Religious freedom and the family
MONSIGNOR JOSEPH SCHAEDEL writes that Catholics must stand for religious liberty . . .
by Monsignor Joseph Schaedel
It’s obvious that one of the greatest threats to our Catholic ideal of marriage and family is the absurd notion that the government or the courts can redefine marriage. God defined it permanently thousands of years ago.
Those who follow the news have heard of the political war in my state of Indiana over our RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act). I’ve always lived in Indiana, and I have never seen such a political circus in my life! Many people have asked me about the RFRA, but I sort of avoided the question. I’m not afraid to discuss the religious freedom law, but I’m not interested in talking about it with people who have no idea what they’re talking about — or who have no interest in knowing the facts.
In each case, when I was questioned, I asked the inquirer if they had read the bill. So far not one of them has. I learned the hard way back in grade school that it’s not a good idea to report on or even discuss a book or article you’ve never read. Trying to do so makes you look stupid.
When I was ordained a priest 33 years ago, never in my wildest dreams did I think we would see clergy being forced to officiate at “weddings” that directly contradict the minister’s own faith. Nor did I ever imagine the president of the United States and his administration dragging the Little Sisters of the Poor into court so as to force them to pay for objectionable medical procedures and products that cause abortions.
The controversy swirling around Indiana’s RFRA made constant use of the word “discrimination.” We need to make a distinction between “discrimination” and “unjust discrimination.” We all discriminate. We discriminate between Coke and Pepsi, Shell and Exxon, the choices discriminating parents make for families about schools, and so forth.
The Catholic Church discriminates: Non-Catholics may not receive Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass. Persons previously married may not remarry in the Catholic Church unless they receive a Church annulment. Women may not be ordained. We’re not the only ones: Only Mormons may enter the Mormon Temple. Only celibate Orthodox priests can become Orthodox bishops. And so on.
Unjust discrimination is something else. This is when we decide against or in favor of someone for reasons which violate the human dignity and rights of that person (made in God’s image) often on the basis of race, color, or creed. And nowadays we are aware that it’s often done on the basis of religion, gender or sexual identity.
The sad part is that unjust discrimination is all around us. Catholics are at the top of the list. For example, at the end of March, Toronto’s city council voted to bar a woman from the Toronto public health board because of “her Catholic views.” Did you read this in the mainstream media or see it on any major news network? Of course not. And you won’t. This is nothing new. A dozen years ago, a non-Catholic author named Philip Jenkins wrote a book called The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice (Oxford University Press, 2003).
There are innumerable instances of unjust discrimination against other religious groups and various groups of people. A major difference is that most don’t have huge amounts of money — like some groups do — to pay big public relations firms to stir up people in sympathy for our plight.
A case in point would be the current ruckus against the archbishop of San Francisco. The archbishop wants to make sure that all Catholic high school teachers live, work and teach in such a way that does not contradict the teaching of the Catholic Church. His opponents are spending lots of money on high-profile professional PR firms to oppose him.
The Catholic Church teaches that all unjust discrimination and prejudice is clearly wrong; it is sinful. Of course, the spotlight in our current Indiana situation seems to be on persons of same-sex attraction and those who wish to redefine marriage. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has three specific sections referring to homosexual persons. The Catechism clearly states that “they must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (# 2358).
Family and marriage are sacred; they cannot be “redefined.” But anyone who thinks they might be able to hide behind the federal RFRA or Indiana’s RFRA in order to unjustly discriminate anybody is out of luck. They need to read not only the RFRA, but also the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
MONSIGNOR JOSEPH F. SCHAEDEL is the chaplain of Legatus’ Indianapolis Chapter and pastor of St. Luke Catholic Church in Indianapolis.