There are hucksters in our society who are always willing to promote a product or a theory to the general public, under the guise that they really need this product, or that this concept, when adopted, is going to enhance their lives. One of my chief concerns as a religious leader continues to be the question of religious freedom. The Church has been a significant contributor in the growth of this nation. Just consider where we would be without the Catholic schools that educated our populace when public schools were not in existence, the orphanages that cared for the homeless and abandoned children, and the hospitals that treated the citizens when public facilities were not present and, of course, the charities that provided assistance before state and federal welfare was created. There was no question of whether or not the Church was a collaborator for the good of society; its participation was not only welcomed but needed.
Our very social teaching promotes the “common good.” But modern-day politicians have not only disinvited the Church to the table for discussion; it is now treating the Church and her members as the enemy to what they promote as enlightened under the guise of progressive thinking.
The Church clearly stands for teachings that have been well-embraced not only by the Church but also for hundreds of years by the larger community. For instance, the Church is opposed to abortion. It is abhorrent to me that a nation based on the protection of individual rights should choose under law the ability to destroy human life and think of that as enlightened. We fought a Civil War to abolish slavery and have now created new slaves whose lives are subjected to personal whims. Clearly, we stand with the unborn and their right to life. Actually, science stands on the side of the Church in evaluating the child in the womb as a distinct individual (DNA).
Another is that the Church stands for traditional marriage as between a man and a woman. It is amazing to me that with a Supreme Court interpretation, thousands of years of understanding the definition — that marriage is between a man and a woman — is wiped away. One of the problems that our society bemoans is the loss of the family. Who honestly believes that the family will regain its stability in the face of this reinterpretation? And, of course, why stop at same-sex marriage; why not polygamy (multiple wives) or polyandry (multiple husbands)? What about familial relationships or even minimum age for marriage? If longstanding definitions can be discarded, what’s to stop a Supreme Court from redefining any issue it chooses.
This is the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, a much-maligned encyclical of Pope Paul VI. This work challenged the morality of artificial birth control. Critics thought the pope and the Church were out of date and, although we don’t use consequential arguments for our moral reasoning, the consequence of embracing an artificial birth control mentality was offered by Pope Paul VI at the end of his encyclical. He warns all of us that employment of artificial means will lower the general morality, relieve responsibility for sexual actions, which will be seen as recreational without accountability, the lowering of esteem for women, thereby treating them as objects for personal pleasure, open the door to any government who may use these means to force limitations on families through an increase of artificial means of contraception as well as abortifacients, which increase the destruction of human life. If we soul search, are we better today in the area of human sexuality, especially in the respect and dignity for men and women? We must admit the prophetic voice of Humanae Vitae has become the reality. Even now, the engineering of human life has us on the precipice of treating human beings as functional products that serve the needs of the society. When we eliminate the stability of the family, we eliminate a natural protection of the child.
Ironically, when society needs the voice and teachings of the Church at the decision-making table, it is at this time we find the Church marginalized by political leaders. Recently, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published a response to the blocking of a federal judgeship due to the fact that the candidate was a Catholic. Apparently, according to one Senator, Catholicism makes one incapable of making an independent assessment and applying the law fairly. Professor Ryan Owens stated the case effectively, pointing out the inconsistencies of the objections. He quotes Justice Anthony Kennedy, the author of Obergefell, “Tolerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual. It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of religious beliefs.”
In his farewell address, George Washington stated: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
As Catholics, we have an obligation to share our beliefs. The great mandate given by Jesus at his Ascension will not exempt us from participation in our communities. We must take our issues seriously and hold those that wish our support at the ballot box be at least tolerant of our beliefs. We must have elected officials who support religious freedom not only as a personal right but for the good of our society.