Archbishop Conley, of the Archdiocese of Denver, penned an article this week announcing the death knell for religious freedom in America. Bishop Conley states:
On Friday, Jan. 20, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that most religious institutions – including Catholic hospitals, schools and social service agencies – would not be exempted from a federal government requirement that employee health plans must provide free contraceptives. This is a critical issue for us that must not be ignored.
The announcement was a death knell for religious liberty in the United States. Many recall that in August, HHS announced the obligation of contraceptive coverage in private insurance plans, and a narrow religious exemption which will cover, in fact, only some churches – and almost no other religious entities.
Many recall the outrage of religious leaders over this plan. Many recall that the Catholic Church, among others, pleaded with the federal government to reconsider. The pleas fell on deaf ears.
Moving forward with the plan, and in a weak attempt to provide concession to religious institutions, HHS announced that nonprofit groups would be given a year to “adapt” before being required to provide contraceptive coverage. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebellius stated that “this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.”
Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI, in an address to American bishops visiting Rome, said:
It is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. I am particularly concerned with certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.
The Catholic Faith Is Under Attack
Whether you are a Catholic who obeys the Church’s teachings on contraception or one who does not, surely you can see the implications of this intrusion by the government? Today, the government will try to force our Church to violate its conscience by making it provide services that are opposed to the moral teachings of the Church. Tomorrow, where does it stop? What is next? The writing is already on the wall. Consider a couple of examples from around the world:
- In Ireland, Bishop Boyce has been accused of hate speech in one of his homilies. His crime? Stating that the Catholic Church is under attack from a secular and godless culture.
- Closer to home, in Canada, attempts are being made to prevent the Church from proclaiming its teachings.
Ministers in Canada have been sued and subjected to monetary penalties and governmental infringement of their religious liberties for preaching against same-sex marriage:
- A Catholic bishop in Calgary was the target of complaints filed with the Alberta Human Rights Commission because he issued a pastoral letter urging Catholics to oppose same-sex marriage.
- An Alberta pastor, also the target of a complaint filed with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, was ordered to never again publicly express his religious belief that homosexuality is immoral and was required to pay $5,000 to the complainant as “damages for pain and suffering.”
- A Human Rights Commission complaint was also filed against a Catholic priest for quoting from the Bible, the Catholic Catechism, and papal encyclicals.
Do we really think this cannot happen in America?
It is already beginning, but in subtle ways. Our freedom of speech is slowly being eroded. Consider these examples:
- God and prayer have largely been driven from the public school system. People have been conditioned not to “offend” anyone with expressions of their faith, so our businesses greet us with “Happy Holidays” lest they offend our sensibilities, and atheists sue to prevent the display of manger scenes at Christmas.
- The homosexual lobby in America has very cleverly assumed control of the language of the debate by painting anyone who disagrees with their position as “homophobic” or “bigoted.”
- Pro-life individuals are viewed as radicals and potential terrorist by our government
I could come up with many more examples, but it would only raise my blood pressure.
Unless there is a dramatic change, I think it is quite possible that Catholics in this country will one day be arrested for simply proclaiming the teachings of the Church.
But, how many Catholics even know that their religious freedoms are under attack?
I feel very much like Catholics are the proverbial frogs in a pan of lukewarm water. The temperature just got turned up, and if we continue to sit by placidly, we will soon be past the point of no return.
Many are writing about the implications of this latest shot across the bow from the Obama government. Bad Catholic has written an excellent open letter to Barack Obama, decrying President Obama and Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ tyrannical usurping of our rights. Pat Archbold wisely counsels us that Sometimes Prayer Is Not Enough, acknowledging that we must pray and fast, but also recognizing that we are truly in a war, and need to get serious in joining the battle.
To read a roundup of what the Catholic blogosphere is saying about this issue, check out the links over at The Anchoress.
I would like to focus on how the culture of dissent in the Church created the conditions for this current assault on religious freedom, and what steps we can take to counter this offensive.
Dissent from Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life)
The seeds for the destruction of our religious freedoms were sown with the widespread dissent to Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae encyclical in 1968.The encyclical discusses the sacredness of life, and how all life is under the authority of God. Each and every act of sexual intercourse must be open to the transmission of life.
In conformity with these landmarks in the human and Christian vision of marriage, we must once again declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun, and, above all, directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth.14
Equally to be excluded, as the teaching authority of the Church has frequently declared, is direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary, whether of the man or of the woman.15 Similarly excluded is every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible.16
Professor Janet Smith gives an excellent summary of how the encyclical was received in Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later. Humanae Vitae has proven to be a prophetic proclamation of Church teaching on the grave immorality of contraception. The encyclical was met with widespread dissent by priests of the American Church. Never before had the Church experienced such a blatant disregard for its teachings.
Professor Smith notes:
The amount of hostility directed at Humanae Vitae has been so great that most people are astonished when they first learn that contraception has not been a hotly debated issue since the very beginnings of the Church. All Christian churches were united in their opposition to contraception until as recently as the early decades of this century. It was not until 1930 that the Anglican Church went on record as saying that contraception was permissible, for grave reasons, within marriage. It was also at this time, however, that Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical Casti Connubii, generally translated as “On Christian Marriage,” in which he reiterated what has been the constant teaching of the Catholic Church: contraception is intrinsically wrong.
When Humanae Vitae was released in July, 1968, it went off like a bomb. Though there was much support for the encyclical, no document ever met with as much dissent, led to a great extent by Fr. Charles Curran and Fr. Bernard Haering.
It was a historic and pivotal moment in Church history. Dissent became the coin of the day. This had not been true prior to Humanae Vitae. Dissenting theologians had never before made such a public display of their opposition on any given issue. The open dissent to Humanae Vitae is a real watershed in the history of the Church. One can view the phenomenon as either a crystallization of something that had been bubbling under the surface for some time, or as catalyst for everything that was yet to come. Soon theologians and eventually lay people were dissenting not only about contraception but also about homosexuality, masturbation, adultery, divorce and many other issues.
Rejection of Church Authority
The fruits of this culture of dissent to the Church’s teaching on contraception are plain for all to see. Rejection of the Church’s teachings on sexuality established a precedent for rejecting other teachings of the Church. The concept of “Cafeteria Catholicism” was born, with its adherents believing they were entitled to pick and choose what Catholic teachings they chose to believe and obey, as if ordering food from a menu at a restaurant.
As a result, in many respects, Catholics are no longer distinguishable from other Americans in their behaviors. The divorce rate among average Catholics approximates that of the normal population. The vast majority of Catholic women use contraception. Pre-marital sex is rampant and many Catholics cohabitate prior to marriage. Yet, in any given Mass, almost everyone goes up to receive Communion, and generally speaking, relatively few populate the lines to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
We are a culture that has lost its sense of sin and absolute truth. Moral relativism and tolerance of everything except Christianity are the new gods of the secular state. We are really not that much different from the Israelites who worshipped the golden calf. We have made idols out of sex and our rights to choose to behave however we want. No one can tells us what we are going to do.
This, my friends, is the crux of the problem.
Choosing Between Life and Death
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 says:
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.
This passage from Deuteronomy clearly shows what happens when a nation turns its back on God.
During the election of 2008, Catholics were given a clear choice between the gospel of life and the culture of death. The Bishops were very clear in providing guidance to Catholic voters. They were strong in their proclamations that the issue of abortion must trump all other issues. Yet, despite their pleading, 54% of Catholics voted for Obama, assuring his election.
Catholics, the largest single denomination in the United States, were responsible for electing the administration that now seeks to take away our religious freedoms. How could this have happened? The fact is, if Catholics voted according to the teachings of the Catholic Church, we would not be in this current mess. The most pro-abortion President we have ever known could not have been elected. We handed President Obama the keys and now we need to take them back. We are a sleeping giant, and it is time to rouse ourselves.
How Do We Overcome This Enemy?
- Pray the Rosary for our country to return to its roots of respecting religious freedom. I know it might seem hopeless, but as the saying goes, “One with God is a majority.” All appeared to be lost prior to the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, when Catholics were faced with a battle against the naval forces of the Ottoman Empire. Pope Pius V asked all of Europe to pray the Rosary for victory, and the Catholic forces prevailed, against very great odds.
- Fast and make sacrifices.
- We must pray for our priests to have the courage and conviction to preach the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it makes people feel, or how inconvenient it is. We must not be afraid to preach the truth in love.
- Educate yourself and those in your sphere of influence about the issues. The Catholic Answers Voters Guidedoes an excellent job of detailing the five non-negotiable issues that must be at the forefront of our consideration when voting for a candidate. The guide documents the following five non-negotiable issues:
- “Abortion – the Church teaches that, regarding a law permitting abortions, it is “never licit to obey it, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or to vote for it” (Evangelium Vitae 73). Abortion is the intentional and direct killing of an innocent human being, and therefore it is a form of homicide.”
- “Euthanasia – often disguised by the name “mercy killing,” euthanasia is also a form of homicide. No person has a right to take his own life, and no one has the right to take the life of any innocent person. In euthanasia, the ill or elderly are killed, by action or omission, out of a misplaced sense of compassion, but true compassion cannot include intentionally doing something intrinsically evil to another person (Evangelium Vitae 73).”
- “Embryonic Stem Cell Research – Human embryos are human beings. “Respect for the dignity of the human being excludes all experimental manipulation or exploitation of the human embryo” (CRF 4b). Recent scientific advances show that medical treatments that researchers hope to develop from experimentation on embryonic stem cells can often be developed by using adult stem cells instead. Adult stem cells can be
obtained without doing harm to the adults from whom they come. Thus there is no valid medical argument in favor of using embryonic stem cells. And even if there were benefits to be had from such experiments, they would not justify destroying innocent embryonic humans.”
- “Human Cloning – “Attempts . . . for obtaining a human being without any connection with sexuality through ‘twin fission,’ cloning, or parthenogenesis are to be considered contrary to the moral law, since they are in opposition to the dignity both of human procreation and of the conjugal union” (RHL I:6). Human cloning also involves abortion because the “rejected” or “unsuccessful” embryonic clones are destroyed, yet each clone is a human being.”
- “Homosexual Marriage – True marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Legal recognition of any other union as “marriage” undermines true marriage, and legal recognition of homosexual unions actually does homosexual persons a disfavor by encouraging them to persist in what is an objectively immoral arrangement. “When legislation in favor of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral” (UHP 10).”
Read the full copy of the voters guide.
Call To Action
Catholics have taken their faith for granted for too long. We must truly appreciate what we have, and fight to keep it.
Educate yourself on the teachings of the Catholic Church. Regardless of what the world might say, the Catholic faith has the answers to any question you might have.
Support your bishop. Already, 110 of them have spoken out against the HHS mandate.
Visit the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) to learn more about this issue and to see how you can take action to help the bishops fight this unjust law.
Most importantly, we must wake up from our complacency and join the battle!