Rorate Caeli

Can the Catholic Church be the Champion against the forces of militant secular liberalism?

 I write as a Catholic priest who both loves this country of the United States of America and who is also alarmed and angry at the forces that proclaim their roots in “liberalism” and which  persistently  push  an agenda that is anti-religious and contrary to what most people in this country still believe:  that there is a basic moral law that can be known by all men and women and that the only real basis for civil rights of the individual is belief in a transcendent God. 


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 



These famous words that are part of the introduction to the Declaration of Independence lie at the very heart of the foundations on which the American experiment is based.  The assertion that “these truths are self-evident” has its basis in belief in the Natural Law. The Natural Law has its roots in Western philosophy and in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.  Natural Law declares that every thinking human being understands that there is a rational moral structure underlying human interaction at all levels and that to transgress this moral law is a crime against humanity itself.  When the founders of this country proclaimed the “self-evident” nature of these truths that make up the Natural Law, they were not invoking any religion to back up this fundamental claim of a shared understanding of the truths of the Natural Law. Nor did they believe that these truths depended on one’s education or place in the social structure of society.  They were based on a firm philosophical conviction of the existence of a Moral Law that must be the basis of a truly civilized and free nation.


The second part of the introduction of the Declaration of Independence does indeed base the “unalienable rights” of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on the existence of a divine Creator, that is, on the existence of God.  There is no doubt that Jefferson’s conception of this Creator differed from that of John Adams and both from that of their Puritan forbears.  Nevertheless, what they shared in common is a belief in a transcendent Being who is the origin and basis for these inalienable rights of humankind.


Both of these fundamental assertions in the prologue to the Declaration of Independence are no longer believed by an important segment of the people of this country today.  That “important segment” is actually a minority in terms of percentage of the American people, and it is this segment that denies the existence of Natural Law and the foundation of human rights in a Creator God.  The arrogant and powerful triumvirate of prestigious academic institutions, the mind- numbing force of the illiberal liberal media, and the political forces that are trying, in the name of freedom and equality, to undermine the very bases of American freedom and equality:  these are the main elements in the present forces of  the militant secular liberalism that threaten to forget and deny the founding principles of the United States.



One of the telling choices for the various categories of voters in the analysis of the pre-election polls and the post-election results has been “non-college educated”. The purpose of this category has been to denigrate those who have no college education by showing that they overwhelmingly voted against the liberal agenda and therefore are to be written off as not very intelligent and therefore not important to the future of this country.  These people are treated as basically stupid, because they still believe in history as something that cannot be changed at will to serve a political agenda. They represent, without romanticism, the Forgotten Men and Women of this country. The condescension shown to these many Americans by the liberal media rips the mask off the “liberality” of their words and shows clearly what their agenda ultimate is:  the destruction of the social, political and religious fabric of this country to achieve a future without the baggage of self-evident truths and belief in a God who is the source of the rights of mankind.  


The question must be faced as to whether the forces of the secular liberal agenda can be stopped.  It certainly will not be stopped by Republican senators who pass themselves off as “conservatives”.  They show no sign of moral and intellectual leadership and certainly no courage at the present singular moment in time in this country.  On the other side, there is no hope that the President-elect will stand firm against the strong secular thrust of his party.  He does not at all understand what is at stake in the next four years in terms of what a strong minority of his party want this country to become, namely something unrecognizable to not only the Founders but to countless generations of Americans down to this day, where religious discourse will be forbidden in the public sphere of politics and legislation.


Can the religious leaders of this country rise up and actively oppose the noxious secularism that opposes religious faith of any kind?  It is indeed doubtful, given the current religious scene in this country, the majority of which is Christian.  Liberal Protestantism long ago gave up the doctrinal tenets of Christianity and have morphed into a group that goes through the motions but in the end approves of the march towards secular liberalism.  The Evangelical Protestants who still believe in Jesus Christ have lost much of their clout because of their alliance with a political conservatism of the past that has played itself out in terms of relevance and cannot stand up to the forces of secular liberalism. 


And then there is the Catholic Church.  The role of the Catholic Church in Western world history is strong and real.  It has been always a major force in that history, even if it has not always lived up to the teachings of its faith.  When one thinks of the role of the Catholic Church in Western history, one tends to think of its role as a political and social force.  But its greatest contribution to the history of the West has been the strong role it has played in the intellectual history of the West.   The very concept of the University and its beginning as a social institution of learning is part of the great intellectual legacy of the Catholic Church. Even after the Protestant Reformation, Catholic scholars and thinkers continued to contribute to the intellectual life of the Western world, not merely in theology and philosophy but also in what we now call science. The Protestant founders of this country were conversant not only with Cicero and Locke but also with Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and even Robert Bellarmine.


Is the Catholic Church then the hope of this world in which we live to be the force that counters the strong forces of an aggressive secular liberalism that seem to be unstoppable?  It would seem that the answer to this question must be “No”, given the weakened state of the Catholic Church in this country today.  When we look at the history of the Church in the United States, we see that Catholics were definitely “outsiders” for most of the history of the United States. None of them came here on the Mayflower.  Most came in steerage from various parts of Europe. The Church here never built an intellectual tradition like that in Europe, for it was too busy with matters of brick and mortar and fighting prejudice and suspicion from Protestant America.  Catholics came into their own in the years after World War II and became more accepted as “real Americans”. They were assimilated in the great American melting pot, even if they worshipped in an unintelligible language, kept some strange customs, and were soft on individual freedom. 


The Second Vatican Council and its aftermath in the 1960s and 1970s swept away this new found security of acceptance and presented severe challenges to the Church.  The collapse of the religious orders and the priesthood in those years, then the sexual scandals involving clergy and the attempted cover-up of these crimes by the hierarchy, the precipitous decline in Sunday Mass attendance, the lack of intellectual and spiritual leadership of so many bishops, who took the CEO of a corporation as their model;  and the latest evidence of the corruption of the clergy in high places in the McCarrick Report, which itself was shocking not only in its description of the rise and fall of a Cardinal who was a sexual predator but also in its refusal to acknowledge the moral corruption that existed and still exists in the Catholic episcopacy.


When we look at the bishops of this country who cannot even stand as a group to admonish severely, in terms that are both intellectual and faithful, a President-elect who calls himself Catholic and who is totally supportive of the unnatural “right” of abortion that has been consistently condemned by the Church, it would seem that given the current weak state of the Catholic Church in this country we cannot place our hope there to counter the forces of secular liberalism that threaten not only this country but the Church as well.  But yet still I do have this hope for the Catholic Church in the United States. This hope does not spring from romanticism or blind faith on my part. This hope is founded on a fact, on the following fact:  that Christ founded his Church on a man who misunderstood him constantly, who betrayed him three times in a shameful way, who hid in an Upper Room for fear that the authorities would arrest him and kill him as they did himself, and who was jealous of his love for the apostle John to the very end. 


Not much room for hope there.  But the rest, as they say, is history, and in spite of times of darkness and weak faith, the Catholic Church has been the bearer of the Light that shines in the darkness.  That is her God-given mission. The question, as always, is one of faith.  The question to the bishops of the Church in the United States is the same one that Jesus asked Peter: “Who do you say that I am?”  And the same one that Jesus asked Martha: “Do you believe this?” The faithful response of the bishops to these questions, and the faithful response of priests and—just as importantly-- of laity must be the basis of our hope, not only for this our own country but also for the whole world.



Father Richard Gennaro Cipolla