It was just another day, another Washington, D.C., press conference and yet another appeal for the U.S. government to allow believers to follow the doctrines of their faith, as opposed to a Health and Human Services mandate. "The United States, at its best, is unique among the nations of the world when it defends the self-evident freedom of all people to exercise their faith according to the dictates of their consciences," said the "Standing Together for Religious Freedom" text. It was signed by 58 faith leaders, mostly from conservative bodies such as the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Association of Evangelicals and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"Many of the signatories on this letter do not hold doctrinal objections to the use of contraception. Yet we stand united in protest to this mandate, recognizing the encroachment on the conscience of our fellow citizens. ... HHS continues to deny many Americans the freedom to manifest their beliefs through practice and observance in their daily lives."
This was just another sign of the times, along with a Texas filibuster opposing a late-term abortion ban and the U.S. Supreme Court's approval for a state-by-state legal approach to same-sex marriage.
None of this would have surprised the Blessed Pope John Paul II, according to one of America's most controversial Catholic priests. In one of his most sweeping encyclicals, John Paul foresaw a "conspiracy against life" that would threaten the suffering, the elderly and children, born and unborn.
That 1995 document was called "Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life)," and the Rev. C.J. McCloskey of the Faith and Reason Institute was recently asked to write a meditation on it during a Vatican celebration of its lasting influence.
"I was asked to write an article that would help cheer people up. Sorry, but I just couldn't do that right now," said McCloskey, in a telephone interview from Chicago.
In particular, the Opus Dei priest was struck by this sobering John Paul declaration: "The eclipse of the sense of God and of man inevitably leads to a practical materialism, which breeds individualism, utilitarianism and hedonism. ... The only goal which counts is the pursuit of one's own material well-being. The so-called 'quality of life' is interpreted primarily or exclusively as economic efficiency, inordinate consumerism, physical beauty and pleasure, to the neglect of the more profound dimensions -- interpersonal, spiritual and religious -- of existence." The human body, thus, is "simply a complex of organs, functions and energies to be used according to the sole criteria of pleasure and efficiency."
While this judgment will offend most liberals and some political conservatives, those words led McCloskey to write this blunt verdict: "Face it folks, the United States is no longer a Christian country.
"We already have the most liberal abortion laws in the world, responsible (at a minimum) for tens of millions of deaths, with the morning-after pill now available at your local pharmacy for teen-age girls. ... Pornography is the most profitable and watched form of 'entertainment.' Marriage is being redefined not as a covenant between man and wife, with one of its purposes being the procreation of children, but as more or less whatever one wants it to be. ... And who can disingenuously doubt that universal euthanasia for the incurable will become common with the help of our new 'health' plan?"
McCloskey knows these harsh judgments anger elites in places like Wall Street and inside the D.C. Beltway, since he worked at Citibank and Merrill Lynch after graduating from Columbia University and later led the Catholic Information Center on K. Street, near the White House. Yet over the years he has led many prominent Americans into Catholicism including columnist Robert Novak, abortion-rights pioneer Dr. Bernard Nathanson, Judge Robert Bork, U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback and economist Lawrence Kudlow.
Truth is, he noted, parts of America are more open to some forms of faith than others. Thus, McCloskey is convinced traditionalists will eventually need to cluster in states that are more faith-friendly on abortion, marriage, parental rights, home schooling and other hot-button cultural issues.
"No one in this country has ever really suffered for their faith in any meaningful way," he said. "Those days are ending, especially in certain states. ... Among Catholics, we may soon find that many are Americans more than they are Catholics."