Catholics nationwide preparing ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ events

Washington D.C., May 20, 2012 / 05:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Various initiatives are planned throughout the country in response to the U.S. bishops’ call for a “Fortnight for Freedom” June 21-July 4 to encourage prayer, education and public action about religious freedom.

The initiative was created in response to several moves by the Obama administration that are threatening the Church’s religious freedom. The most well-known action is the Health and Human Services mandate that requires employers to cover birth control and other services that Catholics and other believers find morally objectionable.

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  1. A few thoughts. Not my own.:

    The recently decided Supreme Court case of Hosanna Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission highlights a significant confusion of concepts that has occurred since the novelties of Vatican II. The two distinct concepts of Libertas Ecclesiae (freedom of the Church) and Libertas Religionis (freedom of religion) have, in typical modernist fashion become blurred and conflated.

    The first, freedom of the Church, is a moral good and was in fact the rallying cry of the Gregorian Reform party in the great restoration of the Church begun by Pope St. Gregory VII. To understand the distinction we must understand the notion that freedom in the abstract is morally neutral. To evaluate its goodness we must ask “freedom for what end?”

    Freedom of the Church as a concept means that the Church should be free to accomplish her supernaturally instituted mission, the honor and glory of God and the salvation of souls. The civil authority may not enact laws which restrict or hinder the Church from completing her mission, or put another way, the civil law must ensure her freedom to achieve her end.

    Examples of times in which Libertas Ecclesiae was restricted are the early centuries of Roman persecution and the Dark Ages (approximately 600-1100 A.D). Throughout this latter period, during which the rallying cry “Libertas Ecclesiae” resonated from the defenders of the Church, the civil rulers of secular society had amassed a great influence over the operation of the Church. The Holy Father, for example, was elected by the secular nobility of Rome. Bishops were invested in office by, and swore oaths of loyalty to, secular princes. These practices restricted the freedom of the Church to fulfill her spiritual mission as many of her rulers were beholden to secular princes who had the power to choose and install Church officials for their own temporal aggrandizement rather than for the salvation of souls. In this sense, the preservation of the freedom of the Church as a distinct perfect society free to govern herself independently of the civil power is a moral good.

    Libertas Religionis (freedom of religion) is a very different type of freedom. It is freedom to choose whatever religion (true or false) one wishes. Unlike freedom of the Church which entails freedom to pursue a supernaturally good end, freedom of religion is a freedom to choose a false and evil end, a false religion.

    The Tabor Case in itself¾and in the commentary upon it¾conflates these two distinct concepts. The case involves a Lutheran community (the court calls it a church) which fired one of its teachers who had elected to become a “minister” in addition to a teacher. The teacher sued the Lutherans under federal anti-discrimination law claiming she was fired as a result of a disability. The court upheld the Lutherans’ argument that federal anti-discrimination law contains a “ministerial exception,” meaning that employment and salary decisions of religious groups are not subject to federal anti-discrimination review under the First Amendment of the Constitution. The court opinion discusses the issue as one of freedom of religion alongside discussing Constitutional restrictions on the federal government becoming involved in the decisions of religious groups as to the identity of their ministers.

    In one sense, this is a good result for the Catholic Church in America. It means that bishops should not be liable for defrocking homosexual priests or priests supporting abortion or for refusing to ordain and assign women as pastors. If a bishop claims he is restrained from disciplining a priest for moral or doctrinal error on the grounds of fear of a lawsuit, he has little legal ground to stand on (or moral for that matter). The Church can use this “ministerial exception” as a defense to anti-discrimination lawsuits.

    Yet, the decision goes beyond this result and protects the freedom not only of the Church but any false religion. On a prudential level such a result may be tolerated for the good of protecting the freedom of the Church from an increasingly atheistic secular United States government bent on punishing anyone who refuses to accept the liberal errors it promotes. Yet, toleration is different from affirming a principle. The principle is that the Church of Christ, that is (not subsists in) the Catholic Church, must enjoy the freedom of operation necessary to her mission.

    This same freedom is not in justice due to so-called ministers of false religions who perform an objectively immoral act by preaching their false religion. This does not mean that false religions must be interfered with by civil society. Other moral considerations may require such a decision. Yet, it is not by virtue of a freedom of religion that such restrain would be shown. For example, St. Thomas considers whether the children of Jewish parents should be taken from their parents and raised Catholic. He rejects such a proposal not because they have a freedom of religion but rather because doing so would harm the natural good of the family. Again in the current environment, the Supreme Court’s over-inclusiveness to apply the ministerial exception to false religions may be tolerated for the good of the protection of the Church yet it should not be celebrated as a victory for religious freedom, which itself is a moral evil.

    Sadly, the confusion over this case reaches the highest levels of the Church in this country. Bishop William Lori, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement issued after the ruling proclaimed: “The Supreme Court decision marks a victory for religious liberty and the U.S. Constitution.”

    Some may argue this is quibbling over words. If he had said this marks a victory for the freedom of the Catholic Church, his statement would have been laudatory. Yet, principles are formed of precise concepts (expressed in precise words). Like a medicine, a slight alteration of the correct formula can be deadly. Particularly in light of the false so-called doctrine of religious freedom insinuated since Vatican II, His Excellency’s statement will be understood in this context of proclaiming a natural right to practice a false religion, a “right” which is really a wrong. Thus, celebrate the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision as a victory for Libertas Ecclesiae but not Libertas Religionis.


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