Catholics Need Democracy Now!

Recently, I took a seminar relating to human development, led by a young woman. I couldn’t help thinking, after the workshop was over, that this inspiring person had more spirituality in the little finger of her right hand, than William “Cardinal” Keeler, head of the RC Church in Baltimore, had in his whole body! I know it’s sacrilegious to speak in such terms. But, the press of current events – like the miserable Iraqi War, and the RC Church’s domination by a clique of mostly reactionary male clerics that are presently sucking up to President George W. Bush, Jr. – leaves me no alternative.

I was raised as a Roman Catholic, in the post-WWII era. I have no complaints about the education that I received from the School Sisters of Notre Dame at Our Lady of Good Counsel parish, in South Baltimore; or from the Christian Brothers at Calvert Hall H.S., then located downtown, across the street from the Central Pratt Library.

It wasn’t until the late 60s and the horrific Vietnam War that my eyes started to finally open up about the RC Church. Blame the late, great Phil Berrigan – dissenter emeritus – for my personal transformation. He showed the way, with a life dedicated to speaking the truth of the Gospel and having the courage of his political convictions. May our good Lord, bless forever Berrigan’s memory ("Disarmed and Dangerous: The Radical Lives and Times of Daniel and Philip Berrigan" by Murray Polner and Jim O’Grady).

In any event, the RC Church did nothing to stop the Vietnam slaughter which took the lives of 58,226 American soldiers and four million innocent Vietnam civilians, along with one million combatants ( I later found out that the soon-to-be Cardinal of NYC, the now deceased John O’Connor, had served as the Vatican’s “Military Vicar” in that war zone. He is the same prelate that regularly whined about the violence in the north of Ireland, but could never bring himself to condemn the British occupation of the six northeastern counties of Ireland as the primary cause of the conflict. (For more on the Irish Freedom issue, check out Robert Kee’s excellent trilogy of books on that subject matter, particularly his "Bold Fenian Men," where he quotes the poet Sean O’ Casey as saying, "The clergy were always in the stream of things going against Ireland. They fought the men of Forty-Eight, the Fenians, and then Parnell.")

All of this brings me to the present day and a convention of the Knights of Columbus, held in Dallas, Texas, in early August, 2004. On Aug. 3rd, President George W. Bush, Jr. was the affairs’ main speaker. (The Knights, incidentally, are a fine organization of Catholic men and this commentary has nothing to do with them ( I used to be a member of one of their local chapters.)

According to a NYT report, dated 08/04/04, of Elizabeth Bumiller, Bush, the arch warmonger, “drew standing ovations” for his remarks on the abortion and gay marriage issues. Clerics who were present included Keeler, Cardinals Edward M. Eagan of NYC and Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, DC. The president also stated that "religious organizations would receive part of $188 million in government grants this year for social service programs, the centerpiece of a White House ‘faith-based’ initiative." As expected, this pledge brought even more applause from the clerics.

As of the date of that K of C convention, Bush’s immoral and illegal pre-empted war against Iraq, which was based on massive lies and deliberate deceptions, has cost the lives of 13,398 Iraqi civilians, 925 brave American soldiers, wounding 5,976 more, and extracting $126.3 billion out of our national treasury ( Whether any of these facts crossed the clerics’ minds as they cheered for Bush is the problem. The RC Church is on record as opposing the Iraq War. However, the conduct of its leaders at this convention speaks louder than any of their dubious antiwar resolutions.

The one thing that I am happy about, with respect to the K of C convention, is that Cardinal Bernard Law, formerly of Boston, wasn’t invited. He’s the guy that was disgraced in that lurid scandal involving the pedophile priests who were working under him for many years. Some of these priest/predators eventually did go to prison ( As for Law, he was kicked upstairs. He received a prestigious appointment to a clerical position in Rome, Italy, thanks to his cronies in the Vatican. Like O’Connor, Law had repeatedly refused to speak out on the moral and legal issue of Irish Freedom. And, when he did say something, he tended, like others, to blame the Irish victims for the violence generated by state-sponsored terrorism.

Think of America as the ill-fated "Titanic." It has just been struck by an iceberg and is sinking fast. In America’s case, the iceberg is its militant imperial war-making and war-seeking mania, which is dooming it, and our debt ridden economy, to the miserable fate of a fallen power (The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic" by Chalmers Johnson). And, what are the RC’s top clerics doing about America? Why, they are rearranging the chairs on the deck of the "Titanic" by distracting their faithful followers with issues like abortion and gay marriages, while the American Republic is headed for Davey Jones’s locker. Are the cunning wire pullers in the Vatican behind this strategy to destabilize our nation?

In any event, as a result of the priest/pedophile scandal, a grass roots movement has begun within the Church for the Laity to take back the power that rightfully belongs to it. The Laity is the Church! The Presbyterian Church (USA), which is controlled by its members, would be an appropriate model for these gutsy Catholic religious activists to follow ( The Presbyterians have shown the way with respect to confronting the abortion, gay marriages and celibacy topics in a rational manner that keeps it all in within proper theological perspective.

It is long past the time for Catholics, many of whom I feel are trapped in a system dominated by male reactionary clerics, to bring the Church into the 21st century, via genuine democratic institutional reforms, and to then engage the Establishment, on all relevant peace, economic and social justice matters. This would include the Church’s dropping its antiquated celibacy requirement and championing the right of women to be ordained as priests, as they were in the early days of Christianity ( If all of the above happens, both the RC Church and the American Republic would be immeasurably strengthened. And, I’m confident, that this would also please the ghost of one remarkable and saintly man – Phil Berrigan!