Jail a new church-state option for bishops?

No one is surprised that the man who will soon lead the Archdiocese of Glascow opposes Scotland’s plans to legalize same-sex marriage.

Still, Archbishop-designate Philip Tartaglia raised eyebrows with his prediction of dire consequences if he kept defending church teachings on marriage and sex after the legislation went into effect.

“I could see myself going to jail possibly at some point over the next 15 years, if God spares me, if I speak out,” the 61-year-old bishop told STV News.

The key, Tartaglia said later, is that the government could crack down on believers who try to publicly defend, or even follow, traditional religious doctrines that clash with doctrines approved by state authorities. “I am deeply concerned that today, defending the traditional meaning of marriage is almost considered ‘hate speech’ and branded intolerant,” he told the Catholic News Agency.

Religious traditionalists in America will soon face similar issues on another issue, depending on what happens in courts. August 1 was the start date for the Health and Human Services mandate requiring most religious institutions to offer health-insurance plans that cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved forms of contraception, including the so-called “morning-after pills.” Some religious organizations qualify for a one-year grace period before they must follow the policy or pay steep fines.

The key is that the HHS mandate only recognizes the conscience rights of an employer if it’s a nonprofit that has the “inculcation of religious values as its purpose,” primarily employs “persons who share its religious tenets” and primarily “serves persons who share its religious tenets.” Critics say this means the government is protecting mere “freedom of worship,” not the “free exercise of religion” found in the First Amendment.

“Consider Blessed Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity reaching out to the poorest of the poor without regard for their religious affiliation,” said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lorio this June, during the American bishops’ Fortnight For Freedom campaign. “The church seeks to affirm the dignity of those we serve not because they are Catholic but because we are Catholic. The faith we profess, including its moral teachings, impels us to reach out — just as Jesus did — to those in need and to help build a more just and peaceful society.”

Meanwhile, the American bishops and other religious leaders will have to weigh their options, seeking ways to live out their faith convictions to as high a degree as possible while the HHS regulations are enforced. That was the subject addressed in the conservative Catholic journal “Voices” by Julianne Loesch Wiley, a veteran Catholic activist who has worked with a wide variety of causes, including Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, Pax (Peace) Center and “Prolifers for Survival,” which opposed abortion and the nuclear arms race. The options include:

* Obey the mandate, while continuing to fight it. Wiley quipped: “I doubt that the American Cancer Society would pay to subsidize monthly cartons of Marlboros for their employees, EVEN UNDER PROTEST.”

* Stop offering insurance and pay the resulting fines. This would require ministries to be scaled back or eliminated, while the government gained funds to provide the very services the church considers immoral. This is, she said, another name for “collaboration and submission.”

* Avoid the conflict by shutting down, selling off or secularizing church-related hospitals, schools and charities that the government does not consider “religious employers” and, thus, worthy of exemptions. This amounts to “preemptive surrender” and gives the government “effective control of all human services, caring professions and charities.”

* Refuse to cooperate, refuse to pay the fines and await “overt, forcible political repression.” In other words, prepare for some bishops and their supporters to go to jail. Wiley argued that this is the only “tactically sound,” “logically sound” and “morally sound” response.
If this results in jail time, then that is a consequence believers in other eras have willing faced, she concluded. “Rejoice and be glad. Historically, prison has always been an excellent pulpit and a school of saints.”

It’s hard to imagine this standoff reaching such a dramatic conclusion, said Wiley, when asked to look ahead. If deprived of protection by the U.S. courts, it’s likely some Catholic institutions will be willing to compromise and, thus, will cut church ties. Others will lose their licenses to operate or will be “broken on the wheel” of financial penalties and further regulations.

But no matter what happens, she said, history shows that something “faithfully Catholic” will survive.

“The smallest living thing,” she said, “is more powerful than the most powerful dying thing.”

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.


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