Bigotry in the Catholic Conservative Movement

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March 21, 2006
by Charles Jenks

It’s hardly news that the conservative movement in the Catholic Church has it in for feminists, gays and heretics. Still, I was shocked this week by the report on a conference of 5000 Catholic men in Boston, and the results of a little googling of Opus Dei (yes, I’m reading the Da Vinci Code). The Boston conference report and my readings on Opus Dei – and its Fr. John McCloskey – reminded me again that religious fundamentalism – be it Protestant, Muslim, Jewish or Catholic – is a destructive force that is polarizing cultures and wrecking lives.

First, the Boston gathering of manly men. On March 4, Sean Forrest (I had never heard of him, but he’s a big time singer for Catholic audiences) spoke to 5000 Catholic men on putting and keeping women in their place.

I reprint the Boston Herald report:

Catholic leader: Men, rule roost – and your gals
By Marie Szaniszlo
Sunday, March 5, 2006 – Updated: 09:33 AM EST

Men are the ‘‘natural” heads of their families and should persuade their wives to give up birth control, quit their jobs and home-school their children, a keynote speaker at the annual Boston Catholic Men’s Conference said yesterday.
‘‘The first thing we have to do is get you off the birth control,” Sean Forrest instructed his audience of 5,000 men to tell their wives.
Next, the youth minister and contemporary Catholic musician told his audience at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center that it should ‘‘devise a plan to get them to stay home with the kids.”
‘‘They want that strength and security from you,” he said, drawing a standing ovation at the close of his speech. ‘‘They might resent it at first . . . (but) that is the natural position for a man: to lead your family to Christ.”
Forrest accused ‘‘feminist women in the church” of ‘‘watering down” its teachings on such issues, noting that 10 percent of women who hear him speak ‘‘get up in a huff and call me a sexist pig.”
‘‘I say, ‘You’ll be back,’ ” he said, sending ripples of laughter through the all-male audience.
Forrest also told the men to ‘‘learn the truth about homosexuality,” suggesting that they read a book called ‘‘A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality.”
The conference concluded with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley. The cardinal-designate joined the state’s three other Roman Catholic bishops last week in suggesting that the state exempt Catholic social service agencies from a law barring them from discriminating against same-sex couples when placing children in adoptive homes.
The bishops’ statement prompted eight of 42 Massachusetts Catholic Charities board members to resign in protest.
On Friday, O’Malley addressed 3,300 women at the Boston Catholic Women’s Conference, which organizers added after holding the first men’s conference last year.
‘‘After that, the women raised a fuss,” said Marion Rudolph of Peabody. ‘‘As much as people don’t want to admit it, there are women’s issues and men’s issues in the church,” she said.


Forrest isn’t just some reactionary nutcase – he’s sanctioned by the Church, with the soon to be Cardinal O’Malley celebrating mass to conclude the conference. Forrest represents the Boston diocese’s mainstream, these days.

In my opinion, a religion that burned tens of thousands of women at the stake (it targeted healers and scholars, including midwives who showed they were “working for the devil” by alleviating the pains of childbirth) has no moral authority to spout forth on the role of women in society.

I feel sad, sickened and disgusted at the thought of thousands of men finding humor in his talk and then giving a standing ovation after hearing this crap.

And if this isn’t bad enough, there’s Opus Dei and its Rev. C. John McCloskey 3rd. See an indepth 2003 article on McCloskey, Opus Dei’s spokesman in the power corridors of DC, by the Boston Globe Magazine.

Opus Dei is an ultra-conservative cult-like “prelature” of the Catholic Church, that has, in fact, become a central power in the world Church. As a prelature, it reports directly to the Pope. It’s known for exerting almost total control over its “numeraries” (something akin to monks) who are expected to practice “corporal mortification” that includes whipping oneself and wearing a spiked chain (“cilice”) around their thighs for two hours a day. (I’m not making this up.)Numeraries make up about 30% of its membership (3000 members in the US, about 80,000 worldwide.) The Da Vinci Code novel brought the bizarre practices of this very rich and powerful sect within the Catholic Church into the public eye. Opus Dei’s mission, it seems to me, is to turn the clock back to a Catholic Church where Catholics obey the church as their absolute authority. Women are second class citizens in this vision of the church. In fact, in Opus Dei, female numeraries are treated more harshly than men. For example, female numeraries are expected to sleep on boards on top of their mattresses. The sect’s founder – “Saint” Josemaria Escriva – believed that women had passions that required more discipline to tame. He apparently still blamed Eve for the downfall of man. For more on Opus Dei, see the Opus Dei Awareness Network

So, we’re faced with this nutcase sect that has wormed its way into the power centers of the world Catholic Church. (I’ve just barely scratched the surface – see the ODAN website for details.) One would expect that perhaps it’s mouthpiece in Washington, Fr. McCloskey, would offer a more moderate image. If he does, it’s only on the surface.

In the Boston Globe expose, he candidly touches on his prediction in his “futuristic” essay of a “relatively bloodless” civil war that results in a purified Catholic Church and a divided US.

From the Globe article, we have Fr. McCloskey’s words:

“Do I think it’s possible for someone who believes in the sanctity of marriage, the sanctity of life, the sanctity of family, over a period of time to choose to survive with people who think it’s OK to kill women and children or for — quote — homosexual couples to exist and be recognized?

“No, I don’t think that’s possible,” he says. “I don’t know how it’s going to work itself out, but I know it’s not possible, and my hope and prayer is that it does not end in violence. But, unfortunately, in the past, these types of things have tended to end this way.

“If American Catholics feel that’s troubling, let them. I don’t feel it’s troubling at all.”

No pacifist he. You can read his essay for yourself. He sees (hopes for) a splitting of the US into regions, so the purified Catholic Church can segregate itself – after a “relatively bloodless” civil war – into a theocratic state. He forsees only “tens of thousands of martyrs and confessors for the faith” with a “final short and relatively bloodless conflict” producing the new Regional States of North America. His happy new purified Catholic church will be a place where “dissent has disappeared from the theological vocabulary.”

Is it me, or is there something seriously wrong with the way this person thinks? With his vision for America, I am amazed that anyone takes him seriously. Yet, there he is baptizing and hobnobbing with the likes of Robert Bork, Robert Novak and Sen. Sam Brownback. He’s one of the most powerful conservative Catholics in the US (and the world), and foresees – and welcomes – a civil war that splits the US along religious lines. The Bush administration has courted and played up to these people, working hard to capture the conservative Catholic vote (see the Boston Globe article above.)

A lot of people are shedding light on Opus Dei and their dangerous beliefs and practices these days. Add me to the chorus.

For more on Opus Dei and Fr. McCloskey, see the 2002 Slate article.


This article was subsequently published by Socialist Worker –