What Cersei Lannister Can Teach the Catholic Church
Despite its waning influence over the beliefs of its own members, the Catholic Church has continued to loudly voice support or opposition to various pieces of legislation, policies, executive orders, and court decisions its leadership has deemed important. Doing so has made it political friends and political enemies. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, RSM, Director of Media Relations for the USCCB, seems surprised that the Department of Health and Human Services suddenly denied funding to the conference’s Migration and Refugee Services, allegedly on account of its being forbidden by conscience from referring human trafficking victims for abortion, sterilization or contraceptives. She should have expected this move or something like it.
The Obama administration clearly wants to expand access to abortion and contraceptives and otherwise advance a reproductive rights-friendly policy. The Catholic Church (along with the GOP, surprisingly) has been not only an obstacle, but also a counter force to this effort. You don’t push in politics without getting pushed back. You can’t, for example, defund Planned Parenthood and not expect retaliation. You can’t condemn the Affordable Care Act without irking its engineers. You exercise influence to limit reproductive rights, especially rights that have widespread public backing, anticipate that influence to be attacked. As the Catholic Church continues its efforts against the Obama administration’s agenda, it should expect the administration to seek where it can to weaken the Church’s overall political, social, and cultural influence. What else would it do? A Republican administration would do much the same.
None of this is to say that the Catholic Church or any other religious institution should keep quiet and stay out of politics and the affairs of state. On the contrary, religious groups and institutions should be involved in the public sphere, albeit in ways that respect religious freedom. Many of them have centuries of time-tested thought and wisdom to share, not to mention unique perspectives; they can do much to help society realize the common good. However, they ought to realize and appreciate that being a player in the sphere of politics comes with a price. They needn’t act like Cersei Lannister (or, say, Machiavelli), but they cannot hope to win lasting victories without, as the Queen from Casterly Rock (or a skilled chess or poker player) suggests , anticipating and planning for all the possible counter moves of the opposition. (VN)