Persecution of the Church is a sign of the times

Msgr. Charles PopeQuestion: A lot of Catholics today are lamenting persecutions from secular sources. But isn’t this hypocritical? Don’t Catholics persecute and mock homosexuals and transgender people and seek to impose your views? Isn’t Catholic history rife with persecuting nonbelievers?

Greg Hamilton, Portland, Oregon

Answer: You are using the word “persecution” in a rather wide sense. To some degree you are equating disagreement or dissatisfaction with a view or lifestyle with persecution. But persecution is something far more vigorous than disagreement, dissatisfaction or even ridicule.

The word “persecution” is from the Latin root persequi, meaning “to follow, pursue, hunt down, proceed against, prosecute or (in an extended sense) to start a legal action.” It implies a vigorous and persistent action. As such, persecution involves more than social pressure or what you call mockery. Too often today, mere disagreement is called hate or mockery, but it is not always the case.

Persecution also presupposes a power structure that is able to prosecute and punish. Hence, in our cultural setting, to be able to persecute requires the force of law and government, which can inflict punishment through legal sanctions or physical force

Religiously observant people today have very little — if any — of the power required to carry out persecution in the formal sense. On the other hand, proponents of the sexual revolution and those of a secular mindset are very much aligned with the state and quite willing to use the punitive force of law.

In America and throughout the world, Christian believers are being hauled into courts, sued and legally threatened. Christian bakers and photographers in the wedding industry are being sued repeatedly. Food chains and other Christian marketers are being sidelined from airports and other public settings for the simple fact that their owners do not support the recent notion of same-sex “marriage.” The Little Sisters of the Poor are back in court for the fifth time, and Catholic pharmacists are being decertified because they will not supply contraceptives or abortifacient drugs. Catholic Charities also is being excluded from obtaining government contracts for adoption services because we favor married heterosexual couples over single parents or same-sex couples. Christians also legally are being forbidden from public prayer or the display of their faith.

The Church and other Christian-based groups have no similar legal powers to impose our views as you suggest. The imposition of views is quite dominated these days by those rooted in the sexual revolution.

Regarding the persecution by the Church in the past, there is a tendency to simplify and exaggerate what took place. To the degree that persecutions took place, they are condemnable. Honestly, they were never on the scale of what has taken place in the last 150 years with the rise of secular states. Even the most conservative estimates are that 200 million people were put to death for religious and ideological purposes in Germany and in Communist blocs in the 20th century alone. There is simply nothing even close to those sorts of numbers resulting from more ancient religious persecutions.

But for the sake of argument, let’s cede your point. If you are wanting to denounce religious persecution, join with me in denouncing the secular persecutions of this age! Is not all persecution to be denounced? Why legally compel Christians and others to cooperate with behaviors that have been condemned in Scripture and in culture for millennia? Why call us hateful, bigoted, misogynist, homophobic and so on? Is this not the very mockery you condemn? Why not accept that many of us withhold approval from the sexual revolution for sincerely held religious beliefs?

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.

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