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It’s Not About Religious Liberty. It’s About Liberty

Saturday, February 18, 2012


“When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.” – Pastor Martin Niemöller

The progressive Democrats finally came for the Catholic Church, the religious body whose foremost leaders and spokesmen – if not the Church as a whole – actively supported the passage of Obamacare in 2010, even in the midst of conservative outrage and warnings of what was to come.

While harsh, it’s difficult to deny the precision found within Paul Rahe’s “American Catholicism’s Pact With the Devil,” a column in which Rahe “submit[s] that the bishops, nuns, and priests now screaming bloody murder have gotten what they asked for. The weapon that Barack Obama has directed at the Church was fashioned to a considerable degree by Catholic churchmen.”

According to Rahe, however, advocating for Obamacare was merely the latest betrayal of freedom committed by Catholic leaders.

As Rahe explains, decades ago “the majority of the bishops, priests, and nuns…fell prey to a conceit that had long before ensnared a great many mainstream Protestants in the United States – the notion that public provision is somehow akin to charity.”

In other words, the Church began to embrace liberalism (otherwise known as socialism).

“In the 1930s…in their concern for the suffering of those out of work and destitute,” writes Rahe, “they wholeheartedly embraced the New Deal…[T]hey welcomed Social Security…[but] did not stop to ponder whether public provision in this regard would subvert the moral principle that children are responsible for the well-being of their parents. They did not stop to consider whether this measure would reduce the incentives for procreation and nourish the temptation to think of sexual intercourse as an indoor sport. They did not stop to think.”

According to Rahe, much of the Catholic clergy have been “foster[ing] state paternalism and undermin[ing] what they professed to teach: that charity is an individual responsibility and that it is appropriate that the laity join together under the leadership of the Church to alleviate the suffering of the poor. In its place, they helped establish the Machiavellian principle that underpins modern liberalism – the notion that it is our Christian duty to confiscate other people’s money and redistribute it.”

The Church vs. Other Churches

Mr. Rahe’s column serves as a reminder that liberalism has the capacity to infiltrate any organization, no matter how sound or sacred. And it’s frustrating to think that if they had just “stopped to think,” these misguided clergymen might have realized what conservative commentator Dennis Prager recently noted, that “there is a moral dimension to a smaller government…The bigger the government, the worse the citizen. They are preoccupied in Europe with how much time off, where will they vacation, when will they retire. These are selfish questions. These are not altruistic questions.” Prager went on to say that “the Left has everything wrong.”

The Church seems to have forgotten – or perhaps ignored – Pope John Paul II’s denunciation of socialism: “The fundamental error of socialism is anthropological in nature. Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated…Socialism likewise maintains that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice…From this mistaken conception of the person there arise both a distortion of law, which defines the sphere of the exercise of freedom, and an opposition to private property…[Socialism] makes it much more difficult for him to recognize his dignity as a person, and hinders progress towards the building up of an authentic human community.”

By its 20th century errors, this ancient religion now risks being considered no more prudent than the proponents of Liberation Theology, the intellectual core of President Obama’s Trinity Church in Chicago, and what John Paul II recognized as Marxism disguised as religion.

The Catholic Church risks being perceived as no more sophisticated than Jim Wallis, Obama’s spiritual adviser, who was once asked if he was “calling for the redistribution of wealth in society,” and responded, “Absolutely. Without any hesitation. That’s what the gospel is all about.”

The RI State Council of Churches – a local socialist front group – claims to fight for “social justice,” a coded phrase that invariably translates to “the redistribution of wealth.” Has the Catholic Church truly locked arms with those who disingenuously place a modifier in front of the word “justice?”

Liberty For Me, But Not For Thee

Unfortunately, the consequence of adopting the liberal mentality has proven to provide the Church’s current progressive persecutors with some very valuable political cover, enabling Democrats to downplay and discredit Church leaders simply by pointing out that “some Catholic groups have praised [Obama’s] compromise” even though “the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops continues to object that [it] interferes with religious rights.” (Editorial, Los Angeles Times - 2.14.12)

Catholics and conservatives should avoid making the mistake of viewing the contraception controversy as an issue of religious liberty, when it’s simply an issue of liberty – and the Catholic Church’s failure to spot the specter of socialism lurking behind terms such as “compassion” and “progressive” and “Democrat.”

Or even to care once it is pointed out.

Amazingly, even in the midst of their astonishment and anger, Catholic leaders still have nothing to say on behalf of the members of their congregations that they were happy to have forced into a healthcare system that runs counter to Catholic teachings.

It has been truly disappointing to watch the Church stand up for their own freedom, while helping Democrats foist federal tyranny on the rest of us.

There was a time when the Catholic hierarchy knew better,” writes Rahe. “There was a time when Roman Catholicism was the great defender not only of its own liberty but of that of others. There was a time when the prelates recognized that the liberty of the church to govern itself in light of its guiding principles was inseparable from the liberty of other corporate bodies and institutions to do the same.” The Church forgot that “it could not hope to retain its traditional liberties if it did not lend a hand in defending the traditional liberties of others.”

In the end, though, we discover within these failures of American Catholic leaders a hopeful irony: The Church – along with Judeo-Christian philosophy as a whole – has done much in terms of molding modern conservative theory. As Rahe points out, “[T]he Church worked assiduously to hem in the authority of the Christian kings…[and] provided the foundation for the emergence of a parliamentary order…It was the Church that promoted the principles underpinning the emergence of parliaments. It did so by fostering the species of government that had emerged within the church itself.” And finally, “[H]ad kings not been hemmed in by the Church and its allies…I very much doubt that there ever would have been a regime of limited government.”

How strange it is that the political protégé of the Catholic Church – American conservatism – is here to return the instruction.

Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is chairman of the RI Young Republicans and a consultant for the Barry Hinckley Campaign for US Senate.


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