Let me begin by saying two things: First, I’m pretty close to being a free speech absolutist. Second, I like the Catholic Church. I’m not a Christian and I think an awful lot of Church doctrine is laughable nonsense, but I very much like the concept of the Church. I like the continuity and the tradition and the ritual of the Church, even while I actively despise some of the practices caught up in the continuity, tradition and ritual.
That said, it’s hard to defend Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Illinois. He recently delivered a very public and widely-disseminated homily deploring how the Obama administration has conspired to deprive Catholic Bishops of their right to free speech. How? By considering (and later rejecting) legislation that would have required Catholic institutions to provide the same level of health care coverage to women employees that every other employer is require to provide. Here’s an excerpt from the homily:
Now, I totally support the right of Bishop Jenky to compare President Obama and his policies to those of Stalin, Hitler and Bismarck. It’s untrue, it’s offensive, and it’s wildly delusional–but I support his right say it. I also fully support the right of the Church to make decisions regarding religious doctrine to be followed by Catholics (I don’t think it even needs to be said that I support the right of Catholics to ignore that doctrine).
What I cannot support–what I find profoundly hypocritical and arrogant–is Bishop Jenky melodramatically whining about these illusionary assaults on his free speech at the same time the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is condemning U.S. nuns for voicing their own opinions on the very same subjects Jenky is discussing.
The Vatican has ordered that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious–a group representing nearly 60,000 nuns–be ‘reformed’ for making “occasional public statements” that disagreed with the Conference of Bishops, “who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” An Archbishop (a man, of course, since women can’t be ordained in the Church) has been given the task of overseeing this ‘reform.’ It’s pretty clear that when they say ‘reformed’ they mean ‘muzzled.’
I suspect Bishop Jenky–one of those ‘authentic teachers of faith and morals’–is incapable of seeing the irony in this. How could he, when his head is that far up his own ass?