A Paradox of Anti-Theocracy

A piece by Bernard F. Sullivan in Tuesday’s Providence Journal brings to light an interesting paradox. On the one hand, it’s difficult to fathom that a man with such apparent deficiency in categorical comprehension could have ever been a regional editor for a major newspaper. On the other, his expressed concept of government enables insight into the thought processes of some secularists: they don’t necessarily have an especially restrictive view of “separation of church and state”; rather, they simply can’t understand that church and state have distinct functions and different rules of operation. Consider:

There is perhaps no institution more authoritarian and autocratic than the Roman Catholic Church. Yet its leaders were willing to cozy up to pols in a desperate attempt to end gay marriages on a popular vote. Then, when the vote threatened to go against their canonical stance, as in the case of women priests, they scurried back to the mountain of magisterial intransigence and, hoping for a collective short memory on the part of the congregation, said church policies are not determined by popular vote.

So, if “archdiocesan officials” explain that “church policies are not determined by popular vote,” they must behave as if state policies are not determined by popular vote, either, but rather accept the determination of the state’s judicial hierarchy. If they insist on attempting to leverage democracy to shape government policy in accordance with their religious beliefs, then they must subject their religious beliefs to the democratic process. It isn’t possible, in this civic model, for a religious organization to maintain that God’s instructions are not available for popular revision, but that human laws are.
Curiously, Sullivan doesn’t give any indication that he believes that those human laws ought to be determined through a democratic process when once the modern interpreters of old government texts have issued their ruling. Perhaps it isn’t so much authoritarianism that bothers him as disagreement.
Given my suspicions, I won’t bother addressing his crack that “maybe diocesan church leaders might get lathered up about street killings, poverty, violence, homelessness, child hunger and lack of adequate health care.” The notion that people could sincerely believe that fortifying traditional marriage could be central to addressing all of those problems would surely be too much for him to bear, and perhaps to understand.

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17 years ago

Tobin forfeited any claim of moral superiority he had when he essentially came out in favor of the casino (maybe he was bending over for Diocesan lawyer Bill Murphy).
The Catholic Church I grew up with would’ve put more effort into opposition to the Iraq war and less into opposing gay marriage (the anti-abortion push has remained constant). But times change – Vatican II became something to assault, not to be proud of any longer.

Justin Katz
17 years ago

Just to be clear, Sullivan’s complaint is with the Catholic Church in Massachusetts, not Rhode Island.
Whatever the case, I’m not sure to what, specifically, you’re referring with respect to the casino issue, but I would note that the Church doesn’t hold gambling to be a sin, of itself. As for war, the Church’s theology doesn’t require it to be pacifistic, and I still hold that the Iraq war was and is a just one. At any rate, that is a prudential question that is the responsibility of civic leaders, not religious leaders.
In the case of same-sex marriage, I’d note that the Church has been consistent and clear about the importance of marriage and its sacred nature; it has held an equally clear and consistent view on sexual behavior. And even beyond that, we’ve already seen in Massachusetts, with Catholic adoption services, that pro-homosexual laws directly threaten the ability of the Church to operate within that state.

17 years ago

First, the William Murphy who is attorney for the Diocese is NOT Speaker William Murphy of West Warwick, supporter of the casino.
Second, I don’t think that Bishop Tobin made any statement of support for the casino. I think what he said in his Visitor column was that gambling per se is morally neutral and that the Church would not take any position on the West Warwick proposal.
Finally, where does Bernard Sullivan get the idea that Church leaders don’t get “lathered up” over street killings, poverty, homelessness . . . etc.?? In most parts of the US, Catholic Charities is the single largest provider of aid and services to the poor. The concept of the “hospital,” by the way, was invented by the Catholic Church and Church-affiliated hospitals remain among the largest providers of health care in the world.

17 years ago

Ummmm… that would be the other Catholic Church (the one that Rhody didn’t grow up with), right Brassband?

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