Locked and loaded? The Knights of Columbus v. HHS

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I have already pointed out my concern that the bishops' religious liberty campaign is in danger of appearing to be "anti-Obama," a concern shared by at least one bishop willing to go on the record. 

Now the Knights of Columbus are taking it up a notch with their May issue of Columbia magazine, which prominently features a mounted cowboy-looking guy holding a rifle and wearing a crucifix around his neck. As Stephen Schneck notes, Columbia is invoking the 1920s Cristero rebellion against Mexico's violently anti-clerical government--while also promoting a new movie about the uprising.

Right in the center of the magazine is the U.S. bishops' "Our First, Most Cherished LIberty," along with its "concrete examples" our how religious liberty is under attack. Not to be missed is a dramatic photo of a 1925 Ku Klux Klan march through Washington, D.C.; the KKK offered to send its 4 million members to aid Mexico's government if any foreign power intervened against Mexico's Calles regime.

So what inference are we to draw from the entire issue devoted to a civil war in Mexico that included the summary execution of priests and religous--along with a U.S. bishops' statement about religious freedom right in the middle? Are the editors of Columbia suggesting that if employees at Catholic-affiliated hospitals, universities, and social service agencies are able to obtain contraceptives or sterilization through their insurance plan, U.S. soldiers will soon be executing priests and the KKK will once again march openly in our nation's capital?

Like Father Jonathan Morris' outrageous and offensive claim of "rape" against the First Amendment, I think Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and the leadership of the KofC have overplayed the persecution card (to put it mildly). To be blunt, I think such rhetoric is irresponsible, deliberately inflammatory, and ought to be publicly and roundly rejected for what it is: a blatant attack against a sitting president during an election year in the name of Catholicism. it also diminishes the suffering of people who have actually suffered for their faith--including the Cristeros.

While loud conservative voices--telegenic archbishops, pundits with internet connections, andfraternal organizations with incredibly deep pockets--wrap themselves in the papal flag and garner the attention of controversy hungry media, the complex reality of Catholic tradition that could be applied to our current political and economic situation is being completely drowned out. And that's because some strident types have frightened more moderate and--I'll say it--intelligent and prudent voices from speaking up, lest they be labeled Obama-loving, baby-killing, Catholic-in-name-only socialists. Some of those voices belong to bishops, and I sure wish they'd speak up, even if it means offending the guys with miters and megaphones.

What's worse, boiling Catholicism down to the HHS mandate or the teaching on birth control diminishes the real contribution that Catholic tradition could make in this election season. We should be criticizing the president for his escalation of drone warfare with its collateral innocent victims and his perpetuation of a cruel and family-destroying deportation policy. We should be challenging Mitt Romney to explain how he will treat immigrants any differently or how he will confront the millions of Americans mired in poverty.

But why should anyone listen to Catholics about how the poor are being abandoned in favor of military spending while we play the martyr--literally--over the technical matter of whether and how some people access medical means of family planning that Catholic teaching judges to be immoral?

Unless you don't want to have those other conversations. But if you don't, you can't claim to represent the fullness of Catholic teaching.