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UNDERCOVER WITH PORTLAND ARCHBISHOP VLAZNY

Conservative Portland Catholic Archbishop John Vlazny recently attended the right-to-life protest at Pionner Square against women's rights with 7,000 other conservatives. Since then, he gave a series of talks at Beaverton's Lady of Peace retreat center on job openings in the Catholic Church and conservative Catholic values.
Barack Obama signed both the Ledbetter Equal Pay Act and nuked Bush's gag rule on international family planning, but Obama gave in right away on family planning funds for poor women and families in the proposed stimulus bill, to try to get GOP support for the stimulus in the House. No Republicans voted for the bill, despite Obama dropping $300,000,000 in family planning funds from the bill. (Obama also dropped $200,000,000 for DC Mall park maintenance/resodding, but that didn't sway any GOP House members to support the stimulus, either).


Here in Portland, after Obama's election, Oregon right to life forces held an anti-Roe v. Wade rally in Pioneer Square with 7,000 right wing supporters. Portland Catholic Archbishop John Vlazny was at that rally. More recently, at a Catholic 'job fair' retreat at Beaverton's Our Lady of Peace Center, Vlazny talked with 17 men (women were not allowed to sit at the table, speak on issues, or apply for the jobs -- although nuns at the center did fix the food, cleaned rooms, and staffed the office) about Catholic Church job prospects and openings, along with the current state of conservative Catholic values.


Due to the abuse scandals and the bankruptcy of the Portland Archdiocese, along with the celibacy issue for priests, the Catholic Church (along with some other conservative churches) has been having problems finding enough priests for the number of parishes it has. The Catholic Church, Vlazny stated, in the first of five talks over a 3-day weekend, has about 150 dioceses in the U.S., two of them in Oregon. Vlazny has been Archbishop in Portland for over 10 years.


Vlazny expressed dismay that Obama overturned the gag rule. 'We seem to be losing' in the fight to 'protect life,' Vlazny asserted, even though Obama had only been in office a few days. This was before Obama took out $300,000,000 in domestic family planning money in the proposed stimulus bill before Congress.


One of the attendees at Vlazny's 'discernment' or job conference, who was from Nigeria, George, said he also attended the 7,000 person right to life rally at Pioneer Square, with the Archbishop. George also noted that despite the good turnout, some women weren't paying attention to conservative religious doctrine on the issue. None of the 18 men present at Vlazny's weekend conference talked about "pro-choice" issues, but about "affirming life." One attendee, Josh, from Oregon, noted that 'if my sister was raped, I'd want her to have the baby' because it 'isn't the fault of the fetus' how the fetus gets created, and the fetus is part of God's plan, life in the world, etc. (Josh had previously expressed criticism of Dick Cheney and admiration for Michael Moore's health care film, Sicko, but those sentiments did not extend to women's rights).


As an organizer with PSU Progressive Student Union, I tried to ask questions of those gathered at this function about Catholic values. I asked Vlazny if he remembered the Portland peace activist and Catholic organizer, Frank Farmholz, who was fired by the Archbishop/Portland Diocese, when Frank taught part time at Univ. of Portland and helped organize 50 progressive churches in the Portland area and got them to endorse one of the big peace rallies against the Iraq War organized by Dan Handleman, Will Seaman, PPRC, etc. Vlazny claimed he didn't know who Frank was. One issue had been whether the language for that peace march and rally had been too pro-Palestine for many Portland-area churches. Frank's antiwar organizing increased the size of the march by about 10,000 people, give or take. Frank, after termination, moved to China. Frank's son, Chris, a senior at Lewis and Clark, wrote for our antiwar zine, The Agitator, which we distributed at six area colleges and Lincoln High.


I asked the male participants at this event if they knew much (anything?) about the 'liberal' activists in the Catholic Church, explaining that before coming to the event, I had talked briefly with Rev. Kate Lore at the Unitarian Church downtown, and that Kate and I had been unable to come up with any progressive Catholic ministers in the Northwest who were activists against poverty, the Iraq War, for human rights, etc. Chuck Currie (Methodists), Cecil Prescod (UCC), Kate herself (Unitarians) were among those we identified, all with Protestant churches.


I asked the Catholic gentlemen if they had heard of Daniel and Philip Berrigan (anti-Vietnam War activists, although Daniel Berrigan is also right-to-life), Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, St. Francis. Among these, the one they acknowledged knowing about was St. Francis (despite being a few centuries ago). No one said they recognized the name of Oscar Romero, so I explained that I was interested in the Archbishop of El Salvador, since El Salvador was one of the few places I had visited, including the church where Romero preached (and was assassinated by right-wing, US-funded death squads), the house where he lived, the cancer hospital where he worked, and the cathedral basement in downtown San Salvador where Romero is buried.


I did find a book on the library shelves at the Lady of Peace Center on Dorothy Day (founder of Catholic Workers, and there are two CW houses in Portland today), but none of the 18 Catholic gentlemen present said they had heard of her. Nor had they heard, or claimed to have heard about, the Berrigan Brothers. I noted I've read a couple books by Daniel Berrigan, including The Trial of the Cantonsville Nine.


I also asked these potential Catholic priests if they had heard about Fr. Roy Bourgeois and the School of the Americas protest he has organized, for 20 years, after organizing for human rights in Central America, against Reagan's wars of intervention in the 1980s, and, that Fr. Roy had just been excommunicated by the Pope in Rome, not for organizing against Ft. Benning's School of the Assassins, but for advocating for women priests. I noted that Kate Lore had told me that she couldn't be Catholic, because Catholics forbid women being priests. No one acknowleged knowing about, or following, Fr. Roy or his excommunication.


One gentleman, from Grants Pass, at the weekend Vlazny confab did say he thought it was a false dichotomy to suggest there was a 'liberal' Catholic church and a 'conservative' Catholic church, but refused to say whether he had heard of liberation theology in South America, specifically.


No one at this weekend Beaverton conference mentioned that Oregon is the least religious state, out of the 50 states, and that that might contribute to Catholics not being able to find people for their jobs -- despite the worst recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s. After Archbishop Vlazny expressed his dismay against Obama, I decided that I should return to Portland to work on our tenant rights organizing project in downtown Portland (and the Coke Boycott for human rights and labor rights in Colombia, against Coke's death squads killing union organizers with SINALTRAINAL).


A few days later, the Pope in Rome reinstated four Catholic priests who are affiliated with right-wing values, including one specific priest who is a Holocaust denier and has plain-out said, "There were no gas chambers" in Europe by the Nazis in WWII.


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