21 June 2012

The Fortnight Begins

Today "a great hymn of prayer for our country" will rise to heaven as Catholics across these United States of America pray for religious freedom in union with their Bishops.

Reflecting on this great Fortnight for Freedom I cannot help but recall the famous words of Saint Ignatius Antioch:
Wherefore it is fitting that you should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also you do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And man by man, become a choir, that being harmonious in love, and taking up the song of God in unison, you may with one voice sing to the Father through Jesus Christ, so that He may both hear you, and perceive by your works that you are indeed the members of His Son. It is profitable, therefore, that you should live in an unblameable unity, that thus you may always enjoy communion with God (Letter to the Ephesians, 3).
Tomorrow evening, the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki will celebrate Mass in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, both to mark the second anniversary of his installation as the Bishop of Springfield in Illinois and to "kick-off," if you will, the Fortnight for Freedom in his Diocese. I am happy to say that he will be joined by many of his priests, some of whom will come from the far reaches of the Diocese.  I hope the laity will also join him to unite their voices to this great hymn of prayer for our country.

In his June 3rd column in the Catholic Times, Bishop Paprock acknowledged, "Unfortunately too many people, including many Catholics, are just shrugging this off because they mistakenly see this as a fight about contraception."  He went on to ask:
So how can I light a fire under you? Perhaps you don't care about contraception despite the church's teaching. But consider this: The 1965 contraception decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Griswold v. Connecticut, provided the legal rationale for abortion on demand just eight years later in Roe v. Wade. If the HHS mandate is allowed to stand, I guarantee that it will not take eight years for some politicians to begin calling for the government to require Catholic hospitals to provide abortions. When that happens, Catholics will demand that bishops do something about that, but it will be too late if Catholic voters do not start to make their voices heard now. You can do so by contacting the White House at www.whitehouse.gov/contact.
I urge you, if you have not yet read Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, do so as an important and integral part of your participation in this Fortnight for Freedom.  In it, the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops clearly sets out the reasons for their mustering of Catholics:
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? Without religious liberty properly understood, all Americans suffer, deprived of the essential contribution in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights, and social services that religious Americans make every day, both here at home and overseas.

What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society—or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it. Religious believers are part of American civil society, which includes neighbors helping each other, community associations, fraternal service clubs, sports leagues, and youth groups. All these Americans make their contribution to our common life, and they do not need the permission of the government to do so. Restrictions on religious liberty are an attack on civil society and the American genius for voluntary associations.
To those who claim the Bishops are involving themselves in partisan politics, the Bishops remind us that "the Constitution is not for Democrats or Republicans or Independents. It is for all of us, and a great nonpartisan effort should be led by our elected representatives to ensure that it remains so."

If you are looking for ways that you can participate in this Fortnight for Freedom, the Bishops have written a Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty:
O God our Creator,
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.
We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.
Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be "one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Pray it each day of this Fortnight and consider also praying the Litany for Liberty with your family and friends.  And certainly don't forget the Litany of St. Thomas More.


  1. There is indeed a case to be made on First Amendment grounds (i.e., the government not interfering with religiously based beliefs or practices), and for that reason I see some logic in the stand the bishops are taking.

    However, I think the bishops' conference has demonstrated that they really hope to pull a thread that leads to the unraveling of the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (assuming the conservative majority on the Supreme Court does not beat them to it). More specifically, I'm referring to the bishops' insistence that each and every employer out there (that is, not just institutional, religious-based employers) should have a right to deny coverage to employees for whatever type of medical treatment or preventative care they choose so long as they say their opposition is religiously based. This means that a loved one who is employed by a Jehovah's Witness would be denied coverage for a blood transfusion if he's in an accident. It means that my Christian Scientist grandmother (had she been a business owner) could have prevented her employees from getting blood pressure medication or having open-heart surgery. Where precisely do we draw the line? The bishops have chosen to align themselves with the extreme right-wing of the Republican party on this one in that they want to allow virtually every employer to opt out from paying for any and all coverage.

    Based on what I've read about this issue, it does not appear that the bishops are making a narrow argument against religious institutions (defined as parishes, dioceses, religiously based schools and universities, hospitals, etc.) being forced to pay for--in one way or another--contraceptive coverage. If their argument were that narrow, I might be inclined to agree with them on principle (even though I think the PPACA is much better, overall, than anything the Republicans in Congress have offered to address inequality in health care coverage). I'm left to conclude that the bishops have decided to go on the warpath against this president and the Affordable Care Act rather than working in good faith to achieve a compromise that respects both religious freedom and employees' rights to quality health care choices. I'm not cynical enough to stop listening to the bishops when they speak on public policy, but I am disappointed they feel the need to unravel the Affordable Care Act by defending every employer's right to decimate coverage (which is an incredibly irresponsible thing to do).

  2. The concern of the Bishops, Steve, goes far deeper than the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Please, read Our First, Most Cherished Liberty in its entirety.

    Whatever good may be in the PPACA could have been legislated without forcing people of faith to violate their consciences.