No Time to Shut Up

The Church in the United States has been outspoken in calling for an end to the death penalty.

“No objection there,” many will say.

Catholic Relief Services, sponsored by the bishops of the United States, supports climate-change legislation.

“No problem there.”

The Church in the United States supports health care for all Americans.

That includes those who are yet to be born.

“Now wait a minute …”

That seemed to be the response on the part of some advocates of legalized abortion after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a massive health-care overhaul bill Nov. 7 — with language added that has come to be known as the Stupak amendment. Introduced by Rep. Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat who happens to be Catholic and pro-life, the amendment seeks to make it clear that taxpayers should not have to pay for most abortions. There was a possibility that some 40 Democrats would not vote with their party if the language was not added. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, also a Catholic but one who favors legal abortion, felt compelled to allow the vote for the amendment. The vote prevailed, 240 to 194, and the health bill went on to passage.

Catholics, led by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, lobbied vigorously for the amendment. But the Church was not the only religious entity to join the fight. Other religious groups and nonsectarian pro-life organizations also voiced objections to forcing taxpayers to subsidize something they deem morally repugnant.

But the Catholic Church was singled out for its “meddling” in politics. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., for example, complained in a column on that the U.S. bishops were too involved in advocating for the Stupak language.

“Who elected them to Congress?” Woolsey demanded. “The role the bishops played in pushing the Stupak amendment, which unfairly restricts access for low-income women to insurance coverage for abortions, was more than mere advocacy. They seemed to dictate the finer points of the amendment, and managed to bully members of Congress to vote for added restrictions on a perfectly legal surgical procedure.”

We’d like to ask Congresswoman Woolsey: Is it okay with her that the USCCB has been advocating for health-care coverage for the poor and even for immigrants? Is that political activity verboten by the so-called wall of separation between church and state?

This is nothing new, and many Catholics are accustomed to the charges.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, in a forthcoming interview, tells the Register, “There’s no denying the fact that there seem to be potent voices in our culture that would like to diminish if not mute the voice of religion and morality in public discourse, not only because we believe heart and soul in truth, but also because America is at her best when people pay attention to morals, to ethics, to religious values.”

It’s worth remembering that some want to muzzle the Church just at the time when the Church’s moral leadership is most vital. In the coming weeks, the language barring federal funding of abortion could be dropped from the legislation at any point, either before the Senate votes or in backroom deals when the House and Senate versions are eventually reconciled.

This is no time to shut up.

Take Up the Cross

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, ruled Nov. 3 that the crucifixes that hang in every Italian classroom could be “disturbing for pupils who practiced other religions or were atheists, particularly if they belonged to religious minorities.”

The court said the cross constituted a “violation of human rights” and fined Italy $7,300. The Italian government’s response was refreshing.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a nominal Catholic, defended the crucifix as part of Italy’s heritage. He said the sentence is “absolutely unacceptable.” His comments echo the Italian constitution, which states that crucifixes “must hang” in every classroom.

Berlusconi further argued, “This decision denies the reality that Europe in general, and Italy in particular, can’t not call itself Christian. … Eight European countries have the cross on their flags. So, should they change their flags?”

The Vatican pointed out the crucifix’s instrumental role in holding Italy together throughout its history. The risk, as the Italian bishops’ conference was quick to stress, is “artificially separating the nation’s identity from its spiritual and cultural makeup.”

The Italian public spoke out, as well: A new poll showed that an astonishing 84% of Italians are opposed to the removal of the Christian symbol from its classrooms.

Representatives from three of the largest political parties, running the gamut of the political spectrum, filed a formal protest in the European Parliament on Nov. 11. The developments in Italy underscore the heartening indication that militant secularism so prevalent in France can’t claim to be the model for the rest of Europe.

Since his papacy began, Pope Benedict XVI has urgently and insistently called Europe back to the Gospel. Just last month, he reminded the new head of the Commission of European Communities’ delegation to the Holy See of Christianity’s major role in Europe’s history. His efforts have galvanized resistance in the face of aggressive efforts by many representatives of the European Union to erase Christ from the Continent’s memory. Italians want their Christian symbols in their schools to remind them of their heritage — and their Savior.

Meanwhile, Spaniards, more than 1 million strong, took to the streets of Madrid in October to protest the Socialist government’s easing of its abortion laws.

So, with the Italians’ response to the European court, they sent a clear message to the ideologues of secular Europe: Christ is not your enemy.