Are you an agent of Satan? Bishop Robert W. Finn thinks you might be.
In a recent address to the Catholic Church-sponsored "Gospel of Life Convention," Finn stated bluntly, "We are at war!"
Using highly intemperate language, the Kansas City, Mo., prelate said the "Church Militant" is "engaged in a constant warfare with Satan" and "human enemies," people who are "deceived by Satan's distortions and lies."
Finn identified among these human enemies those "who wish to establish a path of living that contravenes God's law: promoting abortion; unnatural substitutes for marriage, and all such distortions of true freedom."
The bishop railed against Notre Dame University for inviting President Barack Obama to speak at the Catholic school's graduation ceremonies, and he compares the "human lives" lost through abortion to the lives lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and "even the genocidal Holocaust of six millions Jews and others under the Nazi regime."
Finn called on his flock to "put the abortionist out of business" and enact laws that impose the church's teaching on abortion.
I find the bishop's screed deeply troubling.
In the first place, Finn's assertion that those who disagree with his church's teaching are agents of Satan is extraordinarily inflammatory and deeply destructive in a pluralistic democratic nation. He has a constitutional right to say such things, but the rest of us have a constitutional right to say he's gone too far.
America is home to some 2,000 different denominations, religious groups and faith traditions. Millions of other Americans follow no spiritual path at all. Theologians and secular philosophers have come to widely different conclusions about the morality of abortion, same-sex marriage and other hotly debated social issues.
Debate on these topics is understandably vigorous and often contentious. But when a leader of one faith tradition begins to dismiss those who disagree (including apparently the president of the United States) as pawns of Satan, democratic dialogue breaks down. When that religious leader characterizes those who differ with him about a political matter as "human enemies," the bonds of civil society are stretched to the breaking point.
At its heart, Bishop Finn is bent on undermining freedom of conscience. If he succeeds in imposing his version of God's law through legislation, the separation of church and state is clearly jeopardized.
Finn must recognize that the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution protects a woman's right to end a problem pregnancy. Polls show that the majority of Americans – including the majority of Catholics – agree with that policy.
It must be frustrating – if you're Bishop Finn – to see so many Americans, including members of his own church, who refuse to view things his way. But the course he ought to follow is persuasion, not rhetorical bomb-throwing.
(By the way, props to the Religion News Service. I learned about the bishop's address in RNS' fine "Religion News Blog." Check it out; it's always an interesting read.)