Thursday, August 24, 2006

Catholic women's shelter gets Clinton; Catholic Church objects

There's an old saying among some people, which goes something like: "You only have the right to think, if you agree with me." Kenneth Copeland, a heretic for his belief in positive confession (which asserts, among other things, Jesus died spiritually on his execution), dismissed the whole idea of discerning the truth, saying: "Believers are not to be led by logic. We are not even to be led by good sense."

Little wonder, then, why some people are up in arms over the upcoming visit to Canada by Bill Clinton. Common sense has, with all due respect, completely left them. This isn't the first time. A few years back, Slick Willy came to Hamilton's St. Joseph's Hospital for a fundraiser for the Firestone Clinic, which specializes in respiratory illnesses and allergies. They've always managed to snag A-list speakers, from the elder George Bush to Mario Cuomo; but for some reason Clinton's visit drew a nerve. One local priest, who led the city's Francophone congregation, said that Clinton was welcome if -- and only if -- he apologized both for his repugnant conduct with Monica Lewinsky as well as for his strong pro-choice stance. (St. Joe's is a pro-life hospital, but the Firestone Clinic has little if anything to do with that position.)

I ended up writing a letter to the editor of the Hamilton Spectator (which was published), saying Clinton shouldn't be allowed to participate in a fundraiser for a pro-life hospital because of his wayward middle leg, was akin to telling companies like Bayer AG and Volkswagen they should forbidden from making contributions to anti-defamation causes because of their collusion with Hitler during World War II. I also said his views on reproductive choice were irrelevant to the issue at hand, and that his presence would only help raise more money. (Which it did, it broke a record for the time it took to completely sell out the dinner.) I ended my letter rather sarcastically, saying, "People have a hard enough time making up their minds on the issue of abortion, without adding the Bill and Monica show to the fire."

My sense from it all, when it was over, was that a city with a large Catholic population simply didn't care anymore. Clinton had apologized, at least for his reckless behaviour, and at least he was trying to do the right thing (maybe as part of an ongoing process of rehabilitation). I would have thought, that's the end of that story.


Now Clinton is coming to Kitchener -- which is part of the territory of the Diocese of Hamilton -- on November 8th, to speak at a fundraiser for a Catholic counselling centre there. This is an entirely secular agency, serving people of all denominations; and the money is going to expand a shelter for victims of domestic violence. In the wake of this announcement one of the auxiliary (assistant) Bishops of the Diocese, Gerard Bergie, has been fielding a series of complaints from people across the country, (not just locally) and he's urging Catholics not to go to the event, as Clinton among other things now supports the widespread use of condoms to help fight the AIDS crisis in Africa.

Two points. First of all, as far as the problem of AIDS goes, I support the ABC approach (abstinence, being faithful, contraception), which makes abstinence first the priority. Contraception may be a necessary evil, but it's way better than what South Africa's government promotes as a "cure": Lemon juice. Uganda has had huge success with its ABC program in stemming the tide, and it's a model for other countries. So, Clinton's merely saying use what works. I agree.

Second, as was the case with St. Joseph's a few years ago, his views should be completely irrelevant to the issue at hand, which is helping victims of domestic violence. No, I'm still no big fan of Clinton and I think his conduct during the 1990s was completely revolting. What's done is done, however, and it can't be taken back. To continue to punish someone for something he did or for what he believes is, well, non-sensical. I'm convinced people aren't using their common sense on this one; and that in the end they are making a much bigger deal out of this than it really is.

Some will say, "What if it was someone like Mel Gibson?" Well, after his anti-Semitic tirade a few weeks back, he would hardly be the ideal speaker, because he causes divisions. Bill Clinton, despite his faults, tried to build bridges, and for that he's still demonized even though he left office more than five years ago.

People have the right to decide whether or not they want to buy tickets. They also have the right not to be bullied by church officials, even if it amounts to nothing more than a "suggestion." Using red herrings (a common tactic of the religious right) will only repulse people who elect to use their common sense, and actually want to get tickets or otherwise help the non-profit agency here. They couldn't buy this kind of publicity, and personally I wish them the best of luck. If they could get someone like Clinton to help out, all the power to them.

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