Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Friend of My Enemy ...

... gets no love from the two Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota.

Per the Grand Forks Herald, Bishops Samuel Aquila and Paul Zipfel have released a joint statement naming various charitable organizations to be shunned by the Papist faithful. Included on the list:
  • CROP Walk
  • Church World Service
  • March of Dimes
  • Amnesty International
  • Susan G. Komen for the Cure
  • American Association of University Women
And, of course, the one you least failed to expect:
  • Planned Parenthood
Obviously, it isn't that Their Excellencies hate crops, amnesties or dimes. (We won't venture to guess their feelings about university women, which may indeed be subtly nuanced.) The underlying complaint about all these organizations is that they support things that the magisterium find objectionable, be they condoms, stem cell research or abortion.

Let's be honest and admit that all this displays consistency. But let us then remember that thing about the hobgoblin of little minds. We wonder whether any harm that these groups do with their support for the bad things can possibly outweigh the good that they do.

Consider Amnesty, which ticked off a lot of its churchgoing supporters with the 2007 decision to advocate for the decriminalization of abortion in cases of rape or danger to the mother's health. Mind you, it doesn't actually provide abortions; it just declares that they should be legal in some cases. It did not make this decision because of any conviction that there is an abstract right to abortion, or even -- as American law has it -- to privacy. At the time, Amnesty leaders explained their decision this way:

"Our researchers found that in armed conflict, in places like the Congo and Darfur, the pregnancies were not only unwanted but led to ostracism. ... Women were further stigmatised if they had a child from a combatant from the other side. If a woman is raped and doesn't have access to abortion, that's cruel and degrading treatment."

"Our core business is people suffering from growing human rights abuses. Rape is used as a weapon of war."

So, sure, Amnesty could have remained neutral about abortion. But that would have meant deliberately choosing to leave soldiers -- and subsequent nonmilitary abusers -- in possession of a weapon that is illegal and immoral. Which is, naturally, immoral in its own way.

In the case of CROP Walk, the issue is apparently that a small portion of its funds go to the parent organization, Church World Service. So far as we can tell, CWS doesn't actually give away condoms or perform abortions either, but it seems that "some of its partners" do, and CWS doesn't object.

Now, the bishops (and various other dioceses have released similar lists in recent years) may simply want to establish a sort of cordon sanitaire, keeping Catholic hands pure from any taint of immorality. But as the Amnesty example suggests, this is difficult at best. Real life is not a dogmatics textbook, and sometimes there is no way to remain pure. (Fine, then: we learned that from The Dark Knight, okay?)

There's another thing here, though, which it may be impolite to mention. We mean the public-relations element, something at which -- as both the Egg and the US State Department have previously noted -- the Roman Catholic hierarchy seems chronically inept. Do Aquila and Zipfel really imagine that their church, already (and unfairly) associated in the public mind with the oppression of women and toleration of child molesters, will benefit from public condemnation of well-known charities devoted to the protection of women and children?

Astonishingly, they probably do.

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