Ominous signs: religious liberty and our Catholic identity

“Secularizing trends, including the expropriation of Church goods and the elimination of privileges, frequently lead to “a profound liberation of the Church from forms of worldliness.” – Benedict XVI in Freiburg, Germany.

For years I have been harping on a revitalization of our Catholic identity.  There are indications that my concern was not misplaced.

  • The Obama Administration is carefully and systematically undermining religious liberty by redefining the issue as “freedom of worship” and by other moves.
  • A Supreme Court case is dealing with the question of government interference with churches determining who a “minister” of religion is.
  • Archbp. Dolan as President of the USCCB sent a forceful letter to Pres. Obama expressing the concerns of the bishops.  He has beefed up an office at the USCCB to deal with this issue.
  • Today, Bp. Lori of Bridgeport spoke to a Congressional committee about religious liberty.
  • Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles has a piece in First Things about religious liberty warning that liberty is being undermined.
  • A recent study suggests that Catholic identity in the USA is slipping.

We need to revitalize our Catholic identity. I believe this can only be done in tandem with a revitalization of our liturgical worship, especially through a wider use of the older, traditional forms of the Latin Rite.

At OSV this week there is a piece by Russell Shaw (OSV’s contributing editor) on the issue of religious freedom.

Are we seeing the beginning of religious persecution in America?
Catholic Church agencies are closing their doors under new laws, policies gutting conscience rights

By Russell Shaw – OSV Newsweekly, 11/6/2011

[Quaeritur:] Is America on track for a religious freedom crisis generated by secularists in and out of government bent on pushing churches around on a variety of fronts? Fresh evidence strongly suggests that the answer is yes.

Take what’s been happening lately in Peoria, Ill. In early October, the Diocese of Peoria announced it was discontinuing Catholic Charities foster care services in reaction to a new law requiring state-funded programs to place children with unmarried couples living in civil unions. The diocese said Charities also would withdraw from all its state contracts, said to total $23 million annually.

“I have a responsibility to assure that Catholic Charities operates consistently with the teaching and values of the Church,” explained Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky.

Earlier, the Diocese of Rockford, Ill., also ended its foster care services. Three other Illinois dioceses — Belleville, Joliet and Springfield — are still fighting the new law in court.

National trend

The events in Illinois mirror a growing national trend. The ability of religious institutions to operate free from government pressure to violate their conscientious convictions has increasingly come under attack.

Repeatedly, the pressure has been brought to bear on churches on behalf of groups ranging same-sex couples to federal officials backing coverage for contraception and sterilization in religious employers’ health plans. In the eyes of the secular militants, the First Amendment rights of religious institutions are of diminished importance.

In Sept. 20 letter to President Barack Obama, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York protested recent administration moves aimed at various Catholic Church programs. Archbishop Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, warned of an impending “national conflict between church and state of enormous proportions” which he said would harm both sides. [I am glad to have read that point made by Archbp. Dolan.  However, now that it has been made in writing and publicized, there must be a follow up.  The USCCB cannot now do nothing or little.]

Amid these ominous signs, the eyes of people on both sides of the growing church-state confrontation are fixed on a Supreme Court case raising the issue of whether government or the churches have the authority to decide who is and isn’t a “minister” of religion.

The case (Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC) involves a former teacher in a Missouri Synod Lutheran school who says her rights were violated when she was fired in the wake of several contentious incidents after becoming sick. The Obama administration is backing the teacher in the dispute. At its heart is the so-called “ministerial exception” doctrine allowing churches to decide the “minister” question.

During oral argument of the case, Justice Stephen Breyer asked Leondra Kruger, an attorney representing the solicitor general of the United States, whether under her interpretation the Catholic Church still would be allowed to refuse to ordain women as priests. Kruger’s answer: “The government’s general interest in eradicating discrimination in the workplace is simply not sufficient to justify changing the way that the Catholic Church chooses its priests.”

[NB] Observers pointed out two unspoken assumptions underlying that: first, that the government does possess an authority to change the way the Church chooses priests that outweighs the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious free exercise; second, that the government might actually take that step if its determination to enforce antidiscrimination laws were to become great enough.

Few expect the Supreme Court to go that far — at least, not now. [For now.] For the present, the challenge facing the court is finding an acceptable balance between government protection of the rights of employees in church institutions and the constitutional right of churches to conduct their affairs without government interference. The decision could be one of the most important church-state rulings in years. It is likely by next spring.

Depending on what the Supreme Court says and how it says it, the outcome could have important consequences for other conflicts now under way or likely soon to be involving church-related schools, hospitals, social services and other programs.

[This is where a real battle will take place, especially in Minnesota this year.  I suspect Minnesota, where an amendment in defense of marriage will be up for a vote in 2012, will evolve into a sort of "ground zero" much as the labor dispute in the Wisconsin legislature became a "ground zero" for big labor v state government.] Currently, too, much attention is directed to ongoing efforts by homosexual activists to expand the scope of legally recognized gay rights, including acceptance of homosexual relationships as marriages.

A bishops’ conference staff analysis of “recent federal threats to marriage” predicted that if the Obama administration succeeds in changing the law on behalf of gay marriage, “we would face lawsuits for supposed ‘discrimination’ in all areas where the Church operates in service to the common good, and where civil rights laws apply.” The analysis specifically noted employment, housing, education, and adoption services as areas likely to be targeted.  [That, friends, is where this is headed.]

Silver lining

Reflecting the seriousness with which religious groups view these developments, the Catholic bishops’ conference has established a special committee and office on religious liberty.

The bishops will discuss emerging problems relating to religious liberty at their Nov. 14-16 general assembly in Baltimore.

If there’s a silver lining here, it may lie in something Pope Benedict XVI pointed to during his pastoral visit in September to Germany — his homeland and one of the most secularized nations in the West.

Speaking Sept. 25 in Freiburg, the pope said the historical record shows that “secularizing trends, including the expropriation of Church goods and the elimination of privileges, frequently lead to “a profound liberation of the Church from forms of worldliness.

“When the Church becomes less worldly,” he added, “her missionary witness shines more brightly. … The Church can reach out more effectively and in a truly Christian way to the whole world.”

That’s an inspiring thought. But it doesn’t excuse churches from resisting efforts to impose state domination on religion. In America, that battle has apparently begun.

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11 Responses to Ominous signs: religious liberty and our Catholic identity

  1. Nora says:

    We have a bit of the same problem in Nashville. Here is a recent blog post on the doings at Vanderbilt:
    About the non-discrimination policy
    It is unreasonable for the university unilaterally to decide who is qualified to represent the Catholic faith on campus. According to the proposed interpretation of its non-discrimination policy, the university maintains that anyone is qualified, regardless of religious profession. Religious profession is a rational basis for determining leadership in a religious organization. It is not invidious discrimination. I cannot bend on this principle. I have talked with the Bishop, and he is in agreement. The Catholic Church could not sponsor an organization at Vanderbilt under these conditions. I hope that the university will decide to make it possible for there to continue to be a Catholic student organization at Vanderbilt by deciding not to apply its policy in an extreme and unreasonable manner.

    http://vandycatholic.blogspot.com/2011/10/about-non-discrimination-policy.html

  2. DisturbedMary says:

    The perfect Catholic storm is no coincidence: the new translation, the 10 part series called Catholicism broadcast on PBS and EWTN (already started in some places) and B16 declaring the Year of the Faith.

    Time to renew or send back our baptismal certificates.

  3. catholicmidwest says:

    I think the pope is right, and if we’re about to get a pruning, we’ll get through it with God’s grace and some honest faith. We shouldn’t be running all this stuff that’s obviously not producing much fruit anyway, particularly when it’s so watered down and generalized that no one can tell what it is anymore. There are better ways to get the faith across to people. Time to think and be creative about this, instead of just grinding on the way we have been, right?

  4. DisturbedMary says:

    Archbishop Dolan’s phrasing raised a question that I have not heard answered by the UCCB. Exactly what does a “national conflict between Church and State of enormous proportions” look like when played out in the United States of America? And will ordinary pewsitters recognize it and stand with a persecuted Church? Will Archbishop Dolan and the UCCB leave it up to the lawyers. Will the rest of us be called to bystand so that we don’t go over the precious church/state line? Will we come up to the 2012 elections still thinking we can form our consciences to vote for Democrats? Will there be anyplace for spiritual warfare?

  5. Supertradmum says:

    For some of us, these battles are not new and we have watched the armies growing bigger on both sides of the moral and spiritual Maginot Line. Personally, the wishy-washy Catholics who have never made a decision for either moral reasons, reasons of doctrine, or standing up for the Truth are the ones in for the ride. Those of us who have been marginalized in our professions, passed up for promotions, harassed, taken our children out of bad schools and home schooled, lost jobs, lost friends, and even family relationships owing to taking stands against abortion, contraception, same-sex unions, lgtb rights, euthanasia, etc. and standing up firmly for the Teachings of the Catholic Church, have been in the trenches for years. Finally, the Generals have noticed our plight and are coming to the aid of us grunts. These are positions we all must take daily, and those of us in higher education were pushed into taking our Faith seriously a long time ago because the intellectuals, even in Catholic institutions, were the first to become neo-pagans, and were communists and atheists a long time before this type of rebellion was popular.

    That the Government is pushing for now established cultural norms to become enshrined in law is merely a sign of public assent at the organizational, rather than just the personal, level.

    Really, how many times can we quote Edmund Burke,”All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Too many Catholics have done nothing. Item: three people go to the abortion mill every Wednesday in Maidenhead. Why are there not three-thousand? Item: Obama got 54% of the Catholic vote. Item: Catholic parents make excuses for their “gay” and “fornicating” children when I teach adults morality. Item: The abortion rate in America of Hispanic Catholics is nearing 33% and the abortion rate of non-Hispanic Catholics is 31%. Internationally, Italy’s birthrate is 1.2 and Malta’s is 1.2 children per couple. Item: Catholic females use IVF and men have vasectomies and talk about this at social events-happened to me yesterday in what is supposed to be the most Catholic county in the world. Item: Catholic people in Iowa and Missouri go to same-sex “marriages” in Iowa to show their support of the couples. Item: Deacons teach that women priests will happen because it is a civil rights issue in an Iowa diocese.
    I am thrilled that the Bishops and Cardinals are finally stating the Truth, but, for many of us, it is like shutting the door after the horse has bolted from the stable.

  6. BobP says:

    It would be the ultimate irony for those Episcopal “priests” who left because of women bishops may now be faced with the same problem in the Catholic Church., or should we say, the AmChurch?

  7. JonPatrick says:

    @BobP if there was an “AmChurch” that ordained women it would no longer be the Catholic Church. We may end up with a situation like China, with an official state sanctioned “church” and an underground church containing the believers that are still faithful to the Magisterium.

  8. pm125 says:

    ‘ …Speaking Sept. 25 in Freiburg, the pope said the historical record shows that “secularizing trends, including the expropriation of Church goods and the elimination of privileges, frequently lead to “a profound liberation of the Church from forms of worldliness.”

    “When the Church becomes less worldly,” he added, “her missionary witness shines more brightly. … The Church can reach out more effectively and in a truly Christian way to the whole world.” … ‘

    I think you are right in calling these words a silver lining. Imagine people who will flock back to parishes for sense of community, a recapture of their Catholic identity, and finally as the place of spirituality and worship with our Lord front and center. Such as the problem brought out by Nora in above comment for non-discrimination on campus group – mutual support at a local parish in the case of continuing an existence. Take the group and budget to a parish umbrella. Catholic groups will enliven Catholic identity at Catholic churches where there is liturgical worship. Simple minded, but I’d love to see a way out. It’s got to be practicing our faith with our brothers and sisters.

    ‘ … Depending on what the Supreme Court says and how it says it, the outcome could have important consequences for other conflicts now under way or likely soon to be involving church-related schools, hospitals, social services and other programs. … ‘ It’s so horribly serious.
    All these developments are sad.
    Matthew 6:32-34 – All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.

  9. ContraMundum says:

    It’s pretty foolish to base our understanding of the Church-State relationship on something like the First Amendment: a document created by and for the State. If our right to true religion is based only on human consensus, it’s ultimately no more important, and no more secure, than the currently recognized right of a quarterback to throw the ball away under certain circumstances without drawing a flag for intentional grounding. In other words, we should not get excited about defending this right when it is protected by the Constitution — unless we would also defend it if it were explicitly prohibited by the Constitution. As it may one day be; because the Constitution can be amended or replaced.

    @JonPatrick — I’m afraid we will inevitably have a “Patriotic Catholic Association” here, as well. I hope we are willing to resist as well as Chinese Catholics have.

  10. wmeyer says:

    “The government’s general interest in eradicating discrimination in the workplace is simply not sufficient to justify changing the way that the Catholic Church chooses its priests.”

    The wording of her statement, however, suggests a belief that the government could, or is empowered to, change the way the Church chooses priests. Chooses gives me a problem in that statement, too, since vocations are not a matter of the Church choosing someone.

  11. MyBrokenFiat says:

    Do anyone else feel a knife wedged into their heart?

    Oh, prayers… prayers…