Ten years ago, in the midst of a well publicized sexual scandal, it was tough to show your pride in the American Catholic Church. Story after story flooded the news of abominable actions done by priests while some bishops and cardinals seemed to purposely look the other way, allowing further abuse to incur. I remember listening to a heart-breaking homily by a pastor who wept as he shared how he instinctively took his collar off when someone came from behind him and asked if he was a priest. It was a difficult time.
We who were faithful knew that the Church was more than the media portrayed and that those who did such things didn’t live up to the teachings of Christ or the Church… but such beliefs paled to the stories of those victims whose lives were ruined by the abuse they received. One wondered if the Church would ever have a voice in America again.
After a decade of repentance, penance, and changes in both personal and policy, the American Church is once again earning the right to be heard. With new faces in the episcopate such as Cardinal Dolan of New York, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops is once again picking up the shepherd’s staff to proclaim the truth and protect the faithful.
Reciently, the USCCB published a document titled, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” about religious freedom in the United States. It’s a powerful statement and I’d encourage everyone to take a look at it. It speaks against the HHS mandate in the strongest language possible. As Vincent Phillip Muñoz from the Weekly Standard wrote:
“The bishops call on Catholics in America, ‘in solidarity with our fellow citizens,’ not to obey the law. They implicitly compare the HHS regulation to a segregation-era statute, and even cite Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail.’ In a not-so-subtle manner, the bishops tell the Obama administration that they are willing to go to prison rather than comply with the mandate’s provisions.”
But the document is not just about the HHS Mandate. It shows that this is just the latest in a pattern of attacks on religious liberty in America, citing issues from immigration, adoption services (for Christian agencies who won’t place a child with a homosexual couple,) and discrimination against small church congregations and students on college campuses.
The examples aren’t just about Catholics because the Bishops want to speak to a larger issue than just theological distinctives within the Church. They write, “This is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. It is an American issue.” And then the document highlights how religious freedom is at the heart of our constitution and our history.
Simply put, this document is a line in the sand. The USCCB has said “enough!” and is calling all people of faith to stand with them and fight these unjust laws. It is clear they’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen.
How can we join them?
1) Pray. They specifically suggest that the fourteen days from June 21st to July 4th be a time of intense prayer for all people of faith.
2) Talk about it. Many Catholics don’t like mixing Church and politics, thinking it goes against our country’s “separation of church and state.” But ironically, this is exactly what we want! We don’t want the state telling the Church what to do, what to believe, who to employ, or how to live out her mission. Post things on your Facebook wall, write blogs (I’ll keep writing about this!), tweet… use all the advantages of social media to let others know the truth of what is going on.
3) Write your senator and congressman/woman. Yes, it sounds cliche, but it needs to happen—especially as we come to an election year. Let those who represent you know how strongly you feel. Send emails, attend rallies, write letters, and vote in a way that will protect religious liberty in America.
I’m proud of our American bishops for taking such a stand. Let us pray they will stay strong in the face of adversity and that God would use this to unite people of faith everywhere so that we may truly be “one nation under God.”
I totally agree with the opposition to the HHS mandate, and it is very upsetting to me that others don’t get it. I tried sharing my feelings on FB, but did not know how to respond to a friend who stated that their rites would be violated, since they would not be offered the same healthcare as employees of non-Catholic institutions. I argued that firstly, my definition of “healthcare” did not include abortifacients and contraception, and also that no one is making them work for a Catholic institution. They said that in this economy, if they were offered a job at a Catholic institution, they would have no choice but to take it. What do I say to that? Please help!
I would suggest, lovingly, that poor economy is not the fault of the Church. Why should the Church have to change her beliefs just because a person can’t get a job somewhere else? But to be honest the situation is so hypothetical it borders on the absurd. It’s hard to imagine a world in which the only available jobs are offered by Catholic institutions, even in this difficult economy.
But I think you hit on the bigger issue: what is the role of healthcare? While a person is free to use contraception, nowhere (at least until lately) has it been considered a “right” that their employer must pay for.
The word “right” is a charged word today. I am reminded of what Benedict XVI recently wrote in Caritas in Veritate (43):
“Many people today would claim that they owe nothing to anyone, except to themselves… Hence it is important to call for a renewed reflection on how rights presuppose duties, if they are not to become mere licence. Nowadays we are witnessing a grave inconsistency. On the one hand, appeals are made to alleged rights, arbitrary and non-essential in nature, accompanied by the demand that they be recognized and promoted by public structures, while, on the other hand, elementary and basic rights remain unacknowledged and are violated in much of the world. A link has often been noted between claims to a “right to excess”, and even to transgression and vice, within affluent societies, and the lack of food, drinkable water, basic instruction and elementary health care in areas of the underdeveloped world and on the outskirts of large metropolitan centres.
The link consists in this: individual rights, when detached from a framework of duties which grants them their full meaning, can run wild, leading to an escalation of demands which is effectively unlimited and indiscriminate. An overemphasis on rights leads to a disregard for duties. Duties set a limit on rights because they point to the anthropological and ethical framework of which rights are a part, in this way ensuring that they do not become license.”
Using Benedict’s language, I would call contraception in healthcare an “alleged right, arbitrary and non-essential in nature,” and not something we actually need to be healthy and function properly in community.
I don’t know if any of that helps your FB conversation, but I hope it does 🙂
Thank you, Mr. Rice. It does help. I am pretty sure the message will be lost on this particular person, unfortunately, but I wanted to be armed with the Truth, and to be able to express it with love. You’ve helped me to be able to do that in the future.