Supporting our Bishops in the Defense of Religious Freedom
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus …preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1-2). The Church, especially her Bishops and priests, have both the right and the duty to preach the Gospel and apply these truths to concrete circumstances in today’s society.
At all times and in all places the Church should have true freedom to preach the faith, to proclaim its teaching about society, to carry out its task among men without hindrance, and to pass moral judgments even in matters relating to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it. (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 76)
The principle of separation of Church and State does not contradict this right of the Church, but rather, clarifies the complementary roles of both.
The proper mission entrusted by Christ to the priest, as to the Church, is not of the political, economic or social order, but of the religious order; yet, in the pursuit of his ministry, the priest can contribute greatly to the establishment of a more just secular order, especially in places where the human problems of injustice and oppression are more serious. (Pope Paul VI, Ministerial Priesthood, November, 1971)
And civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., explained that the Church is neither the master nor the servant of the State, but its conscience, guide, and critic.
In the United States today, precisely this mission of preaching the Gospel in the face of a radical secularized society is becoming increasingly difficult and serious. Pope Benedict XVI, addressing a group of American Bishops on their ad limina visit, urged them saying,
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. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. (Benedict XVI, Jan 19, 2012)
In this momentous conflict between the Church and the current administration in America, the issue lies in religious freedom, and in particular, freedom of conscience and the freedom to organize and carry out faith based charitable activities (schools, hospitals, orphanages, etc.) without the imposition of rules or regulations which infringe upon the rights of Christian conscience. The Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring all institutions, including religious institutions, to provide health care which also covers artificial contraceptives, sterilization and abortion (ironically promulgated by a “Catholic” politician!) is a direct affront to the Catholic faith and her definitive teachings on moral absolutes. It is a violation of her rights to religious freedom under the First Amendment: “This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited…[or] supported by the government. Instead, it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs” (Most Rev. William Lori, Chairman, US Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty).
Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith? (USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, March, 2012)
Our Bishops warn us, the HHS mandate of the current administration is a grave threat to the very existence of thousands of Catholic institutions, whether privately owned or run directly by the Church: universities, colleges, hospitals, parochial schools, adoption agencies, soup kitchens, agencies to prevent human trafficking, social service providers, and the list goes on and on. All these institutes must decide, are we to deny our faith and accept the rules under the new health care plan, or are we to close our doors and fail to do these good works which our faith demands of us?
Fortunately, by the grace of God, the Church is standing strong, firm and united. Every Bishop is speaking out clearly and vehemently against the HHS mandate and calling upon the Catholic faithful to stand up for their right to freedom of religion under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Over 43 Catholic institutions and dioceses have filed law suits against the federal government, while others are only waiting for a clear decision from the Supreme Court expected in June. But for all this, one can say, the Church is not in crisis. No, she is thriving and uniting more than in any other time in recent history under this very real and imminent persecution.
All moral action is based on faith, the “obedience of faith” which carries out in concrete action the tenets held in the heart and mind. (What foresight and wisdom our Holy Father has manifested in proclaiming a Year of Faith to begin in October, 2012!) At present, the Church’s faith is strong under the leadership of our Bishops and priests, but the fight is only yet begun. Faith, which has been so far expressed in word, may require the witness of deeds in the near future. Let us pray for our Bishops, priests and all the Church, that their faith may not fail if and when they begin to suffer personal and financial penalties for the sake of conscience.
What a contrast to the state of the Church in 1968, with the publication of Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae vitae, on this very issue of the use of artificial contraception. At that time many priests and even some Bishops refused to proclaim and uphold the Magisterial teaching of the Church, falsely believing “conscientious dissent” on certain issues which were “inconvenient” for them to be in harmony with being Catholic. Seeking to be “charitable” and “compassionate” with young Catholic couples, many of our Shepherds were deceived and deceiving. Charity, in order to be real, must always be accompanied by truth.
Courage to proclaim the truth is the first and indispensable charity which pastors of souls ought to exercise. Never, not even under the pretext of charity towards one’s neighbor, let us permit a minister of the Gospel to utter a purely human word.… More than at any other time this is the hour of clarity for the Church’s faith. That faith calls on us to illuminate the darkness of human realities with the lightning of the Gospel message… (Paul VI, Message to the College of Cardinals, May 18, 1970)
Our Lord holds his Shepherds responsible for the flock. If they fail to preach the truth and the flock is lost, it is the Shepherd who will be held accountable for their eternal ruin (cf. Ez 3:17-21).
The “obedience of faith” with respect to the norms of the teaching Magisterium on moral issues can allow for no compromise, and may even require serious sacrifice, up unto and even including martyrdom. In his Encyclical Letter, Veritatis splendor, Regarding Certain Fundamental Questions of the Church’s Moral Teaching”, Blessed Pope John Paul II taught:
Even in the most difficult situations man must respect the norm of morality so that he can be obedient to God’s holy commandments and consistent with his own dignity as a person. Certainly, maintaining a harmony between freedom and truth occasionally demands uncommon sacrifices, and must be won at a high price: it can even involve martyrdom” (Veritatis splendor, 1993, no. 102a; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1816).
Bishops and priests must exercise much courage and constancy in preaching and living out the moral demands of our faith. Nor may they fail to pass on God’s word with fidelity, neither out of human respect nor for fear of personal disadvantage. (cf. Mark 12:14 ff.)
Priests owe it to everybody to share with them the truth of the Gospel in which they rejoice in the Lord. Therefore, whether by their exemplary behavior they lead people to glorify God; or by their preaching proclaim the mystery of Christ to unbelievers; or teach the Christian message or explain the Church’s doctrine; or endeavor to treat of contemporary problems in the light of Christ’s teaching—in every case their role is to teach not their own wisdom but the Word of God and to issue a pressing invitation to all men to conversion and to holiness. Moreover, the priest’s preaching, often very difficult in present-day conditions, if it is to become more effective in moving the minds of his hearers, must expound the word of God not merely in a general and abstract way but by an application of the eternal truth of the Gospel to the concrete circumstances of life. (Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis, 4)
Faithful to their mission to preach the truth and call for the repeal of unjust laws, our Bishops today are also calling upon the support of the lay faithful.
In his address to the Bishops on January 19, Pope Benedict made clear that this work of confronting the administration belongs to “an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.” Therefore, in order to awaken the involvement of the laity in this fight, the Bishops have proposed a “ Fortnight for Freedom”, two weeks of prayer and fasting, catechesis, study and public action, from June 21—the vigil of the feast of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, two martyrs under —to July 4, Independence Day.
As Bishops we seek to bring the light of the Gospel to our public life, but the work of politics is properly that of committed and courageous lay Catholics. We exhort them to be both engaged and articulate in insisting that as Catholics and as Americans we do not have to choose between the two. There is an urgent need for the lay faithful, in cooperation with Christians, Jews and others, to impress upon our elected representatives the importance of continued protection of religious liberty in a free society. (USCCB, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, March, 2012)
As members of this Crusade for Priests, we want to support our Bishops as they call out for the cooperation of all the lay faithful. And our first duty is to pray, to pray and fast for our Bishops and for our country, for the preservation of our most cherished liberty, religious liberty.
© 2015 • All texts of the Circular Letters are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without written permission except for personal use.