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Home : Faith/Spirituality : Archbishop Vlazny's Past Columns
7/10/2012 10:58:00 AM
Fortnight Postscript

Most Rev. John Vlazny
Archbishop Emeritus of Portland

Our National Catholic Fortnight For Freedom ended on the Fourth of July.  On the first day of the Fortnight, June 21, a Mass was celebrated in the Immaculate Conception Cathedral Basilica of Baltimore, the primatial archdiocese of the United States.  Some protestors had gathered in front of the cathedral, unhappy about why the church had gathered to pray.  Some of them carried a banner saying, “Bishops, we need pastors, not politicians.”  Those folks obviously had forgotten that one of the top challenges of a good pastor, the shepherd of the flock, is to protect the flock when danger lurks.  The wolves understandably are not pleased, but so be it.  Why praying for the protection of our civil rights is considered so distasteful by some is a puzzle.  But I was very grateful to all of you who joined me in prayer for the protection of our religious liberty during the Fortnight, especially those who came to the Holy Hour at our own cathedral on June 28.  I would like to share with you some of the remarks I made on that occasion.  

Recently our federal government, for all practical purposes, has defined a church as a body which hires mostly its own members and serves mostly its own members, and which exists primarily to advance its own teachings.  In other words, as long as the church confines its activities within church walls like those at the cathedral, then it will be recognized by the government as a church.  Institutions like schools, hospitals, universities and charitable agencies are not religious enough – too many non-Catholics are involved - and these institutions are not protected from government intervention.  We would be irresponsible were we to allow the government at any time or in any place to impose such a restrictive definition on our church or on any church.  That was one of the reasons the bishops called for this Fortnight For Freedom.  Our church must remain free of government interference.  Like many of the Christian martyrs over the centuries who, because of their public posture as Catholic believers, in the face of tyrannical resistance, suffered the loss of their lives.  

What happened to cause such injustice?  There clearly seems to have been a decline in respect for religious liberty, not only in our own nation, but all across the globe.  Government seems to be blind to the religious dimension of so many activities of the church.  As President John Garvey of Catholic University pointed out, “Catholic Charities does adoptions because the gospel tells us to care for the weak and vulnerable.  Catholic universities exist because the gospel tells us to teach all nations.  Migration and Refugee Services live out the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount.  Serving others is not just a recommendation for Catholics.  It is a requirement.”

But once again, why has it happened?  It has been suggested that from the very beginning of this nation the government has protected religious freedom because citizens thought that religion was a good thing.  It would seem that the collective view of religion has changed.  As a nation we are certainly measurably less religious than we were a few decades ago.  Consider the fact that 27 percent fewer Catholics go to Mass weekly nowadays then they did fifty years ago.  The number of people who profess no religion or attend a worship service only once a year at best in our country has gone up from 38 percent to 59 percent in the last forty years.  The number of marriages among working class whites has gone from 84 percent to 48 percent.  The number of births out of wedlock in the same group goes from 6 percent to 44 percent.  Clearly the American way of life, as it used to be, has unraveled in these our own times.

When this great nation was established as a democracy, the founding fathers presumed that citizens would acknowledge the importance of religion, objective truth and the natural law.  They themselves were refugees from a tyranny of monarchy in their native countries.  But today’s secular culture disdains religion, relativizes the notions of truth and law.  In such a climate, a certain “tyranny of democracy” is gradually unfolding here in the USA and across the globe.

Undoubtedly the best way to protect religious freedom is to remind people that they should love God.  Certainly society won’t care much about religious freedom if it doesn’t care about God.  The great martyrs in the history of Christianity taught us that loving God is worth dying for.  If we concur, then we recognize the fact that the freedom to love God is worth the fight.  We do what we do because we are Catholic, not because those whom we serve are Catholic.  We have a right to define who we are as a church.  As the United States Bishops’ statement on religious liberty declares, “To be Catholic in America should be not having to choose one over the other.”  As we conclude our National Catholic Fortnight For Freedom, we pray that one day all nations and all peoples will be truly free, in particular, to be free of all tyranny, especially the kind that impedes our freedom of religion.

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