Church’s approach is undemocratic and absolutist
The recent letters by Messrs. Arsenault and Callaghan (The Guardian, July 13, 2015) defending the Catholic Church’s violating the separation of church and state clearly demonstrates that the spirit of Torquemada and Elmer Gantry are still alive in the tradition of True Believers and Bible Thumpers.
The headline for Mr. Arsenault’s opinion article is “Mea Maxima Culpa.” But it isn’t clear to this reader to whom or for what he is apologizing: for the many grievous historical sins of the Catholic Church; for its doctrinal hubris; for violating children at residential schools and ongoing priest child abuse; for its hypocrisy; or for Bishop Grecco’s biased involvement in local politics?
Mr. Arsenault deliberately avoids these substantive issues, and the hypocrisy involved, as they affect the formation of public policy, especially in sensitive areas such as abortion or physician assisted suicide. The Catholic Church, for some myopic reason, claims to have the high moral ground in these matters. It attempts to ram its doctrines down other people’s throats by limiting social policy options based on its own teachings without consideration for others.
In a pluralistic society, based on Enlightenment values, this approach is undemocratic and absolutist.
For myself, I subscribe to John Stuart Mills’ democratic dictum advocating, “The greatest good, for the great number of people.” In terms of public policy this means that options should be left open so people can make their own decisions. Limiting people’s options is anti-democratic.
In the feudal era the Church could make or break kings; evidently, it still feels free to violate the wall between church and state. Bishop Grecco’s letter was politically motivated and clearly intended to influence politicians and public policy-makers, not only the faithful. He knows better.
Mr. Arsenault accuses me of having “abandoned [my] belief in religious tolerance and free speech” and “Advocating …religious intolerance.” This is heady stuff, but is a “red herring,” He forgets that it was the Catholic Church that historically burned heretics and had an index of prohibited books. And who is intolerant? He should learn his history.
The Church’s teachings are increasingly irrelevant for the formation of public policy. The recent Irish referendum endorsing gay marriage and the fact that the majority of people in six out of eight European Catholic countries, according to a recent survey in The Economist ( July 27, 2015), endorse physician assisted suicide suggest the same. The Church is entitled to no more or less consideration, power, or respect than any other stakeholder or organization in a pluralistic society.
Mr. Arsenault has deliberately misrepresented my position, and its implications, and is too clever by half. While Mr. Arsenault may be interested in abstract theological discussions in terms of how many angels dance on the head of a pin, having had a career in public policy and program development work for various levels of government for many years, I am not.
Government policies should be religion-neutral in all ways. Interjecting religion into the formulation of government policy, or as a program evaluation criterion, or to establish entitlement to benefits and services, is not only presumptuous and possibly discriminatory, it violates the very foundation of professional public administration, sound program delivery, and must be categorically rejected.
John Stuart Mill by London Stereoscopic Company, c1870.