Catholic Bishops Won’t Have Much Clout

by Tommi Avicolli-Mecca on November 20, 2007

Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley may have thought he was going to intimidate the Catholic Democratic politicians in his state with his comments criticizing their party’s support for keeping abortions legal.

He was wrong. The collective reaction from the state’s Catholic Democratic leadership on both sides of the abortion issue was a big yawn. Even the usually outspoken Senator Edward M. Kennedy didn’t bother to respond.

Apparently, the Democratic Party isn’t worried about Catholic voters turning against its candidates over their liberal stance on abortion. The influence of the church has waned a lot since the days when Cardinals and Archbishops could change legislators’ votes simply by speaking out against a piece of legislation.

I remember those times, and not very fondly. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia was probably the number-one reason for the defeat of the City of Brotherly and Sisterly Love’s first gay rights bill in 1974. A church spokesman’s testimony against the bill ensured that it would never make it out of the Rules Committee and onto the floor of City Council for a vote.

Fortunately, the church doesn’t have as much influence with legislators as it did back then, at least not in the area of abortion and gay rights. O’Malley’s comments no doubt arise out of a sense of frustration with the diminishing political influence of his church. O’Malley’s criticism was originally voiced in an interview with the Boston Globe following news that the US Conference on Catholic Bishops had just released its voter’s guide for Catholics.

The long-winded document, with an equally lengthy title (“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States”), is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it describes abortion as “intrinsically evil,” a phrase the Pope has often used in reference to queers. On the other hand, it rightly supports “affordable and accessible healthcare” for all (though not free universal healthcare). It also advises the faithful to back politicians who help the poor, oppose torture and work for the environment.

In the area of gay rights, the guide makes clear that the church’s homophobic views are unchangeable: It insists that marriage is “a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman.” Discrimination is wrong in every area (ethnicity, race, sex, etc.) but not on the basis of sexual orientation. Yet the bishops call for compassionate care for people with AIDS. In other words, it’s only okay to like queers when we’re sick and dying, but not when we’re looking for a job or an apartment.

It’s doubtful the guide will have much influence in the upcoming elections. If only the same could be said of the rantings and ravings of those right-wing fundamentalist preachers.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical Italian queer performer and writer with a website:

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