Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Unfit to Work

Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne
I’ve been listening to debates (here, herehere and here) on German television over the scandal that ensued when two Catholic hospitals turned away a woman who had been raped.  It’s complicated and the actual facts of the story are often mangled, but essentially, people were afraid of treating the woman because they feared they might be going against the guidelines of the local cardinal, Cardinal Meisner.

The story gets super complicated because it turns out the Cardinal should be following that rule from the top that the morning-after pill is forbidden because it’s an abortifacient and that means baby-killer in church talk.  Only the pill in question is probably not an abortifacient.  Or maybe it is, if taken in high doses.  And then again maybe not.  And the Cardinal, turns out, is saying if it’s not an abortifacient, it’s OK.  Which means the Cardinal is saying birth control is OK.  And that’s not OK, actually.

So the good Cardinal is taking a giant leap forward.  Maybe.  Birth control OK?


Meanwhile, most good German folk, Catholics as well as non-Catholics, are outraged that a Catholic hospital should turn away a woman in need of care.  You can’t really blame the hospital staff.   They know they work in a Catholic hospital and they know the official church position on birth control and on abortion.  What were they supposed to do?  They might have lost their jobs.

This took place in Cologne, where most people are Catholic, so these questions are on everybody’s mind.  Many will tell you outright that the baby in the womb after a rape is a living being, according to Roman doctrine.  So hands off.  And even if you’re not sure if there is a baby in the womb, hands off there, too.  The church teaches us we need to err on the side of caution.

What this means in practical terms is this.  OK, so you’ve been raped.  We will pray for you.  But your troubles are not over.  If you get pregnant, you will have to carry this baby to term.  If you don’t, your soul is in mortal danger.

Moreover, don’t look to us for help in getting rid of this little gift from God placed in your body.  We’re a hospital, and you’ve been beaten up, but we have our principles.  We’ll help you find another hospital, though, because God wants us to be generous and loving and kind.  What you do with your body once you get there is up to you.  Our hands will be clean.

Now that, it seems to me, is some seriously fucked-up thinking.

What’s that line Hobbes used to describe the human condition?  Nasty, brutish and short?

You have to wonder if he got his training at a Catholic hospital.

I could, of course, look at the bright side.   If you live in a primitive place where the only hospitals are Catholic, and the right of an anti-abortion ideology takes precedence over a human rights ideology, then you’re screwed.  But most of us now live in big cities and in secular societies and we have laws protecting women against religious abuse such as the one I’m talking about.  Women can get help from other sources, even Catholic women, and make their own choices about what happens to their bodies.   Not only that, the church has lost its fangs for the most part and now only scolds – you’ll go to hell, you’ll go to hell – and no longer ties you to the rack or passes laws effectively shutting down abortion clinics.

What’s that, you say?  They do still use their power and influence to pass laws like that?

I look to Germany as a more enlightened place than this country in so many ways.  They don’t have snake handler churches.  Or guns in churches.  They have lots more women in political positions.  They have a gay mayor in Berlin.  Had one in Hamburg, too.  Have had a foreign minister who is gay.  They are much much less likely to be governed by the prejudices of a cherry-picking church group like the Catholics or fundamentalist Southern Baptists.

Or so I thought.  Turns out I’ve been giving them way too much credit. 

I thought Germany, like other European countries, with a greater inclination toward taking care of the entire community with their social resources, would never fall into the trap we fell into with George W. Bush’s insidious “faith-based” initiative.  I was seriously mistaken about that.  Turns out, the Germans did it first, and in a much bigger way.  Faith-based social services have a long history in Germany.

The right wing in America pushes the view that the free market should prevail against government involvement in one’s everyday life.  Corporate boards make better managers than government agencies.  Big government is bad, the less government the better, yada yada.

There is a concept widely known and accepted in Germany of “subsidiarity.”  Subsidiarity means essentially that small is better, that local government is superior to and more efficient than centralized government, because it’s more in touch with local values.  According to the principle of subsidiarity, things begin with the individual and each larger unit is “subsidiary” (secondary in importance) to the smaller unit before it.  The notion has broad appeal to progressives and conservatives alike, and was articulated and embraced not only as early as 1885, by Pope Pius XI, but by Calvinists before him, and is exemplified by the notion that “God helps those who help themselves.”

Problem is, like all fundamentally sound ideas and instruments, it can be abused.  The church realized that by casting doubt on the wisdom of using the state to solve problems, solutions would fall to the churches, as the best organized of non-governmental units.  Once church schools and hospitals become an everyday reality, it does not require much imagination to see how “what is” comes to be seen as “what should be.”  It becomes the default condition.  What began with charity – the caring of the sick and the vulnerable – ends up being a bureaucratic practice, something done for practical reasons and not just charitable ones.  Just leave it to us here in the church.  We’ll take care of it.

The two leading conservative parties in Germany both have “Christian” in their names – the Christian Socialist Union (CSU) in Bavaria and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the rest of the country.   In 1961, the CDU introduced the “subsidiarity principle,” and the stage was set for the nation’s welfare agencies to be religious organizations.  An apparently innocent, practical move.   But over time, more and more services fell under one or the other of the two major providers of social services, one Catholic (Caritas) and one Protestant (the Diakonisches Werk).  In the early 70s, Caritas had 137,496 employees.  By 2003, that number had increased by 263% to 499,313 employees.   In a similar time period, Diakonisches Werk went from 175,000 to 452,244 employees, an increase of 160%, and what this means is that nearly one million people are now employed in the health services of one of the two German churches.   If you add in the kindergartens and day care centers and old folks homes, the number goes to 1.3 million, making the churches the largest single employer in the country.

Even that increase would appear to be innocent.  If it were not for Paragraph 10 of the Federal Social Welfare Act, the Bundessozialhilfegesetz/BSHG, which stipulated that

In implementing this law the social welfare agencies shall work together with churches and religious organisations that are public corporations, as well as with private charities, whilst respecting their self-sufficiency in setting their own goals and carrying out their functions.

What this meant, in effect, would turn out to have stunning consequences.  It meant, first of all, that charities could set up organizations as it suited them, take the ones that were profitable and leave the rest to the state.  Secondly, all this could be done with taxpayer money.

Thirty years later, the same Christian Democratic government expanded the subsidiarity principle, effectively putting church organizations in charge of nursing care and end-of-life hospice care and writing in priorities for themselves over non-church agencies.

Over time, hardliners within the church began to assert themselves.  When the wall came down, and the Diakonisches Werk expanded in East Germany, where most people were Protestant, many people of no religious faith were hired by the DW.  Recently, however, they began to insist on active church membership for employment.   On the Catholic side, Caritas offered what is called “counselling about pregnancy conflicts,” after which a certificate would be issued which would permit a woman to apply for an abortion.  Then, suddenly, those certificates would become unavailable.

The two church-affiliated agencies have their own labor laws, not subject to state control.  Workers are not allowed to strike and must adhere to strict agency “loyalty guidelines” which include the following:

  • An employee must not marry a divorced person, and must not marry again if divorced.
  • An employee must not engage in homosexual practices.
  • An employee must be a member of the church.  If the employee leaves the church his/her employment may be terminated.

In August of 2006, Germany passed an anti-discrimination law (Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz/AGG), which reads, in Section 1:

The aim of this law is to reduce or remove discrimination on grounds of race or ethnic origin, of sex, of religion or worldview, of disability, of age or of sexual identity.

That’s Section 1.  But when you get to Section 9, you read:

1) Notwithstanding §8 (Unequal treatment because of occupational requirements) unequal treatment because of religion or worldview in the course of employment by religious communities, by facilities attached to them whatever their legal status, or by associations which have as their task the common fostering of a religion or worldview, is also permissible when a particular religion or worldview adduces, in consideration of the self-image of that religious community or association for their right to self-determination or, depending on the kind of function, a justifiable occupational requirement.

If you think that’s muddy, you should see the original German.   Just note the subject and predicate, which I have put in bold face and italics.

Subsection 2 is even more delicious:

(2) The prohibition of unequal treatment because of religion or worldview does not affect the rights of the religious communities mentioned in paragraph 1, of facilities attached to them whatever their legal status, or of associations which have as their task the common fostering of a religion or worldview, to be able to require from their employees loyal and upright behaviour in the sense of their particular self-images.

Loyal and upright behaviour.

Written right into the law.  The right to determine another’s loyalty and to label his or her behavior as other than upright.

Today, as people are leaving the church in droves, those who stay include many who defend the church on the grounds that “they do so much good.”   They are apparently unaware that, in Germany, at least, only 1.8% of the cost of running Caritas and DK is paid for by church funds.  All the rest comes from the taxpayers.

Furthermore, if you are a Muslim, a Sikh, twice-married, or gay, you pay your taxes like every other German citizen.  44.5 billion euros is what it takes to run social services.  You can pay your taxes.  You just can’t work there.

And if you’re a doctor who wants to help a pregnant woman abort a pregnancy, you’ll have to find a hospital not run by the church.  Good luck with that.

In the U.S., only about 1 in 6 patients are treated at Catholic hospitals each year.  In Germany, where religious affiliation historically was based on geography, there are many places, particularly rural ones, where the only hospital available is a Catholic one. 

This is not to ignore, I hasten to add, the fact that many of these people owe their lives to the doctors and nurses of Catholic hospitals.  One must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  But it’s time to stop defending Mussolini because he made the trains run on time.  It’s time to get rid of the illusion that you can leave things up to the church and remain true to humanist principles of equality.

The official church thinks there is something wrong with homosexuality.  It believes it knows the will of God and God wants women to live out their lives subordinate to men.   Things are slowly getting better, we are told.  The church no longer tortures; it no longer teaches that Jews killed Christ and deserve to be run out of town.  It no longer supports dictatorships in Latin America to the same degree it once did.  There are lots of improvements.

But let’s not forget, as the Roman church transitions from one hardliner pope to the next (at least that’s what most people are predicting), that it still actually believes it is doing good by holding out against full dignity for gay people, and the full exercise of rights for women.  It is and remains a retrograde force.

I’m not faulting the church for the child abuse scandals.  That arrogance, bad as it is, will pass in time, and they are already paying for their hubris by having to watch people leave the church in droves.

I’m talking about the fundamental belief system, the one that defines Catholicism to the core in the eyes of the official church.  The one the pope and the cardinals and most bishops insist is essential to the very nature of the Roman Church.

There are good catholics struggling valiantly against this attempt to hold on to the right to define the nature of Catholicism.  They vastly outnumber the hardliners.

But the hardliners still hold the keys.  And although much of the church would like to see a more pastoral, inclusive approach on the part of the hierarchy, most Catholics also tend to accept the authority of the pope as part of the nature of things.  They protest the rigidity, but seek a comfort zone in the center and become enablers.  Just as non-European Catholics vastly outnumber Europeans, the Europeans have the control and will likely capture the papacy yet again when Benedict XVI resigns at the end of the month.   Hardliners who are the hierarchy are also vastly outnumbered.  But they too are still in firm control, to the chagrin of those who see no reason for the church and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be at odds.

There is no compromise.  One chooses human rights or one chooses the man with the pointy hat who claims to speak for God.

And tells you how much he loves you if you’re gay.

And then takes your job away.

There are changes in the works.  You can tell because the church is ratcheting up the rhetoric.  Even the allegedly liberal Cardinal Meisner of Cologne (the one who appears to have spoken out in favor of birth control) went on the offensive recently.  The church, he says, is up against a “Catholic phobia.”   The media, he says, show “malice.”

Phobia and malice are Meisner’s choice of words, apparently.  Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, who represents the Vatican, has another.   What we’re dealing with, says Müller, is a “Pogromstimmung.”  A pogrom-like atmosphere.

No kidding.  Pogrom.

Hard to beat rhetoric like that.

Not that the pope isn’t trying.  

“Christians are the most persecuted people on earth,” he says. 

No wonder he's tired and calling it a day.

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