Background to a Little Epiphany

If you have been following my musings over the “Religious Freedom Crisis,” then you know my sorrows:

I of course wholeheartedly believe the moral teaching of the Church. But I don’t really see how asserting our First-Amendment rights advances our cause.

For instance, when I read “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” I thought…

This document includes a paragraph making the distinction between conscientiously objecting to a just law and refusing to obey an unjust law. One may conscientiously refuse to serve when drafted, but the draft is not unjust.

Okay. But isn’t a law requiring abortions unjust? Unjust to the unborn? None of the unborn are Catholics, but they all have the right not to be killed. Isn’t a law requiring proof of U.S. citizenship before receiving medical care–isn’t the law unjust to the medical patient, regardless of his or her religion?

ERGO: Religious freedom for Catholics is not the central issue. The central issue is justice for defenseless human beings.

Then I read some moral-theological proposals about how to conceive of the problem.

I recognized myself as a hopeless “act-based” moralist. Hopeless because I can’t really see what we will be judged on in the end, other than our acts and omissions. Will we be judged on the “symbolic power” of the t.v. shows we watch? Only insofar as we chose or did not choose to watch them.

So I am hopelessly act-based in my moral analysis. And I am irredeemably individualistic about it. I can’t quite figure how I could be judged for something I unknowingly co-operate with in a remote manner, especially if the law binds me to do so. And how could I fail to be judged for intending to co-operate with something evil, even if I simultaneously engaged in symbolic gestures supporting the good people I know?

But then something dawned on me.

The Church must be considered a proper moral agent, in Her fulfillment of Her mission. The Church does good and avoids evil. Those who guide Her make decisions regarding what She does. Because of this, when She is mis-guided and errs culpably, She bears a corporate responsibility.

(Obviously, she never errs in teaching faith and morals as the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. But She can act immorally as, for instance, as the Archdiocese of Boston, or as Father So-and-so, or as St. Such-and-such School.)

The Catholic Church in the U.s. exists as a moral agent. She acts in all Her official “Catholic” institutions. And everyone who calls him or herself Catholic co-operates with Her.

Thinking along these lines, an irredeemable act-based, hopelessly individualistic moralist can assert, with a clear mind, that we cannot co-operate with evil, even if the civil law stipulates that we must.

Still not sure about First-Amendment litigation. But at least now I can conceive of who exactly the plaintiff would be.

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