Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

a first step toward disenfranchising Catholics

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | May 07, 2010

Today's CWN headline story from Wisconsin provides an illustration of how critics of Catholicism might move to silence the public voice of the Church. It's a frightening episode.

Begin with a piece of legislation that was framed to allow more lawsuits by abuse victims-- with the Catholic Church as the primary target. Whether or not this legislation was desirable, clearly the Church would have a legitimate interest in addressing the proposal. Lobbyists for the Church spoke with state legislators. And then the Church's critics-- in this case SNAP-- went to work.

One legislator, a practicing Catholic, told a former colleague that he planned to remain a practicing Catholic, attending Mass and receiving Communion every Sunday, and his approach to the proposed legislation would reflect his loyalty to his Church. From that inoffensive statement, a former colleague leapt to the preposterous conclusion that the Church had threatened to withhold Communion from the lawmaker if he supported the bill. With that, the campaign to disenfranchise the Church (and, by the way, the Catholic legislator) was underway. 

Already on the defensive as the main target of the proposed legislation, the Church was now asked to respond to a ridiculous charge. SNAP raised the suggestion that the bishops of Wisconsin were threatening ecclesiastical reprisals against lawmakers who opposed the Church's stance. Anyone who knows anything about contemporary American Catholicism-- anyone who knows how very reluctant the US bishops have been to sanction even those politicians who support the killing of the unborn-- realizes that the charge is absurd.

But if you believe the charge, then you have a good reason to say that Catholic bishops should not be allowed to influence legislators. To be safe, you might say that bishops should be barred from any public statements on political issues. To be safer still, you could point out that any practicing Catholic is subject to ecclesiastical influence, so practicing Catholics should be ineligible for public office. In short you would ban Catholics from political life.

SNAP claims to be working for simple equity: to prevent the Church from exerting undue influence in the political system. But the logic of SNAP's charge suggests the use of the political system to silence the voice of the Church.  

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: geardoid - May. 13, 2010 12:27 AM ET USA

    Responding to John Plick, the question does extend to the freemasonic principle of radical separation of Church and state, and is not limited to cowering bishops. What's more, America was founded by, among others, Quakers who were marginalized in Anglican Britain. The Catholics in London were sequestered to Bermondsey, which harbored Quakers and Jews as well (eg. the Chaplins and Harvards). These stalwarts, including (Catholic) Acadians embraced the ideals of a free America, with trust in God.

  • Posted by: BLRallo3059 - May. 12, 2010 1:04 PM ET USA

    It doesn't matter what errors the Church has made when it comes to the debate about religion in the public square. The effort to remove any references to God from secular society began long ago. I have only one question for those who would hold Catholics more resposible for succumbing to society's ills than other groups, will you like living in the value-neutral, ideologically driven world you are creating? I think not, especially when you grow old and need kindness from strangers...

  • Posted by: John J Plick - May. 12, 2010 9:50 AM ET USA

    The battle is WITHIN THE CHURCH and NOT priamrily between the Church and government. Framing problems in this context is a major distraction. Does the laity of the American Catholic Church have the right to call Her Bishops to account!? And do those Bishops have the priviliege and the duty to listen? That is the REAL question. America was conceived largely so that Christians could escape from Catholic tyrannies. Bishops themselves DO NOT respect free speech.

  • Posted by: humblesoldier4christ - May. 12, 2010 8:13 AM ET USA

    All these built up and continue to build up because many, even some of those who consider themselves 'staunch' Catholics, bought that propaganda of 'American exceptionalism' - that certain Holy See promulgations for the Universal Church do not apply to the 'God bless America'. Indeed, the smoke of Satan was partly puffed from a number of American bishops' cigarette. One, of course, is reminded of the time when many German Catholics joined the nationalism of the Nazi bandwagon.

  • Posted by: - May. 11, 2010 7:42 PM ET USA

    If bishops had had the intestinal fortitude to address "Catholic" politicians when abortion first raised its ugly head in the Supreme Court, we would not be in the position we are in today. There are not a few bishops, God willing, who are or will be doing time in purgatory for their failure to preach Christ, and Him crucified. And that preaching includes counseling "Catholic" politicians to whatever degree needed. Only in the last several years have some of them appeared not as eunichs.

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - May. 10, 2010 8:27 PM ET USA

    Many people unfamiliar with the Constitution and our history believe in "wall of separation" which works both ways: the "bargain" is if you, the Church don't interfere in "government", we won't interfere in your silly religious rituals. As JFK said "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act" And I have been waiting 50 years for the dog to bark (much less bite)on that one

  • Posted by: sparch - May. 10, 2010 9:56 AM ET USA

    The persecution of the Church, which has been on going in small amounts for the last twenty years, is stepping up and looking for the toe hold that will allow the walls to be breached. There is no toe hold other than that of public opinion. The uniformed will make their decision with or without the facts. Our bishops need to start speaking smartly and strongly, outside of the stream of politics. Strap in on and hunker down. The storm is upon us.

  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - May. 07, 2010 6:43 PM ET USA

    Isn't this sort of religious repression the exact sort of thing that led up to the formation of the United States and the driving idea behind the 1st Amendment?