Freedom, Faith and Responsibility, The Anchor, June 21, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
The Anchor
Putting into the Deep
June 21, 2013

I wanted to write on the Fortnight for Freedom that begins today and lasts through the Fourth of July. This is a two-week period in which the US Bishops are asking all Catholics to pray, study and take action with regard to the various recent threats to religious freedom in our country. I hope that Anchor readers throughout our diocese will get involved.

Recent commercials, however, have led me to shift focus to something that is at the root of why we need to defend religious freedom at all. It’s the reality that certain politicians that we have elected — and the judges, cabinet secretaries and bureaucrats they’ve appointed — have brought an aggressive secularist philosophy to their offices, which they have been using to infringe on the religious freedoms the founding fathers enshrined clearly in the Bill of Rights.

In a democratic system, we ultimately get the leaders we deserve. That places a particular responsibility on us as citizens to ensure we elect those who truly represent our values. For Catholics, called by Jesus to be salt, light and leaven for our society, we have an added responsibility to seek to elect the values that flow from our faith. As good shepherds, we’re likewise called to protect those lambs too small or vulnerable to make their voice heard.

On Tuesday we have in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts a special election for U.S. Senate. Both of the major candidates are Catholic, which should make it a cause of rejoicing. When Catholics run for office, we should have an expectation that the adjective Catholic means something, that their faith influences their worldview, their notion of public service, and several of their public policy positions on which the Catholic faith has a clear public stand.

But that’s not what we have in this election. Both major candidates — Ed Markey and Gabriel Gomez — readily identify themselves as Catholic, but both seem to be willing to sacrifice their Catholic faith in order to get elected. Jesus once told us that we shouldn’t sell our soul even to obtain the whole world. It’s tragic that both candidates seem to be so cavalier about their soul that they’re willing to risk everything just to gain a six-year seat in the Senate.

Markey and Gomez both say that they believe women should be able to make the choice to kill their own children in the womb. This despite Jesus’ clear reiteration of the fifth commandment and his declaration that whatever we do to the littlest of his brothers and sisters, we do to him.

But while Gomez seems to have real qualms in conscience about his position, Markey’s conscience seems to have been so eclipsed that he has made his support for abortion one of the centerpieces of his campaign.

Have you seen his recent campaign ads?

Markey has made a major fulcrum of his campaign trying to distinguish himself from Gomez on abortion, as if Gomez’ regrettable positions that Roe v. Wade is settled law and that he doesn’t intend to change any laws on abortion are not pro-abortion enough.

Markey has attacked Gomez for saying that he’s personally opposed to abortion. He has pilloried him for saying that a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could have an abortion would not be asking too much. He has lambasted him for saying that he wouldn’t have a litmus test prejudice prohibiting him from ever confirming a pro-life judge. He made these differences the subject of his debate aggression on June 5. He’s made at least two advertisements featuring these differences.

I want to focus on the litmus test question. Markey has emphasized that as Senator he would have a strict litmus test for Supreme Court confirmation hearings, vowing he would never to support anyone who might overturn Roe v. Wade. That means, among things, that he would never vote for someone who was a faithful Catholic and personally holds a pro-life position, regardless of how that might influence cases that would come before them.

Such an outrageous bias is where the most odious attacks against religious freedom come from, from those in office who believe people who disagree with them on abortion should not even have a seat at the table or the bench. Markey proves that you don’t have to be a member of an anti-Catholic denomination to be anti-Catholic.

Markey didn’t always see things this way. He was elected to Congress 37 years ago with the support of pro-lifers and voted pro-life until he ran for Senate in 1983. Then he adopted the trite copout — one shared by Gomez now — that he was personally opposed to abortion but would support it politically.  His position continued to worsen until he has become one of the most ardent supporters of abortion on Capitol Hill, voting against bills banning partial birth abortion, against holding murderers of pregnant women liable for the both deaths, against laws prohibiting the transportation of minors across state lines for abortion, against preventing discrimination against agencies (like Catholic social service institutions) that receive government contracts who do not want to provide coverage for abortions, regardless of the rights of religious freedom or freedom of conscience.

He has tragically changed from someone who recognized the tragedy of abortion to someone who not only has a 100 percent voting score sheet for national pro-abortion groups but someone who now would never countenance a pro-life judge. His positions and conscience are evidently much more attuned to Planned Parenthood lobbyists than his Catholic faith.

Does this matter to Catholic citizens? Are our positions formed more by our faith, by party loyalties, or by the secular media? If someone is campaigning in a way in which no faithful Catholic would ever be considered for the Supreme Court, will this type of anti-Catholic discrimination matter to Catholics? If a candidate proudly declares that he would oppose any restrictions at all on the choice of abortion, will this morally evil stance influence whether Catholics will support him?

I had a disconcerting experience on June 9. I had gone to bless the new ultrasound machine at the beautiful A Woman’s Concern pregnancy help center on 25 North Main Street in Fall River. Approaching the building for the first time, I saw a bunch of people with Markey signs and stickers — a clear sign that the same building was hosting a simultaneous Markey campaign event.

When I entered the building lobby, I didn’t quite know where to go, but I heard several voices from the right calling, “Hey, Fr. Landry!” So I followed the energetic calls and entered… the Markey event. I was somewhat shocked to see six practicing Catholics I knew — from three different Catholic parishes I’ve served in Fall River — working for his campaign. I didn’t quite know what to say to their enthusiastic greeting, short of asking directions to A Woman’s Concern.

I thought about asking them whether they shared AWC’s authentic Catholic concern for women, or just the faux-solicitude of those like Markey who pretend that what is best for women is to have the ability to make the choice to kill their children, who celebrate abortion, who attack those who still retain some qualms about it, and who want to use their office to blacklist those, including faithful Catholics, who disagree. But I concluded it wasn’t the right place or time.

One of the fundamental reasons why we need a Fortnight for Freedom is because those who say that there should be a “freedom to choose” are trying to use the organs of government to eliminate the freedom of others to choose otherwise according to their conscience and religious beliefs — and are seeking to compel them even to pay for it.

The Fortnight transcends individual elections because the threats to religious freedom surpass the issues at play in any given contest. But one of the consequences of the prayer, education and action involved in the Fortnight is that it should influence how Catholics analyze whether those campaigning for our vote will represent or repress our values and advance or attack our constitutionally-protected freedoms.