UC Riverside professor Jennifer Scheper Hughes, who has studied Benedict’s reaction to liberation theology in Latin America both before and during his papacy, suggests that he leaves a painful legacy for Roman Catholics in the region. Says Hughes,
“Both as Cardinal Ratzinger and as Pope, Benedict devoted himself to a process of undermining, silencing, and marginalizing the theologians, priests, and religious who committed themselves to the liberation of the poor. His legacy in Latin America is precisely this: the systematic dismantling of the infrastructure of liberation theology. Some in Latin America may hope that this period of antagonism has now come to a close. Others are, by now, far more cynical.”
DignityUSA, the advocacy group for LGBT Catholics, has called on supporters “for a period of prayer and reflection as we prepare for the conclave” to elect a new pope who may put an “end to statements that inflict harm on already marginalized people, depict us as less than fully human, and lend credence to those seeking to justify discrimination.”
“It’s hard to identify a figure who has been more oppressive to LGBT people in the religious world than Pope Benedict,” says DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke.
From the labeling of homosexuality as “objectively disordered” and “intrinsically evil” in magisterial documents he developed as a cardinal, to condemnations of transgendered people as mentally ill, to more recent attacks on marriage equality as a deterrent to world peace, says Duddy-Burke, the current pope has actively worked to undermine the full equality of LGBT people and denigrated their human dignity. Duddy-Burke notes that the announcement of Benedict’s retirement on the eve of the Christian Lenten season provides an opportunity for deep reflection on the harm such words and actions do within and beyond the Church. She hopes such reflection will fuel action among the faithful in the pews.
The Religious Right and the Roman Catholic hierarchy want you to think that the overwhelming majority of people of faith are opposed to the Obama administration’s birth-control mandate, but that just isn’t true.
Yesterday, the Religious Institute, which is “a multi-faith organization dedicated to sexual health, education and justice,” published An Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Family Planning. The letter was signed by more than 1,000 clergy from many different faith perspectives, and it demands equal access to contraception for all women.
“The denial of [coverage for] family planning services effectively translates into coercive childbearing and is an insult to human dignity,” the letter says.
The Rev. Debra W. Haffner, president of the Religious Institute, said in a statement, “It is a critical misunderstanding to equate the minority of those religious leaders who have fought the coverage of birth control during the past year with threats and lawsuits, with the majority of people of faith in the United States who support access to contraception.
“Let us be clear,” she continued, “that support for religious freedom means that women must have the right to accept or reject the principles of their own faith without restrictions, regardless of their place of employment or geographical location. It is unethical for any single religious voice to claim to speak for all religious people in this debate.”
As Americans United noted earlier in the week, the Obama administration has made every effort to compromise with aggressive sectarian lobbies on this matter.
The lead article in the sports section of the July 1 New York Times was about an Italian football player of African descent who scored both goals in his team’s defeat of Germany in the Euro 2012 semifinals. It was not an article about racism, but it noted in passing that “he has endured racial abuse, monkey chants from Spanish fans, then more taunting chants from Croatian fans and a banana tossed onto the field.” That is more or less what one expects at many European football matches these days. Virulent expressions of hate have also become commonplace in other aspects of European public life with the rise of political parties such as Jobbik in Hungary, Golden Dawn in Greece, and Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom in The Netherlands. Also, of course, while not so blatant in their expressions of racism, mainstream leaders such as former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy and former President Nicolas Sarkozy of France have found it politically expedient to provoke agitation against the Roma and against African immigrants.
One need go no further than the “stop and frisk” practices of the New York City police to realize that racism also remains a problem in the United States. Yet so far as the overt expression of verbal racism is concerned, its practice in this country seems to be at a relatively low ebb. When political figures such as Trent Lott or George Allen make statements that have a racist flavor, they are likely to pay a penalty. And it is difficult to imagine that present-day sports events would be regularly marked by displays of racial hate.
It seems odd, therefore, for Jeremy Waldron, a prominent legal philosopher who divides his time between professorships at Oxford and New York University’s School of Law, to publish The Harm in Hate Speech at this time. His elegantly written book argues that the European approach to this issue, in which the law gives primacy to the protection of the dignity—the key term in his book—of those who are the targets of hate speech, is far preferable to the American approach, in which the protection of freedom of speech takes precedence. To be more persuasive, Waldron ought to be able to show that the European way is preventing harms that are afflicting the US. Plainly, that is not the case.
Are we approaching a new Anita Hill moment?
That is to say - another moment, like the watershed period in 1991 and 1992, when women’s issues, particularly those related to women’s dignity, and privacy, and their right to work and live and function in non-hostile environments - moved front and center in American politics. It was a period set off by a series of insults - the sight of Hill being interrogated by a panel of callous male senators on her experience of sexual harassment; the naming and shaming of William Kennedy Smith’s date-rape accuser; the molestation, sexual assault or harassment of more than 80 women by Navy and Marine Corps aviators at the annual Tailhook Association convention. All these were specific incidents involving individual women that nonetheless struck a chord deep within the collective female psyche - and led women to come together to elect a record number of their own sex to political office and put in the White House the first pro-choice president in a long 12 years.
(MORE: Men Have Sex Too)
It would be nice to think that we’ve come to another such moment of empowered outrage. After all, recent weeks have served up a new series of insults - capped off by Rush Limbaugh’s attack on Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute” because she attempted to tell a Congressional committee about the effects of her own religious institution’s refusal to provide its students with contraceptive services. Such events—including attempts to curb access to contraception in future insurance programs, gross cuts in budgets for female-specific forms of preventative medical care, and, of course, draconian new barriers to abortion services — have riled women up, in a widespread, visceral way, like no other political happenings in recent memory.
And yet, I am not sure that it is altogether sufficient to frame the insults currently targeting America’s women (and, let’s remember, their families) purely in terms of an assault on women’s rights. I’m not sure, either, if focusing too narrowly on the “war on women” gives those horrified by it adequate tools to fight back.
Rather, it seems to me that women are merely the frontline victims in a holy war. This faith-based assault is an affront on enlightened, and Enlightenment-derived, ideas of equality and human dignity, not to mention science, rationality, and the notion of the separation of church and state embraced by our own Founding Fathers. And, just like all fundamentalist movements around the globe, our home-grown variety takes modernity as its particular object of hate.
Václav Havel, a Czech writer who was imprisoned by his country’s former communist rulers, only to become a symbol of freedom and his nation’s first president in the post-communist era, died Sunday morning at his weekened home in the Czech Republic, the Associated Press reports. He was 75.
The death was announced by his assistant, Sabina Tancecova, the Associated Press reports.
Mr. Havel was a playwright by profession and a political activist by avocation. The two activities were complementary and each served to gain him a leading place among the dissidents of Eastern Europe who helped bring down the communist empire. His words and deeds resonated far beyond the borders of the former Czechoslovakia, and he was widely recognized for his struggles in behalf of democracy and human dignity.
After being unanimously elected president of Czechoslovakia by the newly free country’s parliament in December 1989, Mr. Havel set the tone of the new era in a speech on Jan. 1, 1990, his first day in office. Communism, he said, was “a monstrous, ramshackle, stinking machine” whose worst legacy was not economic failure but a “spoiled moral environment.”
“We have become morally ill because we are used to saying one thing and thinking another,” he said. “We have learned not to believe in anything, not to care about each other… . Love, friendship, mercy, humility, or forgiveness have lost their depths and dimension… . They represent some sort of psychological curiosity, or they appear as long-lost wanderers from faraway times.