The Truly Catholic Vision of Religious Freedom

Today's post from Bondings 2.0, On the USCCB's Fifth (And Hopefully Final) "Fortnight For Freedom", prompted me to re-read Dignitatis Humanae [DH], the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom. After all, if the bishops or others think that religious liberty and the free exercise of religion are under attack in the US, one would think we should be looking to this important document for guidance.

DH clearly and strongly promotes the rights of individuals and social groups "… to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits."

The bishops' concern that religious persons and institutions might be forced by the government to act in a way that is coercive and violates their "own beliefs" clearly finds some support here. However, that nasty 3-word phrase at the end puts a different slant on things: "within due limits." Several times DH references the "just order of society" and the "due limits" on one's religious freedom. Perhaps the clearest statement is in Article 7, which begins:

"The right to religious freedom is exercised in human society: hence its exercise is subject to certain regulatory norms. In the use of all freedoms the moral principle of personal and social responsibility is to be observed. In the exercise of their rights, individual men [sic] and social groups are bound by the moral law to have respect both for the rights of others and for their own duties toward others and for the common welfare of all. Men are to deal with their fellows in justice and civility."

While the bishops and other "religious freedom" advocates look with limited vision to the US Constitution, they seem to have forgotten the teachings of their own Tradition. DH reminds us of the "due limits" and "regulatory norms" which a just and civil society must enact to ensure the "rights of others" are respected. The bishops' original concern related to healthcare, though quickly was extended to the area of LGBT rights. The US Supreme Court has decided to hear a case from Colorado about the refusal by the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips, to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Phillips cited his disapproval of same-sex marriage, which he claims to be rooted in his Christian faith, as the reason.

From a Catholic teaching perspective, it'd be quite a stretch to say that the baking of a wedding cake rises to the level of a "religious act" worthy of protection. If it did, then where would it end? In theory, no end would be in sight. After all, any religious person who takes faith seriously would try to express his/her religious values in all aspect of life, right? If that's true, what's to stop said religious person from hiding behind such "religious freedom protections" for any and all acts in which he engages?

As the bishops of Vatican II rightly recognized, civil society has the obligation to impose due limits and appropriate regulatory norms on the exercise of religious freedom. Such limits and norms must respect the rights of ALL citizens. As we celebrate today 241 years of independence from political tyranny, may we be always strive to be free from tyranny of all stripes, even when wrapped in red, white and blue.

 

Trusting that All Will Be Well

Demonstrators in front of US Capitol (Dec. 2012)

Demonstrators in front of US Capitol (Dec. 2012)

This week has been hard.

Taking a brief 3-day cruise that began last Sunday, we were at sea and “off the grid” for the final days of the recent election. I did not sleep Tuesday evening, tossing and turning and praying all night. By 6 am we had arrived within sight of Port Everglades and cellular service was returning. While following my morning routine of going to the Deck 5 coffee shop, I was able to get a ful cellular signal. I opened the Washington Post app on my phone and saw the words, “Trump Triumphs.” I felt ill; I sat down for a few moments in the empty lounge I was passing through. I returned to our stateroom (sans cappucino) to share the news with my partner. I don’t think I’m revealing too much when I say that we cried. It remains unfathomable to me how anyone — including some family and friends — could have voted for a man who seems to be without moral compass and whose campaign brought out the worst in the human spirit. This Huffington Post commentary expresses what I and so many millions of Americans are feeling. As commentator Jennifer Sullivan writes, “The entire Trump/Pence ticket’s platform revolves around making other individuals be made to feel less than. It is divisive. It is harmful. And it stands in stark opposition to every ideal this country was founded upon.”  For me, the enduring feeling — as someone on Facebook stated — is as if my neighbors, my family, my friends voted against me.

It Is What It Is

One of the essential elements of mental and spiritual health is the ability to live in reality. And so I recognize and accept what is. Tuesday cannot be undone. Our quirky Electoral College system that allows someone who came in 2nd to be named the winner cannot be retroactively changed. One hundred million voters who decided their vote didn’t count cannot now cast their ballots and have their voices heard, too.

The only option we have is to move forward, reminding ourselves daily of the values we hold most dear and how those values impact our daily lives and daily choices. Like the demonstrators above who were not afraid to demonstrate for peace on the grounds of the US Capitol, we too must find ways of ensuring that our voices are heard in the public square — whenever and however we can.

julian-of-norwichAgain, this has been a tough week. But I took comfort this morning from this passage in Richard Rohr’s Everything Belongs (p. 132).

“Again I quote beloved Julian of Norwich in her famous thirteenth Showing. ‘In fear and trembling,’ she asked Jesus, ‘O good Lord, how can all be well when great harm has come to your creatures through sin? And here I wanted, if I dared, to have some clearer explanation to put my mind at rest.’ And he said, ‘Since I have brought good out of the worst-ever evil, I want you to know by this; that I shall bring good out of all the lesser evils, too.'”

Or, as Julian is famously quoted:  “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

 

Trump Supporter? Our votes say more about US than about him (or her)

“‘I Alone’: Trump’s Dangerous Authoritarianism” (Commonweal Magazine Editorial)

Do you support Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump? Do you plan on giving him your vote when you enter the voting booth come November? If you do, do yourself and your fellow Americans a favor. Take five minutes and read the editorial from Commonweal linked above. As you do, ask yourself if you really and truly believe in the ideals and principles of American Constitutional Democracy. Ask yourself if you believe in the principles that distinguish the United States from monarchies and oligarchies and theocracies and dictatorships. Ask yourself if you understand what separates American Constitutional Democracy from Fascism, Nazism, and even from anarchy. Ask yourself if “justice for all” and “checks and balances” and “E Pluribus Unum” are more than slogans, but have real meaning for this country we all cherish. Ask yourself these questions, because at some point, this presidential election becomes not about him (or her), but about us. Your vote, my vote, will say more about ourselves than it will about the person for whom we vote.

Please read the full editorial. But if you don’t read the full piece, the last paragraph sums it up:

I alone. That is how Trump promises to govern: as an authoritarian who trusts his instincts and refuses to be bothered by Washington’s outdated constraints, otherwise known as checks and balances. And that is exactly what too many of his supporters seem to want. During Trump’s speech at the convention, as he shouted his way from one grandiose promise or ominous threat to another, the assembled delegates—whipped up into a braying mob—could be heard chanting ‘YES YOU CAN!’ This is not what democracy looks like.”

Clinton/Kaine vs Trump/Pence – a study in religious contrasts

Hillary Clinton and running mate Tim Kaine

Hillary Clinton (r) and running mate Tim Kaine

From the perspective of Christian faith, it’s hard to imagine a more stark study in contrasts than that between the recently announced presidential/vice-presidential teams. Tim Kaine gave a rousing speech yesterday (July 23, 2016) when he appeared for the first time after being chosen by Hillary Clinton as her running mate. Kaine proudly declared, “Soy católico … I’m Catholic…” and his speech was filled with explicit references that show how deeply his Catholic Christian faith has formed his values and directed his life’s work. Kaine impresses as profoundly influenced by his Jesuit education, his missionary work in Honduras, and his commitment to the teachings of Jesus as a lawyer who worked to defend the housing rights of the poor. The Clinton/Kaine duo proclaim that their lives were formed by a faith that asked how they could help others. It is a faith that puts belief into practice, living out the social, communal dimension that Christianity absolutely requires.

Trump/Pence, on the other hand, seem to be much more formed by or comfortable with the so-called “Prosperity Gospel” (an oxymoron if ever their was one).  While there are some Christian leaders in the Evangelical tradition who recognize that this “gospel” is an aberration of historical, biblical Christianity, there are many others who have succumbed to its allure. This philosophy is uniquely American. It is the spawn of the marriage between 19th century Protestant fundamentalism and that brand of American individualism which puts the self before others, the individual before community, and one’s own success ahead of or at the expense of others’ success. Its focus is on “my rights” and not the common good. To be clear, this focus on the “rights” of the individual can be exploited on either end of the political spectrum. It’s the same right espoused by gun-owners, abortion advocates, and the increasing number of laws that permit assisted suicide. At its root, the “Prosperity Gospel” makes two basic claims: First, if your faith is strong enough, God will shower you with earthly riches, wealth, and worldly success; and, second, if you have earthly riches, wealth, and worldly success, then these are signs of God’s favor.

Perhaps it does need to be stated, but this view of the Christian Gospel — preached by such megachurch leaders as Joel Osteen (who, by the way, has no theological training) and Joyce Meyer — bears so little resemblance to the actual teachings of Jesus that it cannot be rightly called Christian. It is a “gospel” without humility, without prudence, without a sense of justice. It lacks a belief that the goods of this earth are for all God’s People, not just the industrious few who stake their claim first, whose might trumps right, or who know how to manipulate the economic and legal systems to their advantage. On the contrary, as Pope Pius XI wrote in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (1931),

Therefore, the riches that economic-social developments constantly increase ought to be so distributed among individual persons and classes that the common advantage of all, which Leo XIII had praised, will be safeguarded; in other words, that the common good of all society will be kept inviolate. By this law of social justice, one class is forbidden to exclude the other from sharing in the benefits,” (no. 57).

To anyone schooled in the social justice tradition of Christianity in general and Catholic Christianity in particular, this quotation will ring true. Pius XI’s reference to his predecessor, Leo XIII, is a reference to that pope’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum, which is generally considered the first papal document in modern times to spell out some of the basic principles Christian faith requires for a socially just society. From the perspective of Christianity and its two-thousand year tradition, there is no doubt that the Gospel of Jesus does not exist without Jesus’ “new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:34). Come November, each of us must decide which of these two teams contending for the highest offices in the land have lived lives that most exemplify the common good the Gospel requires.

Time for a Change: Bishop Frank Dewane and the Diocese of Venice (Florida)

DiocesOfVeniceThis past week, a TV station here in Southwest Florida broke a story that received a fair amount of local coverage. It’s a story not surprising to Catholics involved in their local parishes and familiar — even from a distance — of how Frank Dewane, Bishop of the Diocese of Venice, exercises his office.  The TV station made public a letter sent in January by 10 diocesan priests to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Apostolic Delegate to the United States.

The letter — available here: Venice Priests Letter to Vigano — has not yet received a response, at least not one reported publicly.  Although we don’t know who the signers of this letter are, what can be said is this: change happens when individuals take a stand. Working within the existing and legitimate structures of the Church, these priests are courageously standing up to a bishop — their boss! — by seeking guidance on how to proceed when a bishop ignores both the letter and spirit of the laws intended to govern the Church in charity and fidelity. Although time will tell whether their efforts are successful, the more people — laity and clergy — who embrace their rights and responsibilities as faithful members of the church, the sooner change will occur.