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Spiritually Progressive By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, November 24, 2008

Former Hillary Clinton guru Michael Lerner, publisher of Tikkun magazine and founder of the “politics of meaning,” is now slamming the Catholic Church for threatening to excommunicate leftist priest Roy Bourgeois.

Bourgeois is the Maryknoller priest who has for nearly 2 decades waged war on the U.S. Army’s training school for Latin military officers at Fort Benning, Georgia.  Having lead thousands of demonstrators, over 200 of whom have been arrested, Bourgeois’ School of the Americas Watch portrays the U.S. as training Latin officers to torture and murder at the behest of Gringo capitalism.

The Catholic Church is threatening Bourgeois with excommunication not because of his rehash of 1970’s Marxist-inspired Liberation Theology, but because he participated in the unauthorized ordination of a female priest.  Lerner, who professes to be a rabbi, is indignant.

“It's not just Jews who demean others or see one type of human being as more valuable or closer to God or more appropriate to serve God than another,” Lerner bemoaned.  “The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (the office that was previously named The Inquisition, but now no longer using violence to achieve its ends) has sent a letter to Father Roy Bourgeois threatening him with ex-communication (which effectively means an end to his income and to his teachings inside the church) for daring to publicly support the ordination of women and to offer remarks in a ceremony ordaining a woman as priest.”

Besides running Tikkun, Lerner also co-chairs The Network of Spiritual Progressives, along with leftist nun Joan Chittester and Princeton radical Professor Cornel West.  As Lerner described in his recent blog, The Network “wishes to be a place in which progressives from various religious communities (as well as "spiritual but not religious" people) can feel safe in coming together to work for a New Bottom Line to replace the materialism and selfishness in the world with an ethos of love, kindness, generosity, caring for others, ethical and ecological sensitivity, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe.”

So naturally Lerner’s Network will spring to action if one of its religions of interest is complicit in “racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic [acts] or attacking ‘the Stranger’ (whoever the demeaned Other of any given society happens to be at a particular historical moment).”  Evidently, the Catholic Church’s upholding its own doctrinal standards represents one of those dreaded moments that threaten the “Stranger.”  Lerner cited Father Bourgeois as one of the “most courageous Catholic voices for peace and non-violence” because he fights the School of the Americas, which Lerner described, naturally without evidence, as training Latin forces in “techniques of torture [and] repression.”

For visionary progressives such as Lerner and Bourgeois, literal facts are not so important.  As deeply spiritual people, they are more concerned with metaphors and narratives.  And in their pseudo-Marxist narrative, now defunct rightist Latin regimes of 30 and 40 years ago repressed their people only because the U.S. taught them how.  After all, can any evil arise without orchestration by the U.S.?

According to Lerner, the Catholic Church’s “current conservative leadership” aspires in “one fell swoop” to “rid itself of the progressive Catholic who has created the most important spiritual progressive demonstration taking place anywhere in the country for peace and against torture.”  In fact, the Catholic Church hierarchy has not acted against Bourgeois’ because of his intemperate politics.  He has espoused leftist causes, to the seeming exclusion of actual pastoral ministry, for over 30 years.

Somewhat more accurately, Lerner claimed the Catholic Church also wants to “terrify other priests into not daring to question the Church's doctrines on women.”   Of course, Bourgeois did not just editorialize against the church’s stance on female priests.  He actually participated in an unauthorized ordination.  Should religious communions be able to exact minimal adherence to their doctrines by clergy who have supposedly pledged to uphold them?  According to Lerner, loyalty to “progressive” spirituality should supersede all other transcendent commitments.

Lerner accused the Catholic Church of hypocrisy for not threatening excommunication against priests who supposedly have failed to uphold “the very progressive teachings of the Church against war and poverty” by supporting U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or “the notion of a violent war against terror.”  Of course, the church has no doctrinal stance against U.S. military policies in the same sense that it has one on the meaning of the priesthood.  Roman Catholicism is not pacifist.  And the public misgivings of Pope John Paul II about the Iraq War did not have the status of doctrine.  Religious leftists like to pretend that the Bible and church traditions have very specific mandates that echo the Left’s own temporal political ambitions. 

Tikkun’s self-made rabbi knows exactly what is brewing within Roman Catholicism.   “Politically conservative forces” have captured the church, Lerner warned, and are suppressing “progressive causes,” while protecting “those who support authoritarian and reactionary and violent causes.”  Of course, he did not further describe these reactionary forces.  Instead, Lerner condemned the Catholic Church’s “tenth century decision to exclude women from the clergy,” while the church ignores Jesus’ teachings against violence and for social justice, allowing priests who support “economic oppression and wars” to run rife.  He urged his Network’s supporters to campaign against the forces of reaction within the Catholic Church.   “We are not anti-Catholic,” Lerner insisted, even as he inveighed against the church hierarchy for bigotry and oppression. 

Generously, Lerner observed that many Catholics “remain committed to peace and social justice” but live in fear because the Inquisition may descend upon them.  Many Jesuits who are faithful to the “true teachings of Jesus” would join Lerner’s Network but for the threat of persecution, he opined.  Courageously, Lerner is not himself afraid of the church’s vast powers.  He announced that he will himself appear at Bourgeois’ annual protest march at Ft. Benning on November 22, leading a workshop on how spiritual progressives can best support President Obama.  

“Spiritual Progressives” like Lerner commonly denounce the purported dogmatism of traditional religion.  But of course they erect in the place of traditional faith their own, self-developed infallible doctrines, which rest not on scriptures or tradition, but on the will to political power. 

Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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