TCA Podcast – “Conversations with Consequences”

Episode 26: Religious Freedom in Catholicism and Islam

Your hosts Grazie and Andrea discuss religious freedom with Dr. Tom Farr and Ismail Royer of the Religious Freedom Institute. They discuss religious freedom in the United States from the perspective of the Catholic Church, particularly Vatican II and Dignitatis Humanae, and how Catholics are working to defend religious freedom in the world today.

1. Religiosity, Church Attendance Fall Sharply.

By Ian Lovett, The Wall Street Journal, October 18, 2019. Pg. A3

Religiosity in the U.S. is in sharp decline, according to a study released by the Pew Research Center on Thursday, with the ranks of people who don’t adhere to any faith growing fast while church attendance has fallen steeply.

Christians make up 65% of the U.S. adult population, according to the 2018-19 study, down from 77% in 2009. At the same time, those who don’t identify with any religion—often known as “nones”—now make up more than a quarter of the population, compared with 17% a decade ago. Only 45% of adults said they attended church at least once a month, down from 52% in 2009.

The data reflect a continuing social reordering that has seen the population shift away from Christianity and toward religious disaffiliation.

Protestants fell to 43% of the population, down from 51% in 2009, while Catholics fell 3 percentage points, to 20%. Other Christians—neither Catholic nor Protestant—make up the other 2%.

2. Hong Kong’s Spiritual Battle.

By Jillian Kay Melchior, The Wall Street Journal, October 18, 2019, Pg. A13, Houses of Worship

The protests in Hong Kong are entering their 20th consecutive weekend, and millions have peacefully taken to the streets to defend the city’s legal autonomy. Police have responded violently, and a small but growing number of protesters are convinced that peaceful dissent won’t deliver results. Hong Kong’s pastors are in the spiritual trenches of this increasingly bloody fight.

Hong Kong’s more than one million Christians are divided between the “blue” pro-government camp and the “yellow” opposition. Both sides vent their fears and frustrations to church leaders, who are trying to keep their congregations together.

Most young churchgoers support the pro-democracy protests, several pastors told me. They believe Christians have a moral obligation to oppose injustice, Pastor Mike Ng said, but they’re struggling to discern whether civil disobedience and defensive violence are justifiable. “We cannot give them very insightful or comprehensive answers,” the pastor admitted. “Even for myself, I cannot be satisfied.”

Even among pastors, the political crisis has awakened anxieties about the future of Christianity in Hong Kong. Under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the Chinese government agreed to preserve Hong Kong’s religious freedom, and so far it has kept that promise. But the treaty expires in 2047, and China’s recent encroachments have made some here fearful that their freedoms will slip away even sooner.

3. More accused former cardinal, Abuse Allegations against McCarrick, 7 reportedly told Vatican they were abused as boys.

By Michelle Boorstein, The Washington Post, October 18, 2019, Pg. B1

Theodore Mccarrick, a former D.C. archbishop and cardinal who was defrocked this year amid allegations that he sexually abused two minors and sexually harassed seminarians, is facing new accusations that he abused at least seven boys from about 1970 until 1990, according to three people, including a person with direct knowledge of the claims U.S. church officials sent to the Vatican in January.

In addition, six allegations of sexual abuse by seminarians and former seminarians also were sent to Rome, according to this last person.

In an interview, an accuser told The Washington Post that many of the boys knew one another. They often would travel together with Mccarrick on fundraising trips to churches and the homes of donors nationwide, where the abuse allegedly would occur. The accuser and his family met Mccarrick at a church function when the man was a young child.

4. Diocese to pay millions to clergy abuse victims.

By Associated Press, The Washington Post, October 18, 2019, Pg. A3

A Pennsylvania diocese on Thursday announced a nearly $4.4 million payout to 57 victims of sexual abuse by its clergy and seminarians.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg made the announcement about the payment through the out-ofcourt compensation program.

The Pittsburgh Post-gazette reported that most dioceses in the state set up similar compensation funds in the wake of a 2018 grand jury report that detailed a seven-decade history of allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy and subsequent coverups by bishops.

5. Progressives Take Sides On Bill to Decriminalize Sex Trade in Washington.

By Timothy Williams, The New York Times, October 18, 2019, Pg. A12

Instead, Ms. Spellman is one of the architects of a bill before Washington’s City Council that would make it the first American city to decriminalize prostitution, placing the nation’s capital at the forefront of a growing movement that seeks to permit the activities of prostitutes, as well as pimps and johns, and to allow bordellos. Prostitution in the United States is legal only in a few counties in Nevada, which has about 20 legal brothels.

The proposal is dividing the city’s progressive community, pitting some women’s groups against advocates for sex workers.

Sarah Smith, 21, who said she had been trafficked as an 18-year-old, said normalizing prostitution would make it far more difficult for the police to find people being exploited. “This bill will make it nearly impossible for victims like me to get justice,” she said.

“This bill is a sex trafficker’s dream,” said Yasmin Vafa, executive director of Rights4Girls, a Washington-based human rights organization that seeks to end violence against girls and young women. “This will cause more harm and more exploitation of our most marginalized people. Girls have told us they heard about the bill for the first time from their pimps, who were excited about it. If pimps and sex buyers are on the same side of this legislative proposal, doesn’t that say something to the other supporters?”

Groups supporting decriminalization include the A.C.L.U., Black Lives Matter, Amnesty International and the World Health Organization.

Opponents include the National Organization for Women and World Without Exploitation, a coalition of groups dedicated to ending sexual trafficking and exploitation.

6. Number of Christians in U.S. has declined by 13 million since 2009.

By Christopher Vondracek, The Washington Times, October 18, 2019, Pg. A6

The number of Americans who identify as Christian has fallen by 13 million over the last 10 years while those who are not affiliated with any religion grew by 30 million, according to polling data from the Pew Research Center.

The survey’s results, released Thursday, show that 65% of American adults (about 167 million) describe themselves as Christian, down from 77% a decade ago. Meanwhile, 26% (about 67 million) describe themselves as religious “nones” (atheists, agnostics and nonaffiliated), up from 17% in 2009.

While the pollsters didn’t suggest a cause for the decline, the data confirms that self-identified Protestants and Catholics, as a share of the U.S. population, are on a downward trend: 43% of U.S. adults (about 110 million) identified themselves as Protestant, down from 51% in 2009. And 20% (about 51 million) identified as Catholic, down from 23% a decade ago.

At the same time, the percentage of atheists has doubled to 4% since 2007.

 A spokeswoman for Pew said the data doesn’t shed light on causes in the rise of “nones,” but clerical abuse scandals that have shaken mainline

Christian faiths, such as the Catholic church or the Southern Baptist Conference, are often pointed to by observers of such data. But the data doesn’t directly point this out.

7. Barr takes issue with intolerant secularists, Assaulting religion or the religious has no place in America.

The Washington Times, October 18, 2019, Pg. B2, Editorial

Attorney General William Barr kicked up a storm last weekend — by stating the obvious. In a speech delivered at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana on Saturday, the attorney general pointed out that a rising tide of “militant secularism” is waging war on religious communities from coast to coast. Not content to live and let live, they seek to stamp out religious practices with which they disagree. Their assault on religion and the religious is dangerous, and represents a profound departure from the principles of religious freedom on which the United States was founded.

Attorney General Barr’s real beef was not with atheists or agnostics, as some people have misinterpreted his remarks to have meant. A person has as much a right to be an atheist in America as he does a Christian, Muslim, or Jew, and the attorney general is obviously aware of that. Instead, Mr. Barr took issue with intolerant secularists, who seek to impose their way of life on others. Attitudes like these are a violation of the principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution — and indeed, in the American spirit.

“Militant secularists today do not have a ‘live and let live’ spirit — they are not content to leave religious people alone to practice their faith. Instead, they seem to take a delight in compelling people to violate their conscience,” he said. This is plainly true, as states going after bakers who would rather not cater same sex weddings indicates. So too did the Obama administration’s decision to force Christian business owners to pay for birth control and abortifacients for their employees.

Mr. Barr — the nation’s top law enforcer — also pointed out that our own secular laws draw heavily from the Judeo-Christian tradition. “Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian rules for human conduct. They reflect the rules that are best for man, not in the by and by, but in the here and now,” he observed. “Religion helps promote moral discipline within society. Because man is fallen, we don’t automatically conform ourselves to moral rules even when we know they are good for us.” Religious values and laws work in tandem, instilling virtue and promoting character.

It is perhaps a sign of our decayed age that Mr. Barr’s simple truisms kicked up such a controversy — a spokesman for the Freedom From Religion Foundation charged that the attorney general’s “rant was un-American.” But their sputtering rage seemed only to confirm what the Mr. Barr had said.

8. In synod debate over married priests, is the Rhine flowing into the Amazon?

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, October 18, 2019

Perhaps the take-away is that just as no man is an island, no movement in Catholicism is ever purely local. The Catholic Church is universal, so ideas developed in one place inevitably have an impact elsewhere – even if those impulses are always refracted through a given place’s experiences and priorities before they take root.

Consider four prelates in the synod who’ve spoken in favor of the ordination of the viri probati, meaning tested married men: Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Brazil, the synod’s relator, or chairman; retired Bishop Erwin Kräutler of Xingu, Brazil; Bishop Carlo Verzeletti of Castanhal, Brazil; and Bishop Eugenio Coter of Pando, Brazil.

One way of summing it up is that four Brazilians are in favor of married priests. Another way of saying it, however, is that three Europeans and an ethnic German are in favor of married priests, since Hummes is the son of German parents and studied in Switzerland, Kräutler was born in Austria, and Verzeletti and Coter are Italians from Brescia and Bergamo respectively; both are in Lombardy, a former province of the Austrian empire still influenced by the Teutonic mindset.

In fact, because the Amazon is still considered mission territory, it’s inevitable that clergy and religious from various parts of the world play major roles and have an impact on its discussions. Given that Brazil contains the lion’s share of the Amazon, and given the strong German imprint in Brazil, inevitably that means German-language Catholicism has an especially strong impact on Catholic life there too.

 Advocates of a married priesthood in the Amazon adduce arguments both theological and practical, and it really doesn’t matter what part of the world those advocates come from, or are influenced by, in terms of assessing how cogent their case is.

However, there’s no denying the irony that history’s first pope from Latin America, who’s currently presiding over a synod on the Amazon – which might suggest a break from the European debates and controversies that have long dominated the Church – is nevertheless smack dab in the middle of them, both in the old world and the new.

9. St. Therese of Lisieux and the Renewal of Missionary Zeal.

By Fr. Roger J. Landry, The Anchor, October 18, 2019

Fr. Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts and the National Chaplain of Catholic Voices USA.

At the beginning of this month, I had the joy to travel to Detroit to preach solemn Vespers at the historic National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica on the feast day of the Little Flower. In the canticle for Vespers, taken from the Book of Revelation, we prayed how “all nations shall come and worship in [God’s] presence, which gave us an occasion to focus on Jesus’ call for us to “go and teach all nations” (Mark 16:15, Mt 28:18-20) sharing with them the treasure of Christian faith and life.

As we approach World Mission Sunday this weekend, the thoughts of St. Therese, the cloistered nun who became co-patroness of the Missions, can give some important direction for the Church today.

The need for a more effective sharing of our faith cannot be denied.

In the U.S., 30 million people define themselves as ex-Catholics, one out of every 11, constituting the second largest religious group behind those identifying as Catholics. There’s the almost viral rise of the nones, those who don’t identify with any religion. There’s the shuttering of Churches, schools, convents and seminaries. There are many U.S. dioceses in which priests ride circuits of several hundred miles every Sunday to try to bring Christ to people.

Most Catholics in Europe, however, would love to have our problems, because theirs are infinitely worse. There is a widespread collapse of faith in many countries in which Christian life once flourished.

We have the situation on the Amazon, about which Pope Francis and bishops from the Region are now meeting in the Vatican in an extraordinary Synod. The Amazon is an enormous tropical forest four times the size of Alaska, embracing 2.8 million indigenous people, 390 indigenous tribes, 240 spoken languages and as yet 137 uncontacted peoples. And many of them are visited only once or twice a year by priests.

And we cannot forget that we have many countries that have yet to receive the Gospel and where the Gospel is forbidden.

Eleven days before she died, the Little Flower said that she wanted “even save souls after my death.” She was excited that her missionary zeal would no longer be constrained by “cloister and grille.” She felt that “my mission is about to begin, … of making God loved as I love him,” and that her heaven would be spent “doing good on earth.” She said, “I cannot be happy rejoicing, I cannot rest, until all souls are saved.”

The Little Flower is spending her heaven praying for us, that we and the whole Church might receive the fruit of her prayers to the Harvest Master and realize that we are the laborers he is summoning to take in his white and ripe harvest.

10. A chance to end discrimination against Catholic schools.

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, The Catholic Herald (UK), October 17, 2019

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is legal adviser for the Catholic Association Foundation

Today Teresa Schmit and her husband, Mike, have their hands full with their eight children, thanks in part to the Catholic schools in Great Falls, Montana, which have helped to make their family’s life – and their kids’ education – manageable and successful.

Teresa thinks others in Montana, Catholic and non-Catholic, would benefit from similar faith-based partnerships. She has joined other Montana Catholic school parents in the Catholic Association Foundation’s amicus brief to aid the Supreme Court’s review of Espinoza v Montana Dept of Revenue. They are sharing their positive Catholic school experiences and support the state’s tax credit scholarship programme for children attending private religious schools. But the vestiges of Montana’s anti-Catholic past interfere with the programme’s aim of offering parents, the primary educators of their children, more education options.

The K-8 set-up of Our Lady of Lourdes allows many of the Schmit children to study at the same school. They are not spread out at grade and middle schools. Beyond easing the logistical challenges, having more of the siblings at the same school has helped the youngest of the Schmit family. This past school year, for example, Teresa’s sixth-grader Madeleine was able to spend the day with her brother Matthew, a kindergartner, when he was too anxious to participate in class. Teresa and Mike were both at work and could not pick up their son. “It was really awesome,” Teresa recalls, “that the school allowed Maddy to be there for her brother.”

After Montana lawmakers passed the tax credit scholarship programme law, the state’s department of taxation concluded that none of the programme’s scholarships could go to kids attending religious schools because of the state’s Blaine Amendment. Kendra Espinoza and two other Montana moms with kids at Christian schools objected and filed a lawsuit in state court. Last December, the Montana Supreme Court agreed with the tax department and, astonishingly, invalidated the entire programme.

In doing so, Montana’s Supreme Court failed even to acknowledge the US Constitution and a recent US Supreme Court decision reviewing Missouri’s state’s Blaine Amendment.

Ms Espinoza and the other Montana moms – with the help of parents in the Catholic Association’s friend of the court brief – believe that their constitutional rights of free exercise and equal protection under the law are being violated. The Supreme Court now has the chance to put an end to the state Blaine Amendments once and for all and help secure a brighter future for children and families like Teresa Schmit’s across the country.

11. In appeal to young Catholics, Vatican unveils the ‘eRosary’ — an electronic way to pray.

By Hannah Knowles, Washington Post Online, October 17, 2019, 9:59 PM

Pope Francis has made waves as a modernizer of the Roman Catholic Church as he signals new openness to divorced worshipers and considers loosening celibacy requirements for priests.

This week, the Vatican turned heads with another nod to changing times: a wearable “Click to Pray eRosary” complete with a smartphone app, the religious organization’s latest attempt to connect with young people.

Made of 10 dark beads and a “smart cross” to store data, the $110 rosary, which can be worn as a bracelet, syncs up with what Vatican News calls “the official prayer app of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network.”

An app-powered gadget may seem at odds with the centuries-old tradition of the rosary — “something associated with your grandparents,” said Mathew Schmalz, a religious studies professor at the College of the Holy Cross. But Schmalz, a Catholic himself, sees a neat innovation that’s part of a bigger campaign.

“The Catholic Church is trying — and maybe it’s kind of late into the game — to reclaim a generation that is close to being lost because of all the polarization and scandals within Catholicism and the general secularization of culture,” he told The Washington Post.

Subscribe to the TCA podcast!
“Conversations with Consequences” is a new audio program from The Catholic Association. We’ll bring you thoughtful dialogue with the leading thinkers of our time on the most consequential issues of our day. Subscribe today or listen online and enjoy our entertaining and informative weekly episodes.