Mother Church and the Nanny State

That the film about the Cristero Rebellion, For Greater Glory, has been news to many highlights the appalling ignorance of history in our culture. That isolation from the human experience has made it easy to confuse conscience with emotion and think religion is irrational. George Neumayer has written, “In one of his memoirs, Obama uses the Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac to argue that secularism equals “reason” and religion equals crazy caprice.”

Such was the distillation of President Obama’s commencement speech at Notre Dame University in which he said, “It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us…”  Fast forward and the same university has joined a legal action against the consequences of the presidential speechwriter’s half-baked Kantianism.

If Fidel Castro is the unwitting founder of modern Miami, so Barrack Obama may be remembered for unintentionally energizing the Catholic bishops. He may even have brought some of Europe to a more sober frame of mind about his policies. The throngs in European cities welcoming the advent of Hope and Change during his campaign were unsettling enough for anyone who remembers the cheering crowds gathered in some of those same platzes in the 1930’s. In short order, the Nobel Peace Prize became the Nobel Promise Prize when it was awarded to someone who was expected to do great things even if he had not done so already. L’Osservatore Romano was pleased that the new president might bring an end to Reagan’s “neocon revolution” and hailed this election as “a choice that unites.”

Hired editors are not anointed prophets, but this became painfully obvious a year later when the foreign affairs editor of L’Osservatore, Giuseppe Fiorentino, said that Obama’s position on abortion and other life issues “have not confirmed fears of radical change.” Around the same time, the editor-in-chief of L’Osservatore, Gian Maria Vian, defended Obama’s speech at Notre Dame and added: “We have noticed that “(Obama’s) entire program prior to his election was more radical than it is revealing itself to be now that he is president. So this is what I meant when I said he didn’t sound like a pro-abortion president.”

During the mass starvation in Ukraine in 1933 Walter Duranty informed readers of the New York Times that “there is no famine or actual starvation nor is there likely to be any.” Duranty received the Pulitzer Prize, which so far, at least, has been denied to Baghdad Bob. It does seem that editors of various journals object to the proposition that facts should take precedence over theory.  Even one United States bishop hailed the Obama election as “a great step for humanity.” But that was before reality raised its head. Some bishops projected their own virtue onto civil figures and then were shocked that a president would lie to them, rather like Neville Chamberlain, incredulous that the Germans were insincere in their protocols and ungentlemanly in starting a war on a weekend.

Until the Calles Law of 1926 “for Reforming the Penal Code” restricted the Church in Mexico, the hierarchy had hoped for some kind of accommodation. Pope Pius XI announced to the world, without apparent success, that the Cristeros persecutions were like those of the Roman Emperor Decius. Still, the heroic witness of the Mexican bishops was not monolithic in strategy. Bishop Francisco Orozco y Jimenez of Guadalajara was so outspoken that he had to go into exile three times, as far as Chicago. Saint Athanasius only had to repair to the desert. There was also the problem of opportunists exploiting a good cause for selfish motives.

As opposition to the HHS mandate now may tempt some politicians to join the fray, for personal stratagems, even if they do not share the moral issues at stake, so in 1928 some anti-clerical Freemasons joined the Christeros simply because they were on the outs with the Calles and Portes Gill governments.

In December of 1926, the bishops of the United States wrote a pastoral letter in support of the suffering Church in Mexico, written in a clear and Catholic diction which could have been a useful template for our time:

A written constitution is an instrument which enumerates and defines the rights and duties of government, distributes its powers, prescribes the manner of their exercise, and limits them to the end that the liberties of the citizens may be preserved. Since the purpose of government is to protect human rights, not to destroy them, it follows that the charter by which a government operates cannot contain a grant of unlimited power. For the exercise of such power would be tyranny, inasmuch as it would tend to destroy rights which both the natural and the positive laws of God place beyond the jurisdiction of men. Hence, in the commonly accepted American doctrine, a constitution vests the government with such rights and powers as are necessary for the proper exercise of its just functions, and at the same time forbids it to encroach upon rights of a higher order which come to men, not from the people, nor from the State, nor from any aggregation of States, but from the Creator of both men and States, almighty God. This conception is wholly in keeping with the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Then they cited the 1888 encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, Libertas praestantissimus:

(Liberty of conscience) may also be taken to mean that every man in the State may follow the will of God, and, from a consciousness of duty and free from every obstacle, obey His commands. This, indeed, is true liberty, a liberty worthy of the sons of God, which nobly maintains the dignity of man, and is stronger than all violence or wrong—a liberty which the Church has always desired and held most dear. This is the kind of liberty the apostles claimed for themselves with intrepid constancy, which the apologists of Christianity confirmed by their writings, and which the martyrs in vast numbers consecrated by their blood.

An almost instinctive reflex in modern times to mortgage Mother Church to the Nanny State makes it hard in an entitlement culture to teach old bureaucrats new tricks. Recent “talking points” issued by a group hostile to the bishops’ opposition to government mandates, stress that in the past two years the federal government has given $1.5 billion to Catholic charitable organizations.  Certainly, this funding may promote the general good, but he who pays the piper still calls the tune, and the tune has now become raucous.   If it is hard to reform the instincts of church bureaucracies,  nothing is impossible with God. That is one of things we know with certainty about God, contrary to the theosophy of an honorary Doctor of Laws from Notre Dame University.

The bishops of the United States have called for daily prayer leading up to the 4th of July to safeguard freedom of religion in our country. The new style of the federal government, in speech after speech, to replace freedom of religion with freedom of worship is not innocent of calculation, for while permitting ritual acts of devotion within the walls of a building, it would limit the right to express religious beliefs in public discourse. In Orwellian semantics, soon enough even the commandment to love the sinner but hate the sin becomes “hate speech.” There are some religions, like some governments, that are intrinsically hostile to freedom of religion.

Recently, a Christian in Tunisia was martyred for converting from Islam, and his killers chanted prayers against “polytheists” as they call Christians, while slowly slicing off his head. While this happens frequently, our own federal government and much of the media are conspicuously silent, for while they may not be interested in religious creeds, they demur from what the Second Vatican Council’s “Declaration on Religious Freedom” called “immunity from coercion in civil society.” By way of antidote, Ronald Reagan said in his first gubernatorial inauguration speech in 1967, “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

The great crises of cultures are crises of saints. This is hard to understand if you think religion is a substitute for clear thinking. In a review of For Greater Glory, a scandalized Roger Ebert spoke of the film’s “Catholic tunnel vision:”

One important subplot involves a 12-year-old boy choosing to die for his faith. Of course the federal troops who shot him were monsters, but the film seems to approve of his decision and includes him approvingly in a long list of Cristeros who have achieved sainthood or beatification after their deaths in the war.

If, as Obama says, “It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us,” then any witness to the Faith will be at the very least in bad taste and at worst madness. Preferable would be those “useful idiots” whom Lenin played as puppets.

Not yet listed in the ranks of martyrs is the former ambassador to Wales, or rather Malta, Douglas Kmiec who said, “(Obama) is inclined to the view of the First Amendment that the government is not intended to be hostile to religion. It is intended to be accommodating when it can.”

Or Nancy Pelosi who does her religion “on Sundays and not at a press conference.” Or Kathleen Sibellius who thinks “we have a lot of reeducation to do.” And Vice President Biden who as a confessor of the Faith said, “The next Republican that tells me I’m not religious I’m going to shove my rosary beads down his throat.”

Of a different temperament was St. Justin the Martyr whose testimony before the Roman prefect under the emperor Marcus Aurelius is meticulous in its details:

The prefect Rusticus said: “Now let us come to the point at issue, which is necessary and urgent. Gather round then and with one accord offer sacrifice to the gods.” Justin said: “No one who is right thinking stoops from true worship to false worship.” The prefect Rusticus said: “If you do not do as you are commanded you will be tortured without mercy.” Justin said: “We hope to suffer torment for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so be saved. For this will bring us salvation and confidence as we stand before the more terrible and universal judgment-seat of our Lord and Saviour.” In the same way the other martyrs also said: “Do what you will. We are Christians; we do not offer sacrifice to idols.

The prefect Rusticus pronounced sentence, saying: “Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and to obey the command of the emperor be scourged and led away to suffer capital punishment according to the ruling of the laws.” Glorifying God, the holy martyrs went out to the accustomed place. They were beheaded, and so fulfilled their witness of martyrdom in confessing their faith in their Saviour.

The Fortnight of Freedom starts on the vigil of the feast of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More. As the latter summed it up, they died the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” They knew the difference.


Fr. George W. Rutler


Fr. George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He is the author of many books including Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press) and Hints of Heaven (Sophia Institute Press). His latest books are He Spoke To Us (Ignatius, 2016) and The Stories of Hymns (EWTN Publishing, 2017).

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  • Michaelmulligan

    A rousing call to arms.  Time to stick one’s courage to the sticking post.

  • Paul Tran

    Spot-on !!!

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  • Martial_Artist

    Amen, gentlemen.

  • Dixibehr

    \The new style of the federal government, in speech after speech, to replace freedom of religion with freedom of worship is not innocent of calculation, for while permitting ritual acts of devotion within the walls of a building, it would limit the right to express religious beliefs in public discourse.\

    The constitution of the old USSR guaranteed “freedom of religious worship and anti-religious propaganda.” The Soviet Encyclopedia defined “church” as “a body of believers existing solely for the purpose of worship.”

    See a parallel?

  • Fr Eric

    Excellent article!  Thanks for referencing Leo XIII.  Americans are nearly completely daft when it comes to any concept of history.  I hope that we are waking up too late.  The Cristero movie is excellent for our time, and it is important to note that many Catholics in Mexico sold their souls for position, wealth, and even life.   The character of the “padrino” of the martyred boy testifies to this as he first advised a priest to  not upset the Calles government  and later  plead with his godson to deny Jesus Christ and avoid imminent death which made him, the padrino, so uncomfortable. 

    Today, as in Mexico in the 1920s, and other eras in history, many Catholics will link arms with the forces of evil.  Saints rise up and reform culture.

    • Fr Eric

       I hope that we are NOT waking up too late. 

  • 1Indioviejo1

    May this be a fertile seed, on good earth, and flourish in the hearts of the true Catholics.   Our political divisions create estrangement in the flock.

  • Yes, amen. 

    I record Father George W. Rutler’s shows on Eternal World Television Network and watch them over and over.  That practice gives an added benefit — as I read his articles, in my mind it’s just as if he is speaking them in that distinctive Rutler cadence.  

  • Rosemary

    Good article but I don’t get the connection to the film, For Great Glory.  Did the Mexican Catholic Church sell itself to the Mexican government to the point where the government saw an opportunity to suppress its influence? Is Fr. Rutler suggesting that American bishops be prepared to be jailed or exiled?  Somehow, I don’t see our bishops sacrificing their positions and political clout just to sit in a jail cell – not even for this issue.  Oh, but wait – perhaps the lay faithful can do that!  Finally, we grubby, little people have a mission!  To the ramparts, Catholics!

    Why is it that I feel that I am being called to arms on an issue that should never have come up in the first place.  Why do I feel like I am being manipulated into opposing Emperor Obama’s edict?  Why is the American Catholic hierarchy oddly engrossed in political issues while our parishes perform more funerals than weddings?  

    Did the bishops issue a call to arms over the scandalous divorce rate among Catholics, the 60,000+ annulments, the collapse of the Catholic family, the loss of vocations, lack of attendance at Mass…?
    Did I miss that prayer vigil?  Did I miss that rally?

  • Bill Russell

    Is there not an inconsistency in the Bishops Conference protesting against Obama’s violation of First Amendment guarantees, while supporting his use of Executive privilege to usurp Congress’s authority in dealing with illegal immigrants? Both are clearly illegal and a violation of the president’s oath to uphold the Constitution. – 

    But as far as bearing witness, after the passage of legislation that enabled Civil Unions in
    Illinois, Cardinal George said, “I expect to die in bed, my successor
    will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public

  • Mdbranley

    The Catholic church needs to worry about its people, not their government.  Its about power, not about doing good for the people.  “give to Cesear what is Cesear’s, and give to God what is God’s”, to me that is about saving souls not worrying about man’s laws.  Save men’s souls and they will do good and make laws that are just in God’s eyes. “Feed my lambs” and quit worrying about politics!

    • steve5656546346

      The government is in the process of making Catholicism illegal:  already there are many cases in which the government has sought to control the Church–sometimes successfully.

      Saving souls is entirely compatible with insisting on religious freedom:  indeed, behind both problems in a secularism that has been growing within the Church as well as without.

  • David Paggi

    If the HHS mandates, now effective law, withstand judicial scrutiny, Catholic thought in education, charity, and particularly healthcare will effectively be excised. Thousands of hospitals now safe for the unborn will be numbered with the rest of the abortuaries. More importantly, her ability to preach the Gospel will be catastrophically curtailed. Literally millions of souls are in the balance.

    These are just the beginning effects. Any amateur student of history knows that you cannot appease a political hyena, the classic case being the shame of Munich in 1938. In “The Gathering Storm”, Winston Churchill makes the stark claim that WWII could have been avoided had the allies resisted Hitler before he had rearmed, when they had both the right and the duty to do so.

    In any case, strictly speaking the Bishops and other plaintiffs are not engaged in politics as much as survival. We have already had our Munich when by failing to defend our adoption agencies we abandoned homeless children in several states to a social experiment of dubious value.

    Reagan was right; all that the faithful have built by their heroic sacrifices over the last 300+ years in the US could be lost. If that occurs, what will be the fate of the Church in the rest of an increasingly hostile world? How will be judged, if we squander our precious patrimony on a misguided party loyalty?

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      I am reminded of some words of Bl John Henry Newman – “Yes! the day may come, even in this generation, when the Representatives of CHRIST are spoiled of their sacred possessions, and degraded from their civil dignities. The day may come, when each of us inferior Ministers—when I myself, whom you know—may have to give up our Churches, and be among you, in no better temporal circumstances than yourselves; with no larger dwelling, no finer clothing, no other fare, with nothing different beyond those gifts, which I trust we received from the All-gracious GOD when we were made Ministers; and those again, which have been vouchsafed to us before and after that time, for the due fulfilment of our Ministry. Then you will look at us, not as gentlemen, as now; not as your superiors in worldly station; but still, nay, more strikingly so than now, still as messengers from Him, who seeth and worketh in secret, and who judgeth not by outward appearance. Then you will honour us, with a purer honour than many men do now, namely, as those (if I may say so) who are intrusted with the keys of heaven and hell, as the heralds of mercy, as the denouncers of woe to wicked men, as intrusted with the awful and mysterious privilege of dispensing CHRIST’S Body and Blood, as far greater than the most powerful and the wealthiest of men in our unseen strength and our heavenly riches. This may all come in our day; we must do our duty; go straight forward, looking neither to the right hand nor the left, ” in patience possessing our souls,” watching and praying, and so preparing for the evil day. And after all, if GOD’S loving kindness spares both us and you the trial, still it will have been useful to have steadily thought about it beforehand, and to have prepared our hearts to meet it.”

      • David M Paggi


        Please pardon the belated reply; I had not followed up on Disqus in a long time. I am honored beyond telling that my little contribution reminded you of Newman. That alone made it worth writing!
        Ironically, I just happened to come across this passage just the other day. Seeing it in this context brings it home even more forcefully. Newman’s eloquence echoes another great English priest, St. Edmund Campion.
        Thanks so much for putting this quote in the thread.

  • steve5656546346

    The bishops are STARTING to learn about the dangers of supporting ever larger government:  but the lesson is still not learned.  The Church still regularly supports ideologies that would make it illegal to be Catholic if they got fully into power.

    I’m reminded of the Bishop of Paris who was quite sure the French Revolution was compatible with Christianity…at least until they cut off his head…

    Big government is a jealous god allowing no other God before it.

    • David M Paggi


      So true! The following is attributed to Washington:

      ” Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

      I believe that our Constitutional Convention and the effort to win its ratification was the first time in history when the leading men of the day, who had effective control of the government and much of he wealth, consciously and deliberately limited their own power for he sake of limiting the government’s.

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