Monday, January 23, 2006

Choking on the Collar

My morning Metro ride featured the normal (such as it were) cast of characters and a decidedly abnormal contingent of Catholic priests. I counted not fewer than 10 Collars standing around me as I rode from stop to stop. In fairness, their presence doesn't seem so odd when we consider that today is the big Right to Life march on the Mall. Whether the priests count as weird or not (the grumbling among those remaining on the train as the priests exited would certainly qualify the Collars as rude if nothing else), I found their presence highly disturbing.

Specifically, the Collar itself disturbed me. A large contingent of priests and other concerned citizens are in town today to recognize the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision and to seek redress. Great, that's their right as citizens. And in exercising their rights as citizens, they should come as citizens. Not as priests (and you can swap priest for firefighter, doctor, infantrymen, etc). Wearing the Collar- a nearly universally recognized symbol of the priesthood- is an attempt to leverage the moral authority of their job into success in the political arena. Or, to consider the matter differently- do they feel their argument appears less persuasive without the Collar? The answer feels fairly clear to me. The Collar as a media tool, just one more weapon in the PR war. That behavior, that decision politicizes the Collar, politicizes the priesthood, and- for me- further degrades my respect for the institution.

When the Church politicizes itself, I have a hard time believing religion should continue to exist as a political non-interference zone. The body public and politic is not merely a blank slate upon which groups argue for their goals. The polity has rights and interests of its own. When pressure groups seek to alter the rules, the polity must jealously guard its identity, regardless of what that pressure group is wearing. I would hope such a 'serious' group would hold their position in high esteem and not trade on it like a cheap publicity stunt. But this isn't new, I'm just slow on the pickup.

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