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The Persecution Has Begun

“What the Catholic Church in the United States really needs to stiffen its backbone is a good persecution.” How often, I wonder, have I heard somebody say something like that? How often have I said something like it myself?

Be careful what you ask for—you may get it. The persecution of religion in America has begun, with the Catholic Church a prime target.

Don’t think I’m making the wild-eyed claim that this new persecution either is or ever is likely to become a bloody one resembling the purges of the French and Mexican Revolutions or the Communist war on religion—eruptions of violence in which thousands of clergy, religious, and lay faithful were killed. It won’t be a repetition of the Spanish civil war, just 75 years ago, when death squads of the anticlerical left executed the incredible total of 12 bishops, 283 religious women, 4,184 priests, 2,365 religious men, and an unknown number of laity whose only crime was to be faithful Catholics.

No, the persecution of religion in the United States won’t be like that. It will be a  tight-lipped campaign of secularist inspiration in which the coercive power of the state is brought to bear on church-related institutions to act against conscience or go out of business.

As a case in point, consider what’s been happening lately in Illinois. Catholic Charities in the Dioceses of Rockford and Peoriahas abandoned the foster care field rather than fall in line with a new state law requiring placements with unmarried couples living in civil unions. (Three other dioceses are continuing to fight the law in court.)

Currently, too, the Supreme Court, having heard oral arguments, is mulling a case involving a teacher in a Missouri Synod Lutheran school who claims her rights were violated because she lost her job after getting sick. At the heart of the dispute is whether the government or the church gets to decide who is and isn’t a “minister” of religion.

During oral argument, the attorney representing the Obama administration said in effect that government could compel the Catholic Church to ordain women priests if it reached the point of wanting to do that in the name of enforcing anti-discrimination laws. Never mind the First Amendment.

These and other such controversies revolve around efforts to invoke government power against religious bodies on behalf of rights claimed by groups that range from homosexuals seeking same-sex marriage to federal bureaucrats pushing coverage for contraception and sterilization in religious employers’ health plans. Church-related schools, hospitals, and social services are targets now, but who can say tell where it might end?

Yes, there’s a silver lining. Pope Benedict pointed it out during his September pastoral visit to Germany(as secularized a Western country as now exists). The lesson of history, he said, is that secularization aimed at reducing the worldly power of the Church often has the unintended consequence (unintended by the secularists anyway) of purifying the Church for its spiritual mission.

That’s a comforting thought. But even so religion has a duty to fight back against the secularist impulse—not least, in the United States, in defense of a church-state arrangement that’s served the nation well but now is at risk of falling victim to power-hungry secularism.

In a letter to President Obama protesting administration moves against the Church, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the Catholic bishops’ conference, warned of a confrontation threatening “a national conflict between church and state of enormous proportions.” The persecution has started.


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C.


  • Theodore Kobernick

    Your facts are good, but your prediction is on shaky ground. Why are you so certain that persecutions will not turn bloody???? Gestapo tactics are already being employed against menaces such as organic farmers — see Ryan Grant’s Oct 27 article, “What happened to our health freedom?” As we have been growing accustomed to this sort of violence, it has been expanding. Do you think that officials who HATE Christianity will treat us with loving kindness?

  • Theodore Kobernick

    WHY WOULDN’T THEY KILL US? I fear that my last comment tiptoed around a crucial issue. I guess it won’t persuade anyone, to review all the historical bloody persecutions of Christians. Nor do we feel imperiled by today’s arrests in China, or murders of Christians in Muslim or Buddhist nations.

    But how about this? Only thirty years ago, Turks and Bulgarians, probably sponsored by Moscow, nearly assassinated the POPE! Anyone who can shrug off that as ancient history, should realize that in the USA, non-believers have been murdering THEIR OWN CHILDREN since 1973. As soon as the Federal government got out of their way, they commenced the slaughter. So far, over fifty million babies who have not offended them.

    So once they get around the restraints of law – which can be accomplished by the decision of just five judges!!!, why in the world should they spare Theodore Kobernick, or Russell Shaw?