This reflection is now available in Daniel P. Horan, OFM’s book Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays, Volume One (Koinonia Press, 2013).



  1. Thanks, Dan, for having the courage to go to the heart of the matter (the Gospel). The recent statement of Benedict XVI as reported in the newspapers to the American Bishops amazes me. Since when do the bishops decide which laws of the US or civil government we are to obey and which not. This campaign for religious liberty is a fraud. We are the last religious institution I know of that demands the right o discriminate in the public arena.

  2. Excellent post and reflection, and I fully support the spiritual growth and pastoral element. It is often a great challenge for me to balance when is it to challenge our brothers for a sinful life, and when we have to check the logs in our own eyes! (notice the pural on both). But, I do believe that we are all a work in progress and must work together to uphold the ideals of Christ and His Communion of Saints.

    However, I fully suport the USCCB, I believe the premise for the religious freedom attack is correct, and the learned scholars cited (liberal) are slightly skewed in “their” interruptation.

    First, Catholics are NOT a majority in the U.S., we are however perhaps the most hierarchial and recognizable. Perhaps the manin reason is because we have global scale. (Counter to some American Catholics, we do actually have the Holy Father, the Pope, and Vicar of Christ, in the Chair of St. Peter).

    Second, the attack on the religious tenents is deplorable. I need not only ask the questions to those who do not believe this the following:
    1. If the Church were now forced to perform executions of convicted criminals, would She comply with such a mandate?
    2. If it was deemed illegal for the Church to “perform” Her duties, Her call by Christ to heed the needs of the poor and forgotten, would She comply with such a mandate? (Oh, wait She has because of the recent secularism regarding adoption).
    3. If it were mandated that the Holy Eucharist was no longer to kept Sacred? (Communists!)
    4. If the Seal of Confession were deemed no longer valid? (Oh, wait this law is being discussed in Ireland, and was indeed the fact in the Former Soviet Union)

    These are just some of the questions and actual challenges that faced the Church writ large around the world, and yet some believe that a mandate for the Church to pay for “elective” procedures and “services”, based on the “choice” of the individual should legitimately be protected by law; moreover, be paid for by that same institition?!?!?

    “The challenge facing you, dear friends, is to increase people’s awareness of the importance of religious freedom for society; to defend that freedom against those who would take religion out of the public domain and establish secularism as America’s offical faith”
    — Bl. John Paul II, Baltimore, October 8, 1995.

    A non-religious comparison: As so many screamed foul over the Patriot Act because it was a slippery slope regarding the Fourth Amendment, so is the case for the HHS decision v. the Church regarding the First!

    1. Please note that I did not use St. Pius X case against modernity, but Bl. John Paul II, leading participate of V2 as a reference.

      1. Well said, Matthew. I am disheartened by the politicalization of religious discourse that, I believe, is the enormous plank in the eye of many American catholics–religious and lay alike. I side with the bishops on this issue of religious freedom, just as I side with them on the way they regard a federal budget as a “moral document”. Increasingly, Catholics side with their political party first, and only reference the bishops when they support their political positions.

  3. Whatever happened to the Pauline sense of how Christians interact in a secular society enshrined in the Thomistic notion of the common good that exceeds the Catholic good? Is the Fortnight of Freedom language a moral parallel to the liturgical dewfall. Remindss me of Maggie Smith’s Downton Abbey line: “What’s a weekend?” Meanwhile Paul and Thomas must be spinning that their cherished positions are so blatantly ignored by those who should know better.

    1. Respectfully, the current “common good” is absolutely NO WHERE near “exceeding” the Catholic good.

      1. I don’t think a careful reading of The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World would support your statement. Nor would it support the excessive rhetoric of threats to religious liberty, which flies in the face of the best that the Catholic tradition has to say on this issue.

      1. I don’t think I used language of “obstruction.” My point is that the common good is wider than a specifically Roman Catholic agenda, and our Catholic ethical tradition has other solutions than to impose denominational standards on a pluralistic society.

  4. Thank you for the reminder to read G.S. I therefore direct one to the following:

    16. In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged.(9) Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.(10) In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor.(11) In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.

    17. Only in freedom can man direct himself toward goodness. Our contemporaries make much of this freedom and pursue it eagerly; and rightly to be sure. Often however they foster it perversely as a license for doing whatever pleases them, even if it is evil. For its part, authentic freedom is an exceptional sign of the divine image within man. For God has willed that man remain “under the control of his own decisions,”(12) so that he can seek his Creator spontaneously, and come freely to utter and blissful perfection through loyalty to Him. Hence man’s dignity demands that he act according to a knowing and free choice that is personally motivated and prompted from within, not under blind internal impulse nor by mere external pressure. Man achieves such dignity when, emancipating himself from all captivity to passion, he pursues his goal in a spontaneous choice of what is good, and procures for himself through effective and skilful action, apt helps to that end. Since man’s freedom has been damaged by sin, only by the aid of God’s grace can he bring such a relationship with God into full flower. Before the judgement seat of God each man must render an account of his own life, whether he has done good or evil.(13)

    By using just the small exerpt, then HHS mandate is clearly against not only the U.S. Constitution, but that of the Holy Mother Church. On this, I will not be swayed. Anything we can do, including the Fortnight for Freedom, is completely (IMHO) in line with both!

    1. While these paragraphs of GS are eloquent descriptions of conscience, they are not describing conscience for Catholics alone. The same criteria need be applied to the human conscience at large…I see you did not refer to those parts of GS that speak of how the Church is called to a dialogue with the world that is reciprocal rather than magisterial.

      1. Steve, as I am trying to understand your position I have read very thoughtfully (once again) The Church in the Modern World. I understand your point about how the Church is called to dialogue with the world in a way that is reciprocal rather than magisterial. As I bring these words to the current practice of the Church in 2012, I see that Catholic organizations offer employment, scholarships, and in some cases even sacraments to people outside the faith. The Catholic Church is the largest charity in the world. The Church does all these things as part of a mission. Anybody who works for a Catholic organization is advancing that mission in some way, regardless of their personal beliefs. To ask the Church to directly pay for something that is directly against Church teachings–it is spoken of in The Church in the Modern World as a non-negotiable–the state is clearly infringing on the Church’s ability to live out its mission. I was unable to see in a very careful reading of The Church in the Modern World how the Fortnight is a “fraud” (not your words, I know). The Church does not say employees cannot use artificial contraception, right?

      2. I disagee. The “eloguence” DOES in fact transcend across all boundaries. It speaks to the conscience and freedom of Man, not just from a Catholic perspective. Therefore, the government writ large, in accordance with both the U.S First Amendment, and GS (a core document of V2), must not impose its will upon the people to go against their conscience.

        Outside of the religious argument….An extreme example: As deplorable as the KKK is, they are not an illegal organization, only for actions that break the law (e.g. hate crimes). The government with the support of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the KKK can demonstrate (or even exsist).

        So, now what I find it curious is that some find it so easy to support the HHS mandate against institutions, forcing them to go against their conscience and commit a reprehensible and most egregious sin. And, this is not just a Roman Catholic “agenda” or “tradition” as some so flippantly might add. And, before anyone pulls out the standard counter regarding “un-just war”, or the death penalty, as deplorable as they are, they at least have the most primal and base function of protecting the society (self-preservation) aka the common good. Unless one is “population-control” theorist (e.g. Sanger, or the Nazi’s), a forced abortion or contraceptives are NOT a common good.

        Lastly, IMHO, the dialogue one mentions should not be seen so completely reciprocal that it becomes a group-think assimilation. The dialogue is meant to understand and learn more about the fallen and broken people and help apply the Gospel and God’s teaching through the Holy Spirit, in such a way as to give us a beacon of hope and salvation. It is not to become so “familiar” or friendly we lose the mystery, awe and wonder. If this is seen as “magisterial” then that too, I fully support!

  5. @Jared and Matthew:

    1) My initial comment was a reflection on Dan’s paragraph beginning “Yet” (4th from the end). I was not commenting on other posts. My comment on Fortnight of Freedom was was primarily on its title, however, I did indicate that it did not conform to St. Paul’s attitude concerning Christians and secular society nor to a fuller understanding of the scholastic “common good.” My basic poiint was agreement that we are seeing planks in the eyes of Church leadership that is not allowing them to see a bigger picture.

    2) There is more to reading GS, than its text (and I did indicate the breadth of its conscience language), but texts have contexts, and a major context of GS was retrieval of more ancient traditions for looking at Church/world relationship and dialogue.

    3) Few ethicists would label cooperation with the mandate “reprehensible and egregious sin.” Knowledge of the Roman Catholic tradition is helpful in this regard. I don’t know how to respond to Jared’s final question with the double negative.

    1. There is lies my challenge, the perception that the Church leadership does not see the bigger picture. I have at least enough faith in the Holy Spirit that continues to guide the USCCB to care for His flock.

      And, I question which ethicists? Are these the same ethicists who support capital punishment, as a means to protect society? Or are they the ones who recognize that death penalty is an ineffective deterent to crime? Are these the same ethicists that support abortion of fetus, (I only use that term for this discussion, it is in actuality an unborn child), yet in the same breath argue about the legitimate claim over frozen embryos in a divorce/custody trial? Hence, I challenge the legitimacy of ethicists in today’s challenging and complex world.

      1. Actually only ethicists who ignore the wisdom of Alphonsus Liguori, who made the distinction between formal and material cooperation, an important plank certainly in the RC tradition.

  6. Steve, I appreciate your thoughtful responses. I have carefully read The Church in the Modern World for the first time in years and I thank you for bringing that wonderful document back to my attention. The document is an easy read and speaks clearly. I appreciate that any text can be enriched through a strong understanding of the historical context in which it was written. I still feel secure that the message of this document can be understood at face value. Rereading Dan’s paragraph that begins with the word, “Yet,” I am unable to find agreement with him. The Church is standing against a government mandate that would force Catholic organizations to pay for–among other things–abortions. Dan considers the Church to be at fault in opposing this mandate. That is baffling. The assertion is that the government can determine the “common good” and force religious institutions to help them achieve this “common good”. I don’t trust the government to deliver my mail, let alone determine the “common good”. I really do not care about the Church’s position on artificial contraception. The Church cannot force me to avoid its use or follow Her teaching on that issue, nor would She ever try. At the same time, I cannot reasonably expect the Church to pay for my artificial contraception. The only reason the state would try to force such nonsense would be to undermine the teaching authority of the Church.

    1. Full agreement! The Church is not forcing anyone into compliance, but asserts this to be part of the right conscience formation, maturity, and understanding (Apologetics) of the Doctrine — aka Catechesis (a failing IMHO on many within the Church at multiple levels). We are called to question to seek understanding, not necessarily to challenge to influence progressive change and assimilate secular/societial norms.

      However, back to the para. in question, I believe that the professor cited may need to refresh her understanding of evanglization and the purpose of the Church, and Christianity writ large.

      1. @Matthew: It seems to me that you have hit the nail on the head concerning the failure of catechesis, but your confusing egregious sin with material cooperation is a good illustration of that very point…And before suggesting that Kathleen Caveny needs refreshing, keep in mind that evangelization, catechesis, and theology are three very different aspects of articulating faith, and her area of expertise is the relationship between Church and society from a theological perspective.

      2. My last point is directed specifically at the premise about “recasting America”. I cannot accept there is any difference in the religious freedom argument/precedent between the Yoder case and now the various Diocesan v. USG/HHS cases, except for the size of the plantiffs involved. The Church is not trying to “recast America”, but trying to demonstrate enough is enough and the USG has clearly overstepped its bounds with the HHS mandate. There would be no discussion if the USG were forcing a Muslim to eat pork or an Othodox Jew to no keep Kosher. The Church is only trying to limit the USG involvement into the practicing of our Faith. Additionally, I am quite certain, having spend my fair share in the “box”, that there is not one Church official that would tell someone they CANNOT use BC or get an abortion, (should not and a lot of prayer is needed).
        The Church does however and should have the right as religious organization to decide if She can materially participate in a egregious sin. I believe that even St. Alphonis would agree there is a difference between materially participating in commonly accepted “common good” issues (e.g. food, roads, safety, shelter, and yes even general healthcare), and direcly paying for an abortion.

    2. Jared, I don’t perceive Dan’s paragraph as black and white as you paint it. I see him raising questions of methodology on the part of the Church, that many bishops in the USCCB have also raised privately. It is a mistake to think that the USCCB is speaking for all bishops. I don’t think anyone is saying that government determines the common good any more than the Church does, but the ethical tradition of the Church has always advocated for a common good wider than that of the local church. Applying the ethical notions of Alphonsus Liguori, no matter who pays for your contraceptives, there is no formal cooperation. Living in a pluralistic society with a variety of conscience perspectives, material cooperation is not only inevitable but morally acceptable. This is not new teaching…it’s three centuries old.

  7. Steve–could you help point me towards specific information regarding Alphonsus Liguori that would help me better understand? There are over 150 bishops who have spoken out against the federal mandate at issue. I do not support your statement, “no matter who pays for your contraceptives, there is no formal cooperation”. If I pay for something I think is wrong, I am violating my conscience.

    1. “If I pay for something I think is wrong, I am violating my conscience.” True. This regards the action of payment.

      If insurance covers your contraceptives and you choose to use them against your conscience, you also violate your conscience. The employer has only materially cooperated in providing the insurance. There is still no formal cooperation in the act of contraception. This regards the action of contraception. (If the use of contraceptives is not against one’s conscience, this is a moot question.)

      These are two very different scenarios; I was referring to the second.

      In the Alphonsian tradition of moral analysis, burdens are always to be restricted, while benefits are to be multiplied. Rather than referring you to Alphonsus, why not look at Jim Bretzke’s “Making Moral Decisions in a Complex World.”

      1. In technical language Alphonsus favors “probablism” translated “it’s probably not sinful,” rather than “probabiliorism” translatewd “it’s more probably sinful”! This is simplistic, but this is a blogpost, not a symposium!

      2. Both Bretzke and I were students of the late Mary Emil Penet IHM, a stellar moral theologian in the Alphonsian tradition.

      3. Therefore, the Church should not be obliged to co-pay or ensure their insurance plans covers something that it morally objectionable. The Church does not materially participate in the department of defense issues or “unjust war” through taxes, nor does She participate in capital punishment, both of which are against “social justice”.

      4. It seems to me that the problem with the HHS mandate is not that it requires insurance plans to cover contraception, sterilization and the morning after pill (whatever its’ formal name) where an employee has access to these meds and procedures and would have to pay a co-pay themselves. The problem is that it requires that these medications and procedures be covered without co-pays. That seems to me to be formal cooperation, no?

  8. Steve, one last remark I neglected to make was the inference that the Church does not determine the “common good”. The Church is the body of Christ and, as a human organization makes mistakes as would be expected. But the “common good” is exactly what the Eucharist is about as well as the entire Gospel. If that is not the Churches primary concern, it fails to be what it preaches.

    1. Agreed, with the caveat that the common good extends to those who do not formally comprise the Body of Christ through sacramental baptism. Certainly the nourishment of Word and Sacrament is at the service of thew common good, as today’s Gospel inferred with its subtle closing statement: “Give her something to eat”!

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