Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Faith and Freedom

Tomorrow, the US Catholic Bishops' Fortnight for Freedom comes to an end with a Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC at 12:10 p.m. The Fortnight, unfortunately, came to be too closely associated with -- and even identified with -- the freedom of major Catholic employers to not have to provide the same health care benefits as other private sector employers. It became identified with the freedom not to have to recognize legally married gay spouses.

I've been thinking about religion and liberty from a slightly different angle and I've identified a couple of things the Catholic Church can do to promote freedom in its own institutions:

1. Freedom of theological inquiry: Notifications by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome and similar notifications by national bishops' conferences have a stifling effect on free theological thought, inquiry, publishing, and teaching. Theology is not catechism. Catholic theologians such as (most recently) Elizabeth Johnson and Margaret Farley should be free to write what they want as long as they make it clear -- and they do -- that their writings represent their own views and not those of the Magisterium.

2. Freedom of thought and expression for employees of Catholic institutions: It was truly dismaying in the middle of all of this outrage about religious liberty, to read about Trish Cameron who had been teaching for 11 years at St. Joseph's Catholic School in Moorhead, Minnesota, and who was told to submit her resignation after answering honestly on a self-evaluation that "I do not agree with all church teachings on a personal level, but I do not bring my own opinions into religion classes." The school pressured her for details and learned that she disagrees with the Church about same-sex marriage and, more specifically, that she felt it was inappropriate for Bishop Michael Hoeppner to come into her 5th grade classroom and talk about gay marriage and the Minnesota Marriage Amendment and make a pitch for her young students to tell their parents how to vote. She is simply the latest example of an employee of a Catholic institution fired for exercising her freedom of conscience and expression -- and in a discrete, non-scandalous manner at that. Employees of the Catholic Church and its related institutions should not have to check their constitutional rights at the door as a condition for employment.

3. Freedom of employees of Catholic institutions to unionize: Another scandalous event that occured during this "Fortnight for Freedom" was Duquesne University joining the sleazy ranks of Catholic higher education institutions who have attempted to claim religious exemption from the National Labor Relations Board in order to avoid a union representation election by their adjunct faculty. The NLRB denied Duquesne's claim, which was not very credible given that Duquesne already recognizes and bargains with several other unions and because it had initially agreed to the election. Duquesne has appealed the NLRB ruling. Given the fact that the bishops of the United States themselves have taught in Economic Justice for All that "the Church fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions. This is a specific application of the more general right to associate" (104), no Catholic institution should be using its Catholicity as an excuse to get out of holding a union election, recognizing a duly elected union, or bargaining fairly with that union. That they continue to do so is a matter of public scandal and contrary to the teachings of the Church.

4. Freedom of women religious to associate, publish and develop their own programs: The recent doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious contains numerous violations of their freedom. Among the conclusions in the assessment: a) LCWR's Systems Thinking Handbook will be immediately withdrawn from publication until it is revised; b) Speakers/presenters at major LCWR programs will be subject to approval by Delegate (ie. Archbishop Peter Sartain); and c) LCWR links with affiliated organizations, e.g. Network and Resource Center for Religious Life, will be reviewed. But the USCCB wants to focus attention on how the Obama administration is theoretically attacking Catholic religious freedom. That's rich! Maybe they should be looking to remove the beam from their own eye before focusing on the splinter in their brother's eye.

5. Freedom of priests to marry and freedom of married men to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders: It's unfair and hypocritical that the Roman Catholic Church is continuing to admit more and more married men with families into the Anglican ordinariate ("Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter") while continuing to require Catholic priests who fall in love and want to marry and start a family to leave the ministry. The Church can no longer reasonably make the argument that these states are incompatible now that it has -- and is continuing to acquire -- ample experience to the contrary. The time for optional celibacy is now.

These are a few of my thoughts on faith and freedom as we approach the end of this fortnight of reflection on the subject.


  1. Excellent post. Very heartfelt and direct. A pleasure to read.

  2. Good post, but we also lack freedom to ordain women! I believe in my heart, that a woman who has freely chosen celibacy for the sake of the kingdom is a better icon of Christ than a married man. To continue reserving priestly ordination for men alone is the biggest hypocrisy, and increasingly becoming an obstacle to grace.