Three Reasons Obama’s Newest Attack on Religious Liberty Concerns Catholics


Catholic Charities of New York distributed food on Thanksgiving to people in need.

Last week, I reported that the Obama White House is working on an executive order that will impact federal contractors. Conceived as an effort to curtail unjust discrimination against LGBT persons, the new rule could impose a hefty price tag on Catholic and other faith-based federal contractors. In effect, the new order could force federally contracted Catholic adoption services – for example – to choose between conforming to President Obama’s progressive, anti-family agenda or closing their doors and shutting down.

But, why should this issue matter to Catholics? Why can’t Catholics let their federal contractor status lapse and hand the charitable social work done under that umbrella over to the government? The answer is that this issue matters a lot to us because it impacts the nature and mission of the Church and the reality of marriage and the family.

Here are three reasons Catholics need to heed the news about Obama’s new rule.

First, the new executive order poses a recognizable and undeniable threat.

Similar rules have forced archdioceses and dioceses around the nation to forfeit their contracted charitable social work. But, Christ The Lord calls the Church to the work of social justice, which is essential to her nature. The Church cannot give that work up. Indeed, she lives her life in this world in service to the whole integral good of man whether she carries out that service at the level of the individual or under the aegis of a federal grant recipient or a faith-based federal contractor.

Pope Benedict XVI taught in his inaugural encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, that “The entire activity of the Church is an expression of a love that seeks the integral good of man.” And, the Church carries out her service to the integral good of the human person “in order to attend constantly to man’s sufferings and his needs, including material needs” (DCE, n. 19). As the encyclical puts it, this charitable social work is – in fact – a manifestation of Trinitarian love in the world.

But, some are calling upon the Church to wash her hands of her federal contractor status and to re-commit to performing her good works independent of Obama’s dollars. Folks, let’s not forget something here: Those are our dollars. They belong to the American people. We gave them to the Feds. Catholics have as much a right to them as anyone else. So, let’s not allow the Feds to crowd us out because we refuse to conform to Obama’s radical social agenda.

There’s something else worth considering here, though. If the Church sought to do good in the world in other ways, independent of the status of a federal contractor, she’d be capitulating to an insidious social agenda, which the new presidential mandate weaves into the fabric of our public life. And, that’s the second reason Catholics need to heed the news about this mandate.

Truth be told, the new executive order communicates the message that children are not persons – gifts – but claims to which someone can have a right. According to the logic of the new rule, gays and lesbians have as much a right to adopt a child as a family rooted in traditional marriage. But, by advancing that message, the new rule writes into the fabric of our law an anthropological heresy.

Contrary to that heresy, Catholics believe that children are meant to be received as gifts and that marriage and the family are the proper context for the reception of those gifts. Placing them in a household that is not built upon a stable marriage between a man and a woman open to life and capable of fatherhood and motherhood would deprive them of that basic right.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states “A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift.” Indeed, “the ‘supreme gift of marriage’ is a human person.” And, as such, “A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged ‘right to a child’ would lead.” Rather, “In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right ‘to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents,’ and ‘the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception'” (CCC 2378). In this connection, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states that “It is in the family, therefore, that the mutual giving of self on the part of man and woman united in marriage creates an environment of life in which children ‘develop their potentialities, become aware of their dignity and prepare to face their unique and individual destiny'” (CSDC, n. 212).

In the simplest terms, the new executive order would write into our legal and political culture – without prior democratic discourse and debate – an affront to the nature and mission of the Church in the world and an anthropological heresy that would militate against the Gospel of the Family and the dignity and rights of children. It is for that reason that the Church must stand her ground: She has a duty to preach the Gospel of the Family and to protect the dignity of children.

But, in the midst of this Obama-induced fracas, there is at least one silver lining. And, that lining is the third reason Catholics need to heed this news now.

The new executive order is being drafted at an opportune moment. Between June 21 and July 4, the US bishops’ will hold their annual Fortnight for Freedom. As promotional materials for this year’s event point out, the focus of the event will be on “the freedom to serve the poor and vulnerable in accord with human dignity and the Church’s teaching.” It goes without saying that President Obama’s executive order would negatively impact that right, constricting its free exercise.

As the website of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops observes, the 2014 Fortnight for Freedom will take place at “a time when our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power — St. Thomas Moore and St. John Fisher, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.” We know that prayer is powerful and that the intercession of the saints is efficacious. So, let’s storm heaven with our prayers!

As we do so, let’s be sure to check out the website for the Fortnight for Freedom. It’s got some great resources we can all use in the battle ahead. You’ll find the website at

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

John Paul Shimek is a 2003 honors graduate of Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire--one of the oldest Benedictine colleges in North America. He holds ecclesiastical degrees from the graduate schools of Philosophy, Theology, and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Those degrees were awarded to him in the names of Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinals Theodore McCarrick and Donald Wuerl. His academic specializations include the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Second Vatican Council, and Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. John Paul has provided special counsel to numerous Church leaders, including both the former and current archbishops of Milwaukee, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Jerome Listecki. Most recently, he served as a technical theological assistant to Archbishop Listecki during the preparation of a pastoral letter for the Year of Faith. He has been interviewed and he has written on a wide spectrum of religious and public forum issues for numerous media outlets, including CNN, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Telemundo, Zenit, the Catholic News Agency, the National Catholic Register, Catholic Exchange, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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