Another Glimpse of Extreme Secularism

Last week on the blog we discussed the rise of vocal, extreme secularism, as exemplified by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (here). Extreme secularism is not merely a worldly attitude devoid of God, it is a position that actively denies that faith, prayer, and/or religious expression play a role worthy of recognition. Militant secularists go further, seeking to remove any religious practice or mention of God from the public square.

This past week we saw another example of this extreme secularism in remarks made by Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York City. Asked why state/city COVID-19 protocols have been almost completely ignored and unenforced during recent protests in NYC (and across the nation), Catholic News Agency reports:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that ongoing protests in the city merit exceptions to coronavirus regulations, while religious services do not. The mayor’s remarks have drawn criticism from New York’s archdiocese.

“When you see a nation, an entire nation, simultaneously grappling with an extraordinary crisis seeded in 400 years of American racism, I’m sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services,” de Blasio said at a June 2nd press conference, while defending his policy of allowing mass protests while continuing to restrict religious gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.

… New York has been under a strict stay-at-home order starting March 22nd, and it is only in the early stages of reopening public spaces. New Yorkers are being instructed to “wear a mask and maintain 6 feet distance in public.”

Back on March 27 the Mayor warned that if the religious services continued, he said, “our enforcement agents” would shut them down, and he threatened fines and even permanent closure of houses of worship for further disobedience of the order. He threatened future religious gatherings with mass arrests.

Meanwhile, protesters have gathered nightly by the thousands across the city to demonstrate against racism and police brutality following the May 25th death of George Floyd in police custody.

… On Thursday, the mayor announced that restaurants in the city will shortly be allowed to serve patrons outdoors.

“New York’s restaurants are part of what make us the greatest city in the world. They’ve taken a hit in our fight against COVID-19and there’s no recovery without them,” de Blasio stated. Churches are not slated to fully reopen until stage four of the state’s reopening program, along with schools, theaters, and entertainment venues [CNA June 4th 2020].

So, here is the situation: Protesters get waivers, but those who want to attend religious services are told to wait, even if we state that we will follow the state/city guidelines on social distancing, disinfection of surfaces, etc. This raises several questions and brings me to make a few observations.

If protesters are permitted to violate state/city regulations that just a week ago were called essential for public health during an emergency unprecedented in our lifetimes, were those guidelines really that critical after all? How does this engender respect for the seriousness of emergency measures?

This is especially the case for New York City, which has been an epicenter for the virus. They had even stricter guidelines there than we have here in Washington, D.C. One would think that Mayor de Blasio would be particularly adamant about enforcing these critical measures. We were told that hundreds of thousands of additional deaths would occur if we did not observe the state/city regulations. Are we to conclude, from a health perspective, that the restrictions were not really that necessary and that health experts and/or government officials knew this? How else can the abandonment of the regulations be explained?

I believe that the Mayor is correct in stating that the cancer of racism has existed for 400 years (in fact, I think longer). However, this feeds off a deeper wound going back much farther: Original Sin. This grievous wound has left behind in us a tendency toward sin; toward selfishness, hostility, unchastity, and greed. Racism emerges from this cauldron of simmering sin. Religious teaching, the sacraments, and prayer are focused on healing the wound of original sin and its effects. Peaceful protest has its place, but so does prayer. It is shortsighted to think we can heal a visible wound like racism while ignoring its underlying causes. We do not simply have a lapse of justice in racism; we have deep, festering wounds that require prayer and repentance.

I would ask Mayor de Blasio to consider how much more fierce, angry, unjust, and unkind our world has become since we have denigrated prayer, marginalized God, and banished biblical teaching from the public square. No age is perfect, but we are clearly in one of the darkest periods in a long, long time.

In a display of further shortsightedness—and, I would argue, to heap further contempt on religious practice—Mayor de Blasio then waxed eloquent on the need to reopen the restaurants of New York very soon. He said, “New York’s restaurants are part of what make us the greatest city in the world. They’ve taken a hit in our fight against COVID-19—and there’s no recovery without them.”

Churches, on the other hand, are not slated to fully reopen until the final phase of the state’s reopening plan, along with schools, theaters, and entertainment venues. In New York State churches will reopen sooner, but not, it seems in the City.

This is how he views religious people. We are not what makes NYC great, nor are we essential to its recovery—but restaurants are. We are lumped in with entertainment, theater, and perhaps a little education.

So, welcome to the world of extreme secularism. The Church is irrelevant. Protests—even if they bring along those who loot, burn, and destroy—are an essential element of the secular world, so important that they override the health norms we were told one week ago would lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands if ignored. Yet religious gatherings, even following strict guidelines, are both dangerous and irrelevant at the same time.

The masks are off. There is no mincing of words, just a dismissal of and contempt for all things religious.

Not all public officials have succumbed to this mentality, do not take my critique here to be a critique of all public officials, but there is an extreme secularism growing that has no room for religious practice of any sort and ascribes no value to it.

We have been here before. In the Office of Readings for Friday’s Feast of St. Boniface there is an exhortation from a man who endured the fury of unbelieving leaders in his day:

The ancient fathers showed us how we should carry out our duty: Clement, Cornelius and many others in the city of Rome, Cyprian at Carthage, Athanasius at Alexandria. They all lived under emperors who were pagans; they all steered Christ’s ship—or rather his most dear spouse, the Church. This they did by teaching and defending her, by their labors and sufferings, even to the shedding of blood.

… Since this is the case, and since the truth can be assaulted but never defeated or falsified. … Let us stand fast in what is right and prepare our souls for trial. Let us wait upon God’s strengthening aid and say to him: O Lord, you have been our refuge in all generations ….

Let us continue the fight on the day of the Lord. The days of anguish and of tribulation have overtaken us; if God so wills, let us die for the holy laws of our fathers, so that we may deserve to obtain an eternal inheritance with them.

Let us be neither dogs that do not bark nor silent onlookers nor paid servants who run away before the wolf. Instead let us be careful shepherds watching over Christ’s flock. Let us preach the whole of God’s plan to the powerful and to the humble, to rich and to poor, to men of every rank and age, as far as God gives us the strength, in season and out of season, as Saint Gregory writes in his book of Pastoral Instruction (From a letter by Saint Boniface, bishop and martyr (Ep. 78: MGH, Epistolae, 3, 352-354).


A Picture of a Strong Bishop in the Face of Suffering

On January 2nd, we celebrated the feast of St. Basil and St. Gregory Nazianzen. They were bishops in Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey) during the stormy period of the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ. Despite the strong affirmation by the Council of Nicaea, the Arian heretics did not desist. Saints Basil and Gregory were strong forces for truth in the long battle to stamp out the heresy. When the emperor, Julian the Apostate, sought to compel bishops to admit Arian heretics to Holy Communion both these bishops refused to comply.

An interaction between St. Basil and the local prefect of the emperor shows forth an image of a strong bishopthat is rare today. Encountering St. Basil’s resistance, the prefect said,

“Are you mad, that you resist the will [of the emperor] before which the whole world bows? Do you not dread the wrath of the emperor, nor exile, nor death?”

“No,” said Basil calmly, “he who has nothing to lose need not dread loss of goods; you cannot exile me, for the whole earth is my home; as for death, it would be the greatest kindness you could bestow upon me; torments cannot harm me: one blow would end my frail life and my sufferings together.”

“Never,” said the prefect, “has anyone dared to address me thus.” “Perhaps,” suggested Basil, “you never before measured your strength with a Christian bishop” (from Butler’s Lives of the Saints).

The emperor backed down.

The lives of early bishops were filled with suffering, exile, and martyrdom.Thirty of the first thirty-three popes were martyred, two died in exile, and only one died in his own bed. It was a similar story with many ancient bishops, for example Athanasius, Chrysostom, Basil, and Gregory. It’s hard to imagine many among the current leaders of the Church enduring such suffering. Many bishops and higher clergy today live comfortable, protected lives. Even less elevated clergymen live fairly insular lives, shielded from the ordinary struggles of the laity. Many of us have healthcare, housing, laundry services, prepared meals, and staff to handle many day-to-day matters. God bless all of our staff and God’s good people, who care for us so well.

There comes a point, though, when we clergy become soft, no longer able to relate to even small sufferings,let alone larger ones that might come from preaching the Gospel in an uncompromising and clear way. Failing to accept this suffering in our own lives, we fear to preach it to others.

Unlike St. Basil, who had felt he had nothing to lose, we modern clergy often think we have too much to lose. Indeed, the whole Church (at least in the prosperous West) fears we have too much to lose.We fear the loss of popularity, political power, and access; we fear the impact on our careers; we fear the loss of buildings, institutions, and programs as well as the money and power needed to sustain them. We seem to fear just about everything except the loss of our faith, which we are too willing compromise, ignore, or water down in order to keep the lesser things.

Ultimately, however, this world and the devil will never be satisfiedwith compromises we make until every last bit of our integrity is gone. Whatever time we buy through compromise is temporary; it is a pyrrhic “victory.” Despite all our attempts to fit in with the modern world, we are still closing churches and schools; Catholic charities are losing contracts; our members are continuing to drift away. The world cannot save us; being popular or up to date does not inspire faith or attract converts. Owning nice buildings is worthless if they are empty.

We end with a paradox.Acting out of fear that we have too much to lose will mean that we lose everything. Freely accepting that we have nothing to lose will mean that we gain everything, for we gain Christ Jesus and all that He promises us here and in the life to come.

But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you(Matt 6:33).

And anyone who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it(Matt 10:38-39).

May St. Basil, St. Gregory, and all the heroes and martyrs pray for us, clergy and laity alike!

Fortnight for Freedom: Please Spend Some Time Working and Praying to Protect Your Religious Liberty

There has been a steady erosion of religious liberty in the United States in recent years. It has been challenged through a broad range of incidents, requirements from the medical world, health insurance mandates, and court decisions. We often take our religious freedom for granted, but it is under substantive though sometimes subtle challenge. We are in the midst of a sea change; we are being told that religion has no place in the marketplace, in the public forum.

It is one thing to request that the government, in its official capacity, refrain from sponsoring sectarian prayer, but it is quite another to tell believers that they are not allowed to express their religion, refer to God, or pray in any sort of public way.

Further, religious exemptions — historically granted when religious beliefs and government policy collide — are gradually being removed, not included at all, or interpreted so strictly that they can never apply. Catholic institutions are gradually being pressured to provide contraceptives in medical plans, to cooperate in adoptions by gay couples or single parents, to provide spousal benefits to gay couples, and to cooperate in providing abortion coverage (by not being able to opt out of plans that provide such coverage).

Some of the erosion of religious liberty is subtle, hidden deep in the details of legislation and the strict interpretations of various judges. It requires the Church and other religious organizations to fight on multiple fronts in a wearying number of cases involving (arcane but significant) legal minutia.

On some level, the erosion of religious liberty is simply due to the sheer number of legal maneuvers occurring in multiple jurisdictions simultaneously. The Church and other religious entities may win an individual battle in one case only to have to face multiple appeals and similar battles in other jurisdictions. Keeping the faithful organized and alert, and maintaining the legal resources to meet every challenge is difficult. It is a kind of death by a thousand cuts.

Consider the following small sample involving the Church and/or fellow Christians:

•  Catholics Charities no longer able to provide adoption services –  As reported by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), “Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington — which has provided support to children and families for over eighty years — had a partnership with the District of Columbia for its foster care and public adoption program.  However, in 2010, a law redefining legal marriage to include two people of the same sex took effect.  The District then informed Catholic Charities that it would no longer be an eligible foster care and adoption partner.  Why?  Because, as a Catholic organization, Catholic Charities was committed to placing children with married [opposite sex] couples so that each child would have the experience of a mom and a dad.” Similar “decertification” occurred in foster care/ adoption services in Boston, San Francisco, and Illinois. “In the name of tolerance, we’re not being tolerated,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois.

•  Christian business owners threatened with fines and/or decertification – Increasing numbers of laws are being passed which seek to force business owners with firmly held religious beliefs to choose between providing services that violate those religious beliefs and suffering potentially devastating legal/financial consequences. A few such cases follow:

o  New Mexico – The owners of a photography studio refused to photograph a same-sex “commitment ceremony” because they did not want to participate in a ritual that contradicted their beliefs. In 2013, the New Mexico Supreme Court denied the owners’ appeal, affirming the lower court opinion that the studio violated the New Mexico Human Rights Act.
o  Idaho – In 2014, two Protestant ministers (a husband and wife) who operate a wedding chapel in Coeur d’Alene refused to officiate at a same-sex “wedding.” City officials informed the ministers that this violated the city’s ordinance outlawing discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of “sexual orientation.” The city eventually chose not to prosecute the ministers.
o  Washington – A florist who turned down a request to provide flowers for a same-sex “wedding” was sued by the Washington State Attorney General. In February 2017, the Washington Supreme Court ruled against the florist on the basis that she had violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws, despite the fact that she had served this particular customer (who she knew was in a same-sex relationship) for almost ten years before declining to participate in this particular event.
o  Colorado – Two men “married” in Massachusetts approached a Denver bakery to make a “wedding” cake for their “wedding” reception in Denver. For religious reasons, the owner of the bakery declined to make the cake. The two men filed a complaint with the Colorado Division of Civil Rights, which found that the bakery had violated the law. The Colorado State Attorney General’s office then filed a complaint against the bakery, resulting in further rulings against the bakery. The baker has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
o  Vermont – For allegedly not hosting a “wedding” reception for a same-sex “couple,” the Catholic owners of a bed and breakfast establishment settled a discrimination lawsuit, requiring them to (1) pay a $10,000 civil penalty, (2) pay $20,000 to a charitable trust, and (3) not host wedding receptions of any kind. Upon settling the lawsuit, the owners of the bed and breakfast said, “No one can force us to abandon our deeply held beliefs about marriage.”
o  New Jersey – The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights found that a Methodist organization violated a public accommodations law by not allowing a same-sex civil union ceremony to take place at its boardwalk pavilion.

Business owners should not be compelled to act against their deeply held religious beliefs. There are plenty of businesses willing to serve those who wish to engage in these controversial behaviors, which challenge long-held (even ancient) moral understandings. If a Christian baker refuses to serve a person with same-attraction who seeks to buy a cake, simply due to the customer’s sexual orientation, that would constitute an unreasonable act of discrimination by the part of the baker. However, if this same person seeks to engage the Christian baker to provide a cake that directly celebrates and/or affirms an act that the baker considers sinful, that would impose an undue and unnecessary burden on the baker. This is because it compels the baker to either violate his conscience or face serious legal and/or financial consequences.

•  Catholic employers required to cover objectionable medicines and “medical” procedures – The Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate — which requires coverage for sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients, abortion-inducing drugs — still contains language requiring religious institutions to facilitate or fund such coverage even if it is contrary to their moral teaching. This is because the federal government claims the right to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty.

•  Catholic humanitarian services organization required to provide or refer for objectionable medicines and “medical” procedures – After years of excellent performance by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its grant specifications such that MRS was required to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services, in direct violation of Catholic teaching.

•  Christian student organizations not officially recognized on campus – In its history of over 100 years, the University of California Hastings College of Law has denied official recognition to only one student group — the Christian Legal Society — because it requires its leaders to be Christian and to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.

•  Christians may not rent school buildings to hold services – In 1994, New York City’s Department of Education denied the request of the Bronx Household of Faith and several other Christian Churches to rent space from public schools on weekends for worship services, even though non-religious groups were permitted to rent the same space for numerous other purposed. In 2011, a federal appellate court upheld New York City’s ban (on allowing private worship services to be conducted in vacant public schools on weekends) and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case. The city’s policy is a simple case of discrimination against religious believers: people may assemble in vacant school space for any peaceful purpose—except religious worship.

These sorts of bans, legal motions, suits, and fines, are becoming increasingly widespread, and the legal landscape is often shifting. This steady “drip, drip, drip” is helping to erode religious liberty and free speech related to religion.

It is essential that we remain vigilant in these matters. Some want to exclude Christians — indeed all believers — from the public marketplace of ideas. There are increasing numbers of strident secularists who insist that the only legal place for religious expression is inside of a church building or on church-owned property. This is not right and it is not constitutional:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of a religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution).

Christians and other religious individuals have no less right to free speech, to assemble peaceably, or to petition the government, than any other individuals or groups. Yet many are increasingly arguing that the mere fact that a religious perspective is involved (or that this perspective is not in keeping with recent moral shifts in our culture) should exclude religious people altogether from having a place in the public square. Indeed, in many cases they argue that we should be fined and forced out of the marketplace.

Recognize that in many public schools, our children can be exposed to almost any philosophy, some of them aberrant and with limited supported from the general populace. At the same time, even referring to the Bible as an historical factor in this nation’s history may trigger a lawsuit. Condoms are freely distributed in most schools, yet the mere presence of a Bible is often greeted with hostility by school administrators. Providing information about (and even celebrating) “gay pride,” “transgenderism,” and “gender diversity” is often required in schools, but the mere mention of Jesus (or Christianity) or Christian students quietly praying voluntarily in the school courtyard is often forbidden. This is exclusion of the Catholic and biblical vision is both inequitable and illegal.

Religious Liberty is about more than institutions such as the Catholic Church having rights. The point is that you have a right to the free exercise of your faith. There are people, organizations, and governments agencies seeking to limit or even eliminate your right to religious liberty.

You also have the right to free speech, and there is nothing in the Constitution that says your free speech rights don’t include religious topics or references to God and the biblical moral view. Many people and organizations are seeking to legally silence any religious speech and any religiously based motivations.

Don’t let this happen. Be sober and vigilant about these threats to your liberties. Insist that Christians have the same rights that other citizens do in speaking to their values publicly and in seeking to influence public discussion and public policy.

We need to be alert in these matters and stay thirsty for justice. Work with your local diocese and take part in needed actions such as contacting your representatives when laws are under consideration.

The USCCB maintains a website with a wealth of information on this topic, and it is updated frequently: Fortnight for Freedom.

Some thoughts on the five stages of religious persecution.

It is rare that a respected segment of American life would become vilified and hated overnight. The usual transformation from respect to vilification goes in stages which grow in intensity. And hereby the Church, once a respected aspect of American life, along with the Protestant denominations has become increasingly marginalized and hated by many. It may help us to review these stages of persecution since it would seem that things are going to get more difficult for the Church in the years ahead. Generally there are distinguished five basic stages of persecution.

By way of giving due credit I want to say that these stages were recalled to me by Johnette Benkovic, of Women of Grace EWTN. She spoke at a recent fundraiser here in DC for WMET 1160 AM, Our Catholic Radio Station in the Guadalupe Radio Network. She gave a wonderful talk and a summons to courage. And among the things she set forth was a sober vision of how we have come to this current place where the culture is increasingly hostile to Christians and to Catholics particularly. The stages are from her talk, the commentary is my own.

Here then are the Five stages:

I. Stereotyping the targeted group – To stereotype means to repeat without variation, to take a quality or observation of a limited number, and generalize it of the whole group. It involves a simplified and standardized conception or view of a group based on observation of a limited sample.

And thus as the 1960s and 70s progressed Catholics and Bible-believing Christians were often caricatured in the media as Bible thumpers, simpletons, as backwards, mentally simple, haters of science, hypocrites, self-righteous, old-fashioned and so forth.

Catholics in particular were also accused of having neurotic guilt, hatred or aversion of sexuality, of being in a sexist institution. of it being stuck in the past, with too many rules, being authoritarian, of having clergy who were sexually repressed, homosexuals or pedophiles.

Basically as the stereotype goes, Catholics and Bible believing Christians are a sad, angry, boring, backward and repressed lot. To many who accept the stereotyping we are a laughable, even tragic group, caught in a superstitious past, incapable of throwing off the shackles of faith.

To be sure, not everyone engages in this stereotyping to the same degree, but here are the basic refrains of it. And the general climate of this sort of stereotyping sets the foundation for the next stage.

II. Vilifying the targeted Group for alleged crimes or misconduct, – As the stereotyping grows in intensity, Catholics and Christians,  who did not toe the line in the cultural revolution were described as, close-minded, harmful to human dignity and freedom, intolerant, hateful, bigoted, unfair, homophobic, reactionary and just plain mean and basically bad people.

The History of the Church is also described myopically as little more than bad and repressive behavior as we conducted crusades, inquisitions, and hated Galileo and all of science. Never mind that there might be a little more to the story, or that the Church founded universities, and hospitals, was the patron of the arts, and preached a Gospel that brought order and civilization to divided and barbarous time in the aftermath of the Roman Empire. Stereotyping will hear little of that, or, if it does, it will give the credit to anything or anyone but the Church and the faith.

In writing this, I fully expect to get a bevy of comments saying in effect that this is exactly what we are. And not only will they feel justified in saying this, but even righteous as they say so, so ingrained has this vilifying become in the wider culture.

As with any large group, individual Christians and Catholics will manifest some negative traits, but stereotyping and vilifying, and crudely and indiscriminately presuming the negative traits of a few to be common to all in unjust.

Yet all of this has the effect of creating a self-righteous indignation toward believers and of making anti-Catholic and anti-Christian attitudes a permissible bigotry for many today.

III. Marginalizing the targeted group’s role in society – Having established the (untrue) premise that the Church and the faith is very bad, and even harmful to human dignity and freedom, the next stage seeks to relegate the role of the Church to the margins.

To many in secularized culture, religion must go. They will perhaps let us have our hymns etc. in the four walls of our churches, but the faith must be banished from the public square.

In this stage it becomes increasingly unacceptable and intolerable that anyone should mention God, pray publicly or in any way bring their Christian faith to bear on matters of public policy. Nativity sets must go, out with Christmas trees, even the colors green and red at “holiday time” are banished from many public schools.

Do not even think of mentioning Jesus or of publicly thanking him in your valedictorian address, you could very well have a Circuit Court judge forbid you under penalty of law. You can thank the Madonna, but only if you mean the singer.

The LGBT club is welcome to set up shop and pass out rainbow colored condoms at the high school, but Christians better hit the road, no Bibles or pamphlets better see the light of day anywhere in the school building…separation of Church and state you know.

IV. Criminalizing the targeted group or its works – Can someone say HHS mandate?

But prior to this egregious attempt to violate our religious liberty there have been many other times we have had to go to court to fight for our rights to openly practice our faith. Increasing litigation is being directed against the Church and other Christians for daring to live out our faith.

Some jurisdictions have sought to compel Catholic hospitals and pro-life clinics to provide information or referrals for abortion, to provide “emergency contraception” (i.e. the abortifacient known as the morning after pill), Several branches of Catholic Charities have been de-certified from doing adoption work because they will not adopt children to gay couples. The State of Connecticut sought regulate the structure, organization and running of Catholic parishes in 2009. And recently a number of Christian valedictorians in various states have suffered legal injunctions when it was discovered that they would dare to mention God, and Jesus in their talk. (More HERE)

Many of these attempts to criminalize the faith have been successfully rebuffed in the courts, but the frequency of lawsuits, and the time and cost involved with fighting them is a huge burden. It is clear that attempts to criminalize Christian behavior is a growth sector in this culture and signals the beginnings and steady erosion of religious liberty.

Many indeed feel quite righteous, quite politically correct in their work to legally separate the practice of the faith from the public square.

V. Persecuting the targeted group outright – If current trends continue, Christians, especially religious leaders, may not be far from enduring heavy fines and jail.

Already in Canada and parts of Europe Catholic clergy have been arrested and charged with “hate crimes” for preaching Catholic Doctrine on homosexual activity.

In this country there are greater provisions for free speech but, as we have seen, there is a steady erosion in religious liberty and many Catholic dioceses are well familiar with having to spend long periods in courts defending basic religious liberty. The trajectory points to suffering, lawsuits, fines, desertification, and ultimately jail.

Unlikely you say? Alarmist? Well, stages one through four are pretty well in place. One may wish to whistle past the graveyard but it looks like we’re pretty well set for Stage V. You decide.

Maybe a heavy post requires a light video. Paul and Silas land in jail. It’s so bad its good: 🙂

Archdiocese of Washington Issues a Third Statement Regarding Georgetown University.

Yesterday, Saturday May 19th, the Archdiocese of Washington issued another statement in the form of an on-line Editorial in the Catholic Standard, the official paper of record, for the Archdiocese. The office of the Vicar General has encouraged priests and other leaders to share it.

The editorial was written in response to the an editorial in the Washington Post which alleged, among other things that the Archdiocese was interfering with academic freedom and suggest that a Catholic university should be something more than a voice of the Church.

As with these unsigned editorials in the Catholic Standard in the past, the exact author is unknown, but it is surely written and/or approved by the Cardinal’s senior staff and, as such is an official statement of the Archdiocese.

Since we have followed the events at Georgetown closely, I want to print excerpts of the editorial, by way of keeping us up to date. As is usual I will print the editorial in Bold Black italics and include comments of my own in red normal face type. These are excerpts, the full editorial is here: Catholic Standard On-Line

The Washington Post editorial (May 16, 2012)….missed the point….What this discussion is all about is not academic freedom, university autonomy or disinviting speakers…

When it was announced that Secretary Sebelius was invited to speak at Georgetown University, a Catholic university sponsored by the Society of Jesus, the university stated that [she] was among those “who will provide inspiration for our students as they envision more clearly the impact they can make in the world.”

It is one thing for a Catholic University to permit a vigorous discussion of issues, even permitting those who oppose the Church’s teaching or have different views. This is sometimes an understandable vehicle in the Academic setting to air differences and to engage in the “free exchange of ideas.”

Of course the essential goal, it would seem, on a Catholic campus would be for the Catholic position in such debates to be clearly and vigorously presented in such debates. Indeed, to provide motives of credibility and an encouragement to the students as to why Catholic teaching is both reasonable and superior to various errors of the day.

Georgetown however, speaks of Mrs. Sebelius as an “inspiration” to the students. She is not an inspiration and no Catholic university should speak of her in such a way. She is an unrepentant cheerleader for abortion. As Governor of Kansas she vetoed numerous bills passed by the legislature to secure reasonable limits to abortion, including parental notification, and even modest restrictions on late term abortions. Bishop Joseph Naumann in Kansas suggested she refrain from receiving communion.

She had also been close to the infamous George Tiller, known as Tiller, the baby killer, since he probably killed more that 60,000 babies, most of them late term. She has accepted more than $12,000 in campaign contributions from him and had him as a guest at the Governor’s Mansion.

Now as HHS Secretary, she has chosen to wage war against religious liberty, and is the architect of the HHS mandate currently being opposed by the Bishops and the Church, and credibly described as the greatest threat to religious liberty of our time.

She is no inspiration to anyone, other than fellow enemies of the Church and the unborn. If she has made an impact it cannot be described as good in any Catholic or Christian sense. Georgetown’s boosterism of her is shameful.

There was considerable negative reaction to this decision. [And] when the controversy surfaced, the Archdiocese chose to refrain from any comment until Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, personally could meet with the Provincial Superior of the Society of Jesus and separately with the president of the university.After hearing both parties, the archdiocese requested only one thing. It asked that since the university presents itself as both Jesuit and Catholic, that the leadership of the Society of Jesus and the president of the university simply state publicly that Secretary Sebelius’ positions do not represent the views and values of Georgetown University.

Many of you alleged that the Cardinal was “doing nothing.” Others demanded he take to the pulpit or at least a podium and denounce Georgetown. Still others demanded swift and sweeping action against the University.

All of this is emotionally understandable, and I share in the anger most of you experience about Georgetown.

That said, the Church seldom addresses inner conflicts in such public ways. The Cardinal, especially, is a careful and methodical man, keenly aware of the powers and limits that Canon Law sets forth for an ordinary.

Georgetown University is not an Archdiocesan organization. It is owned and run by the Jesuits and has its own governing boards. As can be seen here, the Cardinal has currently met with the Provincial Superior and the lay president of the University. What was said in those meetings is not public, but surely among the things the Cardinal insisted on must be what this editorial sets forth. Namely that, in the future, Georgetown University refrain from affirming such figures, and when they do speak, issue that Georgetown issue a clear disclaimer that such speakers do NOT represent the views of the University.

This amounts to a kind of truth in advertising. For the free exchange of ideas can have a place, even on Catholic Campuses, but the position of a Catholic Campus cannot be neutral or equivocal when it comes to matters of faith and morals.

I understand that this is not nearly enough for some of you who read this blog regularly. Many of you have a preference for swift and sweeping action to include: immediate removal of Catholic identity, insistence that leaders at Georgetown be immediately removed and replaced, interdict, etc.

However, as I have stated, this is not usually the way the Church proceeds. Canon Law is very methodical and carefully delineates the rights of all parties, not just bishops. And bishops who do act in such swift and sweeping manners do not usually prevail when things are appealed.

The Cardinal is a careful and a thoughtful man, with deep respect for Canon Law. He is also, certainly, no media hog. He prefers quiet, persistent, and behind the scenes actions that follow proper procedures.

There are some of you who have opined that souls are being lost. Perhaps, but it is possible that many souls would  also be lost if swift and sweeping were the Church’s normal mode. As I tried to show in a post last week (HERE), there are different scriptural traditions about Church discipline, and great prudence is required as to when and how to proceed in uprooting sin and error from the Church scene.

But the point here is to note that discussions are on-going, behind the scene. We get only a glimpse of them here in the editorial, but it is false to say the Cardinal is doing “nothing.” He is proceeding with care, but he is moving the ball, and call the issue.

The archdiocese never asked Georgetown to rescind its invitation. All that the archdiocese proposed – and did not require – was a statement, by those who represent to the public and to the Church both the Jesuit and Catholic character of the university, that the commencement event speaker does not speak for or represent the values of Georgetown University.

To those wanting swift and sweeping action, this aspect of the editorial will likely infuriate. But here again, Georgetown University is owned and run by the Jesuits. And, while they do have responsibilities to the Archbishop, final conflicts, where they exist between the Jesuits and the Cardinal, are adjudicated in Rome.

Some years ago, Cardinal James Hickey finally referred a conflict to Rome wherein Georgetown had approved and funded a pro-abortion student group. This took place presumably (I do not recall the full sequence of events) after conversations with the University leadership. And when the proper results were not obtained the matter was taken to the Jesuit superior in Rome and to several Roman congregations. Together they ruled that Georgetown must remove the status and funding from the group.

Perhaps, this will happen here if troubles continue. I am no prophet, but Cardinal, careful and methodical man that he is, is clearly working the steps necessary, from the standpoint of subsidiarity,  and, if troubles continue, I have little doubt it will go to the next necessary level.

It is the responsibility of the archbishop to relate to both the provincial superior and the president of the university in matters that affect the life of the Church in this archdiocese. While the archbishop does not engage in the internal affairs of governance of the Society of Jesus or Georgetown University, in Church teaching and law he is obliged to relate to both communities as they exercise public ministry as a part of the life of the Catholic Church. [And] Georgetown University as a Catholic university does have a relationship and a responsibility to the archbishop. This is true because it exercises its activities in the context of the overall mission of the Catholic Church.

Here too we see illustrated both subsidiarity and responsibility. While the Cardinal rightfully refrains from micro-managing Georgetown University (subsidiarity) he does expect Georgetown to maintain and fulfill its relationship to him as the local ordinary (responsibility).

While diplomatically stated it seems clear to me that the Cardinal does not expect in the future to read about such controversial invitations with significant impact on the “overall mission of the Catholic Church” in the newspaper.

Admittedly, ecclesial relationships that respect and deal with various levels of responsibility and autonomy in the Church are not always readily understood by secular media.And, I would add, many of us Catholics who struggle to see the Church differently from a political or civic entity.

Finally, just a personal word from me about the Canon “lawsuit” that has been brought by William Peter Blatty, who graduated from Georgetown in 1950 and is author of The Exorcist.  I am personally in favor of anyone turning up the heat on the Georgetown administration. I also know several good students and faculty over there at Georgetown who welcome the overture.  And, while no expert in Canon Law myself, I presume Mr. Blatty has availed himself of good counsel and thinks he is able to bring such a suit and prevail. I have great respect for the  Cardinal Newman Society, that, among others is assisting him in this matter.

Time will tell of the specifics of his case. But here too, I think expecting quick results may be unrealistic of readers. Church Tribunals, as I have said, are “methodical.” But what Mr. Blatty will hopefully illustrate, is that Catholic Laity have power too. Not only can they bring formal grievances, and canonical suits in certain circumstances, but they can also hit what they consider  “Catholic in Name Only” institutions (not only colleges) hard through reaching out to alumni, donors and other interested parties.

I do think however, one must remember that even places like Georgetown are not wholly bad. They still do have faculty and students highly dedicated to God and the Church. Groups like the Cardinal Newman Society are careful in their analysis, and when there is an rare error in a report of theirs, they correct it and publicize the correction. So, while Catholics are free to engage in advocacy for their concerns, Charity and justice are an important element.

With that in mind, comments are open (Caritas!)

In this video, I am amazed that though the singers look so young, their voices are very mature. The deep bass is especially amazing since the deep and rich bass voice does not usually develop in a man until much later in life. Younger basses usually can hit the notes, but have a kind of “buzzing” sound on the lower notes. Not so here! A deep rich sound.

Archdiocese of Washington speaks out over choice of Kathleen Sebelius as Speaker at Georgetown University

The Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Washington, Bishop Barry Knestout forwarded the following editorial from the Catholic Standard, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese. He asked the we priests share it in any way we deem appropriate with the people of the Archdiocese. In this matter.

Many of you write me and ask when and if the Archdiocese will speak out on this or that matter. In this matter, I am able to report that it has. And frankly the editorial pull no punches, as you will see. The original text is below in bold black italics. My comments are in plain red text. The original article is here: and a PDF of it is here: Disappointed but Not Surprised

Late last Friday, Georgetown University announced that U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius is the featured speaker for an awards ceremony at the University’s Public Policy Institute. This news is a disappointment but not a surprise.

As is well known, Secretary Sebelius is the architect of the “HHS mandate”, now federal law, which requires all employers — including religious institutions — to provide health insurance coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraceptives for its employees and redefines religious ministry to exclude Catholic social services, hospitals and universities if they serve or employ non-Catholics. Given her position, it is disappointing that she would be the person that Georgetown University would choose to honor.

Founded in 1789 by John Carroll, a Jesuit priest, Georgetown University has, historically speaking, religious roots. So, too, do Harvard, Princeton and Brown. Over time, though, as has happened with these Ivy League institutions, Georgetown has undergone a secularization, due in no small part to the fact that much of its leadership and faculty find their inspiration in sources other than the Gospel and Catholic teaching. Many are quite clear that they reflect the values of the secular culture of our age. Thus the selection of Secretary Sebelius for special recognition, while disappointing, is not surprising.

Pay close attention to this paragraph. The editorial, while not using canonical language,  in effect sets forth the view that Georgetown has largely become a secular University, along the line of Harvard, Yale et al. It goes even further, stating that the primary source of inspiration at Georgetown is not the Gospel or Catholic teaching, but instead, is other unnamed sources.

To be clear, there are surely some very fine teachers and students on campus. I know at least several who are striving to maintain some semblance of Catholic identity there. It remains true that Mass is still offered on campus, but that is true of Secular universities as well.

So, what is Catholic about Georgetown? Very little, it would seem by the editorial’s assessment. This assessment, I know, many of you will share, in the wake of one discouragement after another emanating from the campus of Georgetown.

Blessed John Paul II, in his 1990 apostolic constitution on Catholic Universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, invites Catholic universities into a relationship of faith and excellence. He calls them to share in the Church’s task of bringing the Gospel and Christian values into the culture of our day.

He reminds us that a Catholic university is “a living institutional witness to Christ and his message, so vitally important in cultures marked by secularism… Moreover, all the basic academic activities of a Catholic University are connected with and in harmony with the evangelizing mission of the Church,” among them, “dialogue with culture that makes the faith better understood” (ECE I: B.4.49).

Basic Catholic Mission stuff here. Sadly Georgetown and many other Catholic Universities are not clear on “Job 1.”

One can only wonder how the selection of Secretary Sebelius for such a prominent role as a featured speaker can be reconciled with the stated Catholic mission and identity of Georgetown University. Secretary Sebelius’ vision on what constitutes faith-based institutions presents the most direct challenge to religious freedom in recent history.

Yes, I wonder if Georgetown and others who think like this, have any  idea where intrusive government will end? It does not take a prophet to see that if the Federal Government can intrude on a matter like this (Catholic sexual and life teachings) which many at Georgetown sniff at, that the same Government will be back with more demands.

And these demands, the faculty and administration at Georgetown may be less sanguine about. Who is to say and more conservative administration could not demand that Georgetown teach, facilitate, and fund abstinence based programs as part of a healthcare mandate, or perhaps that they require all students and employees to contribute to and pay for a pro-life crisis pregnancy center to help bring babies to term, and that they fund an adoption agency on campus to encourage single moms to adopt their children to intact families. What if all this was in a future health care mandate that sought to preserve and foster the lives of infants and Georgetown was required to pay for all this?

I doubt Georgetown faculty and staff would be so sanguine about this, and say, “Well of course Government knows best, and if Government calls this women, infant and children’s healthcare, who are we to say no?” No, I rather doubt Georgetown would be inviting the HHS Secretary from a conservative administration proposing this. If they did, the protests would be so thick, that he or she couldn’t even get on campus.

But wake up Georgetown! You celebrate a woman who is helping to gut religious liberty. But your religious liberty is just as much on the line as any one else’s. Uncle Sam will be back, and you might not be so pleased the next time. Time for sobriety Georgetown.

On the same weekend that the Georgetown announcement was made, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the importance of Catholic education and the intellectual and cultural challenges of the New Evangelization in the context of contemporary American society. The Holy Father recalled that during his pastoral visit to America in April 2008, in his homily at the Mass at Nationals Stadium, he called on the Church in America to cultivate “a mindset, an intellectual culture which
is genuinely Catholic”. Last weekend he reiterated the need for American Catholic institutions of higher learning to commit to “building a society ever more solidly grounded in an authentic humanism inspired by the Gospel and faithful to the highest values of America’s civic and cultural heritage”.

With all of the people struggling so hard to preserve freedom of religion, and with all that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has said in defense of this important value, Georgetown’s choice of the architect of the radical challenge of such freedom for special recognition can only be seen as a statement of where the university stands – certainly not with the Catholic bishops. Clear and unambiguous

Georgetown University’s response to the commencement speaker decision is disappointing, but not surprising. When the vision guiding university choices does not clearly reflect the light of the Gospel and authentic Catholic teaching, there are, of course, disappointing results.

In other words, the fruit does not fall far from the tree. And the editorial could not be more clear, the vision at Georgetown is not the Gospel and it is not Catholic teaching.

So who wrote this? The editorial is unsigned. But the Catholic Standard is the official paper of the Archdiocese of Washington. As such it is a recognized voice of the Archdiocese and editorials like this are not published without review by the Cardinal’s senior staff.

I hope you will agree that the editorial lays out a very serious need for soul searching at Georgetown. And, while some of you may wish that universities like Georgetown would have long ago been censured and/or had their Catholic identity officially removed, that involves extensive and careful canonical procedures. I have no knowledge that any such actions are underway or have ever been tried in the past. And such matters are wholly left to the pastoral discretion of the bishops. I think we ought to allow the bishops their rightful prudential judgements in these sorts of matters and not be too hypercritical of them. They know a lot more than we ever will, and they have a bigger picture in mind as well, as they try to hold everyone as close to Christ as possible.

In your comments please consider charity, and remain prayerful about this matter, as I know most of you do.

This video is from the Cardinal Newman Society

New Rule Excludes Religious Workers from Benefits Offered to Others. Another Example of Hostile Secularism in the Federal Government

As the recent battle for a proper understanding of religious liberty shows, our culture and many of our government leaders and organizations are becoming increasingly secularized and hostile to religion and religious practice.

Yet another example of this is a recent rule change in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). According to this program, a person who has been engaged in Public Service employment for ten years, can have the remainder of their Student Loan form the government forgiven, presuming they have faithfully been paying it up till then.

However, a recent rule change now excludes those who are involved in any work of a religious nature. In the Washington Post “On Faith” section writes the following to explain the change:

What counts as public service?

Until the end of January, the government definition was clear and inclusive. It read as follows:  “Qualifying employment is any employment with a federal, state, or local government agency, entity, or organization or a non-profit organization that has been designated as tax-exempt by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC).

Now though, the rules have changed. At the end of the description of who qualifies for this program, a new paragraph appears and it’s striking not only in that it re-defines things, but that it does so in a way that seems purposefully disingenuous.

“Generally, the type or nature of employment with the organization does not matter for PSLF purposes. However, if you work for a non-profit organization, your employment will not qualify for PSLF if your job duties are related to religious instruction, worship services, or any form of proselytizing.” [1]

Thus, the new policy explicitly goes out of its way to exclude religious work. In effect it implies that such work is NOT public service, merely because it is exercised through a religious organization for a religious purpose.

Consider that the PSLF program exists because work for a tax exempt organization is generally considered to be of special value to the community. Many tax exempt organizations (like the Church), and those who work them provide care for the poor, special outreach to immigrants, pro-bono or lower cost legal assistance, and the like. The Church, in particular, runs shelters, soup kitchens, schools, hospitals, dental clinics, and so forth.

And, further, there was a traditional appreciation for the fact that religious instruction, and the care of souls, was something that benefited the entire community,  since such care helps to instill personal stability, generosity, commitment, respect for law, strong families and other civic values.

In recognition of the value of such work, and in order to encourage others to undertake it, programs like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness are offered, and churches, non-profits and other 401-C3 organizations have been granted tax exempt status.

Again, note the reason, they are tax-exempt and receive certain other benefits in recognition of the fact that they provide a valuable service to the the community.

The new wording of the law says, in effect, that offering religious benefits and services, the care of the soul, is no longer to be considered worthy of the benefit, that is, such work is no longer to be considered valuable enough that such workers will qualify.

Endless arguments will likely ensue as to the Church/State debate. But note that this is a CHANGE in the law. Those involved in religious work have always been included until now. Mr Hirschfield in his article asks,

Are clergy and teachers of religious faith/thought public servants? Is their work on par with that of others who work for 501c3 non-for-profit groups and for government agencies? It used to be, but as of January 31st, the federal government has changed its mind about that….[2]

He adds,

While religion can be abused in the most horrendous ways, it remains a source of enormous social good and unprecedented public service. The new regulation seems to uphold only one of those truths, and in doing so, is actually taking a position on faith (dare I say, “establishing” one?) – a hostile one. [3]

Yes, hostile would seem to be the word. And that, in a word, is increasingly what secularization is coming to mean: Hostility to religion. In the recent past we who are believers considered secularization to be an unfortunate forgetfulness of God or a disregarding of things spiritual and Godly. But in recent years secularization has increasingly taken on a direct hostility to religious faith, to its existence in the public square, and to its practice anywhere outside the four walls of a Church.

The new PSLF wording illustrates and proceeds from just that kind of growing and “accepted” cultural hostility. Mr. Hirschfield concludes:

…While church-[state] separation is a wise and necessary policy, separation is not about discrimination against, or hostility towards, religion. The regulation, as newly reformulated is clumsy at best, insensitive for certain, and may even be illegally hostile to religion. This one needs to change. [4]

Here’s a video on the well known and related matter of Religious Liberty in case you missed it: