Over the last several months, America's Catholic bishops have noticeably stepped up their efforts to get Catholic souls to the polls for next week's election. Those efforts, though, have hardly been bipartisan. Despite the Catholic Church's status as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) religious group, the bishops have made it abundantly clear that they want their flock to vote Republican, and they've shown themselves more than willing to resort to spiritual blackmail and hysterical rhetoric to convince Catholics to do just that.
The most recent example is Daniel Jenky, Bishop of Peoria, Illinois. Earlier this year he delivered a homily in which he compared President Obama to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and accused him of pushing a "radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda." Yesterday, Jenky's office issued a letter claiming that Catholics who "callously enable the destruction of innocent human life in the womb" (i.e. vote for political candidates who believe that women have a right to make reproductive decisions for themselves, rather than their churches or their governments deciding for them) are "[rejecting] Jesus as their Lord" and "objectively guilty of grave sin."
And he commanded his letter to be read at Mass this weekend by every priest in every parish in the Diocese of Peoria, calling upon the priests' vow of obedience to him in order to compel them to do so.
Hmmmm, I wonder whether Daniel Jenky wants the Catholics of central Illinois to vote Democratic or Republican?
Bishop David Laurin Ricken entered the fray last week, informing the over 300,000 members of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin that voting for candidates whose positions contradict any so-called "non-negotiables" of Catholic teaching (including abortion rights and marriage equality) "could put [one's] soul in jeopardy." Like Jenky, Ricken ordered churches to distribute his message, but he arguably tiptoed even further towards an overt GOP endorsement.
The prelate wrote [pdf]:
Some candidates and one party have even chosen some of these as their party's or their personal political platform. To vote for someone in favor of these positions means that you could be morally "complicit" with these choices which are intrinsically evil. This could put your own soul in jeopardy.
Three items on Ricken's list of so-called "non-negotiables" - reproductive choice, stem cell research, and marriage equality - can be found in the official 2012 Democratic Party Platform. Hmmmm, I wonder whether David Ricken wants the Catholics of northeastern Wisconsin to vote Democratic or Republican?
Bishop Thomas Paprocki, a neighbor of Jenky's in the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, also joined the ecclesiastical chorus, recording a video message in which he specifically pointed out what he called the "intrinsic evils" in the Democratic Party platform - you guessed it: choice and marriage equality - and then implied, in language remarkably similar to Ricken's, that casting one's vote for a Democratic candidate threatens one's eternal soul:
"...a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy."
Hmmmm, which party do you think Paprocki wants his flock to vote for?
For the record, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has strongly condemned the Paul Ryan budget - which passed the Republican-controlled House earlier this year - as a moral failure. But never mind that. Policing women's uteri and excluding loving same-sex couples from marriage is clearly more important.
Speaking of marriage, bishops in states voting on marriage next week have spiritually bullied their congregants every bit as shamelessly as their brothers.
Perhaps the most notorious example is Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt, who has campaigned vigorously for the passage of a constitutional marriage discrimination amendment in Minnesota. He injected a prayer for marriage discrimination into the Mass, ordered his priests to organize grassroots political committees in their parishes - at parish expense - for the express purpose of drumming up support for the amendment, attempted to silence any dissenters within the clerical ranks, mandated marriage discrimination lectures in Catholic schools across the archdiocese, and caused pro-equality lay employees to fear for their jobs.
Nienstedt's colleague in Seattle, Archbishop Peter Sartain, recently posted a video message in which he ominously warned that society "would be harmed beyond repair" if the people of Washington vote to uphold the state's marriage equality law. And some Catholic bishops extend their anti-LGBT attacks far beyond marriage - Omaha, Nebraska Archbishop George Lucas is leading the charge to repeal the city's nondiscrimination ordinance, and the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, backed out of a real estate agreement this summer after it found out the buyers were a gay couple, possibly violating state law in the process. (For a more exhaustive list of anti-gay activities from U.S. Catholic leaders, please refer to this list I compiled last month.)
It should be noted, however, that most rank-and-file Catholics hold very different opinions on women's rights and LGBT rights than the ones pushed by their leaders. Nearly three-fourths of them support civil marriage equality for same-sex couples. Over 80 percent of American Catholics believe birth control is morally acceptable, and a clear majority say that religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should be required to provide contraception coverage in employee health insurance plans.
But none of that appears to matter very much to America's Catholic bishops, because they're practically tripping over themselves to crawl into bed with the GOP. Why, you ask?
Well, it probably has something to do with the fact that the 2012 Republican Party platform is the most right-wing, anti-woman, anti-LGBT platform in modern history. Because if we know one thing, it's that the leadership of the Catholic Church will stop at nothing to block the rights of women and LGBT people, even if it means harming the poor, labor unions, and the environment in the process.
How profoundly sad.