Sunday, June 24, 2012
Reflections on the U.S. bishops' "Fortnight for Freedom"
Today is the first day in the U.S. bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign that they have been planning for months. At Mass this morning people were asked to pray for, “the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.” I exercised my freedom of conscience by declining to pray their propaganda-in-prayer’s-clothing message. Instead I prayed for people to follow Jesus’ example, serving the poor, walking with the suffering and marginalized, and speaking out against religious leaders’ corruption.
Many laypeople, theologians, clergy and nuns who imitate Jesus in this way have had their freedom of conscience violated by the bishops, suffering heavy punishments at the hands of the very people who now advocate for freedom of conscience. Do the bishops only wish freedom of conscience for people who agree with them? That’s not freedom of conscience. How are the bishops protecting freedom of conscience within their realm of control – within the church?
On June 8th as a prelude to the “Fortnight” a local bishop spoke at a “Religious Liberty” rally outside my state’s capitol building. The crowd was estimated to be around 350 people. Ten days after that but only three days after two female legislators were barred from speaking on an abortion-related bill, more than ten times that many people rallied at the same location.
For days I pondered in wonderment as to why the bishops could only muster a meager gathering after months of extensive visibility on their topic while two legislators could draw a huge crowd almost at the drop of a hat. Friday’s landmark verdict convicting Msgr. William Lynn provoked some thoughts that might offer insight.
Msgr. Lynn, like so many other Vicars of Clergy around the world, followed systemic church practices shuffling known sexually abusive priests to unsuspecting parishes, giving such priests fresh children to victimize. A secular jury rejected Lynn’s plea that he should be found innocent because he was just following orders. The jurors actually expected him to follow his conscience, not his superior’s orders.
Through this verdict, the secular government demonstrated it is protecting children - from the bishops. Pundits are speculating how many other Vicars of Clergy and bishops will face similar charges and convictions as Msgr. Lynn. The clergy and their superiors will be held accountable by secular governments. Centuries’ old church practices that endangered children will not be tolerated. This is quite possibly infuriating to a group of men who prior to this answered to absolutely no one in this country.
The church originated the concept of propaganda. To fortify their Teflon cocoon that deflects accountability, the bishops seem to feel an urgent need to use their propaganda machine turning popular opinion against the government that will hold them accountable – and thus they create this “Religious Liberty” campaign painting the government as immoral. As a living testament to Samuel Johnson’s statement, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel", the bishops have enveloped themselves in the nearly fail-proof “patriotism” shroud to gain mindshare. The mullahs of Iran would be proud. So why the comparatively meager turnout for their rallies?
Some people sincerely agree with the bishops but I believe they are the minority. Others, like Msgr. Lynn, who prioritize obedience to bishops higher than obedience to their consciences, might forfeit their individual God-given consciences replacing them with whatever the bishops tell them their consciences should say.
However, many others, perhaps instinctively, see that the government is actually protecting men’s and women’s freedom of conscience – not the bishops. They hope the government will protect their consciences from the bishops’ attempts to commandeer and violate their consciences. Similarly, they see the government protect their children – not the bishops. In some cases, the government protects their children from the bishops whose actions placed their children in danger. And, if the government doesn’t do so, they can vote into office new leaders. Not so, with their Catholic bishops.
Have people maybe sensed that the bishops’ fixation on correcting “moral poverty” does not address the basic human needs arising from their material poverty? Do the poor see the government – not the bishops - as at least trying to help address their basic human needs? Does marginalizing gays feed anyone? Does denying civil rights create jobs? Does demonizing responsible family planning make it easier to feed people? Does dehumanizing discrimination against women strengthen society?
Whether you live in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world, I hope you do dedicate prayer and actions to religious liberty. I hope you recommend the bishops practice what they preach by insisting that they reinstate anyone whom they excommunicated or censured merely for following their well-formed consciences. I must post this now so that I can send a note to my bishop encouraging him to re-instate some priests whose freedom of conscience he has violated.