It's Pat versus the Bishops

Back in the early 1990's, there was a skit on Saturday Night Live featuring an androgynous character - Pat O'Neil Riley. Each skit involved an attempt to ascertain whether Pat was a man or a woman. I recall one episode where Pat needed to use the restroom and, just as the character took a step toward one of the clearly marked bathroom doors, there was some sort of "interruption" to the broadcast. When the interruption had been cleared, two characters who had seen Pat choose a restroom were remarking after Pat's sex, without giving any indication to the audience what it was.

Yesterday, the Freedom From Religion Foundation carried a story about how Julia Sweeney - the creator of and actor behind the character Pat - had released a 30-second ad directed against the Catholic Bishops. "It's Pat" had an allure because it retained a sense of mystery surrounding Pat's sex; Sweeney's spot leaves no ambiguity about her position:



If you don't want to watch the video, here is a transcript:

"Hi, I'm Julia Sweeney, and I'm a cultural Catholic. I am no longer a believer and I even wrote a play about it called "Letting Go of God." But I wanted to let you know that right now Catholic Bishops are framing their opposition to contraceptive coverage as a religious freedom issu. But the real threat to freedom is the Bishops, who want to be free to force their dogma on people who don't want it. Please join the Freedom From Religion Foundation and help keep church and state separate." 


Just a few quick comments:

  • Yet again, we see the confusion of Competence and Authority. Julia Sweeney is a competent comedian. Does that make her an authority on issues related to faith and doubt or to matters related to the relationship between church and state? Hardly. 
  • Indeed, are we to trust the former Catholic who is seemingly unaware that the Church's stance is part of its doctrine, not its dogma? You'd think a trustworthy authority would strive to be clear in her terms. 
  • At no point have the bishops said that they want to prohibit, or limit, contraceptive coverage to women. They have said that religious institutions should have a right to act according to the tenets of their traditions. The Catholic Church does not permit contraception so it does not think the government should be able to force it to act against its beliefs.
  • Sweeney advocates a separation of church and state, yet seems to advocate for the state to be able to set policy for church institutions. Puzzling, no? 
The content of the ad is confused and neither accurately portrays nor engages fairly with the bishops. "It's Pat" was funny because of ambiguity. Julia Sweeney's inaccurate and muddled ad is simply sad. 
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