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Thursday, June 21, 2012

John Courtney Murray and the Fortnight for Freedom

Today the US Bishops' “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign begins, and I can't help thinking that Jesuit John Courtney Murray, known more than anything for his fight for religious liberty, would be spinning in his grave if he knew what the bishops were doing. Murray ...

was an American Jesuit priest and theologian, who was especially known for his efforts to reconcile Catholicism and religious pluralism, particularly focusing on the relationship between religious freedom and the institutions of a democratically structured modern state. During the Second Vatican Council, he played a key role in persuading the assembly of the Catholic bishops to adopt the Council's ground-breaking Declaration on Religious Liberty, Dignitatis Humanae.

When Murray started writing about religious liberty, the Vatican and the church in the US hated the very idea .....

Catholic dissent -- When wrong turns out to be right

[...] For the greater part of Christian history, it was accepted as absolute doctrine that civil governments had an obligation to officially recognize the church and support it.

Pope Pius IX made the point in no uncertain terms in 1846 in his encyclical Quanta cura and the accompanying Syllabus of Errors: "The state must recognize [the Catholic Church] as supreme and submit to its influence. . . . The power of the state must be at its disposal and all who do not conform to its requirements must be compelled or punished. . . . Freedom of conscience and cult is madness." Catholics were told that they need not openly oppose a government that did not so recognize the church (as in the United States); rather, they should tolerate the existing situation until such time as Catholics formed a majority of the voting population.

Beginning in 1950 Father John Courtney Murray, a Jesuit theologian, argued that the old tradition must yield. In a series of articles in Theological Studies magazine and in public appearances, he contended that the state should not be the tool of the church and has no business carrying out the church's will. Rather, he said, the civil government's single yet profound obligation is to insure the freedom of all its citizens, especially their religious freedom.

"Every man has a right to religious freedom," he wrote, a right that is based on the dignity of the human person and is therefore to be formally recognized . . . and protected by constitutional law. . . . So great is this dignity that not even God can take it away." Murray claimed the old doctrine as enunciated by Pius IX was not an absolute, static thing but a teaching that had been developing over the past 100 years-a development which Murray saw in the writings of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XII.

The reaction was vehement and instantaneous. The two most influential U.S. Catholic theologians of the day, Fathers Joseph Fenton and Francis Connell, called Murray's argument "destructive, scandalous, and heretical" and engaged in lengthy, published refutations, especially in the American Ecclesiastical Review. Wrote Fenton, "The state is obligated to worship God according to the one religion [God] has established. This is so obviously a part of Catholic doctrine that no theologian has any excuse to call it into question."

Murray did not back down ......

You can read more on this subject in a post at America magazine's blog - Religous Liberty: Big Issue, Narrow Campaign. Here's a bit of it ...

[...] Our Constitution is built upon the Enlightenment, Hobbes and Locke. Its conception of rights is decidedly individualistic. These traditions see religion as inherently private. John Courtney Murray had to do quite a bit of work to argue for the compatibility of American conceptions of freedom and Catholicism. Such work has and continues to be done, but it cannot be taken for granted as an established consensus. The bishops quote Cardinal James Gibbon’s letter to Rome, but fail to note that Pope Leo XIII’s response included Testem benevolentiae, which was decidedly suspicious of the individualistic nature of American freedom. It also rejected a few other First Amendment freedoms—of speech, and of the press.

The US Bishops and their “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign have flipped the idea of religious freedom around and are arguing for the opposite of what Murray worked for and what was decided in Vatican II's Dignitatis Humanae.

And meanwhile, a line from an old movie, follow the money, comes to mind ......

Who’s funding the Catholic bishops’ religious freedom campaign?

[...] “The activities around the Fortnight for Freedom cost money,” said Steve Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington. “What groups are paying for this, and what’s the accountability for that money?”

Those kinds of questions were asked of key Catholic leaders like Baltimore Archbishop William Lori last week as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met in Atlanta.

Lori, who heads the bishops’ committee on religious liberty, told reporters that gifts “from Catholic groups and foundations” would help sustain the campaign. “The generosity we’ve experienced has been heartening,” he said.

The campaign, Lori said, “is not in any way partisan, either in its spirit or in its funding.”

But he has not been specific about all the outside groups providing financial resources, or how much they’ve contributed .....

Critics like Schneck say many of the questions regarding the funding of the Fortnight for Freedom campaign center on private Catholic groups.

“The Knights of Columbus are clearly one of the major sources of funding (against the mandate), as well as other fraternal organizations,” Schneck said ....

Lori — who is the man most directly in charge of the Fortnight for Freedom campaign — has been the Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus since 2005. The Knights did not respond to requests for an interview about the organization’s involvement with the bishops’ campaign .......


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