The not-so-little Sisters of the Poor

On Monday last, William McGurn, columnist with the Wall Street Journal, wrote a powerful oped piece about the battling Little – or not so little, it now seems – Sisters of the Poor whom he describes as “front and center” in the battle for freedom of conscience in America.

He recalls the Bing Crosby classic “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” where a nun teaches a bullied boy to fight back, even though she herself believes in turning the other cheek.

Today (April 9), when they will be at Notre Dame to accept an award from the Center for Ethics and Culture for their work upholding the worth and dignity of every human life, the Little Sisters have an opportunity to do the same. Two weeks ago, they were in the US Supreme Court battling the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate. Front and centre? Dead on.

Perhaps while on campus, McGurn suggests, the Little Sisters could take a page from Hollywood—and put some fight back into the Fighting Irish. He wrote:

Sister Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman) gives a boxing lesson in ‘The Bells of St. Mary’s’ (1945).

The Little Sisters are front and center in the challenge to the Affordable Care Act mandate that requires them to change their health-care plan to offer employees contraceptives, sterilization procedures and abortion-inducing drugs—all contrary to Catholic teaching. The Little Sisters argue the administration is forcing them to choose between their faith and the loving care they provide men and women too old or too poor to care for themselves.

Notre Dame faces the same mandate. There, alas, the similarities end.

At the heart of the government’s case is a phony accommodation for objecting nonprofits. All it wants from the Little Sisters or Notre Dame, it says, is a signed “opt-out.”

In fact, the notice the Obama administration demands is not an opt-out (which the Little Sisters would happily sign) but the legal authorization to have their health plan commandeered. Remember, if the federal government wanted to distribute contraceptives on its own, there would be no Supreme Court fight.

The fight has been joined for two reasons. First, the Obama administration insists on having these contraceptives distributed through the Little Sisters’ own plan. Second, it has at the same time underestimated the pluck and mettle of these women.

For even with courts ruling against them and the threat of fines of $70 million a year, the Little Sisters consistently refused to bend.

And Notre Dame? Big ol’ shake-down-the-thunder Notre Dame, with its $10 billion endowment? Under pressure, the Irish signed.

It wasn’t the only mixed signal. In July 2013, when the White House announced its final rules for its fake accommodation, most objectors who had their earlier suits dismissed because they were not ripe simply refiled. But Notre Dame dithered, and didn’t refile until just three weeks before the mandate’s requirements were to take effect. When they lost on appeal they signed the form to avoid the fines while the litigation proceeded.

Is it any wonder that some observers, such as the trial judge who heard the case, say Notre Dame’s actions suggest it doesn’t really believe what it claims it believes?

Cue to the more recent announcement from Notre Dame that it will bestow on Joe Biden its Laetare Medal, the oldest award in American Catholicism. Not only does Vice President Biden have a long and loud public record in opposition to Catholic teaching on abortion and marriage, he is the second-highest official in an administration that Notre Dame has accused in court of forcing it to “violate its own conscience.”

Mr. Biden will receive the Laetare at commencement alongside former House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican. In choosing the duo, Notre Dame’s president, Father John Jenkins, says the school is striking a blow against the “toxic political environment.”

Presumably contributors to our toxic environment include the local bishop, who has spoken out against the award. For Notre Dame is doing the one thing the bishops have asked Catholic institutions not to do: give those who act in defiance of the church’s fundamental moral principles “awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

How thoroughly Obamalike Notre Dame has been here, coupling an in-your-face award with the suggestion that anyone who has an argument to the contrary must be uncivil. On top of this, the university gets a prince of the church—Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl—to come out for an honorary degree, providing an imprimatur that effectively big-foots the local bishop and, as the National Catholic Reporter gleefully notes, undermines the bishops’ own 2004 statement on Catholics in public life.

And the intellectual defense of the claim that Mr. Biden’s “genius,” as the Laetare news release puts it, has “illustrated the ideals of the Church”? That there is no connection between a politician and his policy record.

All in all, it’s a sad message Notre Dame sends: Principles are a fine thing—just don’t let them get in the way of a comfortable place in society.

The good news is, the Little Sisters do not punt. And if freedom does prevail over this mandate, it will be in good part because these women put it all on the line when others—far wealthier and better connected—took the road more timid.

Originally at:

Et tu Disney?


Christians truly are at a head-scratching moment as they confront the drift of the modern secular world. Drift indeed may be a too gentle a phenomenon to describe what is bearing down on them. It is much more like a deluge and so much so that not a few of them must be contemplating building an Ark. They have wished for better for this world, have worked for its configuration to a model of our species’ true nature but now appear to have their backs against the wall.  They continue living in this secular society hoping for peaceful coexistence with those who do not see our nature or our world in the same way as they do. With each day that passes this hope is challenged more and more.

For decades now there has been concern and debate among believing and conscientious Christians about their representation in the legislative assemblies of the Western world. In jurisdictions stretching from the United Kingdom, through Ireland, France and Spain to the United States and Canada, national and federal chambers have one by one enshrined laws which contravene central moral principles of their faith.

These legislatures have now set out on a path to recalibrate their respective societies according to the fundamental principles of an anthropology alien to much of what Christians both rationally and religiously know and believe to represent the true nature of the human species.Today the political establishment seems to be turning its back on the Christian ethics which for 1700 years have been advancing as the standard behind our laws.

But this is not really their biggest problem. The first Christian communities on the planet lived under such regimes, managing a level of coexistence which enabled them to survive, thrive and evangelise – barring sporadic episodes of paranoid persecution. The forces which from time to time set out to destroy them were for the most part inept and dysfunctional. The Edict of Milan in 313 brought the political establishment to its senses and outlawed intolerance against Christians.

Now in the 21st century, through a creeping process in the legislatures of formerly Christian countries across the globe, the notional Edict of Milan has been revoked and the right of Christians to practice and live by the principles of their religion is now no longer being tolerated. This, of course, has happened before, but never in a way in which it is happening now.

Within a few decades of the death of the Emperor Constantine, his successor,  Julian, tried to reverse the Edict. For that abortive attempt he is known in history as Julian the Apostate. Then came the armies of Islam which wiped out Christianity in half the known world, and threatened to do so in the other half. Nearer to our own time the French Revolution sent thousands of Christians to their deaths. Then in the last century the twin scourges of Marxism and Nazi ideology did the same.


On all those occasions the challenge was met and the threat subsided.

But now it is different. In our age there is a new element. It would seem that the grass roots have been to a degree, transformed. Add to this the sad trend among the political classes of abandoning any pretension to leadership. They seem to be followers of fashion and are now turning their backs on Christian values because that is the way they think the wind is blowing. They unashamedly leave their consciences at the door when they enter legislative assemblies. Christians are being regularly told now that they are on the wrong side of history.

The character of the modern state compounds the problem for Christians. In 313 the Roman Empire may have covered the lion’s share of the known world. Despite, however, the impression of power it has left us with, its totalitarian reach was minuscule in comparison with the reach modern governments have into our lives.  We tolerate this totalitarianism because it is accepted as democratic – up to a point – and is seen to be “in our best interests”.

Is it either? This is now the question that is preoccupying many of us, Christians or not. This question takes us away beyond the Christian-secular debate. Nevertheless, the essential issue, which many see affecting our lives, is at the heart of the predicament of the Christian in the modern 21st century world. A tyrannical populism, driven by ambiguously democratic forces, now seems rampant in the public square. A formerly benign Leviathan, called up to help secure the common good, has now gone native. The threat he poses to the believing Christian is exemplified in the news this week – reported in Time magazine and elsewhere – about big business’ latest foray into the culture wars. Time tells us:

Disney says it will not film in the state of Georgia if a bill, which critics say would effectively legalize discrimination based on sexual preferences, becomes law. Gov. Nathan Deal has until May 3 to sign or veto the Free Exercise Protection Act, which protects faith-based organizations that refuse to provide services that would violate their beliefs—such as performing gay marriages, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Add to this what we remember of the relentless drive of big media and internet corporations which successfully pushed the political establishment to legalise same-sex marriage over the past few years and we have every right to ask what has happened to the democratic process.

The answer may be simple. These unelected corporations in their turn, like the politicians, are responding to a populist new reading of the nature of our species. They are driven by the market and they are reading the bottom line – follow the money.

Christians look on in dismay as all this unfolds. Not only are their values being disregarded. Their personal freedom, their freedom of association and their freedom of conscience is being threatened and increasingly denied. The consciences of the Little Sisters of the Poor, the future of the work they undertook to dedicate their lives to for the love of their God and the good of mankind is now in the hands and at the mercy of eight judges of the US Supreme Court. Should the Court decide in their favour – and I wouldn’t want to bet on it – there will be outrage and cries for their blood.

What Christians see before them is a population subverted by a reading of our nature which distorts and destroys what they see as some of the most precious truths about humanity. Not only has that happened but that same popular will is now seeking to tyrannically impose that vision of humanity on all. Coexistence is not on offer  – and it is not just being denied by Disney.

What Christians are now asking is where did this reading of our nature come from? How did it take hold? German author Gabriele Kuby asks all these questions in her book, The Global Sexual Revolution: Destruction of Freedom in the Name of Freedom – now translated into English. In summary, her argument is this:

The core of the global cultural revolution is the deliberate confusion of sexual norms. It is the culmination of a metaphysical revolution as well–a shifting of the fundamental ground upon which we stand and build a culture, even a civilization. Instead of desire being subjected to natural, social, moral, and transcendent orders, the identity of man and woman is dissolved, and free rein given to the maximum fulfilment of polymorphous urges, with no ultimate purpose or meaning.

Kuby surveys gender ideology and LGBT demands, the devastating effects of pornography and sex-education, attacks on freedom of speech and religion, the corruption of language, and much more. From the movement’s trailblazers to the post-Obergefell landscape, she documents in meticulous detail how the tentacles of a budding totalitarian regime are slowly gripping the world in an insidious stranglehold. Here on full display are the re-education techniques of the new permanent revolution, which has migrated from politics and economics to sex.

Kuby’s work advocates one viable response, not just for the Christian, but for all interested in the true good of humanity. It is essentially a call to action for all to redouble their efforts to preserve freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and in particular the freedom of parents to educate their children according to their own beliefs, so that the family may endure as the foundation upon which any healthy society is built.

And where does all this leave the ordinary Christian who conscientiously wants to live and practice the mandate he or she considers they have received from Christ and which is summarised neatly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, (900):

Since, like all the faithful, lay Christians are entrusted by God with the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they have the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth. This duty is the more pressing when it is only through them that men can hear the Gospel and know Christ. Their activity in ecclesial communities is so necessary that, for the most part, the apostolate of the pastors cannot be fully effective without it.

The chances are it will leave them in prison. Kuby’s book enumerates more than one case where it has done so.

But Christian culture is not dead, or even dying. It is taking stock and – although wrong responses are never off the option list which may be presented for action – it will survive and thrive.

From the earliest days of the history of their Faith, the Christian community was assailed by opposing forces, from within as well as from without. It will never, it seems, be otherwise. Each struggle in which they have had to engage has presented new challenges, new issues and new dangers, or at least new variations on old dangers. On every occasion solutions have been hammered out and victory has lead it to new and even richer landscapes. Believing Christians may have to scratch their heads a little more but they do not doubt that they will also prevail in the struggles they face today.

(Updated on 26 March with the following sentence from the original draft. It is in the third paragraph and was inadvertently committed from the first posting:  Today the political establishment seems to be turning its back on the Christian ethics which for 1700 years have been advancing as the standard behind our laws. )

A victory for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience


The National Catholic Register today reports on an important victory for all those swimming against the current in the fight for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. The victory came with Canada’s Supreme Court finding in favour of a Jesuit school which challenged a law which would require Catholics to ignore the principles of their faith in what they teach in schools.


OTTAWA, Canada — Canada’s Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that Catholic schools in Quebec must be allowed to teach from a Catholic viewpoint during a state-mandated religion and ethics class.

“To tell a Catholic school how to explain its faith undermines the liberty of the members of its community, who have chosen to give effect to the collective dimension of their religious beliefs by participating in a denominational school,” the Canadian Supreme Court wrote in its 7-0 March 19 decision.

The province of Quebec, in July 2008, introduced a mandatory religion and ethics class and required it to be taught without regard to any religion. Even in Catholic schools, teachers were barred from voicing a preference for any faith.

The rules would mean that if a student in the class asked about a Catholic perspective on a religion, a teacher would not be allowed to answer.

Additionally, the course must be taught regardless of whether a school receives state funds.

Jesuit-run Loyola High School in Montreal challenged the law.

“This ruling makes clear that the government is on dangerous ground if it seeks to force a private organization to act in a manner completely contrary to its deepest faith convictions,” Canadian attorney Gerald Chipeur, who represented the school, said March 19.

The court’s decision means that “faith-based schools are free to operate according to the faith they teach and espouse.”

Chipeur’s law firm, Miller Thompson LLP, is allied with Alliance Defending Freedom International, the global organization of the U.S.-based religious-freedom-defense legal group.

ADF International’s executive director, Benjamin Bull, said the government “cannot require a private religious school to tell its students that their faith is no more valid than a myriad of other, conflicting faith traditions. All faith-based organizations must be free to speak and act consistently with their faith or religious freedom is not at all free.”

The court ruling noted that the requirement interferes with parents’ right to transmit their Catholic faith to their children, “not because it requires neutral discussion of other faiths and ethical systems, but because it prevents a Catholic discussion of Catholicism.” Transmission of religious faith is “an essential ingredient of the vitality of a religious community.”

Undermining lawful religious institutions’ character and disrupting religious communities’ vitality represents “a profound interference with religious freedom,” the court said.

While the court’s ruling against the province requirement was unanimous, the justices were split 4-3 on how to resolve the situation. The majority ruled that the matter should be sent back to Quebec’s minister of education, meaning that Loyola High School may now reapply to the Education Ministry for an exemption to teach the program. The ministry’s decision must be guided by the court ruling, CBC News reported.

Benoît Boucher, who represented Quebec’s attorney general, said the ruling shows that it is should be mandatory for all students in the province to have a thorough understanding of diversity.

Read more:

Another,  less optimistic, view on this decision from a writer with Canada’s National Post.

Loyola, a private Catholic secondary school, seems to be well pleased with the decision, which recognizes the unreasonableness, if not outright absurdity, of requiring the religious school to teach Catholicism and Catholic ethics “from a neutral perspective,” as the ERC would have done. One of the school’s lawyers, Mark Phillips, said enthusiastically of the ruling, “Every single judge is entirely behind the idea that Loyola as a Catholic school should be allowed to teach its religion and its ethical system without ceasing to be who they are….”

And he is almost correct about that. While the majority decision does not actually recognize or delineate what religious freedom Loyola might enjoy in its own right as an institution, it does make it clear that Loyola’s teachers and students are entitled to religious freedom — freedom that it deems to have been unnecessarily limited by the ERC.

What’s the problem then? Why should proponents of religious liberty, who have had much to worry about in Canada lately, not be breaking out the confetti at this bit of good news?

The reason, I’d suggest, for holding off on the party is that what the court has delivered is really a very limited bit of happy tidings. It’s nice that all the justices have allowed that forcing a Catholic school to teach Catholicism from a secular perspective is not on. But it would have been far nicer if the majority had recognized that legally imposing on a Catholic school in this way is not merely an unnecessary limit given the particular statutory goals at issue in this case, but before that a full-on defeat of the very purpose of a religious institution and thereby an explicit and eternal violation of constitutionally protected religious freedom.