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BY Joan Desmond
While some U.S. bishops have arrived a bit late to the battle on religious freedom, Archbishop Charles Chaput is already a veteran soldier in this fight. He is the author of Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, and is also a member of the new Committee on Religious Liberty.
When I asked him to name the most pressing issue at the 2011 USCCB meeting, he quickly said, ” the education of our faithful on the dangers to religious freedom. The so-called doctrine of the separation of church and state was established to protect the church from the state, and now it’s being employed for the opposite purpose.”
Catholics, he said, are “sometimes overwhelmed when addressing this issue because they see the separation of church and state as a foundation stone. It causes confusion in mind and heart, and some are happy to sow that confusion.”
As Catholic social agencies increasingly confront powerful special interests that seek to force the Church to drop its countercultural stance, some dioceses have already chosen to spin off their agencies so they can stay open to serve the needy.
Archbishop Chaput understands that it’s a tough balancing act, but he is concerned about the danger of setting precedents by creating secular entities as a worthy substitute: “It seems, to me, that it is caving into pressure to spin off rather than close down, but every bishop needs to make his own decision.”
There are signs that the growing threats posed to the religious freedom of Catholic institutions could emerge as an election-year issue, and Archbishop Chaput is fine with that. “It should be an
election-year issue,” he said, “because our identity as Catholics is under threat.”