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Catholic Action: Fortnight (14 Days) of Prayer for Freedom Begins in United States

By Deacon Keith Fournier
June 23rd, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Catholic Bishops of the United States called for a fourteen day period of prayer, study, teaching and public action to defend the first freedom, religious freedom. The move is unparalleled in US history. I believe the leadership of Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop William Lori, and all of the Bishops, will not only bring about the desired result but signals the beginning of a New Catholic Action in the United States.We urge all of our readers in the United States and around the world to enter into the Fortnight for Freedom with all of your heart, mind, strength and soul.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Catholic Online) - The Catholic Bishops of the United States called for a fourteen day period of prayer, study, teaching and public action to defend the first freedom, religious freedom. The move is unparalleled in US history. I believe the leadership of Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop William Lori, and all of the Bishops, will not only bring about the desired result but signals the beginning of a New Catholic Action in the United States.

In the Bishops words from their website dedicated to the Fortnight. "The fourteen days from June 21-the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More-to July 4, Independence Day, are dedicated to this "fortnight for freedom"-a great hymn of prayer for our country."

"Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power-St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome." 

"Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayerstudy, catechesis, and public action emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty. Dioceses and parishes around the country have scheduled special events that support a great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty."

I have been involved at the intersection of faith and culture as a lawyer and an activist for the causes at the heart of the social mission of the Church, life, family, freedom and solidarity, for a long time. I have NEVER seen a concerted campaign of prayer, teaching and Catholic Action led by the US Bishops like this one.

I have also never seen such a response from the faithful, other Christians, other people of faith and other people of good will. It not only gives me great hope for the Church it makes me proud to be a Catholic.  It is also a model for a New Catholic Action which could be applied across the spectrum of the effort to knead the true Social teaching of the Church into human culture. The Social teaching of the Church is not meant simply for Catholics, other Christians, or other religious people. It offers insights and principles for action which can help to build a truly just, human and free society for all men and women.  

In the past, when one spoke of the "Social Teaching" of the catholic Church, it was found in the Natural Law and expounded upon in the Sacred Scriptures, the Christian tradition, the documents of the Second Vatican Council, contemporary encyclical letters, apostolic letters and exhortations as well as summarized in the Catholic Catechism. In 2004 the "Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace" released the "Compendium of the Social Doctrine of Church" which puts it all in one place. 

The Compendium is a necessity for any Catholic who wants to inform their political, cultural, economic and social participation properly. It is beautifully written, arranged in a very readable format, well indexed and thoroughly footnoted to the Scriptures, council documents, early Christian sources and magisterial teaching. It should be in every Catholic home. It should become the source book for any Catholic concerned about effective participation in the culture, the economic order and the political arena. The Compendium is the Manual for informing a New Catholic Action.

Due to some poor teaching in the arena of moral theology - of which the Social teaching is a branch - too many of the lay faithful have been confused on subjects of profound importance to living as Christians and acting as faithful citizens in the political, cultural and social spheres. It also led to people speaking as though "conscience" somehow equated with our "feelings" or was an aspect of our own personal opinion.

Not only do our consciences need to be formed and informed, they can also become deformed and regularly need to be re-formed. That is all too evident when we simply look at the way in which some Catholics approach political participation. Catholic Social teaching offers us principles for action. It is meant to be received with a mature faith, one which embraces the call to form our consciences. It is then meant to reform our way of life, including our political participation.

The Bishops Fortnight for Freedom is an example of the hierarchy calling the faithful to Catholic Action and then properly equipping them for the task. The resources offered by the Bishops concerning the teaching of the Catholic Church concerning religious liberty - as well as the explanation of the Right as secured within the founding documents of the American experiment- prepare the faithful for the necessary defense which must be taken in the public square in this time of great need when the Right is threatened.

Make no mistake, the threat to Religious Freedom and the mission of the Church in the United States is real and substantial. The Bishops see it and are acting properly and courageously. On Monday, May 21, 2012, a 62 page Federal Court Complaint was filed by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York and other Catholic institutions, Dioceses and organizations. The legal action has already made US Church history and the results shape Church State/ Constitutional Law for years to come.

It was one of twelve lawsuits filed against the Federal Government of the United States. The Twelve Lawsuits were coordinated by the prestigious power house law firm of Jones Day and strategically filed throughout the United States. The complaints represent 43 dioceses, hospitals, schools and church agencies. They seek declaratory and injunctive relief. They also demand a jury trial.

The introductory paragraph of the complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, summarized the fundamental legal issue, "This lawsuit is about one of America's most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one's religion without government interference. It is not about whether people have a right to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. Those services are freely available in the United States, and nothing prevents the Government itself from making them more widely available."

"Here, however, the Government seeks to require Plaintiffs-all Catholic entities-to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs by providing, paying for, and/or facilitating access to those products and services. American history and tradition, embodied in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), safeguard religious entities from such overbearing and oppressive governmental action. Plaintiffs therefore seek relief in this Court to protect this most fundamental of American rights."

The complaints allege violations of the First Amendments' Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses as well as violations of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act and the Administrative procedures Act. They asked the Courts for what is called a Declaratory Judgment. In effect, the Plaintiffs ask the Federal Courts to declare that the questionable provisions of the Affordable Care Act and the HHS Mandate are unconstitutional and then to enjoin or prohibit the Government from enforcing those provisions of the Law and the regulations. They further ask for Attorneys fees and costs.

I believe these lawsuits will be successful. The actions of this Administration are unconstitutional. Though the pending US Supreme Court opinion concerning the constitutionality of the individual mandate at the heart of the Affordable Care Act may make these lawsuits moot, it will not stop the growing movement which they reflect; a movement for  a New Catholic Action.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, , said of the lawsuits, "We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress - and we'll keep at it - but there's still no fix. Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now."

"Though the Conference is not a party to the lawsuits, we applaud this courageous action by so many individual dioceses, charities, hospitals and schools across the nation, in coordination with the law firm of Jones Day. It is also a compelling display of the unity of the Church in defense of religious liberty."

"It's also a great show of the diversity of the Church's ministries that serve the common good and that are jeopardized by the mandate - ministries to the poor, the sick, and the uneducated, to people of any faith or no faith at all."

The HHS action has prompted a tide of resistance and a movement of solidarity which is strengthening the Catholic Church in America. She is rising up like a sleeping giant and being strengthened in adversity. Her response is also inspiring other Christians, other people of faith and all people of good will to defend America's First Freedom, religious freedom. This is one more example of how God, in His infinite mercy and love, can pull good even out of what it was intended.

The HHS Mandate came one day after Pope Benedict XVI addressed a group of US Bishops during their visit. He warned them of the growth of radical secularism in the United States and the accompanying threats to the fundamental Right to Religious Freedom so integral to the American experiment. His warning was timely, even prophetic. 

We urge all of our readers in the United States and around the world to enter into the Fortnight for Freedom with all of your heart, mind, strength and soul. We will keep you up to date as the period of prayer, study, catechesis and public action progresses.

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