Yesterday, the US Catholic Bishops issued another statement on the HHS mandate, clarifying that the Catholic Church is not backing down:

We will continue our vigorous efforts at education and public advocacy on the principles of religious liberty and their application in this case (and others). We will continue to accept any invitation to dialogue with the Executive Branch to protect the religious freedom that is rightly ours. We will continue to pursue legislation to restore the same level of religious freedom we have enjoyed until just recently. And we will continue to explore our options for relief from the courts, under the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws that protect religious freedom. All of these efforts will proceed concurrently, and in a manner that is mutually reinforcing.

The statement ends with a call to prayer. In essence, we will work like it all depends on us and pray like it all depends on God.

This morning in my regular segment on Teresa Tomeo’s “Catholic Connection”, we discussed the statement and the inevitable question arose of what to do. It’s great that the Bishops are unanimous on this issue. But we’ve seen a fair amount of Catholic leaders/intellectuals and organizations take exception. And the general Catholic public does not seem to be aware of the gravity of the matter. Many think this is just about contraception. On the contrary. As someone said to me, “The HHS Mandate has as much to do with contraception as the American Revolution had to do with tea.”

But most Catholics aren’t staying on top of the Bishops’ statements and actions apart from what they get through secular and activist sources, which continue to frame the debate in terms of contraception. Remember, in places like China forced abortion and sterilization make the issues of contraception practically mute. And it’s all because individual rights of conscience and religious liberty are not recognized.

Because we as a Church have been largely silent on the issue of contraception for more than 40 years, we need a major campaign to begin educating not only on the issue of contraception; but, more importantly, on the issues of religious freedom and individual conscience.

There are at least two somewhat readily available avenues to consider.

  1. The Bishops could instruct their priests to preach on the issues relating to the HHS Mandate, giving them examples of how to do this. Most of our parish priests are swamped with parish obligations. Even if their hearts are in the right place, they often lack the resources to address controversial matters in a constructive way. While the Bishops have all issued letters on the HHS Mandate, not all of them have required their priests to read it, preach on it, or put it in the bulletin. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that the Bishops collectively could call for a series of Sundays in which every priest celebrating a public Mass in the diocese would be required to preach on this issue. Each Sunday could have a short reflection from the Bishops to be read at the beginning of the homily and then further explained by the homilist. Every parish across the country would have the same message, rather than the confusion of silence or even contradictory themes.
  2. Apparently every diocese has an Appeals office to raise funds for the annual diocesan appeal. It’s been my experience that those offices have good contact information for most active parishioners in the diocese. (My husband and I have been followed into two different dioceses and across the country by the Appeals office of one of our former dioceses.) These offices use letters, emails, and even robo calls from the Bishop to do their fundraising. Why not use the same structure which we already have in place to reach the faithful on this very important issue?

These are critical times. We can’t undo the past, but we can correct our direction. The focus can no longer be on our failures (which probably have a lot to do with where we’re at), but must be on the present and the future. Now, we as a Church, know all too well the perils of not teaching in a manner that is both convincing and compelling. So we are taking a stand.

George Weigel has a column commenting on yesterday’s statement in which he compares the HHS Mandate to the 1953 decree by the Polish government compelling the Catholic Church to become a subsidiary of the Polish state. They wanted the Church to stop being…the Church. He further makes the point, as does the Bishops’ statement, that the HHS Mandate is about limiting the Church’s ability to act as…a Church. He concludes:

In sum, the bishops have rebuffed calls for a tactical retreat; the analysts who have not grasped the sea-change in perspective of the bishops’ conference have been confounded; the Catholic Lite brigades have been challenged to think again about the gravity of the theological and constitutional issues involved in the mandate; and those who have supported the bishops thus far have been affirmed in their work.

There will be no compromise here, for there can be no compromise of first principles. Those who understand that will gather their energies and continue to defend both Catholic and American tradition.

As for moving forward, The New York Times offers the example of Fr. Roger Landry, a parish priest in Lowell, Massachusetts. (Fr. Landry was a classmate of mine at the Angelicum in Rome.) The article relates several anecdotes describing the effectiveness of Fr. Landry’s preaching and teaching, but I’ll leave you with my favorite:

Last spring, scenes of a movie called “Whaling City” were being shot in St. Anthony’s. During the filming, the priest noticed that the church’s rack of sexuality pamphlets was being depleted.

“I saw all the camera men and sound guys,” Father Landry said, “and in their back pockets, coming down the main aisle, one had one on pornography, the other had ‘Sex and Contraception’ hanging out of his pocket, the other one had ‘In Vitro Fertilization.’ ”

Father Landry aimed his cellphone camera at one of the men and “snapped a photo of his derriere,” he said. “Because it’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”

The response to the availability of information and education indicates that the harvest is indeed great. As a Church, we need to cast our nets out into the deep…