Today, I want to make sure that you are aware of some of the current issues facing the Church which threaten, as never before, our liberty to practice our faith. I have had many vital conversations with parishioners on these topics, and I feel that it would be good to write to you about them in this forum. Furthermore, this month where we are being called to respect life it is a good time to raise your awareness of the encroaching challenges to our faith and belief in the respect and dignity of the human person from natural conception to natural death. The issues are many, but I would like to bring to your attention just a few of them. These unprecedented attacks on our ability to live out our mission of the corporal works of mercy and the sacredness of our Sacraments are ones that we must send to prayer and act on as God calls each one of us.
One issue surrounds medical ethics and government funding. Today, there are serious attempts at legislation to force Catholic health care systems and hospitals to offer services and procedures that we believe to be immoral and in direct violation of our faith including contraception and steriliization. The debate pits current government will against the religious liberty of Churches to practice their faith. Another unprecedented issue has come from the Department of Justice itself in its increasing attacks on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), calling it an act of bigotry instead of the protection of a unique, essential relationship and institution, one that has been given to us by God and which is unalterable by us. The Sacrament of Marriage predates all human laws and has always been defined as between one man and one woman. A third issue challenging the Church has gone to the Supreme Court. This issue is about the Church’s right to choose who can serve and/or work in their name without government interference. This one would seem like a no-brainer, but it is also being attacked by the Dept. of Justice. At risk here is our ability to hire people who share our faith in positions where living out that faith is a prerequisite. Finally, another issue concerns Catholic Relief Services, one of the largest and most effective relief agencies in the world. Herein, the Dept. of State is trying to require CRS and other agencies to provide reproductive services as part of their efforts in international relief and development programs, something that need not be part of relief efforts in order to be effective. I argue that CRS has done more to help people than any other institution and such a requirement is unnecessary for the efficacy of CRS’s efforts to help those in need.
It seems to me that we live in a time, today, when secularism is, ironically, the new religion to the exclusion to other religions. Is it too bold to say that the ideology of secularism is threatening the very substructure of our founding fathers and that there may be a movement towards the repression of other faiths in preference to that of the evermore secularized State? This reminds me of the old political ideology of Erastianism which asserts the supremacy of the State over the Church even in ecclesial matters.
As a nation, we are proud of our pluralism and freedom. Yet, might these issues demonstrate attempts to remove pluralism and subjugate as not only irrelevant, but erroneously label them as dangerous, the religious institutions that have been the backbone of our families, culture, and country? I wonder if our previously well understood sense of religious liberty may be changing into a “secular priority” over that of the 91% of our people who hold to a faith in God (cf. 2004 BBC Poll). I leave that for your own reflection.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recently wrote a letter to the bishops outlining these issues at hand. I highly recommend you read it. Read it by clicking here or go to our office for a hard copy.
Fr. William Holtzinger