Sunday, February 5, 2012

Church Militant in Peril

Here is the letter of Bishop DeWane read at all masses today in the Diocese of Venice:

Bishop Frank Dewane’s Letter Regarding the HHS Healthcare Mandate

The following letter is scheduled to be read at Mass in the Diocese of Venice during the weekend of February 4-5, 2012 
January 31, 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

An alarming and serious matter that negatively impacts the Church in the United States directly has arisen, and strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith. The federal government, which claims to be “of, by, and for the people,” has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people—the Catholic population—and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that almost all employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees’ health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception. Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those “services” in the health policies they write. Further, almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies.

In so ruling, the Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. And as a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). The Administration’s sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply.

We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second class citizens. Do not be misled by attempts to turn this into a debate about Church teaching or the morality of contraception. The issue here is religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

Already our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will have joined in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America’s cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God given rights. In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect Her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust She can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same. Future generations deserve nothing less.

Therefore, I would ask of you two things. First, as a community of faith we must commit ourselves to prayer and fasting that wisdom and justice may prevail, and religious liberty may be restored. Without God, we can do nothing; with God, nothing is impossible. Second, I would also recommend, to learn more about this severe assault on religious liberty, and how to contact Congress in support of legislation that would reverse the Administration’s decision.

I take this opportunity to extend to all of you my continued consideration and prayers. United in prayer and in confidence in God's goodness, I remain
Sincerely yours in Christ,

+ Frank J. Dewane
Bishop of the Diocese of Venice in Florida
This is an alarming and serious matter for the whole Church.  It is an unprecedented (in the United States) attack on religious liberty and so on the basic freedoms of all Americans, regardless of their views on the specific matters of abortion, sterilization, and contraception.  We do not know yet how all the Catholic and other religious organizations affected will react--those the Administration is coercing under this HHS rule to purchase products and services that they consider gravely immoral.  The most compromised may find some clever way to justify to themselves their compliance with this unjust law.  The best will refuse to comply and refuse to pay the onerous fines the rule calls for (said to amount to $10 million for Notre Dame in the first year alone and escalating thereafter).

Some communities, dioceses, and organizations are so weakened by the developments discussed in my previous post that they will be hard to mobilize.  In other cases, like my own hometown of Ave Maria, FL, as seriously Catholic community as can be found outside a seminary or monastery, the resistance will be solid.  Here, in marked contrast to the situation Philip Lawler describes for Boston, everyone (something like 95% on any given Sunday) goes to Mass on Sunday and close to two thirds of the students attend Mass daily.  There are four Masses celebrated on Sunday and three daily.  The president of Ave Maria University has already said that AMU will not comply with this rule.  Since this whole new town is built around the university and the church at its heart, an unrelenting implementation of the rule could well close down the whole community and result in financial ruin for many of us.  Some militant secularists would not be sorry to see us go, no doubt, but many who are not Catholic or even sympathetic to the Church or her teachings will be troubled.  They will correctly see the Administration's decision as a move to abnegate the First Amendment, drastically undermine civil society, and impose a uniform state religion, a secularist orthodoxy, on the whole population.  As in the first centuries of Christianity, many Catholics will buckle and pay obeisance to the state's gods, but many will stand firm regardless of the sacrifice involved.

As I watch the procession of priests, deacon, and servers at the beginning of Mass and follow the recession at the end, I lock my eyes on the large crucifix that leads the little group.  It is an image the early Church was afraid and perhaps embarrassed to display, being the symbol of state terror, warning everyone of the price to be exacted from those who defied the state and its demands for sacrifice to the state's gods.  It is also, as Fr. Barron points out, a kind of taunt, in which we proclaim the triumph of the Cross, the persistence of the Church against which--we have the divine promise--the gates of hell will not prevail.  The very place where Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome is the physical center of the Church.  Peter's successor is to be found there today, two thousand years later, while the emperors, kings, tyrants who persecuted the Church have crumbled, along with their mighty regimes, to dust.

As Peter's latest successor has said, the Church suffers when she becomes used to too much comfort and has too close an accommodation with secular powers.  She grows in strength and numbers, not through establishment (look at the sorry state of the Church in western Europe today, especially where the Church was most 'powerful' or hegemonic in worldly terms) but through and in the face of persecution.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.

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