America’s Future Depends on Catholics

Blessing the flag at Benedictine College's convocation.

Here’s my July 4 Gregorian Institute post for the Fortnight For Freedom, Day 14.

The promise of the Declaration of Independence has never quite been fulfilled. But it can be, if religious people — and especially Catholics — do their job.

In its earliest years, America celebrated the right to liberty every Fourth of July even though slavery made those celebrations a lie. But then Christian abolitionists and the deeply religious Abraham Lincoln ended slavery by calling the country back to its founding principles.

After that, we celebrated the right to the pursuit of happiness even while we denied women the right to vote and refused to give blacks equal dignity with whites. But Christian suffragettes like Susan B. Anthony and a civil-rights movement led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. changed that, again by appealing to our founding principles.

Today we celebrate the right to life on the Fourth of July despite being a nation in which abortion is the most common surgery performed on mothers under age 40. And today, as always, it is religious people who are insisting America follow its founding vision.

Religion is crucial to America’s future for three reasons.

Religion is crucial because America’s founding principles are religious principles. Our Founding Fathers declared that we are “endowed by Our Creator” with certain rights. Those rights rested on the foundation of the “laws of nature and of nature’s God.”

Religion is crucial because America is a system of self-government. People who live by a high standard of conduct can be trusted to govern themselves. People who don’t, can’t. If moral commitment doesn’t control the people, government must.

And third, religion is the key to America’s future because there really is a God who really is our creator. He really is the basis of the authority of government, the animator of our freedom and the source of our morality. He really does bless those who recognize him. And those who fall out of grace with him always do so to their ruin.

In his 1996 trip to Baltimore, Pope John Paul II pointed out that “the democratic system itself” is “shaken in its foundations” when it is twisted against human rights.

But America, he said, “possesses a safeguard, a great bulwark, against this happening. I speak of your founding documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. These documents are grounded in and embody unchanging principles of the natural law whose permanent truth and validity can be known by reason, for it is the law written by God in human hearts.”

If religion is the key to America, then the biggest political crisis in our country right now is its crisis of faith.

“‘In a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation, and a democracy without values can lose its very soul,’” said Pope Benedict XVI at the White House, quoting Pope John Paul II. He added, “Those prophetic words in some sense echo the conviction of President Washington, expressed in his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent ‘indispensable supports’ of political prosperity.”

He said that losing the battle for religious identity in public life wouldn’t just be a loss for religious people – the loss would mortally wound democracy itself.

“Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation,” he said.

We would argue that the task of renewing the moral foundations of Democracy falls to Catholics most of all.

After all, Catholic theology uniquely understands the interrelationship between natural law and divine revelation. Just as Thomas Aquinas was the great defender of both theology and common sense, Catholics today uniquely understand aspects of natural law the world has forgotten: Our teachings on abortion, marriage and even contraception are defenses of what man can know without revelation.

Second, Catholics are most responsible for the future of America because of sheer numbers. Below-replacement level birthrates mean the old Protestant America is driving itself off a demographic cliff. Immigration from Mexico, Central and South America mean a new and more Catholic America is rising.

And last, Catholics are most responsible for the future of America because we are the Church founded by Christ on the rock of Peter, which he promised would prevail against the gates of hell. And the Pope himself is raising the warning. The Holy Father told U.S. bishops recently: “It is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States comes to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness.”

Throughout the Fortnight for Religious Freedom, the Gregorian Institute has tried to offer practical suggestions for how each of us can respond to his suggestions.

We offered ways to sharpen that witness spiritually: By inviting others to Sunday Mass, confession, prayer and service.

We offered ways to take a direct involvement in the political questions of our day: By encouraging political vocations, voting, and action for the right to life.

And we hope we have made the case that the Gregorian Institute itself is helping answer the Holy Father’s call for “an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity [to participate] in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.”

Can the Church succeed? The Pope thinks so.  So do we.

He told us at Nationals Stadium in 2008 that what is needed above all is a renewal of the “apostolic zeal” that generations of Americans have specialized in. “We can and must believe, with the late Pope John Paul II, that God is preparing a new springtime for Christianity,” he said.

Amen. Let’s roll.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the National Catholic Register.


Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications department and edits the college’s Catholic identity speech digest, The Gregorian.



  • Kyle

    So Catholic commenters favor Gay Marriage +110? Wow, what a great Catholic website. I can tell its weakness is really changing hearts and minds already. This website is really becoming a joke.

    • Kyle

      It’s too bad that such a coordinated effort can so easily give the illusion that readers favor gay marriage.



  • tz1

    So during the fortnight, while philosophical minutiae was discussed, the abortion holocaust continued, about 50,000 more dead. 13 9-11s. That is the toll, so remember when you hear the bells.

  • Devocate

    Seems a lot of people just don’t get it. True freedom is freedom to do God’s will, as revealed by the Church. Gays, Lesbians, people who want to abort or use birth control should be FORBIDDEN from doing so as these go against God’s will (In the case of gays, they should probably be made to get reparative therapy, so that they can live truly free and fully human lives). Same thing with people who want to make/watch porn, masturbate, etc. Until our government starts enforcing the true laws of God society will continue to crumble.

  • Mara

    Tom, how does the suppression of the right of gays to marry and the suppression of a woman’s right of choice uphold the the right of liberty and the pursuit of happiness? And using a religious definition of marriage is bogus because neither God nor Jesus created religion, humans did and then humans created the definition of religion. Suggesting that God had anything to do with it is a suppression of God. Suggesting that human beings would not be ethical were it not for religion suppresses not only all human beings but also the God you say created us. It also does not explain how people who have never been brought up within the confines of religious beliefs end up being ethical. Your rationale lacks rational thought and is based on the premise that the Catholic Church represents God when there is no proof of that. All there is is the Catholic Church saying that it’s true. That, my friend, is proof of nothing.

    • Tom Hoopes

      Didn’t use the religious definition of marriage. No one – not even women- have the right to choose to kill.

      • Mara

        Tom, in your response to Drew, you did indeed, use a religious definition of marriage. In protecting a woman’s right to her own body, the right to abort exists. Your response is once again religiously based and therefore unprovable.

        • Tom Hoopes

          Ahem, the person aborted has different DNA from the woman. The baby not her body. Unprove THAT.

          • Mara

            The fetus is completely dependent on the woman. Everything it needs is provided by the woman. It’s inside the woman. It has never taken a breath on its own. It IS the woman. It is not a person because a person lives outside the body of the woman and is no longer dependent on the woman for air. Your statement about DNA is meaningless.

          • Tom Hoopes

            Religious people believe that God created the universe; we trust science. Non-religious people end up saying “The baby is its own mother. Because I want it to be.”

          • Heather

            It IS the woman? Wow…Biology 101…does the fetus just stop BEING the woman when it is born? My kid…was ME while HE was in my womb? Or wait – are premature babies really persons? I mean, many of them have to be helped to stay alive by machines for awhile…oh, wait! Then the baby IS the machine until it is no longer dependent on it for air! Your LOGIC is meaningless and Tom is right – “Because I want it to be.”

  • conner

    I agree. I support freedom for all Americans this fourth of July. I might disagree that gay and lesbian couples are married, but that doesn’t change the fact that they deserve the right to live their lives based on their beliefs. The government has no business telling me who I can and cannot marry, and it certainly has no right telling other Americans that they can’t marry the person that they love. Either this fortnight is about the freedom of all Americans to live based on their beliefs, or it’s about nothing. Right now it looks like it’s about nothing.

  • Drew

    On this fortnight for freedom, I was forced to reflect on freedom. I don’t see how banning gay couples from legal marriage is consistent with any of the values you note above. Certainly they have a right to live their lives based on their religious beliefs just like I do. Banning them from marriage prevents that. Certainy they have a right to happiness, just like I do. Banning them from commuting their lives to the person that they love infringes on their right to happiness. I hope all Catholics join me on this fortnight to celebrate a wide, welcoming America where we are all treated with equality, dignity and respect. Join me in supporting civil marriage for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. They deserve nothing less.

    • Tom Hoopes

      If marriage is just the government affirming our declaration that we love each other, then you’re exactly right. And I don’t see any reason to be married. I don’t need the government to affirm my love for my wife. ……… If the institution of marriage exists to encourage the procreation and raising of children (and bonding of one generation to the next), then we should be very careful about changing the definition such that it no longer does that. ……….. In that case changing the definition would be disastrous.

      • Tom Hoopes

        Oh, and to pre-empt: The nature of institution of marriage is not changed by the fact that some couples cannot have children any more than the institution of education is changed by the fact that some teachers can’t teach, or the institution of law enforcement is changed by the fact that some police offers are at home on disability. …… But you still wouldn’t want to let teachers call themselves “police” because they really want that, or police “teachers.”

      • Paul

        Oh please. Being able to procreate has never been a requirement for marriage. Are you trying to say on this “fortnight for freedom” that we are here to ban all infertile couples from getting a civil marriage license at city hall? Please stop with these ridiculous arguments. Really what it boils down to is that catholics deserve freedoms, but gay Americans don’t because you don’t agree with their views on marriage. That’s the epitome of intolerance. It’s also the epitome of hypocrisy. I’m sorry, but that is the truth.

        • Tom Hoopes

          Lots of people don’t get to redefine marriage the way they would like. Polygamists, people who want to marry their cousins, etc. ………… Your argument is historically inaccurate (marriage has ALWAYS been a heterosexual arrangement). ……. You’re asking society to abolish marriage as it has always been understood, as the basic building block of society, by every significant nation and every major religion, and redefine it as a “government valentine” that means nothing more than “I told the government I love my squeeze!”

          • peter

            You’re right. Marriage is an important part of our society. It provides legal benefits, government protections, and is understood by all. That’s why it’s so horrid to deprive gay couples of marriage. It causes harm to them and their families by putting them on unequal footing as heterosexual couples. Also, allowing gays to marry doesn’t abolish anything. Heterosexuals will still be free to marry, and you will be free to believe that marriage is only for heterosexual unions just as you did before!

          • Tom Hoopes

            Finish your argument: 1. Why are legal benefits and protections provided for marriage? 2. What groupings, if any, should be denied the right to marry and why? Father-daughter? Husband-multiple wives? Cousin-cousin? Brother-sister?



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