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The (unmentionable?) 800-pound Catholic gorilla in the room

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Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote a facetious column titled “Thank You, FFRF!,” which ran July 3 in his archdiocese organ, Catholic New York. Why did he “thank” FFRF?


Dolan writes: “I prayed, I hoped, that the notoriously anti-Catholic firebrands of the nebulous and anonymous ‘Freedom From Religion Foundation’ (FFRF) in Madison, Wisconsin, would once again, as they predictably had in the past, print a full-page, drippingly bigoted blast in the hospitable pages of The New York Times. ‘[T]here it was, on page A13, a whole-page sneer at ‘dogma’ and an ‘all male Roman Catholic majority.’ ”

Is it bigotry to attack bigotry? If the Catholic hierarchy would quit attacking women’s rights, we could quit attacking Catholic doctrine. Far from launching an ad hominen attack on the “people on the court,” as Dolan claims, FFRF’s unspeakable “sin” is to simply state the truth. Our July 3 ad in The New York Times protesting the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, headlined, “Dogma should not trump our civil liberties,” had the temerity to point out: “All-male, all-Roman Catholic majority on Supreme Court puts religious wrongs over women’s rights.” Our ad’s only other — equally factual — reference to Catholicism was this sentence: “The Supreme Court’s ultra-conservative, Roman Catholic majority — Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Kennedy and Thomas — has sided with zealous fundamentalists who equate contraception with abortion.”

Women didn’t — and couldn’t — get a fair shake on a court that was carefully stacked against our rights by Republican presidents whose very party line imposes a judicial antiabortion litmus test. (I still hold out hope that Kennedy, as the overvalued “swing” voter, would not swing so far to the right as his Catholic brethren should they vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.)

It’s personally gratifying that the Internet still reverberates with FFRF’s most famous full-page ad in The New York Times, run in 2012, titled “It’s time to consider quitting the Catholic Church.” (The Times made us rephrase the original headline, which was the much punchier: “It’s time to quit the Catholic Church.”) Dolan, of course, is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which our ad directly criticized for declaring open war on Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, and for placing dogma above humanity.

It appears the delicate sensibilities of the Catholic hierarchy, accustomed as they are to obsequious deference, will never recover from such blasphemous treatment by atheist upstarts. They do not take irreverence lightly. They belong, after all, to the same institution that was behind the arrest, torture and execution in 1765 of a French teenager, Chevalier de la Barre for, in part, failing to doff his hat at a passing religious parade. This is the institution known for its auto-da-fes and its Inquisition, which still exists, by the way, in tamer form as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Dolan claims he wants to “thank the anonymous militiamen at FFRF for giving me yet another handout for my students when I give my next talk on ‘Anti-Catholic Bigotry in the United States.”

You’re welcome, Cardinal Dolan. Although a pacifist who believes the pen is mightier than the sword, I’m far from anonymous. I wrote both the 2012 “time to quit the Catholic Church” and 2014 ads. We’re hardly “nebulous and anonymous!” Dan and I signed the 2012 ad, and it names 18 contributors to the ad! Read FFRF’s 2012 ad here.

Dolan (and his apoplectic cohort, Bill Donohue) are, of course, shrewd to play the “Catholic bigotry” card. They’re smugly aware that most U.S. citizens don’t realize the imbalance on our current nine-member Supreme Court, where six of the justices are Roman Catholic — five appointed by a Republican president (and only three justices are women). One of the reasons most Americans don’t realize the Catholic-dominated composition is because media who dare point it out get baited as bigots. It’s clever of Catholic hierarchy to cry “bigotry,” since it deflects attention from their own bigotry and the Vatican’s global campaigns against civil rights for gays and reproductive and equal rights for women.


Dolan bragged that he stopped reading the Times “years ago, on the advice of so many New Yorkers who warned me that the Church rarely gets a fair shake in those pages.” But apparently the Times took his attack seriously enough to devote its Saturday “On Religion” column indirectly to the topic of FFRF’s ad. Samuel G. Freedman’s carefully written column, “Among justices, considering a divide not of gender or politics, but beliefs,” notes the 5-4 split in both this term’s major state/church separation cases, Greece v. Galloway and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores.

Freedman writes that it is “compelling to consider the Catholic-Jewish divide. In both cases, five of the court’s six Catholic justices — Samuel A. Alito Jr., Anthony M. Kennedy, John G. Roberts Jr., Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — formed the majority that espoused a larger place for religious practice in public life. All three Jewish justices — Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan — joined by one Catholic, Sonia Sotomayor, dissented on behalf of a wider, firmer separation.

“What attention has been paid to the denominational nature of the decisions has too often echoed with America’s sordid history of anti-Catholic bigotry, the presumption that Catholic public servants take their orders from the Vatican. A recent advertisement in The New York Times by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, for instance, linked the court’s Roman Catholic majority to ‘to the growing dangers of theocracy.’ ”

Freedman’s column about a court opinion on contraception never once states the obvious: that Catholic dogma (yes, Dolan, there’s the word again) expressly condemns contraception as “intrinsically evil.”

But the truly unmentionable 800-pound gorilla in the room is abortion, which the Hobby Lobby ruling is actually about, and which the Vatican is committed to banning worldwide. Roberts, Alito, and Scalia chillingly presaged the June Hobby Lobby ruling by bringing up abortion several times during Hobby Lobby oral arguments. Samuel Alito, in writing the court opinion, recognized that the issue is really abortion. Alito notes on Page 2 of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling: “The owners of the business have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients.” He audaciously adds that it doesn’t matter whether or not the methods are in fact abortifacients — faith trumps all.

This is not to take fundamentalists off the hook. Observant Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants, who used to kill each other over arcane differences over such things as baptism and the sprinkling of babies, are uniting to fight their common foes: secularism and women’s rights. But the Catholic Church is past master at this game.

If Dolan and his bishops have their way, contraception would be banned, everywhere. Abortion, even to save a woman’s life, would be banned. We recently witnessed the horrific handiwork of the church. A young Indian dentist with a wanted pregnancy who begged to live, begged for removal of her dying fetus, instead died unnecessarily of blood poisoning, because she had the misfortune to miscarry in Galway, Ireland, where Catholic doctrine reigns supreme. Catholic doctrine places faith and dogma above humanity, and certainly above the rights and lives of women. Let’s hope Mr. Freedman of the Times will someday write a column about the truly sordid history of Catholic crimes against women.

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