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The bigotry of Catholic conservatives

March 24, 2006 | Page 6

IT'S HARDLY news that the conservative movement in the Catholic Church has it in for feminists, gays and heretics.

Still, I was shocked this week by the report on a conference of 5,000 Catholic men in Boston, and the results of a little Googling of Opus Dei (yes, I'm reading The Da Vinci Code). The Boston conference report and my readings on Opus Dei--and its Father John McCloskey--reminded me again that religious fundamentalism, be it Protestant, Muslim, Jewish or Catholic, is a destructive force that is polarizing cultures and wrecking lives.

First, the Boston gathering of manly men. On March 4, Sean Forrest (I had never heard of him, but he's a big-time singer for Catholic audiences) spoke to 5,000 Catholic men on putting and keeping women in their place.

As a Boston Herald report described the event: "Men are the 'natural' heads of their families and should persuade their wives to give up birth control, quit their jobs and home-school their children, a keynote speaker at the annual Boston Catholic Men's Conference said yesterday. 'The first thing we have to do is get you off the birth control,' Sean Forrest instructed his audience of 5,000 men to tell their wives.

"Next, the youth minister and contemporary Catholic musician told his audience at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center that it should 'devise a plan to get them to stay home with the kids.' 'They want that strength and security from you,' he said, drawing a standing ovation at the close of his speech. 'They might resent it at first...[but] that is the natural position for a man: to lead your family to Christ.'"

Forrest isn't just some reactionary nutcase--he's sanctioned by the Church, with the soon-to-be Cardinal Sean O'Malley celebrating mass to conclude the conference.

In my opinion, a religion that burned tens of thousands of women at the stake (it targeted healers and scholars, including midwives who showed they were "working for the devil" by alleviating the pains of childbirth) has no moral authority to spout forth on the role of women in society. I feel sad, sickened and disgusted at the thought of thousands of men finding humor in his talk and then giving a standing ovation after hearing this crap.

And if this isn't bad enough, there's Opus Dei and its Rev. C. John McCloskey III. Opus Dei is an ultra-conservative cult-like "prelature" of the Catholic Church that has, in fact, become a central power in the world church. As a prelature, it reports directly to the Pope.

It's known for exerting almost total control over its "numeraries" (something akin to monks), who are expected to practice "corporal mortification," which includes whipping oneself and wearing a spiked chain ("cilice") around their thighs for two hours a day (I'm not making this up). Numeraries make up about 30 precent of its membership (3,000 members in the U.S., about 80,000 worldwide.)

The Da Vinci Code novel brought the bizarre practices of this very rich and powerful sect within the Catholic Church into the public eye. Opus Dei's mission, it seems to me, is to turn the clock back to a Catholic Church where Catholics obey the church as their absolute authority.

Women are second-class citizens in this vision of the church. In fact, in Opus Dei, female numeraries are treated more harshly than men. For example, female numeraries are expected to sleep on boards on top of their mattresses.

One would expect that perhaps Opus Dei's mouthpiece in Washington, Father McCloskey, would offer a more moderate image. If he does, it's only on the surface.

In a Boston Globe article, he candidly touches on his prediction of a "relatively bloodless" civil war that results in a purified Catholic Church and a divided U.S.

These are McCloskey's words: "Do I think it's possible for someone who believes in the sanctity of marriage, the sanctity of life, the sanctity of family, over a period of time to choose to survive with people who think it's okay to kill women and children or for--quote--homosexual couples to exist and be recognized? No, I don't think that's possible.

"I don't know how it's going to work itself out, but I know it's not possible, and my hope and prayer is that it does not end in violence. But, unfortunately, in the past, these types of things have tended to end this way. If American Catholics feel that's troubling, let them. I don't feel it's troubling at all."

In his essay, McCloskey foresees "tens of thousands of martyrs and confessors for the faith" with a "final short and relatively bloodless conflict" producing the new Regional States of North America. His happy new purified Catholic church will be a place where "dissent has disappeared from the theological vocabulary."

Is it me, or is there something seriously wrong with the way this person thinks? With his vision for America, I am amazed that anyone takes him seriously. Yet there he is, baptizing and hobnobbing with the likes of Robert Bork, Robert Novak and Sen. Sam Brownback. This is one of the most powerful conservative Catholics in the U.S. (and the world)--someone who foresees and welcomes a civil war that splits the U.S. along religious lines.

The Bush administration has courted and played up to these people, working hard to capture the conservative Catholic vote.
Charles Jenks, Deerfield, Mass.

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