Before November, America Needs Its Own Mit Brennender Sorge

Or is Tax Exemption the New Thirty Pieces of Silver?

Dr. Peter W. Frey

Pope Pius XI and the future Pope Pius XII

warned Germany about this madman.

Will Catholic bishops warn America about the

madmen running for office this November?

(Posted August 28, 2008 Throughout history, there have been repeated clashes between the Catholic Church and secular governments of one form or another. In several cases, priests and bishops stood up courageously to challenge an all-powerful despotism. Two English bishops, St Thomas Becket and St John Fisher, did this at the cost of their lives: Becket for defending the temporal rights of the Church versus King Henry II, Fisher the lone prelate to oppose the usurpation of Church power by Henry VIII by opposing his adulterous marriage. In the twentieth century, a similar clash developed between the Church and Nazi Germany.

The venerable and courageous Pope Pius XI drafted an encyclical with the title “Mit Brennender Sorge" (“With burning concern") addressed to the German episcopate. The actual author was the then Secretary of State, Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII. Written in German, rather than Latin as was customary, the encyclical condemned the racist and pagan atheism of the Nazi regime, and the exaltation of the state or the “Volk” above God and Church. The document was smuggled into Germany and was read from the pulpit of every German church at Mass on Passion Sunday, 1937. Thus the Pope’s views on the totalitarian state were made known PUBLICLY. No German Catholic could claim ignorance of the Church’s teaching, nor did it leave any “wiggle room” for equivocation or “misunderstanding.” Reading it at Sunday Mass was a dramatic method to inform German Catholics. It caused a huge reaction across the country, and quite obviously enraged Hitler and his regime, which then began an intense persecution of the Church.

Today in the United States, there is another conflict between the stated views of society on important issues, the most important of which are abortion and homosexuality versus the teachings of the church. Ever since the Roe vs. Wade court decision, American society has created a “right” for women to “choose” an abortion. Several states have passed laws changing the concept of holy matrimony beyond its God-defined end as between one man and one woman. In Catholic moral teaching, NO ONE, and no state has any authority over the moral order or the natural law. Thus American society and the Roman Catholic Church are on a collision course.

What is most alarming is the fact that, unlike Nazi Germany, we live in a free society, where the citizen can exercise his rights, where open elections are held, and where civic responsibility is part of our national heritage. With the Church’s teaching being very well known, with instant media access, no one in America can claim not to know what is going on concerning these important civil and moral issues.

The Church has made it abundantly clear where it stands on the issues of abortion, euthanasia and marriage. To be sure, there are some Church teachings where there is room for discussion, debate and honest disagreement. These include such issues as capital punishment, just war and diverse means of achieving social justice. Such is assuredly NOT the case with these other major issues. What is most outrageous in all this is that far too many elected public officials, including those seeking the highest offices in the land, profess to be Roman Catholics in good standing, yet who brazenly defy the teachings of the Church with no credible claim to misunderstanding or other excuse. These “catholic” politicians seem to feel that they can not only take public positions in direct disobedience to the church, but can continue to receive Holy Communion as well. There is no need to list these officials here; they are too well known.

Up to this point, several bishops have spoken out about this matter, and more recently, especially with the statements of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, more and more bishops are courageously speaking out in the manner of St Thomas Becket, St John Fisher and Pope Pius XI. So far, however, too many other bishops have been tepid or even silent on the matter. Some, while expressing opposition to the actions of Pelosi, et al, have not addressed the issue of Holy Communion.

Unworthy reception of Holy Communion by a Catholic publicly presumed to be in mortal sin, is sacrilege and blasphemy. The matter now goes beyond a public official’s stated views, but brings it into direct conflict with the laws of the Church concerning the protection of the most Holy Eucharist. It is in this matter, perhaps even more than the abortion issue itself. And this is what brings me to “Mit Brennender Sorge.” Let it not be said that the Church was “silent” as babies were murdered, or that it did nothing to prevent this outrage.

It is past time for the U.S. bishops to continue to temporize, equivocate or obfuscate behind words with no action. In my youth, I recall there was one Sunday a year when, during Mass, Catholics were told to rise and pledge their allegiance to the Legion of Decency, which reviewed motion pictures of the day, declaring which were morally unsuitable for Catholic viewing. (As an aside most of the films of that era would by today’s standards be in the “Disney” category.) Catholics pledged not to attend such morally dangerous films and were told that attendance thereat would constitute “grave matter for confession.”

In this election year, the U.S. bishops need to take an example from Pope Pius XI and publicly read a statement at every Mass throughout the country 1) that no Catholic can, in good conscience, vote for or otherwise support a pro abortion candidate or their policies and 2) that those who publicly affirm these policies are barred from the sacraments until they make a public repudiation of their position. They must inform every priest, deacon and “Eucharistic minister” that they are forbidden to administer the sacrament to those known to them to be public sinners under penalty of excommunication. (This I believe is already in canon law or other church regulations concerning administration of the Eucharist.)

Just as in 1937 Germany, such a statement will send shock waves across the country; many will be “offended”, many may choose to leave the church, others will charge the church with “violating the separation of church and state.” LET THEM! At least, no one, in particular no Catholic, can henceforth claim ignorance or misunderstanding, or a right to legitimate dissent. Pope Benedict XVI once said he would almost prefer a smaller but more vibrant Church as he observed the dwindling number of practicing Catholics. Perhaps indeed this should be the result. And in consequence, if the price of this is the loss of tax exempt status for the Church, so be it—it would be a small price to pay for the Church to, in charity, warn and rebuke those who have wandered from the shelter of the Barque of Peter.

Pope Pius XI’s encyclical was indeed titled “with burning concern” since the Church, as a loving mother, sometimes needs strong words and effective action in the promulgation of its Christ-given commission to preach the Gospel.