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The New Inquisition

Kathleen Reeves

The implication that political power lies in the Catholic hierarchy rather than in Catholics will only alienate the faithful.

Faced with a crisis, people often react one of two ways. They may think about what brought them there and how they can act differently to get through it. Or they may dig in their heels and become very defensive.

The Catholic Church has been in a crisis for some time. Divided over how best to reach people and on issues like women in the priesthood, the Church has seen dwindling congregations and fewer new priests. The sex scandals of a few years ago dealt a blow to people’s faith and the Church’s image, not to mention its finances. 

In this light, the venom in Michael Gaynor’s piece in WEBCommentary is understandable. But it’s a shame to see a Catholic columnist engaging not with the Church’s relationship to its parishoners, or its mission to needy people in America and the world, but with a perceived “threat from within.” 

Gaynor’s piece is a call to arms against pro-choice Catholics, in the wake of Sebelius’s nomination, part of what the writer sees as Obama’s pandering to Catholics (Joe Biden is his other example). 

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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The piece is striking in the way that it stultifies the Catholic Church. Gaynor blames “the bishops’ tolerance of prominent pro-abortion Catholics” for Obama’s victory, made possible by the support of many Catholic voters. The suggestion that American bishops should have a greater political presence is offensive to me as an American and as a Catholic. Many Americans have a complex, nuanced relationship with their faith, and Catholics, like non-Catholics, are capable of holding political views. Gaynor’s implication that political power lies in the Catholic hierarchy rather than in Catholics will only alienate the faithful. His is the type of attitude that’s threatening to make the Church extinct. 

In a time when many Catholic thinkers are reaching out to people of different faiths and different views on religious issues, including contraception and abortion, Gaynor is interested in making the church more exclusive. He quotes from a member of the religious media who calls for what sounds like an Inquisition:

Mr. Arroyo: "The Sebelius case (and the cases of Pelosi, Kerry, Biden, Daschle, Durbin, Kennedy…etc.) present the Church and its leaders with a serious challenge. . . .every day that it goes unaddressed the Church loses credibility, influence and ultimately, moral authority. Until a unified, PUBLIC correction is offered by the bishops, with appropriate penalties, they will continue to cede their teaching office to politicians who are at best confused and at worse malicious. To remain silent is not an option.”


As Catholic Americans drift farther from the Catholic hierarchy, Gaynor insists that the hierarchy chastise the people. As Catholics are practicing their rights as free-thinking Americans, he and Arroyo clamor about “public sin.” And finally, Gaynor compares pro-choice Catholic politicians to pedophile priests:

Sinisterness, or malevolence, was involved in the pedophile infiltration of the priesthood, and explains the enabling by priests and distributors of Holy Communion of pro-abortion politicians posing as faithful Catholics and publicly presenting themselves for Holy Communion.

My suggestion: the bishops disavow this kind of distasteful, unwise persecution before all the Catholics jump ship. To remain silent is not an option.