Religious freedom threat level raised

Policies of the federal government under the Obama administration have ignited a blaze of concerns about fundamental religious liberties in America.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the US bishops conference, wrote a letter to the president recently.

The Administration’s assault on DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act], Archbishop Dolan said, will “precipitate a national conflict between Church and State of enormous proportions and to the detriment of both institutions.”

“Will”…?

Archbishop Dolan especially objected to the Justice Department’s legal arguments that equate those in favor of DOMA to racists. It is “particularly upsetting,” he said, when the Administration attributes to those who support DOMA “a motivation rooted in prejudice and bias.It is especially wrong and unfair to equate opposition to redefining marriage with either intentional or willfully ignorant racial discrimination, as your Administration insists on doing,” he said.

He underscored the Church’s position recognizing “the immeasurable personal dignity and equal worth of all individuals, including those with same-sex attraction” and said “we reject all hatred and unjust treatment against any person.”

“Our profound regard for marriage as the complementary and fruitful union of a man and a woman does not negate our concern for the well-being of all people but reinforces it,” he said. “While all persons merit our full respect, no other relationships provide for the common good what marriage between husband and wife provides.The law should reflect this reality.”

Archbishop Dolan advised President Obama: “push the reset button on your Administration’s approach to DOMA.”

“Our federal government should not be presuming ill intent or moral blindness on the part of the overwhelming majority of its citizens, millions of whom have gone to the polls to directly support DOMAs in their states and have thereby endorsed marriage as the union of man and woman.Nor should a policy disagreement over the meaning of marriage be treated by federal officials as a federal offense—but this will happen if the Justice Department’s latest constitutional theory prevails in court.”

Archbishop Dolan asked President Obama to “end its campaign against DOMA, the institution of marriage it protects, and religious freedom.”

“Please know that I am always ready to discuss with you the concerns raised here and to address any questions that you may have.” he added. “I am convinced that the door to a dialogue that is strong enough to endure even serious and fundamental disagreements can and must remain open, and I believe that you desire the same.”

Archbishop Dolan was offering a statesman-like presumption of goodwill in warning that if this course is continued, it “will” result in a national conflict. Because it actually has.

Just days ago, the bishops assembled a new ‘task force’ to tackle this new and historic threat to religious liberties.

Saying they are increasingly distressed over government policies that promote contraception, abortion and same-sex marriage and amount to an assault on religious freedom, the U.S. bishops have established a committee to shape public policy and coordinate the church’s response on the issue.

The Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty was announced Sept. 30 by Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., was named chairman of the new committee.

“There is a common and factually grounded perception that religious liberty is increasingly under assault at the state and federal level in the United States, whether through unfriendly legislation or through rules and regulations that impede or tend to impede the work of the church,”…

He says the government is playing God.

Emerging threats to religious freedom have inspired the U.S. bishops to establish a new committee for its protection. Its chairman sees government taking God’s place as the source of the “first freedom.”

Bridgeport Bishop William E. Lori told CNA on Sept. 30 that a “principal and overarching error,” connecting several different threats to the free exercise of faith, is “the view that it is the state that grants religious liberty, and not God.”

“Even though religious liberty is enshrined at the head of the Bill of Rights, in the First Amendment, there is an increasing tendency to make it a lesser right – and to make it quite relative to other, ‘newly-discovered’ rights in our law and in our culture,” said the Connecticut bishop, whose 2010 pastoral letter “Let Freedom Ring” addressed the subject of state intrusion against believers.

The chair of the new Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty said respect for “religion as a merely private affair” remains largely intact.

But he warned that the “institutional conscience” of religious hospitals and similar establishments is being threatened at high levels – as are the conscience rights of individuals in “clutch situations” like filling prescriptions or issuing marriage licenses.

“Their rights are being trampled upon,” said Bishop Lori.

In his letter announcing the new committee’s formation, Archbishop Dolan said that the “basic right” to religious freedom “is now increasingly and in unprecedented ways under assault in America,” especially from an “an increasing number of federal government programs or policies that would infringe upon the right of conscience of people of faith.”

The ‘national conflict of enormous proportions’ is not coming. It is here.

Control the marriage message

The movement to promote same-sex marriage has been very active and very successful. The movement to promote and protect traditional marriage laws has been very active, and seemingly less successful. What’s the truth?

That’s the key question, actually, and fewer people asking means more power to influence public opinion.

Take this front page story in the New York Times just over 24 hours after same-sex marriage was legalized by the state legislature.

The story of how same-sex marriage became legal in New York is about shifting public sentiment and individual lawmakers moved by emotional appeals from gay couples who wish to be wed.

But, behind the scenes, it was really about a Republican Party reckoning with a profoundly changing power dynamic, where Wall Street donors and gay-rights advocates demonstrated more might and muscle than a Roman Catholic hierarchy and an ineffective opposition.

On the first part of that…”shifting public sentiment” wasn’t quite reported that way when the issue was abortion and the polls began to inch over the fifty percent mark. As far as the emotional appeals that struck lawmakers, the overlooked fact is that they’re selective. Lawmakers who voted that way ignored a great number of emotional appeals from all sorts of people who called for the defense of marriage as it has traditionally been known and upheld by the states in history.

As for the “profoundly changing power dynamic”, have gay rights advocates demonstrated more might and muscle than the Roman Catholic church? And has the opposition to gay marriage been ineffective? Just saying that on the front page of the Times doesn’t make it so (and it isn’t), but since perception becomes reality, let’s check the perception. Or spin.

The Catholic hierarchy has been very present and active in the marriage movement. Especially NY Archbishop Timothy Dolan. After the vote, the bishops released this statement on the USCCB website, written by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, one of the most involved bishops in the marriage debate:

“Marriage, the union of a man and a woman, forms the foundation of social well-being by promoting love and respect between the two most fundamental representatives of the human community,” he said. “The institution of marriage also affirms the vital and unique importance to children of receiving care from both their mother and father together.  Making marriage law indifferent to the absence of either sex creates an institutional and cultural crisis with generational ramifications yet to be seen. To eliminate marriage’s very essence – its essence as the union of husband and wife – from its legal definition is to ignore not only basic anthropology and biology but also the purpose of law generally. Law is meant to uphold the common good, not undermine it. Now, New York’s government will be forced to ignore that children have a basic right to be raised by their mother and father together. Also, as demonstrated in other states where marriage redefinition has occurred, officials there will be in a position to retaliate against those who continue to uphold these basic truths.  This is a mark of a profoundly unjust law.”

It was not inevitable, as big media have suggested or predicted for months now.

Yes, it is true that six states have imposed a new definition of marriage on their citizens. But let’s take a step back and look at the big picture.

In the 31 states where voters have been given the choice to redefine marriage — we have won every time. Next November, Minnesota voters have the opportunity to become the 32nd state and North Carolina may not be far behind.

And what about those six states already with same-sex marriage?

Voters in Iowa last year threw out three of their state Supreme Court judges that had decreed same-sex marriage. The Iowa State House has since strongly voted in support of a marriage amendment, and if Republicans can regain the State Senate, they likely will call for a vote in that chamber.

And in New Hampshire, politicians who supported so-called same-sex ‘marriage’ were booted out of office last November. As we write, significant efforts are already underway to oust the turncoat Republicans in New York that switched sides and voted for this new law.

This year too, voter pressure stopped efforts to re-define marriage in both Rhode Island and Maryland.

Friday’s vote in New York may in fact represent the high water mark in the effort to redefine marriage in the United States.

Really? That may be a tough sell. But Thomas Peters says essentially the same thing. Because in an odd sort of way, defeats like this galvanize the Catholic and Christian populace. If only people found such inspiration in time to have changed the outcome to this point…

I’m heartened by the outpouring of commentary in the wake of New York’s move to legalize gay “marriage.” Truly, I am. It means that Catholics care about marriage and are distressed when they see it under attack (as they should).

But the sudden uptick in volume of Catholic voices talking about the threat to marriage represented by its redefinition in New York confuses me, for this reason: we could have stopped it…

Catholic commentary follows mainstream media commentary. The number of headlines earned by a victory for gay marriage far outweighs (I would bet by a ratio of at least 10-to-1) the number of stories written about gay marriage defeats. So a part of this phenomenon is due to Catholics sensing a major shift has happened in the fight to protect marriage only when the media signals us a shift has happened — and the media is careful to only signal such shifts when they like where they think they see things headed…

And yet, instead of trumpeting the victories in these first two states when they happened, far more ink has been spilt by Catholic voices bemoaning the final result in New York.

There’s a reason for this: Catholic commentary follows mainstream media commentary. The number of headlines earned by a victory for gay marriage far outweighs (I would bet by a ratio of at least 10-to-1) the number of stories written about gay marriage defeats. So a part of this phenomenon is due to Catholics sensing a major shift has happened in the fight to protect marriage only when the media signals us a shift has happened — and the media is careful to only signal such shifts when they like where they think they see things headed.

Control the message.

But there are things to do immediately, as Peters points out in that post. One of them is to get familiar with the debate points, and be ready to engage them.

Two out of the final points he makes are key right now:

As you begin to think about the November 2012 elections, get into the habit now of evaluating candidates and issues in terms of how they impact marriage and the family.

Pray for those who fight to protect marriage and family and work to learn more about why marriage is only between one man and one woman for good reasons.

I talked with Thomas on radio Tuesday, and we agreed that this debate must be engaged on the basis of reason, by informed people, with respect for all viewpoints. Let’s debate these ideas and their merit and consequences, truthfully. And give voice to the people. Backroom deals by politicians demean the process.

‘The American Pope?’

The secular media have to find something colorful that enlivens the imagination when they want to grab our attention for a news story. CBS needn’t have bothered with that in promotions for their interview on ’60 Minutes’ with Archbishop of New York. The gregarious Timothy Dolan embodies ‘lively and colorful’ boisterously, and just watching CBS try to hold on for the ride while following him around was engaging enough.

It was sensational without sensationalism.

The main thrust of the interview was Dolan’s gift of the gab, his magnetic personality, openness, and, of course, his unwavering “conservatism.” The topics were typical: sex abuse scandal, women’s ordination, abortion and contraception, priestly celibacy, and how the Church in America reverses the trend of Catholics no longer simply calling themselves “bad Catholics,” but actually declaring that they are no longer part of the Church.

Crowe snips some choice moments from the interview:

[Morley] Safer pressed on, as though the “liberal” positions were obviously the right ones, and the only ones someone with Dolan’s charisma ought to tend toward.

No question that you’re conciliatory, that you like to dialogue, but underneath that you’re an old-fashioned conservative; I mean, in the sense of a right-wing conservative.”

Dolan hits this one out of the park.

I would bristle at being termed “right-wing,” but if somebody means enthusiastically committed and grateful for the timeless heritage of the Church, and feeling that my best service is when I try to preserve that and pass that on in its fullness and beauty and radiance, I’m a conservative, no doubt.”

The exchange shows that folks like Morley Safer and the liberals who still largely run most of the major media outlets still don’t understand the liberating power of truth, humility, and especially the comfort in knowing the timelessness of Catholic truth.

But they’re getting a bigger dose of it now.

Good Shepherd Sunday

This coming Sunday will be the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, fittingly celebrated on what we know as Good Shepherd Sunday. And it’s going to take a lot of concerted prayer to recreate the culture of vocations that was part of the air we breathed in the Church not so long ago. Archbishop Timothy Dolan told me in a radio interview how well he remembers that environment when families encouraged young men to consider the call, when it was a hope for mothers and grandmothers and the members of a parish that one of their own would become a priest. And how do-able it is to grow that culture again. His optimism is contagious…

Those familiar with Archbishop Dolan will not be surprised to hear remarks he made in his book ‘Priests for the  Third Millennium’, which are actually remarks he made in talks to his seminarians at the North American College in Rome when he was rector there. The book is an interesting compilation of his very lively insights and opinions, which he adds to others, like a bishop he quotes here: “The problem is not priest-shortage but zeal-shortage.” To which Dolan says…

Passion! That’s what zeal is about! We’re excited! We’re eager! We’re raring to go! We’ve got the chutzpa, nerve, energy, drive, and zest of the apostles that first Pentecost morning…

In a parish we are general practitioners. Our pastor, our bishop, our people have a right to expect us to do almost everything. A pastor was telling me about his assistant who showed up and began the conversation by saying , ‘Well, I’m no good in school or with old people. Don’t expect me to do that!’ People don’t want us at everything because we’re good at it but because we’re priests. Yes, we know our limits; yes, we know when to refer; but as parish priests our zeal is for all people in all circumstances and we close the door on none.

Makes you kind of want to stand up and cheer….but Dolan has that effect on people

Which is the point of Pope Benedict’s message for the 47th World Day of Prayer for Vocations this Sunday. Priests who love being priests are the greatest source of new vocations.

The story of every vocation is almost always intertwined with the testimony of a priest who joyfully lives the gift of himself to his brothers and sisters for the sake of the Kingdom of God…In a particular way the priest must be a man of communion, open to all, capable of gathering into one the pilgrim flock which the goodness of the Lord has entrusted to him, helping to overcome divisions, to heal rifts, to settle conflicts and misunderstandings, and to forgive offenses.

He quoted John Paul II in writing:

“The very life of priests, their unconditional dedication to God’s flock, their witness of loving service to the Lord and to his Church – a witness marked by free acceptance of the Cross in the spirit of hope and Easter joy – their fraternal unity and zeal for the evangelization of the world are the first and most convincing factor in the growth of vocations”…

Then Benedict continued:

It can be said that priestly vocations are born of contact with priests, as a sort of precious legacy handed down by word, example and a whole way of life…

Every priest, every consecrated person, faithful to his or her vocation, radiates the joy of serving Christ and draws all Christians to respond to the universal call to holiness. Consequently, in order to foster vocations to the ministerial priesthood and the consecrated life, and to be more effective in promoting the discernment of vocations, we cannot do without the example of those who have already said “yes” to God and to his plan for the life of each individual. Personal witness, in the form of concrete existential choices, will encourage young people for their part to make demanding decisions affecting their future. Those who would assist them need to have the skills for encounter and dialogue which are capable of enlightening and accompanying them, above all through the example of life lived as a vocation.

Really good to contemplate, this message. Love the way it concludes:

May the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, watch over each tiny seed of a vocation in the hearts of those whom the Lord calls to follow him more closely, may she help it to grow into a mature tree, bearing much good fruit for the Church and for all humanity.

But it’s not really a conclusion. Hopefully, a new beginning.

Call it scandalous

It would re-set the roiling controversy surrounding the Church considerably if those who have been attacking its handling of the abuse crisis would admit they have strong anti-Church sentiments to begin with, and then get on with a passionate debate about it all.

At bottom (literally), New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan makes that point in his latest blog post on the whole affair.

Last week I asked for some fairness in the seemingly unappeasable criticism of the Church over the catastrophe of clergy sexual abuse.

Not to my surprise, if anything, it has only gotten worse, especially in the interminable headlines about the Pope himself.

Last fall I wrote in this blog about anti-Catholicism in the New York Times and other media, providing a list of contemporary examples. A few tried to slap me back into place, suggesting that I stupidly believed the Church to be immune from scrutiny.

Baloney!  The Church needs criticism; we want it; we welcome it; we do a good bit of it ourselves; we do not expect any special treatment…so bring it on.

All we ask is that it be fair and accurate.

The reporting on Pope Benedict XVI has not been so.

Follow the links there, Archbishop Dolan does a good job providing resources and explanations.

While the report on the nauseating abuse is bitterly true, the insinuation against Cardinal Ratzinger is not, and gives every indication of being part of a well-oiled campaign against Pope Benedict.

And then he well summarizes the key points, and addresses them.

Nothing in this non-news merits the tsunami of headlines, stories, and diatribes against the Church and this Pope that we have endured this past week.

There was legitimate news last week that should have received much more attention than it did. It was the annual independent audit report on American dioceses on compliance with our own tough Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. For those who profess to be so interested in the welfare of the young, the news should have been trumpeted as stunning progress. Catholics deeply disturbed by lurid tales of wicked behavior twenty or thirty years ago might have been surprised to discover…

…and he gives accounts of the progress made in the Church in America since the crisis erupted here in 2001 (and because of all it uncovered), including the system of accountability in place to follow the discipline established by the U.S. bishops.

The details are many, but the effect was clear. It became easier to remove priests who have committed these crimes from ministry very quickly, and often, dismissed from the priesthood altogether. Since his election, Pope Benedict has repeatedly demonstrated that even high-ranking priests are to be held accountable, and has not minced words about the failures of his brother bishops – both here in the United States and just last week, in his letter to the Catholics of Ireland.

That has all been obscured, at best, by the false allegations persisting in the press.

This failure to report in similar detail today’s successes and yesterday’s failures suggests the bias I wrote about last fall. This is also about simply telling the truth, or more to the point, about peddling falsehoods to destroy the Holy Father’s good name. It needs to be called what it is – scandalous.

Let me be upfront: I confess a bias in favor of the Church and her Pope.

I only wish some others would admit a bias on the other side.