Monday, June 24, 2013

Why the Fortnight for Freedom is (Mostly) Pointless

In response to the increasingly hostile environment the American Church finds herself in, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for a "fortnight for Freedom" of "prayer and action."  I really don't want to be an Eeyore.  Anytime Bishops call for Catholics to take their faith in the public square seriously, they should be applauded.  Yet I honestly think this endeavor is flawed for various reasons.

1.)  More Seamless Garment Nonsense.

When giving the reason for the rally, the USCCB says the following:

The U.S. bishops have called for a Fortnight for Freedom, a two-week period of prayer and action, to address many current challenges to religious liberty, including the August 1, 2013 deadline for religious organizations to comply with the HHS mandate, Supreme Court rulings that could attempt to redefine marriage in June, and religious liberty concerns in areas such as immigration and humanitarian services.
I happen to favor comprehensive immigration reform, and a lot of my conservative friends give me flack over it.  I also think the Catholic Church has an important voice to play in immigration reform, as well as humanitarian services.  Yet these are not on the same plane as a government forcing a religious institution to modify its beliefs or face discriminatory treatment, or the high court redefining what was once viewed as the founding block of civilization at a time when this institution is already incredibly weakened.  This is just the same nonsense which for years has equated settled church teaching (abortion is always immoral) with prudential teaching which is based on various circumstances (when states should or should not exercise their authority to execute guilty criminals).  This doesn't just weaken our emphasis on those perennial teachings.  There are numerous political conservatives who would be a lot more receptive to the Churches endeavors if they weren't dogmatizing something which isn't dogmatic.  The Church has definitively rejected the "seamless garment" hypothesis.  There are certain things which Catholics cannot disagree with Church authorities on as they are of a doctrinal nature, and then there are prudential situations where the judgement of those individuals is extremely important but not the final word.

2.)  Little Late to the Game Aren't Ya?

Everyone is glad to see the Bishops finally starting to oppose the anti-religious policies of this administration.  Yet we have to ask the hard question:  where were they when this mattered?  Their opposition to Obamacare during the vote was tepid at best.  Deep down, many of them wanted Obamacare as long as it didn't include the abortion/contraception stuff.  That's fine, but you really weren't that loud in your opposition.  Individual Bishops weren't informing their flocks about it, you got just the occasional press release from this or that bureaucratic body of this or that subsection of the advisory bishops conference.

3.)  About 40 Years Too Late

Now it's time for me to put on my traditionalist hat.  There is little dispute that when Humanae Vitae came out, the American Bishops were one of the largest groups to oppose that encyclical, and did everything they could to water it down, and tell people contraception wasn't a big deal.  Their priests for decades viewed it not a big deal, and the people responded accordingly.  The majority of American Catholics either contracept or dissent from settled Church teaching on contraception.  How are we going to mobilize the world to take things seriously without mentioning the elephant in the room?

4.)  No Penance

While the Bishops suggest you pray, hold protests, become informed about public policy, there's another glaring omission, and this cuts right to the problem of today's Church.  Not once do the Bishops call for penance, either by the Bishops themselves, or the faithful.  Most importantly, that penance is for our own shortcomings in either failing to live up to Church teaching, failure to spread it, etc.  If we want to fix the problem, we need to take ownership of the problem.  When Jonah approached Nineveh and urged repentance, they very publicly put on sackcloth and ashes and publicly acknowledged their failures.  I'm not expecting Cardinal Dolan to don the black and cover his head in ashes (powerful an image that would be!) but can't we just acknowledge penance is needed here?

This doesn't even have to be that difficult.  One of the primary ways the Prophet Joel urges people to penance is by appointing a fast.  The Bishops could call for reinstating abstaining from meat on Friday for one month, with the purpose of fighting the HHS mandate.  Even if just 25% of Catholics participated, think of what a powerful message of 19,425,000 souls storming heaven once a week over this particular matter, and altering their life even in a small way for it.  Not to mention it would be the kind of public act that would drive conversation.

Even amongst our more "conservative" brethren in Church leadership (lay and clerical) in America, you won't hear this kind of stuff.  You won't see one finger pointed at ourselves and how we've made a mockery of the sacrament of marriage by our high divorce levels and contraception.  Yet if we want to take the Bible seriously, this is the only way to do it.


  1. I have to acknowledge (with a wince) the validity of most of your points. However, I don't think you're right about 4-No Penance. The Fortnight for Freedom is part of the year-long Call to Prayer, which includes fasting and abstinence from meat every Friday and monthly Eucharistic Adoration. I have to wince again since the bishops' publicity for this has apparently been so bad that faithful Catholics aren't even aware of this.

  2. Not just a faithful Catholic, but one with a lot of time on his hands who tends to stay on top of this stuff. :p

    The USCCB website on this is just insanely awful. Look at how many menus you have to get through before you reach the "Call to Prayer"

    That's 5 different menus. I don't drill through 5 menus of websites I read for entertainment, much less the USCCB. There's really not much mentioned on it since the announcement in December.

    So a legit oversight on my part, but I think you can understand why I made the oversight. You really gotta search to find this, so it sadly doesn't seem to be very high priority.

    Forgive me for putting the trad hat on, but imagine if Cardinal Dolan made a public event out of these adoration events and spoke at them afterwards getting the press there, instead of addressing Muslim communities.

  3. I will correct it, but I just gotta figure out how to correct it.

  4. About #1:

    The bishops ARE right that there have been religious liberty threats from restrictive immigration laws. They haven't gotten as much press because they are at the state level, but they are a problem. Alabama's law is especially troubling.

  5. As for your other points:

    Point #2: The Catholic Church believes that health care is a human right. That's no secret. Very supportive of universal health care systems. (Remember the USA is the anomaly worldwide.) No surprise they would support ObamaCare.

    But point #3 and #4 are spot on. The USCCB isn't pushing the Fortnight for Freedom because of Humanae Vitae. Most bishops don't agree with it and most priests don't agree with it. Thus no need for sackcloth and ashes.

    Basically, the bishops are protesting because Obama is using them as a political punching bag (and quite well, might I add). They're more bureaucrats than apostles and the law would put them in a difficult position between Washington and Rome.

    A bit cynical? Perhaps. But it explains a lot.


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