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  1. June 26, 2012 11:59 am

    The Catholic Bishops of America have initiated a two week campaign to fight for religious freedom in America. It is called a “Fortnight for Freedom”. It strikes a large part of the population as crying wolf when there is no wolf. Probably no population in human history has had more religious freedom and more religious support than the present population of the USA. (I myself, as a Franciscan vowed to common purse, pay no taxes. Nor do our local parishes or institutions.) It feels like entitled people wanting more entitlement. How different from the early Christian martyrs, whom we piously venerate, who became holy and courageous through the limitations imposed on them by empires and emperors. Too bad Sts. Perpetua and Felicity could not sponsor a fortnight for freedom from their prison cells. Now we suffer no limitations or constrants, refuse to dialogue fairly or up front, and just complain that “our freedoms are being taken away”. The final irony is this was initiated by an issue that 98% of Catholic women do not even believe in–contraception. It really feels like bishops are shooting themselves in the foot by trying to divert attention away from our own problems and sins. Christian spirituality has always first sought spiritual freedom, inner freedom, freedom from self, freedom for love, and never did we expect governments to supply our “freedom” by any political mandate whatsoever. Our dear bishops are beginning to look like “the Republican party at prayer” more than men of the Gospel of Jesus. ~Richard Rohr

  2. June 26, 2012 1:03 pm

    I don’t know. Take the Lutheran teach who was fired for being disabled. The argument was not that the school had the right to violate disability laws they found inconvenient. The argument was that she was a minister, and the state did not have the right to dictate relations between a minister and their church. With this, several propositions are being made.
    1) The state doesn’t have the right to set terms for contracts between ministers and their bodies.
    2) A religious body has the right to set terms for contracts secular employees for cause (or perhaps without cause depending on how strident the person is with whom you are communicating)..
    3) A secular corporation can be baptized and enjoy #2.

    Personally, I support #1. I support #2, but i don’t see the health care mandate causing undue interference. Contraceptive use could be addressed under existing contract law much as out of wedlock birth is. The benefit is provided, but the act can be proscribed under a code of conduct. You seem to support #2 to a greater degree than I do. #3 is one where we are in agreement that it shouldn’t be allowed.

  3. June 26, 2012 1:06 pm

    It does not help that many of the most vocal lay Catholics on this issue are not objective, but are strong partisans aligned with the opponents of President Obama.

    I wonder how that could change…

    It sure would be nice if the only people who agreed with us on important issues were people we agreed with on everything else.

    To spell it out more, if a problem is that the voices aligned behind (what MM acknowledges that beginning) a just cause are disproportionately from one party, it seems that the simplest way to resolve that is for those of the other party to lend their voices to change this perception.

    I have my own misgivings as well — I cringed when the “Conservative TV” chyron flashed on the screen during the showing of my archbishop’s remarks at Mass on Sunday.

    We also hear nothing about the numerous attacks on the religious freedom of our Muslim brothers and sisters..

    This is simply not the case.

    For example, Robert George, a frequent whipping boy in these parts for partisanship has come out strongly against anti-sharia laws ( http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2012/06/05/defend-religious-liberty-for-muslims/ ).

    Just yesterday, the bishops issued a statement commending the Supreme Court’s decision on the immigration law.

    Yes, the mandate has been a particular focus. Butsame is true for every successful movement in both the past and present. For example, many movements have claimed the mantle of “equal rights,” but I can think of very few that attempted to simultaneously address every instance of inequality that existed at the time.

    It would also help VN’s credibility on these issues if you ever broached them outside the context of declaring how inconsistent others are.


    On the issue of volume, people might legitimately wonder why this issue is being stressed so overwhelming, especially through the “fortnight for freedom”, to the detriment of other important concerns in these trying times. Why not a fortnight for immigration reform? A fortnight for economic justice? A fortnight for peace?

    Or, a fortnight for the unborn?

    Yes, people “might legitimately wonder,” but then we can be there with the answer.

    And that answer is that the bishops see the mandate as a fundamental threat to the Church being the Church with integrity in the world, and they have a fundamental and particular duty to defend that. Without that, the Church cannot effectively minister to and witness on behalf of the immigrant, the poor, the victims of war, or the unborn. One flows from the other.

    Why not these other fortnights? In short, because you and I have not started them. That’s why.

  4. Anne permalink
    June 26, 2012 1:29 pm

    “I do not believe for one moment that the bishops are being consciously partisan..”

    When speaking of the bishops as a body, that may be a fair assessment, but considering the public statements of a prominent number of those representing that body, it seems charitable to a fault. There’s a reason why the most vocal supporters of this Fortnight for Freedom campaign are the Catholic Tea Party at Prayer; it suits their purposes to a T.

    On the other hand, some of my loonier acquaintances among that group have become so distrustful of the bishops over the years (after all, as a group they still take a highly *unpatriotic* position on illegal immigration) they’re buying into conspiracy theories floating around the web, such as a claim that the whole campaign is actually a sophisticated pro-Obama plot (kinda like selling arms to drug dealers in Mexico for the purpose of taking away Americans’ guns). Sigh.

    For the record, I agree that the bishops’ original objection to the HHS mandate made sense. What hasn’t made sense (without there being something to the claims of partisanship) are the hostile rhetoric and escalation in demands that came after the President made his first proposal of a compromise on Feb. 10.

    • Thales permalink
      June 26, 2012 6:41 pm

      What hasn’t made sense (without there being something to the claims of partisanship) are the hostile rhetoric and escalation in demands that came after the President made his first proposal of a compromise on Feb. 10.

      What about the fact that the compromise isn’t acceptable?

      • gadria permalink
        June 27, 2012 12:58 am

        IMHO in the minds of the majority of Catholics there was not even a reason for a ‘compromise’ in the first place.
        And yes this sort of gap will have long term consequences – both financial and in terms of actual participation of liberals in catholic parishes.
        Likely we will have a generation of liberal catholics sitting it out while our conservative leaning catholic friends will have a more or less vigorous go at it.
        In my view since a good number of fundamentals of our conservative catholics friends are flawed – this exercise will not end up very pretty.
        It will actually feel to our conservative friends just like Vatican II feels to us liberal catholics- Vatican II was supposed to be a liberal bonaza but did never quite get there at all.
        Same will happen to you conservative guys in the next decades – you will never quite get there and will feel rather frustrated.

        • Thales permalink
          June 27, 2012 9:47 am

          Sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying. It’s my impression that a majority of Catholics, liberals and conservatives, oppose the HHS mandate. (For example, I don’t group Sister Keehan and the CHA in the conservative category.)

        • Kurt permalink
          June 27, 2012 1:15 pm

          There is a lot of polling out there with different results, but it is easy to find surveys that shwo most Catholics support the HHS mandate. I think all of the polling shows Catholics more favorabel to it than evangelicals.

          As many of us felt snookered before when the bishops refused to state or signal the Hawaii plan was unaceptable until days after it had been announced and long after it was first raised, I think it is fair for us to ask now, is CHA’s position acceptable to the bishops, or, for a start, to current objectors here? CHA says the federal government should offer free contraception to employees of exempted organizations, rather than the employer or the insurance companies.

          Let’s not play the game again of suggesting CHA’s position is acceptable only to turn on a dime should the White House agree to it.

        • Thales permalink
          June 27, 2012 10:20 pm

          I think it is fair for us to ask now, is CHA’s position acceptable to the bishops, or, for a start, to current objectors here? CHA says the federal government should offer free contraception to employees of exempted organizations, rather than the employer or the insurance companies.

          Kurt, the problem I see here is that I think you’re mixing up two issues. From a religious liberty perspective of not forcing Church A to do something contrary to its religion, it’s acceptable to have the federal government offer free contraception to people. There is no religious liberty issue there — no church is being forced to do anything — so it’s acceptable from that perspective. But from the perspective of the common good, I and the Church and many others would argue that the government giving out free contraception is contrary to the common good, so from that perspective, it’s not acceptable.

          The point is, I think the Church would welcome the “feds give free contraception” option in lieu of the current option, since it gets the Church out of the material-cooperation-with-evil chain, and thus, doesn’t infringe religious liberty….. but it’s not going to publicly advocate for the “feds give free contraception” option because it’s contrary to the common good.

        • Kurt permalink
          June 28, 2012 11:20 am

          Thales,

          I appreciate your response, which I think is enlightening and helpful.

          Sr. Carol and some other Catholics have proposed the mandate be modified so that the federal government rather than insurance companies provide contraception benefits. They feel this makes tolerable the religious liberty concern. The bishops are not going to publicly advocate for this because it further involves the federal government in contraception.

          It also explains the difficult situation the earlier compromise presented. The Administration might well had believed in good faith that contraceptive benefits provided by private commercial insurance companies, already deeply involved in contraception and abortion, was a reasonable solution — it had been accepted in Hawaii by the bishop there and the USCCB didn’t say anything against it, with their non-response understood as not wanting to be seen as publicly advocating for contraception.

          You can see why the Administration may feel snookered here or at least, I would hope, how they were operating in good faith even if you disagree.

          I think you may have developed an appropriate solution where the bishops and other laypersons like yourself take the public position that the Keenan proposal does resolve the religious liberty issue, while not in line with the bishops’ opposition to the entire Title X program.

          Saying this now, publicly, helps move us forward. Silence will not and will only lead to the public perception that the bishops are acting like Lucy and the football.

        • Thales permalink
          June 28, 2012 1:48 pm

          You can see why the Administration may feel snookered here or at least, I would hope, how they were operating in good faith even if you disagree.

          Kurt,
          I don’t know anything about the Hawaii situation, so I can’t comment. But even assuming that the admin thought the USCCB was fine with the contraception set-up initially because of Hawaii, that was at least a couple of years ago. The admin has known for a couple of years at least that the USCCB has a problem with the contraception set-up. They’ve known for a long time before the final rule was implemented last year, and obviously they’ve known since that time.

        • Kurt permalink
          June 29, 2012 1:19 pm

          I don’t know anything about the Hawaii situation, so I can’t comment. But even assuming that the admin thought the USCCB was fine with the contraception set-up initially because of Hawaii, that was at least a couple of years ago. The admin has known for a couple of years at least that the USCCB has a problem with the contraception set-up. They’ve known for a long time before the final rule was implemented last year, and obviously they’ve known since that time.

          The Hawaii set up resembles the compromise the Administration announced, although the compromise goes a little further in favor of the Catholic agencies. So the Administration only learned the bishops would not support the Hawaii set up a little while ago.

          Having said that, I do think you noted what the problem is for the White House. The bishops have both religious liberty concerns and are opposed to all contraception. Addressing the claimed religious liberty concerns will never win support from the bishops so long as people have access to contraception — a grave moral evil in their view.

          So unless Obama takes a stance on contraception to the Right of Bush and Bush and Nixon and Ford and Romney and McCain, it is not possible to resolve this.

        • Thales permalink
          June 29, 2012 6:06 pm

          I don’t know what you mean by “a little while ago”, but regardless of the time frame you’re thinking of, there can be no doubt that the HHS mandate is not acceptable to the bishops, the CHA, etc.

          Addressing the claimed religious liberty concerns will never win support from the bishops so long as people have access to contraception — a grave moral evil in their view. So unless Obama takes a stance on contraception to the Right of Bush and Bush and Nixon and Ford and Romney and McCain, it is not possible to resolve this.

          Um, no, that’s not correct. We could just keep the status quo. That’s a simple way to resolve it. The bishops would be content with that.

        • Kurt permalink
          June 30, 2012 9:04 am

          We could just keep the status quo. That’s a simple way to resolve it. The bishops would be content with that.

          I appreciate the honesty. The issue is that the bishops would like the status quo where each boss decides if contraception is covered in insurance plans. That’s a fair position. It’s not mine, as I support contraception coverage. And I think it is fair that we as a society have a discussion about contraception rather than avoid that with a focus on the religious liberty claims of bosses.

        • Thales permalink
          June 30, 2012 11:34 am

          And I think it is fair that we as a society have a discussion about contraception rather than avoid that with a focus on the religious liberty claims of bosses.

          That’s fine. Let’s as a society have a discussion about these topics… and let’s not change the status quo without this discussion, with one side forcing its viewpoint over the loud objections of the other side with no discussion! :)

        • Kurt permalink
          June 30, 2012 3:56 pm

          Thales,

          I see your point, except the issue has been on the table for discussion. Dodging it by talking about claims of liberty works against that. People who don’t believe in contraception should stand up in the public square and make their case and, if they can, convince the public of the evils of contraception.

        • Thales permalink
          July 1, 2012 1:21 pm

          Kurt,
          I fear that we’re going to be going back and forth on this. There’s only one side that is trying to change the status quo before a thorough discussion about contraception is had fully, a discussion about whether it is good for society, about who should pay for it, and how and when it should be paid for — and that’s not the bishops’ side.

      • Kurt permalink
        June 27, 2012 10:06 am

        It’s acceptable to me.

        But as for the bishops, it was acceptable to the bishop of Honolulu. And it wasn’t unacceptable to the USCCB until a good week after it was announced. I’m not saying the bishops had an obligation to accept it. I’m saying the hostile rhetoric and escalation in demands of something that had been acceptable on the state level and was not so unacceptable that it took a week to decide a position suggests something else is going on here.

        • Chrys permalink
          June 27, 2012 2:42 pm

          Google Helen Alvare…. example of the kind of legal advice our bishops are getting. Poor babies, between FOCA a few years ago and this ill-advised adventure, they’re doing more to undermine their moral authority with the general public than the sex abuse scandal did starting a decade ago. Unfortunately, many conservatives take sites like ‘lifesitenews.com’ as journalism, when they’re just scandal mongerers who indulge in guilt by association (remember the CCHD ‘scandal’? same group) and calumnies. The bishops have to hard-line it… or else. The Obama admin actually did them a favor however, since it’s much better publicity to have us suing the government than to have our non-Catholic employees suing us, isn’t it? Pax.

  5. Kurt permalink
    June 26, 2012 1:36 pm

    After last Sunday, I’m having less concern about the ‘Fortnight.’ The Archdiocese promised a massive rally of 4,000 Catholics. For the actual event, even EWTN admitted only 1,000 showed up, one -quarter of what was expected. By some estimates, by dividing the costs of the event and the attendence, $1,000 per person was spent. If the Archdiocese had just offered the cash, even I would have gone!

    It seems at least this Fortnight was a flop.

  6. Nate Wildermuth permalink
    June 26, 2012 2:32 pm

    I’m very disappointed with our bishops, for all the reasons you give, MM, and for deliberately avoiding a once in a lifetime chance to evangelize about contraception.

    It is a good time to remember why the Church is Holy– not because of what we do, but because of what the Church does. We dont make the Church Holy. The Church makes us holy.

    • Jimmy Mac permalink
      June 26, 2012 5:48 pm

      The train left the station a long time ago when it comes to evangelizing about contraception. It is a teaching that has not been received by the majority of people through the world, including Catholics.

      • June 27, 2012 8:50 am

        All the more reason to take a good chance when it comes. People have the idea that the Church is against birth control. It isn’t. It is against artificial birth control. With our culture’s growing concerns with being ‘green’ and ‘natural’, there’s a huge audience out there for the Church’s message: that artificial birth control is bad for people, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

        People don’t want to eat processed food anymore. It shouldn’t be too hard to make a case against processed sex.

    • brettsalkeld permalink*
      June 27, 2012 3:37 pm

      In that regard, Nathan, I was very impressed with this article by the very articulate Peter Colosi:

      http://www.crisismagazine.com/2012/the-hhs-mandate-a-question-of-religious-freedom-or-the-life-issues

      I look forward to seeing how he wraps up his argument in the coming segments of the article.

  7. Julia Smucker permalink*
    June 26, 2012 2:56 pm

    A solid and well-rounded critique as usual, MM. I strongly share your unease about the nationalist undertones, and how it’s getting harder to defend the bishops’ stance against charges of partisanship, and the self-defensive language of the campaign (why is the focus on protecting “our” freedom, rather than on standing for universal human dignity?).

    But as I commented on my own post about the bishops, with all these misgivings I was pleasantly surprised by the content of their “Litany for Liberty”. And then I thought maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise; when I think about it, it sounds like just the sort of thing I would expect from the USCCB when it’s on top of its game. And remember too that, as Mark Gordon drew attention to with his recent post, the bishops are clearly seeing immigration laws such as SB1070 as a religious liberty issue.

    But this is not a disagreement with your concerns, just an added nuance to them. I think this point especially needs to be shouted from the rooftops:

    I am afraid that too many lay Catholics in the United States try to create arbitrary divisions in this unified teaching—on both the right and the left. They take their guidance more from ideology than Catholic teaching. Especially in such circumstances, it is extremely important for the Church to stay above the partisan divide, and to do so by emphasizing the totality of its social teaching.

    It should go without saying that catholicity must transcend any partisanship or nationalism.

  8. Ronald King permalink
    June 26, 2012 7:51 pm

    MM, Thanks for the clarity. Naum, I totally agree with you. There appears to be a narcissistic struggle for power between the church and the state. I expect wisdom from the hierarchy and I do not see it. I expect sacrifice from the hierarchy and I do not see it. I go to mass and after the gospel we are led in a prayer for religious liberty. The expectations for our faith are formed first through the hierarchy and what does the world see and hear when they look at the church. They certainly do not see everyone who does sacrifice for those who are suffering. Rather, they see a church that looks ritualistic and legalistic with a ton of theology and wealth. The world does not see and cannot see the beauty of the faith because it is presented in symbolism, rather than realism, through the example of the hierarchy. Why doesn’t the hierarchy live like the saints? Why can’t it be that simple?

  9. Jordan permalink
    June 26, 2012 10:51 pm

    Thank you MM for your keen observations.

    In response to naum [June 26, 2012 11:59 am] and Ronald King [June 26, 2012 7:51 pm]:

    As all well know, the Church is both a temporal and spiritual institution. It is simply inconceivable that the bishops would not try to secure political influence when legislation arises which directly threatens their moral and ethical autonomy. I am also dismayed that the American hierarchy has used the Republican party, at least through thinly veiled implicit action, to advance its partisan cause. However, what are we to expect? In the United States, there are no “Christian” parties such as in European nations. In the absence of the Church’s ability to formally organize as a political party, it will not hesitate to organize under a nominally secular banner. I do not see why any American Catholic should expect less or expect that the hieararchy should be “above” politics. Prelates have not ignored political action in the past, and will not in the future, despite the congruence of a particular political action and the Church’s pilgrim mission.

    The Italian referenda on abortion and divorce demonstrate that the Church can fail to exercise even nominal political power in a republic despite formal organization as a political party in a republic’s government. The Church’s demonstrated inability to influence moral legislation even in Italy perhaps shows that the Church’s political powers are greatly overestimated. In both referenda, Italian voters approved civil divorce and then first-trimester abortion by sizeable margins despite heavy campaigning by Church-affiliated politicians against legalization of these activities. The success or failure of “Fortnight for Freedom” should not be either minimized or exaggerated, but rather observed in light of the SCOTUS decision due in 48 hours or less. Similarly, the Italian referenda are today generally viewed from a post-referendum position, and not always the Church led campaigns.

    • Ronald King permalink
      June 27, 2012 9:17 am

      Jordan, I hope my opinion is humble when I state that it appears to me that the church is heavily weighted on the temporal side and that political strategies for change actually contaminate and distort the spiritual practice and development of the faith. As one who returned to Catholicism after a 40 year absence due to actually experiencing the miracles and mystery of God’s Love, I am filled with a deep disappointment in the lack of spiritual leadership within the hierarchy which would exhibit evidence of the miraculous nature and depth of God’s Love through living a sacrificial life exemplified by Christ and the Saints. It appears instead, that the church is attempting to save its life and in the process is losing it.

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