On Independence Day last Thursday, our family was privileged to assist at the Closing Mass of the the Fortnight for Freedom at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of Catholic University of American in Washington, D.C. Aside from the obnoxious tambourine-shaking and drum-beating revelers from Neocatechumenal Way, who crowded the courtyard outside the narthex, it was wonderful. The basilica was packed with worshipers of every age, nationality, and ethnic background. We arrived ten minutes early and got the last open pew! Cardinal Wuerl was the celebrant, and most of the Mass was either chanted in the vernacular or sung according to a beautiful setting by music director Peter Latona. It lasted over 90 minutes, but no one, including some of the more rambunctious Leonardi children, seemed to mind. Before the dismissal, Archbishop William Lori mounted the lectern and identified two specific threats to religious freedom and urged us to oppose them: (1) the acceleration of the campaign for same-sex marriage in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act and (2) Obama’s pro-abortion and contraception Health and Human Services standards, set to take effect next month. His words were stirring and had a discernible impact on the congregation, which cheered him enthusiastically when he was done. It was a far cry from what evidently took place at Bellarmine Chapel on the campus of Cincinnati’s Xavier University. There, pastor Dan Hartnett, S.J., flagrantly misrepresented Church teaching, claiming, “It is not the role of the church, as a block, to take positions on such debates” and that these matters — he specifically mentions same-sex marriage and abortion — are subject to “prudent judgment.” Here are the opening paragraphs:

We come together today, first of all, to give thanks for this extraordinary nation: a nation that has served, not only as a physical or geographical home for us all, but a place where most of us have enjoy the opportunity to flourish and to live in relative harmony.

At the same time, we gather knowing that our country has gone through some difficult times and continues to do so. We are still involved in far too many wars abroad; and there is growing inequality in our own land. We still have a long way to go before justice becomes a lived reality. Therefore, in addition to our gratitude, we are here also to ask for God’s grace and guidance.
On this Independence Day, it is appropriate to recall the words of the Declaration of Independence: “we hold these truths to be self-evident: all people are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. It was on this basis of this firm conviction that America launched a beautiful experiment in freedom.

But today our country faces new challenges and new questions, many of which were not even envisioned by our country’s founders. Just this past week, debates unfolded in our country on topics as diverse as same-sex marriage, voting rights, abortion and immigration reform. It is not the role of the church, as a block, to take positions on such debates. Our role, rather, is to encourage the Christian community to understand the underlying issues and to arrive at prudent judgments on the basis of well-informed and well-formed consciences.

Hartnett continues his July 4th homily urging Americans to embrace “a thicker notion of freedom” based on “a paradigm of inter-dependence.”

And don’t hold your breath waiting for Archbishop Schnurr to rebuke him; that ship has sailed.

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