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June 14, 2012
Gut check for freedom
By Louie Verrecchio *

By Louie Verrecchio *

On June 21st, dioceses across the United States will kick-off the “Fortnight for Freedom” during which “a great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty” will take place through “prayer, study, catechesis and public action.”

Plans for the fourteen day observance, culminating on the Fourth of July, were unveiled in an April 2012 statement ("Our First, Most Cherished Liberty") issued by the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty in response to the well-publicized HHS contraception/sterilization mandate.   

The statement indicates that if the mandate goes into effect, “the federal government will both force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching and purport to define which religious institutions are ‘religious enough’ to merit protection of their religious liberty.”

The bishops go on to quote "Dignitatis Humanae" – the Declaration on Religious Freedom of Vatican II – saying that the teaching of the Church “is absolutely clear” about religious liberty:

The human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs … whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits …. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed. Thus it is to become a civil right.

I agree with the bishops that something is clear in this proposition, but it certainly isn’t the case for the moral law entrusted to the Church by Christ the King; rather, it’s the seeds of the very evil the bishops are decrying.

One need not even be a Christian to recognize that the Council’s demands beg some important questions:

For instance, to whom do the civil authorities (those who have an obligation to determine the “due limits” of public activities and to constrain them accordingly) answer in matters religious? Furthermore, what exactly constitutes a “religious” matter in the first place? In other words, how does a “religious conviction” differ from a simple public policy position; a “religious activity” from a mere public demonstration, etc.?  
 
A full reading of "Dignitatis Humanae" doesn’t provide any clear answers (much less have the bishops in the decades following its promulgation); therefore, by default the Council gives every appearance of deferring to the judgment of the State in such things. The only straightforward guiding principle the Council provides is based on a falsehood; namely, it urges those who rule to govern as if no one particular religious confession (including Catholicism) renders a greater contribution to the common good than any other.

Remarkably, so-called “conservative” churchmen and their secular apologists promote this folly by arguing that the Church no longer calls upon governments to officially recognize Catholicism as the true religion and Christ as King because the State is “incompetent” in matters religious.

For instance, noted scholar George Weigel made this argument on EWTN saying, “The State is incompetent to make those sorts of judgments. A State that could say that Christ is King is a State that could say that Charles III or George VII or whatever is king … or Oprah Winfrey is queen.”

Yes, you’re reading this correctly; the inverted logic being applied here maintains that the State is so incompetent in matters religious that the Council thought it wise to defer to none other than the State in determining, not only the “due limits” of religion in the public square, but what constitutes religion in the first place.

With all of this in mind, the faithful have every right (and perhaps even duty, both to themselves and to the Church) to seek clarity from the bishops on this issue. One might well begin by asking:

Do you, or do you not profess that Catholic doctrine is the objective religious truth entrusted to the Church by Christ the King; that it is superior to the lies and the errors of the heathens and the heretics, and that those who exercise civil authority are obligated to treat this objective truth as their rule and their guide in all things?       

These are Catholicism 101 “softball” questions; at least they should be. Even so, I have no idea how many of our bishops would affirm sacred Tradition with a “yes.” That said, one thing seems absolutely certain; nearly all of them are rather comfortable regurgitating the starkly contrasting propositions enshrined in "Dignitatis Humanae"; among which is the undeniably strong implication that the doctrines and activities of the Catholic Church are worthy of no more consideration than those of any other religion.

Traditionally, the Church wasn’t nearly so bashful about proclaiming the Catholic faith as the one true religion. As for the false religions and their practice in the public arena, the Church has long recognized that those who exercise civil authority have a duty to apply prudential judgment in determining how best to treat such things in service to the “common good” - a phrase that is invoked without definition no less than seven times in "Our First, Most Cherished Liberty".

Though it is often misused by godless politicians, let it be said that the “common good” is not a chicken in every pot, low deductible health insurance, or access to a free cell phone … Sure, these things can be good; there is, however, but one ultimate good that is common to all and that is unity with God. Temporal things, therefore, must be used in service to man’s ultimate end and fulfillment, and the Lord has given us but one way – Jesus Christ.

Therefore, whatever opposes Christ the King (and likewise, Catholic doctrine) is not at the service of the common good. This – not the U.S. Constitution - has traditionally been, and must be again, the standard to which the Catholic Church holds those who govern. Anything less (e.g., behaving as if the doctrine of the Church is little more than just another opinion) is tantamount to inviting exactly the kind of persecution we’re facing today.

Look, there’s absolutely nothing new about civil authorities regulating the activities of society, including those that are properly described as religious. That’s what they do. For example, in 1994, Congress debated and established the due limits of peyote use in American Indian religious ceremonies.

What is new is that the Church has ceased proclaiming to both the world and to those who exercise civil authority in the world, the Kingship of Christ; He who alone is the Light of the world  the solitary beacon that leads mankind toward his ultimate end and fulfillment; the same that is reflected in all of its brilliance on the countenance of the Holy Catholic Church alone.

According to Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, the persecution being faced by the Church in the United States today “is not a Catholic issue … not a Jewish issue … not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. It is an American issue.”

With this being the prevailing mindset of the bishops’ conference, I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that many dioceses are planning, as part of their “Fortnight” activities, the recitation of a bastardized, hybridized, nationalized twist on Mary’s Psalter called the “Patriotic Rosary,” which among other idiotic things intersperses readings from notable figures in American history – some of whom were virulent anti-Catholics – the singing of patriotic songs, and the rattling off of the names of all fifty states while curiously failing to mention that hotbed of debauchery known as Washington D.C.

In any event, you won’t catch me participating in this mockery of the Most Holy Rosary. I’ll just stick with the same devotion that was prayed by so many of the saints throughout the centuries; that which was good enough to secure victory at the Battle of Lepanto, along with the specific intention that our bishops may once again find the courage to invoke the Sovereign rights and prerogatives of Christ the King and His Holy Catholic Church. 

“American issue” my foot; this is a gut check. Either we accept as true that “all authority in Heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28:18) has been given to Christ our Head or we don’t, and if we do, it’s high time to start behaving like it. 

Author and speaker Louie Verrecchio was a columnist for Catholic News Agency from April 2009 to 2013. His work, which includes Year of Faith resources like the Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II Faith Formation Series, has been endorsed by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia; Bishop Emeritus Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster, England; Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, IA, USA and others. For more information please visit: www.harvestingthefruit.com

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