Press-Republican

August 13, 2012

Is prison a new church-state option?

Terry Mattingly, On Religion
Press-Republican

---- — No one was surprised when the future leader of the Archdiocese of Glasgow opposed Scotland's plans to legalize same-sex marriage.

But Archbishop-designate Philip Tartaglia raised eyebrows with his prediction of dire consequences if he kept defending Catholic teachings on marriage and sex after the legislation went into effect.

"I could see myself going to jail possibly at some point over the next 15 years, if God spares me, if I speak out," the 61-year-old bishop told STV News.

The key, Tartaglia said later, is that the government could start punishing believers who try to publicly defend, or even follow, ancient doctrines that clash with the new state-mandated doctrines. "I am deeply concerned that today, defending the traditional meaning of marriage is almost considered 'hate speech' and branded intolerant," he told the Catholic News Agency.

Traditionalists in America face similar discussions on another issue, depending on what happens in courts. Aug. 1 was the start date for the Health and Human Services mandate requiring most religious institutions to offer health-insurance plans that cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved forms of contraception, including the so-called "morning-after pills." Some religious institutions qualify for a one-year grace period before they must follow the policy or pay steep fines.

The key is that the HHS mandate recognizes the conscience rights of an employer only if it's a nonprofit that has the "inculcation of religious values as its purpose," primarily employs "persons who share its religious tenets" and primarily "serves persons who share its religious tenets." Critics say this means the White House is protecting mere "freedom of worship," not the "free exercise of religion" found in the First Amendment.

"Consider Blessed Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity reaching out to the poorest of the poor without regard for their religious affiliation," said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, in a sermon during the American bishops' Fortnight For Freedom campaign. "The church seeks to affirm the dignity of those we serve not because they are Catholic but because we are Catholic. The faith we profess, including its moral teachings, impels us to reach out just as Jesus did to those in need."

Meanwhile, American bishops and other religious leaders will need to weigh their options, seeking ways to follow their convictions to as high a degree as possible under the HHS regulations. That was the subject addressed in the conservative Catholic journal "Voices" by Julianne Loesch Wiley, a veteran activist who has worked with a variety of causes, including the United Farm Workers, the Pax (Peace) Center and "Prolifers for Survival," which opposed abortion and the nuclear arms race. These sobering options include:

If this means jail time, then that is a consequence believers in other eras have willingly accepted, Wiley concluded. "Rejoice and be glad," she said. "Historically, prison has always been an excellent pulpit and a school of saints."

It's hard to imagine an American standoff reaching that stage, said Wiley via email, when asked to look ahead. If deprived of protection by U.S. courts, it's likely some Catholic institutions will compromise and, thus, will cut church ties. Others will lose their state licenses to operate or will be "broken on the wheel" of financial penalties and further strict regulations.

But no matter what happens, history teaches that something "faithfully Catholic" will survive. "The smallest living thing," she said, "is more powerful than the most powerful dying thing."

Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the GetReligion.org project to study religion and the news.

Distributed by Universal Uclick for UFS.