Moderates and women are fleeing the Republican Party. Between rush Limbaugh and the Roman Catholic bishops' war on women's access to contraception the Democratic Party is sitting pretty for 2012.
But this issue might have gone away if it wasn't for the fact that the Roman Catholic hierarchy aided, abetted and goaded by some Republican operatives, is working hard to make sure that they keep the so-called social issues on the front burner all the way to Election Day.
Rather than let what activists in the Democratic Party are calling "the war on women" fade away along with Rush Limbaugh, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, and thus refocus on what most American care about -- the economy -- the Pope, the American bishops and several key mostly behind-the-scenes Roman Catholics on the hard right of both the Church and the Republican Party seem determined to make the "war on women" into the central issue of the 2012 race.
Are these hard right Roman Catholics secretly working for President Obama? Okay, they're not; but they might as well be. Consider these points:
- According to the New York Times: Pope Benedict XVI waded into the American culture wars on Friday, urging visiting American bishops to beef up their teaching about the evils of premarital sex and cohabitation, and denouncing what he called the "powerful" gay marriage lobby in America. Benedict said there was an urgent need for American Catholics to discover the value of chastity, an essential element of Christian teaching that he said had been subject to unjust "ridicule." The pope also told the bishops not to back down in the face of "powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage."
- A far right "religious liberty" group -- the Becket Fund -- led by the ultra-conservative Roman Catholic William P. Mumma (a Wall Street banker) is working closely with the Roman Catholic bishops to sue the government in order to force women to forgo contraception if they happen to work for Catholic-run corporations. The view they are defending was summed up by the leading Catholic philosopher of the 20th century and Vatican favorite, Elizabeth Anscombe in her anti-contraception essay "Contraception and Chastity," where she wrote: "If you are defending contraception, you will have rejected Christian tradition. It's this that makes the division between straightforward fornication or adultery and the wickedness of the sins against nature and of contraceptive intercourse. Hence contraceptive intercourse within marriage is a graver offence against chastity than is straightforward fornication or adultery." (G. E. M. Anscombe, "Contraception and Chastity," London: Catholic Truth Society, 1975
Most Roman Catholics would not sign on to such weird extremism. But "most Roman Catholics" are not in charge of their church today.
And most Americans will not thank the Roman Catholic activists suing our government to force us to adopt Anscombe's view of contraception even in the name of "religious liberty." Liberty as defined here as the "right" of the Roman Catholic Church to deny progress in women's rights. The suit will mean that any time the social issues might have faded away the Roman Catholic church's attack on women will remain "news."
The far right ideologues who want to turn depriving women of contraceptives into a "religious liberty" issue are counting on trying to get their "case" before at least 4 Supreme Court Justices that have a right-wing Catholic worldview -- Roberts, Alito, Scalia and Thomas. This fact alone will make millions of women vote for reelecting the President just to make sure he has the chance to appoint another one or two moderate pro-women justices.
Bluntly put, between the Becket Fund/Wall Street suit, the Pope weighing in and the American bishops anti-Obama activity ramping up to try and defeat him in 2012, the Roman Catholic leaders seem anxious to declare holy war on the Democratic Party. Democratic Party candidates everywhere will reap the benefit because most Americans treasure their freedom from religion as much as they respect freedom of religion.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway