Communion Denial and Culture Wars

March 2, 2012, 8:00 am | Posted by

Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post reports this week that a woman attending her mother’s funeral was denied Communion by a priest because she is a lesbian. It’s a truly outrageous incident that should offend any person of faith who recognizes that a holy sacrament should never be used to denigrate a human being made in God’s image.

It’s also a cautionary tale now that we’re knee deep in the fever swamps of an election year where culture-war politics is back with a vengeance, and the Catholic Church is flexing its institutional muscles against contraception coverage, same-sex marriage and a host of other divisive social issues. Regardless of the view one takes on same-sex marriage, can’t we all agree that our houses of worship should be welcoming places for all people? Official Catholic teaching, in fact, is clear that gays and lesbians should always be treated with dignity. According to the Catholic Catechism “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”  Sadly, the church is often its own worst enemy in this regard.

Remember that this shameful story of Communion denial in the Archdiocese of Washington comes just two months after Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, the past president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, compared the gay rights movement to the KKK. Last summer in Boston, the Rainbow Ministry of St. Cecilia’s Parish posted a notice in the church bulletin about a Mass that would “honor Christ’s message of hope and salvation to all people” during Boston’s Pride Month. This was not controversial news for most Catholic clergy and laity until the city’s vociferous Catholic right hit squads, specifically the blog “Bryan Hehir Exposed,” (Fr. Hehir is a former president of Catholic Charities USA and a professor at Harvard University) urged Catholics to flood Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s office with protest calls. The blog described plans for the Mass as an “atrocious scandal” and demanded that the pastor be put on leave. The Mass was canceled by the archdiocese a few days later.

Let’s not miss the big picture. A well-organized Catholic right – including bloggers and Catholic watchdog organizations that monitor supposed breaches of orthodoxy on Catholic campuses – has played a significant role in shaping the political posture of many Catholic leaders today. A generation of young priests and bishops, far quieter on issues of economic justice and peace than contraception and abortion, are also the legacy of the late Pope John Paul II – whose 27-year pontificate included a strong critique of unfettered capitalism but was largely defined by his distinctive “theology of the body” and appointment of theologically conservative bishops.  A widely respected, now retired, church official who served his diocese’s social justice office for several decades told me:

I am concerned about the tone of the bishops. What is missing today is the conciliatory, collaborative, politically astute leadership of the Bishops of the 80′s and 90′s. To compromise is considered weak by this crowd.  The Bishops, to a great extent, have become captives of corporate elites, the National Right to Life, and conservative lay organizations. They have access and influence that eclipse that of progressive Catholics.

The retired official also lamented that the church’s revered social justice work is increasingly being drowned out by abortion politics, the fight against same-sex marriage and deep animus against the Democratic Party.  Archbishop Dolan of New York,  president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, unwittingly proved the point that right-wing Catholic activists and conservative intellectuals have the ears of bishops these days when he told reporter John Allen that he gets “far more criticism from people who feel we bishops are much too soft on the Democrats, who feel that we are actually in the pocket of the Democrats.”  A truly stunning and revealing statement about the conservative bubble many Catholic priests and bishops live in.

To his credit, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington (like the majority of bishops) disagrees with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and other bishops who politicize Communion, especially during election years. In this particular case, the Washington Archdiocese has written a letter of apology to the woman caught up this shameful incident, a gesture she acknowledges as sincere while still rightly calling for the priest’s removal from parish life. It’s still uncertain what will happen to this priest since archdiocesan officials have been quiet and a reporter’s attempts to reach the priest have been rebuffed. We know little about the priest other than he is fairly young, active in local anti-abortion protests and has referred to a Maryland doctor who performs abortions as the “Butcher of Germantown.”  Predictably, some Catholic conservative bloggers in the archdiocese are defending the indefensible.

Many faithful Catholics who respect our church have reason to be concerned that today’s priests and some bishops often seem more eager to fight culture wars than be pastoral leaders. Let’s hope as election-year punches are thrown and divisive social issues are debated, our churches can be sanctuaries from the kind of scorched-earth tactics that have no place in God’s house.

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Chris Matthews’s Double Standard on Dishonest Guests

February 23, 2012, 2:06 pm | Posted by

After watching Franklin Graham continue to refuse to acknowledge the President’s Christian faith and spread anti-Muslim conspiracy theories in an appearance on Morning Joe Tuesday, Chris Matthews spoke out on Hardball against media networks (including his own) continuing to book the offensive pastor:

MATTHEWS: I think we should stop inviting this guy to talk about politics. He should stay out of the — I mean, I love the bookings on Morning Joe. I love the guests. In this case, I think this guy should not be in the public square talking politics,”

As Dan explained yesterday, we agree! People willing to attack faith and spread hate don’t deserve the endorsement and platform that national media appearances provide.

But Matthews’s truth-telling on this issue raises an important question: Why doesn’t he hold his own show to the same standard when it comes to the similarly problematic Tony Perkins?

When Perkins’s organization the Family Research Council was declared a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center in November 2010, Perkins went on Matthews’s show to make the nasty, false accusation that “homosexual men are more likely to abuse children than straight men.” Since then Perkins has been welcomed back to MSNBC 23 times.

And Hardball has been one of his prime destinations; Matthews himself has started calling Perkins his “ol’ pal” because he appears so frequently. (In a particular twist of irony, Matthews earlier this month boasted about how he wouldn’t invite Graham on his show in the middle of a segment with Perkins!)

Given this double standard, it’s clear that either Matthews doesn’t know the extent of Tony Perkins’s record of dishonesty, or he doesn’t think Perkins’s extreme and deceptive rhetoric rises to the same level as Graham’s.

That’s the question Bishop Gene Robinson and 20,000 people of faith with Faithful America have been asking as well. Today, Michael Sherrard, director of the online community of people of faith, released this statement:

Chris Matthews said yesterday that Franklin Graham shouldn’t be ‘in the public square talking politics’ because of his extremist rhetoric. It’s a shame Matthews doesn’t hold his own guests to the same standard. Matthews regularly hosts Tony Perkins despite Perkins’s hateful, dishonest rhetoric against gays and lesbians.

Perkins’s Family Research Council is classified as a hate group for, among other things, accusing gays and lesbians of child molestation and predicting gay military personnel would rape fellow service members. I hope Matthews doesn’t think these views are appropriate for the public square. He needs to stop offering Tony Perkins an opportunity to misrepresent the views of Christian voters on national television.

Learn more about Faithful America’s campaign here.

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CNN Anchor Grills Tony Perkins on Anti-Gay Stances

February 21, 2012, 4:01 pm | Posted by

Faithful America has been running a campaign asking MSNBC to stop booking hate-group leader Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, on their shows. Perkins appears as a frequent contributor without being balanced by a progressive Christian leader or challenged for his organization’s hateful lies about the LGBT community.

While MSNBC is far and away the most frequent offender, other networks give Perkins a platform too. But on CNN earlier this month, anchor Don Lemon finally provided an example of how to do this right, challenging Perkins for his organization’s silence on violence against gays and lesbians.

Equality Matters adds context:

Though Perkins denies condoning violence against gays and lesbians, he’s made a living out of peddling homophobic myths that depict LGBT people as threats, predators, and enemies of the state.

Perkins’ FRC also has also long opposed efforts to protect gays and lesbians from violence. The organization has been a vocal opponent of efforts to include sexual orientation in anti-bullying and hate crime legislation. FRC Senior Fellow Peter Sprigg has openly advocated for the criminalization of homosexuality and even suggested that gay people should be exported out of the country.

Good on Lemon for speaking up. Hopefully other anchors and networks will take notice and stop giving this hate group credibility and a free pass.

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Faithful America and Bishop Gene Robinson Deliver 20,000 Petition Signatures to MSNBC

February 15, 2012, 5:44 pm | Posted by

Yesterday in New York, Faithful America members and faith leaders including Bishop Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, gathered at MSNBC studios to deliver 20,000 signatures calling on the network to stop inviting hate group leader Tony Perkins onto their news programming.

MSNBC sent down representatives to accept the petitions but remained non-committal about their willingness to change their policy.

Here’s video of their delivery combined with footage of Perkins on MSNBC:

You can sign the petition here.

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Faithful America and Bishop Gene Robinson to Deliver Petitions to MSNBC Headquarters

February 14, 2012, 9:30 am | Posted by

Bishop Gene RobinsonLast month, Faithful America launched a petition calling on MSNBC to stop inviting Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and other FRC spokespeople on its network to represent Christians.

Since the start of the campaign, over 20,000 people of faith have signed on. Unfortunately, MSNBC has not only failed to stop booking Perkins, they’ve gotten worse — inviting him to appear a staggering 11 times already this year.1

Today at 11am, Faithful America members are upping the ante. Joined by Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson and local New York clergy, they’ll deliver their petition signatures to MSNBC representatives and hold a press conference outside network headquarters in Rockefeller Plaza.

The faith leaders will confront MSNBC about its decision to continue booking spokespeople from an organization that has been officially designated as a hate group for its history of spreading false, hateful claims about the LGBT community and challenge the network to find other guests more representative of the broader Christian community.

Joining Bishop Robinson at today’s event are:

Rev. Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister, Middle Collegiate Church, New York, NY
Rev. Michael Ellick, Minister, Judson Memorial Church, New York, NY
Rev. Chloe Breyer, Executive Director, Interfaith Center of New York
Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, Pastor, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, New York, NY

 The petition reads:

The Family Research Council is a hate group, and journalists ought to treat it as such. MSNBC must stop inviting Family Research Council spokespeople on the air to represent the views of Christians and other people of faith.


Photo credit: Jim Dela, Fotopedia

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