Fraudulent Catholics?

May 12, 2011 at 11:25 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Two of our grandkids (and their parents) live out in western Massachusetts, in a village called Warren, near Springfield. One weekend when we were there I went to Mass at a church the next village over.

It was a pretty amazing experience. Almost everything about the liturgy, except that it was in English, could have taken place in my childhood parish in the 1950s: they even said the prayers at the end of Mass that we used to say before Vatican II, in which, among other things, we prayed to St. Michael the Archangel.

The most stunning part of my one and only visit to that church, however, was a poster in the lobby titled “Fraudulent Catholics,” with the names and photos of sixteen politicians, all Democrats, who had voted for some kind of legislation related to reproductive choice. The ones I remember are John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi–Pelosi whom some consider the most successful Speaker of the House in fifty years for getting the first real expansion of health care passed since the Johnson administration.

Let me be clear: I  can understand disagreeing over political questions. Even claiming that certain actions are against the teachings of the church. The term “fraudulent Catholics” strikes me as a little over the top, though. Besides which, if theses men and women aren’t real Catholics, why should they care what the St.-Michael-lovers out near Sturbridge think?

This brings me to two other Catholics, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Congressman Paul Ryan, who are working like maniacs to do away with the social safety net that US Catholics, including our bishops and politicians, did a lot to get put into place. After all, Catholic immigrants throughout US history have comprised a good percentage of the poor; in some ways, the New Deal was the expansion of the kind of aid  Catholic parishes, Sisters, and machine politicians gave immigrant Catholics before World War II.

As you perhaps know, a group of Catholic professors and leaders have sent a public letter to John Boehner on the occasion of his addressing the graduates at the Catholic University of America, pointing out to him that the budget cuts he advocates in Medicare and Medicaid and other social programs are contrary to Catholic social teaching. I’m delighted that they did this, and proud of them for not descending into the kind of vilification that that poster out in western Massachusetts does.

I wonder, though, whether the current batch of Catholic bishops will show the kind of directness regarding the evisceration of the social safety net that they have shown on the subject of abortion. If Ryan’s proposal to block-grant Medicaid really does pass, thus cutting back massively, for example,on funds that extend nursing home care  for incapacitated elderly Americans whose savings are exhausted, will Ryan’s bishop deny him communion? Or is sex the only thing that merits unambiguous episcopal action?


One: Fraudulent Catholics

June 14, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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In my last post, I mentioned that in May I had spent a week in western Massachusetts at a cabin on a lake near our grandkids, Wylliam and Nora. We had a pretty good time with them, though I do tend to think, after a week with a three-year-old and a five-year-old, that parents who manage not to be truly violent deserve a medal.

I also mentioned that on Pentecost Sunday I went to the Catholic church near Wales, the Massachusetts town where we were staying. I am generally wary about churches I’m not familiar with, but it was Pentecost, for Pete’s sake, so I decided to take my chances.

The service itself was unmemorable, except for the fact that it could have passed for a perfectly good Mass at the parish I grew up in just over the city line from Philadelphia circa 1959. In the sermon, most of which has mercifully left my memory, the pastor referred to the disciples at the Last Supper as “Jesus’ first priests.” This reminded me of a pronouncement by the ever-retiring Sister Elizabeth Johnson, back at, I believe, the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Francisco in 1997. “Let’s be clear,” EJ announced. ” Jesus didn’t ordain anybody.” And at the end of the Mass, before he left he altar, the priest and the congregation together prayed a lengthy prayer to the Virgin Mary–maybe it was the “Hail Holy Queen”–and a second prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel that I had totally forgotten., though I knew every word of it. Both were in English, I’m pleased to report.

The striking part of my visit to St. Christopher’s, however, took place while I was hanging out in the lobby waiting for my husband the Baptist to pick me up. There was a  poster on the bulletin board titled “Fraudulent Catholics.” That sounded pretty interesting, so I sauntered over and gave it a read.

It was a poster warning Catholics about US politicians who claim to be Catholics but actually aren’t because of their voting record. There were either sixteen or twenty photographs of people like Nancy Pelosi and Kathleen Sibelius, Barbara Mikulski and John Kerry, Ken Salazar and a bunch more–folks you’d be quite familiar with. 

The poster, it turns out, was published by the American Life League, a pro-life group. I wondered why a group called the “American” Life League gets to decide who is and is not a Catholic, but it turns out, it’s a “Catholic” group, if not a very catholic one. I tried to find the poster on their web page after I came home but it wasn’t there. I wrote to their contact email address asking for a copy but never heard back from them. Guess they don’t reach out to the likes of me.

Myself, I have thought from time to time of writing something about “bad Catholics,” by which I mean Catholics like the people in my family, and families like ours, who did their best, but were not exactly saints. Like my my great-grandmother, Hannah Kelly, an Irish domestic, for example, who married an Episcopalian and sat saying the rosary in her rocking chair every Sunday while her husband took the kids to church.

“Fraudulent” is another matter, though. Has kind of a nasty edge to it. Hard to fit it in with the things Jesus was given to saying about loving your enemy. Clearly, these American Life League folks are offering a variation on the kind of Catholicism I was writing about in my post, “Only Sex Matters,” except this time the title can be narrowed even further: “Only Abortion Matters.” As for Nancy Pelosi, who worked her butt off to secure health coverage for thirty million or so Americans, a good number of whom won’t need to have abortions because they’ll finally have access to regular medical check-ups as well as contraceptives, who cares about her?

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