“Fortnight for Freedom” Fails to Rouse Catholics to Oppose LGBT Equality

July 12, 2015

For the fourth year in a row, the U.S. Catholic Bishops declared a “Fortnight for Freedom” from June 21st to July 4th–a time for Catholics to pray and organize to protect supposed threats to religious freedom.  For the fourth year in a row, this project has failed to find an audience among Catholics in the pews, who don’t agree with the bishops that their religious liberty is threatened.

Many Catholics think that claiming religious liberty is threatened is a way for religious leaders, such as the bishops, to oppose a number of governmental initiatives, including marriage equality.  By saying that marriage equality will harm the Catholic Church’s ability to practice its faith works as a red herring.  As Father Thomas Reese recently pointed out in The National Catholic Reporter,  the U.S. bishops have made accommodations with other civil laws that do not match their beliefs, so, morally, they can do the same with marriage equality.

It’s surprising that the bishops’ campaign did not pick up more speed this year than in the past since the Supreme Court decision for marriage equality came right in the middle of their Fortnight.  But perhaps it’s not surprising, since many Catholics welcomed the decision and don’t see it threatening their freedom.  As Paula Ruddy, writing at The Progressive Catholic Voice blog wrote:

“American Catholics have been formed in the values of two traditions – the value of community in the Roman Catholic tradition and the value of individual liberty in the U.S. democratic tradition. Most of us have learned to value both, to integrate the two more or less successfully. We try to avoid both the excesses of “group think” and the excesses of ‘go-it-alone’ individualism. We have to do this without the support of our institutional church.”

That sentiment was shared by Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, and Reverend Barry Lynn, president of Americans United, in an op-ed they co-authored for The Baltimore Sun at the very beginning of the Fortnight campaign.  O’Brien and Lynn pointed out that American Catholics want a nation where everyone’s needs are met and everyone’s consciences are respected:

“The American public has arrived at a consensus that it’s not OK to be mean and nasty. They don’t think it’s OK to take taxpayer money to diagnose someone with HIV and not give that person — through condoms, medication and counseling — the ability to live and love as HIV positive. It’s not OK when refugees from Latin America, or those who are victims of sex trafficking or sexual abuse, are denied emergency contraception that could prevent pregnancy — especially when they are not even referred to another provider who can give survivors what they need. The American public does not agree when an employer either refuses to hire you because you want to marry your same-sex partner, you want contraceptives covered by your insurance or you would like to use IVF to have the baby you’ve always wanted.”

The real danger is that real religious freedom is threatened by the unholy alliance between pulpit and government. O’ Brien and Lynn stated:

“[T]he real threat we see is an all-time low in political commitment to, and understanding of, the idea of separation of church and state.”

O’Brien underscored this problem in a separate op-ed that he wrote for Crux:

“Real religious freedom is freedom of and freedom from religion. Neither party seems to understand that you don’t get to impose your beliefs onto somebody else — your freedom stops at the end of your nose.”

Or, as Ryan Hoffman, communications director for Call To Action, said it in a post on the organization’s website:

“Real ‘religious freedom’ upholds an individual’s decision to live in accordance with their sexual identity and religious values. Discrimination on the basis of such is not a Catholic value.”

Frederick Clarkson, a senior fellow with Political Research Associates, framed the problem this way in an essay on LGBTQNation.com:

“The narrative is usually framed in terms favorable to the Christian Right: casting religious freedom versus LGBTQ rights. But there is more to it as the battle for the definition of a religiously plural society rages hotter than meets the eye. . . .

“The Christian Right, in both its evangelical and Catholic expressions, is seeking to co-opt the great tradition and constitutional doctrine of religious liberty as a front to advance their particular cultural and religious agenda at the expense of everyone else.  But there is a broad-based pushback from many sectors, both religious and non-religious, to preserve and advance religious freedom for all, and not just the self-selected few.”

If Catholic bishops continue to take a narrow view of religious liberty, they will, in effect, be making the Catholic religion a more narrow and marginalized sector of society.  Mark Silk, a contributing editor at Religion News Serviceargued against the idea that it is beneficial for religious institutions to shrink down in order to preserve their identity in a way that is totally separate from mainstream society.  In a blog post, Silk pointed out an important historical example:

“[I]t’s hard to see an American future where, as the early Christian intellectual Tertullian put it, ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’ What a number of latter-day Christian intellectuals are hoping for, instead, is what American Conservative blogger Rod Dreher is calling the Benedict Option, by which he proposes that Christians in America take as their model Benedictine monasticism after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West. . . .

“Dreher’s idea is that just as European civilization re-emerged from these ‘islands of sanity and serenity,’ so a religious civilization can eventually re-emerge from contemporary Christian communities that hold to traditional values and beliefs.

“It’s a pretty lousy analogy, actually. The heavy business of keeping peace and order, and effecting the transition from Roman emperors to the likes of the Frankish King Clovis, was done by popes such as Gregory the Great and aristocratic (and married) Gallo-Roman bishops. Monasteries did preserve a good deal of ancient Roman culture — among other things, monks copying out enough naughty Latin literature to keep latter-day classicists in business. But the idea that people outside the cloister forgot what it meant to be a human being, while small communities of celibate men (and women) didn’t, is romantic nonsense.

“More importantly, however, the monastic model served Western Christendom badly in important ways during the era of extraordinary economic and institutional growth that began after the Viking invasions ended in the 11th century — not least by making celibacy obligatory for priests serving communities in the world, and consequently devaluing the religious lives of married folks.”

After four years of failed Fortnights, U.S. bishops should learn that Catholics in the pews do not see their religious freedom threatened.  So much wasted money on a campaign which looks more like a political strategy against policies the bishops don’t like than a humanitarian effort to preserve an ideal.   In other parts of the globes, people’s religious freedom is severely threatened, and they pay for it with their lives.  The U.S. bishops would do better by funding programs to oppose those oppressive measures instead of trying to convince Catholics here that there is a monster under the bed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



‘Fortnight for Freedom’ Campaign Ends With Protest and Op-Ed

July 7, 2012

LGBT Catholics and supporters outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC.

The U.S. bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign, designed to try to convince people that religious freedom is under attack in our nation, ended on July 4th.   LGBT Catholics and supporters gathered on that day at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC, to protest the campaign.  The Washington Blade reports:

“ ‘We’re here as a non-partisan group of Catholics to say we don’t want our church involved in these kind of politics,’ Joseph Palacios, director of the Catholics for Equality Foundation, told the Blade as he and other protesters stood in front of the basilica on Michigan Avenue, N.E. ‘We want our church leaders to be pastoral leaders particularly concerned with the poor and the vulnerable, the gay and lesbian community, women and the equal rights of all people rather than the partisan politics they seem to be playing.’ ”

“Members of Catholics United, Dignity USA, Nuns on the Bus, the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance and other organizations took part in the protest that coincided with a Mass that marked the end of the “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched last month in Baltimore. Protesters sang hymns and held a banner that read ‘Bishops: We need pastors, not politicians. Your antics are hurting the church’ on the sidewalk in front of the basilica as the faithful arrived. . . .

” ‘I’m here today because I think our bishops are on the wrong track,’ said Sister Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry and the National Coalition of American Nuns.  ‘They’re using religious liberty as a political tool to be against the president, when in reality the people whose religious liberty is being denied are the people who work at church-related institutions. Freedom of conscience is for the individual.’ . . .

” ‘They [the bishops] want equality only for heterosexual people and so they’re using the argument of religious freedom,’ stressed Gramick. ‘It’s the freedom of the individual that’s being denied. No church or religious institution is going to be forced to perform gay weddings and this is what our bishops are leading Catholics to believe, which is false.’ ”

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo published an op-ed essay entitled “The Growing Abuse of ‘Religious Freedom’ “ on Advocate.com to mark the closing of the bishops’ campaign, noting:

“The Catholic hierarchy is trying to fundamentally change the legal understanding of individual liberties, weighting the supposed rights of religious institutions more heavily than individual rights. At New Ways Ministry, we think there are good secular and religious arguments for not twisting the law into a tool for discrimination. Last fall, the Catholic bishops created the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty to protect against a host of alleged threats, with five of the six predictably having to do with sexuality. The committee opposes same-sex marriage and endorses ‘ministerial privilege,’ which sets different employment standards for religious groups, allowing discrimination that is illegal for other employers. In addition, religious institutions should not have to cover contraception in employee health plans; Catholic charities should continue to be awarded federal funds to serve victims of human trafficking while refusing to provide a full range of reproductive services; and international HIV prevention programs should not require condom distribution. . . .

“The LGBT community has suffered under the law, both by discriminatory statutes and from a lack of recognition for dimensions of our lives that don’t fit within existing legal norms. But our faith in the law and our respect for religious differences are what have many of us invested in the painstaking process of nurturing good, rights-affirming policies while uprooting injustice. Our fundamental objection to the bishops’ religious freedom campaign is that it’s a misuse of the law — an attempt to create new rights for religious institutions while trampling on the rights long-guaranteed to all individuals.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

In DC, Gay Catholics Protest ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ Campaign

June 27, 2012

Gay Catholics protest “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign. (Washington Blade photo by Blake Bergen)

Gay Catholics in Washington, DC, staged a protest against the two-week-long “Fortnight for Freedom” staged by the U.S. bishops to promote the idea that religious liberty is under attack in the U.S.

The Washington Blade  reports that the event was on George Washington University’s campus, where a Fortnight for Freedom event was being held:

“Members of Catholics for Equality and Dignity USA sang hymns and held a large banner that read ‘Bishops: We Need Pastors, Not Politicians, Your Antics are Hurting the Church’ outside the Charles E. Smith Center on 22nd Street, N.W. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington was among those who spoke to the estimated 4,000 people who attended the gathering.”

A spokesperson for the protesters explained the reason for the demonstration:

“ ‘We’re here to provide an opposite viewpoint to the U.S. bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom campaign,” said Joseph Palacios, director of the Catholics for Equality Foundation. He noted to the Blade that 67 percent — or $4 billion — of Catholic Charities’ annual funding comes from state and federal government sources. ‘They claim that they are being victims of religious liberty, when in fact the Catholic Church has probably more liberties than any organization in our country.’ . . .

” ‘This is all about election year politicking,’ argued Palacios. ‘This is a cover for the Catholic Church’s issues on gay rights, on women’s reproductive issues, on so-called religious infringement.’ ”

One of the protesters explained that the demonstration showed that not all Catholics support the bishops’ campaign:

” ‘Catholics are very divided in terms of their support for this conservative political agenda,’ said Arlington resident Bob Miailovich as he stood outside the GWU rally. ‘We have already met here though today some people who are into the more conservative agenda and they take offense at any public program that does not comport foursquare with what the bishops are teaching. As Catholics, it’s a big church and it has a lot of divided opinion. We’re not monolithic on these social issues.’ ”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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