Yesterday I wrote about the stinging critique of the Christian Churches by Frederick Douglass for their failure to speak up for the enslaved in the debate over the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Douglass claimed that the Churches in the United States had betrayed the religious freedom with which our Constitution had endowed them (and other religious groups) by focusing only on their freedom of worship while not using that freedom to speak up on behalf of those held in human bondage. And are we American Catholics not engaged in the same travesty of Religious Freedom today when we scream that the Obama Administration is attacking our Religious Freedom by giving the employees of our Church institutions access to contraception and sterilization? Note: not that the we are being forced to pay for or provide services to which our faith objects—such services must be provided to our employees without cost to us by the insurance companies themselves—but that our employees are being given access to them at all. (The insurance companies have agreed to provide these services at their own expense as they are far more cost-effective than pregnancy-coverage.) Meanwhile, while we are protesting in the name of religious freedom that employees of our schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, social-service centers, administrative offices, etc are being provided these services if they so request (no one is forcing anyone to use contraceptives or undergo sterilization), Cardinals Burke and Levada and Law and Archbishop Lori are decrying our Religious Sisters for being “overly concerned” with Social Justice issues. “Overly concerned” about justice! How can you be “overly concerned” about justice? How can you be “overly concerned” about abused women and children? How can you be “overly concerned” about immigrants who live in fear of being deported to countries where their lives are endangered? How can you be “overly concerned” about senior citizens who are living in fourth-floor walk-ups without air conditioning in this 99° heat? And—and here is the rub—how can you be “overly concerned” about 44,000,000 Americans—children, old people, women, diabetics and the other pre-existing conditioned, fathers of families, single parents etc. who don’t have health care? Hey, you purpled eminences with your long silk trains—and you too Carl Anderson with your ostrich plumed hat and silly cape and sword—somebody here is straining the gnat and swallowing the camel and it ain’t the good sisters! This was the very sort of abuse of religious freedom that Frederick Douglass decried a century and half-ago. This isn’t about religious freedom—it is about license; license to enforce your opinions on others while not taking responsibility to lift the weight of the cross from the shoulders of the suffering!
I saw photos yesterday of crowds outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington protesting the “Fortnight for Freedom.” “Fortnight for the GOP” read one sign; “The Bishops don’t speak for me” read another. These weren’t young radicals or disgruntled LCWR nuns. These were middle-aged men and women—the very sort of people that were raised to follow the Church loyally. And follow loyally they do—for when the bishops abdicate their responsibility to speak the gospel and allow themselves to shill for political agendas—of the right or the left—they are no longer leading the Church. Perhaps were the bishops the voice for the poor, for the oppressed, for victims as they were in the years after the Council they would have some credibility left. Their own failure, however, to speak the truth in the recent scandals and then, like the priest of the gospels who walked down the road turning away his face from the man beaten by thieves and left for dead (Luke 10:31), to walk silently by the pressing issues of our day while piously prating about their “Religious Liberty” being endangered by Obamacare has exposed them for mere Pharisees. They worry about the washing of cups and saucers and neglect weightier matters of the Law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matt 23:23).
Now this is not to say that there is not a problem with Obamacare. There is and we should not ignore it. As I pointed out in the entry for this past June 8th—educational, medical, and social services are as much a part of the Church’s mission as is worship and to exempt houses of worship from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act but not schools, universities, social service centers, etc. is to impose an understanding of the Mission of the Church with which the Catholic Church doctrinally disagrees. Such a definition as to what is our mission potentially limits our freedom to accomplish that mission. The government should not have the authority to tell the Church what is the proper role of the Church. On the other hand, Churchmen should not abuse the freedoms given by our Constitution to impose sectarian beliefs and values on the larger society. Christ never gave to his Church a mission to make or to change laws. Our mission is to change hearts. We need to bring our society to a change of heart, a job which our bishops seem particularly inept at doing.