.- In an exclusive interview on his new eBook “A Heart on Fire,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput says the recent contraception mandate points to a “pattern” of attacks on religious liberty in the U.S.
These attacks, he noted, are changing America into a country more hostile to religion in general and to Catholicism in particular.
“Our national leadership over the past few years has been much colder toward America’s traditional understanding of religious freedom than any administration in recent memory,” the Archbishop of Philadelphia told CNA April 16.
While Americans presume that the Constitution guarantees their rights, he said, “in practice our rights survive or disappear based on how firmly we defend them.”
“It’s not hard to imagine a time in this country when sexual and reproductive ‘rights’ will take precedence over rights of conscience and freedom of religious expression. It’s happening elsewhere. It can happen here. We have no magic immunity.”
The archbishop’s eBook, released on March 27 through Doubleday, comes at a time of intense controversy over religious freedom in the U.S. The Department of Health and Human Services has mandated that almost all employers provide insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including an abortion-causing drug.
The federal rule’s narrow religious exemption does not apply to many Catholic institutions like health care systems, colleges, and charitable agencies. Employers who do not comply will face heavy fines.
While the Obama administration has proposed a compromise, Catholic leaders say it still requires them to cooperate in providing procedures and drugs whose use they consider to be sinful.
For Archbishop Chaput, the debate is “not an isolated incident.”
“It’s part of a pattern,” he said.
The archbishop finished his eBook last November before the HHS mandate controversy arose, but in his view attacks on religious freedom are problems that have been “brewing in our country for years.”
“Religion is under pressure in the public square because traditional religious faith, and the morality that flows from it, are obstacles to a very different and much more aggressively secular model of American life,” said the archbishop, who served on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom.
The archbishop’s comments echo his eBook, which predicts that religious freedom will be “one of the key issues facing Christians in the coming decade” both globally and in the U.S.
“Nothing guarantees that America’s experiment in religious freedom, as we traditionally know it, will survive here in the United States, let alone serve as a model for other countries in the future,” he warns.
He writes that many American leaders no longer regard religious faith as a healthy force even though American institutions and American values grow out of “a predominantly religious view.”
“The America emerging in the next several decades is likely to be much less friendly to Christian faith than anything in our country’s past. And that poses a challenge for all of us as Catholics.”
The archbishop’s eBook urges Catholics to witness to their faith in public life, which he describes as “an obligation of the Gospel.” This witness is “even more urgent as the mistakes and ambiguities of the past half-century of American Catholic experience come to harvest.”
Archbishop Chaput said that traditional religion and morality are under pressure because they are obstacles to a “much more aggressively secular model of American life.”
These attacks on religious faith and morality, such as advocacy for abortion and “gay marriage,” are carried out in the name of the individual but ultimately these attacks benefit the power of the state.
The state “necessarily grows stronger as mediating institutions like the Church are pushed out of the conversation or forced to violate their own teachings,” he said.
“It is a difficult time for believers,” he added.
The archbishop rejected any claim that the eBook and its concerns about religious liberty serve as a distraction from the internal problems of the Catholic Church.
“The main focus of every bishop certainly does need to be his own diocese and his own people – in Philadelphia and everywhere else. But religious liberty is not just another passing national controversy. It impacts every believer in every diocese, right here and right now,” he said.
Catholics should be especially protective of religious freedom because of the United States’ “long history of anti-Catholic prejudice,” he said.
Turning to the origins of “A Heart on Fire,” Archbishop Chaput explained that the eBook began as a new foreword to the print edition of his 2008 book “Render Unto Caesar.” Its electronic form is an inexpensive way to reach a general audience quickly, he added.
The eBook’s title is a compromise with his publisher. He had originally intended to use the title “Fire Upon the Earth,” from Luke 12:49, but his publishers thought it seemed “a bit too strong.”
The title still reflects Jesus’ desire for his disciples to “burn with the love of God” and to “have a zeal for winning souls and making the world holy.”
“A living Christian faith is never entirely at peace with the world,” he said. “Tepid faith is not much better than no faith at all, and in some ways it's worse because it deludes us into thinking we have a friendship with God.”
Every Christian has a missionary vocation, he emphasized. “If we’re not somehow bringing others to Jesus Christ, we’re missing the point of our baptism.”