Pastor’s Perspective – September 13, 2020

*   Knights of Columbus Investiture

Thank you to all the men of our local St. Regis Knights of Columbus Council who have agreed to assume or maintain various leadership positions within the Council. For any man, 18 years or age or older, who is a fully initiated Catholic, the Knights are a fraternal organization that gathers for prayer, support of the parish, outreach in service and more. You might have read recently that Fr. Michael McGivney, who founded the Knights in the late 1800’s, will be beatified on October 31. He created the organization at a time when many fraternal organizations of men excluded Catholics from their ranks or were anti-Catholic in their practices and presentations. The Knights of Columbus provided a parallel experience for Catholic men, including initiation ceremonies that were kept secret, as a way to create a certain camaraderie and indicate the seriousness of joining. Very recently the Knights have opened all the initiation ceremonies (except for the final or ‘fourth degree’) so that family members and friends can be present. This is a welcome change. It helps to move the Knights from some sort of Catholic men’s secret club to a family-centered faith support for men and their families.

*   ”Fair and Equal Michigan” Statewide Petition (continued)

It would be best to read my article in last’s week’s bulletin before reading this because it provides the context for what I am saying below. I ended last week with the question of how one might oppose this “Fair and Equal” Petition Drive (which the Michigan Catholic Conference and the Bishops of Michigan are advising) without coming across as narrow-minded, judgmental, or even homophobic.

First and foremost, no matter who a person is, no matter their politics or social standing, their race or ethnicity, their sexual orientation or gender expression, as long as we are trying to walk a journey of faith open to God as disciples of Jesus, aware of our shared sinfulness but hungering for the grace of God’s healing, and willing to share that gift of God’s love in our daily lives as responsably as we are able, please know that you have a home in the Catholic community. I would hope that we at St. Regis would be such a welcoming home and walk with you on that journey. It would be tragic and a huge loss to the Church if anyone who is sincerely trying to live out their faith experiences the Church as closed to them.

As to the language of the petition drive itself, I will leave it to the lawyers to parse its meaning. It seems to me a distinction needs to be made between its attempt to extend civil protection to persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression and its attempt to equate religion as an institutional reality with religion as an individual belief. The former, though people of good will can dispute the necessity of adding that language to the law, does not seem to me to push the boundaries beyond what the common good can handle or beyond what the Supreme Court recently ruled. It is the latter change—the one that ties religion to individual religious belief—that seems most problematic to me if we are to respect our constitutional separation of church and state.

Currently, in nearly all court cases on the state or federal level when the matter involves the implementation of a church or religion’s internal belief system, the courts have stayed out of that issue. They have understood that religion is not just a matter of individual personal belief, but involves the whole supporting structure of the religious institution. No one is forced to be a member of a religion. No one has a right to work within a religious institution and be a public representative of that religion simply because someone wants to. To work or operate within a religious institution carries with it the understanding that certain requirements can be placed on employment and activities that reflect the religion’s belief system. At the same time, the courts have held religions to the same standard as the rest of society if it does not involve a matter of belief or the belief violates a person’s fundamental constitutional rights. For example, in its hiring practices the Church is held to the same standard in terms of no discrimination based on age. Or, if a religion were to use the color of a person’s skin as a determining factor in hiring, it would be subject to the same lawsuits as other employers.

The petition is adding a definition of religion as including “the religious beliefs of an individual.” This sets up many potential conflicts if that individual is employed within or served by a religious institution and has “religious beliefs” on issues that are contrary to the religion’s own and publicly advocates such issues, for example, a teacher in a Catholic school who publicly advocates for abortion rights. Will the Church, as it has been able to do until now, have the ability to let that employee go? Or, with the new wording will that now be called illegal discrimination as long as the employee claims it is their sincerely held “religious belief”? Many other potential conflicts can be envisioned which will challenge the very notion of a separation of “church” (as a religious institution) and state. Some concluding remarks next week.

Fr. Buersmeyer

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