The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted yesterday to make Archbishop Timothy Dolan their next president, departing from USCCB tradition by passing over their current vice president, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson.
The vote is seen as a conservative move, as Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, has a reputation as “a stricter defender of church orthodoxy” and “a genial conservative.” Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, who was elected to the vice presidential seat, is perhaps more vocally conservative than Dolan; he’s made opposition to same-sex marriage his rallying point. Kicanas, on the other hand, is associated with “social justice Catholics”—not a popular association in the Catholic Church these days. As a result, conservative bloggers campaigned against Kicanas, urging Catholics (or anyone) to contact their bishops in the days leading up to the election. A blogger on RenewAmerica sounded the alarm on “A group of homosexual activists claiming to be Catholic” who supported Kicanas. (RenewAmerica is a site which claims to be nondenominational but which publishes writing by a woman who exposes “the Islamic indoctrination of American textbooks and required prayers to Allah.”)
Indeed, Kicanas’s refusal to condemn Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame earned him the approval of many moderate or liberal Catholics. A St. Louis news affiliate also notes that Kicanas “has not denied Communion to any Catholic politicians.”
What the hell has happened to the Catholic Church that a church leader who doesn’t deny communion is suddenly a pinko? The Church has moved so far to the right that it’s acceptable for the anti-gay Catholic columnist mentioned above to claim that gays are infiltrating the U.S. Catholic church—according to him, “the ‘lavender mafia’ pretty much runs the show in many dioceses.”
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This claim is a) sadly, untrue and b) offensive. The only gays running the Church are the closeted priests who are ousted as soon as they are revealed to be gay. As for gay parishioners, many have understandably defected to the Episcopal church and other inclusive denominations.
In conclusion, I have nothing against Archbishop Dolan, per se. But I’m disgusted by the conservative smear campaign that labeled Kicanas a homosexualist, and I’m disappointed in the USCCB for taking such claims seriously.
The Catholic Church is an institution with a rich intellectual heritage and a history of service to the most marginalized members of society (which may end if American nuns continue to be persecuted by the guys in charge). It should be ashamed to be associated with sites like RenewAmerica and with political movements that preach fear, exclusion, and bigotry. I have no doubt that many members of the Catholic hierarchy are sickened by the Tea Party movement and, more generally, by the increasingly explicit alliance between the Catholic church and the American far right. Unfortunately, these critics risk censure if they speak up, and they certainly don’t get promoted within the Church. So, in the meantime, the Church applauds bishops who refuse Communion to Democrats. This may be a way to shore up political power for now (the Christian right is nothing if not powerful), but it’s an offense to the spirit in which Jesus broke bread with his disciples. What does “Communion” mean, anyway?