Our many fellow Catholics now enchained for the Faith of our Fathers in such places as China, Syria, and Egypt are, as Father Faber's hymn says, "in heart and conscience free." But what happens when a government tries to chain the conscience itself?
A few weeks ago, in a remarkably unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the attempt of the present Administration in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC to restrict religious freedom. Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the Administration's argument that the First Amendment does not guarantee the right of a religious organization to choose its leaders, was an "extreme" infringement of the free-exercise clause.
Undeterred, and menacingly on the cusp of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Department of Health and Human Services has issued an "interim final rule" which requires all private health plans, including those of Catholic hospitals and schools, to include coverage of prescription contraceptives, female sterilization procedures, and abortion counseling.
For a while, various Catholic leaders had hoped that they might reach an understanding with the Administration, and some even felt more at peace with the president's assurances. But "peace for our time" only lasts until Poland is invaded. Cardinal Mahony, whom no one would fault for intransigence, now says, "I cannot imagine a more direct and frontal attack on the freedom of conscience than this ruling today. This decision must be fought against with all the energies the Catholic Community can muster" Our own archbishop said, "In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences"
At the time of the last presidential election, some may have thought that I overstated things in finding parallels with the dystopian world described in Robert Hugh Benson's Lord of the World, in which Julian Felsenburgh makes eugenics "a sacred duty" Since our Lord did not humiliate the frightened apostles by saying "I told you so" when he rose from the dead, I shall not say "I told you so" to any who underestimated the plottings of social engineers whose audacity is only an audacity of despair.
Blessed John Henry Newman, in Discussions and Arguments on Various Subjects, cited the prediction of an eighteenth-century Protestant bishop and scientist, Samuel Horsley:
The Church of God on earth will be greatly reduced, as we may well imagine, in its apparent numbers, in the times of Antichrist, by the open desertion of the powers of the world. This desertion will begin in a professed indifference to any particular form of Christianity, under the pretence of universal toleration; which toleration will proceed from no true spirit of charity and forbearance, but from a design to undermine Christianity, by multiplying and encouraging sectaries. . . . For governments will pretend an indifference to all, and will give a protection in preference to none.
Father George William Rutler. "Freedom of Conscience." From the Pastor (January 29, 2012).
Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.
Father George W. Rutler is the pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He has written many books, including: The Wit and Wisdom of Father George Rutler, The Stories of Hymns, Hints of Heaven: The Parables of Christ and What They Mean for You, Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943, Cloud of Witnesses — Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.Copyright © 2012 Father George W. Rutler
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