Saturday, November 3, 2012

Real Threats to Religious Liberty

Cardinal Law--whose mishandling
of the abuse crisis may provide the
greatest danger to religous liberty
There is a lot of kerfuffle in some pulpits these days about a threat to religious liberty posed by the Affordable Health Care Act.  Personally, I think it is a red herring.  The Church does not have to pay one red cent to supply contraceptives to the employees of various Catholic institutions.  The insurance companies have to absorb the costs which they are willing to do as it is more cost-effective to supply contraceptives than to pay for pre-natal care and child-birth and the new children who will be added to policies.  What some Churchmen object to is that the Church has to permit its employees—Catholic and non-Catholic—access to contraceptives.  That is a very different issue and one which I think the Church just has to “suck up” and accept.  Having to provide contraceptives is one issue; trying to bar access to contraceptive care for others is another.  HaHJContraceptives may be morally wrong—and while the Church has a strong teaching on this point—there is no consensus either in our society or in the Church. The Church is not the magisterium.  The Church is the community of all the faithful.  And while the magisterium has given its teaching, that teaching cannot be said to reflect the faith of the Church.  This is not a theological blog and I don’t want to get into the theological issues about “reception of doctrine,” but from a historical perspective one can say that a teaching that is not accepted by the faithful does not persist in the “faith held by the Church.”  But I don’t want to get stuck on this point because I do want to move on to two items that we had better prepare for and which will provide a far more real threat to the Church’s freedom.
The first and less serious—only by comparison—of these threats will be the taxation of Church property.  Currently houses of worship, schools, charitable institutions such as hospitals and nursing homes, administrative offices such as chanceries, living facilities for religious such as monasteries, convents, and rectories are not subject to property taxes.  Trust me, that will change in the next thirty years—or at least efforts will be made to change that as localities become more and more anxious to increase their income without putting the burden on businesses and private ownership.  I also would not be surprised to see that while religious—nuns, monks, friars, brothers—are not normally subject to income tax as their income goes not to them personally but to the communities to which they belong and those communities are registered charities, that at some point the religious orders themselves will be taxed for the income of their members and for other income that comes to them through bequests, donations, investments, etc.  I am not saying that this should happen but it is inevitable that some of the forces in our society that are opposed to religion—not simply Catholicism but religion in general—will challenge the tax-exemptions of religious organizations.
The second danger which is far more perilous is the probability that the traditional respect for the secrecy of the confessional will be challenged legally.  This is due in part, in great part, to the poor handling of the sex abuse crisis by the hierarchy.  Ireland is already challenging the right of clergy to remain confidential in court.  Moreover, physicians, psychologists, counselors and others have been called to violate patient-client confidentiality.  When it comes to the secrecy of the confessional there will be no choice but for the clergy to take the consequences as no matter the law the secrecy cannot be abridged.  Do not doubt, however, that this will be a major issue within the next few years.  This isn’t about Obama and his “threat to religious liberty.”  It won’t matter which party is in power –this will be a decision of the courts.  Hopefully with such a strong presence of Catholics on the Supreme Court this danger will not be realized but I will be surprised.  Moreover, while I expect secularists to be part of the challenge to the Church and the secrecy of the confessional, I think liberals in general will see the threat to personal freedom that it would represent and in fact, I think conservatives will be a bigger danger to maintaining this important principle. 

No comments:

Post a Comment