Wednesday, March 24, 2010

so what just happened?

We may be forgiven for wondering what the health bill as voted on by the House and signed by the President actually says and means in terms of federal funding for abortion and a big increase (or decrease) in abortions carried out in the U.S. Time will tell on the last point. A good FAQ explanation of the first can be found at First Things:

A confused situation was muddied further by an appalling column by Maureen Dowd in the NYT at

Dowd makes much of the public disagreement of a group of dissident nuns (absurdly misrepresented by Newsweek and the Washington Post to represent 59,000 sisters, about the total of all nuns in the U.S.) over the meaning of the Senate bill and whether or not it allowed for federal funding of abortion. This is an empirical question that could have been addressed by examining the Bishops' statement (at, reading the bill, and determining who was right. It is not that hard to do.

Instead, so typically for the NYT and to the delight of its readers, Dowd pays no attention whatever to the facts of the matter and launches into a tirade against the leaders of the Church, the bishops and the Pope, dragging in their handling of sex abuse scandals, and claiming that therefore [really!] the nuns had more authority to instruct the faithful on the contents of the bill. The argument is silly on so many levels and so completely ducks the factual point at issue, that one ought perhaps to be amazed at the way it was heralded by so many as a wonderful column. If the column leaves its readers completely uninformed on the matter at hand, it tells us much about the anti-Catholic prejudices of the NYT and its secular-liberal readers. Also about the dire state of the older religious orders of women which, inspired by the spirit of feminism and New Age religion, have gone off in some very strange directions. One result of this is that these orders are shrinking and aging at an extraordinary rate, while newer, orthodox orders are full of young sisters and are thriving. Why after all, take the trouble to commit to the rigors of a consecrated religious life in order to end up looking and sounding for all the world like an aging Unitarian? Another result is that the orders are being investigated by the Vatican--and not a moment too soon--both in terms of their practices and beliefs, and because they are withering on the vine.

That people could find the column persuasive--one colleague sent it to me with a note urging me to read it and THINK about it (in block caps, no less)--is testament to two things in my opinion. One is the poisoning of any discussion involving religion in general and Catholicism in particular by the prevailing secular-liberal assumption that people of faith are terminally stupid and therefore the use of rational argument and evidence is neither necessary nor useful. A couple of knock-down arguments about other topics is all you need to silence your religious interlocutor. The other thing is the catastrophic decline of catechesis of lay Catholics over the past forty years as experiential learning replaced clarity and substance of instruction.

It is little wonder that there are so many adult Catholics in high places who seem neither to understand nor believe the central tenets of the faith and who have no idea of the structure of authority in the Church. In the end, as the term "cafeteria Catholics" denotes, you pick and choose those teachings on faith and morals you feel "comfortable" with, elevating your own opinions above the teaching of the Church.

And then, as Philip Jenkins says in his The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice, anti-Catholicism in the U.S. is nothing new. What is different this time around is the extent to which many the fiercest anti-Catholic writers themselves claim to be Catholic, while rejecting every identifiable aspect of Catholic faith, morals, and tradition. Little wonder then, with the failure of the Church to catechize its members since the heady days of the Sixties and Vatican II, the abandonment by "progressive" nuns of their habits (literally) and their vows of obedience, and the new phenomenon of vitriolic anti-Catholic Catholics like James Carroll, that the likes of Nancy Pelosi can claim to be Catholic and sneer dismissively that no bunch of bishops was going to tell her she was or wasn't. (But of course, that is precisely a question within the jurisdiction of her bishop.)

The language and loopholes of the Senate bill are matters of fact. But if the Senate Bill really left the Hyde restrictions in place as these nuns claimed, why make such a fuss about refusing language that made the fact clear--that's all Stupak and the Bishops asked?

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