Power Of The Pulpit: Vote As I Say…Or Else

In yet another stunning misuse of pulpit power, Catholic bishop, Daniel Jenky, has taken it upon himself to scribe a letter to the priests of his jurisdiction, not to suggest, not to propose, not to submit, but to “require” that “this letter be personally read by each celebrating priest at each Weekend Mass, November 3/4.” Get it? Right before the election.

And the letter? A politely written, fear-mongering, truth-manipulating decree that begins with a misstatement:

Neither the president of the United States nor the current majority of the Federal Senate have been willing to even consider the Catholic community’s grave objections to those HHS mandates that would require all Catholic institutions, exempting only our church buildings, to fund abortion, sterilization, and artificial contraception. This assault upon our religious freedom is simply without precedent in the American political and legal system.

…and ends with a threat:

For those who hope for salvation, no political loyalty can ever take precedence over loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and to his Gospel of Life. God is not mocked, and as the Bible clearly teaches, after this passing instant of life on earth, God’s great mercy in time will give way to God’s perfect judgment in eternity.

In, “The ban on politics from the pulpit all but gone now,” an article at the Atlantic-Journal Constitution website, writer Jay Bookman, takes on a few of the bishop’s prevarications:

It is important to note that Jenky’s description is wrong or incomplete on several points. The health-insurance coverage requirement does not apply to churches or church employees involved in its religious mission. It applies only to any secular operation by the church, such as hospitals and universities, just as it would apply to any other business.

More importantly, the policy does not require coverage of abortion. It does require that policies include contraception methods that block implantation of a fertilized egg in the womb, which the church considers abortion.

Interesting point, contraception. It’s been reported that 98% of Catholic women use or have used birth control. While that statistic has been vociferously debated and, in some case, denied, by Catholic leaders, the fact-checking site, Politifact.com (WIDELY used during this fact-challenged campaign), put the claim through the ringer of their fact-checking protocol and adjudicated it as “Mostly True.” (I’ll leave the nuance to your further investigation!). Main point being, while the Church is browbeating its parishioners to vote against a candidate because his healthcare plan includes coverage of said birth control, most of the parishioners involved in that parish, or, it would seem, most parishes, are using, or have used, birth control, church doctrine be damned!

But the most egregious issue to my mind is the “religious harassment” that comes with this kind of crass intimidation from a statured church leader. Much like sexual and political harassment (written about in an earlier piece titled, “The Politics of Political Harassment: Might It Need A Law Too?“), religious harassment is also imbued with the elements of intimidation, hostility; the sort of leering threat that, if you do not comply, there will be a consequence.

A friend of mine expressed a sort of “devil’s advocate” argument on a Facebook thread:

“If you are a devout Catholic, then the instructions from your Bishop carry the force of moral imperative, but if you’re that religious, you will probably vote the way the Church wants anyway. Perhaps because I’m not, I see this as just another voice in the mix, no different than the ads on TV. Do ads implying that restructuring Medicare will affect seniors who already receive benefits count as coercion? The Republican plan specifically exempts them so the implication is untrue. The church or the employer won’t know how you voted so the threat is empty. God will know but if He cares He isn’t telling.”

My response to that:

One can be wise enough to know it’s just another voice they can reject, but given the bishop’s status and his implications of sin, those being harassed are not always strong enough, morally rebellious enough, to reject the pressure, imposing a great deal of emotional angst on the devoted. Of course, you can privately not vote the way prescribed, but having been a Catholic who very deeply felt the pressure of moral threat when I was younger, I know the kind of conflict this sort of thing creates. It’s unconscionable in my book.

But beyond cultural myopia, religious harassment, and blatant misrepresentations of the truth, there is another aspect of this story that is galling: The bishop’s website promotes his Twitter page and his Facebook page (see, he’s a modern kind of guy!). I went to his Facebook page and left a – very civil – comment pointing out the inaccuracies of his analysis of the healthcare mandate, as well as asserting the “inappropriateness” of voter intimidation through threat of sin; to which one of his female followers responded:

I thought that liberals were supposed to be “tolerant” and open to free speech and ideas. I was told by the media that conservatives were the intolerant, hateful ones, but I have never seen such hate speech as the comments on here. It may be convenient to resort to sex abuse as your “argument” (that is what people who disagree with the Church always go to), but that is a lazy and ineffectual argument. Again, I would encourage everyone on here to read Bishop Jenky’s words rather than jumping to conclusions and basing your opinions on what one biased reporter chose to include. If I am going to argue something, I have always found that it is best to go straight to the source rather than risk appearing ignorant.

The Church does not endorse one political party over another. It lays out the issues and advises how the issues should be voted on. It just so happens that this Administration declared war on religion with the HHS mandate. I know many Catholics (including my 90 year old Grandma) who have voted for democrats all their lives but will vote differently this year because they cannot stand for this or for an administration that so strongly supports and promotes abortion. I agree that social justice issues matter, but we have nothing if we don’t first start with a right to life. Many will use social justice issues as a convenient excuse to vote for a particular political party. In my opinion, that is just a cop out. It is a weak argument and I see through it.

I responded that I had read the letter, I hadn’t resorted to “hate speech,” and that it would behoove her to actually read the healthcare mandate to fully inform herself of the truth…I even made a joke about how long it is! Of course, if you go to that Facebook page now, you won’t see my comments – though hers are still there, making them oddly out-of-context – because my comments were deleted and I was blocked from the site!

Now, remember, this is the man who compared Obama to Hitler and Stalin; apparently he considers that quashing dissenting opinion on the public Facebook page his website promotes is not fascist! Ah….I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning!

I have great respect for the spiritual paths of all people, all paths, all people. I also am a passionate supporter of the separation of church and state, which mandates religious neutrality in all matters, places and activities of government, including elections. That Jenky – and others – wrongly define religious neutrality as “attacks on our religious freedom” is simply a manifestation of religious narcissism or, as the children would say, Opposite Land.

Lastly; I read an interesting article by Michael Sean Winters in the National Catholic Reporter titled, “Bp Jenky Goes Off the Reservation.” The title makes clear his opinion, and there is something particularly assuaging about hearing from members of the faith who are as incredulous and disproving of the behavior of demagogues like Jenky as a Liberal ex-Catholic like me. I left a comment there, which seems as good a point as any with which to conclude:

As a former Catholic who left the church long ago for exactly the kind of bullying and browbeating currently being implemented by Bishop Jenky, I am appalled that an organization that enjoys tax-exempt status in a country struggling with economic woes would have leaders who apparently feel free to politically harass their adherents, as well as make egregiously ignorant statements about the President of the United States (Hitler? Stalin?). I do not see anything moral or spiritually defensible about imposing a certain political view, particularly with the threat of sin as a consequence of non-compliance. This is a gross misuse of pulpit power, an oppressive manipulation of religious status, and a denigration of the personal freedoms all people, yes, even Catholics, enjoy in this country of ours.

This church is suffering through a deep and painful drop in stature and respect throughout the world due to the pedophilia crises; it seems absurd to tunnel-vision past that elephant in the middle of the Catholic living room to continue to exacerbate ill-will by showing an utter lack of humility, and the stunning arrogance of presumption, in imposing political pressure on those still committed to the church! I hope, like many of the Catholics I know, Bishop Jenky’s wiser parishioners will reject his zealotry and vote their own conscience.

Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on TwitterFacebook and Rock+Paper+Music; for details and links to her other work, visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com. To access her archive at Addicting Info click here.