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Rachel Maddow’s Kind of Holy Spirit



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Recently, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow had on Sister Simone Campbell, head of the Catholic social-justice lobbying group NETWORK, to discuss her thoughts on the Catholic Church’s new leader, Pope Francis. The host spent the first few minutes of the program discussing the recent history of Argentina, up to and including current president Cristina Kirchner’s push to enact gay-marriage legislation, and the Catholic Church, including then-Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio’s vociferous opposition to it. I actually want to give Maddow credit for, in this segment, not deigning to mention the scurrilous accusations that Bergoglio, as head of Argentina’s Jesuit province in the 1970s and 1980s, was complicit in the crimes of the military dictatorship there — claims which either reside on gross distortions of the evidence or which have been in fact clearly disproven after being made by rights activists.

Anyway, Maddow instead obsesses over the Church in Argentina’s opposition to Kirchner’s crusade in favor of gay marriage, repeatedly comparing an Argentina in which gay couples cannot marry to an Argentina in which their actual freedoms, of press, free association, etc. were curtailed, saying, “It was a proposed expansion of human rights in a country that, a generation earlier, had famously, famously violated human rights on a grand scale.” Maddow somehow doesn’t find it completely ridiculous to say that “against the backdrop of a relatively recent massive human-rights violation history [involving maybe as many as 30,000 deaths] . . . [Kirchner] staked her personal reputation and professional future on a human rights issue.”

So with that as, you know, a backdrop, Maddow invited on Sister Campbell to discuss what can be expected from Francis’s papacy. Campbell offered praise for Francis’s reputation for being a loud voice and powerful force for the Church’s teachings about “economic justice,” but then lamented that, appallingly . . . he would also be a loud voice and powerful force for the Church’s teachings on sexual matters, on which “he probably won’t change the Church’s traditional teaching.”

But then Maddow asked her if one of those might be “better ways” or “worse ways” for the Church to voice its opinion on matters of politics and policy, and Campbell had an earnest answer: “Oh, absolutely. . . . You have to stay rooted in the Gospel and Jesus’s call to welcome in everyone, even those at the margins, even when it doesn’t fit my political story. . . . We have to break out of our rigid political loyalty to be loyal to the Gospel.” Sister Campbell and her compatriots at NETWORK might have done well to remember when they aggressively lobbied for the passage of the president’s health-care law when it would almost guarantee broader access to and funding for abortion, not provide proper conscience exemptions for Catholics, and, we found out later, attempt to require many Catholic institutions to explicitly violate the Church’s teachings.

That said, Campbell’s allusion to the Gospel’s message of “welcoming in everyone” as being in conflict with the Church’s stances on political issues, such as those mentioned earlier in the segment, clearly indicates that she is referring to the Church’s views of homosexuality and gay marriage. Her argument suggests that the Church is somehow beholden to conservative political factions — despite its sympathy for many left-of-center policies, economic and otherwise — and that if it could break free of that, a proper understanding of the Gospel would lead it to bless homosexual behavior and gay marriages. Such an argument, of course, is ridiculous, and is premised on liberal sexual politics, rather than the Gospel as the Catholic Church teaches, which has been consistent on homosexuality and on marriage for two millennia (and which, when it comes to “welcoming in,” states that homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity, [and] every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided”). 

But then, we get to the most telling part of the interview: Maddow’s lavishing of praise upon Sister Campbell for her work in bringing her Catholic beliefs to bear on American politics:

I have such respect for the way that you conduct yourself in these very heated political fights that you’ve been involved in, sort of taking criticism on all sides. The way that you have responded with such dignity and eloquence is an inspiration, I think, even to people who disagree with you on these issues. So thank you for being such a model of that. . . . I love that [quote from Campbell earlier]: ‘The Holy Spirit is alive and well and making mischief. That’s my kind of Holy Spirit.

Sister Campbell proudly explained herself just before hand that “I think of myself as engaged in politics.” Remember, just minutes before, Maddow had criticized Cardinal Bergoglio for expressing a Catholic teaching forcefully in a political controversy:

When an opportunity to insert himself in this political issue presented itself, Cardinal Bergoglio inserted himself into that fight, trying to make the biggest impact possible. He got brushed back by the president, who both won the fight and won it so decisively that it led to criticism in his country of the Church being . . . divisively overtly political.

It’s probably a tired point to make, but how striking it is here, that the Left demonizes expressions of faith in politics except when it happens to align with their aims. One minute, Maddow lavishly lauds Sister Campbell for bringing a consecrated religious woman’s perspective to politics, and another, she castigates Cardinal Bergoglio’s efforts to teach the parts of the Catholic Gospel that aren’t also in the Democratic-party platform or codified in a post-1950 U.N. human-rights convention. The host actually has the gall to gush that “even people who disagree with” Sister Simone respect the nun’s expressions of faith in the public square. If only Rachel Maddow would extend the same respect to those who disagree with her.



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