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We need another patriot like Paul Revere to sound the alarm. This time it isn’t the British who are coming. It’s the state. Yes, the very state Americans founded in order to get free from the unjust British state. We live in a world where the power and reach of the state grows daily.
Recently, our overreaching state --the Leviathan--has increased its efforts and aggressively moved against Catholic practice and Catholic doctrine. The three main fronts where their efforts are most noticeable are healthcare, charities, and the green movement.
Healthcare, a traditional work of our Church since medieval times, has seen an effort by the state to limit its effectiveness. The viability of Catholic hospitals is undermined by the legislation to force care providers to offer services Catholics by conscience know to be evil. Catholic medical professionals are being threatened to perform abortions and make referrals for practices they abhor...or close their doors. Where is freedom of conscience?
Already forced out of the adoption work by an imposed and artificial definition of marriages, our Catholic agencies have been curtailed in their traditional work. While many Catholic couples unable to conceive a child or wishing to share their family through adoption have been denied, somehow same-sex couples turn up with an adoptive child. Our Church could not continue a policy in its adoption work which runs counter to Church teaching.
Legislative rumblings suggest there is a sea change coming regarding charitable institutions. Diversity and inclusion are the new mantras of activist groups to control charities. Religion reporter, Naomi Shafer Riley, has written that pressure mounts to make charitable groups more diverse. The criteria for a registered group would be for a percentage of grants to be given to marginalized people. Of course, the state, not the Church, will define who is marginalized. Soup kitchens, under this policy would have to be run by minorities or lesbians or some other “marginalized” group. Implicitly this is a move against Catholic charities, given most people running such charities are Catholic. Their Catholic make-up would not be diverse enough. On the other hand, all sorts of dubiously connected organizations become favorites of the state. Politically based groups in California have forced the passage of a bill requiring charitable groups to release the names of those running the foundations in order the vet their diversity. And so it goes.
A third way Catholics are marginalized in their work and their faith is in the green movement. Radical environmentalism and the green movement have become a new state-led religion. Mother Nature has become deified. School curriculums are full of green indoctrination. Often one hears of the imposing qualities of an environmental leader, say John Muir. In a recent program on his life, the commentator quotes Muir saying he learned more from plants than any priest could have taught him.
Catholics, of course, have no quarrel with efforts to protect the environment -- far from it. But we are a bit incredulous over nature worship. Nature has become the source of “moral authority.” The greens take a lofty tone. They are somehow morally superior to the rest of us. Man is often portrayed as a vile polluter -- especially if he has many children. In the Muir view, hope for the world lies in wildness. Our hope lies in heaven.
If and when Catholics react to these aggressive moves by the state, we can expect cries of the Church violating the U.S. Constitution and crossing the line that separates church and state. Ask any high school or college student and chances are they will swear such language exists in the Constitution. In fact, the initial separation idea occurs in an exchange of letters between Jefferson and Adams. In the colonial period, several states had established churches and some of these had little regard for religious minorities. The concept of separation of church and state came into being as a means of protecting churches from the powers of the state. For instance, Roger Williams decamped from Massachusetts for Rhode Island because the Puritan controlled state government was persecuting him and his flock.
Today, the matter is reversed. There is little to suggest that churches overreach into the state’s domain, but grave reason to believe the state is interfering with the historic role of the Church in childcare, health care and other works to which Christ calls us.
Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Denver, writes that modern separation notions grew out of bigotry, a bald effort to wall Catholics out of the nation’s public life. In his book “Render Unto Caesar,” he warns of a weakness of Christians in our time in that we preach as though we don’t have enemies. But we do. “In our legitimate hope for a role in American life, Catholics have ignored an unpleasant truth: that there are active, motivated groups in modern American society that bitterly resent the Catholic Church and the Christian Gospel and would like to silence both.” Groups, such as Planned Parenthood, NARAL and various gay and lesbian alliances, currently have huge influence within the government in matters of policy and legislation.
Fundamentally, the church and state have different visions of man (and woman).
To the state, man is temporary, while it, the state, is enduring. The state reflects the Roman playwright Plautus’s view that “man is a wolf to man.” Men need to be managed and controlled. The Church’s view is that although man has a fallen nature, he is a free and, most importantly, a transcendent being. The Church looks upon man as needing grace and guidance which, however, he is free to choose or not choose.
Too many politicians (and regrettably, even many Catholic ones) regard our Church leaders and teachers with annoyance, as pesky folks fussing over issues such as when life begins, how it is sustained, and when it ends. On the other hand, it is these very issues which define us as Catholics and represent our gift to the world. They need our defense.
Today, more than ever, the Church’s moral authority is needed to check overreaching state power.
Kevin and Marilyn Ryan edited “Why I Am Still a Catholic” [Riverhead Books, 1998] and live in Chestnut Hill, Mass.