Obama and Women Priests

It has been clear since he was elected that there was an irrational element to the conservative opposition to President Obama.  Let me be clear:  I am not saying that all such opposition is either irrational or wrong:  the current imbroglio over the HHS mandate shows that there are legitimate grievances which can be made and which we need to take seriously.  I have not fully parsed the religious liberties issues involved,  and don’t particularly want to rehash them here, however.  My point is that there are good arguments which have been made against Obama and his policies.

On the other hand, it is equally clear that a lot of the opposition to him is quite irrational, fueled by conspiracy theories that  belong in the pages of the Weekly World News and not in mainstream political discourse:  he is a Muslim, not an American, a socialist out to destroy America, etc.  And now Rick Santorum has brought a new one to the fore:  Obama wants to force the Catholic Church to ordain women in order to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws.

After seeing this, I had to ask myself:  where did this come from?  The only link I could find was to a press release from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights:  commenting on Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the League said

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that churches are entitled to make employment decisions without interference by the government. In doing so, the high court affirmed what is known as the doctrine of “ministerial exception,” the long-standing right of churches to be shielded from discrimination lawsuits brought by employees.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue spoke to this issue today:

This is a great victory for religious liberty and a huge defeat for the Obama administration. Last October, when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in this case, the Obama administration’s lawyer proved to be such a secular zealot that she stunned even the more liberal members of the high court. Leondra R. Kruger made such an extremist argument that she even got Justice Elena Kagan to agree wholeheartedly with Justice Antonin Scalia.

Had the Obama administration won, the government would have been able to order the Catholic Church to accept women priests. Looks like the old guard, entrenched in the 1960s, has lost again. 

(Emphasis added.)

For a more nuanced discussion of this important decision, please see the NY Times.   I can imagine this argument as the conclusion of some kind of slippery slope argument:  if the Administration’s argument been accepted by the Court, the path might have been opened for this kind of over-reach.  (I don’t give this argument any credence, but I can see it.)  But what I cannot see is the idea, expressed strongly by Santorum, that Obama himself wants to force the Catholic Church to ordain women.  This strikes me as irrational and borne not out of any rational analysis of Obama and his policies, but rather out of a fervent hatred for the man and everything he seems to represent.

Has anyone else seen this argument, and can you provide links to its earlier incarnations?

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  • Mark Gordon

    Cue the generative mimetic scapegoating mechanism. It’s not just Obama. Check out this barely rational article in The American Spectator. The target is Sr. Carol Keenan, head of the Catholic Health Association. The piece itself is full of invective and innuendo, but things go off the rail in the comments section, where Sr. Carol is called a bitch, whore, harlot, fraud, anti-Christ, god-awful, evil, money-grubbing wench, and WORSE! All without correction from the author, the editors, or even one or two brave readers. I disagree with Sr. Carol on the HHS mandate, but this madness has got to stop.

  • dave carlin

    Santorum is often criticized, as here, for being able to draw logical conclusions from premises asserted by his cultural foes. What’s wrong with being logical?

    To be specific. If the govt has the right to tell Catholics that they must violate their conscience to provide a variety of birth control coverage — for contraception, for sterilization, for morning-after pills — doesn’t it follow logically that the govt has the right to tell the Catholic Church that it is in violation of equal protection laws if it does not open priestly ordination to women?

    To be specific again. Some years ago Santorum said that if the US Supreme Court declares that the Constitution contains a right to homosexuality or same-sex marriage, then the Court will also have to say that there is a right to polygamy. Isn’t this logically correct? And isn’t it even more so for those of us who know something of the history of marriage. In that long history, polygamy has been very common, while same-sex marriage has been unknown until a few well-to-do and highly secularized countries began experimenting with it a few years ago. Who but a very illogical person can deny that the premise that justifies same-sex marriage will not also justify polygamy?

    Poor Rick Santorum. Being pilloried for being logical.

    • Kurt

      Logical Rick Santorum is now telling us Protestants are not Christians. Gee, I guess that leaves the Mormans with no chance!

    • Julia Smucker

      Santorum is not being logical; he is committing the logical fallacy of the slippery slope – and worse, feeding bitter divisions by playing to fear. This makes me think of the time recently that I heard the same type of fallacy coming from Catholic liberals: horror of horrors, that church wants to install kneelers … and the dark ages will soon follow. A completely different issue, of course, but either way you slice it, it’s still baloney. (Lest that sound too flippant, I’d like to point out that “it’s still fallacious” would be the more rational way to put it, but that would wreck the idiom.)

      • Thales

        The slippery slope argument is not always and necessarily fallacious, though I agree that in this instance, it is a bit of a stretch.

      • Sean O

        “The Slippery Slope” often isn’t. But in other cases it is.

        Rick Santorum is not generally a good source of deep or logical thinking. But he is correct here. If the state can redifine the terms of our society big implications can and will follow.

        If marriage is not an unrelated man and woman being united in love w the intention of creating and raising a family then we have abandoned its meaning and once the meaning is abandoned we have chaos. The modern liberal ethic “of we have a right to do what we want” takes over.
        If “marriage” is whatever consenting adults say it is then homosexual unions of two or more, and the same for heterosexuals can of course follow as the is according to the new rationale no ” logic” to say otherwise.

        And once the state makes such unions and ways of thinking the law of the land, the state will impose these new arrangements on the Church. The state will sue the Church for discrimatory practices if the don’t abandon their old fashioned practices and policies.

        The Church will not be allowed to practice their faith tradition openly.

        In IL the Catholic Church is being pushed out of caring for orphans bc
        they refused to allow gay couples to adopt children. Obliterating traditional marriage is a slippery slope and we are slipping fast.

  • Bruce in Kansas

    Santorum is in the midst of a political election campaign to unseat President Obama. The current turmoil over the HHS mandate has created an assailable flank. Santorum is therefore pointing to the common theme of imposing a secular policy over a religious practice by drawing attention to the case of the administration’s Equal Opportunity office arguing to force a church to hire according to secular criteria. Even though the administration lost the case, it does demonstrate the principle. It is appropriate and expected that political opponents would make a point of this. It is also quite revealing for you to object and accuse it of being irrational.

  • kurt

    Let me go have a bourbon and then I will try to write a civil and informed respone to this rubbish.

  • Kurt

    Okay. Three items.

    1. The Military Archdiocese was not censored in speaking out on this matter. The Archbishop ordered that chaplains read a statement of his during Mass. The Military objected to one line in the statement that called for civil disobedience. Right or wrong, there is a long standing policy prohibiting military chaplains from calling on soldiers and sailors to break the law. Obviously, sometimes the Church feels a duty to ask military men to do something illegal. Franco comes to mind.

    2. The government’s case in Tabor was started under the Bush Administration. It was not a personal vendetta against religion by Obama. I think it would be a good guess that the Attorney General reviewed the matter but there is no reason to think this ever reached the White House. A Lutheran school fired a school teacher because she was disabled, which is illegal under the Americans with Disability Act. I would not be illegal (but I think still dishonorable) if a Lutheran school teacher is considered a minister. Not a self-evident question; the Catholic Church would generally say a Catholic school teacher is not a minister. The Lutheran Church does consider school teachers to be ministers and the Court rightfully deferred to the denomination to have its own definition of minister. (I think the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod may have been annoyed at this case because it forced them to correct a conservative minority in their church that said women school teachers like the disabled teacher in question, were not ministers).

    3. There has never been a question that priests and deacons and bishops are ministers and therefore have the ministerial exemption. The ministerial exemption is to the person (i.e applicable to ministerial position at a school or hospital). Further the Church itself has a religious exemption for all of her employees. As I have pointed out, even with the first draft of the HHS rule, the standard of an exempt religious organization was the same standard as used for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  • markdefrancisis

    Now you get a little taste of why we Pennsylvanians delivered Rick an 18 point loss in his 2006 reelection efforts.

  • JL Liedl

    I think it’s “irrational” for you to conclude that Santorum did this out of “fervent hatred.” Maybe he just wants to win an election and saw an opportunity for some partisan embellishing.

  • Thales


    Eh. [shrug] Yes, it’s an over-exaggeration in order to take a dig at Pres. Obama. It’s an outlandish extrapolation of a slippery slope that doesn’t really have a basis in fact in order to drum up votes. It’s a baseless pandering to emotions, not to reason. It’s bad political propaganda and Santorum is wrong (and unwise) to do it.

    But I shrug, because I’ve heard worse. Even though Santorum is wrong to do it here, I think this stuff happens to Santorum to a more pervasive extent. It seems to me that Santorum is pretty much Exhibit A for being the victim of baseless political propaganda — every current political commentary that says that Santorum is “scary” because he wants to turn back the clock, take away all contraception, and make women second-class citizens is equally outlandish over-exaggeration and baseless pandering to emotions. This commentary is legion and is only going to get more prevalent if Santorum gets the GOP nod. And then beyond that, there is the “google santorum” movement, which I won’t describe since this is a family website. Now I’m not trying to defend what Santorum did here because it’s wrong and he needs to stop saying those things, but I think he’s definitely getting it more of it than he’s dishing it out.

    Mark, I’m right with you about the madness has got to stop. I’m pretty bothered by the barely rational articles on many liberal sites full of invective and innuendo that are going off on the bishops and Santorum about their reasonable stance on contraception; and the comment threads are worse, sometimes veritable nests of bigots into which I’m afraid to poke my head. That’s why I like coming here to Vox Nova. :) The discussion can be spirited, but the level of discourse is exponentially better, and I know I won’t get my head bitten off! All around, we need a higher level of discourse!

    David, your post brings up for me a question that I think is important. Yes, Santorum’s statement about the end of the slippery slope regarding Pres. Obama’s attitude towards religion is irrational and over-the-top, so set that aside. My question is this: on religion, on the importance and value of religious institutions contributing to and serving society, and on the importance and value of respecting the religious freedom of these same institutions, can I, the voter, trust Pres. Obama? The evidence over the last couple of years doesn’t look too good in favor of Pres. Obama: there’s his denial of the human-trafficking funding to Catholic bishops; the silly position staked out in Hosanna-Tabor; and then, obviously, the HHS contraception mandate rule (anything else I missed?)

    At the very least, there’s a certain tone-deafness from the Obama administration about the value of religious actors and institutions in society; and it’s not implausible that it might go beyond that to some actual antagonism. I mean, is there any doubt that the Obama administration thinks that contraception is a necessary part of women’s health and that the Church’s stance on this is irrational and harmful to said health… and that it would be better if the Church had less of a voice on this topic? If Pres. Obama solely wanted to increase contraception access, there are a hundred other options for making that happen that don’t involve forcing Catholic employers to get involved. But he chose the HHS rule over the the repeated objections of the most significant Catholic leaders in this country, and I think he did it because he thought he could get away with it politically.

    In another thread, I said that I was bothered by the growing narrative that says that society is better off not having religious institutions closing and/or not serving society. If you look at the denial of the human-trafficking funding and at the HHS rule, it’s possible to wonder whether the Obama administration also shares this view.

    In short, yes, it’s silly to think Obama would try to force the Church to ordain women. But is it silly to think that Pres. Obama wouldn’t try to force Catholic employers to add abortions to the insurance coverage under the guise that abortion is an important part of women’s health, if he thought that he could get away with it politically? Or to require the availability of contraceptive and/or abortion services in Catholic hospitals, if he could get away with it politically? Or some other similar infringement on religious freedom?

    • brettsalkeld

      Thales, I agree. Santorum is wrong. He gets it as bad as anyone else, or worse. I cannot trust Obama, even if the women priests bit is over-the-top.

      I am not looking forward to this election.

      • Thales

        Yep. Sure, there is going to be plenty of irrational opposition and fervent hatred against Pres. Obama this upcoming election, but if Santorum gets the nod, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

  • Kurt

    Thales writes: since this is a family website…

    And for that reason, I won’t post the word I think fairly describes every person who had critcized the current administration for the government’s position on Tabor, but was quiet when the government under the previous administration held the same policy.

    But if you are interested, it can be googled. :)

    • Hezekiah Garrett

      Interesting. But what of those who never knew the previous administration held such a position (because none of one’s friends and acquaintances on the left had objected vociferously) and only recently became aware because of the decision itself?

      I was silent back then. I’m critical of the government’s position now. What was it you would call me?

      • Kurt

        I was silent back then. I’m critical of the government’s position now. What was it you would call me?

        If you say you are a critic of the government’s position, I would call you someone whom I am in agreeement with. (Administrations change; the government of our republic is stable).

        That is different than someone else saying this is “Obama’s assult on religious freedom.” That person is at best ill-informed. At worst, something I can’t post on a family blog.

  • Bruce in Kansas

    The line in Archbishop Timothy Broglio’s letter, which he graciously volunteered to remove, is quite similar to the line in many bishops’ letters: “we cannot, we will not, comply with this unjust law” In the context of the mandate, it seems obviously the “we” is the bishops and those authorities mandated to do things against the faith (school administrators, hospital leaders, etc.) It’s a stretch to read that as calling all pew-sitters around the world to civil disobedience.And you forgot to mention that part about the Secretary of the the Army John McHugh apologizing for the action of telling the chaplains the letter would not be read from the pulpit. The apology was warranted and graciously accepted by the Archbishop.

    While the Bush administration is usually blasted for an idle EEO, it is just as wrong as the Obama administration in taking up the Tabor case, but it was during this administration that it lost and it would be astonishing if electioneering opponents did not bring it up in light of the current HHS mandate to point to the error of forcing churches to follow secular policies in the exercise of their mission.

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a wonderful piece of legislation and was a long-overdue correction to one of the most shameful aspects of US history. But it’s not the Constitution.

    Political rhetoric gets carried away. Many of us aren’t looking forward to mudslinging.

    But is there anyone besides Rick Santorum out there who’s trying to stop the secular state from driving the Church out of any meaningfully Catholic role in healthcare, higher education, adoption, and other areas the Church has historically been spreading the Gospel?

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    I want to make one clarification: I am not particularly interested in beating up on Santorum. I think his argument is wrong (and indeed silly) but about par for the course in this election cycle. I don’t think the argument is new with him, which is why I dug up the quote from the Catholic League. I am much more interested in the way this has been framed and the seemingly irrational hostility to Obama that has generated it. Mark and Julia touched on this as a general phenomena, but I want to consider this in the specific case of Obama.

    • Thales

      JL Liedl had the answer up above. It’s not completely irrational hostility to Obama — it’s partisan embellishing because Santorum wants to win an election. Now I agree it’s very unfair to Pres. Obama and Santorum was wrong to do it, but it’s based on a kernel of truth: that Pres. Obama has displayed a tendency to not value religious freedom and to not value the importance of religious institutions in public life. I think that’s an important issue that every serious Catholic voter has to consider in this upcoming election.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        This is true to a point, but I think it glosses over the irrationality of this meme. Santorum may not have an irrational hostility to Obama, but in his quest to win the election, he is tapping into this vein. You do not seem to want to address this fundamental issue.

      • Thales

        You do not seem to want to address this fundamental issue.

        I’m open to having any discussion you want to have. But I don’t know what else to say besides the fact that I think it’s unfair and unfounded propaganda attacking a political opponent. I wish that type of thing wouldn’t happen in our political discourse.

      • johnmcg

        Santorum may not have an irrational hostility to Obama, but in his quest to win the election, he is tapping into this vein. You do not seem to want to address this fundamental issue.

        Hmm, why might not someone want to address this fundamental issue?

        1. Because we are currently is a fight piked by President Obama for the right of Catholic organizations to continue to be Catholic?

        2. Because every other prominent politician has also been the target of irrational hostility, and that has been exploited by their opponents?

        3. Because the target of this criticism has been and continues to be subject to an irrational hostility out of all proportion to his prominence and vehemence of his words, mostly for how he has defended tenets of the Catholic faith?

        4. Because the Obama’s critics have been lectured to shut up about their “worst case scenario” interpretations of President Obama’s policies, only to see President Obama implement one such worst case scenario?

        I will repeat that I am not a fan of Santorum, I will not vote for him if he is the nominee due to his positions on war and torture, and I think we need a better defender for these values than him.

        Still, I don’t think it’s surprising that some people might think we have more pressing priorities than confronting irrational hostility to President Obama.

  • brettsalkeld

    Santorum vs. Obama, if it happens, will be one of the ugliest pieces of political theater in the history of American politics. It will be completely dominated by irrational hostility on both sides – which is really too bad given all the rational reasons to denounce these two men and their policies.

    • Bruce in Kansas

      I agree and truly can’t understand why a reasonable person would ever want the POTUS job. But elections are important and they do matter. And they’re hard to not watch – like a car crash.

    • grega

      Brett I think you are overshooting – there are plenty reasons to deeply respect Obama – as there are plenty of reasons to deeply respect Santorum.
      It might not come as a huge shock but most of my liberal catholic friends very much respect and admire Obama and despite some misgivings find him a rather great President.
      As a Canadian you really do not have to worry too much but I imagine you should indeed clearly lean towards somebody like Santorum – yes he is a politician and is not exactly the nicest guy when it comes to his campaigns – who knows how this all will play out – but terrible people they are not.

      • brettsalkeld

        I see your point. Let me replace “these two men” with “these two candidates.”

      • Melody

        “…terrible people they are not.” I wish we could hold onto that thought through this election year. You wouldn’t know it from reading some commentary; but we are not and will not be faced with Stalin or Pol Pot (and I realize that’s not at all what Brett was saying). All the candidates are running for office because they want to serve their country. But they have widely different ideas about how best to do this. If we could just resist the temptation to demonize those we don’t agree with.

  • Kurt

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a wonderful piece of legislation and was a long-overdue correction to one of the most shameful aspects of US history. But it’s not the Constitution.

    Well, even respecting (but not agreeing with) your view that the Constitution allows for whites only Christian academies and segregated Christian hospitals, given this has been accepted law for nearly fifty years, I think it is unfair to suggested that President Obama is uniquely wrong on this matter, rather the view he and I share is also shared by a considerable body of judicial and public opinion over a considerable amount of time. That doesn’t make me right and you wrong, but I think it merits being noted.

    • Bruce in Kansas

      Noted. My point is the Pres. and other officials swear an oath of office to protect and defend the Const., not a particular piece of legislation. Limiting the Church to a house of worship removes much of what the Church is. As someone recently wrote,”For the Church to fulfill her vocation, she must be willing and able to bear witness in the public square. If religious freedom is merely the freedom to “go to church” where you want, the Church is not free to be who she is.”