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 Religion and PoliticsReligion and Politics          Gerry O’Shea

The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 ended for a while the wars that plagued Europe after the Protestant Reformation which started about forty years earlier. They agreed a working principle that was known in Latin as cuius regio, eius religio, meaning that the religious affiliation of the leader of each state would determine whether Protestantism or Catholicism would be practiced in the territory he controlled. Anyone who didn’t want to abide by this rule could move to a different jurisdiction. 

This dictatorial approach still prevails in some countries. In Iran, for instance, women who refuse to wear the hijab to cover their faces are subject to prosecution. While the Quran affirms women’s equality it also requires that they must veil their faces in public and be accompanied by a male outside of the home.

The legal system in Saudi Arabia also demotes women to legal appendages of males and even bars them from praying in public. Females in Afghanistan were allowed to avail of proper schooling when American influence prevailed, but they are now forced back to neanderthal times based on the twisted religious thinking of the new leaders, the Taliban.

America or other Western countries would not tolerate such religious dictates. Muslim women may cover their faces in public and many do; however, any effort to compel them to adhere to restrictions based on their gender would be deemed illegal in any civil court.

Yet Christian churches often adhere to old scholastic rationalizations justifying ethical mandates that run counter to modern scientific thinking. Many of these theological theorists – including those at the Vatican – do not respect accepted expert knowledge, especially in the area of sexual behavior.

For instance, intimate expressions of love between homosexual partners are for many years classified by healthcare professionals as normal and healthy. In one of his early comments about this area of human activity, Pope Francis asked pointedly “who am I to judge”, but since then Vatican pronouncements have invariably returned to the repugnant traditional moral imperative that same-sex intimacy is deemed inherently sinful.

In an article in National Catholic Reporter, a highly regarded weekly Catholic newspaper, Daniel P. Horan, a Capuchin priest and distinguished theologian, describes a recent official paper promulgated by the United States Catholic Bishops dealing with transgender issues as “nothing short of a disaster, theologically, scientifically and pastorally.”

The full rather forbidding title of this document reads as follows: Doctrinal Notes on the Moral Limits to Technological Manipulation of the Human Body. It calls on Catholic hospitals and other healthcare institutions to refuse treatment for those experiencing gender dysphoria – an acute sense of distress  caused by a mismatch between a person’s sense of gender identity and his or her sex identification at birth.

Fr. Horan argues convincingly that we must respect the ongoing scientific research that continues to explore the causes and appropriate treatment for this condition. He asserts that the language used by the bishops on this complex issue “betrays a gross ignorance about what the medical and scientific community has taught the world.”

The uneasy intersection between religion and nationalism is glaringly evident in a recent investigation of Pope John Paul 11’s dealings with priests accused of sexual abuse when he was bishop and later archbishop of Krakow from 1958 until he was elected pope in 1978.

On March 6th of this year a documentary film was aired on Poland’s TVN, whose principal owner is Warner Bros., claiming that their investigative reporters provide detailed testimony that the future pope covered up child molestation by priests in his archdiocese. The government’s stranglehold on media outlets means that this channel provides the only independent news coverage in the country.

Shortly after the documentary was shown the Polish foreign minister summoned the American ambassador, Mark Brzezinski, for a meeting regarding an alleged campaign “to weaken the Polish Republic’s ability to fend off a potential enemy.” The local Minister of Culture called such television programs “an attack on Polish national interests.”

On March 9th this year the lower House of Parliament in Poland voted on a motion to “defend the good name of the dead pope.” Scores of MP’s cast votes while holding a poster-sized image of John Paul. The Speaker delivered an oration “condemning the foreign-owned television station that aired the documentary” equating TVN with “the worst years of communist propaganda.”

 John Paul’s successor, Benedict, started the canonization process a mere six weeks after the Polish pope’s death. Some scholars and dignitaries from both sides, liberal and conservative, shook their heads in disagreement at such a hasty action, claiming that alleged saintliness can be inappropriately boosted by waves of popular feeling.

Ironically, Benedict himself was accused by a church-appointed committee of experts in Germany of failing young people by re-appointing wayward and troubled priests to different parishes after he was told of their abusive behavior – the same accusation as was levelled against John Paul by TVN.

In America, Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a powerful ally of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, recently labeled herself a Christian nationalist which can be best understood as a political ideology that merges Christianity and Americanism. She believes that this religious movement could solve school shootings and “sexual immorality.”

 Her fellow Republican congresswoman Lauren Boebert confirms this perspective: “The church is supposed to direct the government not the other way round. I am tired of this separation of church and state junk.”

Recent polling has shown a disturbing increase in the number of Americans supporting the narrow beliefs of this baleful brand of nationalism. This is a disturbing development because America’s founding fathers were resolute that their new country would not take sides between religions as certainly happened to the detriment of nations in what they called the Old World.

The New Testament clearly affirms a preference for helping the poor, but every government program designed to help those struggling at the bottom of the economic ladder is rejected by the party which cozies up to the Taylor Greenes and Boeberts. Predictably, Speaker McCarthy’s recent proposals to cut spending to alleviate the debt ceiling crisis focused almost entirely on big reductions to Medicaid, Food Stamps and other similar programs set up to help the most vulnerable.

I propose a super committee comprising top theologians as well as eminent biblical experts from all Christian denominations to examine why so many Americans live in poverty while their country is rated the richest in the world. Are the great majority of Christian leaders in Congress and in the pulpits siding with the gatherers and storers of wealth while neglecting people on the margins?

Gerry O’Shea blogs at


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