The Obama administration’s use of the HHS mandate to attack the religious freedom of Catholic educational institutions and other organizations is part of a “bloodless” persecution in the U.S. of those seeking to bring the “healing balm” of truth, love and mercy into our culture, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori recently stated.
“Just because this polite persecution is bloodless, we should not imagine that it is victimless,” Archbishop Lori said at the ceremonial opening of the newly-expanded Divine Mercy University in Arlington, Va., on May 19.
Archbishop Lori noted that what Pope Francis calls “polite persecution” in a free society arose due to the exclusion of faith from public schools, our laws, court decisions and government policies — such as the HHS mandate — that seek to impose limits on religion. The mandate forces employers to provide morally objectionable health insurance that covers contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization despite their deeply held beliefs.
In his address, titled “Religious Freedom in the Year of Mercy,” Archbishop Lori, who is also the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, spoke on the connections between the Year of Mercy invoked by Pope Francis and the current struggles for religious freedom in the United States. The archbishop warned that the “polite persecution” eroding religious freedom in the U.S. is creating a “merciless society.”
Many were hoping this month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on the HHS mandate would be a victory for religious freedom, but the legal challenges against the Obama administration are set to continue. On May 16, the Court unanimously vacated the appellate court decisions and remanded the cases challenging the mandate back to the lower courts. The case brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor received the most media attention, but a number of Catholic colleges and schools were also plaintiffs in the cases heard before the Supreme Court.
Alongside the family, faithful Catholic schools and universities act as “structures that stand between the power of the state and the individual conscience,” Archbishop Lori continued. These structures are vital for human flourishing, yet they are constantly faced with external threats that seek to destroy and marginalize them. These institutions are also the ones experiencing the greatest threats to their religious freedoms, he later said, applauding the efforts of the Little Sisters of the Poor and Catholic educators who have opposed the HHS mandate.
“Let’s be clear what religious freedom means. It does not mean the freedom merely to escape cooperation with evil by the skin of one’s teeth,” Archbishop Lori said. “Rather, it means the space necessary to create in our institutions a true culture of life [and] a culture that respects the teachings of the faith.”
“The institutions that are under challenge are places of mercy that seek to bring the healing balm of truth, love and human skill to the spiritual, emotional and physical wounds of human existence, to be indeed the ‘field hospital’ in a culture where many are deeply wounded,” he continued.
This fight for religious freedom is not merely about policy, law or “trying to carve out special privileges for the Church,” he said. The struggle for religious freedom is a deeper matter of faith and evangelization. The goal is ultimately “to create those conditions in which the mercy of God can touch the inmost heart of persons who are being carried along by the rapid current of our culture. Defending religious liberty is itself a work of mercy,” he said.
And Catholic colleges and schools play a critical role in this process, helping to form students in the faith and defending the freedom to practice their faith, Archbishop Lori explained, quoting Catholic University of America President John Garvey.
“President Garvey said, ‘If we want to defend religious liberty, we have to love God more.’” This means a greater emphasis on evangelization and helping others to value above all their relationship with God, he said. If that were the common mindset, he added, “Do you think the powers that be would be as inclined to come after us as they have been? They are coming after us now because they perceive weakness, and it seems to me that the ultimate answer to this is evangelization.”
Still, religious freedom in the public square is beginning to take a backseat to other so-called freedoms. In many ways, “sexual freedom” has usurped the place of religious freedom, Archbishop Lori suggested. When people leave the Church or take issue with Church teaching, it is often regarding teaching on “sexuality and marriage, contraception, sterilization, abortion, same-sex marriage and LGBT issues.” People leave without understanding what the Church truly teaches. But in issues of religious freedom and Church teaching, “silence is not golden,” he added.
“Were we merely to collapse under the weight of the pressure that we face and to allow our institutions ‘to go along, to get along,’ we would not be serving the cause of mercy but quite the opposite,” Archbishop Lori noted.
“Mercy has nothing to do with making good and evil interchangeable. Mercy is not a cover for wrong doing or a mere palliative for the conscience,” he said. “Mercy without truth is a cruel deception, and mercy without love is a shadow of itself.”
LifeNews Note: Justin Petrisek writes for Catholic Education Daily, an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society.