Lent Offerings

In my last blog post, I referred to Francis Cardinal George’s excellent column from Catholic New World entitled What are you going to give up this Lent?  I found this column to be especially interesting. I thought I would highlight it for you by reprinting it in its entirety.

Catholic New World

The Cardinal’s Column

Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

February 26, 2012

What are you going to give up this Lent?

The Lenten rules about fasting from food and abstaining from meat have been considerably reduced in the last forty years, but reminders of them remain in the fast days on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and in the abstinence from meat on all the Fridays of Lent. Beyond these common sacrifices that unite us spiritually to the passion of Christ, Catholics were and are encouraged to “give up” something voluntarily for the sake of others. Often this is money that could have been used for personal purposes and instead is given to help others, especially the poor.

This year, the Catholic Church in the United States is being told she must “give up” her health care institutions, her universities and many of her social service organizations. This is not a voluntary sacrifice. It is the consequence of the already much discussed Department of Health and Human Services regulations now filed and promulgated for implementation beginning Aug. 1 of this year.

Why does a governmental administrative decision now mean the end of institutions that have been built up over several generations from small donations, often from immigrants, and through the services of religious women and men and others who wanted to be part of the church’s mission in healing and education? Catholic hospitals, universities and social services have an institutional conscience, a conscience shaped by Catholic moral and social teaching. The HHS regulations now before our society will make it impossible for Catholic institutions to follow their conscience.

So far in American history, our government has respected the freedom of individual conscience and of institutional integrity for all the many religious groups that shape our society. The government has not compelled them to perform or pay for what their faith tells them is immoral. That’s what we’ve meant by freedom of religion. That’s what we had believed was protected by the U.S. Constitution. Maybe we were foolish to believe so.

What will happen if the HHS regulations are not rescinded? A Catholic institution, so far as I can see right now, will have one of four choices: 1) secularize itself, breaking its connection to the church, her moral and social teachings and the oversight of its ministry by the local bishop. This is a form of theft. It means the church will not be permitted to have an institutional voice in public life. 2) Pay exorbitant annual fines to avoid paying for insurance policies that cover abortifacient drugs, artificial contraception and sterilization. This is not economically sustainable. 3) Sell the institution to a non-Catholic group or to a local government. 4) Close down.

In the public discussion thus far, efforts have been made to isolate the bishops from the Catholic faithful by focusing attention exclusively on “reproductive” issues. But the acrimony could as easily focus next year or the year after on assisted suicide or any other moral issue that can be used to distract attention from the attack on religious liberty. Many will recognize in these moves a tactic now familiar in our public life: those who cannot be co-opted are isolated and then destroyed. The arguments used are both practical and theoretical.

Practically, we’re told that the majority of Catholics use artificial contraception. There are properly medical reasons, in some circumstances, for the use of contraceptive pills, as everyone knows. But even if contraceptives were used by a majority of couples only and exclusively to suppress a possible pregnancy, behavior doesn’t determine morality. If it can be shown that a majority of Catholic students cheat on their exams, it is still wrong to cheat on exams. Trimming morality to how we behave guts the Gospel call to conversion of life and rejection of sin.

Theoretically, it is argued that there are Catholic voices that disagree with the teaching of the church and therefore with the bishops. There have always been those whose personal faith is not adequate to the faith of the church. Perhaps this is the time for everyone to re-read the Acts of the Apostles. Bishops are the successors of the apostles; they collectively receive the authority to teach and govern that Christ bestowed upon the apostles. Bishops don’t claim to speak for every baptized Catholic. Bishops speak, rather, for the Catholic and apostolic faith. Those who hold that faith gather with them; others go their own way. They are and should be free to do so, but they deceive themselves and others in calling their organizations Catholic.

Since 1915, the Catholic bishops of the United States have taught that basic health care should be accessible to all in a just society. Two years ago, we asked that whatever instruments were crafted to care for all, the Hyde and Weldon and Church amendments restricting funding for abortion and respecting institutional conscience continue to be incorporated into law. They were excluded. As well, the present health care reform act doesn’t cover entire sections of the U.S. population. It is not universal.

The provision of health care should not demand “giving up” religious liberty. Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship-no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long cold war to defeat that vision of society.

The strangest accusation in this manipulated public discussion has the bishops not respecting the separation between church and state. The bishops would love to have the separation between church and state we thought we enjoyed just a few months ago, when we were free to run Catholic institutions in conformity with the demands of the Catholic faith, when the government couldn’t tell us which of our ministries are Catholic and which not, when the law protected rather than crushed conscience. The state is making itself into a church. The bishops didn’t begin this dismaying conflict nor choose its timing. We would love to have it ended as quickly as possible. It’s up to the government to stop the attack.

If you haven’t already purchased the Archdiocesan Directory for 2012, I would suggest you get one as a souvenir. On page L-3, there is a complete list of Catholic hospitals and health care institutions in Cook and Lake counties. Each entry represents much sacrifice on the part of medical personnel, administrators and religious sponsors. Each name signifies the love of Christ to people of all classes and races and religions. Two Lents from now, unless something changes, that page will be blank.

The observance of Lent reminds us that, in the end, we all stand before Christ and give an accounting of our lives. From that perspective, I ask lay Catholics and others of good will to step back and understand what is happening to our country as the church is despoiled of her institutions and as freedom of conscience and of religion become a memory from a happier past. The suffering being imposed on the church and on society now is not a voluntary penance. We should both work and pray to be delivered from it.


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14 Responses to “Lent Offerings”

  1. Chris says:


    With all due respect you are dong a grave diservice to the Church. You are mudding your teaching with politics. All that is left is for you to publically endorse Santorum or someother fringe candidate for President. Under your leadership the Bishops a blazing a trail that the layity have refused to follow.

    You have turned an emplyment issue, an issue of a private emplyer dictating the healthcare its employees can recieve to a losing political position. You attempt to attract the support of the reactionary elements of the evangelicals is turning off moderate Catholics.

    Cardinal George is not a Cardinal to be respected. He failed his flock, he sought to protect priests, instead of their child victims. the Churhc is losing the moral argument and its moral authority.

  2. KPN says:


    Thank you Cardinal Dolan for passing this on … I have done the same.

  3. CatholicMom says:

    Dear Cardinal Dolan,

    Thank you for sharing this article. It certainly should help those who see nothing wrong with President Obama’s mandate.

    We all are encouraged to sacrifice for the right reasons…but being told we have to sacrifice our religious rights is a huge step backwards for this country.
    But we could see this coming.

    There was a time when most religions in this country upheld that contraception was evil…then one by one, the churches fell away from that teaching to appease ‘society’…but not the Catholic Church. What was next…living together before marriage? We know what that has done to society. Then abortion was given a green light! Then the tearing down of marriage and its real meaning…a union between a man and a woman and God. So, I am not surprised at how the next step is to try to abolish the Church which upholds the Truth.

    Thank you Cardinal Dolan for all you do for us. I have loved you from the very first time I ‘met’ you on EWTN…even though I am far from New York City I feel you are just as close to us in Minnesota! God Bless You Forever!

  4. Tom says:

    I would like to rebut the comment that Chris made. I, and I am sure many others, feel that the work you are doing in light of the attack that our government had decided to make on the religious freedom of our land, is necessary and desired by us that you continue the fight. As was mentioned during your elevation to the position of cardinal, the position demands that you fight for the teachings of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. If not you, than who?

  5. Elaine Schenk, M.Id says:

    Chris missed the point entirely. So many people miss the point entirely. I asked myself yesterday why so many people, beginning with the government, don’t seem to understand what we are saying. I then had to ask myself whether I have preached the Gospel with the same passion and personal testimony that converted thousands from Pentecost onward. If my neighbor does not understand the Gospel, maybe it’s because I have not yet shed my blood for the sake of Christ and His Gospel. Cardinal George, please continue to be the eloquent voice that you are, in communion with the Chair of Peter, guarantee of truth. This Lent, I pledge to be the witness that I have not yet been. Anyone who reads this, please pray for me. +

  6. Irwin says:

    OUTSTANDING!!!!!! Many people including Catholics think that the “FAITH” is similar to politics. It is not. Even if only the Bishops support the tenets of the Faith that is enough. Nonpracticing Catholics have thousands of options including starting their own church. I stand WITH THE BISHOPS against Obama and obamacare.

  7. michigancatholic says:

    With all due respect, you are compartmentalizing your religion, so that you don’t have to face the consequences of living the Gospel. You may not like what the Gospel says, but that doesn’t change it. I suggest you read it, slowly and carefully. Also read the 10 Commandments, particularly where it says that murder of any human being is a sin.

  8. Dallas Dolan says:

    Cardinal George wrote a column according to the teachings of the church
    Responding to Chris maybe you should go to church and find out what it means to be a catholic.

  9. Chris says:

    @Dallas Dolan

    I was a practicing Catholic for years, until I had my eyes opened. I no longer believe that a group of old men, insulated from the world can make the wisest of choices, nor will I surrender my free will to this group.

    I do have opinions, I have a mind and a voice, for to long Catholic Laity have been told to shut up, the Bishops know best. This attitude is what produced the priest sex scandels and the cover-ups. The Church is dying because its leadership is removed from its flock. Its time for the Bishops to listen. 98% of Catholic women ignore the Bishops, other Catholic organizations, such as the The Catholic Health Association of the United States and the Association Of Jesuit Colleges And Universities , support the President and reject the pure political play of the Bishops.

    Its beyond time for the laity to no longer be mindless sheep, but to speak up.

  10. NATE says:

    If a person works for a Catholic Church, Hospital, etc., and takes birth control pills that person has acted on their own. If the Government mandates that the Church, Hospital, etc, must provide birth control, that is fully invading our Faith! What of a Catholic School? We would never provide the answers for exams! If we did we would be shutdown by the Government. BUT, if the Government gives the kids the answers THEY are at fault. IF they made us to give the students with exams what would happen? No, We must stand strong in living our Faith!

  11. TexasBel says:

    I would like to thank Cardinal Dolan for sharing this with us and continuing to guide us in our journeys of faith.

    Chris please don’t be offended by others’ responses to your post. Think of them as loving corrections made by your brothers and sisters.

    God Bless Everyone!

  12. Heather Wilson says:

    I would say that the Cardinal here is being overly dramatic – if not inflammatory. The catholic church is not being asked to “give up” anything. Rather, it is being asked to consider and respect the religious freedom of the millions of individuals it employees, respect the fact that it operates in a pluralistic society, enjoys tax exempt status, and is required to adhere to the law of the land. It is not an attack on religious freedom or liberty or the catholic church. This inflammatory rhetoric, arrogance and misinformation contributes to the divisiveness in this country and truly can not be what Jesus would have wanted. Hang in there Chris. The voice of the laity is never heard but I respect you for continuing to try and not blindly and mindlessly following the self righteous herd.

  13. Amy B says:

    @Chris you need to look at the data behind the statistic that 98% of Catholic women use contraception.
    First of all that statistic came from Planned Parenthood. Next they only considered women between the ages of 15 and 45. They also only looked at women who had sex within three months of the survey, and those whom they deem at risk of an unwanted pregnancy. I guess that means they didn’t survey very many married wormen. Next they included all birth control in their study, including the pill, the codom and heres the big one NFP. They consider NFP birth control. So yes, I am sure with those criteria 98% of Catholic Women use Birth Control. Next time try reading the fine print before you spout off statistics. Didn’t you know that 85% of statistics are made up on the spot, anyway. (LOL)

  14. Benedictine Theresa says:

    I have recently converted to the Catholic religion. I chose to become Catholic because I first studied the Catholic religious doctrine and found that the Catholic Church teaches the truth. The Catholic teaching is a solid reflection of my own personal religious beliefs. Nobody forced me to become Catholic, I educated myself about this ancient religious tradition, and then I chose it as my church. I prefer the moral guidance of a 2,000-year-old tradition over and above the fleeting political whims of whatever political party may be in power.

    I am concerned that the US government is infringing upon my religious faith. The Catholic Bishops speak for me when they voice their opposition to the freedom of religion/ contraception mandate. I believe that this mandate is only the first step of many more mandates to come. I cherish the Catholic Church and I want to be sure that it remains INTACT and is passed down to future generations in its ancient form.

    The US government has over-stepped its boundaries. All that it will take to make things right is for the US government to simply step back again, into its rightful place.

    Cardinal Dolan, I want to thank you for your leadership in the current religious freedom/contraception battle. I fear that the underlying intention of the government is to silence the Church from being able to speak with moral authority on the evils of abortion. If the government can force the Catholic Church to provide contraceptives in ANY way, shape or form, then pro-abortion groups will immediately shout: “Who are the Catholics to speak out against abortion? The Catholics themselves provide contraceptives to their employees!” In that way, the last strong bastion standing against abortion will be rendered null and void.

    These times are so ominous, but also so rich with opportunity for Catholics and Christians everywhere to awaken to a deeper understanding and commitment of the faith. It seems to me that God may be “hardening Pharaoh’s heart” in regards to the President’s unexplainable and unwavering position against the Catholic faith. This gives me hope that, as in Exodus, God intends to lead his people “out of Egypt,” and away from the worship of false gods that is so prevalent in our society today.

    Thank you, Cardinal Dolan, for your brave leadership against the trials the Church is facing. I pray that you will continue to have the strength and fortitude to stand against this evil tide which is washing over the Catholic Church.

    May God bless you,