Monday, June 15, 2009

When bishops become politicians.

Our professor of Spiritual Theology at St. John’s seminary once said, “A coincidence is a divinely engineered event.” Last November a film crew from France was in Los Angeles covering the Election. Ms. Julie Gali, the journalist heading the crew said she felt the election of Barack Obama was a historic event.

By coincidence, Julie just happened to be in Los Angeles in the aftermath of the election. Julie was surprised by all the demonstrations surrounding Prop 8. She said to me, “We know nothing of this in France!” Well, they well know much about it very soon. Julie decided to extend her stay in California and produce a film entitled “Illegal Love-Prop 8.”

She has interviewed various people in elected office, activists, proponents and opponents of Prop 8. Last Friday, she conducted a two-hour interview of Dr. James Walton, Ph.D. and me she wanted both a theological assessment of Prop 8, as well as, an assessment of the emotional and psychological harm caused by such hate legislation on LGBT people and their families.

The governments of both France and Belgium have recently registered diplomatic protests with Vatican City over the outrageous claims made by Pope Benedict XVI, that condoms contribute to the AIDS epidemic which is devastating Africa. The pontiff made those comments on his recent tour of Angola.

The AIDS epidemic has ravaged Africa for decades and international aid agencies have attempted to help limit its effects through preventative measures such as the use of condoms, which greatly reduce the risk of infection. In Africa, the primary victims of the AIDS epidemic are heterosexuals. African men disfavor the use of condoms and the pope’s comments reinforces cultural prejudices against condom use. Sadly, the wives who become infected often die, leaving orphaned children to be raised by grandmothers.

The Vatican’s role is seen as highly negative in Europe. Cardinal Levada, the second most powerful man in the Vatican, met with Los Angeles’ Cardinal Roger Mahony and San Francisco’s Archbishop George Niederauer prior to the fall elections and this is seen as an unwelcome intrusion by Vatican state into local American politics.

It is disturbingly noteworthy that Niederauer, who had served for 11 years as the bishop of Salt Lake City, subsequently managed to convince the leadership of the Mormon Church in Utah to become so involved in California state politics. The Mormon leadership of Utah then arranged financially underwriting one of the most expensive initiative campaigns in California history. Without the out of state Mormon money brought in by Levada’s, Niederauer’s and Mahony’s role in the election, Prop 8 would most certainly have been defeated.

At a certain point, Catholics in the pews need to ask how the hierarchy is spending funds, which they have donated for charitable endeavors. Beyond that, California citizens and Americans as a whole need to begin to ask why religious organizations, which enjoy non-profit tax exemptions, are permitted to operate like non-tax exempt PACs (Political Action Committees). The age-old American concern that the Vatican, a sovereign foreign nation, is involved in directing internal American domestic politics resurfaces because of this ugly abuse.

Pope John XXIII removed the papal tiara from his head at the Second Vatican Council. The Catholic Church needs to divest itself of the trappings of political power and once again become a Church. Pope John Paul II took this one-step further when he prohibited clergy from holding elected office. Politics is the primary role of the laity not of the hierarchy. When the hierarchy usurps the role of the laity in this area, they invariably create more problems than they solve and they undermine the role of spiritual teachers which is their primary role. While on this subject, it would be nice if all candidates for ordination to the episcopacy were actually required to possess an earned doctoral degree in theology.


Marky's MADWORLD said...

Thank you so much for your wisdom & insight. Someone has to open people's eyes to the truth. I have often disagreed with my church's political stand & support of hate but it was always so forbidden to say anything negative against the church and it's followers are so much in denial and protect it so.

Keep up the good work and speak the truth. Bless You Father Geoff. I will continue to follow you as long as you will lead me and then other faithful followers who also desire equality for all.


Jane Ann Moranis said...

There is an editorial on the America (National Catholic Weekly) website which is in agreement with you:
I found it really interesting to read the positive reader responses. Catholics mostly have deference towards their clergy although that is changing. And some bishops have really used deferential laity as pawns in a partisan political game. The lie they told over and over in the election of 2008 was that the GOP was coterminous with the Kingdom of God. I never thought I would live to see a fundamentalist mentality in the church.

Joe said...

"At a certain point, Catholics in the pews need to ask how the hierarchy is spending funds, which they have donated for charitable endeavors."

Father Geoff, as the former pastor of a parish, I would appreciate it if you would please enlighten us on how weekly collections AND special collections are handled. For example, does every parish have its own account, or does the money first go to the diocese? Due to the Church's opposition to all matters affecting the LGBT community, I stopped contributing except for special collections, although I have a sinking feeling that the diocese uses some of the money for its own purposes.

Steven said...

I believe the Catholic Church in the States is going to see its unraveling at its own expense and it will be at the hands of the hierarchy itself.

Long before Prop 8 came around, people have noticed how the Catholic Church has become such an "organized religion" where they have lost their ability to lead people spiritually; and the sexual abuse scandals (that now haunt the Church) were "swept under the rug." If the general populace knew what you have shared with us, I think there would be the start of an exodus by many who think that this involvement by the Church with Prop 8 sent things over the top.

Mark Friesland said...

I wonder why political power is so very seductive and tempting to religious leaders? Wide swaths (cutting across confessional labels) of American Christendom have succumbed to this temptation and (to borrow St. John the Theologian's crude, apocalyptic imagery) are gleefully fornicating with the Great Whore and emptying their coffers to pay for her services. There is nothing of the loving and selfless kenosis of Christ Jesus in all of this. Much, much love to you Father Geoff. We hold you in our prayers.