A Holy Outrage, Or Mere Hypocrisy?

Boy, you go to the beach for a few days in August and while you’re there, news happens, the lights go out and the Mets put together a winning streak. We have some catching up to do:

· The Vatican says it will intercede with Catholic politicians around the world in hopes that they will oppose measures that could allow gay couples to marry. Perhaps not surprisingly, the announcement inspired great outrage among some politicians and commentators, several of whom-including at least one member of the City Council-insisted that this action violated the American tradition of separation of church and state.

This argument was useful in that it provided a fine insight into the thoughts of anti-religious officials and pundits. What if the Vatican announced its support for laws that favored gay marriage? Would the same sputtering hacks have called news conferences to display their wondrous ignorance of the U.S. Constitution and of current events? More likely, they would have praised the Vatican for its progressive attitude and welcomed its influence.

Religious organizations and clergy have a right use their influence to shape policy and government, and they do it all the time. A couple of days after the Vatican announcement, the press reported that various activist groups are planning their demonstrations for the Republican National Convention in Manhattan next year. One of the leaders, as luck would have it, is a clergyman from Brooklyn.

In my Catholic parish, a Peace and Justice Committee regularly advises me to lobby lawmakers on issues ranging from immigration rights to affordable health-care to disarmament to living-wage legislation. It is unlikely that the stout-hearted defenders of church-state separation will see anything wrong with such overt political activity. But the moment the Catholic Church or some other religious organization advocates policies that are considered by those who know to be regressive, oppressive or just plain old conservative, well, suddenly there is talk about removing their tax exemptions.

A purist in matters of church-state separation would be mortified to learn that a real, live minister is running for President. Worse yet, the Reverend Al Sharpton is not the first clergyman to aspire to the nation’s highest office in recent years: The Reverend Jesse Jackson ran twice in the 1980′s. I seem to recall no pious denunciations of this terrible breach of the wall separating church and state. I do recall, however, that a Congressman from Massachusetts named Robert Drinan-a Jesuit priest-left his office when the Pope suggested that political office was no place for a Catholic clergyman. Church-state purists should have applauded the Pope’s action, but somehow it was overlooked. They must have been too busy defending the country’s hateful Blaine amendments.

· The current issue of Vanity Fair features what the bumpkins in Manhattan would take to be a celebration of the layabouts, ne’er-do-wells, misfits, unfits and degenerates who parade around Europe with curious royal titles, fake uniforms and an odious sense of entitlement. As their pictures made them appear quite beautiful and far more interesting than they actually are, no doubt many readers concluded that the magazine’s taste-makers considered these fakers and leeches to be worthy of emulation. Such people, after all, have been known to inhabit this portion of the New World.

Readers with greater ability to recognize horse-hockey when they see it-i.e., those who live outside the bicoastal circle jerk of media and cultural blowhards-instantly understood the immense public service Vanity Fair had rendered in naming the world’s worst welfare cheats. Under the guise of an apparent celebration of shallow glamour and vacuous accomplishment, the magazine in fact revealed that the good work begun in America in 1776 remains unfinished. Not only are the poor Belgians, Spaniards, Swedes and, of course, British still forced to subsidize members of the Lucky Sperm Club, but there remain at large several individuals who play at royalty although their countries are republics. Long afterthegoodpeopleof France, Greece, Germany and Italy rid themselves of the injustice of royalty, people claiming to be the Prince of Prussia or the Princess of Greece still populate unsavory corners of the planet, dreaming of the good old days when people believed in the divine right of kings.

A Vanity Fair writer identified as a “royal expert” gave away the magazine’s secret agenda. Bob Colacello was quoted as saying that “the royals really are different from you and me.” For some clueless readers, this remark no doubt seemed like a sigh of nostalgia for the days when entitled (but ever so elegant!) families enforced their will on the peasantry.

The rest of us, however, had a better understanding of Mr. Colacello’s irony. Of course the royals are different from you and me: We work for a living, we believe in democracy, and we don’t spit upon the service of our honored dead by wearing medals we don’t deserve.