In his below "Holy Warriors", Sidney Blumenthal asks can US democracy
survive the union of the world's most powerful state and church? Would be
less US-centric to ask can global democracy survive the union of Joseph
Ratzinger and Bush Jnr?
Grim times! - Lynette
Salon.com April 21 2005
Cardinal Ratzinger handed Bush the presidency by tipping the Catholic vote.
Can American democracy survive their shared medieval vision?
By Sidney Blumenthal
President Bush treated his final visit with Pope John Paul II in Vatican
City on June 4, 2004, as a campaign stop. After enduring a public rebuke
from the pope about the Iraq war, Bush lobbied Vatican officials to help him
win the election. "Not all the American bishops are with me," he complained,
according to the National Catholic Reporter. He pleaded with the Vatican to
pressure the bishops to step up their activism against abortion and gay
marriage in the states during the campaign season.
About a week later, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sent a letter to the U.S.
bishops, pronouncing that those Catholics who were pro-choice on abortion
were committing a "grave sin" and must be denied Communion. He pointedly
mentioned "the case of a Catholic politician consistently campaigning and
voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws" -- an obvious reference
to John Kerry, the Democratic candidate and a Roman Catholic. If such a
Catholic politician sought Communion, Ratzinger wrote, priests must be
ordered to "refuse to distribute it." Any Catholic who voted for this
"Catholic politician," he continued, "would be guilty of formal cooperation
in evil and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion." During the
closing weeks of the campaign, a pastoral letter was read from pulpits in
Catholic churches repeating the ominous suggestion of excommunication.
Voting for the Democrat was nothing less than consorting with the forces of
Satan, collaboration with "evil."
In 2004 Bush increased his margin of Catholic support by 6 points from the
2000 election, rising from 46 to 52 percent. Without this shift, Kerry would
have had a popular majority of a million votes. Three states -- Ohio, Iowa
and New Mexico -- moved into Bush's column on the votes of the Catholic
"faithful." Even with his atmospherics of terrorism and Sept. 11, Bush
required the benediction of the Holy See as his saving grace. The key to his
kingdom was turned by Cardinal Ratzinger.
With the College of Cardinals' election of Ratzinger to the papacy, his
political alliances with conservative politicians can be expected to deepen
and broaden. Under Benedict XVI, the church will assume a consistent
reactionary activism it has not had for two centuries. And the new pope's
crusade against modernity has already joined forces with the right-wing
culture war in the United States, prefigured by his interference in the 2004
Europe is far less susceptible than the United States to the religious wars
that Ratzinger will incite. Attendance at church is negligible; church
teachings are widely ignored; and the younger generation is least observant
of all. But in the United States, the Bush administration and the right wing
of the Republican Party are trying to batter down the wall of separation
between church and state. Through court appointments, they wish to enshrine
doctrinal views on the family, women, gays, medicine, scientific research
and privacy. The Republican attempt to abolish the two-centuries-old
filibuster -- the so-called nuclear option -- is only one coming wrangle in
the larger Kulturkampf.
Joseph Ratzinger was born and bred in the cradle of the Kulturkampf, or
culture war. Roman Catholic Bavaria was a stronghold against northern
Protestantism during the Reformation. In the 19th century the church was a
powerful force opposing the unification of Italy and Germany into
nation-states, fearing that they would diminish the church's influence in
the shambles of duchies and provinces that had followed the breakup of the
Holy Roman Empire. The doctrine of papal infallibility in 1870 was
promulgated by the church to tighten its grip on Catholic populations
against the emerging centralized nations and to sanctify the pope's will
against mere secular rulers.
In response, Otto von Bismarck, the German chancellor, launched what he
called a Kulturkampf to break the church's hold. He removed the church from
the control of schools, expelled the Jesuits, and instituted civil
ceremonies for marriage. Bismarck lent support to Catholic dissidents
opposed to papal infallibility who were led by German theologian Johann
Ignaz von Dollinger. Dollinger and his personal secretary were subsequently
excommunicated. His secretary was Georg Ratzinger, great-uncle of the new
pope, who became one of the most notable Bavarian intellectuals and
politicians of the period. This Ratzinger was a champion against papal
absolutism and church centralization, and on behalf of the poor and working
class -- and was also an anti-Semite.
Joseph Ratzinger's Kulturkampf is claimed by him to be a reaction to the
student revolts of 1968. Should Joschka Fischer, a former student radical
and now the German foreign minister, have to answer entirely for Ratzinger's
Weltanschauung? Pope Benedict's Kulturkampf bears the burden of the church's
history and that of his considerable family. He represents the latest
incarnation of the long-standing reaction against Bismarck's reforms --
beginning with the assertion of the invented tradition of papal
infallibility -- and, ironically, against the positions on the church held
by his famous uncle. But the roots of his reaction are even more profound.
The new pope's burning passion is to resurrect medieval authority. He
equates the Western liberal tradition, that is, the Enlightenment, with
Nazism, and denigrates it as "moral relativism." He suppresses all dissent,
discussion and debate within the church and concentrates power within the
Vatican bureaucracy. His abhorrence of change runs past 1968 (an abhorrence
he shares with George W. Bush) to the revolutions of 1848, the "springtime
of nations," and 1789, the French Revolution. But, even more momentously,
the alignment of the pope's Kulturkampf with the U.S. president's culture
war has also set up a conflict with the American Revolution.
For the first time, an American president is politically allied with the
Vatican in its doctrinal mission (except, of course, on capital punishment).
In the messages and papers of the presidents from George Washington until
well into those of the 20th century, there was not a single mention of the
pope, except in one minor footnote. Bush's lobbying trip last year to the
Vatican reflects an utterly novel turn, and Ratzinger's direct political
intervention in American electoral politics ratified it.
The right wing of the Catholic Church is as mobilized as any other part of
the religious right. It is seizing control of Catholic universities,
exerting influence at other universities, stigmatizing Catholic politicians
who fail to adhere to its conservative credo, pressing legislation at the
federal and state levels, seeking government funding and sponsorship of the
church, and vetting political appointments inside the White House and the
administration -- imposing in effect a religious test of office. The Bush
White House encourages these developments under the cover of moral uplift as
it forges a political machine uniting church and state -- as was done in
The American Revolution, the Virginia Statute on Religious Liberty, the U.S.
Constitution and the Bill of Rights were fought for explicitly to uproot the
traces in American soil of ecclesiastical power in government, which the
Founders to a man regarded with horror, revulsion and foreboding.
The Founders were the ultimate representatives of the Enlightenment. They
were not anti-religious, though few if any of them were orthodox or pious.
Washington never took Communion and refused to enter the church, while his
wife did so. Benjamin Franklin believed that all organized religion was
suspect. James Madison thought that established religion did as much harm to
religion as it did to free government, twisting the word of God to fit
political expediency, thereby throwing religion into the political cauldron.
And Thomas Jefferson, allied with his great collaborator Madison, conducted
decades of sustained and intense political warfare against the existing and
would-be clerisy. His words, engraved on the Jefferson Memorial, are a
direct reference to established religion: "I have sworn upon the altar of
God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
But now Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay threatens the federal
judiciary, saying, "The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a
separation of church and state that's nowhere in the Constitution is that
Congress didn't stop them." And Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will
participate through a telecast in a rally on April 24 in which he will say
that Democrats who refuse to rubber-stamp Bush's judicial nominees and
uphold the filibuster are "against people of faith."
But what would Madison say?
This is what Madison wrote in 1785: "What influence in fact have
ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they
have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil
authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of
political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the
liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty may
have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government
instituted to secure & perpetuate it needs them not."
What would John Adams say? This is what he wrote Jefferson in 1815: "The
question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern
the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by
Benjamin Franklin? "The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason."
And Jefferson, in "Notes on Virginia," written in 1782: "It is error alone
which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. Subject
opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men
governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why
subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion
desireable? No more than of face and stature. Introduce the bed of
Procrustes then, and as there is danger that the large men may beat the
small, make us all of a size, by lopping the former and stretching the
latter. Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects
perform the office of a Censor morum over each other. Is uniformity
attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the
introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned;
yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the
effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half
hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth."
The Republican Party was founded in the mid-19th century partly as a party
of religious liberty. It supported public common schools, not church
schools, and public land-grant universities independent of any
denominational affiliation. The Republicans, moreover, were adamant in their
opposition to the use of any public funds for any religious purpose,
especially involving schools.
A century later, in 1960, there was still such a considerable suspicion of
Catholics in government that the Democratic candidate for president, John F.
Kennedy, felt compelled to address the issue directly in his famous speech
before the Houston Ministerial Association on Sept. 12.
What did Kennedy say? "I believe in an America where the separation of
church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the
President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister
would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church
school is granted any public funds or political preference ... I believe in
an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish --
where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public
policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other
ecclesiastical source -- where no religious body seeks to impose its will
directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its
Now Bush is attempting to create what Kennedy warned against. He claims to
be conservative, but he seeks a rupture in our system of government. The
culture war, which has had many episodes, from the founding of the Moral
Majority to the unconstitutional impeachment of President Clinton, is
entering a new and far more dangerous phase. In 2004 Bush and Ratzinger used
church doctrine to intimidate voters and taint candidates. And through the
courts the president is seeking to codify not only conservative ideology but
When men of God mistake their articles of devotion with political platforms,
they will inevitably stand exposed in the political arena. When politicians
mistake themselves for men of God, their religion, however sincere, will
inevitably be seen as contrivance.
As both president and pope invoke heavenly authority to impose their notions
of tradition, they have set themselves on a collision course with the
American political tradition. In the name of the Declaration of
Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, democracy without
About the writer
Sidney Blumenthal, a former assistant and senior advisor to President
Clinton and the author of "The Clinton Wars," is writing a column for Salon
and the Guardian of London.
[Sidney Blumenthal's "Holy Warriors" quoted a statement by Thomas Jefferson
inaccurately. The story has been corrected in the above version, and Salon
regrets the error]. [Correction made 04/21/05]