As you probably know from the news, the House has begun debate on a health care bill. Now is the time to weigh in. If you are having trouble wading through the material, I call your attention to the latest newsletter from the Maryland Catholic Conference. http://capwiz.com/mdcath/issues/alert/?alertid=14280056
Both in the health care debate and the same-sex marriage debate, many people wonder why the church is “getting into politics.” In both cases, one could say that the church has always been a partner with the state. We are the single largest private provider of health care in the U.S.. When a priest witnesses the marriage of a couple, he represents both the church and the state. Unlike, many European, Central and South American countries in which couples must have a civil ceremony before a church wedding, in the U.S. this is not the case, the priest (or any minister) is given authority from the state to solemnize the marriage in the name of the state.
The Mission of the Laity
Perhaps, more importantly, it is the vocation of the lay person, by virtue of the prophetic charism of our Baptism, that we bear Christ and the Good News to the world. It is the laity whom the church assumes will take the lead in building the reign of God by bringing the Gospel to bear on the issues of the day. This does not mean making the state Catholic, but rather taking seriously our responsibility to assess decisions, legislation, and law in light of our conscience and the teaching of the Church.
Both of these issues also raise serious questions about the Constitution’s protection of religious liberty and the practice of religion. Pope Benedict spoke to this issue in his address to the United Nations during his 2008 visit to the United States. To the U. N. General Assembly he said “It is inconceivable, then, that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves–their faith–in order to be active citizens. It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one’s rights….The full guarantee of religious liberty cannot be limited to the free exercise of worship, but has to give due consideration to the public dimension of religion, and hence to the possibility of believers playing their part in building social order” (General Assembly of the United Nations, 4/18/08).
The proposed legislation on both topics involve serious threats to both individuals and Catholic(and other religious) organizations to both meet the mandate to serve all of God’s people and to be able to preserve our freedom to live and teach the faith. It is unimaginable that the Church would limit the services of our schools, hospitals, social service agencies and other programs to Catholics only. This, in and of itself, is against the teaching of the Church. However, it is also unimaginable that we would place ourselves in a compromising position with regard to the Gospel.
The partnership of Church and State in the U.S has been enormously successful in building a school system and health care system that has educated and cared for millions of Americans. It would be a tremendous loss to our communities to lose this partnership.