Top Catholic Archbishop: Americans ‘Increasingly Subject to a Soft Despotism’

By Terence P. Jeffrey | June 4, 2015 | 12:11pm EDT
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

( - Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, who serves as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, has delivered a sermon warning that religious liberty is under attack in the United States and that American Christians “are being increasingly subject to a soft despotism.”

A transcript of the archbishop’s sermon--which was delivered at a special mass for Catholic lawyers in Broward County, Fla.--is now linked to a page on the USCCB’s website that is dedicated to the issue of religious liberty.

“While atrocities are committed against peoples and institutions of all the world’s religions, the International Society for Human Rights estimates that 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians and that some 150,000 Christians are killed for the faith every year,” said the archbishop. “So the Age of Martyrs did not conclude with the Peace of Constantine; it is still with us.”

“Even in our Western liberal democracies, discrimination against religion in general and Catholic Christianity in particular is growing--albeit in perhaps more sophisticated and less violent ways,” the archbishop said.

“But even as de Tocqueville pointed out almost 200 years ago, despotism comes in both soft and hard forms,” said the archbishop. “Your patron, St. Thomas More, beheaded for refusing to consent to King Henry VIII’s takeover of the Church, fell victim to a hard despotism. This type of hard despotism is decimating the Christian populations of the Middle East. But, in this country and other liberal democracies, people of faith are being increasingly subject to a soft despotism in which ridicule, ostracism, and denial of employment opportunities of advancement are being used to marginalize us.

“We see this when butchers, and bakers and candlestick makers are being put into the legal dock for refusing to renounce their religious beliefs,” said the archbishop in the sermon that was delivered on April 23 at St. Anthony Church in Fort Lauderdale.

“A new religious intolerance has established itself in our country--and it is being propagated by those who claimed to have been victims of previous instances of intolerance,” said the archbishop. “Christian pastors are stalked and threatened for being ‘Christian’ pastors, social scientists are expelled from universities for having turned up ‘politically incorrect’ facts, charitable organizations and confessional schools are harassed if they take seriously their faith’s moral precepts and required their employees to support their missions.”

The archbishop said that anti-religious forces in the United States are trying to limit freedom of religion to mean merely “freedom to worship.”

“In order to fit new political agendas, religious freedom is being reinterpreted narrowly to mean merely ‘freedom to worship’ but excluding the freedom to serve and/or the freedom to witness,” he said. “The Catholic Church in this country is currently battling in legislatures and in courts against this tendency. And it is not clear that we will prevail.  Education, family law, healthcare are just some of the areas in which narrow readings of religious freedom are paving the way for antireligious policies.”

The archbishop called on the lawyers he was addressing not to surrender to this trend—not to “neuter” themselves in the pursuit of money and status.

“In an environment increasingly hostile to faith, you as Catholic professionals will also increasingly experience the soft despotism of this new intolerance,” he said. “May the integrity and courage of St. Thomas More inspire you – and may his prayers strengthen you so that you will not consent to neuter yourselves just for worldly status and wealth.”

King Henry VIII beheaded Thomas More because More refused to take an oath recognizing the king as the supreme head of the church in England.

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