Your “Propaganda” Is My “Principled Opinion”

The journalist, blogger and controversialist Michael Sean Winters, last mentioned here when he vowed to vote against Barack Obama over the contraception coverage mandate, conducted a bit of selective indignation in a National Catholic Reporter post denouncing Religion Dispatches senior editor Sarah Posner as a “propagandist, not a journalist.” You can read his entire tirade (a mild description) if you wish. Two of the three outrages he accuses her of in her most recent writing on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ summer campaign of protests against the alleged threats to “religious liberty” posed by the Obama administration strike me as entirely reasonable if not incontrovertible intepretations of the Bishops’ “Statement on Religious Liberty” (charging the Bishops with “court-dissing,” which Winters considers inadmissable because liberals didn’t respect Bush v. Gore, and suspecting the Bishops brought up their protests against anti-immigrant legislation–not germane to “religious liberty”–as a way of appearing less partisan). Posner does not work for the Associated Press, and is entitled to conduct an analysis based on an informed, principled opinion.

But Winters seems angriest at Posner’s reference to the Bishops’ injunction to “resistance against totalitarian incursions” in their manifesto about “religious liberty” as though they were labeling the administration’s actions as such. He thunders for a good paragraph about that brief attribution. If you actually read Posner’s piece, her more specific description of the Bishops’ campaign accurately says they urge commemoration of “resistance to totalitarianism” in the context of protests against the Obama administration’s supposed deprivations. In the course of a post heatedly accusing Posner of neglecting data points contradicting her argument, you’d think Winters might have noticed that second reference.

On the broader issue of conflating Obama’s policies with those of actively anti-religious forces elsewhere in the world and in world history, Winters–and the Bishops–seem to be playing a bit of a double game. In my own piece on the Bishops’ recent statement, I noted the ambiguity:

While the Bishops’ statement does acknowledge that religious liberty is “at much greater peril” in countries other than America, this tempering of militancy is rather decisively undercut by a call for a “fortnight of freedom” this summer framed by feasts dedicated to the martyrs St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More. And then there is this toxic little remark:

“In addition to this summer’s observance, we also urge that the Solemnity of Christ the King—a feast born out of resistance to totalitarian incursions against religious liberty—be a day specifically employed by bishops and priests to preach about religious liberty, both here and abroad.”

That’s the full context of the “totalitarian incursions” reference, and if it’s not an allusion to the slippery slope to persecution that the Bishops keep fretting about in their aggressive alarmism about the contraception coverage mandate, then it’s certainly careless and irresponsible.

But if you don’t confine yourself to close exegesis of the Bishops’ statement, there’s plenty of evidence that elements of the hierarchy are indeed engaged in a dangerous conflation of insurance regulations with totalitarianism.

Check out these passages from an April 14 homily by Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky during an event entitled “A Call to Catholic Men of Faith” in Peoria:

In the late 19th century, Bismark waged his “Kultur Kamp,” a Culture War, against the Roman Catholic Church, closing down every Catholic school and hospital, convent and monastery in Imperial Germany.

Clemenceau, nicknamed “the priest eater,” tried the same thing in France in the first decade of the 20th Century.

Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care.

In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama – with his radical, pro abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.

Now things have come to such a pass in America that this is a battle that we could lose, but before the awesome judgement seat of Almighty God this is not a war where any believing Catholic may remain neutral.

This fall, every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences, or by the following fall our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic Newman Centers, all our public ministries — only excepting our church buildings – could easily be shut down. Because no Catholic institution, under any circumstance, can ever cooperate with the instrinsic evil of killing innocent human life in the womb.

Perhaps in a future post Winters, who accuses Sarah Posner of “partisan hubris,” can comment on this homily.

Winters–and for that matter, Bishop Jenky–are entitled to their opinions, of course. But when a journalist (and Posner has done some of the better reporting available on religion and politics, for years now) draws attention to the excesses of one’s political allies in a way that is inconvenient to the Cause, it’s probably a good idea to remove the beam from one’s own eye before labeling her as a “propagandist.”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.