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Religious freedom & the U.S. Catholic bishops

Today, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty released a statement, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, calling on Catholics and others to resist what the bishops characterize as unprecedented threats to religious freedom. The statement calls for a national campaign of political and legal resistance. It also urges Catholics to participate in a Fortnight for Freedom leading up to this years Fourth of July holiday, during which they are asked to study, pray, and protest against the supposed efforts of government to curtail the free exercise of religion. Among the bishops concerns are the recent HHS contraception mandate, harsh immigration laws, the denial of federal funding to Catholic social-service agencies, and the closing of Catholic adoption services because of the churchs refusal to place children with gay parents.The bishops are right to call for vigilance on behalf of religious liberty. There are influential currents of opinion today that advocate restricting the presence of religion in public life and would reduce religious liberty to the freedom of individuals or congregations to worship as they please. That is not the American way. There should be considerable room for government to cooperate with religious groups as with other non-governmental bodies in serving the common good. Unfortunately, the argument made by the bishops as well as their proposed tactics for public action undermine their case. Worse, the tenor of the bishops statement runs the risk of making this into a partisan issue during a presidential election in which the leaders of one party have made outlandish claims about a war on religion or a war against the Catholic Church.The USCCBs statement vastly exaggerates the extent to which American freedoms of all sorts and of religious freedom in particular are threatened. Church-state relations are complicated, requiring the careful weighing of competing moral claims. The USCCBs statement fails to acknowledge that fact. Worse, strangely absent from the list of examples provided by the bishops is the best-documented case of growing hostility to religious presence in the United States: hostility to Islam. Unless the bishops correct that oversight, their statement will only feed the impression that this campaign for religious freedom has been politically tailored. This silence is especially striking in view of the parallels between anti-Muslim sentiment today and the prejudice encountered by Catholic immigrants in the nineteenth century. If religious freedom becomes a partisan issue, its future is sure to grow dimmer, not brighter. Religious liberty, absolutely. Partisan politics, no.


Commenting Guidelines

I'm just wondering how many in the pews are going to relate to a "fortnight." I always think Shakepeare with that word... A"fortnight for freedom" sounds like one big party....

Carolyn, That decision you quote multiple times is completely illogical and makes no sense. It relies on the faulty logic than imposing no restrictions is somehow neutral. Yet, as you can see, its definition of no restrictions results in support for controversial issues which is of course not neutral. By definition, controversial issues are those over which there is public disagreement.While it may or may not stand, I certainly would not run around quoting it as an intelligent statement on religious freedom.

Worse, the tenor of the bishops statement runs the risk of making this into a partisan issue during a presidential election A better way of putting it is that the only reason anyone would view the Bishops' statement as partisan is precisely because some people (cough*present company included*cough) are strenuously trying to paint it as such.

JimHave you seen the members of the ad hoc committee? Let me ask you, where are specialists on religion or religious liberty on the list? You don't find them. You find, however, people like Mary Ann Glendon and Carl Anderson, both who have been highly connected to GOP politics. The imbalance is easy to see. Again, I can't but wonder where someone with scholarly involvement with inter-religious dialogue (for example) is on this committee ? Such people would have more understanding of religious liberty and its failings in a pluralistic society. It's easy to make claims while ignoring history and the reality of history. Again, where is the balance? Why the neglect of the way Catholic leaders -- LEADERS have worked to hinder religious liberty in the US for a long time (not just with the Native Americans, but certainly, with them, a group which has had a long history of discrimination against them)? There are true religious liberty concerns, but again, what we see is a sideshow -- one which makes a mockery (imo) of those true concerns.

As others have pointed out, the reference to Islam is rather odd: Worse, strangely absent from the list of examples provided by the bishops is the best-documented case of growing hostility to religious presence in the United States: hostility to Islam. The Bishops' statement was about governmental actions, not about private sentiment. In any event, it is not strange -- let alone "partisan" -- that Catholic Bishops would compile a list of governmental actions that mostly was about Catholic concerns. If the Islamic Society of North America or the Council on American-Islamic Relations issues a statement decrying ethnic profiling at airports, are you going to write up a similar response sniffing that the Muslims are being "strange" and "partisan" for failing to mention specifically Catholic concerns?

SB proves, once again, that the concern really isn't over religious liberty, if that is what he thinks makes this justified as a statement. If the concern is about religious liberty and its loss in the US, make the case, deal with it (even when Catholics... ahem) have helped to create this loss (Scalia, ahem, Mt. Graham, ahem). When people see SB say stuff like this, it is no wonder people take out of this an agenda which has nothing to do with religious liberty.

Let me ask you, where are specialists on religion or religious liberty on the list? You dont find them. You find, however, people like Mary Ann Glendon and Carl Anderson, both who have been highly connected to GOP politics. Mary Ann Glendon is a Harvard Law professor with a long history of studying religion and religious liberty, among human rights more broadly. She was the first female president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

SB: her area of expertise is not religious studies, it is not religion. Of course, you are incapable of understanding what that expertise is about... as you confuse most things. Seriously, to say she is an expert in religion is like saying Dawkins is an expert on Genesis.

The editorial recognizes that "There are influential currents of opinion today that advocate restricting the presence of religion in public life and would reduce religious liberty to the freedom of individuals or congregations to worship as they please." But it is noticeably circumspect about the possible locale of what it straightforwardly describes as "not the American way." One would never guess that these currents of opinion are dominant in the Obama administration.When former Obama Solicitor General Elena Kagan is "amazed" by the Administrations position in the recent Hosanna-Tabor case it's not surprising that the bishops are doing more than merely taking notice of this and other infringements. If they are not considering steps beyond the anguished wringing of hands, apparently the favored position of the editorialists, they would be negligent. We can't rely on the amazement of Justice Kagan to shame the anonymous "influential currents."Another irony: ridicule is often directed against the argument that religious liberty extends to the Catholic Taco Bell owner but now critics find fault because defense of Islamic freedom is not brought to the front and center of the bishops' document.

No Government action that I am aware of has forced any Catholic institution to end adoption services or any other social service program (except perhaps services to illegal immigrants.) The Church can act as t private adoption agency. All the Government has done is to say that if you wish to carry out your perfectly legitimate Catholic agenda in these areas, you cannot do so with taxpayer money that is supposed to be religiously neutral. It's a contract. If you don't want to abide by the terms of the contract fine, then don't enter into it. The health coverage controversy is somewhat different, and has been exhaustively debated here previously without changing any minds.

Yes, I would echo Fr Imbelli's praise for Charlie Camosy's above posting. There is no doubt that some/many bishops seem hysterical in their condemnation of all things Obama. And it seems to me, this editorial has a hysterical tone in its reading of this statement by the bishops.

We lose our religious liberty when we fear losing our religious liberty.

SBI will add, she has done some writing on religious liberty, even in the 90s, but I do not see her as an expert on the matter as one whose life work and study is on religion and religious liberty -- which is exactly my point. Beyond that, I would also add: before the current "crisis" she has been dismissive of the president and, in recent times, shows she has been working for one of his rivals for election. Again, it is not hard to see an agenda to read things in the worst kind of light. At least the committee should have had no one actively on the GOP campaign trail involved. The conflict of interest is simple to see.

The rhetorical strategy of invoking renown martyrs seems like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it may very well inspire those who are already firmly behind the Bishops' efforts toward a greater fervor; on the other hand, it may just cast others' concerns that the Bishops are inflating the sense of persecution into greater relief. It's hard to see the American scene as a "lions in the arena" situation when Christians obviously have such a large influence on the political scene, and someone like Thomas More was hardly a champion of religious freedom.

Daniel,I hope Catholics who are Democrats do not leave the Church over this and related matters. What I've counseled others to do is to keep goign to Mass, just stop financially backing the Church and Catholic organizations. Take advantage of no cost services and refrain from participating in the "Fortnight of Freedom." Let the Fortnight bring out to the public stage every right wing nut case in the country.

Carolyn (04/13/2012 - 12:30 am), judges' opinions often differ widely. One judge's position should never be taken as gospel. It seems to me that there's an unfortunate tendency in this country in recent years to regard judges and courts as moral arbiters. They aren't that - they aren't intended to be that. All they can do - or, at least, all they can properly do - is to interpret the law. And, being human - and, sometimes, alas, not being particularly conversant with the law they're obliged to interpret - they make mistakes. That's why, for example, the Supreme Court consists of nine judges, not just one.

No Government action that I am aware of has forced any Catholic institution to end adoption services That statement is incorrect. Even fully privately funded adoption agencies must comply with the laws and regulations where they operate. Here is a summary of the situation in Massachusetts.The adoption service of Catholic Charities is a public accommodation, and all public accommodations businesses or services functioning in the public sphere and providing goods or services to the public are subject to non-discrimination laws.Catholic Charities of the Boston Archdiocese announced that it will stop providing adoption services rather than continue to comply with a state law requiring no discrimination against gay and lesbian couples who seek to adopt."We have encountered a dilemma we cannot resolve," said Father J. Bryan Hehir, Boston Catholic Charities president, and Jeffrey Kaneb, chairman of the board of trustees, in a joint statement.

I don't see any substantive disagreement between the editorial and the Bishop's position. All this seems to amount to is a question of strategy and rhetoric. Is there a deeper claim being made by the editorial other than that the Bishops should stop being jerks? What am I missing?

The USCCB statement says "This year, we propose a special "fortnight for freedom," in which bishops in their own dioceses might arrange special events to highlight the importance of defending our first freedom. Our Catholic institutions also could be encouraged to do the same, especially in cooperation with other Christians, Jews, people of other faiths, and indeed, all who wish to defend our most cherished freedom."So if your Catholic institution does arrange special event with "all who wish to defend our most cherished freedom" and among those groups is a group that, for example, supports the freedom of LGBT people to marry, will your institution be defunded? Or is this a special two-week pass?

From the Commonweal editorial: "Unfortunately, the argument made by the bishops as well as their proposed tactics for public action undermine their case."Perhaps this is so; but the editorial would be much more persuasive if it had actually illustrated this claim with reference to some specific passages in the bishops' document, and some explanations of why those passages undermine the bishops' case."Worse, the tenor of the bishops statement runs the risk of making this into a partisan issue during a presidential election"References to specific passages that illustrate the tenor would be helpful. (I say this as one who is skeptical that this ad hoc committee has found the appropriate rhetorical voice).Regarding the editorial's claim that the tenor of the statement "runs the risk of making this into a partisan issue": is this a problem? If the bishops' core claim of infringement of religious liberty is correct - and the editorial seems to acknowledge its validity - then the infringement is a problem regardless of how the parties align around the issue, right? The infringements would be a problem if both parties equally support the infringements; or if both parties equally oppose the infringements; or if one party supports the infringements and the other opposes them. If the latter - a partisan divide on infringements - is the real state of affairs today, then the appropriate course of action for Catholic leaders would seem to be (1) to identify this as a partisan issue; and (2) to call on the pro-infringement party to change its position - and for Catholics who belong to the pro-infringement party to engage their political leaders to bring about that change. It seems to me that partisanship is not always a problem. If one party supports a church social teaching such as religious liberty or political liberty or the sanctity of life, and the other party doesn't, then surely partisanship is a *good* thing with respect to those issues. The alternative - rigorous nonpartisanship - would seem to imply that Catholics must stay aloof from political engagement, and hold that both parties are morally equal in all respects. Clearly, such a stance wouldn't be a Catholic one.John Paul II was pretty partisan in support of the Solidarity movement in Poland. Did Commonweal's editors decry that the Holy Father 'ran the risk' of injecting partisanship into that political situation?

@Bruce. 10:55 am. My understanding is the issue was over adoption services under a State financed program. The State has the right to enforce its laws when operating under contract with third parties. The Catholic Church has a right to decline. They still could provide self-financed adoption services, and should. If I am wrong on my facts, please direct me to an authoritative, neutral source and I'll stand corrected.

1)I think the editorial was correct and that once again the Bishops in adopting a battle strategy (even if they win the battle wil continualy be losin ga war oif credibility.)2)The comments here fal lalong for the most pasrt the usual party lines.3) Jef, blame the bishops? Of course, as Bill M. points out they are a lacluster group of leaders who just by title are not above blame.3)I take exception to some posts here they would like to portray themselves as above the fray but obviously bring their own slant to the issue(s) at hand.4) ABTW, JPII's role in Poland while perhaps subverting the Communists is now much questioned about his dismissin gthe complainst of clergy sex abuse, and his solidarity with the faithful is not so clear.

Jim Pouwels, re your 11:30 am comment's penultimate paragraph:There are a host of problems with having the clergy (that includes deacons as well as priests and bishops) letting themselves be seen as politically partisan. Here, let me mention just one pastoral problem. Suppose a beloved family member of mine is active in political party A but his pastor is overtly an outspoken supporter of political party B. Then my relative wants to go to confession and wants to confess badmouthing his or her political opponents. Then what? Or suppose my relative dies and I'm asked to help make arrangements for his funeral. Then what? Or take my own case. Suppose, as is not unlikely since my bishop is a member of the USCCB committee that put together this document, and our parish clergy decide to use the occasion of Sunday mass for this "Fortnight" event. You can be sure that I'll be irritated as hell. Do I walk out? Or sit and stew? Or grin and bear it? Seriously, Jim, put your money where your mouth is. What would you advise me to do?

The USCCB's statement is merely one more instance of the organization's partisan political hokum. As others have noted elsewhere, if these guys want to learn something about "religious liberty", let'em listen to their episcopal counterparts in Communist China and other places where "religious liberty" is a matter of life-and-death or life-and-imprisonment. Then our comfy, spoiled, partisan, sycophantic U.S. hierarchs might be able to learn something about "religious liberty".I give these guys dressed in their purples and reds zero credibility.With an exception or two, pox on 'em all!

"There are a host of problems with having the clergy (that includes deacons as well as priests and bishops) letting themselves be seen as politically partisan."It is precisely the prompting of a sentence such as this that highlights what is most unfortunate about this editorial. "Letting themselves be seen" is by definition, in the eyes of the beholder. Where the editorial could have provided helpful context, it instead cast stones.

Perception is reality.To access the Internal Revenue Service's "IRS Complaint Process - Tax-Exempt Organizations" page, go to,,id=131651,00.html

Joseph J. @12:48 pmIt is kind and temperate of you to limit comparisons of religious freedom, in China and other places, to the modern world only, passing over those bygone eras when "guys dressed in their purples and reds" were deeply implicated in the imprisonment and sometimes the death of dissenters.I am glad that the Enlightenment values of religious freedom and tolerance have won so total a victory that they are now cited and claimed even by people whose doctrinal predecessors worked tirelessly to suppress them.

We the undersigned former U.S. Ambassadors to the Holy See Thomas Melady, Ray Flynn, James Nicholson, Francis Rooney and Mary Ann Glendon are united in our wholehearted support for the candidacy of Mitt Romney for the Presidency of the United States because of his commitment to and support of the values that we feel are critical in a national leader."Studebaker might want to take note of Glendon's partisanship while Fr. Imbelli might want to admonish all five of these Catholic leaders that they should refrain from partisanship and using the Holy See as enabler of those views.

"The USCCBs statement vastly exaggerates the extent to which American freedoms of all sorts and of religious freedom in particular are threatened." Obviously the Editors are too young or are ignorant of the status of the Cathoilic Church and other religions under the control of the Communist State in Russia and Eastern Europe nations. It is Marxist non-theological doctrine to eliminate God and the Family and leave only the State that one owed not only allegiance but also his/her soul. Francis Cardinal George described it as, "Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the constitution of the former Soviet Union," Cardinal George wrote in a column in the Catholic New World. "You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. We fought a long Cold War to defeat that vision of society."Obama and his anti-religious bureaucrats seek to impose Marxist theology on all religious faithful through administrative mandates, rules and regulations. It is shocking how many 'Catholics' have bought into his openly defiant effort to subvert or eliminate the First Amendment's constitutional protection of religious liberty." The anti-Catholics have used secular civil laws to defund Catholic adoption agencies in two States, forcing them to close their doors, for refusing to place needy children with same sex couiples. This is the future under Obama and his bureaucrats.The issue is not about contraception, abortion pills, condoms or any other medical treatment or device. It is about the Government's effort to mandate the Catholic Church and its related charities, schools, al to provide such treatments and devices which are against the beliefs and teachings of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church must consider what the government could mandate next using secular laws, such as ordering Catholic chaplains to perform gay and lesbian marriages on military bases or face a court martial, ordering Catholic schools to teach 'Mary has Two Mommies or 'David has Two Daddies' or lose accreditation.As individuals you have free will and are able to use your 'subjective conscience' (search out Cardinal Ratzinger's 1991 'Conscience and Truth' presentation to the American Bishops)to decide which of the Church's beliefs and teachings you will follow and which you will reject in your secular life style, just as Adam and Eve did.Many believe that Vatican II provided this decision making authority but the authorities did not plaster over the wall of the Sistine Chapel on which Michelangelo's "The last Judgment" appears. If a copy of The Last Judgment were to be placed behind the altar in every Church, the Sunday Sermon be could be reduced to the priest pointing to the painting and saying "That all folks. We report, you decide".

When the bishops talk about hostility to religions, to what/whom are they referring? Ooposition is not necessarily hostility, much less war. Are they talking about widespread hostile statements or actions or both? Their examples show they're talking about the latter, but examination of those actions does not indicate that there is a "war" on religious freedom going on, and the oppositions involved do not imply that anyone is trying to rid the country of religion. Most of the oppositions are simply clashes of government laws or policies and Church principles. These clashes are inevitable in a democracy. What has not yet been accepted by the bishops, apparently, is that the government *has to be* the ultimate decision-maker and that the government *should* decide in its own favor when there is a real dilemma, an opposition that *cannot possibly* be resolved. (I mean cases in which both sides have real, highly important against the other involving fundamental rights.) Any other principle would destroy the government. The other thing that the bishops do not realize is that war is *organized* action. That is, it is planned, systematic action of a group. But there is no planned, systematic action by any group in the U. S. which is attempting to destroy freedom/religion in the U. S. Yes, there have been a few violations of religious freedom in the U. S., largely by states but not by the federal government or any of its branches. Neither the federal nor state governments, nor even any private groups (that i know of, not even the ACLU) are *organized* to destroy American religious freedom. So the bishops' rhetoric is grossly inflated, and it inclines one to doubt their judgments and/or motives in talking the way they have been doing.Until this undisciplined rhetoric cools down, few will take them seriously.

Bernard - clergy are ordained to serve, not just those who agree with them politically, but all God's people. That means that clergy need to be able to rise above, or set aside, partisan differences with the people they minister to. If you or your family finds that a member of the clergy's partisanship (or the partisanship of anyone in professional ministry) is so distracting or irritating that it is presenting a spiritual obstacle, you should follow the biblical advice and talk to him/her about it. If that fails to give satisfaction, then there are escalation paths.Please be aware that clergy and other professional ministers don't renounce their political views when they enter ministry. We do need to be sensitive to political differences among the people we serve, and not touch sore spots or provoke conflict needlessly. And we have an obligation, like everyone else, to be alive to, and do our best to work through, the conflicts and contradictions that may arise between our personal preferences and the implications of the Christian truth to which we've committed ourselves. If you hang around with parish ministers, both lay and ordained, you will soon find that the great majority of them are politically progressive (at least, that is my experience). I can well understand that this is not a problem for a person who happens to be progressive herself, but it is really annoying to some people who are not. But it is what it is, and so such people need to accept that reality as a starting point, and move forward from there.Dr. King was joined in his civil-rights work by Catholic clergy and religious. Do you object to this overt partisanship? If that was not objectionable, then what is your guiding principle that makes some partisanship okay and other partisanship not okay? Mine is that all of our words and actions should be directed, not to partisan advantage for purely political purposes, but to help build God's kingdom. Because politics are an important area of human activity, it's just impossible for this kingdom-building to completely eschew politics.Ultimately, I think all of us need to make allowance for the fact that all humans, whether in professional ministry or not, have political views, that not all of us will agree with one another, that we're nevertheless united in the Body of Christ, and that part of being united means leaving a bit of room for those differences.FWIW - I agree with Charles Camosy's analysis of the bishops' statement. I don't find the statement to be an exercise in partisanship. I would also note that the issues that seem to be among the most tender bruises for the ad hoc committee - the contraception mandate, the shutting down of adoption services, the non-renewal of the human-trafficking contract - are all areas of conflict that were provoked by the Obama administration or by progressive state administrations. In other words, these are all fights that were picked by political entities that ARE partisan by their very nature. The church is not being partisan on these issues - it is simply playing defense.

"Obama and his anti-religious bureaucrats seek to impose Marxist theology on all religious faithful through administrative mandates, rules and regulations."Mr. Mosman --Who are these anti-religious, Marxist bureaucrats? And besides the mandates, rules and regulations under consideration here in the last month, what else have they done to further their cause?Name names and give numbers.

Catholics have every right to protest a law requiring their agencies to provide funding for a practice the official church deems gravely immoral. Nevertheless, for many years some Catholic theologians and many Catholic faithful have found an ambiguity in the churchs teaching on contraception. Church officials have supported the rhythm method while condemning, for example, the use of condoms. However, some ask, what is the moral difference between a time barrier to conception (rhythm) and a space barrier (condom), when the intent in both cases is to avoid conception?Pope Benedict XVI recently was quoted as allowing as an exception the use of condoms to avoid HIV infection. Vatican Press stated a number of cardinals supported the exception. Thoughtful Catholics have wondered how the church could allow under any circumstances a practice it considered gravely immoral.As Catholics sacrifice their resources to oppose the governments regulation requiring funding of contraception, they might respectfully request their Church officials to revisit the issue in search of a consistent basis for opposition.Religious freedom is a precious human right with a constitutional foundation. It would be a pity if protests against funding contraception were themselves based on a murky or confusing rationale.

The Martin Luther King example is not typical of the sorts of actions we're considering. He addressed injustice that had been going on for two hundred years against a major portion of the populace and there was no end in sight and de facto no means for changing the situation other than lnonviolent resistance. Perhaps such an exceptions should be described as circumstances for which history has shown there is de facto no ordinary redress for the plaintiffs. In other words, religious people may protest and take action when the injustices are serious, long-standing, and there is no other redress for the injustices they suffer other than 1) direct participation in the political process or 2) action taken outside of it.In other words, direct religious participation in political processes should be a matter of last resort.The new article by John Allen discusses how religious groups might exercise influence in the political arena without participating directly within it. It's specifically about moral issues involving business, but the general principle might hold for *all* moral issues confronting governiment. See idea is for the churches to ask salient questions about moral and legal issues rather than telling the populace specifially that X or Y should be done.

The ignorance on adoption alone is enough to make me want to declare conscientious objector status for this front on the culturewar. Most dioceses are checking out of adoption because of the traditional way they've handled it: babies as cures for childlessness, rather than something to be done for the hundreds of thousands of American children who lack parents this very moment.So the CC coffers lose some gubmint money. Big whoop. Instead of laying of CC personnel, these bishops should be redirecting efforts to promote adoption by people with a track record of proven effectiveness: two-parent Catholic households. With those millions of gay couples babysnatching, surely the Church could come up with one or two million more Catholic couples to get their home study in place and give a permanent home to those very needy kids, who, by and large, whine far less than the USCCB.Associating skinflint and unimaginative bishops with great saints like Thomas More and John Fisher is laughable. The only bishops under the gun these days are being prosecuted, not persecuted. As for the others, there's a lot of work that could be done out there. It's time to get off the pity pot and roll up some sleeves and get doing. I just might spend every evening of the Fortnight doing something fun with my daughter and staying away from church. I don't need to study GOP talking points. I need to be the best father I can be.

Religious liberals are unstinting in their support of religious liberty, except when such support is partisan. And when is it partisan? Apparently it is enough if some have the impression of partisanship to establish the reality of partisanship. Or the tenor of an argument in defense of religious liberty may be deemed offensive to refined tastes. In these cases religious liberals will vigorously favor the restriction of religious liberty, especially when it involves an institution judged to be so oppressive as the Catholic Church.No need for further explanations and no need to point to any sentence or paragraph of the bishops' document to establish partisanship. The mere suspicion of a penumbra of an emanation of an unseemly tenor is sufficient for the right-minded to come to judgment and summon the IRS. The scope of religious liberty to be defended by religious liberals is therefore narrowly circumscribed - I wonder if it exceeds the boundaries established by the Obama administration in any meaningful way.

Jim Pouwels, thanks for your reply. About Martin Luther King, I think that what Ann has said answers your comment. More generally, it is one thing for clergy to urge support for or opposition to one or another public policy. It is quite another thing for them to use their religious position to press members of their congregations to follow their lead on such questions by claiming that they speak for the Church.It is never right for them to give the impression that one is a better Catholic if one joins or consistently supports political party A rather than political party B. That's one of the things at issue in the USCCB's document and its call for a "Fortnight of Freedom." One has to be pretty naive not to think that this call is likely to be understood by many Catholics as the Catholic preference for the Republican Party and its candidates.

Have the Catholic Bishops decided to invest their enormous SPIRITUAL capital on the election of a millionaire Republican? As a Catholic, by the grace of God, I turn the other cheek when hate hits me. And I do so. I turn the other cheek, but do not obey my Bishops. Instead I accuse them of weak and misleading leadership, I accuse them of twisting the mandate from the Divine Teacher and choosing to protect the rich and disenfranchise the poor, I accuse them of allowing others-- intent on fueling the hate against the children of Allah like in the past many fanned the fires of hate against the children of Israel-- of usurping our sacred institutions, I accuse them of looking the other way while racial crimes against mankind were being committed, and of blessing political turpitude plunging our people into ever larger poverty traps., I accuse them of playing religious doctrine against the poor, the hungry children dying by the thousands, the abandoned poor girls, the desperate poor senior citizens,I accuse them of leaving millions of poor Catholic migrants unprotected, abandoned.I accuse them of applauding the actions of rich parishioners aware those actions caused massive poverty and spiritual anguish. I accuse them of distorting our principles, and placing the brunt of our sinful society on the back of vulnerable young women while encouraging widespread poverty, even when aware such worsening poverty will increase abortions, abandoned families, and vice epidemics. I accuse them of betraying the principles consacre by our beloved Church, our Mater et Magistra. I agree with most points found in the stated Bishops religious agenda, or at least with most points. More than questioned, they should be applauded for clearly standing on the side of human dignity, by keeping alive spiritual principles guiding our ascent from animal instincts to the fulfillment of our glory as Gods children, to the Omega point. But I do disagree,strongly, with its partisan political intent. Yes, I want my spiritual leaders back; we all have enough political leaders to last several lifetimes. And besides, even though their spiritual capital might be high, their political capital is low, and their ethical capital negative. This attitude may cause a major embarrassment to us, the Church.And turning the other cheek, I pray the Holy Spirit illuminates their minds and breach their egos, and guides them away from roles as inane political leaders and return these great men (no women yet) to act as sensible, saintly shepherds. And pray we all remain humble but not meek, serene but not apathetic, devout but not fanatic, ever learning but never knowing. We, their flock, must have our bishops spiritual guidance, now more than ever before. But, basic question: What triggered my strong reaction? More pederasts? More funds missing? More shady real state speculation? More treatment of women as incomplete human beings? More top down rules brought to control the expressions of sins in the past rather than those destroying us today? More promotion of incompetent yes men to the higher ranks of Church governance? No, these and others upset many, but the Church is made up by us, not by angels. It has survived 2000 years in spite of its earthy leadership and thanks to the grace of God. We shall pray for guidance and engage these flaws at all levels to correct them. And the opening accusations should help us, priesthood and laity jointly, refocus the earthy presence of the Church to fit and shape the demands and opportunities brought by a marvelous and intense 21st Century. What triggered my anger and anxiety is the hollowing out of the Church by the Bishops in the U.S., the use of the SPIRITUAL power of the Church to support the elections of a Republican ticket. Let the Bishops, as aristocrats if they were, support Republican millionaires running for the highest office on the land, but only as individuals, who like every other American can cast her vote freely. And there is nothing wrong being a Republican, when I ignored the true dynamics ruling American politics, this Latino was one. But I want my church, not a political club.Have Catholic Bishops chosen to join the partisan contest in the U.S. elections? Will they bless, in the same ritual, those bent on wiping out innocents Muslims by millions around the world as well as dastardly dictators like the Castro brothers? Is a unique religious axis shaping up? One comprising Mormon, Fundamentalists, and Catholics? A partisan politicization and polarization religious axis? Its early agenda seems designed to exacerbate passions and overpower logic in an already irate campaign. What brings these disparate characters together? Big Money-Big Church: a common ground--all above the law, beyond the Constitution? Are cynical political practitioners praying on our Bishops, pushing our spiritual guides into an unholy alliance seeking to whip Americans into a religious frenzy; a madness guided to kick from the Oval Office a leader who many of the new found allies of this political club, specially among the Fundamentalists and Mormons, accuse to be, like all blacks, a descendant of Cain? How will African Catholics, and Afro-descendant Catholics across the world react to politics in favor of the extreme right, extreme white, by their Mother Church? Please, be careful with those manipulators and the hate they push you to exacerbate--America does not need more martyrs in the White House, specially martyrs made by Catholics claiming to do Gods will--because they interpreted their bishops told them so.Will the Bishops, our holy advisers, risk an spiritual standing earned through centuries of applied principles and believes by sliding opportunistically on a political spectrum and in so doing, becoming essentially another, albeit highly influential, political group? As a trained economist who has coped with peculiar clerical and political changes (i.e. follow the money) should the question be asked-- Who is funding and by how much this anomaly? Has the effective financial corps made a cost benefit analysis of how much their coffers will suffer because we will not contribute to a political group favoring the ber rich? Of course, the ber can compensate the loses suffered from our disappointment, from the nobodies. The gains bers will amass by the removal of environmental, health, food, and financial oversight, from profit margins garnished by depressed wages paid to disenfranchised workers, by massive contracts for redundant weapon systems, and by massive tax savings and shelters thanks to the to the emerging Church Republican political club will cover, by orders of magnitude, any paltry contributions made by poor Latinos and other low income members of parishes across the land. What financial drivers push this political realignment? Any expectation of political gratitude, like Republicans did earlier with the Ayatolla Khomeini after Reagans victory, to reinstate funds cut from the Bishops illegal, albeit valid, programs (in a country where laws rule supreme, legality determines options; most immigrants are good human beings, but illegal) or ensure those fines the Church must pay due to misbehaving priest who Bishops and the Church nobility forbid to marry, discreetly vanish? I would not ask these question to my spiritual leaders, I trust them. Politicos? Of course. In the midst of a cynical, corrupt, materialistic culture, humankind needs spiritual guidance more than ever before in modern times. The last time this cynicism overwhelmed us WWII happened, Hitler happened. Yet, when its leadership is desperately needed, does the Church endangers its pastoral mandate by regressing to its medieval roots--king and bishop?Obviously the bishops have chosen to ignore those who, like me, disagree with their political--not spiritual-- posturing. Catholic Democrats who do not bend to their political mandates will burn in hell? Should we migrate to other spiritual leaders, other churches, other pathways to the Lords grace? In the Dark Ages, the Church convinced its "client base" of its monopoly on the road to salvation--no more. If Catholicism guides my instincts to higher and more noble levels, America is my holistic, existential political totality. America--who cares? We do.May the Good Lord bless us, our Bishops, our Church, all churches, and our great nation. May we, sooner rather than later, leave behind animal selfishness and greed, get down from the simian tree, and ascend to the noble vision open only to all humans, the children of God.If these lines, studded with logical flaws and choppy segues, could enrich the debate, please circulate to others, including Catholics, Afro Americans and Latinos, as well as to Africans and Afro-descendants around the world. Otherwise, kill my ramblings.Felipe P. ManteigaAmerican and Catholic April 20,2012 Juan Dolio, Dominican Republic

"About Martin Luther King, I think that what Ann has said answers your comment."Well ... I take Ann's rule of thumb to be, 'If the issue is really important, then partisanship might be okay.' I suppose the implication - and I take it that Commonweal's editors share this opinion - is that the threats/infringements to religious liberty that the document enumerates aren't serious enough to warrant partisan political engagement. (Naturally, that raises the question, What is the threshold?)Obviously, the bishops disagree about the gravity of the threat - they've taken the rather extraordinary step of forming this high-profile ad hoc committee to address the issue, and it's now issued this statement. I don't think one need be naive not to attribute partisan motives to this statement. As I noted in a previous comment: these are all issues in which previously-recognized church rights are now being infringed by the White House and by state administrations, i.e. by political entities. If the political party to which these entities belong suffers political blowback for picking these fights in an election season - well, I'm tempted to say, they started the tussle, and if they end up with their noses bloodied, it's hard to fault the guy who was just defending himself. And if I were the church, I'd rather run the risk of appearing partisan in order to protect a cherished constitutional right than cede that right in order merely to preserve a veneer of neutrality.

Fine, Jim. Just don't tell me that you and the bishops have a lock on the Christian message. You don't and it is just plain wrong to claim otherwise.

jbruns,Here is a source which states in partIt's worth underscoring that Catholic Charities' problem with the state didn't hinge on its receipt of public money. Ron Madnick, president of the Massachusetts chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, agreed with Garvey's assessment: "Even if Catholic Charities ceased receiving tax support and gave up its role as a state contractor, it still could not refuse to place children with same-sex couples."It also cites several other articles stating the same.

Jim Pauwels 04/13/2012 - 6:23 pm

Well said. Direct engagement in the political system when that system is proving a threat to one's basic liberties is essential, not at all inadvisable. It would be seriously remiss of the bishops to say nothing - or even to issue only a polite protest.

JIm P. ==I don't have a rule of thumb for all this. It is much to complicated for that. In fact, my post oversimplified in that it didn't distinguish a number of very different problems:1. The personal problem of the bishops whose religious freedom was indeed infringed upon by the original HHS mandate. I defended them on that one immediately because as individual citizens they always have the right to personally defend violations of their personal rights.2. Government policies and laws which are intended to inhibit or stop religious practices, such as the use of peyote in Indian rituals. Again, these are direct threats to the religions and direct legal or even political action is appropriate.3. Government policies and laws which restrict the religious practice of a religious group whose practice has as its end a *secular good* for the community, e.g., running adoption agencies, distributing food to the poor, etc. Though the motive of the religious people is religious, their end is a public, non-partisan good. The churches, it must be noted, do *not* have a constitutional religious right to administer programs whose ends are secular, like giving out food or helping in adoptions. In such cases perhaps the thing to do is have the bishops offer general principles defending the participation of churches in such programs with secular ends as well as informing the public of all the good the churches do for the common good, and also have lay people act politically to have the laws/policies changed if possible.There are probably other areas where there can be conflicts. I just think that unless there is a constitutional issue involved, the bishops had best stay out of these secular matters. Granted, morals are a matter of Church teaching. I most certainly wouldn't restrict the bishops' right to teach Church teachings -- but the moral teachings of the Church are ALL GENERAL PRINCIPLES -- they are not applications to particular circumstances.So what should the bishops do about immoral laws, e.g., abortion, the slavery laws? They should teach general principles and also try to persuade the general populace, not just Catholics, by giving their *reasons* for the general principles. and they may exhort citizens of their obligation as citizens to consider these matters carefully. In cases where the unjust laws are fundamental violations of basic rights and have been long-standing then the bishops -- like any other citizen -- may apply the general principles to those particular circumstances. Further when there is de facto no legal redress for the complainants, the bishops may even promote nonviolent resistance. And, of course, they may speak as private citizens IF they make it clear that they are not speaking in their capacity as bishops.

Thanks, Bruce (04/13/2012 - 8:20 pm) for that it dates to 2006. This is not new.Here's another interesting bit from it:

Reading through these and the other scholars' papers, I noticed an odd feature. Generally speaking the scholars most opposed to gay marriage were somewhat less likely than others to foresee large conflicts ahead--perhaps because they tended to find it "inconceivable," as Doug Kmiec of Pepperdine law school put it, that "a successful analogy will be drawn in the public mind between irrational, and morally repugnant, racial discrimination and the rational, and at least morally debatable, differentiation of traditional and same-sex marriage." That's a key consideration. For if orientation is like race, then people who oppose gay marriage will be treated under law like bigots who opposed interracial marriage. Sure, we don't arrest people for being racists, but the law does intervene in powerful ways to punish and discourage racial discrimination, not only by government but also by private entities. Doug Laycock, a religious liberty expert at the University of Texas law school, similarly told me we are a "long way" from equating orientation with race in the law.By contrast, the scholars who favor gay marriage found it relatively easy to foresee looming legal pressures on faith-based organizations opposed to gay marriage, perhaps because many of these scholars live in social and intellectual circles where the shift Kmiec regards as inconceivable has already happened. They have less trouble imagining that people and groups who oppose gay marriage will soon be treated by society and the law the way we treat racists because that's pretty close to the world in which they live now.

Mr.David Smith 4/14/12It is interesting that you quote Professor Kmeic who was a supporter of Barack Obama, providing academic cover for Catholic voters to support him also. Professor Kmeic was rewarded with the Ambassadorship to Malta for his efforts but subsequently was removed or quit his post for an unspecified reason.One of the first religious battlegrounds over same sex marriage may well be the US military according to a close friend who is a Catholic Chaplain, a Colonel in the US Army reserve. He has been retained in the reserves despite being over retirement age due to a serious lack of Catholic chaplains. With the end of "don't ask don't tell" the next step will be same sex marriages in chapels on military bases and chaplains being ordered to perform such marriages. This would be the end of Catholic and several other faiths, chaplains in the military. Another use of secular laws to force religion out of everyday life.

Mr. Mosmanyou confound between civil marriage and religious marriage. They are different institutions and no one is obliged to have a religious marriage or can have a right to have it. this is different in the case of a civil marriage.

Mary,There is absolutely no confusion. Priests,deacons,ministers rabbisperform both religious and civil marriages when they perform a marriage, acting with both civil and religious authority. Using anti-discrimination laws the authority to conduct civil marriages would be rescinded, just as such laws have been used to stop Catholic adoption agencies from performing a needed service. While it has not been done yet, in the military chaplains could be ordered to perform same sex marriages or face discipline charges.The aim of this government is to remove all aspects and visages of religion from its place in society and the public.

Mr Mosman" There is absolutely no confusion. Priests,deacons,ministers rabbisperform both religious and civil marriages when they perform a marriage, acting with both civil and religious authority.Using anti-discrimination laws the authority to conduct civil marriages would be rescinded"it's a very good thing to completely separe civil and religious marriage as already happens in most European country. Here, in France, you need to go to City Hall for the civil and only legal marriage and if you want, after this you go to the Church or Temple to perform a religious marriage.You American people always speak about State and Church separation, and then you mixed up Civil and Religious marriage, forgetting that are two very different institutions.

ohhI mean : its a very good thing to completely SEPARATE civil and religious marriage

Ann, your view of how the bishops should act seems more akin to a freedom of worship as opposed to a freedom of religion. I think the Catholic Church, particularly its leaders who are the bishops, has an affirmative obligation to act in the public sphere. According to my reading of the bible, Christ was active in the everyday lives of everyday people, not just their worship services.Btw, I think your characterization of secular versus religious goods is a mischaracterization of a good. It seems like a true good, would be a good under either a secular or religious world view. I'm not sure how something could be a true good under one regime or the other, without one of the views being in error.