Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Responding to Bishop John "We Are at War" Finn

I often find that I like reading the responses to a given online article more than the article itself.

Case in point: the National Catholic Reporter recently published the transcript of a keynote address by Robert W. Finn (pictured at right), bishop of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese. This address was delivered at the 2009 Gospel of Life Convention held at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, Kan., earlier this month. It was entitled, “Warriors for the Victory of Life,” and in it Bishop Finn called the “church militant” — the church on earth — into a battle for human souls in defense of the sacredness and dignity of human life. At one point Finn declared that as Catholics, “We are at war!”

I have to say in all honesty that as a Catholic, not to mention a person who strives to be both informed and compassionate, this type of war-focused rhetoric makes me embarrassed. Similarly, I’ve discovered that I’m now very careful when riding on the bus not to be seen reading the Catholic Spirit, the misnamed “official” newspaper of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese. I mean, who wants to be seen reading articles with headlines like: “Homosexual Attraction: A Disordered Desire for Love.” It’s embarrassing, I tell you – not to mention anti-intellectual, insensitive, and just plain wrong.

Yet the various marks of stupidity and arrogance of the “official” Church are not just embarrassing. As Bishop Finn diatribe attests, they’re becoming quite dangerous and terrifying. They are reflective of a type of rabid fundamentalism that is giving contemporary Catholicism – and religion in general – a bad name. Is it any wonder that people are abandoning organized religion in droves?

Just how dangerous is this Catholic right rhetoric? Well, one of my favorite writers, Doris Lessing (pictured at left), remarked early in the presidential campaign of Barack Obama that, if elected, he would be assassinated. I was disappointed and angry with this remark by Lessing. Maybe it was the way her comment was reported, but it seemed to be, on her part, uncharacteristically pessimistic and unsubstantiated in its certainty. I was not used to such qualities from this woman, one whom I greatly admire not only as a writer but as an intelligent and pragmatic critic of the excessive and dehumanizing traits of all forms of ideology – racism, sexism, colonialism, Communism, capitalism, feminism, political-correctness, and the various expressions of religious fundamentalism. Of course, her comment was undoubtedly influenced by the terrible injustices and violence she witnessed against blacks while growing up in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Perhaps for someone of her generation and experience, the idea of a black man being allowed to remain in a position of influence and power by the forces of intolerance and hatred is unthinkable. Which is sad.

Yet in light of the recent rants from many on the Catholic right – Bishop Finn among them – I sense that if an attempt is made on President Obama life it won’t be racially motivated. No, if, God forbid, such an assassination attempt is made, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if an unhinged Catholic pro-lifer was found to be responsible. Elements within the Catholic right are inciting violence. It’s terrifying and it’s wrong. If something does happen to Obama, the type of rhetoric from the Catholic right that we’ve been hearing lately will, in one way or another, have some responsibility to bear. That’s difficult for me as a Catholic to acknowledge. But it’s becoming increasing obvious to me that it’s true. Just read some of the comments below – especially number 8.

Anyway, here are some NCR readers comments to Bishop Finn’s speech that I found particularly insightful – and at times, despite my above stated concerns, even hopeful.


1. William Lindsey writes: Apocalyptic rants with heavy-handed rhetoric about Satan usually fail to convince those to whom they’re directed. They’re not arguments from strength, but from weakness – the kind of argument folks develop when they sense that they have lost or are about to lose a battle.

In my view, we’d have been so much better off if our pastoral leaders had encouraged dialogue about the values they want to inculcate in our culture and communicate to the public sphere. Shouting is not going to communicate those values, particularly when the shouting is attended by veiled threats and talk of the diabolical.

We are doing a very good job of marginalizing ourselves, and we deserve to be marginalized in the public sphere, if this is what we have to offer.

Not to mention that the level of verbal violence I hear in this rant tends to tip the scales in the direction of actual violence on the part of hot-headed apocalypticists who won’t hear the distinctions about loving our “enemies” while hating what they believe.

2. LittleBear writes: At no point did Bishop Finn mention any pastoral concern for women facing abortions. At no point does Bishop Finn mention these women at all. This is the problem that Bishop Finn and other arch/bishops have – they rarely mention these women (as though they are not human). It is as though these women are walking baby-making machines – who should not ever, for any reason, stop producing babies.

The Church tries to celebrate the “dignity” of women – as though women are pieces of art – instead of real human persons who have vices as well as virtues. But the Church does not engage women, especially poor women who might have abortions, in any type of dialogue about their concerns about having children, raising them (often alone), caring for their health and education. There is only the same rhetoric – the rights of the unborn – nothing about what happens after birth.

The term “Warriors for the Victory of Life” sounds like an address for males only – and is just as mindless of women who must care for young life after it is born – with very little real assistance from the offices of the USCCB [United States Conference of Catholic Bishops].

3. Randy Kowalik writes: This is getting more than annoying! If there isn’t some recognition of the fact that abortion is the direct result of the prohibition of effective birth control methods being condemned by the church, thinking Catholics will continue to ignore the “war cries.” Pro Life before conception and Pro-Choice after! As with celibacy and the shortage of priests, why are we being presented with “puzzles” that have very ethical and logical answers?

4. Fran writes: What a rant! There are many ways to destroy a human life; abortion is only one way. This one issue approach is hypocritical. Think about all the lives destroyed/maimed as a result of the pedophile scandal, the war in Iraq – to name a few.

5. Anonymous writes: Sure are a lot of violent words in this speech. I know he makes occasional reference to obeying the law, but that’s an incidental comment. The constant message is “war, attack, fight, battle, enemies, war, war, war.” I can’t help but think that this is a terrible person who is pretending to advocate for innocents. This person is not an instrument of love on earth.

6. Rachel writes: Is this how the men in skirts & silk & lace get their “masculinity” restored?

7. Msgr. Titus writes: American Catholics have to realize [that] every RC Bishop speaks and writes for the edification of one person: Benedict XVI. No one else’s opinion matters to these men whose ambitions lead them to want to please Rome at any price. Offend all politicians-fine! Offend women- no problem! As long as Rome has you on record of defending “human life,” condemning modern relativism, and supporting “family values.” Pray for these spineless political animals in purple!

8. Anonymous writes: This is the kind of fundamentalist-extremist rhetoric that HAS TO STOP! I’m sure this bishop is not intending to incite hatred and violence, but that is what this kind of rhetoric brings out in people. My own 85-year-old father, a very faithful and pious Catholic who has been a Pro-Life activist for many years, has commented in the name of Pro-Life, because of what he has been hearing on EWTN and from listening to Rush Limbaugh: “I wish someone would assassinate [President] Obama!” He said this with a sense of violent rage which was truly disturbing.

Should we be “calling people to arms” in the name of pro-life, even as this bishop tries to qualify it? I cannot believe that this helps the cause even against abortion, let alone the other neglected pro-life issues, or even Christian living and values generally. I am not saying would never say that I in any way believe that abortion is ever morally good or that we shouldn’t do what we can to ultimately stop abortion. But all this inflammatory rhetoric serves only to distort rather than clarify what are proper Christian attitudes and what Catholic Christians ought to be doing for the sake of achieving true justice and peace.

9. Anonymous writes: Go ahead with your “pro-life” war! That’s all that the Pro-lifers really stood for anyway: War

Wipe yourselves out hypocrites! Destroy the Church in the process! The devil will be proud of you!

You Pro-lifers put Bush into office two times and where did that get us on the abortion issue? Nowhere.

You Pro-lifers who put Bush into office also called for a War in Iraq and you are baby killers and mother killers and pro-war.

Makes perfect sense from the right wing to be for war, more war, nothing but war talk. Yap, yap, yap ... blah, blah, blah, a lot of war mongering from you folks. Pray against all wars. That would be the Christian thing to do.

Pray for Peace. Work for Peace. Live in Peace. Be one with Jesus Christ and you will find Peace.

The mark of the devil is a call to War.

The mark of Jesus Christ is only of Peace.

Pro-lifers – get a real life in the life of Jesus Christ. Save us from your despair and hopelessness.

10. Anonymous writes: I keep trying to imagine Bishop Finn’s words coming from the mouth of Jesus as he encounters the woman caught in adultery or the woman at the well or Peter in the garden or even the thief crucified alongside of him. But I can’t! Are we reading different Scriptures?

11. Thomas writes: Bishop Finn is another example of an authoritarian personality on a rampage. People such as this make it more difficult being a proud member of the Catholic faith.

12. Frère charles du désert OSB OBLAT writes: Finn falsely cites JPII (so often called the Lesser of the two) thusly: “In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, on the Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II said that we must oppose the culture of death, and he said we must construct a civilization of life and love. So, we must defend the right to life, but even beyond that we must take action for the promotion of what is good. We must build a civilization that proclaims the Gospel of Life.”

He quickly references a “civilization of life and love” and then quickly drops the love in all of his remarks. In fact his remarks are profoundly and radically hateful. He calls for a militant and repressive civilization of what he defines as life, as good, yet devoid of Love.

Saint Maximillian Kolbe said that hate cannot conquer love as hate is not creative.

Dude. Where’s the Love? With Love comes compassion, mercy, tolerance, humility, acceptance, forgiveness, self-abnegation and all of the gifts listed by Saint Paul. Otherwise, without Love, you are a clanging gong, Paul wrote.

Where’s the Love?

Recommended Off-site Links:
Bishop Finn Declares War: The Devil We Know - William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, April 29, 2009).
Satan, the Last Best Excuse for Failed Strategy - Colleen Kochivor-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, April 29, 2009).
Safe, Legal, and Early - A New Way of Thinking About Abortion - Steven Waldman (, April 27, 2009).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
It’s Still Out There
The Bishops and Obama (Part 1)
The Bishops and Obama (Part 2)
Disarming the Weapons Within


Joe said...

I wonder if John Paul II is not the ultimate source of this fanaticism?

I fear that if Obama is assassinated, it will be by a Catholic crazy.

"Unnatural substitutes for marriage" sounds like hate speech -- is he urging gays to marry people of the opposite sex? -- or does he just get some ego-boost from calling gays unnatural, or what?

And then this menacing noise about Fr Jenkins being fired. He sounds like a weak bully, a sneak, a little boy trying to puff himself up.

Anonymous said...

Because Catholic "extremists" have a history of assassination and terror attacks right? I know that I am fearful every-time I see a little old lady praying her rosary on an airplane.

Phillip Clark said...

Don't the Bishops get it? This appraoch isn't helping, it's only hurting their credibility. The Vatican has even said that the Obama administration didn't confirm their worst fears and reseverations, and last night the President himself said the Freedom of Choice Act was "not a priority"

The more they shout, the more the reduce themselves to being the "angry right..."

Anonymous said...

In your list of inhuman ideologies, you forgot to list "progessivism."

And "Joe"..."'unnatural substitutes for marriage' sounds like hate speech"...Grow up. Just because someone disagrees with you in strong language you dislike, that's not hate speech (the very concept of which is anti-democratic, btw).

And when you reference Fr. Jenkins and, I assume, suggest Bp Glendon is "a weak bully, a sneak, a little boy trying to puff himself up." Isn't that "hate speech", too?

All so predictable.