October 14, 2011


Challenges to religious freedom

As we report in this week’s issue on page 5, the U.S. bishops are so concerned about what they consider an assault on religious freedom in this country that they have established an Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty to coordinate the Church’s response on this issue.

There have been a number of examples of government interference with the way that Catholic organizations have been serving the public.

But what might be considered the final straw was the proposed mandate by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that health insurance plans offered by Catholic employers must cover contraception and sterilization. It has been called the Catholic Contraception Clause.

We commented on this issue in our editorial “Threats to religious freedom” in our Aug. 19 issue. Since then, it appears that Sebelius’s proposal, which will become effective next August if not modified before that, has united Catholics more than any other issue recently.

The U.S. bishops have spoken out against the proposal, and so have Catholic Charities and the Catholic Health Association. Eighteen Catholic colleges and universities united to oppose it.

The University of Notre Dame’s president, Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, wrote a letter to Sebelius. The Catholic University of America president, John Garvey, wrote a letter against it that was published in The Washington Post.

When he announced the new committee, New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, mentioned other actions at various levels of government that pose dangers to the free exercise of religion. Some of them pertain to requirements in some states that Catholic adoption agencies place children in same-sex homes.

These restrictions on the Catholic Church have been nibbling at the Church’s freedom for some time now. It was recognized a year ago by Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., who issued “Let Freedom Ring: A Pastoral Letter on Religious Freedom.” It was because of that letter that Archbishop Dolan named Bishop Lori chairman of the new committee.

Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., is another bishop who has experienced government interference in the workings of Catholic organizations. As we mentioned in our Aug. 19 editorial, Bishop Paprocki is among those fighting to keep the state of Illinois from ending contracts with Catholic agencies because they refuse to place foster children or adopted children with same-sex couples.

Bishop Paprocki, a member of the Illinois Bar Association for 30 years, was particularly forceful in an address that he delivered on Sept. 29 at the dinner following a Red Mass—a Mass for members of the legal profession—in Houston, Texas, at the invitation of Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.

Bishop Paprocki quoted Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, who recently spelled out, in his archdiocesan newspaper, the similarities between communism and contemporary secularism.

Cardinal George wrote, “The purpose of communism and of contemporary secularism is the same: to create a society where God cannot appear in public, to erase any evidence of religious belief from public life and to prevent the Church from acting in history, confining the Church’s mission to private worship, carrier of a belief system that can have no influence on society except on secularist terms.”

Then Bishop Paprocki said, “The imposition on religious freedom comes in the guise of nondiscrimination laws and codes. The result is that faith organizations are told whom they must employ and what they must assent to or face being shoved off the public square.”

Later in his talk, Bishop Paprocki spoke of how Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski and a young bishop named Karol Wojtyla defended religious freedom in Poland.

“But we should note,” he said, “that their eventual success was bolstered by a fervent and determined laity.”

The Soviets claimed that they permitted “freedom of religion,” but by that phrase they meant “freedom of worship.” The “free exercise of religion” protected by the First Amendment is supposed to cover Catholic educational institutions, hospitals, nursing homes and social service agencies. But their freedom is now being challenged.

Archbishop Dolan was clear when he said, “Never before have we faced this kind of challenge in our ability to engage in the public square as people of faith and as a service provider. If we do not act now, the consequences will be grave.”

— John F. Fink

Local site Links: