Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo, North Dakota delivered remarks in the course of an interview with KFGO that are so outrageous as to boggle the mind. “People need to the understand that when a government essentially embraces atheism, which is what both communism and Nazism [did], that religious rights are going to be violated.” Huh?
First, when will people learn that analogies to the Nazis are always a bad idea. The evil Hitler inflicted on Europe is unique not in its scope – Stalin and Mao had as much blood on their hands – but in the purity of the evil Nazism achieved. The Nazis did not kill Jews to achieve some political goal, indeed, they often killed Jews whose talents would have been beneficial to the regime. The desire to exterminate an entire people simply because you think they should be exterminated does not warrant comparison with any other evil. Stalin killed kulaks to get their land. Mao killed entrepreneurs to capture their money and stamp out their autonomy. Hitler killed Jews because he wanted to exterminate them.
Second, Bishop Aquila needs to stop listening to Glenn Beck who sees the specter of communism everywhere, and thinks socialism and communism are the same thing and that communism and fascism are really similar to boot. After all, the Nazis called themselves the National Socialist Party. Alas, Mr. Beck’s narrative fails even a minimal standard of historical sophistication. And, such twisted readings of history led him to the kind of extreme remarks that proved too much even for Fox News. Sit with that phrase for a moment: too extreme for Fox News. Yet, here is the Bishop of Fargo, repeating this paranoid nonsense as if it were established history.
Third, when conservatives suggest the Obama administration is engaged in a “war on Catholics,” comments like Bishop Aquila’s remind us that the charge may have more to do with what psychologists call projection than anything else. If comparing the government to Nazis doesn’t count as throwing a bomb in the culture wars, I do not know what does. There are some bishops, mercifully very few of them, who are all about fighting a culture war, but it is hard to see what that has to do with preaching the Gospel.
Finally, I would point out that the USCCB has been engaged on multiple issues for some time now with the Obama administration, most obviously on the issue of conscience exemptions. But, you can forgive the President for thinking that if the bishops believe he is little different from a Nazi, negotiating with them is futile. I have not been shy about pointing out that religious freedom is threatened in today’s political and legal climate, but those threats are not of the same kind as the threats the communists and the fascists posed to the Church. There is a difference between issuing a mandate to cover contraception and systematically imprisoning and murdering clergy. HHS is not the gulag and the President is not acting in a way that merits comparison with totalitarians. Unfortunately, Bishop Aquila is speaking in a way that could not be better designed to make the administration throw up its hands, conclude that the bishops are irrevocably hostile and that nothing the administration says or does will convince the bishops otherwise. For the leaders and the staff at the USCCB, this is not what you want the administration thinking as they decide what to do about the conscience exemptions.
N.B. I have called KFGO to ask if they will post the full text of the interview.