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Playing God

American Catholic Bishops and The Far Right

Playing God, by Mary Jo McConahay, a leading Catholic journalist in the United States, is the definitive account of how the Catholic bishops are attempting to remake America in their own image, campaigning to alter democratic institutions under the guise of religious liberty, allying with major right-wing contributors, such as the Kochs and the Mercers, as well as ultra-right evangelicals whom they increasingly resemble politically. It tells the story of how these bishops – two-hundred and twenty-nine men, almost all beyond middle age and white– fueled by Catholic “dark money” —have become one of the most formidable and reactionary forces in American society.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is one of the most powerful religious organizations supporting nationalist-populist conservatism in America today. The media have focused more on the Evangelical movement as the heart and soul of religious conservatism, or on the secular role of the Koch family. But the Catholic bishops are playing, perhaps, a more important role. They do it in partnership with some of the wealthiest lay Catholics in America, who have their own reasons for promoting an ultra-conservative, nationalist state.

Many of the bishops and their billionaire partners are staunch opponents of Pope Francis, to the point that some U.S. Catholics fear schism with Rome. The U.S. bishops recently decided their priests could deny the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians like President Biden, probably the most famous Catholic in the world besides the pope. With their lay partners, the bishops help shepherd cases into the Supreme Court that change the law of the land, as with Roe v. Wade. These are just two recent examples of their long-term political strategy of attacking secular, liberal democracy by waging war on democratic norms and institutions.

Mary Jo McConahay is one of the most prominent Catholic journalists in America. In the 1980s she was a legendary war correspondent covering the Central American insurgencies. She is the author of three books, including The Tango War, The Struggle for the Hearts, Minds and Riches of Latin America During World War II, (starred reviews Kirkus, Publishers’ Weekly, Library Journal), and Maya Roads, One Woman’s Journey Among the People of the Rainforest (Northern California Book Awards Best Creative Nonfiction Book, National Geographic Traveler Book of the Month, Independent Publishers Award Best Travel Memoir).

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