Henry David Thoreau once said, “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” Therefore, today I stand for the truth. I based this fact upon this quote, “The truth is the truth, no matter if people believe it or not.”
This past week, the Catholic Church entered into a Cancel Culture when they arbitrarily selected to take Father Altman out of his role as pastor of his Church. The Bishop has the right to do so. But the real question should have been should he have done this? What is really in question here is what is the role of the priest, what is the role of the Church, and what is the role of the teachings of the Catholic Church here?
First, the role of the local parish priest is to minister to his congregation and preach the words of the Catholic Church- to teach the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has always been prolife. In fact, even today the Catholic Church is one of the strongest advocates for all phases of human life. They rally against the death penalty, euthanasia, and abortion. There may be members of the Church who believe in one or more of these but publicly the Church has never supported any of this. A priest who would advocate this position should be asked by the Bishop to refrain from false teachings. This is the job of the Bishop. However, if the priest is advocating a position that is supported by Church Teachings- the fact that abortion is wrong- should the Bishop advocate that the priest was wrong? Should the Bishop argue that the priest was ineffective? If the priest was preaching on the teachings of the Church- does the ineffectiveness of the priest in the eyes of the Bishop come true because of the teaching or the priest? How can a principle advocated by the Church be ineffective if true? Actually, is not the Bishop saying the teaching in question here is ineffective and if this is the case, who is out of step with the Church- the priest or the Bishop? Many people have gotten a very bad taste in their mouth about religion and politics. They believe and they have sometimes been taught some very wrong historical principles. In 1947 US Supreme Court Case Everson v Board of Education. In Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947), the Supreme Court ruled as constitutional a New Jersey statute allocating taxpayer funds to bus children to religious schools — because it did not breach the “wall of separation” between church and state — and held that the establishment clause of the First Amendment applied to state and local governments as well as to the federal government. To get the majority ruling to apply in a 5-4 Justice Hugo Black created the theory of the Wall of Separation. He based this on the Reynolds Case 0f 1879. In Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879), the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a federal law prohibiting polygamy did not violate the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. The Court’s decision was among the first to hold that the free exercise of religion is not absolute. The problem here is that their conclusion was based upon a letter Thomas Jefferson had written to the Ministry Alliance of Danbury, Connecticut. They took the words of Thomas Jefferson because he was a founding father and a President. However, he did not write the Constitution or the First Amendment to the Constitution. The First Amendment states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Note that nothing is mentioned in the Constitution nor in the First Amendment that would allow separation between Church and State. Why is this important? The priest according to the US Constitution would have the right to free speech. The Congress could not impair or infringe upon the Priest’s free speech rights. So the real question here today is what the priest was using in his homily to correspond to the teachings of the Catholic Church?
Second, what is the proper role of the Church here?
Canon 1741 gives us a list of the principal reasons why a pastor can lawfully be removed from office. It’s important to note right away that “principle reasons” are not the only reasons, so this list is meant to be illustrative but not exhaustive. They include:
-behavior which causes grave harm to ecclesiastical communion;
-ineptitude or permanent illness which renders the priest unequal to the task of running the parish;
the loss of the priest’s good name among parishioners, or their aversion to him;
-grave neglect or violation of his duties, even after a warning; and
-bad administration of the parish’s temporal goods, causing grave harm to the Church, if no other way to eliminate this harm can be found.
If there was only one priest in that situation, you might tend to believe their argument. However, there are many priests that are currently being taken out of their parishes and the common denominator is that they are traditional in their beliefs when it comes to the Church. They want the Church to stand up for the beliefs of the Church. Is this too much to ask? Is this radical to have traditionalists speak on the behalf of the Church? Or do we want radicals to represent the Church?
In their letter of June 18, 2021, Sixty Democratic Congressmen and Congresswomen wrote the following:
As Catholic Democrats in Congress, we are proud to be part of the living Catholic tradition – a tradition that unfailingly promotes the common good, expresses a consistent moral framework for life, and highlights the need to provide a collective safety net to those individuals in society who are the most vulnerable. As legislators in the U.S. House of Representatives, we work every day to advance respect for life and the dignity of every human being. We believe that government has moral purpose. We are committed to making real the basic principles that are at the heart of Catholic social teaching: helping the poor, disadvantaged, and the oppressed, protecting the least among us and ensuring that all Americans of every faith are given meaningful opportunities to share in the blessings of this great country. That commitment is fulfilled in different ways by legislators but includes: reducing the rising rates of poverty, particularly child poverty; increasing access to education for all; pressing for access to universal health care; recognizing the dignity of all humans; and repairing long-standing racial and gender inequities in our society. Each of these issues challenges our obligations as Catholics to community and helping those in need. We envision a world in which every child belongs to a loving family and agree with the Catholic Church about the value of human life. Each of us is committed to reducing the number of unintended pregnancies and creating an environment with policies that encourage pregnancies to be carried to term and provide resources to raise healthy and secure children. We believe this includes promoting alternatives to abortion, such as adoption, improving access to children's healthcare and childcare, and creating a child benefit through the expanded and improved Child Tax Credit. In all these issues, we seek the Church's guidance and assistance but believe also in the primacy of conscience. In recognizing the Church's role in providing moral leadership, we acknowledge and accept the tension that comes with disagreeing with the Church in some areas. We recognize that no political party is perfectly in accord with all aspects of Church doctrine. This fact speaks to the secular nature of American democracy, not the devotion of our democratically elected leaders. Yet we believe we can speak to the fundamental issues that unite us as Catholics and lend our voices to changing the political debate – a debate that often fails to reflect and encompass the depth and complexity of these issues. We also urge the Church to heed the words of Our Holy Father Pope Francis, who wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” that the Eucharist although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” Further, the Holy Father extolls that clergy must act as facilitators of grace, not arbiters, because “the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.” As legislators, we too are charged with being facilitators of the Constitution which guarantees religious freedom for all Americans. In doing so, we guarantee our right to live our own lives as Catholics but also foster an America with a rich diversity of faiths. We believe the separation of church and state allows for our faith to inform our public duties and best serve our constituents. The Sacrament of Holy Communion is central to the life of practicing Catholics, and the weaponization of the Eucharist to Democratic lawmakers for their support of a woman’s safe and legal access to abortion is contradictory. No elected officials have been threatened with being denied the Eucharist as they support and have supported policies contrary to the Church teachings, including supporting the death penalty, separating migrant children from their parents, denying asylum to those seeking safety in the United States, limiting assistance for the hungry and food insecure, and denying rights and dignity to immigrants. We solemnly urge you to not move forward and deny this most holy of all sacraments, the source and the summit of the whole work of the gospel over one issue. We remind you that the Second Vatican Council renewed emphasis on the Eucharist as the central focus, especially in the Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: “For the liturgy, ‘through which the work of our redemption is accomplished,’ most of all in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.” To pursue a blanket denial of the Holy Eucharist to certain elected officials would indeed grieve the Holy Spirit and deny the evolution of that individual, a Christian person who is never perfect, but living in the struggle to get there.
In a very odd way this letter speaks volumes. You can publicly be against the Church teachings and promote laws which go against Church teachings but if you dare to mention that Church leaders are taking us away from the Church Teachings or the Traditions of the Church this is not proper. I think that this is wrong, wrong, wrong, and must be fixed immediately. We cannot have devoted Catholic Public Officials coming out and saying things like “This is my body!” and “My body, my choice?” They are prochoice when it comes to abortion but when they come to COVID 19 Vaccine they will ridicule the critics who say the same thing- “We do not have to get the vaccine- it is my body, my choice.” In essence, the people who are being punished here are the Church attending Christians who believe in the stated principles of the Church. This is not right; this is not proper.
Third, we need to begin to consider the real purpose of what the Church is and what our membership in the Church should be or not should be. Church attendance is great, you can attend every week, but the question should be do you believe? Do you believe in Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Do you believe he died on the Cross for your Sins and was resurrected on the Third Day? Brothers and sisters, it appears that many people have forgotten that Church is and always has been the people inside of the buildings and not the buildings itself. We are the Church. We should stand up like they did in Maccabees and take action.
1 Maccabees 1: 11, 15
In those days certain renegades came out from Israel and misled many, saying, “Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us." ... They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil.”
1 Maccabees 2:19-22
Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to obey his commandments, every one of them abandoning the religion of their ancestors, I and my sons and my brothers will continue to live by the covenant of our ancestors. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion.
Brothers and sisters, ask yourself a question, who speaks for you? Do the government leaders speak for you or does Jesus Christ speak for you? If the government leaders speak for you what does this say about your religious beliefs? How is it like the same situation that Jews found them with the Seleucid Greek Kings who were trying to change their religion? These are questions that you should be asking yourself. Instead, we find ourselves arguing over policies that are against our beliefs and this will cause us to lose focus over what we should be worried about: loving, obeying and serving the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen