualize the "rational" in the way that George, the bishops, and Antonin Scalia conceptualize it. Fortunately, most Catholics and certainly most of the West intuitively know better, even if they can't articulate why.

This is why the bishops can only deliver the votes of those who agree with their pre-modern viewpoint, and not those of the millions of Catholics who don't .