The Brit Gets It

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

I have an interview up with Austen Ivereigh, author of How to Defend the Church without Raising Your Voice. He talks about the significance of the religious-freedom debate we are having here: 

The First Amendment is one of the glories of America, and possibly its most valuable postwar export. It has profoundly influenced the states of the world, and even the Second Vatican Council. So when the U.S. government violates it, and seeks to coerce the Church to act against its core beliefs, Catholics must take a stand, not just for their own sake, but for the sake of America itself. How do you take that stand? On many levels, of course — episcopal declarations, attorneys’ briefs, parish action. But I think the most important thing that can be done is to communicate the meaning and the value — to the ordinary citizen, not just to Catholics — of religious liberty, and to demonstrate the connection between that freedom and the “good” that the Church offers society.

That means talking about the soup kitchens, crisis-counseling centers, and marriage-preparation courses; it means witnessing to the relationships that are founded on, and are themselves the fruit of, bonds of trust arising from the actions that are the expressions of religious freedom. The key liberty that has to be communicated is that of manifesting belief — the freedom to act on, and in ways consistent with, our religious beliefs; the freedom to organize and engage society, to witness and persuade, and to serve others. Without the principles and convictions of our faith, we have no organizations that witness to them. That’s why religious liberty is the first and most important principle animating civil society. The loss of religiously motivated organizations is above all a loss to society as a whole.

American Catholics have to be making that case above all. People aren’t going to (necessarily) relate to the Church’s positions on contraception; they might think them backward and anachronistic. But they can grasp the fact that Catholic understanding of sexuality is part of a wider ethic, the same ethic underlying the Church’s witness on the death penalty or poverty or euthanasia. These are the connections Catholics have to make; and yes, the argument needs to be as ecumenical and universal as possible; and yes, I think lay people have a particularly important role, as the people that run the institutions and associations that serve others, to explain the link between the service they offer and the ethic that energizes them.

The book is aimed at a Catholic audience but will be of interest to anyone who seeks civil, constructive debates about the most emotional of issues. The timing of the interview coincides with the Fortnight of Freedom the Catholic bishops have encouraged, starting Thursday, taking us through Independence Day. It is about prayer and fasting and educating. It is an ecumenical opportunity to get serious about the defense of this first freedom. 

Tomorrow night in Washington, there will be a lay Catholic kickoff at the Catholic Information Center – “Women for Freedom” is the panel and it is cosponsored by Catholic Voices USA, which Ivereigh’s media efforts in the U.K. inspired. Details here.

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