Monday, July 2, 2012

Why the Fortnight For Freedom Misses the Mark

Instead of promoting a "Fortnight for Freedom" (which ends July 4) about the HHS mandate, I wish U.S. bishops spent more time and resources teaching their flocks why Catholic doctrines and beliefs make sense, that is, transforming our hearts, and less time trying to convince us to tell the government to ban behaviors we believe are immoral. 

Yes, the Church should add its voice to the public square. Certainly there are unjust laws and policies we need to work on overturning. But the selectivity of issues in homilies bothers me. 

We can ask government to pass all the laws we like. That is our right and, in many cases, our responsibility. But in the end, how we behave should have nothing to do with whether something is legal. I wish parish priests and U.S. bishops would talk about this more.

How we behave ought to be connected with our understanding of our place in the universe and our own ethics. If we are Christians, how we behave should have resonance with our connection to the Mystery from which we came and to which we hope become part of when we die.

In these days, I am troubled to hear from the ambos so much talk about certain policies and silence on others. It is hollow to hear talk of respect for life when some parishioners as young children were not protected from exploitation, in some cases by the men who now sit in judgment. Still other parish friends (with multiple children) go without health insurance. (And while I am at it, what we can we do  to promote religious freedom for Christians who are truly denied the freedom of religion, in places such as Somalia, Iraq and Kenya?)

In which photograph do Catholics seem more oppressed? 

I want to hear more about how we believers can live out our faith every day, in our homes and our workplaces and our neighborhoods.

Changing laws does not change hearts. For example, lots of things are legal that I'd never contemplate. 

Because I believe our marriage is an indissoluble sacrament, I won't be divorcing my husband. Because I am not gay, I won't be marrying a woman. Because I believe life is sacred from the moment of conception until natural death, I terminated no pregnancies during my child-bearing years. Because I believe artificial contraception is bad for my body, for the environment and for marriage, I have never popped a pill to interrupt my ovulatory cycle. 

And yet, all these behaviors are legal in at least some corners the United States. Do bishops think banning these behaviors will make Catholics stop doing them? 

Among all the issues that are supposed to be important to the Body of Christ - immigration policy, universal access to health care, the immorality of preemptive war and abortion, and preferential option for the poor and vulnerable - the bishops are selectively cherry picking a handful of issues, then encouraging Catholics to behave in an absolutist manner with them in the voting booths.  

And finally, if we all put our faith and energy and expectations to ask the institutions of government to do what we as the Body of Christ are failing to do among ourselves to convert our souls, we are missing opportunities to share what it means to be fully human.


  1. I respectfully disagree. I don't think there is anything wrong with the Fortnight and I do not like to see it being criticized when it was about prayer, not politics, as you said. Prayer is the really the only way to change hearts since we cannot force anyone to change. it's only God that change hearts- no amount of religious instruction can do it. It's ulimately about faith and grace which comes from prayer- which can only come from people praying.

    The fortnight's prayers were meant to change hearts about the unjust laws they are about to put into action. It's a pretty big deal when our government will have "justice" on their side when they tell us what's moral and what's not and what we will HAVE to do even if we disagree. This isn't about healthcare for all. OF COURSE the church wants to see everyone recieve good health care. But they know this mandate is not the answer.

    The mandate is not some petty little issue. It about the single most important issue: respect for life- especially in contraception and abortion. There is no other issue that kills more human beings besides abortion and there is nothing else that changes hearts to stone (to want to do abortions) than contraception. these are nonnegotiable when it comes to priority. We must fight for that more than any other issue and that is what the Fortnight was about. Yes, Bishops have to pick and choose. This was a great choice. freedom of religion and freedom to LIVE.

  2. I am truly grateful to read this post - I could not agree with you more.

    Speaking as someone who has tremendous issues with the HHS mandate, I have to say that I think, and I do not say this lightly, that the response of F4F is ridiculous. It totally turns this into some us-against-them pep rally, whether it has meant to or not.

    The bishops often do speak up about justice issues, but not in the loud voice that we have heard about F4F.

    Today I read a post over at The Jesuit Post and it said something really powerful about ACA/HRC, which I think applies here as well. Jesuit Michael Rosier writes: "Isn’t it funny that when somebody agrees with us they are fair and right-minded, and when they disagree with us they are lost and undependable? And by funny, I mean sad."

    The bishops, in their role as teachers, would be well advised to bring us to places where we can see and know the common good in the teachings. That way we can live in freedom - through living what we believe.

    And please do not get me started on respect for life. Drones kill innocents. Children die in our own country AFTER they are born, due to poverty, at alarming rates. We send our grown children -and not so grown, to wars that have no meaning. We practice capitalism as blood sport, with no respect for people's lives or dignity. And Catholics are contentious about the death penalty and immigration, in ways that no respect for life is shown. I often think of Cardinal Bernadin's "seamless garment" writings. THAT was an understanding of respect for all life.

    Interestingly enough, I was talking with a Protestant friend today, someone who is very up on the news. She had no clue what I was talking about when I said Fortnight for Freedom. What hearts and minds are supposed to be changed? Those who are supportive of F4F tend to know all about it; many other people in the pews tune out the politics and I can't say I blame them. That is really sad.

    To that end... Where is the actual conversation from clergy and bishops about morals? About Catholic Moral Theology? Do they want to talk about cooperation with evil, with meaning? We have a huge and meaningful body of work to draw from. Why not teach people about the Principle of Double Effect? Why not get people to know what our faith truly teaches? It makes me so frustrated.

    Thank you so much for taking the courageous step to write this post. God bless you.

  3. PS - and I do have one more thing to add to my rant, and then I promise that I will shut up.

    Persecution? Seriously? Just google images of churches that are blown up and people who are not free to practice their faith in a meaningful way. That is persecution.

    Thus endeth the rant.

  4. I appreciate you all commenting.

    @Sarah: The F4F activities I see promoted largely are rallies at the state house (midday during the work week) and homilies telling parishioners how the HHS mandate is the sole issue that should inform voting this fall.

    I thought long and hard about writing this piece; I like my blog to reflect issues all readers can connect with. If I have offended someone by my views, I can accept that. I think I already lost one "follower" and perhaps I will lose more.

    My husband and I share Bernadin's "seamless garment" approach to life; for example, we have been more than disappointed by hearing fellow Catholics using racial slurs when talking about Asian and Latino parishioners. And about Jewish neighbors. That is not respectful of their human dignity.

    Most of all, I don't participate in the Body of Christ so someone can lecture me on how to vote. I am an independent thinker and my conscience in all facets of my life is informed by church teachings and tradition.

    The bishops want to rally the troops over how insurance company's religious freedoms are being violated by subsidizing a nonCatholic's decision to use contraception and yet we don't hear nearly enough from them about the life and death struggle of our brothers and sisters in Christ in other parts of the world to attend Mass.

    That is true denial of religious freedom, something our forefathers and mothers in faith, including the apostles themselves, were martyred for. Let's not trivialize their sacrifices by comparing the HHS mandate to true persecution.

  5. I do not think the pulpit is any place to tell voters how to vote either. I have never gotten that from my parish before or after this HHS mandate or Fortnight. It's my understanding that priests are told NOT to do that by the bishops.

    The bishops are not rallying over insurance. It's what the insurance is making Catholics do. Kill babies, ok Gay marriages, hand out contraception. Giving money through insurance companies is allowing these things to happen. It is about life and death in our country and religious freedom in our country. We have a duty and right to protect that in our own country first. How will we be able to do it other countries when ours is taken away?

    As far as true persecution, I did not agree with your pictorial description. The woman standing there with her baby on her hip was standing there because of the millions of babies being torn from limb to limb that could not stand there and also for the babies that never got a chance to be implanted into their mother's womb because contraception and for future generations that will that may not have religious freedom because of the precedence that the HHS is setting: that it's ok to mow down our constitution rights and the basic rights of all humans.

    Our forefathers would be standing up right along with the rest of us fighting for the freedom again. I don't think this is trivial.

    And don't worry, you won't lose me as a reader!

    1. Sarah, I respect your passion. I share it- although clearly quite differently.

      The HHS mandate is about birth control - not abortion, not gay marriage.

      I completely agree that the mandate is wrong. I disagree with the F4F as a response.

      What interests me is why and how many (like Allison has) are not asking such important questions.

      We have this tremendous body of theological thinking and F4F is what we come up with?

      As for our founding fathers- that's one slippery slope. Most of them were likely "anti+papist."

    2. Just as a clarifiation for Sarah; I think what she meant was in response to my "our forefathers and mothers in faith." I was referring to Christian martyrs, including the apostles. I believe that is what she was responding to. Sarah: is that correct?

  6. I was speaking of our Founding fathers. The may have not been Catholic, but they I do believe they must have followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit when writing the constitution because our country is founded on Christian ideals. Benjamin Franklin may have been a bit out there answering his door stark naked and whatever other crazy things he did, but he did know basic human rights, which is more than I can say for our current president and supreme courts.

    I thought the HHS mandate also provided more free abortions. At any rate, both kill babies- some contraception do not, but it doesn't make them moral.

    It's true, no law can change hearts and people will get abortions if they really want and get birth control whether they have to pay for it or not and do whatever immoral thing they want whether it's legal or not. But that is no basis for letting this laws go into effect without a fight that includes fasting and praying. I still don't see what's wrong with the Fortnight.

    1. Sarah, what a thoughtful comment, as they all have been.

      You have been very humble in saying that you thought the HHS mandate covered abortions, which it does not. In any case, I appreciate your candor. There are some who say that some birth control methods are abortifacient, but there is currently no scientific proof for this that I have found. I see that you might believe otherwise. With all due respect Sarah, to simply say, "some contraception do not but it doesn't make them moral." does not provide clear reasoning, where clear reasoning built on faith allows us to be pursue real justice for all life. We can't take the short path, especially when our teaching provides us with such rich resources.

      This is exactly what makes me sad, angry and frustrated with F4F however... Instead of actually encouraging people to find out what is in the mandate and associated matters, instead of teaching the tenets of our faith, which are very clear - they go for the gusto. I'm sorry, but it is egregiously wrong that we have F4F getting people fired up and not providing clear information.

      If we went with clear information, we would have so much more to talk about and to bear witness as church.

      As for this nation being founded on Christian values, I still find that an extremely slippery slope. And as I said in the closing of my prior comment, the founding fathers were most likely not inclined to be favorable to anything Catholic. So that we might say that they would be on our side is a statement without any real support.

      The F4F is not "wrong" per se, but perhaps wrong headed in its approach? We could be truly Catholic and catholic and go deep, but no it seems that "shock and awe" are the order of the day through "prayer and fast." It is all shouts in an echo chamber for most and discordant notes for the rest of us - and a big nothing for the majority of people. That is indeed regrettable, the teachable moment, lost again.

      I do not mean to belabor this thread, but feelings and emotions are not what is needed in the F4F scenario. And as I will always say, moral challenges will never, ever be solved with political solutions.

      Peace for all.

    2. What I find interesting is that in speaking with a dear friend over Fourth of July - practicing devout Catholics - he had NEVER HEARD of F4F. Never heard it spoken of from the pulpit etc. This makes me believe there is a real divide in our church - priests who support it and those who don't. I am not sure.

  7. Allison I think where in the state you live and which diocese you belong to impacted how much you heard on the pulpit about F4F . We had inserts in the bulletin about F4F as well as a few announcements at the end of mass and one sermon that I recall touched on it in light of the readings.

    Fran - I believe RU-486 prevents implantation so it would be considered an abortifacient.