I had a nightmare last night. I dreamt that State Senator Martin P. Mullen had come back from hell to inflict more inhumane legislation on not only the people of
I don’t know how the culture war in America took shape in various other parts of the country, but like New Hampshire where the shot heard round the world that supposedly started our American Revolution, the culture war in America has no better historic model than Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in the 1970s.
I drift back forty years to the point where I, as an eighteen year old, decided that I did not want to hear anymore boiler plate sermons about Satan from the local priest in
All around me was a world where the War in
The basic cultural war in the minds of Philadelphians then, if you were young, was if your draft number would come up and you would have to serve, fight in a war that made absolutely no logical sense.
On another level, there was the creeping fear that blacks would try to cross the invisible border, south on Lehigh Avenue, and try to invade your beautiful turn of the century row house paradise, built for factory workers.
Oh there were factories in the neighborhood, and they employed blacks, but in retrospect I can remember all the blacks lined up at the 5 bus stop after work waiting to get back to wherever it was that they lived outside our perfect white lower middle class bubble existence. In retrospect, the image of Apartheid comes to mind and is superimposed on those distant scenes.
I have seen or heard comments from people who lived there at the same time. The thing that destroyed Philly, they usually say, was “Section 8” housing, which is of course code talk for racism and welfare.
In a way, the inability of people to recognize and love your neighbor is what destroyed that old Currier & Ives idealized brain image of the slums where I grew up in Kensington - Harrowgate in Philly.
Where was I? Oh yes, the war, the blacks and yeah
In a way, my parents were intelligent, and liberal. They got into the ideal that blacks should have equal rights. But somewhere along the timeline, people like my parents got scared about what they saw on the tube with black militant groups, war protestors and the rapid decline of a normal society into chaos around 1968. They never told me directly but my so called liberal parents voted for George Wallace in 1968, I figured that out later along the timeline.
I guess I stayed there, going along my own liberal timeline, and did not realize how secular I was and in relation to terms of also being a Catholic from birth. Did not feel the difference until they shot Martin Luther King.
I can remember to this day, the priest Father Locke, freshly minted from the seminary, stumbling for words, almost apologetically, from the pulpit that next Sunday, stating something to the effect that he did not know if it would be proper but would not forbid personal prayers for a Protestant (after all, only Catholics go to heaven- your prayers are probably wasted on him), for the slain civil rights leader. Huh?
It was there that I got the clue that maybe Catholics were not really Christians like people like MLK who called themselves Christian. Christian was not a word I heard often in the first eighteen years of a Catholic life. I heard the word but in conjunction with other words like Christian Doctrine etc.
(An aside - Reminds me of my own Irish Catholic joke I told to a former boss in the 1980s, also Irish Catholic – “I was twenty-one before I realized that Protestant and bastard were two separate words.” – My boss howled in laughter.)
Oh yeah, getting back to Vatican II, I wrote some thoughts on that in my earliest blogs here, but let me get to the point and back to my nightmare about the late great Martin Mullen of the Pennsylvania State Legislature.
Paul VI brought out his Zero Tolerance document on birth control. Like all life in general, most of us just stumbled into ways of dealing with our own individual sexuality. (No user manual necessary.)
The cultural war in Philly and Pennsy had a pie-eyed, drunk on his own arrogance and self importance, fanatic in the form of Martin Mullen who suddenly was on the black and white TV screen, the chosen mouthpiece of John Cardinal Krol and his decision to bring
PENNSYLVANIA: Bitter Abortion Battle
Mullen, backed by equally conservative John Cardinal Krol and his Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, decided that the state, with its 35% Catholic population, was natural terrain to make a stand against the trend to more liberal laws on public morality. The battle was joined over the issue of abortion. To counter a liberal abortion bill, the conservatives proposed a bill of their own that outlawed abortion altogether except when a panel of three physicians certified that the mother's life was endangered. It made no allowance for victims of rape, incest or mental illness. Supporting the conservative bill, the Catholic Conference ran a long and costly campaign that included weekly pictures of truncated fetuses and aborted embryos on Page One of the Cathotic Standard &Times, the official organ of the archdiocese of
. Last June the campaign paid off: the liberal bill was easily defeated, and the conservative bill was adopted by both houses and sent to Shapp for his signature. Mullen warned the Governor that if he attempted to stop the bill through veto or pocket veto he would run against him in the Democratic primary next year. Philadelphia
While Shapp mulled over what to do, the protest and counterprotest boiled on. In an unusual turn, Patricia Arney, 32, a divorcee who is a district Democratic committeewoman, revealed to the Philadelphia Inquirer that State Senator Henry J. Cianfrani, 49, one of the conservative bill's strongest supporters, had paid for her abortion in 1970 while they were having an affair, and produced a receipt for his check to prove it. He did not deny their relationship, but said that he had given her the money to visit her family in
and did not know that there had been an abortion. Though the disclosure caused yowls of protest on the floor of the state senate, letters to the Inquirer ran 10 to 1 in favor of Arney's blow against hypocrites. Toledo
Last week Shapp, calling the bill "unsound, unenforceable and totally unfair," vetoed it. Mullen failed to muster the three-fourths majority necessary to override the veto, leaving the state functionally without an abortion law of any kind, since lower courts have declared the present statute unconstitutionally vague and appeals are pending. With that, Mullen sounded the charge for his race against Shapp next spring, which could be among the bitterest elections in
's history: he called the Governor's veto the result of a "paganistic, atheistic philosophy." Pennsylvania
In reality, few states had laws to deal with archaic or non-existent laws to deal with modern technology and recent developments in birth control.
Somewhere along the timeline, the culture war on birth control became the culture war on abortion. The discussion regarding sexuality was not about choice in the form of birth control methods to prevent pregnancy, it became all about abortion and the strategy and the rhetoric of Krol’s hand puppet to the media in the 1970s has not changed much to this day IMHO.
My leaving my local church, not the People of God, when I was eighteen was also in reaction to archconservative mean spirited types shouting at you on the TV like Martin Mullen as Krol’s in front of the curtain media voice . It was also the loss of the sermons on Satan, a chance to nod off, that got dropped on Sundays and propaganda spiels from the pulpit that you had to pick up the mimeographed letter to your state legislature in the church lobby, copy it in your own handwriting, and mail it to show that you were in favor of the most current Martin Mullen anti-sexuality law pending in Harrisburg. Model – Modus Operandi – set for the American future landscape. Pity.
I have read many a Catholic blog lately and the ones that aren’t praising, drooling on, the guys in red are the ones that wonder why priests these days don’t bother to deliver a decent homily. Considering what I know, the truth is that the thought police might hear something like love or tolerance being advocated and send off a letter to the bishop to complain about dogmatic incorrectness that would get back to the priest and rather than get slapped down, why bother to preach anymore.
After all, isn’t it all just about the ritual and the consecrated bread? (And the collection plate?)
The American culture wars are far from over. The best, I fear, is yet to come.