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Holy Warriors

Apr 26 2005

Cardinal Ratzinger handed Bush the presidency by tipping the Catholic
vote. Can American democracy survive their shared medieval vision?

By Sidney Blumenthal*, April 2005, Salon.com.

President Bush treated his final visit with Pope John Paul II in Vatican
City on June 4, 2004, as a campaign stop. After enduring a public rebuke
from the pope about the Iraq war, Bush lobbied Vatican officials to help
him win the election. “Not all the American bishops are with me,” he
complained, according to the National Catholic Reporter. He pleaded with
the Vatican to pressure the bishops to step up their activism against
abortion and gay marriage in the states during the campaign season.

About a week later, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sent a letter to the U.S.
bishops, pronouncing that those Catholics who were pro-choice on abortion
were committing a “grave sin” and must be denied Communion. He pointedly
mentioned “the case of a Catholic politician consistently campaigning and
voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” — an obvious
reference
to John Kerry, the Democratic candidate and a Roman Catholic. If such a
Catholic politician sought Communion, Ratzinger wrote, priests must be
ordered to “refuse to distribute it.” Any Catholic who voted for this
“Catholic politician,” he continued, “would be guilty of formal
cooperation
in evil and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion.” During
the
closing weeks of the campaign, a pastoral letter was read from pulpits in
Catholic churches repeating the ominous suggestion of excommunication.
Voting for the Democrat was nothing less than consorting with the forces
of
Satan, collaboration with “evil.”

In 2004 Bush increased his margin of Catholic support by 6 points from
the
2000 election, rising from 46 to 52 percent. Without this shift, Kerry
would have had a popular majority of a million votes. Three states —
Ohio,
Iowa and New Mexico — moved into Bush’s column on the votes of the
Catholic “faithful.” Even with his atmospherics of terrorism and Sept.
11,
Bush required the benediction of the Holy See as his saving grace. The
key
to his kingdom was turned by Cardinal Ratzinger.

With the College of Cardinals’ election of Ratzinger to the papacy, his
political alliances with conservative politicians can be expected to
deepen
and broaden. Under Benedict XVI, the church will assume a consistent
reactionary activism it has not had for two centuries. And the new pope’s
crusade against modernity has already joined forces with the right-wing
culture war in the United States, prefigured by his interference in the
2004 election.

Europe is far less susceptible than the United States to the religious
wars
that Ratzinger will incite. Attendance at church is negligible; church
teachings are widely ignored; and the younger generation is least
observant
of all. But in the United States, the Bush administration and the right
wing of the Republican Party are trying to batter down the wall of
separation between church and state. Through court appointments, they
wish
to enshrine doctrinal views on the family, women, gays, medicine,
scientific research and privacy. The Republican attempt to abolish the
two-centuries-old filibuster — the so-called nuclear option — is only
one
coming wrangle in the larger Kulturkampf.

Joseph Ratzinger was born and bred in the cradle of the Kulturkampf, or
culture war. Roman Catholic Bavaria was a stronghold against northern
Protestantism during the Reformation. In the 19th century the church was
a
powerful force opposing the unification of Italy and Germany into
nation-states, fearing that they would diminish the church’s influence in
the shambles of duchies and provinces that had followed the breakup of
the
Holy Roman Empire. The doctrine of papal infallibility in 1870 was
promulgated by the church to tighten its grip on Catholic populations
against the emerging centralized nations and to sanctify the pope’s will
against mere secular rulers.

In response, Otto von Bismarck, the German chancellor, launched what he
called a Kulturkampf to break the church’s hold. He removed the church
from
the control of schools, expelled the Jesuits, and instituted civil
ceremonies for marriage. Bismarck lent support to Catholic dissidents
opposed to papal infallibility who were led by German theologian Johann
Ignaz von Dollinger. Dollinger and his personal secretary were
subsequently
excommunicated. His secretary was Georg Ratzinger, great-uncle of the new
pope, who became one of the most notable Bavarian intellectuals and
politicians of the period. This Ratzinger was a champion against papal
absolutism and church centralization, and on behalf of the poor and
working
class — and was also an anti-Semite.

Joseph Ratzinger’s Kulturkampf is claimed by him to be a reaction to the
student revolts of 1968. Should Joschka Fischer, a former student radical
and now the German foreign minister, have to answer entirely for
Ratzinger’s Weltanschauung? Pope Benedict’s Kulturkampf bears the burden
of
the church’s history and that of his considerable family. He represents
the
latest incarnation of the long-standing reaction against Bismarck’s
reforms
— beginning with the assertion of the invented tradition of papal
infallibility — and, ironically, against the positions on the church
held
by his famous uncle. But the roots of his reaction are even more
profound.

The new pope’s burning passion is to resurrect medieval authority. He
equates the Western liberal tradition, that is, the Enlightenment, with
Nazism, and denigrates it as “moral relativism.” He suppresses all
dissent,
discussion and debate within the church and concentrates power within the
Vatican bureaucracy. His abhorrence of change runs past 1968 (an
abhorrence
he shares with George W. Bush) to the revolutions of 1848, the
“springtime
of nations,” and 1789, the French Revolution. But, even more momentously,
the alignment of the pope’s Kulturkampf with the U.S. president’s culture
war has also set up a conflict with the American Revolution.

For the first time, an American president is politically allied with the
Vatican in its doctrinal mission (except, of course, on capital
punishment). In the messages and papers of the presidents from George
Washington until well into those of the 20th century, there was not a
single mention of the pope, except in one minor footnote. Bush’s lobbying
trip last year to the Vatican reflects an utterly novel turn, and
Ratzinger’s direct political intervention in American electoral politics
ratified it.

The right wing of the Catholic Church is as mobilized as any other part
of
the religious right. It is seizing control of Catholic universities,
exerting influence at other universities, stigmatizing Catholic
politicians
who fail to adhere to its conservative credo, pressing legislation at the
federal and state levels, seeking government funding and sponsorship of
the
church, and vetting political appointments inside the White House and the
administration — imposing in effect a religious test of office. The Bush
White House encourages these developments under the cover of moral uplift
as it forges a political machine uniting church and state — as was done
in
premodern Europe.

The American Revolution, the Virginia Statute on Religious Liberty, the
U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were fought for explicitly to
uproot the traces in American soil of ecclesiastical power in government,
which the Founders to a man regarded with horror, revulsion and
foreboding.

The Founders were the ultimate representatives of the Enlightenment. They
were not anti-religious, though few if any of them were orthodox or
pious.
Washington never took Communion and refused to enter the church, while
his
wife did so. Benjamin Franklin believed that all organized religion was
suspect. James Madison thought that established religion did as much harm
to religion as it did to free government, twisting the word of God to fit
political expediency, thereby throwing religion into the political
cauldron. And Thomas Jefferson, allied with his great collaborator
Madison,
conducted decades of sustained and intense political warfare against the
existing and would-be clerisy. His words, engraved on the Jefferson
Memorial, are a direct reference to established religion: “I have sworn
eternal warfare against all forms of superstition over the minds of men.”

But now Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay threatens the federal
judiciary, saying, “The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a
separation of church and state that’s nowhere in the Constitution is that
Congress didn’t stop them.” And Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will
participate through a telecast in a rally on April 24 in which he will
say
that Democrats who refuse to rubber-stamp Bush’s judicial nominees and
uphold the filibuster are “against people of faith.”

But what would Madison say?

This is what Madison wrote in 1785: “What influence in fact have
ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances
they
have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil
authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of
political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of
the
liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty
may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just
Government instituted to secure & perpetuate it needs them not.”

What would John Adams say? This is what he wrote Jefferson in 1815: “The
question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern
the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by
fictitious miracles?”

Benjamin Franklin? “The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of
reason.”

And Jefferson, in “Notes on Virginia,” written in 1782: “It is error
alone
which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. Subject
opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men;
men
governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why
subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of
opinion
desireable? No more than of face and stature. Introduce the bed of
Procrustes then, and as there is danger that the large men may beat the
small, make us all of a size, by lopping the former and stretching the
latter. Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several
sects perform the office of a Censor morum over each other. Is uniformity
attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the
introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined,
imprisoned;
yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the
effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half
hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.”

The Republican Party was founded in the mid-19th century partly as a
party
of religious liberty. It supported public common schools, not church
schools, and public land-grant universities independent of any
denominational affiliation. The Republicans, moreover, were adamant in
their opposition to the use of any public funds for any religious
purpose,
especially involving schools.

A century later, in 1960, there was still such a considerable suspicion
of
Catholics in government that the Democratic candidate for president, John
F. Kennedy, felt compelled to address the issue directly in his famous
speech before the Houston Ministerial Association on Sept. 12.

What did Kennedy say? “I believe in an America where the separation of
church and state is absolute — where no Catholic prelate would tell the
President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister
would tell his parishioners for whom to vote — where no church or church
school is granted any public funds or political preference … I believe
in
an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish —
where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on
public
policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other
ecclesiastical source — where no religious body seeks to impose its will
directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of
its
officials.”

Now Bush is attempting to create what Kennedy warned against. He claims
to
be conservative, but he seeks a rupture in our system of government. The
culture war, which has had many episodes, from the founding of the Moral
Majority to the unconstitutional impeachment of President Clinton, is
entering a new and far more dangerous phase. In 2004, Bush and Ratzinger
used church doctrine to intimidate voters and taint candidates. And
through
the courts the president is seeking to codify not only conservative
ideology but religious doctrine.

When men of God mistake their articles of devotion with political
platforms
they will inevitably stand exposed in the political arena. When
politicians
mistake themselves for men of God, their religion, however sincere, will
inevitably be seen as contrivance.

As both president and pope invoke heavenly authority to impose their
notions of tradition, they have set themselves on a collision course with
the American political tradition. In the name of the Declaration of
Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, democracy without
end. Amen.
A High-Tech Lynching in Prime Time
By FRANK RICH, The New York TImes, 24 April 2005

(Embedded image moved to file: pic00041.gif)Whatever your religious
denomination, or lack of same, it was hard not to be swept up in last
week’s televised pageantry from Rome: the grandeur of St. Peter’s Square,
the panoply of the cardinals, the continuity of history embodied by the
joyous emergence of the 265th pope. As a show of faith, it’s a tough act
to
follow. But that has not stopped some ingenious American hucksters from
trying.

Tonight is the much-awaited “Justice Sunday,” the judge-bashing rally
being
disseminated nationwide by cable, satellite and Internet from a
megachurch
in Louisville. It may not boast a plume of smoke emerging from above the
Sistine Chapel, but it will feature its share of smoke and mirrors as
well
as traditions that, while not dating back a couple of millenniums, do at
least recall the 1920’s immortalized in “Elmer Gantry.” These traditions
have less to do with the earnest practice of religion by an actual
church,
as we witnessed from Rome, than with the exploitation of religion by
political operatives and other cynics with worldly ends. While Sinclair
Lewis wrote that Gantry, his hypocritical evangelical preacher, “was born
to be a senator,” we now have senators who are born to be Gantrys. One of
them, the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, hatched plans to be beamed
into tonight’s festivities by videotape, a stunt that in itself imbues
“Justice Sunday” with a touch of all-American spectacle worthy of “The
Wizard of Oz.”

Like the wizard himself, “Justice Sunday” is a humbug, albeit one with
real
potential consequences. It brings mass-media firepower to a campaign
against so-called activist judges whose virulence increasingly echoes the
rhetoric of George Wallace and other segregationists in the 1960’s. Back
then, Wallace called for the impeachment of Frank M. Johnson Jr., the
federal judge in Alabama whose activism extended to upholding the
Montgomery bus boycott and voting rights march. Despite stepped-up
security, a cross was burned on Johnson’s lawn and his mother’s house was
bombed.

The fraudulence of “Justice Sunday” begins but does not end with its sham
claims to solidarity with the civil rights movement of that era. “The
filibuster was once abused to protect racial bias,” says the flier for
tonight’s show, “and now it is being used against people of faith.” In
truth, Bush judicial nominees have been approved in exactly the same
numbers as were Clinton second-term nominees. Of the 13 federal appeals
courts, 10 already have a majority of Republican appointees. So does the
Supreme Court. It’s a lie to argue, as Tom DeLay did last week, that such
a
judiciary is the “left’s last legislative body,” and that Justice Anthony
Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, is the poster child for “outrageous”
judicial
overreach. Our courts are as highly populated by Republicans as the other
two branches of government.

The “Justice Sunday” mob is also lying when it claims to despise activist
judges as a matter of principle. Only weeks ago it was desperately
seeking
activist judges who might intervene in the Terri Schiavo case as boldly
as
Scalia & Co. had in Bush v. Gore. The real “Justice Sunday” agenda lies
elsewhere. As Bill Maher summed it up for Jay Leno on the “Tonight” show
last week: ” ‘Activist judges’ is a code word for gay.” The judges being
verbally tarred and feathered are those who have decriminalized gay sex
(in
a Supreme Court decision written by Justice Kennedy) as they once did
abortion and who countenance marriage rights for same-sex couples. This
is
the animus that dares not speak its name tonight. To paraphrase the
“Justice Sunday” flier, now it’s the anti-filibuster campaign that is
being
abused to protect bias, this time against gay people.

Anyone who doesn’t get with this program, starting with all Democrats, is
damned as a bigoted enemy of “people of faith.” But “people of faith,” as
used by the event’s organizers, is another duplicitous locution; it’s a
code word for only one specific and exclusionary brand of Christianity.
The
trade organization representing tonight’s presenters, National Religious
Broadcasters, requires its members to “sign a distinctly evangelical
statement of faith that would probably exclude most Catholics and
certainly
all Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist programmers,” according to the magazine
Broadcasting & Cable. The only major religious leader involved with
“Justice Sunday,” R. Albert Mohler Jr. of the Southern Baptist
Theological
Seminary, has not only called the papacy a “false and unbiblical office”
but also told Terry Gross on NPR two years ago that “any belief system”
leading “away from the cross of Christ and toward another way of ultimate
meaning, is, indeed, wicked and evil.”

Tonight’s megachurch setting and pseudoreligious accouterments
notwithstanding, the actual organizer of “Justice Sunday” isn’t a
clergyman
at all but a former state legislator and candidate for insurance
commissioner in Louisiana, Tony Perkins. He now runs the Family Research
Council, a Washington propaganda machine devoted to debunking “myths”
like
“People are born gay” and “Homosexuals are no more likely to molest
children than heterosexuals are.” It will give you an idea of the level
of
Mr. Perkins’s hysteria that, as reported by The American Prospect, he
told
a gathering in Washington this month that the judiciary poses “a greater
threat to representative government” than “terrorist groups.” And we all
know the punishment for terrorists. Accordingly, Newsweek reports that
both
Justices Kennedy and Clarence Thomas have “asked Congress for money to
add
11 police officers” to the Supreme Court, “including one new officer just
to assess threats against the justices.” The Judicial Conference of the
United States, the policy-making body for the federal judiciary, has
requested $12 million for home-security systems for another 800 judges.

Mr. Perkins’s fellow producer tonight is James Dobson, the child
psychologist who created Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs media
behemoth most famous of late for condemning SpongeBob SquarePants for
joining other cartoon characters in a gay-friendly public-service “We Are
Family” video for children. Dr. Dobson sees same-sex marriage as the path
to “marriage between a man and his donkey” and, in yet another perversion
of civil rights history, has likened the robed justices of the Supreme
Court to the robed thugs of the Ku Klux Klan. He has promised “a battle
of
enormous proportions from sea to shining sea” if he doesn’t get the
judges
he wants.

Once upon a time you might have wondered what Senator Frist is doing
lighting matches in this tinderbox. As he never ceases to remind us, he
is
a doctor – an M.D., not some mere Ph.D. like Dr. Dobson – with an
admirable
history of combating AIDS in Africa. But this guy signed his pact with
the
devil even before he decided to grandstand in the Schiavo case by
besmirching the diagnoses of neurologists who, unlike him, had actually
examined the patient.

It was three months earlier, on the Dec. 5, 2004, edition of ABC News’s
“This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” that Dr. Frist enlisted in the
Perkins-Dobson cavalry. That week Bush administration abstinence-only sex
education programs had been caught spreading bogus information, including
the canard that tears and sweat can transmit H.I.V. and AIDS – a fiction
that does nothing to further public health but is very effective at
provoking the demonization of gay men and any other high-risk group for
the
disease. Asked if he believed this junk science was true, the
Princeton-and-Harvard-educated Dr. Frist said, “I don’t know.” After Mr.
Stephanopoulos pressed him three more times, this fine doctor theorized
that it “would be very hard” for tears and sweat to spread AIDS (still a
sleazy answer, since there have been no such cases).

Senator Frist had hoped to deflect criticism of his cameo on “Justice
Sunday” by confining his appearance to video. Though he belittled the
disease-prevention value of condoms in that same “This Week” interview,
he
apparently now believes that videotape is just the prophylactic to shield
him from the charge that he is breaching the wall separating church and
state. His other defense: John Kerry spoke at churches during the
presidential campaign. Well, every politician speaks at churches. Not
every
political leader speaks at nationally televised political rallies that
invoke God to declare war on courts of law.

Perhaps the closest historical antecedent of tonight’s crusade was that
staged in the 1950’s and 60’s by a George Wallace ally, the televangelist
Billy James Hargis. At its peak, his so-called Christian Crusade was
carried by 500 radio stations and more than 200 television stations. In
the
“Impeach Earl Warren” era, Hargis would preach of the “collapse of moral
values” engineered by a “powerfully entrenched, anti-God Liberal
Establishment.” He also decried any sex education that talked about
homosexuality or even sexual intercourse. Or so he did until his career
was
ended by accusations that he had had sex with female students at the
Christian college he founded as well as with boys in the school’s
All-American Kids choir.

Hargis died in obscurity the week before Dr. Frist’s “This Week”
appearance. But no less effectively than the cardinals in Rome, he has
passed the torch.

* Sidney Blumenthal, a former assistant and senior advisor to President Clinton and the author of The Clinton Wars, is writing a column for Salon and the Guardian of
London.

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