Friday, September 07, 2012

So priests in the United States are persecuted, you say?

State of emergency.

Not too long ago I was leaving the rectory of a friend and said, "See you later Father!" as I was walking out the door.

"Unless I'm arrested," he said smiling.

"Arrested?  For what?"  I asked, and then said, "Oh, the religious liberty thing."  I laughed.

To my knowledge, no one has been arrested and put in jail for teaching Catholic doctrine or practicing the faith - yet.  I find it hard to believe that stuff is going to happen on a large scale any time soon.  Conditions have been much worse in Europe, and I do not see priests and religious or even bishops herded into prisons and internment camps, nor is any European nation under martial law.  Yet these are the things people claim are going to happen in the United States if Obama is re-elected, or Obama-care continues, or even gay marriage is approved.  A lot of people seem to be fear mongers these days, creating what they call a 'state of emergency' which may be more accurately described as a 'state of paranoia.'

A sense of urgency might be a better term.

Certainly religious freedom is threatened.  Certainly there are isolated incidents, such as the family in Vermont I believe, who were fined for not hosting a gay wedding reception?  Or was it just that they wouldn't rent their facilities to a lesbian couple?  I can't recall the details at the moment.  (See story below*.)  Gay people are litigious, what can I say - and it's a political tactic groups use these days.  No doubt these things will increase - but we are not at the stage of the Spanish Civil War atrocities - yet.  Nor are our kids being kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam as they are in Pakistan.  Neither are our churches burned to the ground as in Nigeria.  There is real, bloody persecution elsewhere in the world - in the United States religious people are pretty much disliked, but tolerated. 

That said, even if these limitations to religious freedom take place and accelerate, and even if priests and religious and bishops and lay Catholics are rounded up and carted off to prison camps - even if that happens - and it hasn't yet - what are we to do?  How are we to act?

I'm not trying to dismiss anyones experience or perception of persecution, nor concerns about possible restrictions upon religious liberty - even the Holy Father warns of the dangers, and of course, the life of Christ and the Gospel does as well.  Yet so far, apart from how the Holy Father and the Bishops have spoken, a lot of the rhetoric I hear and read is less than edifying, and in many cases not even Christian.

Something every priest should read.

I've been rereading Fr. Walter Ciszek's account of life in Soviet prisons, He Leadeth Me.  It is a prophetic book.  If there is any better teaching or interpretation on the mystery of divine providence for our times, I don't know of it.  Any priest who fears for his freedom or his vocation ought to read and reread this book - and any Catholic concerned about living the faith in the public square that is hostile to religion, ought to read and reread it as well. 

My apologies for this long, opinionated introduction to what I intended to post, an excerpt from Ciszek's book.  It is taken from the chapter on Arrest and Imprisonment wherein Fr. Ciszek experiences rejection and contempt even amongst fellow political prisoners:
A priest to them, at best, meant a man out of step and out of place in a socialist society; at worst, he was a dupe in the employ of a Church that was itself a willing tool of capitalism.

I was stunned at the depth of feeling and prejudice against the Church that came spilling out.  The more so under the circumstances.  [...]  There was at least a minimal sense of camaraderie among the political prisoners in the cell, a certain companionship in misery.  But not for me when it became known I was a priest.  I was cursed at; I was shunned; I was looked down upon and despised.  Against the background of my Polish Catholic upbringing, where a priest was always treated as something special... this reaction to a priest on the part of my fellow prisoners made me by turns angry and bewildered.  I was at a loss to understand it and furious at the added injustice of this stupid, blind prejudice. [...] In the words of Isaiah, I felt "despised and the most abject of men".
[Christ] too sought someone to comfort him and found none.
As for the humiliation I felt because I did not get the proper respect as a priest of God, was "the servant greater than his master"?  Our Lord said to his disciples, "If they despised me, they will despise you.
In how many ways too, had i allowed this admixture of self, this luxury of feeling sorry for myself, to cloud my vision and prevent me from seeing the current situation with the eyes of God...  Under the worst imaginable circumstances, a man remains a man with free will and God stands ready to assist him with his grace.  Indeed, more than that, God expects him to act in these circumstances... For these situations too, these people and places and things, are God's will for him now.

He may not be able to change the 'system'. any more than I could change conditions in that prison, but he is not for that reason excused from acting at all.  Many men feel frustrated, or disappointed, or even defeated, when they find themselves face to face with a situation or an evil they cannot do much about. ... But God does not expect a man single-handedly to change the world or overthrow all evil or cure all ills.
What each man can change, first of all is himself.  And each will have - indeed, must have - some influence on the people God brings into his life each day.  He is expected to be a Christian, to influence them for good.  He will in some small way at least touch their lives too, and it is in that touching that God will hold him responsible for the good or ill he does.  In that simple truth lies the key to any understanding of the mystery of divine providence and ultimately of each man's salvation. " - He Leadeth Me
We haven't yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.  So Christian, maybe be careful, lest we go about tearing one another to pieces. - Galatians 5:15

*Vermont inn lawsuit settled by two lesbians who were denied hospitality by inn keepers.
MONTPELIER, Vt. - Two New York women and a Vermont country inn have settled a lawsuit that accused the business of refusing to host the couple's wedding reception.

The American Civil Liberties Union said Thursday the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville agreed to pay a $10,000 civil penalty to the Vermont Human Rights Commission and to place $20,000 in a charitable trust.

Under the settlement, the inn also agreed it would no longer host weddings and their receptions. The innkeepers' lawyer, Jim Campbell, said they had decided previously to end that part of their business. - StarTribune


  1. OT (sort of) - Dolan did a very good job last night. I hesitated to jump on the "Dolan is a traitor" bandwagon until I saw what he said. We should all be pleased...

    1. Dolan definitely knows what's going on and knows what he's doing. I like him.

  2. As usual, Terry, wonderful post. While I wouldn't minimize the very real risks to the Church in our country and others (historically, very real and very violent attacks on the Church and believers begin with the sort of marginalizing and deriding of the Church that we're seeing now), I am delighted that your post reminds me to read "He Leadeth Me" again. I have only read it once, but have read Fr. Ciszek's other excellent book on his life, "With God In Russia." If you haven't read that, you should definitely do so. History always repeats itself. I believe we're headed for some very troubling times.

    1. I agree. I'm not really minimizing the threats to the Church. Resonally I've experienced such attitudes on and off ever since my conversion - even by Catholics. It's more pronounced for everyone these days.

      I've read With God in Russia too. I think the real ascetic life is in the center of social upheaval, in the midst of the camps. In the midst of ordinary life - those thoughts are trying to be expressed, but I'm having difficulty doing so.

  3. This just in! I didn't print it because it had an embedded link in the original text:

    Michael J. Bayly has left a new comment on your post "So priests in the United States are persecuted, yo...":

    Terry, you write: "I can't recall the details." Therein lies the major problem with this whole piece: it's built on ignorance. And you yourself admit it!

    I ask that you take the time to inform yourself (and then hopefully your readers) of the actual details. And I invite you to start with this quote and the links it contains.

    And please quit harping on about "political tactics" of some members of the LGBT community while ignoring those of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.



    1. My response via email to Michael:

      Michael, I've discontinued posting comments with embedded links. I've updated the post to supply the information on the Vermont lesbians. Most of my readers are acquainted with the story - sorry for the oversight - it's just a personal blog, not a news site.

      The Roman Catholic hierarchy are not engaged in political tactics, rather they are engaged in teaching on faith and morals, which happens to be their job. I'm sure if you believe they are mixing politics and religion you can appeal with the IRS to investigate and remove their the Church tax exempt status.

      God bless you,


  4. Terry is that image from that movie with Colin Ferrel where some guys escape a gulag in Siberia and walk all the way to Iran?

    1. Merc - yeah - if you click on the caption it will take you to the film info.

      The image comes off like a painting, don't you think.

  5. Our parish is in a downtown area that has a real problem with intoxicated homeless people. Most of them are harmless. Some are moderately destructive (like the ones that use the flowerbeds as a restroom). But twice this year, priests from our parish have been attacked in the parking lot between the rectory and the office. Both times, the priests were bruised but not seriously hurt. The pastor has talked about writing to his superior (the parish is administrated by a religious order) and telling him that "it is unsafe to minister here" and that the order should pull out of this city. (Given their other locations in Oakland and San Francisco, I find this...weird.)

    Our Young Adult Catholic social group just watched "Of Gods and Men" this week. It's a powerful film. All of us couldn't help but wonder, afterwards, if our pastor has ever seen it.

    1. That's too bad - there must be a way to secure the place better. It can't be worse than a parish in Iraq can it?

    2. Well, one easy solution would be if their Provincial only sent the priests who look like Vikings. We have one right now (he's 6'4"), used to have another, and I know there are a few more big guys in the province. They've never been attacked. The two who were attacked were both very short, one very slight and the other old.

      The more expensive solutions are to fence in the whole property and lock up at night, or hire a security guard.

      It's not worse than parishes in many countries in the world where priests are in danger of being shot or having their churches bombed. We did get a bit of a scare when a woman wearing a niqab carried two suitcases down the center aisle of the church in the middle of Sunday Mass and set them down when she got to the front pew, but fortunately she picked them up again and went out the side door. There are a lot of priests in the world who serve in much more dangerous circumstances. I understand that it's not a virtue to actively seek martyrdom (either death or other bodily injury), but it IS virtuous to keep serving people who need you despite potential danger to yourself, and we really do need them here.


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