It must be a terribly confusing time to be a member of the Vatican hierarchy. In an effort to stem the accelerating exodus of Catholic laypeople, they've been cracking down on suspected heretics left and right - on nuns who help the poor too much, on priests who want to change the rules of ordination, on politicians who don't vote the way the bishops tell them to, on groups that fight bullying of gay teenagers, on ordinary churchgoers who've been divorced or who don't attend Mass every week - and yet, inexplicably, the departures continue. It almost seems as if, every time the Vatican exerts its will to silence dissenters, more people wind up leaving! Whoever those mysterious heretics are who are responsible for people leaving the church, they must be awfully clever at avoiding detection.
What's a poor, beleaguered church hierarchy to do? There's obviously only one answer, which is: "more of the same". That's why the American bishops are widening their quest to find and root out dissent wherever it may hide, and their gaze has landed on the latest culprits preaching radical feminism and undermining sound doctrine: that den of vipers known as the Girl Scouts.
The new inquiry will be conducted by the bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. It will look into the Scouts' "possible problematic relationships with other organizations" and various "problematic" program materials, according to a letter sent by the committee chairman, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne, Ind., to his fellow bishops.
...At issue are concerns about program materials that some Catholics find offensive, as well as assertions that the Scouts associate with other groups espousing stances that conflict with church teaching.
And who are those ungodly, anti-Catholic groups the Girl Scouts have been brazenly associating with? Brace yourselves:
Critics contend that Girl Scouts materials shouldn't contain links to groups such as Doctors without Borders, the Sierra Club and Oxfam because they support family planning or emergency contraception.
Attacking Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam! My imagination runs out trying to think of a way to parody this. They may no longer be able to use racks and thumbscrews, but other than that, the mentality of the Inquisition is alive and thriving within the Catholic church. Like all inquisitors throughout history, they're in such a frenzy to find enemies, they inevitably wind up seeing them everywhere they look. The Girl Scouts are just unlucky enough to be the latest target of this farcical obsession.
It's stories like this that make all the church's lofty rhetoric ring hollow. They claim they want to help the poor, but they're rabidly opposed to empowering women and letting them control the size of their families, which is absolutely essential if you actually want to reduce poverty in the long run. They've taken the teaching of Jesus - "For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them" (Mark 14:7) - and turned it into a prescriptive statement, actively fighting efforts to reduce poverty and thus ensuring an ample supply of poor people upon whom they can bestow charity to demonstrate their virtue.
Of course, some fairness is in order. I realize I've been writing a lot about the Roman Catholic church lately, and I certainly don't want to give the impression that Catholicism is the only church that cares deeply about women's equality. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson:
"I think that one of the greatest mistakes America made was to allow women the opportunity to vote," Peterson says. "We should've never turned this over to women. And these women are voting in the wrong people. They're voting in people who are evil who agrees with them who're gonna take us down this pathway of destruction."
"And this probably was the reason they didn't allow women to vote when men were men. Because men in the good old days understood the nature of the woman," he adds. "They were not afraid to deal with it. And they understood that, you let them take over, this is what would happen."
Peterson, a black conservative and Fox News contributor (but I repeat myself), seems to be suffering from a very convenient and selective form of historical amnesia: apparently it hasn't occurred to him that the "good old days" he yearns for were also the days of Jim Crow laws, lynchings, cross-burnings, and all the other violence and terrorism that white racists once perpetrated against black people. Mr. Peterson, I regret to inform you that bigotry is a package deal; you can't just resurrect the specific kinds you like. (Then again, perhaps I'm being too hasty in assuming he would object to this. After all, Peterson is also known for supporting slavery, and no, I'm not kidding about that.)
But the religious war on women runs deeper than one bigoted crackpot ranting on Fox or the bizarrely hilarious spectacle of a blustering bishop fulminating against the Girl Scouts. Right-wing state legislatures across the country are working feverishly to limit women's freedom: like the latest outrage of a bill introduced in Kansas, mirroring similar anti-choice bills sprouting like mushrooms across the country, which among other things would permit doctors to lie to pregnant women about whether their fetus has a genetic defect, so as not to give women any information that might lead to them choosing abortion. At the same time, other anti-choice bills elsewhere require women seeking abortion to submit to invasive, humiliating, medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds, ostensibly in the name of giving them all the information they need to make a choice. As Rebecca Watson puts it, women deserve full and accurate information, except when they don't. (As this article was going to press, I also found this story of a Mississippi representative who's fine with women dying from coat-hanger abortions.)
It's harder to notice when the culture is changing by degrees, but if someone from even ten years ago could step out of a time capsule, I think they'd be shocked at how far the battle line of choice has retreated in the U.S. The proponents of Christian sharia are loud, vociferous, and feel no compunction about speaking their minds in a way that I think would have been unimaginable even a few decades ago. Whether this is a true resurgence or a dying convulsion, I wouldn't dare to say. But women, who are now a slim majority of the electorate, have the power to decisively defeat the religious war being waged against them. The only question is whether they can act unanimously enough to make it happen.
Image credit: U.S. Army, released via Creative Commons