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.


Kennedy Townsend and “Image and Likeness”

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend speaks at New Ways Ministry Symposium,. March 17, 2012

In her recent commentary in The Atlantic (The Case for Gay Acceptance in the Catholic Church), I’m flattered that Kathleen Kennedy Townsend would use the name of this blog in her closing summation about whey God’s LGBT children should — and in time, will — be unequivocably accepted in the Roman Catholic Church.

At this time, when the hierarchy does not want to recognize that we are all made in the image and likeness of God [emphasis added], and that the one of the two most critical commandments is to love one another, it is critical to assert that God loves the LGBT community equally. Sometimes the Church moves slowly, sometimes quickly. The point is to make sure the voices of dissent are not quiet and the Holy Spirit can be heard.

Ok, so perhaps she didn’t actually know she was referring to the title of this blog, but the Spririt works in mysterious ways, right? In any event, I had the privilege of hearing the former lieutenant governor of Maryland speak on the last day of the recent New Ways Ministry Symposium in Baltimore. She is an engaging speaker — as one would expect from a politician with the last name Kennedy — and had an instant rapport with the Catholic audience, perhaps many of Irish ancestry, on St. Patrick’s Day no less. When asked if she would lead the crowed in singing, “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” she politely demurred — that is until a woman (a parish musician, no doubt) sat down at the piano and began to play that quintessential Irish tune. The entire gathering then erupted into song.

Kennedy Townsend’s presentation was markedly more conversational than the several plenary sessions earlier in the symposium. Author Richard Rodriguez, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, and theologians Luke Timothy Johnson and Patti Jung all gave extremely substantive, thought-provoking presentations from their own areas of expertise. While much less academic, Kennedy Townsend’s presence and presentation was a reminder of the important role public Catholic public figures can and should play in at least raising the profile of the issues affecting gay Catholics. Such heightened profile provides greater success that our Church’s bishops — even if behind closed doors — will be willing to engage in dialogue with the Catholic LGBT community.

Now what, Mr. Mutty?

New Ways Ministry’s blog, Bondings 2.0, has an interesting post today about the leader of the Maine Catholic Conference. Apparently Marc Mutty has had some second thoughts about the ways in which he characterized the impact legalization of same-sex marriage might have in The Pine Tree State. In Catholicism, of course, we’re all about changing hearts and moving more and more toward the greater good.

My comment to the post is below:

Yes, Frank, thank you for sharing this story. And while I share the respect expressed by others who are able to admire someone who now sees the “error of his ways,” the question then becomes, Now what?

At the time of the Maine initiative against same-sex marriage, I took the time to write to Mr. Mutty’s boss, Portland Bishop Richard Malone. Bishop (then Father) Malone had been a professor and advisor of mine at St. John’s Seminary College in Boston. “Dick” Malone — whose doctorate came from a secular, not Catholic, institution, Boston University — was well-like and admired as a careful thinker, a good teacher, and someone who challenged students with high academic standards. I reminded Bishop Malone of this in my letter, challenging him to see that from the perspective of reason, opposition to same-sex marriage (especially in the civil context) is on very flimsy footing. Needless to say, I never heard back from him.

So, I come back to my initial point, which I hope Mr. Mutty would consider. In our theology of Reconciliation, when we recognize we have done wrong, we are called upon to embrace a firm “purpose of amendment” through which we commit to changing past ways. So, Mr. Mutty …. Now what??

Why am I here?

New Ways Ministry Retreat with Anthony Padovano
November 18-20, 2011
Bon Secours Spiritual Center, Marriottsville, MD

Saturday, November 19, 2011
Why am I here? No, that’s not meant as some deep philosophical question about the meaning of life. It’s meant, rather, in the very concrete sense. Why am I here, in this actual physical place in which I find myself right now?

As I ask this question, I am on a retreat at Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Mariottsville, MD. It is 5:21 am. The retreat is for gay “former” priests/religious and the broad focus of the retreat is sexuality and spirituality. Sponsored by New Ways Ministry, the facilitator is Anthony Padovano, a man who has been so influential in the life of American Catholicism since Vatican II.

Why am I here? The ‘expected’ answer no doubt involves God in some way. To spend time with God….To get away from the busy-ness of life and spend time in prayer and reflection.

Why am I here? Some might see this as self-centered or even narcissistic, but the answer is really to spend time with myself.

Padovano talked last evening about Thomas Merton and one of his insights — so simple and yet so profound — is that the only thing that I can do in this life that absolutely no one else can do is be me. Merton said, “To be a saint is to be myself.”

There is no one who has ever lived, is living now, or who will ever live who can be who I am.