In “Father Doesn’t Know Best” MoDo has a question: Aren’t the contraception-crazed bishops the real pills here? The Moustache of Wisdom, in “Power With Purpose,” says the stakes are higher than ever for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel. Here’s MoDo:
Your parents spill a few secrets as they get older.
One night at dinner with my mom, I ventured that the rhythm method had worked well for her, given that there were six years between my sister Peggy and my brother Kevin, and six more between Kevin and me. She arched an eyebrow. “Well, sometimes your father used something,” she said.
My parents were the most devout Catholics I’ve ever known. But my dad came from a family of 16 in County Clare in Ireland, and my mom’s mother came from a family of 13 in County Mayo. So they balanced their faith with a dose of practicality.
After their first three kids, they sagely decided family planning was not soul-staining. So I wasn’t surprised to see the Gallup poll Tuesday showing that 82 percent of U.S. Catholics say birth control is morally acceptable. (Eighty-nine percent of all Americans and 90 percent of non-Catholics agreed.) Gallup tested the morality of 18 issues, and birth control came out on top as the most acceptable, beating divorce, which garnered 67 percent approval, and “buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur,” which got a 60 percent thumbs-up (more from Republicans, naturally, than Democrats).
Polygamy, cloning humans and having an affair took the most morally offensive spots on the list. “Gay or lesbian relations” tied “having a baby outside of marriage,” with 54 percent approving. That’s in the middle of the list, above a 38 percent score for abortion and below a 59 percent score for “sex between an unmarried man and woman.”
The poll appeared on the same day as headlines about Catholic Church leaders fighting President Obama’s attempt to get insurance coverage for contraception for women who work or go to college at Catholic institutions. The church insists it’s an argument about religious freedom, not birth control. But, really, it’s about birth control, and women’s lower caste in the church. It’s about conservative bishops targeting Democratic candidates who support contraception and abortion rights as a matter of public policy. And it’s about a church that is obsessed with sex in ways it shouldn’t be, and not obsessed with sex in ways it should be.
The bishops and the Vatican care passionately about putting women in chastity belts. Yet they let unchaste priests run wild for decades, unconcerned about the generations of children who were violated and raped and passed around like communion wine.
They still have not done a proper reckoning, and the acrid scandal never ends. In the midst of a landmark trial in Philadelphia charging Msgr. William Lynn with covering up sexual abuse by priests and then recirculating the perverts, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Sunday that two priests in their 70s who worked in parishes and hospitals had abused minors at some point and were unfit for ministry.
This follows five priests sidelined earlier this month because of substantiated claims of sexual abuse or other violations, plus 17 others suspended after last year’s sickening grand jury report on rampant sexual abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
Some leading Catholic groups endorsed the compromise struck by the Obama administration that put the responsibility for providing the contraceptives on the insurance companies, not religious institutions. But others wanted to salute the Vatican flag and keep fighting. On “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday, the pugnacious Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York rejected the compromise and charged that the White House is “strangling” the church.
Interpreting the rule in the most extreme way to scare Catholics, he said: “They tell us if you’re really going to be considered a church, if you’re going to be really exempt from these demands of the government, well, you have to propagate your Catholic faith and everything you do, you can serve only Catholics and employ only Catholics.”
The Archdiocese of Washington put an equally alarmist message in the church bulletins at Sunday’s Masses, warning of apocalyptic risk:
“1. Our more than 600 hospitals nationwide, which will need to stop non-Catholics at the emergency room door and say, ‘We are only allowed by the government to heal Catholics.’
“2. Our schools, which will be required to say to non-Catholic parents, ‘We are only allowed by the government to educate Catholics.’
“3. Our shelters, on cold nights, which will be required to say to the homeless who are non-Catholics, ‘We are only allowed by the government to shelter Catholics.’
“4. Our food pantries, which will be forced to say to non-Catholics, ‘the government allows us only to satisfy the hunger of Catholics.’ ”
The church leaders headed to court hope to undermine the president, but they may help him. Voters who think sex is only for procreation were not going to vote for Obama anyway. And the lawsuit reminds the rest that what the bishops portray as an attack on religion by the president is really an attack on women by the bishops.
Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
Political power is always a double-edged sword. The more of it you amass, the more people expect you to use it to do big things, and, when you don’t, the more ineffectual you look. That’s the dilemma in which Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel finds himself. He avoided early elections by adding a new centrist coalition partner to his right-wing cabinet, giving him control of 96 of the 120 seats in Parliament. There are Arab dictators who didn’t have majorities that big after rigged elections. What is unclear is whether Bibi assembled these multitudes to be better able to do nothing or be better able to do something important to secure Israel’s future.
The stakes could not be higher — for him and Israel. Ami Ayalon, the former commander of Israel’s Navy and later its domestic intelligence service, put it to me this way: “I imagine a book called ‘Jewish Leaders in Recent History’ that one day Bibi’s grandson will be reading. What will it say? In one version, I imagine the section about the State of Israel will say that Herzl envisaged it, Ben-Gurion built it and Netanyahu secured it as a Jewish democracy.” But there is another version that could also be written, added Ayalon. “This version will describe Herzl and Ben-Gurion in the same way, but it will say of Netanyahu that he was the only Israeli leader who had the political power and he missed his moment in history” — and, thereby, created a situation in which Israel is not a Jewish democracy anymore. “Now is his moment to decide.”
I’m keeping an open mind, but the temptation for Bibi to do nothing will be enormous. The Palestinians are divided between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and both populations are tired. Moreover, economic conditions have improved in the West Bank in recent years, and the Palestinian Authority’s security forces are keeping a tight rein on anti-Israeli violence. Aid from the U.S., Europe and the Arabs pays a lot of the authority’s budget. Israel’s security wall keeps Palestinian suicide bombers out. The U.S. election silences any criticism coming from Washington about Israeli settlements. The Israeli peace camp is dead, and the Arab awakening has most Arab states enfeebled or preoccupied. So Israel gets to build settlements, while the Arabs, Americans, Europeans and Palestinians fund and sustain a lot of the occupation.
No wonder then that for most Israelis, the West Bank could be East Timor. “We see the writing on the wall, but we don’t care,” says the columnist Nahum Barnea of the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, referring to the fact that Arabs could soon outnumber Jews in areas under Israeli control.
The exception to all of this is Iran’s nuclear program, but Bibi — either through brilliant bluffing that he will bomb Iran or a sincere willingness to do so — has managed to make stopping Iran’s nuclear program a top U.S. and global priority.
Whenever a nation or leader amasses this much power, with no checks coming from anywhere, the probability of misreading events grows exponentially. Bibi could be assuming that the Palestinians in the West Bank can be pacified simply with better economic conditions. Don’t count on it. Humiliation remains the single most powerful human emotion. It trumps economic well-being every time. Bibi could be assuming that the Palestinian security services will indefinitely act as Israel’s forward police force in the West Bank — absent any hopes of Palestinian statehood. Not likely — eventually they will be viewed as “traitors.” Bibi could be assuming that Israel could strike Iran — and upend the world economy — and still continue to build settlements in the West Bank. I would not bet on that; the global backlash could be severe. Bibi could be assuming that the West Bank Palestinian leadership will always be moderate, secular and pro-Western. If only …
At the same time, Bibi is prime minister for a reason. He was elected because many Israelis lost faith in the peace process and see chaos all around them. So what to do? Here I think Ayalon has the best new idea: “constructive unilateralism.”
In an essay in this newspaper on April 24, Ayalon and two colleagues argued that Israel should first declare its willingness to return to negotiations anytime and that it has no claims of sovereignty on any West Bank lands east of its security barrier. It should then end all settlement construction east of that barrier and in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem and establish an attractive housing and relocation plan to help the 100,000 Jewish settlers who live east of the barrier to relocate within Israel’s recognized borders. The Israeli Army would remain in the West Bank until the conflict was resolved with a final-status agreement. And Israel would not physically force any citizens to leave until an agreement was reached, even though relocations could begin well before then. Such an initiative would radically change Israel’s image in the world, dramatically increase Palestinian incentives to negotiate and create a pathway for securing Israel as a Jewish democracy. And Bibi could initiate it tomorrow.
“Heroic peacemaking is over,” says Ayalon. It is time for “coordinated” and “constructive” unilateralism. The way is there. Does Bibi have the will?