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A plebiscite on persecution?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 02, 2020

Do you want to spend some time in jail? That’s a question Catholic Americans should ask themselves as they head to the polls tomorrow.

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Many pundits have questioned whether a faithful Catholic can, in good conscience, support a political candidate who favors unrestricted legal abortion. I argue that the answer to that question is simple and straightforward: No. But if for some reason you remain unconvinced, let me introduce another, similar question.

Can a faithful Catholic, in good conscience, support a political party that threatens the overt persecution of the Catholic Church? The answer is obvious, I trust. And yet…

  • One of our two major political parties supports “hate-crime” legislation that would make it a criminal offense to defend Catholic teaching on human sexuality.
  • The same party had put forward a presidential candidate who vows to renew the judicial assault on the Little Sisters of the Poor, whose alleged offense is resistance against an immoral federal mandate.
  • The party’s vice-presidential candidate has questioned whether a member of the Knights of Columbus should be allowed to sit as a federal judge. In an earlier post as a prosecutor, she relentlessly pursued pro-life whistleblowers, rather than the Planned Parenthood crimes they had exposed.
  • Leading representatives of the same party have placed special restrictions on local churches from Brooklyn to San Francisco.

As a rule of thumb, intelligent voters should be skeptical when politicians make extravagant promises; campaigners regularly tell voters what they want to hear. But when a candidate tells you something that you don’t want to hear, he’s almost certainly telling the truth. So when candidates promise to put pressure on the Catholic Church to ordain women, to employ active homosexuals as youth ministers, and to silence priests who oppose abortion, you can safely believe them. They plan to do exactly what they say.

If this political party gains power, then, what will happen to stalwart Catholics who resist the political pressure? Will they lose their jobs? Will they be banished from public discourse? Will they be fined or imprisoned?

Or will government agencies simply stand by and watch, as a wave of anti-Catholic violence reaches its crest? We have already seen the signs of a dangerous trend: the statues toppled, the churches vandalized, the sanctuaries desecrated. These ugly incidents are downplayed by the mainstream media, and by local officials (of which political party?) in the cities where they occur. But they are happening, with steadily greater frequency.

We have already seen—in France, in Nigeria, in India—how anti-Catholic violence can escalate into bloodshed, particularly when political authorities see no reason to give special protection to a faith they view as politically retrograde. My friend and colleague Robert Royal observes:

It’s not only COVID-19 that’s a global pandemic. Repression and violence against Catholics—as well as against normal common sense—have emerged worldwide with little of the kind of outrage we see when a black or Hispanic or Muslim individual or institution suffers violence. Anti-Catholicism is “understandable” in our dominant culture.

Catholics can escape the unpleasantness if they conform to the demands of that dominant culture. They can voice their opinions, in public or on social media, without fear of being silenced of “cancelled.” They can freely exercise their civil rights—at least those rights still recognized by the government. They can even become leaders of the anti-Catholic political parties—provided they embrace the party’s platform. Isn’t this always how persecution evolves? Weak Christians are offered rewards, while the stubborn few are punished.

The late Cardinal Francis George foresaw the danger of persecution when he made his famous prediction: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” At this date is seems unlikely the Cardinal Cupich will be sent to prison for opposing the cultural trend. But if a more combative prelate succeeds him, the third part of Cardinal George’s prophecy might well come true.

Still it is comforting to know that the late cardinal, in his prophetic warning, went on to say what would happen after the martyrdom of the future Archbishop of Chicago:

His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.

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 CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Nov. 03, 2020 6:01 PM ET USA

    Interesting that the Office of Readings for this week is giving us the story of the Maccabees in Israel. I have been predicting just these things for months in my writings and homilies, and all I seem to get is grief for them.

  • Posted by: Retired01 - Nov. 03, 2020 3:34 PM ET USA

    I wonder whom Pope Francis favors, Trump or "devout Catholic" Biden. I wonder whom some of our bishops favor. We already have a good idea about whom Cardinal Tobin favors.

  • Posted by: feedback - Nov. 03, 2020 3:36 AM ET USA

    Thank you for the insightful pre-election summary! The most painful is the betrayal of the Truth within the Church, when ravenous wolves call themselves the 'shepherds' (Matthew 7:15). However, in every time and every situation there are plentiful opportunities to give witness to Christ.

  • Posted by: polish.pinecone4371 - Nov. 02, 2020 11:21 PM ET USA

    "So when candidates promise to put pressure on the Catholic Church to ordain women, to employ active homosexuals as youth ministers, and to silence priests who oppose abortion..." Not that I disbelieve you, Phil, but do you have references for these allegations?