As our page-one story illustrates, the June 28 Supreme Court decision upholding the individual mandate of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act landed in the middle of the time period the U.S. bishops set aside for the Fortnight for Freedom campaign.
In a way, it was the perfect time — Catholic rally drums for religious freedom were already beating loudly — to receive such disappointing news.
Thankfully, the bishops, Catholic institutions and the faithful are depending on more than a single decision from the Supreme Court to defend our religious liberty.
With a special emphasis during the fortnight and, we hope, in a consistent way into the future, we fast; we pray; we educate ourselves and others. And we energetically engage in our civic responsibilities with each branch of government — in the courts, in the voting booth, in our insistent and intelligent correspondence with our elected officials.
Thus, we grow strengthened for what is likely to be a long battle for the preservation of our religious freedom.
Perhaps it’s a human tendency to hope for a perfect solution and then after what we hoped for fails to look for a culprit to blame.
Lately, we might be tempted to blame Chief Justice John Roberts for calling the penalty a tax and thus “saving” the individual mandate or blame the bishops for supporting universal health care for so many decades or blame Church leaders for failing to teach convincingly on contraception and sexual morality or blame Catholic politicians for selling out their faith on the life issues or blame the Catholic majority for electing pro-abortion politicians or blame the purported 98% of Catholics who mock Church teaching by using contraception.
All or some of these criticisms may have merit.
But there’s no single party to blame for the current threats we face as Catholics.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, accepted part of the blame in April, when he said in a Wall Street Journal interview, “I’m not afraid to admit that we have an internal catechetical challenge — a towering one — in convincing our own people of the moral beauty and coherence of what we teach. We have gotten gun-shy ... in speaking with any amount of cogency on chastity and sexual morality.”
Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, in an interview June 28 with the Register, also suggested: “It might be a wonderful moment — it is a wonderful moment — for us to step back and say, ‘Why didn’t we teach what we teach?’”
But the Catholic laity share the responsibility.
“Too many ordinary Catholics have been greedy, losing themselves in America’s culture of consumerism and success,” said Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput in his June 20 address to Catholic media professionals in Indianapolis. “We’ve failed not only to convert our culture, but also to pass along the faith to many of our own children.”
Talking about our current situation, he continued: “The worst enemies of religious freedom aren’t ‘out there’ among the legion of critics who hate Christ or the Gospel or the Church, or all three. The worst enemies are in here, with us — all of us, clergy, religious and lay — when we live our faith with tepidness, routine and hypocrisy.”
It’s safe to say the long battle for religious freedom is not so much an exterior fight, but an interior one — interior to our hearts and our homes and our churches.
For bishops and clergy, that means more unity and more explicit teaching of the truth in love. For Catholic institutions, it means greater commitment to Catholic identity.
And, for all of us, it means a deep coherence between knowing our Catholic teaching with our minds, truly believing it in our hearts, practicing it with our lives and passing it along to our family and friends.
There are some small signs that these inward changes are beginning.
The threats against our religious freedom seem to be a catalyst of unity, at least on the principle of defending our first freedom.
A Knights of Columbus-Marist survey in May found that 72% of Catholics agreed that “freedom of religion should be protected,” and a majority of Catholics agreed that, for religious reasons, “medical professionals, hospitals or insurance companies should … be allowed to opt out” of providing abortion, contraception, in vitro fertilization and medications that assist the terminally ill to die more quickly.
Yet there is still a long way to go. In the same survey, 83% of Catholic said they believe it’s morally acceptable to use contraception to avoid pregnancy, and 53% said same-sex “marriage” is morally acceptable.
Archbishop Chaput’s words July 4 at the Mass closing the Fortnight for Freedom are a clarion call to all of us.
“Every Christian in every era faces the same task,” he said. “But you and I are responsible for this moment. … We need to “speak out,” not only for religious liberty and the ideals of the nation we love, but for the sacredness of life and the dignity of the human person — in other words, for the truth of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.”
In the months leading up to the Year of Faith, which begins in October, let’s truly prepare for it by renewing our commitment to the teachings of the Church.
And let’s pray for God’s help to truly live our religious freedom through coherent lives of faith in which we share the responsibility in our efforts to transform the world around us.