December 6, 2013

Gospel mandates

Archbishop Lori relates connection between religious liberty and charity

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore gives a presentation on Nov. 29 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in New Albany on the relationship of religious liberty and the Church’s ministry of charity. Archbishop Lori grew up in the New Albany Deanery faith community. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore gives a presentation on Nov. 29 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in New Albany on the relationship of religious liberty and the Church’s ministry of charity. Archbishop Lori grew up in the New Albany Deanery faith community. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

NEW ALBANY—Thanksgiving is a time that finds many people traveling around the country to celebrate the holiday with friends and loved ones.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori did just that by coming to his hometown of New Albany to spend Thanksgiving with his parents, Francis and Margaret Lori, who are members of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Clarksville.

On the evening of Nov. 29, Archbishop Lori travelled to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany, the parish of his youth, to give a presentation titled, “The Defense of Religious Liberty and Service to the Poor.”

Listen to the whole presentation here:

Archbishop Lori is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

His presentation took place just days after the U.S. Supreme Court chose to take up two cases that challenge the Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration’s abortifacient, sterilization and contraceptive mandate.

He explored his topic in light of Pope Francis’ “unmistakable emphasis … on the role of the Church in serving the poor.”

Archbishop Lori described the challenges of those in need in Baltimore, how he lives close to them and how the Church there serves them in, among other ways, a homeless shelter for women and in a soup kitchen that are close to his home.

“Is there any way the Church could be the Church and not respond, not only with prayers and personal concern but also with practical assistance?” Archbishop Lori asked. “Who would ever want to endanger such an operation in the face of such great need?

“Yet as the Church has struggled against the Health and Human Services’ so-called preventive services mandate, this question has come to the fore.” (Related story: Laity plays key role in defending religious liberty, archbishop say)

He went on to note that the Church is “looking for every legal avenue to provide good health insurance to our employees that is also in accord with the Church’s teaching while robustly carrying forward our ministries of service.”

In trying to show that the effort to defend religious liberty is tied closely to the Church’s ministry to those in need, Archbishop Lori recalled an address given in 2009 by the future Pope Francis in which he said that the Church, in caring for the poor, must treat them like subjects, not as objects “ ‘targeted by paternalistic and interventionist action of the state and other organizations.’

“When we view those we are privileged to serve not as objects of our largesse but rather as subjects,” Archbishop Lori said, “then the importance of religious liberty becomes clear. Subjects—human beings—have rights and liberties. Objects—commodities, statistics and trends—do not.”

He also noted that, because the people whom the Church serves in its ministry of charity are human subjects, the Church must seek their “integral human development,” which includes nurturing their relationship with God and protecting their “transcendent dignity.”

“As we seek to meet the immediate needs of the poor and vulnerable, as we seek to promote efforts that bring about authentic human development,” Archbishop Lori said, “we do no one a favor by compromising religious freedom, by acquiescing to the creation of a society where more and more the government can privatize religious faith or otherwise discourage it by promoting an aggressive secularism.”

In fact, he said, religious liberty and the ministry of charity are closely interrelated.

“The same Gospel that impels the Church to offer compassionate care to others also constrains it from acting in ways contrary to human dignity,” Archbishop Lori said. “And just as the Church is enjoined by the Gospel to work toward integral human development, so too, it is called to conduct that work with integrity, without moral compromises that would undermine the very basis of its works of mercy, charity and justice on behalf of those most in need.”

He noted that the HHS mandate seeks to drive a wedge between the Church’s faith and worship, on the one hand, and its service to those in need on the other.

“But that’s not what it means to be Catholic,” Archbishop Lori said. “As Pope Francis has said, we can’t be ‘part-time Christians.’ We must ‘live out our faith at every moment of every day.’ ”

In addition, he warned that the mandate could pave the way for future restrictions of religious liberty.

“It serves notice that, from now on, this is how the federal government will regard Church ministries,” Archbishop Lori said. “Only those that pertain to worship, the government will tell us, are fully religious and thus deserving of full religious liberty. Those that serve the common good would henceforth be regarded as quasi-religious institutions that are not fully deserving of religious liberty exemptions.”

Finally, he noted that the mandate endangers the Church-related ministries that serve those in need by “imposing steep fines on schools, hospitals and charities that choose not to act against their convictions. These fines would greatly burden these ministries and their ability to serve those who rely on them.

“As you can see, our struggle against the HHS mandate is not about the small print,” Archbishop Lori said. “It is about protecting the Church’s ability to serve the poor in dignity and truth, in proclaiming and acting upon the Gospel, as Pope Francis has said, ‘in its entirety.’ ”

Henrietta Celestin, a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, was one of about 100 people who attended Archbishop Lori’s presentation on the night after Thanksgiving.

Celestin moved to southern Indiana from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. She previously worked as a nurse at Chateau de Notre Dame, a retirement facility operated by the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and later at Guerin Woods, a retirement facility operated in southern Indiana by the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. So she is very familiar with the Church’s ministry to those in need.

“All of this is very, very disturbing,” said Celestin of the possible negative effects of the HHS mandate on Church-run charities. “When you’ve worked for the [Church] and you’ve worked with people who accept and embrace life and death on God’s standards, not on man’s standards, it’s hard to fall into whatever this is.” †

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