Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Priests and Politics

by Edd Doerr

"Priest's Dip Into Politics Raises Outcry" is the head on a 9/19/12 NY Times story about Fr John Farren of NY's St Catherine of Siena church putting in the parish bulletin the letter by six former US ambassadors to the Holy See (Vatican) endorsing Romney for president because of his pro-Vatican stand against abortion rights and gay marriage. Times writer Jim Dwyer said: "The church has made strong statements about economic justice for the poor, protection of immigrants, support of labor unions and objections to the death penalty, but those issues have largely been drowned out by advocacy against abortion and same-sex marriage." It just happens that all US ambassadors to the Holy See since 198r4 have been Catholics, which would seem to be a violation of Article VI of the Constitution, which prohibits religious tests for public office.

Now, about this business of US diplomatic recognition of the Holy See. This issue came up in 1984 when Reagan wanted to start that representation. But first, he had to get Congress to repeal an 1867 law prohibiting such relations.  On 2/9/84, representing Americans for Religious Liberty, the Council for Secular Humanisn, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the American Ethical Union, and the American Humanist Association, I presented oral and written testimony to a hearing of the  House Appropriations Committee on the subject of "Reprogramming Funds for United States Mission to the Vatican". (The complete testimony is in my 2006 book Here I Stand, available from me for $7, Box 6656, Silver Spring, Md 20916.)  The State Dept guys who testified did  not seem to know the difference between the Vatican and the Holy See. The Vatican is a microstate about the size of a small golf course in the middle of Rome. It was created by Italian dictator Mussolini in 1929 in the Lateran Pacts. The Vatican has diplomatic relations only with Italy. The Holy See, headquarted at the Vatican (Citta del Vaticano), is the world headquarters of the Catholic church, and it is that entity that has diplomatic relations with over 100 countries worldwide. The Holy See was making treaties (concordats) with various nations between 1870 and 1929 when there was no state of any sort.

In my testimony I made the point that US diplomatic relations with the Holy See would be government preferment of one religion over all others, would violate the First Amendment, exacerbate interfaith tensions, etc. Unfortunately, Congress went along with Reagan and the US has had diplomatic relations with the Holy See ever since. A court challenge ensued (I was one of many plaintiffs), but we lost on the dubious ground of lack of standing.

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