Fortnight for freedom
The two weeks, 14 days or a fortnight, ending on July Fourth had been designated as a special period of prayer by the Catholic Bishops of the United States. These days of prayer for relief from the proposed rulemaking by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS in the jargon) thought to be contrary to the positions of the church in several areas, mostly concerned with the provision of health care insurance by churches and other religious institutions. The days of prayer were observed throughout the nation. Here on Longboat Key at the local parish, daily mass was followed by an hour of prayer and meditation, a Holy Hour as known to Catholics. These were led by that day’s celebrant, in most cases Msgr. Gerry Finnegan. Attendance was good, even in this summer season, at St. Mary, Star of the Sea. We are part of the larger world.
Some might ask, why a piece on this subject in a local newspaper serving a small town on a barrier island? We’re retired some say, others say we’re tired. Perhaps some subjects are just too controversial to be aired here. I hope that is not true. We should all be open to some exposition of many ideas, many positions.
Are we a contentious flock? The Economist of July 7, 2012, asked that question in headlining a story containing a photo of a shrink-wrapped bus proclaiming ‘Nuns on the bus.’ Our British cousin editors continue, “A fifteen-day, 2,700-mile bus tour came to a sweltering end at noon on July 2nd over the street from the United States Capitol. The bus carried a group of nuns from Iowa who led prayer vigils and held rallies to protest at what Sister Simone Campbell, at the final rally in Washington, called a ‘budget that rejects church teachings on solidarity, inequality, choice for the poor and the common good.’”
They continue, “Two days later another extended flexing of Catholic political muscle ended, this one in a ringing of church bells across the country.” These demonstrations occurred locally, even on Tamiami Trail in Sarasota.
“American Catholics remain a large and politically heterodox group,” says The Economist, which may see a more diverse group than we do in this retirement island parish. Age may be the apparent mark of this apparently more orthodox group. There are even young people and children seen in the pews of St. Mary, Star of the Sea. Politics also may play a role.
The Economist notes, “Both the Catholic priests who served in Congress were Democrats, as were all three Catholic big-party presidential nominees (Al Smith, John Kennedy and John Kerry); yet five of the six Catholics on the Supreme Court were nominated by Republican presidents. American Catholics mostly supported Barack Obama in 2008, George Bush in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000.
“Around one in four American voters is Catholic. That proportion has held steady for decades, largely because of immigration, but there has been a shift in American Catholicism’s centre of gravity, from its traditional bastions in the urban north-east both southward and westward.”
The consequences of this shift are political, among others. The number of American Catholics who identified themselves between 2008 and 2011 as, or leaning toward the Democrats fell by five points, while those identifying themselves as, or leaning toward Republicans rose by six, according to The Economist.
All of this suggests two things about American Catholics, according to The Economist, “First, there is no coherent ‘Catholic vote’ that coalesces around distinct issues and cuts across ethnic lines” and “Second, religious Catholics are increasingly finding common cause with other religious Christians,” and Jews I would add. This solidarity is at the root of the move to challenge the administration, in my view.
The first reason for the period of prayer, the Fortnight, was the seeking of providence in moving public policy makers. The second, in my view again, was the creation of political pressure to achieve the same moving of public policy. The first is more likely of success as I see it. The good people of the local parish, as well as the many visitors we see here, hopefully are involved in both reasons. They pray, and they vote.
The third methodology is the courts, that ultimate American relief. Dozens of Catholic organizations, although not the Bishops, are suing the HHS over a part of Obamacare requiring Catholic institutions, like all other employers, to offer their employees health insurance plans to pay for items thought to be contrary to Catholic Church teaching. The law exempts explicitly religious entities such as churches. The groups suing the HHS think the exemptions are too narrow. Religious entities such as hospitals, schools and universities are affected.
“This group of universities, dioceses, health-care providers, schools and social-welfare agencies argue, among other things, that the preventive-services mandate requires them to act inconsistently with their Catholic mission, character and commitments, and therefore violates federal law and the First Amendment,” writes Richard W. Garnett of the Notre Dame Law School in Notre Dame Magazine, Summer 2012.
Saint Mary, Star of the Sea is a long-serving institution in this town. It is involved in the greater service of God and country. Hopefully we all can continue to get along.