Friday, June 7, 2013
In this post, NCR's Michael Sean Winters observes, in the course of discussing the HHS lawsuits and the activities of the USCCB in support of religious liberty, that "[the Amish] model is not our Catholic tradition. We do not shut out the world, we engage it." This observation is connected to his concern that the bishops and other critics of the HHS mandate have over-emphasized the issue of culpable "cooperation with evil," and thereby lost sight of the fact that "[t]here is simply no way to engage a sinful world without somehow participating, even cooperating, in the evil in the world." The very reason, he continues, the Church has carefully developed and deployed the notion of "remote material cooperation with evil" is "testimony to the Church’s tradition of going out into the world and not becoming an Amish-like sect."
I have described the nature of the burden that the HHS mandate imposes on Catholic institutions in terms of integrity, mission, witness, and character, and not in terms of "cooperation with evil," because I think it is important to remember that "religious freedom" involves more than a guarantee that the political authorities will not require us to sin. The mandate burdens the religious freedom of, say, the University of Notre Dame, in a way that violates federal law, even if the University can and does end up complying with it. (I think that Michael and I agree on this point.)
A point I would add to his post, though, is this: It is true that the Church, and Christians, can and must be "engaged" in and with the world. Some are called to the monastery and the cloister, but I take it that the Church's mission is to fulfill the Great Commission and to live out Matthew 25. That said, there is no reason for the bishops to accept or take as given the state's increasingly aggressive efforts to "set the terms" of that engagement in ways that require the Church's social-welfare activities to be secularized, or to mimic the activities of state agencies. It is not "sectarian," or culture-warrior-ish, or narrow, or Puritan, or Amish for the bishops to say, "look, we are going to stay here, in public, and feed the poor and fight for justice. And, we'll play by the rules as we do so. But, those rules need not and should not require us to secularize and they should not proceed from the premise that religion belongs in private or that social-welfare work somehow belongs to the state." Those who are insisting that the bishops should not allow a misguided and unrealistic desire for purity to cause them to shut down important social-welfare activities rather than submit to legal conditions have a point -- i.e., these activities are important and it would be a big deal to abandon them rather than comply with these conditions -- but they should not lose sight of the fact that these conditions are contigent, not given, and they should join the bishops in doing all they can to oppose conditions that needlessly burden the mission and character of religious institutions.