The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom campaign, presently underway until July 4th, is attempting to make the case that religious liberty is under attack in the U.S. One of the supposed attacks comes from the efforts to legalize marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples, despite the fact that every single marriage equality law passed has a clause which explicitly protects religious liberty.
Joseph Amodeo, a young gay Catholic in New York, who recently resigned his position on a Catholic Charities board because of LGBT issues, examines some of the faults of the Fortnight for Freedom campaign in a HuffingtonPost.com essay entitled “Catholicism’s Fortnight Identity Crisis.”
Amodeo argues that, in effect, the bishops’ campaign is limiting the power of the Spirit active in the world:
“As bishops argue that their religious freedom is ‘at risk’ because of a federal government working to be just, I’m left wondering why the religious principles of a single faith tradition’s leaders should define public policy for an entire nation. If the Church argues that the word lives today through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and that such inspiration is manifested through the spoken and written word of men and women, then why would such a Spirit stop at the doors of Congress and countless legislative halls throughout the country? In short, I don’t think the Spirit has stopped; instead it seems rather evident that men and women who have been chosen to lead and govern America are discerning great questions of our time and are deliberating in a way that calls to mind the great debates of the Second Vatican Council.”
As an alternative, Amodeo suggests that the Catholic Church should be initiating more dialogue with the secular world, according to the spirit and example of Jesus:
“The time has come for the Church to listen and to hear the cries of those in need. As Christ walked through the villages of ancient Israel, he encountered the people where they were, knelt with them, prayed with them, and witnessed in them the goodness that defines humanity. The time has come for the Church’s leaders to stand at the threshold of the doorway and welcome the sons and daughters who so desire a place to call home. It is in this moment of welcome when the Church will truly affirm the identity and dignity of people who have been created in the image and likeness of God.”
Amodeo hopes that the bishops’ “Fortnight” might become a time when, instead of pointing a finger to those outside, the church can do some productive reflection on the ways that it attempts to limit freedom:
“As Fortnight for Freedom begins and bells toll in cities across the country, we can only hope that this great period of prayer and reflection will lead the Church to see that this quest for ‘religious freedom’ could be a call for the Church itself to examine its own understanding of human liberty and dignity. As some of the Church’s leaders challenge the rights of women, fail to fully welcome and affirm LGBT people, and question the incredible contributions of women religious, I hope that the leaders witness the great illness of judgment that has come to define the actions of some in the hierarchy in recent years.”
Amodeo’s hope is that this time of prayer can actually be reversed to become a time of prayer for inclusion in the church:
I fear that the American bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom campaign will only act to further codify the external view that the Church is a ‘club’ reserved only for the few rather than pro multis (for many). As the bishops begin their fortnight, I would encourage Catholics and all people of faith to share in that time of prayer; may our prayers for truth, love, and hope guide the Church toward truly becoming a ‘living space’ for all without exception.”
His hope highlights the main problem with many of the actions of the U.S. hierarchy lately: they view the church’s relationship with the “outside” world as a battle. The problem with this attitude is that it forces the bishops to respond in “attack” mode, rather than in a mode of evangelistic dialogue, which is more appropriate to them. The “Fortnight” campaign is political not just in content, but in method. It uses the tactics of a partisan political battle, rather than those of religious conversation. The Fortnight for Freedom stands to actually harm the church, by betraying its better nature, than it will defend it.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry