Sunday, February 12, 2012

Catholics Today: Social and Cultural Lepers

Archbishop Timothy Dolan

(Sixth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on February 12, 2012 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46; Mark 1: 40-45.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixth Sunday 2012]

Let me begin my homily today by asking you to join me in doing something.

Together let’s say the word, “Unclean.”


Say it again.

And one more time.

Very good.

Now you might say, “Fr. Ray, why did we just do that?”

We did it because, according to the reading we just heard from Leviticus 13, that’s what lepers are supposed to do.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “The one who bears the sore of leprosy . . . shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’  As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean.  He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.”

Perhaps you didn’t realize that you were a leper, since your skin is perfectly healthy (leaving aside a few wrinkles and blemishes here and there!).

Well, the fact is there’s more than one way to be a leper in today’s world.  There are physical lepers who are afflicted with what’s called “Hansen’s Disease”—like the man who was healed by Jesus in today’s gospel story.  But there are also what might be called “social and cultural lepers”: that is to say, people who are marginalized and discriminated against and even sometimes actively persecuted in a particular society.

Well, if you happen to be a devout, sincere Catholic who wants to be free to express and fully practice your Catholic faith in the United States in 2012, then you are, sad to say, one of modern America’s “social and cultural lepers.”

And I would say it’s about time we all faced this reality and started dealing with it.

The reason I’m speaking on this subject today is because of the vicious attack on our religious freedom and conscience rights that was made by the Obama administration last August, and which was reaffirmed just a couple of weeks ago.  Now I don’t care what side of the aisle you’re on politically, if you care about your rights as an American citizen—especially the precious right you have to practice the faith of your choice—then this ought to have you upset.  Very upset.

This is a perfect example of how Catholics and other religious people are being treated like lepers these days.

Maybe even worse than lepers.

The problem concerns the new health care bill, known to most people as ObamaCare.  According to the way the law was originally written, Catholic institutions in the very near future will be required to violate the moral teachings of the Church!  There will be no respect, as their always has been in the past, for religious freedom and the rights of conscience.  As Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York said recently in a column he wrote for the Wall Street Journal:  “[The Obama administration] has refused to exempt religious institutions that serve the common good—including Catholic schools, charities and hospitals—from its sweeping new health-care mandate that requires employers to purchase contraception, including abortion-producing drugs, and sterilization coverage for their employees.”

When the administration first proposed this mandate last August, many religious groups (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) voiced their opposition.  Even some people without any faith protested.  As Archbishop Dolan said, these men and women rightly understood that their beliefs could be next “on the block.” 

You see, once one freedom is taken away, others usually follow.

The archbishop (and soon-to-be cardinal) noted in his column that religious freedom is “the lifeblood of the American people, [and] the cornerstone of American government.”  He said, “When the Founding Fathers determined that the innate rights of men and women should be enshrined in our Constitution, they so esteemed religious liberty that they made it the first freedom in the Bill of Rights.”

He went on to quote George Washington and James Madison, both of whom fiercely defended the rights of conscience.  Almost every president has in the past.  As Madison, the author of the First Amendment, said, “Conscience is the most sacred of all property.”

Well apparently, according to the current administration, Madison’s words no longer apply to people like us. But I guess that’s what happens to you when you’re a social and cultural leper.

Our own bishop, Thomas Tobin, was even more blunt about the situation in a statement he issued just over a week ago.  He wrote, “The ruthless decision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to impose mandatory coverage for sterilizations and contraceptives upon private insurance programs, including those offered by the Catholic Church, is an unprecedented, outrageous and unacceptable attack on religious freedom and the moral life and ministry of the Church.  In practical terms, the imposition of this mandate could mean that Catholic institutions will no longer be able to provide health insurance for their own employees.”

We need to contact our representatives in Washington to let them know how upset we are about this—and that the president’s “compromise” this past Friday is totally unacceptable, because all it does is mandate that the Church pay for these immoral services indirectly.  In case you missed it, because of the uproar this has caused, the president said on Friday that now the insurance companies, and not the Church herself, will have to pay for abortions and for contraception. 

And how, Mr. President, will these insurance companies get all the extra money they’ll to need to pay for these services?

Answer: By charging higher premiums to the Church.

So the Church will still pay, only indirectly.

The contact information for our representatives, along with Bishop Tobin’s statement on the matter, can be found on an insert in today’s bulletin.  Please take this seriously, my brothers and sisters—and act!  Because if we don’t take this seriously and take appropriate action, you can be sure that our situation as lepers will only get worse. 

I’ll give the final word today to Archbishop Dolan:

“The Catholic Church defends religious liberty, including freedom of conscience, for everyone.  The Amish do not carry health insurance.  The government respects their principles.  Christian Scientists want to heal by prayer alone, and the new health-care reform law respects that.  Quakers and others object to killing even in wartime, and the government respects that principle for conscientious objectors.  By its decision, the Obama administration has failed to show the same respect for the consciences of Catholics and others who object to treating pregnancy as a disease.

‘This latest erosion of our first freedom should make all Americans pause.   When the government tampers with a freedom so fundamental to the life of our nation, one shudders to think what lies ahead.”

Lord Jesus, we pray today for our president and for all those involved with the formation of this unjust policy, that you will touch their minds and hearts with your truth, so that they will come to respect the religious freedom and the conscience rights of every American citizen, and stop treating Catholics like unclean lepers.  Amen.