If a decree like the HHS contraception mandate was issued during the Medieval era, Archbishop Dolan would probably have declared Secretary Kathleen Sebelius “anathema” and excommunicated her from the Church (see this famous scene from the movie Becket for an example). If President Obama was a tyrannical monarch in that era, he would be muttering the same words as King Henry II when challenged by the Catholic hierarchy, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”
The church’s relationship with government has changed since the 12th century; nevertheless, the Catholic Church is again facing off with civil authority over their encroachment on religious freedoms.
When faced with these problems in 21st century America, the United Council of Catholic Bishops have answered these threats with a uniquely American response with their recent Statement on Religious Liberty.
“We have been staunch defenders of religious liberty in the past. We have a solemn duty to discharge that duty today,” reads the lengthy document which patiently examines the principal of religious liberty.
The bishops list recent government intrusions on the Catholics ability tend to their fellow man, whether through providing basic care to illegal immigrants, placing children in adoptive services, and aiding victims of sex trafficking.
It’s a reminder for Americans that it’s not ‘just about contraception’ anymore, in spite of the political hubbub over the HHS mandate.
The thorough document features the rich history of the Catholic Church’s contribution to the idea of religious freedom in America beginning with Cardinal James Gibbons the archbishop of Baltimore’s statement,”in the genial atmosphere of liberty [the Church] blossoms like a rose.”
Recent media reports seemed startled that the Bishops dared cite Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in their defense.
But what they didn’t report, was that King was quoting St.Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas by name to explain the philosophy of just law theory.
Like King, the Bishops declare, they will not obey an unjust law.
“An unjust law is ‘no law at all.’ It cannot be obeyed, and therefore one does not seek relief from it, but rather its repeal,” the statement reads.
As Americans struggle with the concept of an ever-intrusive government, they have turned to the founding documents of our country and our strong political heritage.
Likewise, the Bishop’s statement places a special emphasis on the pope’s call for an “engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity,” in America to defend religious liberty.
“As bishops we seek to bring the light of the Gospel to our public life, but the work of politics is properly that of committed and courageous lay Catholics,” declare the Bishops.
Charged by Pope Benedict to defend the “most cherished of American freedoms,” the new declaration of religious freedom is among the strongest and comprehensive documents issued by the conference in years.
It rings true to the significant historical and philosophical traditions of our founding fathers and is an important contribution to the preservation of the American way of life.