HHS mandate 'ominous' threat to religious liberty, priest says

Fr Avelino Gonzalez CNA US Catholic News 6 1 12 Fr. Avelino Gonzalez.

As the battle to defend religious freedom continues, a Capitol Hill priest said the contraception mandate should be a cause for concern for all Americans.

“The trend set by the current administration has ominous overtones which recent history shows should be taken very seriously from the beginning – before further liberties are taken away,” Fr. Gonzales told CNA June 1.  

In his native Cuba, Fr. Gonzales said that Catholics faced similar restrictions before the start of an all-out persecution.

“In 1960 after the takeover of Fidel Castro in Cuba,” Fr. Gonzales said, “the Catholic Church began to feel the sting of anti-Catholic policies which reduced the right to religious freedom to the freedom to worship in private temples.”

Fr. Gonzales said the rhetoric behind such persecutions is similar to that which is found in the federal contraception mandate.

“This smacks of the present language used by the current administration that seeks to redefine religious freedom to the freedom to worship,” as in private houses of worship.

His comments come the same day as the U.S. release of the epic war drama “For Greater Glory” which charts the history of Mexico's Cristero War that was sparked by anti-Catholic legislation passed at the hands of President Elias Calles.

The highly anticipated film has already prompted much praise from clergy and laity alike as an example of the courage that is necessary to defend one's faith in the face of religious persecution. Some have also called it highly relevant in light of the battle over the contraception mandate.

Drawing attention to the timely message of the sacrifices necessary for religious liberty, the Knights of Columbus featured a spread of the film in their May issue of “Columbia” magazine.

But the cover, which featured an image of actor Andy Garcia as Gen. Enrique Gorostieta Velarde – the leader of the Cristiada martyrs – with the phrase, “Freedom is Our Lives” in bold red, has already received sharp criticism from opponents.

In his recent post for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Steve Schneck called such rhetoric both “scandalous” and “dangerous” while accusing Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus of attempting to incite escalation in “America's highly partisan culture war.”

However, Fr. Gonzales said that rather than downplay the threats posed by the federal government, the Catholic Church has a “moral obligation to be a sentinel in this area and earned the right to be hyper-sensitive to this trend.” This is due to the fact that the Church has “recorded the largest number of martyrs in the 20th century, more than all the previous centuries combined.”

In order to protect religious freedom, Fr. Gonzales said Catholics need to actively participate in the upcoming “Fortnight for Freedom” and follow guidelines on the issue laid out but the U.S. bishops conference.

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