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Split personality. (Church And State).

Roman Catholicism is much too big to be ignored. It claims a billion members worldwide and enjoys a unique position as the only religious group to have been granted permanent observer status in the United Nations General Assembly. The church's political and social influence is enormous worldwide, particularly in the United States, where it is the largest denomination.

However, Catholicism suffers from a serious case of split personality. On one side of this divide we find a church--

* that is scandal-wracked, a small percentage of whose clergy have been involved in pedophilia recently in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, Arizona, California, and other states--not to mention Canada, Ireland, France, and the United Kingdom--and all kept away from public notice until a decade or so ago by a massive coverup. Since 1990, it has been estimated, the church has had to pay out a billion dollars or so to victims of clerical abuse. (This brings to mind the literature dealing with clerical sexual misbehavior, including such classics as Portuguese novelist Jose-Maria Eca de Queiroz's The Sin of Father Amaro, Spanish novelist Vicente Blasco Ibanez's The Cathedral, and Ambrose Bierce's The Monk and the Hangman's Daughter.)

* that is running low on priests because it refuses to ordain women or allow priests to marry.

* that holds as one of its major goals securing tax support for its schools, its educational "apostolate," in the United States and elsewhere, and which shows scant interest in adequate and equitable funding of public schools, which serve at least 80 percent of Catholic kids in the United States. (Question: as the church in Ireland has recently been ordered to pay more than $100 million in fines for priestly pedophilia, and the Irish government, which subsidizes church schools, will have to pay damages as well, could state governments in the United States be sued if pedophilia occurs in parochial schools tax supported through vouchers or tax credits?)

* whose unelected all-male hierarchy has gone all out to deny Catholic and non-Catholic women and men reproductive choice in the United States, through the UN, and elsewhere; that is more concerned with upholding outdated theological dogma than allowing effective measures for combating HIV, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases; that uses its partially tax-supported hospitals (16 percent of all hospital beds in the United States) to limit reproductive health care.

* whose leadership prior to the late 1940s bore considerable responsibility for historic European anti-Semitism and did not respond appropriately in the Holocaust. (I recommend Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's twenty-five-page review of ten recent books on the subject in the January 21, 2002, New Republic.)

On the other side of the divide, however, we find a church--

* a majority of whose members elected a pro-choice, anti-voucher U.S. president in 1992 and 1996.

* that numbers among its membership some of the most progressive, pro-choice, pro-church-state-separation members of Congress, such as Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Chris Dodd, Barbara Mikulski, Tom Harkin, and Tom Daschle, and Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Loretta Sanchez; a church whose House members, led by Republican Robert Drinan, a Jesuit priest, defeated a proposed constitutional amendment in 1971 that would have seriously undermined church-state separation.

* in which four out of five of its families send their children to public schools and a majority of whose members voted against school vouchers in statewide referenda, most recently in California and Michigan in 2000.

* a majority of whose members disagree with the hierarchy's official positions on contraception, abortion, clerical celibacy, ordaining women, and divorce.

On one side of the personality split is an unelected, authoritarian, out-of-touch male leadership faction; on the other, a generous, decent, democratic people as educated, hardworking, and caring as any other segment of our population.

I especially want to commend a courageous, progressive organization, Catholics for a Free Choice, and its excellent journal, Conscience. The winter 2001/2002 issue leads off with an important article on the role of religion in international policymaking. It is a report on a November 28, 2001, seminar at the European Parliament in Brussels sponsored by Catholics for a Free Choice and individual members of the European Parliament.

A quote from an article in Conscience by CFFC President Frances Kissling and Serra Sippel exemplifies the progressive side of Catholicism:
 The Roman Catholic Church is usually not considered to be a fundamentalist
 movement. But its governing body, the Holy See, does exhibit such traits in
 its church-state relations and the manner in which it presents its views in
 political processes that address women's reproductive health and rights.
 The official position of the Roman Catholic church on reproductive health
 matters, as restated in Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical, Evangelium
 Vitae, asserts that contraception, sterilization, abortion and fertility
 treatments are attacks against life and are morally unacceptable. This
 includes the use of condoms for the prevention of HIV/AIDS and other
 sexually transmitted diseases.

The article goes on to show how the Holy See used its special UN status to team up with the governments of Iran and Libya at the 1994 Cairo population and 1995 Beijing women's conferences to "impose its position on reproductive health and rights on non-Catholics as well as Catholics."

CFFC is leading the See Change project, a broad-based international effort to get the UN to end the Holy See's unique status as General Assembly permanent observer--a status that gives this one unrepresentative religious body an unfair advantage on women's issues, reproductive health and rights, and church-state matters over all other religious and secular groups and non-governmental organizations.

All of the preceding reinforces the following points: Religious labels are deceptive and misleading and interfere with broad progressive intergroup cooperation. Classifying people as either "believers" or "unbelievers" is particularly silly; all "unbelievers" believe something and all "believers" are "unbelievers" in whatever is incompatible with their beliefs.

In the real world, progress on women's issues, reproductive and human rights, civil liberties, church-state relations, and population and environmental issues is possible only when moderate to progressive people of the widest possible spectrum of views on religion are willing to work together.

Edd Doerr is president of the American Humanist Association and Americans for Religious Liberty. He and Al Menendez are co-editors of the newly released book, Great Quotations on Religious Freedom.
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Article Details
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Author:Doerr, Edd
Publication:The Humanist
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
Previous Article:$3,000 in prizes! (The Humanist Essay Contest for young women and men of North America).
Next Article:Humans: couldn't live alone, couldn't live together. (Alternative Voices).

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