A concerned reaction to the HHS mandate and its effect on our religious liberty
On the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary time, February 5, 2012, the bishops, throughout the United States, wrote an official letter to be read to the faithful at all the Masses of that day. These letters concerned the “alarming and serious matter” of the recent announcement by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that all employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees health care coverage which includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception. This is clearly a direct attack on the religious freedom guaranteed to the Catholic Church by the First Amendment.
This is reminiscent of what happened in the German Reich on Palm Sunday, 1937. Pope Pius XI dispatched the encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Anxiety), which was smuggled into Nazi Germany to be read at all of the Masses that Sunday. It condemned the breaches by the Nazi government of the Reichskonkordat agreement, which it had signed with the Church four years earlier.
The pope’s encyclical spoke of “the systematic hostility leveled at the Church” and of the necessity of “obedience to our conscience and our pastoral mission, whether we be successful or not, to oppose the policy which seeks, by open or secret means, to strangle our rights guaranteed by a treaty.” The encyclical continued: “Take care, venerable brethren, that, above all, faith in God—the first and irreplaceable foundation of all religion—be preserved in Germany, pure and unstained.” It recommended that Catholics “encounter the obstinateness and provocations of those who deny, despise and hate God, by the never-failing reparatory prayers of the faithful, hourly rising like incense to the All-Highest, and staying his vengeance.” Of particular significance, was the following statement condemning racism:
Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the state, or a particular form of state, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community—however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things—whoever raises these notions above their standard value, and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned by God.
This statement on racism, was added to the text of the encyclical by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who soon afterward became Pope Pius XII, and following World War II, was unjustly defamed as bearing some responsibly for the Holocaust.
It is clear that there are some parallels between the persecution endured by the Church under the Nazi regime, and the present “alarming and serious matter” protested by last Sunday’s bishops’ letter. There could be more analogous threats in the future. For example, there is a possibility that the abortion of medically defective babies, and the denial of some forms of medical care to the elderly, might eventually become mandatory, under the law. Forced euthanasia for certain conditions might also become compulsory.
Another parallel is that the Nazi government began their persecution with the breaching of the Reichskonkordat agreement between the regime and the Church. Our government now plans to break the solemn concordat which they have with the Church, namely the Bill of Rights, which is an agreement to grant religious freedom to all, especially, to every religion in this country. A solemn agreement is a solemn agreement! The Church now asks of our president exactly what it once requested from the führer of the Third Reich—this time, contained in the solemn agreement of our Bill of Rights—to prevent embarking on a road to religious persecution.
We are not suggesting or implying that the motivations of the Department of Health and Human Services is in any manner similar to that which motivated the policies implemented in Nazi Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. These federal employees are, no doubt, well-intentioned, and seek the best for our country. Unfortunately, what they intend to mandate would force Catholics to violate their religious beliefs and consciences, and simultaneously violate their own civil rights under the First Amendment. This clearly constitutes a type of persecution of our religion. The mandate must either be rescinded, or be modified, to avoid this infringement of religious liberties.
Pope Pius XI’s encyclical ended with the hopeful note that “the German people return to religion” to “again resume the task God has laid upon them.” It took the demise of Nazism to permit this to occur in post-war Germany. It is hoped that American lawmakers will soon “resume the task God has laid upon them,” especially those who profess the Catholic faith, but have been voting in support of the persecutors.
Note from the author:
I am a physicist, and a deacon octogenarian, who was approaching nine years of age in 1937 when the encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge, was smuggled into Nazi Germany to be read at all Palm Sunday Masses. I lived through the era when my scientific colleagues gave the world the atomic and hydrogen bombs. I lived to see the tyrannies of Imperial Japan ,and the Third Reich, rise to power, be responsible for the deaths of millions, and eventually meet their just fate. I lived to witness a Polish Pope, John Paul II, preside over the fall of atheistic European Communism. In my sunset years I am now witnessing well-intentioned, but tragically misguided, so-called “democratic” individuals, some professing to be Catholic, embarking on a systematic campaign of persecution of the Catholic Church. I pray that I can live long enough, perhaps, Deo volente, to the centariari level, to witness the inevitable ending of the persecution!