On cat worship and another hot Catholic political issue

catmosaicThe following is a letter to the GetReligion.org editor from one of our readers, an old-fashioned Catholic peace activist named Juli Loesch Wiley.

Now, please understand that this woman is the kind of Catholic who is plagued by fits of linear thinking and, thus, gets in lots of trouble. One person’s radical peacenik is another’s anti-abortion fanatic.

Me thinks that this letter is a commentary on the issue of Sen. John Kerry and Communion. Here it is, as submitted. Argue with her, folks, not me.

Once upon a time, in a land quite different from our own, there were those who followed an ancient “spiritual way.” Among other things, they considered cats to be sacred. The “Cattadocians,” convinced that cats have a spirit nature transcending mere physical existence, sincerely held that every feline has a right to care and nurture. The believers were very kind to all of them: manx, calico, siamese. They brought strays in and gave them an honored position in their households. They taught their children to treat them in an affectionate and cherishing way. And they truly grieved whenever a cat, in the course of things, died a natural death.

One day a person arrived on the scene who had no “sacred” regard for felines at all. Even worse, he supported a scheme to snuff out cats — and not just a few: he wanted to authorize the crushing of huge numbers of kittens, effective immediately.

Yet this cat-disdainer wanted to join the devout Cattadocians! Why? In order to gain — he imagined — some sort of religious benefit. With no real devotion to the tenets of their faith, he demanded to participate in the most sacred rites of the believers. Some of them, sincerely shocked, began to object, seeing his participation as “sacrilegious.”

But he acted affronted. He loudly insisted that he had a right to insert himself into the deepest rituals of the temple. And when the believers begged him, with tears, to renounce cat-killing, he called them a bunch of stuck-up meanies.

The infamy of his cat-killing spread. Soon everyone knew that he considered it OK to slice off their fur, dismember them, cut off their heads. At the same time, he frequented the ceremonies of the Cattadocian faith, blowing a trumpet before him, helping himself to their sacred meals, ignoring the suffering of the cats and the pain and anguish of the devoted Cattadocians.

A fable. A tale for children, nothing more. But even so, ask your children, for even they would know: who’s the stuck-up meanie?

By the way, the latest wrinkle in this highly emotional case comes in a story by Denver Post religion writer Eric Gorski. This concerns the bishop who stated he would deny Communion to supporters of Sen. John Kerry. Here is how the story opens:

A church-state separation group on Thursday asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the Colorado Springs Roman Catholic diocese, saying Bishop Michael Sheridan may have crossed the line into unlawful partisan politicking.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State contends Sheridan’s May 1 pastoral letter on voting and politics is a command that Catholics vote Republican. The Washington, D.C.-based group argues Sheridan may have violated federal tax law and jeopardized the diocese’s tax-exempt status. The Colorado Springs diocese countered that the group distorted Sheridan’s teaching and his role as bishop.

Now stop and think about this for a second. It is a violation of church-state separation for a bishop — taking actions that affect only the voluntary members of his own church — to enforce a Vatican document on the Sacrament of Holy Communion? So tax officials of the United States government get to dictate what religious leaders can and cannot do to enforce their own doctrines?

Clearly, it’s fair game to debate with the handful of Catholic bishops that are threatening drastic action against Catholic politicians who publicly oppose the most sacred teachings of their own church, as stated by the Vatican. For example, when was the last time these bishops stressed the theological link between frequent cofession and Holy Communion? Why not strive to enforce other parts of the Church’s teachings?

But that is almost beside the point. Try to imagine a government law or tax regulation that could affect this kind of internal, doctrinal dispute. Holy constitutional entanglement! I would also imagine that most bishops would lead marches on behalf of pro-life Democrats, if offered the chance to do so.

Meanwhile, we await a new parable from Loesch Wiley on the subject of rainbow liturgical vestments.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Phil Blackburn

    As I understand it, the Roman Catholic Church saves a great deal of tax money through their exemption from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. A condition of that exemption is that they are prohibited from intervention in a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate.

    This seems simple enough to me, and is a general condition of this type of tax exemption – nothing to do with Church/State separation at all. See http://www.usccb.org/ogl/guidelines.htm for the US Catholic bishops’ guidelines on the issue.

    If Colorado Springs Roman Catholic diocese find this unacceptably dictates “what religious leaders can and cannot do to enforce their own doctrines” the solution is obvious: stop claiming the exemption and start paying their taxes.

  • Ken

    May one apply this principle to the innumerable Churches, mostly Baptist, who host candidates, mostly Democrats, at their Sunday morning (and other) worship services, and whose pastors offer specific endorsements for said candidates from the pulpit?

    If not, why not?

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