A Decisive Hour for American Catholics

We want the right to follow our consciences, to worship our God, and to live out our faith by making a contribution within the public square, which is our patrimony and our heritage: our blessed liberties.

We have concluded the “Fortnight for Freedom,” instigated by the United States Conference Catholic Bishops. We now  draw near to the decisive hour.  It is an hour of decision in the history of our great nation; for it is an hour that truly challenges American Catholics’ sense of discipleship.

It was a fortnight in which our bishops asked us to reflect upon our liberties, our history, and our current state of affairs. If you have thought about these issues at all, you know that our history has not lied in this case: America is a nation that was built upon reverence for God, his natural law, and respect for the primacy of individual conscience and religious tradition.

In 1636, 140 years before Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, the founder of the little colony of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, made freedom of conscience and religion the keystone of his community.

In 1776, in the Declaration of Independence, and again in 1789, in the Constitution of the United States, both documents clearly stated the “limitations of government.” In 1791, the Bill of Rights, also carefully enunciated the rights of each individual citizen—the first right being freedom of religion.

James Madison, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, as well as its secretary and recorder, described the legitimacy of conscience as: “the most sacred of all property.” 1 He wrote: “The religion, then, of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as they may dictate.” 2

George Washington wrote, “the establishment of civil and religious liberty was the motive that induced [him] to the field of battle.”  3

In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson assured the Ursuline Sisters of Louisiana—who had, for 77 years, been serving an indigenous population by operating schools, hospitals, and an orphanage—that their ministry would be free “to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules, without, interference from the civil authority.” 4

This is a matter of history. It is not a matter of conjecture, dispute, or equivocation. Yet, it is clear that the vast majority of our current state and federal government leaders do not accept this understanding of what the founding fathers of our nation wrote, lived, and established as our heritage.

So, we are at this hour of decision, an hour that will determine the depth of our discipleship, testing our understanding of who we are as American Catholics.

Many pundits, commentators, and, yes, even Catholic politicians, have remarked that there is nothing to worry about with this Supreme Court approved health care law. However, our Church leaders (our bishops) are united in telling us that there is, in fact, something drastically wrong with this law.

The American bishops have been united and clear on this issue. 5 They tell us that this  Fortnight for Freedom has been about getting American Catholics—all 52 million of us—to understand that our federal government will force our Church to provide for certain types of medical procedures, even though it is in direct violation of our collective conscience. But, the Federal government’s actions are wrong and must be opposed.

Our society may well ask: “What do you want?”

Our Church responds, as we respond, that as Catholics we ask nothing more than what Sts. Peter and Paul, all the martyred ones, and true disciples of Jesus Christ, wanted. As citizens of the United States, we ask nothing more than what Roger Williams, George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and all true American statesmen and women have wanted.

Simply put, we want the right to follow our consciences, to worship our God as we see fit, and to live out our faith by making a contribution within the public square. We ask nothing more of our government than what our history has told us is our patrimony and our heritage: our blessed liberties.

This is the hour of demonstrating our discipleship in Christ Jesus. We must not shrink back in fear, for our sense of commitment to our nation’s heritage, and our loyalty to Jesus Christ and our Church, demands that we do not compromise on this issue.

We believe that all Americans, of all religious persuasions—not just our federal and state governmentsmust be allowed to make a contribution to the common good as prescribed by our faith and sense of duty. This is a liberty that has always been granted under our system of laws until this critical moment in our country’s history.

What should we do? We should use all the law-abiding and peaceful means at our disposal to inform our elected officials of this singular outrage against freedom of conscience. If they don’t address and rectify our concerns, we must remember it, responding  accordingly when we select our state and federal representatives. We can do no less.

Let us pray that, through the intercession of the Holy Spirit, we may have the courage, individually and collectively, to act as disciples of Christ—remaining peaceful, courageous, and steadfast in the face of imperial tyranny.

  1. James Madison, “Property,” March 29, 1792, in The Founding Fathers, Eds. Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987), presspubs.uchicago.edu…
  2. James Madison, “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessment,” June 20, 1785, in The Founding Fathers.
  3. Michael Novak and Jana Novak, Washington’s God, 2006.
  4. Anson Phelps Stokes, Church and State in the United States (Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1950), 678.
  5. Commentary based on statements from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty document: “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty: A Statement on Religious Liberty.”
Deacon Paul O. Iacono About Deacon Paul O. Iacono

Deacon Paul Iacono and his wife, Jackie, founded the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts in 2009. The Iaconos have three children and five grandchildren. Deacon Iacono serves the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, assigned presently to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Wakefield, Rhode Island. He earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees in the social sciences and a graduate degree in theology. After his retirement from the teaching profession, he began studying and painting ("writing") icons in 2006.


  1. Avatar Joy King says:

    Your words are fine, Deacon, but Bishops have been too soft on the abortion issue. They have believed the Gov’t and have been deceived so many times (such as our tax dollars won’t be spent on abortions). They caused us to close down the wonderful work of Catholic adoptions. They told us Catholics to vote our consciences in 2008. What a big mistake when so many Catholics have erroneous and poorly formed consciences. That is why we have the person we have in the oval office now. He wouldn’t be there except for the Catholic vote. We say we are a nation of laws, and then the Church folds to breaking the laws toward illegal immigration. We cowtow and spoil the Latinos that have come into our country. It’s their way or the highway. They will even join another church if they don’t get their way. Our bishops need to wake-up. Our priests, too, if they want us to wake-up. The Church’s social justice ideas are as liberal as the present government’s. We praise a man who deserves none, a man who is totally for abortion and the culture of death. We should praise God and the good, and not reward evil. Reemember the Holy Name hymn? “Fierce is the fight for God and the right”…nothing wrong with “Onward Christian Soldiers” either. Our morals are in the sewer in all media, and we have done precious little to stem the polluted tide. God help us.

    • I am not quite sure why a follower of Christ’s Church has to involve “latinos’ or even illegal immigration in a discussion regarding Christ,His Church,the bishops and following the Good Lord’s commandments.The criminality of abortion,the total disregard for decency and morality with such behavior as fornication,”living in sin”,birth control and other such issues have been a most important source of our present sorry state of affairs in our beloved country.Pope Paul VI was absolutely prophetic in Humana Vitae and sadly enough his words and admonition were generally disregarded and not followed.Just as racial discrimination towards Blacks,native Americans,Asians, Hispanics and others(including the Irish in the mid XIX century and later on the Italians(as pointed out brilliantly in the initial scenes of The Godfather)the Polish,the Jews,etc… was and is a most brutal stain in our history.With 40% of USA Catholics being Roman Catholic,I find it both ironic and terribly sad that in this HPR forum such anti-Christian/Catholic sentiments against “Latinos/Hispanics” are formulated but the Margaret Sanger,who was originally Catholic,was the mother of both Eugenics and Planned Parenthood.I recall coming legally to this country from Cuba some 50 years ago,never receiving welfare,working 40+ hours a week and being a full time student at a Catholic High School for a year and the attending Montclair State College(now university) very vividly.I also recall the discrimination,disdain and prejudice of the early 60’s by of ,all people.fellow Catholics and my Italian and Polish friends in New Jersey telling me;”Every ethnic group has gone thru the same but keep the faith and you will succeed.Now,with a Master’s degree,considerable wealth and a numerous family(over 30 years of marriage) AND devoting 10 to 15 hours a week for many years to the Catholic Church thru my parish,Knights of Columbus and a Marian Lay Congregation of Jesuit origin,remain committed to Christ and his bride,to this great country and support as much as I can my fellow Hispanic brothers and sisters and tell the “Don’t pay attention,keep focused on your faith and work and you will succeed” and it makes me immensely happy to see that from about 3% we are close to 18% of the population….Yes,in spite of the historic and present bigotry and prejudice,the FUTURE IS OURS.And by the way I agree 100% with the USA Catholic bishops re immigration and policy towards Hispanics.Que Viva Cristo Rey y Que Vivan los Estados Unidos de America!!

  2. Well said Joy King. Many of our clergy have let the faithful down for may decades now. They bought into the liberal lies, including the one on man made global warming.

  3. Thank you for your comments on my article.
    It is true, as Pope Paul 6th said, “that the smoke of Satan has entered the Church;” however, we must not despair. We must keep hope and pray to the Holy Spirit to move among the laity and clergy and inspire them to act and reform the Church. The entire Church – laity and clergy – need to, on a daily basis, fervently pray the prayer to St. Michael and the prayer to the Holy Spirit, for this to occur. We must remain confident in the power of God, while at the same time, clear-minded as to what action we must take to help remedy the situation. We must start with prayer and act with charity.

  4. Avatar Gene Vienneau says:

    The Church of the West, especially in the U.S.A., has been asleep at the wheel for over four decades. Now we’re about to crash. To awaken Catholic Christians who know little about their religion is a bit late. It is fine to have confidence in the power of God. But, let’s not forget how He dealt with those who had forgotten Him in the Old Testament. Why should it be different. now?

    • Hi, thanks for your comments.
      Yes, you are right about the Old Testament; however, we are living in New Testament times. The Lord always provided an opportunity for people to wake-up. Peter was fearful, asleep, and timid in the courtyard on the night of Jesus’ arrest. He denied Him three times. Then he “woke-up” when he heard the cock-crow. The Church through its hierarchy and informed laity must crow loud enough to get people to wake-up. It is a matter of spiritual energy and grace. We cannot, nor should not give-up on people, even if they are asleep, uncatechized, and living in a dreamworld of secularism. Yes, we have been lazy and self-absorbed, but there is still time to evangelize ourselves and those who will listen. We must never lose hope; and yes, unspeakable power is contained within the Justice of God, but, His Mercy is available to all those who desire it.

  5. Avatar Paul Sinsigalli says:

    Deacon Iacono,
    I just read your article and the U.S. history was great, but if you honestly think that the American Catholic Church will survive this violation of our Catholic values and morals when we are forced to pay for treatments, medications, and procedures we consider to be morally objectionable I’m not sure what you think will be left. If we can be forced to violate our morals and principles just because our rogue government says so, then there will be no reason for the Catholic Church to exist in the United States.
    These are times when prayer and theological virtues are a good start, but if the martyrs of the early Church were willing to be devoured by lions and other wild animals rather than apostatize the faith, then why do you think that we are called to any less? We must stand against the tyranny of this government with whatever means are necessary, up to and including our lives. I know we can’t really expect our bishops and clergy to do anything but write brilliant editorials, but what is the next step? Will prayer be a consolation to the aborted babies whose murder the Catholic Church will fund? I will suffer and die for the Church and Jesus Christ, but will it mean anything if I am the only one? I’m sorry Deacon Iacono, but this is an issue that will not be solved by an election whose outcome is far from certain. They count on us being passive and prayerful while they destroy our Church. Who will stand with me?

    • Mr. Sinsigalli, you are right in saying we are called to emulate the martyrs of the early centuries. We must emulate their faith, courage, conviction, and yes, willingness to die if it comes to that stage. I am not calling for a caving in to tyranny, nor am I calling for an individual to massage his conscience into thinking that things will be all right. I am calling for spiritual renewal in Christ, self education (which American Catholics have been lax to do), and a lawful public reaction against the atheistic secularism that has grown and crept into our society for the past sixty years. At this moment the ballot box is our most powerful secular weapon, and I truly believe that prayer and the Holy Mass is our most powerful spiritual weapon. But there must be conversion. There must be a spiritual awakening and transformation of American Catholics for this to occur. I agree the time is very short, very short indeed. Mr. Sinsigalli, do not despair, there is only one sure thing in all of this – the final victory is in Christ Jesus.

  6. “I am with you always even to the end of time,” as Jesus Christ informs us. From Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the Church lives even in the face of persecution. In Mexico, 1925 to 1929, many priests, teenagers, and Knights of Columbus kept their faith in “Viva, Cristo Rey” and did not leave the Church, or their faith, where many were murdered. But 25 to 4 priests, young men, and Knights were canonized by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. We will not crash, nor will I give up this gift of faith from the Holy Spirit. Martin Drew Dallas Tx.


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