November 25, 2009

Bishop Thomas Tobin, the fellow who decided that abortion-tolerant Catholics like Rep. Patrick Kennedy should be denied the right to partake of Communion ceremonies, went on The O'Reilly Factor last night to try to answer his critics.

In the process, all he did was make it look like the anti-Catholic bigots of yore were right after all.

Tobin's arguments were not exactly convincing. When O'Reilly asked Tobin why it's OK to deny Communion to politicians who are pro-choice but not to Catholics who are pro-death-penalty, Tobin answered with a flimsy argument that amounted to nothing more than theological lawyering, evading the core issue that both are core matters of Catholic beliefs pertaining to "defending the values of life."

And when O'Reilly pointed out that, for people like Kennedy and Sen. John Kerry, it's a matter of democratic principle to separate their personal religious beliefs about abortion from the conduct of their policy, Tobin replied that opposing abortion rights is a matter of "defending your faith."

What people like Tobin refuse to acknowledge is that their belief that abortion is murder, based on the belief that life begins at conception, is fundamentally a religious belief that is not shared by many other Americans, especially those who take a more strictly biological view of the process.

So in denying any American the right to an abortion, anti-abortion politicians are fundamentally shoving their religious beliefs down the throats of everyone else. That's not "defending your faith", it's forcing it upon everyone else. Which is what that whole First Amendment thing about church and state was bout.

Wiser politicians, like Kennedy and Kerry and many others, recognize that this is fundamentally an anti-democratic, anti-First Amendment, and anti-American, way of doing things.

Guys like Tobin? They just make living caricatures of themselves -- people who are the living incarnation of the "Papists" who it was at one time imagined were trying to take over the country so that America would be run by fiat from the Vatican.

Back when anti-Catholic bigotry was much more common in America, it was one of their articles of faith that Catholic politicians were always going to be forced to do the bidding of the Vatican, and to have ultimate loyalty not to the Constitution but to the Church and its edicts.

351px-Ballot1_227c8.jpgThe Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, for instance, was particularly and viciously anti-Catholic. Its magazines and books -- including Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty and The Ku Klux Klan in Prophecy -- were largely anti-Catholic tracts warning of the dire consequences of "Papist" influence on the political system.

This anti-Catholicism spread into other areas as well, including education. The Klan's anti-Catholic propaganda campaign led to the formation of groups targeting private and parochial schools on anti-Catholic grounds, including the National League for the Protection of American Institutions, which fomented to "protect" the public schools from Catholic ideology.

Remember Al Smith?

Smith was the first Catholic to win a major-party presidential nomination.... Smith’s Catholic beliefs played a key role in his loss of the Election of 1928. Many feared that he would answer to the pope and not the constitution. The people also criticized him for being a drunkard because of the stereotypes placed on Irish Catholics of the day.

The belief that Catholics would be forced to heel to the demands of the Vatican -- that they would essentially be puppets of the Church -- was finally blunted by John F. Kennedy in 1960:

A key factor that hurt John F. Kennedy in his 1960 campaign for the presidency of the United States was the widespread prejudice against his Roman Catholic religion; some Protestants believed that, if he were elected President, Kennedy would have to take orders from the Pope in Rome. To address fears that his Roman Catholicism would impact his decision-making, John F. Kennedy famously told the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960, "I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters — and the Church does not speak for me." He promised to respect the separation of church and state and not to allow Catholic officials to dictate public policy to him. Kennedy also raised the question of whether one-quarter of Americans were relegated to second-class citizenship just because they were Roman Catholic. Even so, it was widely believed after the election that Kennedy lost some heavily Protestant states because of his Catholicism.

Kennedy went on to win the national popular vote over Richard Nixon by just one tenth of one percentage point (0.1%) - the closest popular-vote margin of the 20th century. In the electoral college, Kennedy's victory was larger, as he took 303 electoral votes to Nixon's 219 (269 were needed to win). The New York Times, summarizing the discussion late in November, spoke of a “narrow consensus” among the experts that Kennedy had won more than he lost as a result of his Catholicism, as Northern Catholics flocked to Kennedy because of attacks on his religion.

Now, ironically, the Church itself is turning on another Kennedy and acting as though it expects total political obeisance to Vatican edicts -- in other words, making the anti-Papist bigots look as though they are right.

Fortunately, that younger Kennedy is around to continue to prove them wrong.

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