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Easter Eve Hypocrisy from the Catholic Bishops

Vicki Kennedy (photo: Martha Coakley/flickr)

Two items in the news in the last couple of days have shown that the Purity Patrol is hard at work in the right wing of the Catholic Church. Not that there’s ever a good time for hypocrisy in the church, but this being Holy Week, it’s especially sad.

Let’s start with Vicki Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy’s widow, who had her invitation to speak to the graduates of Anna Maria College (a Roman Catholic school in Massachusetts) revoked. According to the National Catholic Reporter, it was because of pressure from the local bishop, Robert McManus:

Worcester diocesan spokesman Raymond Delisle told reporters McManus was acting in accord with the U.S. bishops’ 2004 statement that “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”

Kennedy said: “I am a lifelong Catholic and my faith is very important to me. I am not a public official. I hold no public office, nor am I a candidate for public office. I have not met Bishop McManus nor has he been willing to meet with me to discuss his objections.”

“He has not consulted with my pastor to learn more about me or my faith,” she added. “Yet by objecting to my appearance at Anna Maria College, he has made a judgment about my worthiness as a Catholic. This is a sad day for me and an even sadder one for the church I love.”

I suppose the good bishop has not read Matthew 18, where Jesus tells his followers that if they’ve got a problem with another believer, go to that person privately first to see about resolving things to regain the relationship. Given that Kennedy has not spoken with the bishop, it seems clear that his actions are not designed to address his problem with Vicki Kennedy and her beliefs, but are aimed at exercising and protecting his power.

Lovely. Can’t have “someone like her” talk about guns and child safety, after all.

On the other side of the continent, meet Compañeros, an agency devoted to servicing the needs of immigrants in the Four Corners region. Here’s how they describe their mission:

Compañeros campaigns to promote acceptance of diverse cultures throughout southwest Colorado and to assist immigrant families with access and referrals to housing, healthcare, employment and legal counsel.

We believe in serving low-income families while creating a sustainable movement to resist and abolish anti-immigrant legislation that often targets Latinos and other ethnic minorities.

Our mission is to create positive social change by supporting all immigrants and their loved ones through advocacy, education, and integrative programs.

What got them into trouble? The folks they hang out with, apparently:

. . .in February, the group was informed by a representative from the Diocese of Pueblo that its financing from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, an arm of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops devoted to ending poverty, was in danger.

The problem, the diocesan liaison explained, was Compañeros’s membership in an immigrant rights coalition that had joined forces with a statewide gay and lesbian advocacy group, recounted Nicole Mosher, Compañeros’s executive director.


But reading more deeply and poking around the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition website, it strikes me that the real problem was that CIRC didn’t budge on their stance, but chose to stand up to the diocese — despite the cost:

Compañeros provides critical resources to all immigrants, including gay and transgender immigrants. But, when the Catholic hierarchy found out that Compañeros was a member organization of CIRC, which was associated with One Colorado, they threatened to rescind all funding.

Compañeros’s board just voted to stand with all Coloradans, and to remain a member of CIRC. Compañeros stands to lose more than half of their annual operating budget.

Emphasis in the original, and yes, that link is to their fundraising page. Not all Roman Catholics like what the conservatives are doing, and they are pushing back on this as well, and yes, that link is to their fundraising page.

What makes this even more hypocritical is that the USCCB makes alliances with other groups themselves, and does not hold themselves to the same standards of purity that they expect groups like Anna Maria College and Compañeros to uphold.

Just two weeks ago, for instance, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops filed an amicus curiea brief with the Supreme Court, urging them to overturn the Arizona’s SB 1070 anti-immigrant law. Cosigning this brief with the USCCB was my own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Hmmm . . . the ELCA ordains women and has married clergy. Strike one.

The ELCA allows for the ordination of open and practicing gays and lesbians, and supports marriage equality. Strike two.

The ELCA teaches that women are capable of making moral choices, that abortion can be allowed under certain circumstances,  and the ELCA’s medical plan covers abortion in these cases. Strike three.

And yet, despite these rather serious differences, the USCCB itself had no problem linking arms with the ELCA to submit a brief to SCOTUS. “Fine for me, but not for thee” say the bishops to Anna Maria College and Compañeros.

When I celebrate Easter tomorrow, I’m celebrating the Jesus who ate with sinners, not the Pharisees who complained about him.  If the USCCB wants to be the elder brother and mope and skip the party, well, that’s their choice. It’s a sad choice, to be sure, but that’s the road they seem to be headed down. My heart goes out to those Catholic priests who came with tears to other groups whose funding was cut, offering their own gifts to support these ministries that their bishops turned their backs on, and to the lay Catholics who are stepping up to help Compañeros.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.