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Was the Fortnight for Freedom a Dud in New York City?

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Two hundred and fifty Catholics, not much of crowd, assembled on the first day of "Fortnight for Freedom" at St. Patrick's Cathedral to hear New York's top priest, Timothy Dolan, celebrate Mass and reflect on religious liberty. "Fortnight for Freedom" is a two-week period designated by the USCCB (United States Conference for Catholic Bishops) as a time for prayer and reflection on religious freedom. What "Fortnight for Freedom" really is, is a, now scaled-down, effort to mobilize Catholics to vote for Mitt Romney in November.

It's likely Dolan's public relations nosedive has necessitated a few alterations in the plan. So far "Fortnight for Freedom" hasn't gotten much support in New York, but Catholics made a better showing in Baltimore, where Archbishop William Lori's Mass to kick off "Fortnight for Freedom" was well-attended. Perhaps they're a little softer on systematic child-sexual abuse in the birthplace of American Catholicism, for it was standing room only at the basilica on Friday.

At the June 24 Roman Catholic Mass I attended in New York, no mention of "Fortnight for Freedom" was made, and the two announcements following the Mass were invitations to parishioners to join in the New York City LGBT "Gay Pride" parade and a request for volunteers to work a few shifts in a an overnight respite program for homeless men.

It would seem "Fortnight for Freedom" has, thus far, been a dud in New York City.

The bishops draped "Fortnight for Freedom" in "old Glory" becasue they know that right-wing Protestant fundamentalists like the stars and stripes a lot more than they like Roman Catholics. While the USCCB has no substantive objection to a black president, the bishops recognize that in Obama, they and white, American racist (so-called) "Christians" share a common enemy. The enemies of the bishops' enemies are the bishops' friends. The red-neck-friendly patriotism packaging bridges the right wing Catholic-fundamentalist Christian gap.

On the other hand, the USCCB must be careful not to overdo the redneck angle. They may find a certain comfort in joining the "bring your gun to church" "Christians" -- but the bishops are ever mindful that many U.S. Catholics are black and brown. While the bishops know most black and Latino Catholics will probably vote for Obama, they also recognize that a small percentage of black and Latino Catholic locksteppers are the kind of undiscerning Catholics who will simply vote as the bishops tell them to vote.

The great black hope of lockstep Catholics "of color" might explain why William E. Lori and Timothy Dolan et al took the chance of trotting out "Letter of Birmingham Jail" two weeks ago, which they cannibalized quite erroneously for their lecture on the importance of conscience, "Why Conscience is Important," which they disseminated via weekly paper bulletins throughout every diocese in the United State on June 10. (This document disappeared, curiously, from some of the websites on which I'd found it earlier. You can read it on Indie Theology.)

The Latino vote is of special concern to the bishops at present because both the bishops themselves and Obama favor progressive immigration policies. Hence, the need for the "Why Conscience is Important," a sophomoric and cringe-inducing missive in which the bishops make liberal use of the lyrical, logical prose of a courageous black American patriot and man of the cloth, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in order to make a case for what they fallaciously dub "religious freedom." This morally tone-deaf lecture on conscience was composed and delivered by a conference of bishops whose president was -- at the very time the insert was being disseminated to U.S. dioceses -- remaining silent in the face of serious allegations of indirect complicity in the sexual abuse of children.

The lecture on conscience, coming as it did from a group led by a man who unfortunately appears to many to lack one, was a slap in the face to every decent Catholic who read it. (Read more about this document on Indie Theology.) One amusing aspect of "Why Conscience is Important" is that its author missed the point of "Birmingham Jail" entirely, while offering any Catholic with reasonable reading comprehension skill the ideal argument in favor of disregarding the pontiff and Magisterium when informed conscience demands it.

The thesis of both the composition from the bishops, and from "Letter From Birmingham Jail" from which it disingenuously borrows, is that unjust laws (those that prohibit contraception or same-sex marriage, for example) are made to be broken. "Why Conscience Matters," in other words, reiterates the argument advanced by Joseph Ratzinger in his commentary on the Vatican II Pastoral Constitution,Gaudiem et spes: "Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there still stands one's own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority..."

Read the rest of "Fortnight for Freedom in New York CIty: A Dud?" on Indie Theology.