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Political Animal

God’s Food Fight

By Brian Morton | Posted 4/27/2005

Now that the media has concluded its Popeapalooza, we can sit back and mull over what it all means to have a new pope. We here at Animal Control have never been called the most pious on the block (quite the opposite, actually), but we do understand what this pope means in political terms.

Someone of our acquaintance asked, “What’s the big deal, especially if you’re not Roman Catholic?” At first glance it would seem that the election of a 78-year-old German cardinal to the highest office of his church wouldn’t mean much to a Protestant in Northern Virginia, a pagan in Ellicott City, or an atheist in Baltimore, but there are larger things at stake and greater issues beneath the surface that can’t be ignored.

In essence, we all are about to get caught up in the world’s biggest cafeteria food fight. Over the course of the last two months, the evangelical fundamentalist Christians and their acolytes, represented by people like Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Focus on the Family leader James Dobson, have set up in one corner, hurling the chicken entrée. To the side is President George W. Bush and his administration, which is quietly egging on the fundamentalists, yet making soothing noises to the other side of the room, which is where the Vatican and the conservative branch of the American Catholic community are deflecting the barrage with luncheon trays.

What the evangelicals don’t realize is that the Vatican has been sneaking into the back door of the kitchen and has loaded up with a good-sized load of old meatballs and is waiting for the right moment to launch them. And in the middle of it all are the rest of us, with our hands over our heads trying to come out of it all with as few stains on our clothing as possible.

Many of America’s leading evangelicals have quite the history of anti-Catholic statements under their belt. You see, according to an April 22 New York Times report by David D. Kirkpatrick and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, the Christian conservatives have accused new Roman Catholic U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) of tolerating anti-Catholicism, because he puts up with fellow Democrats who are pro-choice, and thus not following the Vatican on abortion. In other words, the fundies think they can tell the Catholics their business.

This past Sunday’s Justice Sunday telecast to Christian churches and radio networks featured the Rev. R. Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Mohler is renowned for making comments like, “The Roman church is a false church and it teaches a false gospel,” and, “The pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office.” Pretty funny, huh? Frist also appeared on Justice Sunday.

You probably wouldn’t want to be where Bush is at this point, either. He just came back from sucking up to the Catholic Church by breaking precedent and being the first sitting U.S. president to attend a pope’s funeral. Judging from how everything in this White House is run through a political filter first, it can only be seen as an act to try and suck up to conservative American Catholics. Right-wingers made a big deal last year about how Sen. John Kerry, a Roman Catholic and the pro-choice Democratic candidate for president, was going against the edicts of his faith. And don’t forget the temporary union of fundamentalist evangelicals and the conservative Catholics over the whole Terri Schiavo mess for a moment seemed like a match made in, well, you know . . .

Now, with the conservative Pope Benedict XVI firmly installed in Rome, for now—he is 78, remember—the right wing thinks that all is good (except for hard-liners like Mohler, Dobson, and company). But they may be surprised.

Benedict has made it clear that religions other than Roman Catholicism are not to be considered true faiths, which puts him squarely at odds with our Religious Right. And Bush shouldn’t get too comfortable, as this pope may not be diplomatic about his dislike of the war in Iraq.

Thus might come some small consolation to all of us stuck in the middle of this food fight. With the Vatican on one side and the fundies on the other, it’s less likely that they’ll again violate the principles of federalism as blatantly as they all did in Florida over Schiavo’s feeding tube.

Oh, and think about this: Suppose the Republican nominee in 2008 is a divorced, pro-choice Catholic like Rudolph Giuliani, running against, say, Hillary Clinton? Will the Right be so predisposed to the Vatican’s decrees about whether or not pro-choice American politicians should be taking communion? With their fondness of hypocrisy, it’s quite likely they won’t be.

So remember, sometimes a good old religious schism isn’t necessarily a bad thing, politically. Take it as an article of faith.

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