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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Thursday, 1 July 2004

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Heresy - In the Specific Religious (and Los Angeles) Meaning of the Term

"In politics as in religion, it so happens that we have less charity for those who believe the half of our creed, than for those who deny the whole of it."
- Charles Caleb Colton (1780-1832) from Lacon (1825)

People say Los Angeles is full of odd people. A few of my younger neighbors in the building moved here to become stars - tattoos, body piercing, purple hair and all. Down in Orange County we have the international headquarters of that group that is out to prove, conclusively, that the Holocaust never happened. Out in Riverside County we have the largest KKK coven outside the South. And that is not to mention the leather-skinned, rail-thin older Beverly Hills matrons tooling around in the Benz convertibles, or the seventeen-year-old Vietnamese dudes tooling up and down Sunset Strip in new four hundred thousand dollar Lamborghini speedsters. And we have all sorts of religious folks - the Hollywood Scientologist stars (Tom Cruse, John Travolta) for example. And there are still at lot of Foursquare churches out this way - the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel was founded in 1923 over the next hill in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles (incorporated and registered in the State of California on December 30, 1927) - Aimee Semple McPherson of Salford, Ontario moved here and got all excited.

It seems we also have a Los Angeles-based canon lawyer and an assistant judge with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' tribunal, which seems to be an ecclesiastical court. He either has too much time on his hands, or an overly developed sense of righteousness. He's certainly a good Bush Republican. Or perhaps he is a tad insecure in his faith and is just asking for a little help here.

And I don't recall the Catholic Church charging anyone with heresy since that Inquisition business way back when. Well, maybe they have. Not having any, I don't follow religion and news about it all that much.

But this caught my eye. Imagine John Kerry on the rack, or being dipped in boiling oil.

Kerry cited in Catholic heresy case
Julia Duin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES, June 30, 2004
A Catholic lawyer has filed heresy charges against Sen. John Kerry with the Archdiocese of Boston, accusing the Democratic presidential candidate of bringing "most serious scandal to the American public" by receiving Holy Communion as a pro-choice Catholic.

The 18-page document was sent to the archdiocese June 14, but released to the public only yesterday by Marc Balestrieri, a Los Angeles-based canon lawyer and an assistant judge with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' tribunal, an ecclesiastical court.

"Heresy is a public, ecclesiastical crime," said Mr. Balestrieri, 33, whose complaint is posted at "It affects entire communities. It is one of the greatest sins you can commit."

If the Boston Archdiocese, which is refusing comment on the case, decided to press heresy charges, the Massachusetts senator could be excommunicated.

"My goal is his repentance, not excommunication," Mr. Balestrieri said. The charges do not seek monetary damages.

The Rev. Arthur Espelage, executive coordinator for the Canon Law Society in Alexandria, said a Catholic layman can legitimately bring a case against another layman in a church court. The charges, known in church parlance as a "denunciation," are similar to a criminal complaint in secular law.

But "this is really unique," he said. "I have never heard of a case like this being processed before."

The charges must be filed in the diocese where Mr. Kerry lives. If the Archdiocese of Boston rejects the case, Mr. Balestrieri can appeal it to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in Rome.

Father Espelage said church officials, not politicians, are the ones usually accused of heresy. But this suit may change that.

... Mr. Balestrieri said he filed the heresy charge -- plus an additional complaint charging "harm" to himself as a result of Mr. Kerry's pronouncements on abortion and related issues -- because canon law entitles Catholics to "possession of the faith unharmed."

"By spreading heresy, he is endangering not just mine by every Catholic's possession of the faith," he said.

"I am inviting all baptized Catholics who feel injured by Kerry to join the suit as third parties" by reading the document on the Web site and then sending a certified letter of agreement to the Boston Archdiocese.

"People are saying you can be pro-choice and be a good Christian, that it is not contrary to the faith to support aborted murder," Mr. Balestrieri said. "This is a life-threatening heresy."
Cool. I wonder how far this will go?

Well, Kerry keeps going to Mass, and receiving communion. His business, not mine.

But he is confusing people. He is opposed to the death penalty - as is the Church. He seems to say things about helping the poor and unfortunate and those suffering and all that. Not so radical, as the Church often says such things, and does help out now and then. But Kerry doesn't much think it is his business to tell women what they can and cannot do regarding abortion. He seems to think this is pretty much their own personal decision and they have to work it out as best they can - balancing the moral, medical, religious and all other considerations. Saying that it is something each woman should wrestle with and decide? That seems to be the deal-breaker.

And now it is a political issue too.

Catholicism Plays New Role in Election - Experts
Thursday, July 01, 2004 - 12:03 PM ET - byline Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK (Reuters) - John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic president of the United States, and he had to reassure voters that he would not let his religion rule his presidency.

Four decades later, another Democratic senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry, wants to be the country's second Catholic president, and he faces fire for not being religious enough.

... For their part, more churches are stepping into politics. A group of Catholic bishops has proposed denying communion to politicians like Kerry who are Catholic but do not oppose a woman's right to abortion.

... Catholics have this gap within their ranks and are starkly divided down political lines, with traditional conservatives on one end of the spectrum and social liberals on the other, said John Green, professor of politics and religion at the University of Akron in Ohio.

"Then there's this large group of Catholics in the middle, centrist, moderate Catholics," Green said. "A lot of the fight in the Catholic community right now is over the people in the middle."

The controversy over denying communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians such as Kerry is one such fight.

"The questions that have been raised about 'Is John Kerry a good enough Catholic?' are substantially and most effectively being raised by the traditional Catholics trying to bring a lot of the middle-of-the-road people over to the Bush camp," said Green.

"And the more liberal Catholics are of course arguing, 'No, he's a fine Catholic and people ought to vote for him because he is overall closer to Catholic teachings than President Bush."'

In 1960, Catholics voted overwhelmingly for Kennedy. Today, their votes are split down the middle, polls show.

"What you see now is a Catholic community that by and large is a swing vote between the parties," Lugo said. "And we're talking about a lot of voters here."
This is madness.

Okay, consider France, a country half of America gleefully reviles. There most everyone actually is Catholic, for real, and will say something nice about the Pope if pressed, and enjoys all the Saints Days when you don't have to go to work. But none of them I know take these centuries of Catholicism all that seriously. It's kind of like cultural background noise. And politicians there run on actual issues - issues of governance, of taxes and services, on immigration policy, on safety. The nuts and bolts stuff of how things run. One doesn't see French, or any European politicians, running on their religious fervor and promises to follow the teaching of the Church, much less on their personal relationship God. Voters would think them quite loony. You don't get points for shouting you've been born again. Hell, folks would cross the street to avoid you.

Here? We eat it up.

Well, maybe that's what wrong with them and right with us. Or maybe it's the other way around.

Comments? Rick the News Guy in Atlanta -
On this Catholic stuff, particularly France versus here...

My late mother-in-law, who was Jewish but who had worked with lots of Catholics in her day and prided herself on being up on all of what she considered the "inside dirt" of Christian politics, would tell me her Catholic friends would remark that, when it came to being "Catholic," the Irish were much more hard-line than the Italians, probably because they lived farther away from the Vatican and didn't "see firsthand all the crap that went on day-by-day." I guess that theory would place the French, both geographically and religiously, somewhere in between.

But it seems to me, in recent years, that American Catholics have been on this Pope's "naughty" (as opposed to "nice") list, and just as significantly, the other way around; there have been many news stories about so many liberal Catholics in this country claiming the Roman Church has no right to tell them how to live their lives.

So I think what we may have here is one of the few old-time "wedge issues" in this campaign, in which, on the one hand, the more the church (and guys like Balestrieri) try to isolate Kerry, they more they risk isolating the Church itself from American Roman Catholics; while on the other hand, just maybe the Bush campaign can cut enough mavericks (that is, Roman loyalists) away from the herd to make a difference in the November elections.
Maybe so.

The Bush campaign is working hard on "reaching out" churchgoers according to this in the Washington Post. In short, the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign has sent a detailed plan of action to religious volunteers across the country asking them to turn over church directories to the campaign, distribute issue guides in their churches and persuade their pastors to hold voter registration drives.

Now this could cause any one of these churches to lose its tax-exempt status. These churches might become de facto and then de jure political organizations. But there is Republican-sponsored legislation working its way through the halls of congress to have that change of status be considered only after three violations of the rules on these matters. Think of this change in the law as an exemption made so you can keep your exemption. If you're a golfer - think of it as a "two Mulligan" rule.

But what are you being asked to do?
By July 31, for example, volunteers are to "send your Church Directory to your State Bush-Cheney '04 Headquarters or give [it] to a BC04 Field Rep" and "Talk to your Pastor about holding a Citizenship Sunday and Voter Registration Drive."

By Aug. 15, they are to "talk to your Church's seniors or 20-30 something group about Bush/Cheney '04" and "recruit 5 more people in your church to volunteer for the Bush Cheney campaign."

By Sept. 17, they are to host at least two campaign-related potluck dinners with church members, and in October they are to "finish calling all Pro-Bush members of your church," "finish distributing Voter Guides in your church" and place notices on church bulletin boards or in Sunday programs "about all Christian citizens needing to vote."
You got a problem with that?

I don't recall where I saw this comment, but someone suggested that if he belonged to a church that provided the member directory to a political campaign, he'd be really annoyed. And he wondered if you can sue a church because they didn't issue a privacy statement telling you that your personal information could be passed on to a third party, for non-religious purposes, without your knowledge or consent?

Probably not.

But it would be disconcerting to be attending your Church as usual and suddenly find yourself on the Bush-Cheney mailing list, being asked for time and money to help out. And then suddenly find your Church softball team is wearing "Bush Rocks" uniform shirts. And then find yourself being button-holed by your fellow parishioners to vote the right way in November.

So you find your church suddenly shifted into something it hadn't been before. Would you assume its your fault and your faith had been, up until this summer, inadequate - that you hadn't seen who God had chosen and you should support? You'd then feel both humbled and enlightened. Your fellow parishioners and your spiritual leaders had opened your eyes.

Or maybe you'd resent it. Maybe you think religion and politics are separate spheres - one personal and one civic. Then you'd be kind French. Could you live with that?

Posted by Alan at 20:13 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 2 July 2004 16:45 PDT home

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