January 31, 2012 (HLIAmerica.org) - “The Obama administration has just told the Catholics of the United States, ‘To Hell with you!’ There is no other way to put it. To Hell with your religious beliefs. To Hell with your religious liberty. To Hell with your freedom of conscience.” With unusually strong language, Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh alerted his flock to a new threat to the Church.
The Obama administration has directly and deliberately attacked our fundamental right to religious freedom, and in a most patronizing way. His Department of Health and Human Services has mandated that contraceptives and abortion inducing drugs be part of every health care plan, free of charge. With this decision, Catholics and Catholic institutions such as hospitals, universities and social agencies will be forced to pay for and provide contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs.
With a veritable pat on the head, the administration has given Catholics a year to comply with the ruling. Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote, “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.”
As Catholic citizens, we cannot let this unjust mandate and unprecedented violation of our beliefs stand. It is, as Bishop Paul Loverde has described, “a truly radical break with the liberties that have underpinned our nation since its founding.”
It might not be so radical if the conscience was mere social construct, superficial conviction, or personal wishes and tastes. But conscience is much more. Cardinal Newman understood conscience to be the “perceptible and demanding presence of the voice of the truth of God within the person.” Conscience involves one’s inner inclination to do good and avoid evil, and then recognize the good that must be done in a particular situation.
We must never act against a certain conscience that has been well-formed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way, “Man has the right in conscience and freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters” (CCC 1782). Yet, this is precisely what the Obama administration is demanding.
To follow the dictates of one’s conscience is essential to the dignity of man. Further, to act freely and knowingly against one’s certain conscience is a mortal sin. Saint Thomas More understood this well, and is an exemplar of how Catholics should respond to this threat to our consciences and religious freedom.
Robert Bolt’s famous play “A Man for All Seasons,” tells the story of Saint Thomas as he faced the tyrannical acts of Henry VIII, who destroyed the Church in England so he could marry Ann Boleyn. Imprisoned, Thomas faced his accusers including his one-time friend, the Duke of Norfolk, who beseeched him “But damn it Thomas, look at these names. Why can’t you do as I did and come with us for fellowship?” Thomas responded, “And when we die and you are sent to Heaven for doing your conscience and I am sent to Hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?”
The administration has placed Catholics in an equally precarious situation. Condemnation is the reward for acting against a certain conscience (CCC 1790). Yet the Obama administration says we have no choice.
How will we respond? How will you respond? Is there a “proper response”?
I confess that I do not yet know the answer to such questions. But I do know that we cannot buckle over as this administration asks us to lose our very souls so that we might gain health coverage for our families and employees.
Following the announcement, Bishop Loverde wrote, “I urge the faithful of Northern Virginia and all citizens of good will to understand what is at stake in this unavoidable confrontation, which has been thrust upon us, and to be prepared to engage in a strong defense in the civil arena of the basic human right of religious liberty.”
This much is certain: It does not profit a man to gain health insurance, and to lose his soul. Recognizing what is at stake, we must be willing to defend our freedom of religion and conscience. So, let us unite with our Bishops for fellowship and for Truth.
Arland K. Nichols is the National Director of HLI America. He writes for the Truth and Charity Forum, where this article first appeared.