Political Animal


April 17, 2012 5:20 PM Your “Propaganda” Is My “Principled Opinion”

By Ed Kilgore

The journalist, blogger and controversialist Michael Sean Winters, last mentioned here when he vowed to vote against Barack Obama over the contraception coverage mandate, conducted a bit of selective indignation in a National Catholic Reporter post denouncing Religion Dispatches senior editor Sarah Posner as a “propagandist, not a journalist.” You can read his entire tirade (a mild description) if you wish. Two of the three outrages he accuses her of in her most recent writing on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ summer campaign of protests against the alleged threats to “religious liberty” posed by the Obama administration strike me as entirely reasonable if not incontrovertible intepretations of the Bishops’ “Statement on Religious Liberty” (charging the Bishops with “court-dissing,” which Winters considers inadmissable because liberals didn’t respect Bush v. Gore, and suspecting the Bishops brought up their protests against anti-immigrant legislation—not germane to “religious liberty”—as a way of appearing less partisan). Posner does not work for the Associated Press, and is entitled to conduct an analysis based on an informed, principled opinion.

But Winters seems angriest at Posner’s reference to the Bishops’ injunction to “resistance against totalitarian incursions” in their manifesto about “religious liberty” as though they were labeling the administration’s actions as such. He thunders for a good paragraph about that brief attribution. If you actually read Posner’s piece, her more specific description of the Bishops’ campaign accurately says they urge commemoration of “resistance to totalitarianism” in the context of protests against the Obama administration’s supposed deprivations. In the course of a post heatedly accusing Posner of neglecting data points contradicting her argument, you’d think Winters might have noticed that second reference.

On the broader issue of conflating Obama’s policies with those of actively anti-religious forces elsewhere in the world and in world history, Winters—and the Bishops—seem to be playing a bit of a double game. In my own piece on the Bishops’ recent statement, I noted the ambiguity:

While the Bishops’ statement does acknowledge that religious liberty is “at much greater peril” in countries other than America, this tempering of militancy is rather decisively undercut by a call for a “fortnight of freedom” this summer framed by feasts dedicated to the martyrs St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More. And then there is this toxic little remark:
“In addition to this summer’s observance, we also urge that the Solemnity of Christ the King—a feast born out of resistance to totalitarian incursions against religious liberty—be a day specifically employed by bishops and priests to preach about religious liberty, both here and abroad.”

That’s the full context of the “totalitarian incursions” reference, and if it’s not an allusion to the slippery slope to persecution that the Bishops keep fretting about in their aggressive alarmism about the contraception coverage mandate, then it’s certainly careless and irresponsible.

But if you don’t confine yourself to close exegesis of the Bishops’ statement, there’s plenty of evidence that elements of the hierarchy are indeed engaged in a dangerous conflation of insurance regulations with totalitarianism.

Check out these passages from an April 14 homily by Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky during an event entitled “A Call to Catholic Men of Faith” in Peoria:

In the late 19th century, Bismark waged his “Kultur Kamp,” a Culture War, against the Roman Catholic Church, closing down every Catholic school and hospital, convent and monastery in Imperial Germany.
Clemenceau, nicknamed “the priest eater,” tried the same thing in France in the first decade of the 20th Century.
Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care.
In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama - with his radical, pro abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.
Now things have come to such a pass in America that this is a battle that we could lose, but before the awesome judgement seat of Almighty God this is not a war where any believing Catholic may remain neutral.
This fall, every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences, or by the following fall our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic Newman Centers, all our public ministries — only excepting our church buildings - could easily be shut down. Because no Catholic institution, under any circumstance, can ever cooperate with the instrinsic evil of killing innocent human life in the womb.

Perhaps in a future post Winters, who accuses Sarah Posner of “partisan hubris,” can comment on this homily.

Winters—and for that matter, Bishop Jenky—are entitled to their opinions, of course. But when a journalist (and Posner has done some of the better reporting available on religion and politics, for years now) draws attention to the excesses of one’s political allies in a way that is inconvenient to the Cause, it’s probably a good idea to remove the beam from one’s own eye before labeling her as a “propagandist.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Bort on April 17, 2012 5:54 PM:

    Remind me again why we should listen to a top down totalitarian organization that protected child molesters all over the world talk about concepts like "freedom". And, as a product of 12 years of Jesuit education, don't even tell me I'm some kind of anti-Catholic bigot.

  • buddy66 on April 17, 2012 6:08 PM:

    I love the irony of Catholic functionaries fulminating against "totalitarianism." My ancestors left Europe to escape the clutches of that great megabeast, the Statechurch, or Churchstate, whichever is preferred. The pot is calling the kettle black.

  • Kevin S. on April 17, 2012 6:10 PM:

    This fall, every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences, or by the following fall our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic Newman Centers, all our public ministries - only excepting our church buildings - could easily be shut down. Because no Catholic institution, under any circumstance, can ever cooperate with the instrinsic evil of killing innocent human life in the womb.

    This is complete BS. Over half the states already require Catholic-affilliatied institutions to provide contraceptive coverage, and those states appear to still have Catholic schools and charities. Apparently, they can live with this "intrinsic evil" if they really have to.

  • JCtx on April 17, 2012 6:43 PM:

    The thing is, it is the employees that are purchasing the insurance, not the employer. Even if the employer is paying part of the cost of the insurance, that is an employee benefit, so the money being used to purchase the insurance is employee money, not employer money.

    It is not the employer's concern as to whether or not any coverage provided by the insurance goes against their religious beliefs as it is the employees that will be taking advantage of that coverage and choosing (there's that "choice" word again) to either use coverage that the employer doesn't like or not. When an employer (including Catholic organizations) suggests that insurance that covers birth control (or even abortions) goes against their religious beliefs, they are explicitly pushing their religious beliefs on their employees.


  • Doug on April 17, 2012 7:30 PM:

    Is Karl Rove Catholic? Or maybe he's freelancing?
    I find it interesting that, while all eyes (ears?) are focused on the Bishops' fulminations about "religious freedom", there's NO national coverage on the trials in Philadeplphia. You know, the ones where one Catholic priest has already admitted his guilt in molesting children and the trial of another Catholic priest on the same charges is still underway?
    Nor is there ANY mention of the indictment of the Bishop in MO for his part in NOT informing the police about accusations, later found to be true, against a priest in his diocese.
    If the M.O. fits...

  • Crissa on April 17, 2012 9:00 PM:

    How is telling them they can't discriminate if they want public money or be public services like forcing their doors closed with military force?

    The hospital in the counties I've lived wasn't built a Catholic hospital, but bought by the church in privatization and merge schemes. If they want to serve only Catholics, go ahead, we'll build a new one. But if they want to serve everyone, they're gonna hafta not be patronizing to their employees and follow the same laws as everyone else.

  • Barbara on April 17, 2012 9:46 PM:

    By standing up for women Obama outed the Catholic Church's interior torment and it has driven a lot of Catholics crazy. That they keep trying to blame Obama for exposing their moral schizophrenia over contraception and the satus of women in the Church tells you how soul destroying it must be. Just remember: Michael Sean Winters is foaming at the mouth so that people like Jenky can cram his views down your throat.

  • Ken on April 17, 2012 9:59 PM:

    liberals didn’t respect Bush v. Gore,

    No. The decision was respected, since it was followed. It's the process and the justices that aren't respected, which is different.

  • thebewilderness on April 17, 2012 10:02 PM:

    Matt 18:6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

    The Church has lost all credibility and will only regain it when these doodz take the long walk off the short pier with millstone properly arranged.

  • Ted Frier on April 18, 2012 6:51 AM:

    The bishops are engaged in a massive exhibition of projection. The totalitarianism entirely their own. The bishops have rather skillfully redefined "religious liberty" as getting their way. The bishops position is that wherever the financial interests of not only the Catholic Church, but also devout Catholics, intersects with the larger secular society then Catholicism and a religious sensibility must have have sovereignty in matters of important public policy (women's health), overriding all other considerations, including science and medicine. They have deliberately provoked this fight in this way -- supporting the Blunt Amendment for example that extends the birth control controversy beyond the Church itself -- in a cynical effort to regain lost political power in those areas most of interest to the Church hierarchy, which is controlling to the greatest extent possible the private moral lives of not only Catholics but non-Catholics as well, using the Church's financial resources to buy up businesses (hospitals, schools, universities, perhaps taco stands) as political leverage.

  • Steve P on April 18, 2012 8:50 AM:

    " . . . a call for a “fortnight of freedom” this summer framed by feasts dedicated to the martyrs St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More."

    Ah yes, Thomas More, exemplar of religious freedom:

    "In total there were six burned at the stake for heresy during More's chancellorship: Thomas Hitton, Thomas Bilney, Richard Bayfield, John Tewkesbery, Thomas Dusgate, and James Bainham.[9]:299–306 More's influential role in the burning of Tyndale is reported by Moynahan [22].
    Burning at the stake had long been a standard punishment for heresy—about thirty burnings had taken place in the century before More's elevation to Chancellor, and burning continued to be used by both Catholics and Protestants during the religious upheaval of the following decades.[23] Ackroyd notes that More explicitly "approved of Burning"[9]:298 After the case of John Tewkesbury, a London leather-seller found guilty by More of harbouring banned books and sentenced to burning for refusing to recant, More declared: he "burned as there was neuer wretche I wene better worthy."[24]

    Historians have been long divided over More's religious actions as Chancellor. While biographers such as Ackroyd have taken a relatively tolerant view of More's campaign against Protestantism by placing his actions within the turbulent religious climate of the time, other equally eminent historians, such as Richard Marius, have been more critical, believing that such persecutions were a betrayal of More's earlier humanist convictions. As Marius writes in his biography of More: "To stand before a man at an inquisition, knowing that he will rejoice when we die, knowing that he will commit us to the stake and its horrors without a moment's hesitation or remorse if we do not satisfy him, is not an experience much less cruel because our inquisitor does not whip us or rack us or shout at us."[25]


  • Peter C on April 18, 2012 9:11 AM:

    I think this whole 'Catholic Contraversy' is the Republican Party's 'damage control' in order to salvage some small proportion of the hispanic vote. You see, they have to *pretend* that they are competitive with this demographic. When the ran GWBush against Gore and Kerry, they had a narrative they could use ("See, Bush speaks spanish and jokes around with the hispanics in the audience"). One of the 'marvick-y' things about McCain was his support for the Dream act. But, with Romney ("I’m Running For Office For Pete’s Sake, I Can’t Have Illegals") as the standard-bearer, and after such an ugly display of xenophobia and racism throughout the primary season, they have no real 'story' about why hispanic Americans should vote for Republicans. This story line lets them say, "but they're CATHOLICS! The Bishops told them to vote for us, and they did! That's why we won!"

    It's all an effort to have a good EXPLANATION when the electronic voting machines spit out an otherwise inexplicable result in places like Texas where there still is no paper-trail or audit process to assure that the vote is counted accurately.

  • Ted Frier on April 18, 2012 9:15 AM:

    In a similar vein, His Eminence, Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, wants to know what you gave up for lent, because he wants it known that what he was willing to give up was the poor, the sick, the illiterate and millions more besides if that's what it took to show President Obama who was boss in the Catholic bishops' escalating confrontation with the administration over women's access to birth control.

    Cardinal George says the Catholic Church has an impressive network of hospitals, universities and social service agencies "built up over several generations from small donations, often from immigrants, and through the services of religious women and men and others who wanted to be part of the Church's mission in healing and education."

    And it would be a real shame, says the Cardinal, if the Church had to "give up" these important institutions -- shut them down -- because the government's mandate on providing birth control to female employees made it "impossible for Catholic institutions to follow their conscience."

    These are cynical half-truths and the Cardinal knows it.

    The idea of devoted immigrants piously dropping nickels and dimes into the collection plate at Sunday mass to build Notre Dame or St. Mary's Hospital may be a charming bedtime story but it bears little resemblance to the reality of the Catholic Church's social ministry.

    Catholic Charities, as the New York Times reports, is one of the most extensive social service networks in the nation, serving more than 10 million poor adults and children of many faiths across the country.

    Catholic Charities is made up of local affiliates that answer to local bishops and dioceses. But as the Times reports, much of its revenue comes from the government. In fact, Catholic Charities affiliates received a total of nearly $2.9 billion from the government in 2010, about 62% of its annual revenue of $4.67 billion, the paper says.

    As the Times goes on to say, only 3% of Catholic Charities' revenues came from those tithing immigrants the Cardinal spoke so movingly about. The rest came from in-kind contributions, investments, program fees and community donations.

    Even more important to the Church's charitable institutions, hospitals in particular, are government health programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Perhaps government payments to Church hospitals are what Bishop Jenky when he talked about the "priest eating" tyrants in the Obama administration.

    As a practicing Catholic (and regular church-goer) I am astounded -- no offended -- by the regular communications I've been reading from Catholic cardinals and bishops on this issue whose shrill, over-the-top partisan demagoguery makes them suited more for tacking to a telephone poll than handing out at mass.

    The American bishops say that Catholic hospitals, schools and universities form an important part of the Church's religious mission. But the speed with which the Catholic hierarchy seemed ready to throw millions of patients, students and others in need out on the street over "principle" shows the bishops also view these tax-subsidized non-profits as leverage they can use to enhance their own political power.

    The bishops are right. The Catholic Church is not a democracy.

    But what, then, are we to make of a real democracy that would give tax breaks and taxpayer subsidies to a religious organization to run schools and hospitals whose leaders then threaten great harm to the millions served by those taxpayer-subsidized institutions unless the democratic state cravenly capitulates to church blackmail and allows these religious leaders to dictate the terms of public policy regarding the very issue that has always separated modern, secular societies from traditionalist and religiously-dominated ones: Sex. And women's sex in particular?

  • Texas Aggie on April 18, 2012 10:49 AM:

    Mr. Frier, you wrote an excellent article. Now please send it to the individuals who need to read it.

  • boatboy_srq on April 18, 2012 11:03 AM:

    I do lurve how Winters and the bishops reference Fascists and far-left-leaning French autocrats as evidence of "war[s] on religious liberty." One wonders how open and free and supportive they think France under Richelieu, or 15th/16th century Castile y Aragon, were in comparison. Hint: read The Three Musketeers and El Cid and you'll get a palatable, whitewashed version.

    Captcha: conditions erallast. So, so true.

  • Ted Frier on April 18, 2012 12:28 PM:

    Texas Aggie

    I did, to the Catholic National Reporter.