Bishop Jenky’s Obama and Hitler, Stalin, Bismarck and Clemenceau Comparison: Bad History, Bad Theology and Bad Politics

Bishop Daniel Jenky 

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.” Thomas Jefferson

I normally would not criticize a Roman Catholic Bishop for speaking out on he through were legitimate threats to the Catholic faith. However, when a fellow Christian cleric of any rank or denomination chooses to become a bad historian and use historical lies and distortions to demonize an opponent I as a clergyman and American must point it out. I have waited several days to publish this post and reworked it a number of times simply because I do, even if I disagree with them respect their office.

What sparked my ire was when Roman Catholic Bishop of the diocese of Peoria Illinois, Bishop Daniel Jenky wildly and stupidly overstepped his knowledge of history and American Religious Freedom. Bishop Jenky in his homily to a Catholic Men’s group during the Second Sunday of Easter Mass made this comment:

“In the late 19th century, Bismark (sic) waged his “Kulturkamf,” a culture war against the Roman Catholic Church, closing down every Catholic school and hospital, convent and monastery in Imperial Germany. Clemenceau, nicknamed “the priest eater,” tried the same thing in France in the first decade of the 20th Century. 

Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care. 

In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, President Obama – with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.

Now things have come to such a pass in our beloved country that this is a battle that we could lose, but before the awesome judgement seat of Almighty God this is not a war where any believing Catholic may remain neutral.”

I am a big defender of all religious freedom, even that of the prelates of the Roman Catholic Church to state the beliefs of their church clearly and without even the slightest fear of persecution. However I am not a fan of clerics using their pastoral role to become the partisan voice of any religious party. Bishop Jenky’s comments in his homily go well beyond voicing his disagreement with the Obama Administration, or for that matter with the policies of the Reagan and both Bush administrations who actually enunciated similar policies.  Likewise even more importantly he used the most vile of historical distortions to buttress his partisan opinion.

If President Obama was a Republican grousing for “pro-life” votes by giving lip-service to Evangelicals and Roman Catholics Jenky would never have said a word. However Obama’s problem is that he does not give the same deferential lip service to the anti-abortion groups in the Republican party that neither of the Bush’s or Reagan did. People forget that Ronald Reagan signed into law the most liberal abortion laws in the country prior to Roe v. Wade. George H.W. Bush was not only pro-choice but was a big backer of Planned Parenthood and despite some of his policies against abortion in the settings of military healthcare and in foreign aid programs did almost nothing other than to mouth empty platitudes in support of Pro-Life policies.

I find it fascinating to find the major Catholic figures in in conservative American politics, Paul Ryan and John Boehner are just as selective in their support of official Catholic teachings as are their Liberal counterparts that Bishop Jenky so roundly condemns.  It is what I call Conservative Cafeteria Catholicism. It was reported today that the American Council of Catholic Bishops wrote to express their concern about Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget plan. The believe that it contradicts church teaching regarding the responsibility of the Government to provide adequate services to the poor. Ryan claims that this budget based on his “Catholic Faith” but it stands in total opposition to Papal Encyclicals such as Renum Novarum (On Capital and Labor) issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 and the Second Vatican Council regarding the care for the poor. This was reiterated in 1991 on the 100th anniversary of Renum Novarum by Pope John Paul II. He called the church to advocate for the “preferential option for the poor.”  Today Speaker of the House John Boehner basically told the the Bishops to pound sand and that they, the Bishops “needed to see the big picture.” So I guess it really isn’t about defending the rights of the Church to such politicians just using selective parts of Church teaching to buttress their political support. But I don’t see Bishop Jenky calling either Boehner or Ryan “Judas.”

Bishop Jenky is a bad historian, but then that goes for the vast majority of clerics. He compares the Health Care Mandate in regard to contraception with the Kulturkampf  of Otto Von Bismarck.  In fact the the Kulturkampf was not just something that Bismarck and German philosophical and theological Liberals (Classic Liberalism) dreamed up simply because they opposed the theology of the Catholic Church.

What Jenky fails to mention is was the period of German Unification and Germany was opposed by Austria-Hungary which was a Catholic Empire hugely supported by the Vatican. The Catholic Church opposed the Protestant Kingdom of Prussia because it was weakening the power of Catholic Kingdoms throughout German speaking lands. It might be noted that at the same time the Vatican, which around the same time period was fighting the unification of Italy and the dissolution of the Vatican States.  It seems that throughout the 19th Century that the Popes, especially Pius IX and Pius X were constantly fighting the right of people to their own government and were willing to fund and support the Hapsburg Dynasty of Austria which was the direct descendant of the Holy Roman Empire.

Bishop Jenky’s comparison of President Obama with Hitler and Stalin is an act of demagoguery that other Bishops as well as politicians should condemn. They were dictators that launched wars of aggression on other nations as well as murdered millions of their own people. What Jenky condemns President Obama for is not in the same league.  The same is true about the comparisons to Clemenceau and Bismarck is also wrong headed and a selective and distorted use of history to demonize a political opponent. To compare President Obama to Hitler and Stalin is the tactic of the religious despots of Europe that our Founders so rightly rejected.

Our founders were quite right to push back hard against the church denominations of their day that strove to enhance their power and privilege by attempting to become state churches or become the privileged denominations.  Bishop Jenky seems to forget that the United States was not founded to be the vassal state of the Roman Catholic or for that matter any other Church denomination.  If we actually value religious liberty or for that matter the Gospel itself we need to remember little things like that no matter what men like Bishop Jenky say.

John Leland, the Baptist leader who fought for the separation of Church and State that both Jefferson and Madison enunciated said:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”


Padre Steve+


Filed under christian life, faith, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

9 responses to “Bishop Jenky’s Obama and Hitler, Stalin, Bismarck and Clemenceau Comparison: Bad History, Bad Theology and Bad Politics

  1. Daz

    It’s worth noting, in passing, that ‘Turks’ in your final quote most probably refers to Muslims; another point that might be worth stressing to (some of) the neo-conservative Christian right. (I’d like to think he’d include atheists and agnostics in that list too, were he speaking today.) Come Pagan, Christian or Jew, as the song says!

    Another passing thought: I wonder if the venerableness (damnit, it should be a word!) of the constitution and the words of the Founders is sometimes a mixed blessing? The birther idiocy would be a good example, wherein people have attempted to use the letter, rather than the spirit, of the law to an idiotic degree.

    By the way, your first sentence seems to have been garbled during your textual reworkings. 🙂

  2. John Erickson

    Thanks for pointing this out – I had somehow missed this tidbit from my home state. (Must’ve been the last-chance dialogues with a buddy of mine prior to his shiping out to A-stan via Benning.) The Roman Catholic church should come down on this minister HARD. There is qute enough blood and guilt on their hands from past bad behaviours, and ANY Catholic comparing people to Hitler should do so at their own peril, considering the silence of the Vatican on the Holocaust.
    Thanks again, Padre, great article. And if you can, add a certain Army Lt. Colonel “BrainRants” to your prayers to stay safe over in the Sandbox. Don’t worry – God will DEFINITELY know who you’re talking about! 😀 (Well, Him, or other – shall we say – authorities farther south. 😉 )

    • Vincent O'Malley

      The Vatican was not silent about the Holocaust. The Vatican spoke out six years before Churchill and Roosevelt did (1938, 1944). No one saved more Jews than the pope and the priests, sisters, and laity of the Catholic Church: 800,000 Jewish lives, minimally. Check your facts; don’t just parrot your political science profs who have not checked their facts.

      • padresteve

        While there were some individuals in the Church that spoke out and did what they could to save Jews during the Holocaust like most others including the leaders in the Western democracies did nothing as an institution to stop it. I love the snarky indignation of people like you who can’t even figure out that I am a historian and theologian and not a political scientist. You ignore Pope Pius XII’s complicity as the Nuncio in Germany at the time of the concordat (opposed by men like Bishop Galen and Father Rupert Meyer, the “Apostle of Munich”) and his total inaction and bureaucratic burying of the damning report prepared for his predecessor. You ignore Catholic clergy that led countries like Slovakia as well as the Catholic clergy and laity in Romania, Croatia, Austria, Germany, Poland, France in fact nearly every Northern or Eastern European country save Denmark to willingly and decidedly cooperate with men like Eichmann. Yes there were Catholics that sacrificed their lives to save the Jews, that is not disputed. The issue that I bring up is institutional and cultural, and that sadly has changed little in the last 60 years in many parts of the world. If I was back at home with all of my books on the Holocaust and the Church I would be more detailed, but I have been up for over 36 hours strait traveling from the US to Europe to defend the character and honor of a Catholic officer in the US military. Deal with it and get your facts straight. Your numbers are historic “swags” which only serve to support the myth that the Catholic Church as an institution was more effective than it was. Had the future Pius XII not lobbied for the Concordat giving Hitler his first foreign policy legitimacy then just maybe things might have turned our differently. However, even if Catholics were responsible for saving 800,000 Jews, what about the millions more that were slaughtered by the Nazis with the willing cooperation of Catholic clergy and laity in so many countries. Throwing out the inaction of Western political leaders is but a Red Herring. Sorry to sound so harsh but you asked for it by being so snarky and ignorant. Numbers are easy to throw around but you have to look at the context as well as that for every life saved more died due to either the sins of commission or omission of the institutional Catholic Church, its clergy and laity during that terrible time.

      • John Erickson

        Sorry, Vincent, I never did the “poli sci” bit. My facts come from over 40 years of reading about World War 2, from a variety of sources both outside and inside of the Nazi regime. The only facts that I “parrot” are those proved multiple times over – I don’t condemn Roman Catholics in general, I go after the church which barely made a few token protests, as the Padre has already described.
        Oh, and I’d be careful about the “parroting” cracks, Vincent. I’ve sat in too many churches, hearing token histories parroted by various church leaders (especially in the Roman Catholic church), when my brother-in-law (the divinity doctorate who speaks SEVEN ancient languages, so he KNOWS what was originally written, not the massacred versions of the Bible available today) has proven them wrong from original scrolls and ancient writings.
        Now, if you can show me a system-wide, highly-involved action by the Vatican or ANY Christian religion to save the Jews on a large scale, I’m willing to hear it. I doubt you’ll find it, but I am ALWAYS open to new facts – provided they are thoroughly researched and not “parroted”.

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