Dowd Whines on 'Women's Lower Caste' in the Catholic Church, 'Chastity Belts'

Maureen Dowd has devoted her last two Times columns to her problems with the male hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

Wednesday's edition featured "Father Doesn't Know Best" (get it?). Dowd is confused about the idea of a church insisting its members adhere to its core beliefs, while ranting about "women's lower caste in the church." That subject is a hobbyhorse for Dowd, who has previously compared the status of women in the church to that of women in Saudi Arabia.

Dowd, who grew up Irish Catholic, began her Wednesday column with a story on learning her "devout Catholic" parents used birth control.

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).

Dowd iconsistently condemns the church both for being against birth control and for "putting women in chastity belts." So is the church trying to encourage pregnanices by forbidding birth control, or trying to halt pregnancies by insisting on female chastity? Perhaps it's just one of Dowd's lazy anti-male insults, since this marks the third time in two months that she's accused some group of men of wanting to put women in "chastity belts" (the other two involved Republicans, naturally).

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.

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.

Dowd's Sunday column, "Here Comes Nobody," used dopey wordplay to suggest church doctrine needed to become more flexible.

I always liked that the name of my religion was also an adjective meaning all-embracing.

I was a Catholic and I wanted to be catholic, someone engaged in a wide variety of things. As James Joyce wrote in “Finnegans Wake:” “Catholic means ‘Here comes everybody.’ ”

So it makes me sad to see the Catholic Church grow so uncatholic, intent on loyalty testing, mind control and heresy hunting. Rather than all-embracing, the church hierarchy has become all-constricting.

Otherwise known as "church doctrine."

The latest kooky kerfuffle was sparked by the invitation to Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, to speak at a graduation ceremony at Georgetown University on Friday. The silver-haired former Kansas governor is a practicing Catholic with a husband and son who graduated from Georgetown. But because she fought to get a federal mandate for health insurance coverage of contraceptives and morning-after pills, including at Catholic schools and hospitals, Sebelius is on the hit list of a conservative Catholic group in Virginia, the Cardinal Newman Society, which militates to bar speakers at Catholic schools who support gay rights or abortion rights.


Speaking to the graduates, Sebelius evoked J.F.K.’s speech asserting that religious bodies should not seek to impose their will through politics. She said that contentious debate is a strength of this country, adding that in some other places, “a leader delivers an edict and it goes into effect. There’s no debate, no criticism, no second-guessing.”

Just like the Vatican.

Dowd quoted an old speech by liberal Catholic pol Mario Cuomo "in which he deftly tried to explain how officials could remain good Catholics while going against church dictums in shaping public policy."

Absolute intolerance is always a sign of uncertainty and panic. Why do you have to hunt down everyone unless you’re weak? The church doesn’t seem to care if its members’ beliefs are based on faith or fear, conviction or coercion. But what is the quality of a belief that exists simply because it’s enforced?.


This is America. We don’t hunt heresies here. We welcome them.

Of course, open debate on religion doesn't remotely preclude a church from insisting that its members follow church doctrine. In a free society, the church is free to decide who is a member in good standing, and people are free to leave that church if they disagree.