The Catholic Church’s Strange Politics

Although I disagree with it on specifics, I have always respected the Roman Catholic Church’s position that its social teachings are a “seamless garment” — that is, it focuses on all aspects of its social teaching even if it does not fit neatly into political boxes.

Well, it turns out that the garment’s got a lot of rips in it:

Internal Komen documents reviewed by Reuters reveal the complicated relationship between the Komen Foundation and the Catholic church, which simultaneously contributes to the breast cancer charity and receives grants from it. In recent years, Komen has allocated at least $17.6 million of the donations it receives to U.S. Catholic universities, hospitals and charities.

Church opposition reached dramatic new proportions in 2011, when the 11 bishops who represent Ohio’s 2.6 million Catholics announced a statewide policy banning church and parochial school donations to Komen.

Such pressure helped sway Komen’s leadership to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, according to current and former Komen officials….

The earliest signs of discord came in 2005, when South Carolina’s Catholic diocese pulled out of the local Komen fundraiser. It was followed over the next four years by individual dioceses in Arizona, Indiana, Florida, Missouri and other states, where bishops either spoke out against Komen or took steps to stem donations to the charity, mainly because of its Planned Parenthood link.

The momentum picked up in 2011 when top Ohio clerics met in Columbus. High on their agenda was the question of whether the state’s nine dioceses should participate in Komen fundraisers.

No Planned Parenthood clinics in Ohio receive Komen money. But the bishops decided that diocese funds should no longer benefit the charity, for fear that money sent from local Komen affiliates to the Dallas headquarters could wind up in Planned Parenthood’s coffers or help fund research on stem cells collected from human fetuses, according to church officials.

So — in a probable violation of the Thomist Doctrine of Double Effect, the bishops have decided to refuse all support for any women’s health promoted by Komen for fear that somewhere, somehow, some money might make it into some Planned Parenthood office. And they went even further, telling all of their parishoners not to do anything to help, either. It was, of course, interesting that they did nothing of the kind concerning Republican candidates who vowed to slash funding for programs for the poor, many of which also supported Catholic Charities.

High on the 2011 agenda, of course, was this issue. It’s not clear from the story, but this seemed to be a much higher agenda issue than, say, the truly vicious cuts proposed by Paul Ryan, or John Kasich, or any other right-winger. Some things, you see, are just more important than others.

One of the glories of contemporary religious thought is the Catholic social justice tradition, epitomized by the likes of Dorothy Day but also advanced by thousands of lay Catholics and individual priests throughout the world. Everywhere from US streets to isolated villages in the Congo, Catholics are modeling themselves on Jesus’ life, ministering to the poor, fighting for justice, and bringing the Holy Spirit to earth. They deserve better clerical leadership than what they are getting.

It thus reminds me of a (perhaps-apocryphal) conversation between German World War I generals Max Hoffmann and Erich Ludendorff, about the valiant British infantry cut down through the idiotic strategy of their generals:

Ludendorff: The British fought like lions.

Hoffmann: Yes; but they were led by donkeys.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff is a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles.