Archive for the ‘Catholic Identity’ Category

The Mission is Always Outwards

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage, there has been much introspection among the faithful about the way forward on marriage, religious liberty, and the role of faith in the public square.  Perhaps because we’ve been fighting this battle in New York for so long, these are familiar discussions to us, and I’ve written about them before.

From what I’ve seen so far, there are many calls to civil disobedience, although very few people have actually engaged the question of how that will be done and how extensive it will have to be (which will be the subject of a future post here).  Others have called for what some are terming a “Benedict Option”, modeled after the founder of the great monastic order, in which a groups of the faithful draw away from the general society in hopes of laying the seeds of reforming it.   Others emphasize the inward path of conversion of our own hearts, so that in our private lives, we are good witnesses to our faith.  Some have even advocated for shaking the dust of the world from our feet and leaving it on the path to its own destruction.

None of these is an adequate answer to the situation we find ourselves in.  Surely, we need to come together with like-minded people, to strengthen our faith communities and provide mutual support.  Our lives are always in need of conversion, and the best teachers of the truth are always those who witness to it in their everyday lives.  We undoubtedly will have to resist unjust laws, and bear the consequences.  All of that has merit, and each of us will have to find the path that the Holy Spirit is calling them to.

But in searching for our plan of action, we have to make sure that we don’t keep our focus only on ourselves.  If we do that, we will lose sight of a crucial point. In the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-20), Our Lord gave the Church a very clear mission to the world:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.

The mission of the Church is never to pull away from humanity and turn inward, nor is it meant to be in a state of defensive warfare with the forces of power in the world.  We are not meant to practice our faith only in our private lives, indifferent to the state of society.  Pope Francis said it very well in The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium):

… no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society. Who would claim to lock up in a church and silence the message of Saint Francis of Assisi or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? They themselves would have found this unacceptable. An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed “the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics”, the Church “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice”. All Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world. This is essential, for the Church’s social thought is primarily positive: it offers proposals, it works for change and in this sense it constantly points to the hope born of the loving heart of Jesus Christ.  (183)

These are difficult times, similar to those experienced by the Church in many prior ages, and in many places in our own time.  But we should always remember that the mission of the Church — and each one of us — is always to change the world, to transform it in light of the joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our mission is outside.

Approaching a Dangerous Threshold

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Many years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States took up a case involving people who did not wish to conform to a law that they considered to be an imposition on their religious beliefs.  The government, backed by strong public opinion sought to enforce the law, and to compel this religious group to comply.

But they persisted in defending their civil rights, particularly their freedom of religion.  It was a time when it was widely understood that freedom of religion was actually a civil right, essential to well-ordered liberty.   People recalled that the freedom of religion was so important that it was explicitly enshrined in the United States Constitution in two separate places — in the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses of the First Amendment, and in the ban on religious tests for public office.  It was a time when freedom of religion was under attack around the world, with people of some faiths being openly and brutally persecuted.

But it was also a time when unpopular religions still faced legal obstacles in the United States.  Some faiths were considered to be out of step with American values, out of the mainstream of acceptable opinion, and were widely criticized and even derided in the popular media.

The group in that case was the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the law required their children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  They took the issue all the way to the Supreme Court, in hopes that the highest court of our land would defend their right to live in keeping with their faith, and would grant them an exemption from the law.  The Supreme Court agreed with them, and reversed an earlier decision that gave their religious interests little respect.  In doing so, the Supreme Court, in the words of Justice Jackson, said something very significant about the nature of our government, and the importance of respecting dissent:

[F]reedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.  If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.  (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 1943)

We are now at a point in American history where this foundational principle is under direct attack, and it is not clear whether it will survive.  The long-standing conflict between the Christian faith and the forces of sexual liberation and radical egalitarianism is approaching a threshold that will be very dangerous to cross.

The battle right now is being conducted over religious freedom restoration statutes (“RFRA’s”) that have been enacted in twenty states (and which are the law by judicial decision in eleven others).  Those laws reflect the values expressed by the Supreme Court in the Jehovah’s Witness case.  RFRA laws recognize the civil rights of religious people to an exemption from certain general laws.  They would only get an exemption if they can prove that the law imposes a substantial burden on their religious beliefs.  However, they would still have to obey the law if the government has a compelling interest in enforcing it and there are no reasonable alternatives.  A RFRA law essentially creates a balancing test that courts would have to apply to a fact-based situation.  It does not grant a  blanket or automatic exemption to religious people.

The real dispute is, of course, whether Christians can be compelled to recognize same-sex “marriages” and to provide direct services to ceremonies that purport to create such unions.  A reasonable argument can be held about this question.  But that’s not what’s happening, and that’s precisely why we are in such a dangerous moment.

There has been an amazing amount of hysterical, ill-informed opposition to these RFRA laws that fail to take into account their true, limited nature.  But what really concerns me is the dismissive attitude that’s being displayed about religious freedom and the freedom to dissent.  People are speaking as if the category of “civil rights” didn’t even include freedom of religion, and that it must always be suppressed in favor of the supposed right to same-sex “marriage”.  One of our major political parties, most of the mainstream media, many of our courts, and a number of large corporations have already crossed the line into official intolerance towards religious liberty.   Public opinion polls show a shrinking number of people (albeit still a majority) who respect the right to dissent based on religion.  Gone are the days when dissent was considered a legitimate form of patriotism.

Basic respect for the right to dissent from official orthodoxy is under threat, and may not survive much longer.  When, as I expect, the Supreme Court invents the imaginary “right” to a same-sex “marriage”, this conflict will grow even more intense, and the danger to dissent based on religious beliefs will be even more acute.

On the other side of this threshold is real persecution, like that shown to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the old days.  People are already being forced to recognize same-sex “marriages”, or face crippling fines and loss of businesses.  Institutions that resist will be punished by loss of public funding, access to public programs, and tax exemptions.  Individuals who dissent will be shunned and excluded from certain professions, and even from public office.

The right to dissent is essential to American liberty.  The Supreme Court saw that in the Jehovah’s Witness case.  Will our nation continue to see that now?

Encounter and Evangelization

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

In this time of rapidly shifting cultural values — usually not for the better — the Church and Catholics are struggling to find the right way to proclaim the Gospel and live according to our faith.  The public witness of the Church and Catholics is becoming increasingly difficult, as our government and secularized culture becomes more hostile to us.  Each new day seems to bring a new challenge, and everyday Catholics are confused, uncertain, and frequently upset.

I think that in times like these, it’s crucial to make sure that we remind ourselves of the fundamentals.

The entire purpose of the Church is not to decide who can attend what dinner, or who can be part of a parade. The mission of the Church is to bring people into a loving encounter with Jesus Christ. That means we have to bring people to the real Jesus, and the model for this is the story with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11).

That meeting involved two things — compassion and conversion. Both are essential, and can never be separated. The woman was treated with compassion and mercy by Jesus, and thus was open to his call to conversion. If we fail to present both aspects of the encounter, we are lying to people and presenting a false Jesus — he’s not just about mercy, and he’s not only about conversion (and he’s never about condemnation). The real Jesus simultaneously says “I love you even when you’ve sinned”, and “come, follow me”.

I think our Holy Father and our own Archbishop have realized that there are significant impediments in our culture to hearing the Gospel message, and thus people are unwilling to come to meet Jesus.  In the minds of all too many people, we are not seen as merciful and compassionate, but judgmental and condemnatory.  In response, our leaders have decided that we have to emphasize the message of mercy, so that people will be more open to hearing the message of conversion. In his closing remarks to the young men and women who attended World Youth Day in Rio, Pope Francis said this:

Every one of you, each in his or her own way, was a means enabling thousands of young people to “prepare the way” to meet Jesus. And this is the most beautiful service we can give as missionary disciples. To prepare the way so that all people may know, meet and love the Lord.

This is the task of the New Evangelization, and of the Church.  We have to make sure that when people encounter us, they’re encountering Christ, and feel both his compassion and his call to conversion.  When they see his face in our face, we will be fulfilling our mission.

May I Offer a Few Suggestions?

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

It is exceedingly unlikely that anyone will ask my advice about who should be our next Holy Father.

Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking about my hopes for the new Pope.  I have no particular interest in the “inside baseball” issues of reforming the Curia, or governing the Vatican Bank, and I imagine that most Catholics share my disinterest.

More than anything, I would like our next Vicar of Christ to be the embodiment of the New Evangelization.  My humble suggestions would be for the Cardinals to elect a man who can do the following:

  • Call people in an attractive, compelling way to unity with Jesus through the teaching of the Church, the Sacraments, and the fellowship of other Catholics.  This is the essence of the Christian mission, a point repeatedly made by Popes John Paul and Benedict, and if it is fulfilled boldly, it will appeal to those who are searching for meaning and love in their lives.
  • Continue to show the world the love that God has for every individual human person, through the apostolic work by the institutional Church and individuals.  Our Church has demonstrated repeatedly that no person is left out of the human community, and our duty of solidarity and charity extends to all.
  • Encourage more regular Catholic people to give witness to the joy that comes from living the truths of our faith and their personal friendship with Jesus.  To paraphrase Pope Paul VI, the world will not listen to teachers, but it will listen to teachers who are witnesses.  In a world of sadness and distress, the path to true happiness leads to the arms of Jesus — and we will only convince people of this by our lives, not by our words alone.
  • Adapt to new modes of communication so that the more people can come to know the love of Jesus and the “ever ancient, ever new” truths of our faith.  By this, I don’t just mean the mechanisms of communication (internet, social media, etc.), but an appeal to the modern sensibility in which emotional and social experience are paramount.
  • Strive for unity with other Christian communities, and comity and good relations with non-Christians.  This is an irrevocable commitment of the Church, one that we cannot allow to falter out of discouragement or hostility.
  • Stand as a courageous counter-witness to a world that believes that faith is nonsense, that God is irrelevant, and that pleasure is all.  Man searches for meaning endlessly, and our unquiet hearts can only find rest in the one, true God.  The new pope would have but to look to the lesson of his two predecessors, who were outstanding public witnesses.
  • Of course, the personal qualities of the Holy Father are not as important as the reality of his office, since it is only by being in communion with the Bishop of Rome that I can be fully incorporated into the Church established by Christ Himself.

    One thing is certain.  We should all join in prayer for our Church, and for the cardinals who are entering the conclave on Tuesday.

    Veni Creator Spiritus!

    Dividing the Body

    Sunday, October 14th, 2012

    The hyper-partisan state of contemporary American politics poses a significant threat to the unity of the Church.  And we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

    It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that politics is inherently partisan.  That’s the nature of the animal.  Having clear distinctions between parties is in many ways a useful and efficient way to structure the public policy debate, and to organize a government.  Principled disagreement is a healthy way to carry on a constructive dialogue about policies.  And, certainly, no democracy can function without a healthy party system — just look at the deplorable state of politics in New York City.

    But the modern obsession with politics has gone beyond a healthy debate about which policies are to be preferred, and which will work better to address social problems.  During this hotly-contested election, it seems now that all issues and all relationships are being colored by whether one is a Republican or Democrat,  or whether one favors or opposes the re-election of the President.

    This partisanship, which was reserved to the political arena, has invaded private life, and is intruding upon the Church.  People are being drummed out of the Church as not “real Catholics” because they show insufficient partisan zeal, or because they propose showing civility to one candidate or another, or because they suggest that one can vote for a candidate other than a Republican or Democrat.  And that is very dangerous.

    Look, I know very well that there is a lot at stake in this election — and I’m not even talking about pragmatic issues like economic and foreign policy. The policies of the current Administration are deeply anti-life — they aggressively promote abortion at home and abroad, undermine the authentic definition of marriage, carry out a program of aggressive warfare that recklessly kills civilians, and are openly and actively hostile to religious liberty.  I cannot personally imagine any “proportional reason” that would justify voting in favor of a candidate who supports so many intrinsically evil policies. (Remember, this is my personal opinion, not an official statement of the Archdiocese)

    But, no matter how significant this election is, the winners and losers are all mere flashes in the pan, here today and gone tomorrow, and their platforms are passing ephemera that nobody will remember in a short time. There are few things as dated and time-bound as partisan politics.

    The Church, the Body of Christ, is an entirely different matter.  She is eternal, and her mission transcends any temporary partisan election that divides people.  The Church continues Christ mission of calling all people to himself in unity through the Holy Spirit.  Factionalism in the Church has been a problem from the earliest day — just read Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.  But in any age, factions and divisions deeply wound the Church.

    I am a political wonk.  Election Day is my Super Bowl.  I read political news compulsively.  But I constantly have to remind myself that, as Pope Benedict once wrote:

    The state is not the whole of human existence and does not encompass all human hope. Man and what he hopes for extend beyond the framework of the state and beyond the sphere of political action.

    All people thirst for the divine, and politics cannot satisfy that need.  Only God, through the instrument of the Church, can provide the answer.  Before any political affiliation, electoral interest, or policy preference, we are Christians, members of Christ’s Body.  And we must never let any partisan politics divide the Church in any way that would diminish her ability to draw all people to God.

    Controversies and Dinners

    Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

    There is a controversy brewing in Catholic and pro-life circles over reports that the President has been invited to attend the annual Al Smith Dinner here in New York.  In my opinion, people need to take a deep breath, relax a second, and think carefully about this.

    It’s important first to understand what the Al Smith Dinner is, and is not, and then what the invitation means, and what it does not.

    The Al Smith Dinner is organized and hosted by the Alfred E. Smith Foundation, which is closely affiliated with but independent of the Archdiocese of New York.  It’s named after Governor Al Smith, an iconic figure in New York politics, who dedicated his life to serving the people of the state, particularly the needy.  He was a classic urban machine politician, but was also committed to working with others across party lines when he saw that it was in the public interest.  He was always proud of his Catholic faith and he defended the Church against attacks against religious bigotry.  He was certainly well familiar with anti-Catholicism, since his own faith was brutally attacked during his run for the Presidency in 1928.

    The dinner is not a religious event in any way — it’s a civic/political event that raises money for Catholic charitable institutions.  It’s not held at a religious building — it’s at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  It has no religious component aside from a benediction and closing prayer — much like sessions of Congress.  A large proportion of the people who attend the Dinner are not Catholic, and the list of past speakers shows that only once in its almost 70-year history has a religious figure given the keynote address (Cardinal O’Connor).

    The dinner has a long tradition of inviting New York elected officials of all parties, and candidates of both major parties for the Presidency.  It is strictly non-partisan, and an invitation to the dinner is in no way an endorsement of any office holder, or any candidate for office.

    It’s also important that the politicians who speak at the dinner are not being given any honor or award by the Church, but are rather delivering an address that is one part jocular remarks written by professional jokesters, and two-parts generic political after-dinner bromides.  Any comparison between the Al Smith Dinner and the honorary degree given to the President at Notre Dame’s graduation ceremony is thus completely off-the-mark.

    Everybody at the dinner understands this — it’s a civic event, much like a Veteran’s Day parade (but with a fancier menu and white tie).

    Some people have been saying that inviting the President in some way undermines or contradicts the Church’s public witness in defense of life and the family.  There is no question that the President’s political agenda and policy record are deplorable from a Catholic perspective — he is consistently anti-life and is ardent in his promotion and support of abortion, he is in favor of re-defining marriage, he opposes parental choice in education, his Administration is a consistent enemy of religious freedom, and there is good reason to believe that he has dealt with our bishops in less than good faith.

    Give the consistency and strength with which our bishops — particularly Cardinal Dolan — have been proclaiming the Catholic view of public policy, it is hard to see how this one Dinner could possibly lead anyone to believe that the Church is softening her defense of life, the family, and religious liberty.  When everyone wakes up the morning after, the struggle will resume.

    But, as a matter of fact, an invitation to the current incumbent President to the Al Smith Dinner actually sends a message, one that is important in this time of pathologically toxic politics.  It says to us that we can vehemently disagree with a public official’s positions, but we can still show respect for his office, and for him as a person, and treat him with civility.  It gives us an opportunity to act as Christians, and show some love to our adversaries, and even those whose policies we consider to be immoral and oppressive. After all, even St. Peter told us to “honor the emperor” (1 Pet 2:17).

    The message is also that we can set aside our deeply-held differences and leave the partisan politics at the door for an evening, speak nicely and politely to each other, and work together for a common cause in the service of the poor.  That’s a good thing, something that Al Smith would have been proud to associate himself with, and something that Catholics and pro-lifers should also support.


    Note:  Some bloggers and other news sources have linked to this blog post, and have said that it is a statement by “the Archdiocese”.  Please read the sidebar to this blog: “The opinions expressed by the Bloggers… are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Archdiocese of New York”.  These comments are not an official statement by the Archdiocese or the Cardinal — they represent my opinions, and mine alone.  Clear?  Okay, fire away — but in a civil way, please.

    Our Men in Black

    Monday, June 4th, 2012

    Over the past two weeks, I’ve had a privilege that very few lay people ever get a chance to share.  I’ve spent time with about a thousand of our priests.

    The occasions were our biannual clergy continuing education days, which are part of the Safe Environment program.  In past years, we’ve used these days to offer information about the Theology of the Body, the dangers of internet pornography, and other important subjects.  This year, we covered the key issue of maintaining good healthy boundaries in ministerial relationships.

    The education component of the day is important, but I suspect that the main benefit to the priests is the fellowship they experience — an opportunity to get together with their brothers and to renew the bonds of fellowship.  The chance to see and hear the Cardinal speak about priestly life is also a real plus.

    For an outside observer like myself, these days were an affirmation of how important and special our priests are.  Their camaraderie and good humor was uplifting, and it was truly inspiring to hear them pray and sing Midday Prayer together.

    I had the chance to address them briefly on each of the days.  As part of my talk, I took the opportunity to express my personal and professional gratitude to them, for their leadership and example, and their commitment to serving us.

    I’m a realist.  I know that nobody is perfect, and that our priests are just as human as I am — flawed, but striving to be good.  But the reality is that our “Men in Black” are indispensable and a treasure to our Church.  I cannot imagine what my life would be like without the priests I have known.

    At the end of my remarks at the clergy days, I told our priests that  I was in awe of them.  May I suggest that every Catholic should take the opportunity to thank a priest?  They deserve it.

    The Disgrace of Georgetown

    Thursday, May 17th, 2012

    There’s a very fine Jesuit priest who is a professor at Georgetown University, Fr. James Schall. In a recent column, he said this: “Tell me who you honor and I will tell you what you are.”

    The reason for the question is the appalling decision by Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute to have HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as the speaker at their commencement. The president of Georgetown has stated that this platform is being given to the Secretary because of her “long and distinguished record of public service”.

    Yes, you read that right.  An allegedly Catholic university, giving a platform of honor to the current Administration’s point person to advance its anti-life agenda.

    Let’s review some of the highlights of Secretary Sebelius’ “long and distinguished record”, for those at Georgetown who don’t have access to the Internet:

  • She has spearheaded the recent attacks on human life and religious liberty by promulgating the infamous HHS contraceptive and abortion mandates.
  • She notoriously declared at a pro-abortion rally that “we are in a war” to defend the right to kill children in the womb.
  • She has associated with, and embraced the support of, the infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller — she even hosted an event at her governor’s mansion in honor of him and posed smiling for pictures with him.
  • As Governor of Kansas, she consistently opposed pro-life legislation, and has repeatedly vetoed bills like a ban on partial birth abortion.
  • Her record was so bad in Kansas that her own bishop, after trying privately to convert her, had to publicly admonish her not to present herself for Communion until she publicly repudiates her pro-abortion positions.
  • Georgetown loves to boast about how it is a university “in the Jesuit tradition”. At the heart of the Jesuit charism is the Spiritual Exercises of their founder, St. Ignatius Loyola. During the second week of the Exercises, those who are on the retreat receive a meditation on the Two Standards. This is a powerful expression of the very meaning of Christian discipleship.

    The meditation asks bluntly — whose standard or flag will we follow, Christ’s or Satan’s?

    Satan’s standard, of course, is the one that the world finds most attractive, because it superficially appeals to our fallen human nature. It offers us the desire for worldly possessions, power, honor, and a false view of freedom that is a disguise for immorality. In the end, though, it leads only to destruction.

    Christ’s standard, on the other hand, is the one that the world finds unattractive, because it appeals to values that are exemplified by Our Lord himself, whom the world rejected. It offers us humility, poverty, sacrifice, and authentic freedom that involves willing adherence to God’s will. And in the end it leads to glory.

    So here’s the question for the Georgetown administration — which standard have you chosen? As Fr. Schall said, “Tell me who you honor and I will tell you what you are.”

    A Time for Unity

    Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

    The HHS  mandate has now been confirmed and implemented, in the same precise terms as were announced last year.  Under this regime, all individuals will be required to obtain health insurance that will provide free coverage for sterilization, contraception and some abortion-causing drugs.  The exemption for religious employers continues to be extremely limited, and all we have is the President’s promise that he will provide something more expansive at some undefined point in the future.

    So, where do we go from here?

    It’s very important that we not allow this issue to be understood solely in terms of election year partisan politics.  That’s unavoidable, of course — it is an election year, and it is already an issue in the campaign.  But for us, this is an issue that far transcends the current political climate.  This is an existential question for Catholics.  What does it mean to be a Catholic in America at this point in time?  What are we to do when our government enacts laws that we cannot, in conscience, obey?  How do I remain a good, law-abiding citizen, while also preserving my soul?

    We have to recognize that we have reached a critical point of decision, both as a Church and as individual Catholics.  The political forces out there — the Administration and their opponents, along with all the pundits and spin-doctors — are seeking to divide us into opposing camps, in order to win votes or to advance policy goals.  Our bishops are trying to keep us united in the Body of Christ.

    Listen for a second to what Cardinal George said the other day, during his periodic (ad limina) visit to the Holy Father — an event that enhances the universal unity of the Church.  He said (the emphasis is added by me):

    Even in the midst of this strengthened unity, news of attempts to weaken the unity between the bishops and the faithful have been reported.  This is the first time in the history of the United States that a presidential administration has purposely tried to interfere in the internal working of the Catholic Church, playing one group off against another for political gain.  What isn’t always understood is that the Bishops of the Church make no attempt to speak for all Catholics; they never have.  The Bishops speak for the Catholic and apostolic faith, and those who hold that faith gather around them.  Others disperse. 

    Just so.  Unity with our bishops has always been the hallmark of the Church.  As St. Ignatius of Antioch said in the early second century, “Wherever the bishop is, there let the people be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

    Our bishops are calling us to rally around them, behind the standard of Christ.  It is sad that some people will disperse, and choose to follow a different standard — they will decide instead to accommodate themselves to the spirit of the age, with the Administration’s contraceptive anti-life ideology, or with various political forces.  Just as it was in Gethsemane, so also it is today.  Some will remain faithful, others will not.  Clearly, we need to conduct a prayer campaign to foster unity in the Church and a greater respect for human life (like this one, or this one, for instance).

    All this is not to say, however, that we are to stand by and disengage from the public policy struggle.  Although it appears that the Administration is absolutely intransigent on this issue, there are still two other branches of government.  Court cases have already been filed, and more will follow, to challenge this violation of our religious freedom.  We can’t leave things to the courts, though — we need to work together and redouble our efforts to influence Congress to pass legislation to protect the right of conscience.  Bills like the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012 deserve our support.  We should all be flooding Congress with emails and letters in support of them (an easy way is to go here).

    As laypeople, we also need to remember that this is an election year, and that every member of the House of Representatives, one-third of the Senators, and the next President will all be elected in November.  This issue, as much as any in our lifetimes, should serve to remind us of our duty as Catholic voters.

    Elections matter.

    Secularism in Action

    Friday, September 23rd, 2011

    In my last post, I proposed that many of our social and political disputes stem from a fundamental conflict in how one views the human person — the Secularist view versus the Incarnational view.  That may or may not be an interesting point, but how does it play out in the real world?

    To see the impact of this conflict, we need look no further than the recently-announced regulations by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.  The Department was acting pursuant to a provision in the health care “reform” law that mandates coverage of “preventive services”, a term that would ordinarily encompass medical care that prevents diseases.  The Department, reflecting the Administration’s contraceptive mentality, has decided that pregnancy is a disease to be prevented, and has mandated that every private health insurance plan cover — without any charge to the insured person — contraceptive drugs and devices (including some that clearly have the effect of causing an abortion) and sterilization surgery.

    I’m not going to discuss the absurdity and iniquity of this proposal.  Those should be self-evident.  I want to focus for now on how it demonstrates the impact of  Secularism on religious liberty.

    HHS has proposed an exemption from this rule for “religious employers”.  Note this — not religious individuals, who will be forced to pay premiums for immoral drugs and procedures.  Not religious insurance companies, which will be forced to pay for them.  Only religious employers can be exempt, if they satisfy HHS’s view of what that term means.

    It is in this definition that we find the Secularist attack on religion and on human liberty.   HHS has defined “religious employer” to mean only an organization (a) whose purpose is the inculcation of religious values, (b) that primarily hires persons who share the  organization’s religious tenets, and (c) that primarily serves person who share those tenets.  So, you only count as a religious institution if you are solely religious in your activities, and you refrain from interacting with anyone else — in other words, if you keep your religion entirely in the private sphere, and dare not step out into society as a whole.

    Think of how narrow this definition is.  Every Catholic social service or health care agency serves the needy, regardless of their faith.  Every Catholic parish has many purposes, including the celebration of liturgy and sacraments and the salvation of souls.  Every Catholic school has multiple educational purposes beyond just inculcating religious values.

    Jesus himself  wouldn’t qualify for this exemption.

    The regulation raises many disturbing questions for the future of religious liberty in our nation.  How will HHS determine whether an organization qualifies?  How will they determine what the purpose of the institution is?  How will they tell if the employees or clients share our religious tenets?  Will there be a test given by HHS?  Will people be asked about their beliefs by a government official?  Will a government agency, perhaps called the State Administration for Religious Affairs, be set up to make these determinations or to issue certificates or licenses to religious groups?

    The point here is not just the reflexive hostility that this regulation displays for religion and religious believers.  Rather, it is that the government considers itself authorized or qualified to define what an authentic religious organization is.  And that in their mind, the only acceptable religion is the one that keeps to itself, keeps quiet, and follows orders.

    This is the impact of Secularism on our society, with all the coercive power of the government at its disposal.