My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Many of the priests, nuns and lay Catholics in our diocese are descendants of German immigrants who left Germany in the 19th century during the Kulturkampf of the “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck of the German Empire.
The German term Kulturkampf (literally, “culture struggle”) refers to German policies enacted from 1871 to 1878 promoting secularity that adversely affected the Catholic Church. Bismarck sought to bolster the power of the secular state and reduce the political and social influence of the Roman Catholic Church by instituting political control over church activities. It is generally accepted among historians that the measures of the Kulturkampf targeted the Catholic Church with discriminatory sanctions. Many historians also point out anti-Polish elements in Bismarck’s policies.
When new laws restricting the Catholic Church were passed in May 1873, the bishops of Germany issued a common pastoral letter in which they made known to the faithful the reasons why all must offer to these laws a passive but unanimous resistance. When they declared that they would not co-operate with these laws, almost without exception the clergy obeyed the mandate of the bishops. Thereupon the punishments prescribed by the laws for their violation were at once applicable; in hundreds of cases fines were soon imposed on the clergy for the execution of their ecclesiastical ministry. As none of the condemned clergy would voluntarily pay the imposed fines, these were forcibly collected, to the great irritation and embitterment of the Catholic parishioners.
Priests and bishops who resisted the Kulturkampf were arrested or removed from their positions. By the height of anti-Catholic legislation, half of the Prussian bishops were in prison or in exile, a quarter of the parishes had no priest, half the monks and nuns had left Prussia, a third of the monasteries and convents were closed, 1,800 parish priests were imprisoned or exiled (many of whom came to central Illinois), and thousands of laypeople were imprisoned for helping the priests. In the end, Bismarck’s Kulturkampf collapsed in failure, but not before it had imposed much suffering and hardship on the Catholic community.
I write all this because we are seeing a different but very virulent form of Kulturkampf gaining ground here in the United States. In our American context, this has been referred to as the “Culture Wars,” which, like Germany in the 19th century, promotes a secular view of the world and seeks to diminish the role of religion and restrict the influence of Christians in general and Catholics in particular. Prominent in this secular agenda are the promotion of abortion and assaults on the traditional understanding of marriage and family life.
For example, the Office of the Illinois Attorney General recently sent a letter to our Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois alleging that we are in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act because we have “requirements for potential foster or adoptive parents that are not required by Illinois law — for example, requirements about religious beliefs — or refuse to provide services based on the marital status or sexual orientation of a potential foster or adoptive parent.”
In other words, the Illinois Attorney General apparently wants to force Catholic Charities to make placements contrary to our Catholic values and conscience. Catholic Charities provides foster care and adoptive services primarily to assist Catholic families and Catholic married couples. We have a constitutional right under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to the free exercise of religion according to our religious beliefs and doctrines. We will exercise our legal options to protect our constitutional rights, but if it reaches the point that the government is going to seek to force us to act contrary to our religious beliefs, then we will be forced out of foster care and adoptive services by governmental coercion.
Similarly, in an assault on the religious beliefs of Catholic pharmacists, the Office of the Illinois Attorney General says that it plans to appeal the decision of a Sangamon County Circuit Court judge who struck down a 6-year-old state rule that required Illinois pharmacies to dispense the so-called “morning after pills,” which can also be used to induce abortions. The pharmacy owners in this lawsuit, who are also pharmacists, oppose dispensing “emergency contraception” on religious grounds. The judge determined that the rule, which was first instituted by impeached and convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2005, violated the Illinois Healthcare Right of Conscience Act, the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Free Exercise of Religion clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. It is baffling why Attorney General Lisa Madigan would want to expend scarce state revenues to defend such a blatantly illegal and unconstitutional state rule from the discredited Blagojevich era. The only apparent reason would be to pursue a key item in the agenda of the culture warriors.
Also, President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently made it clear that they would have shut down the federal government rather than eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, an organization that performed 332,278 abortions in 2009 — one abortion every 95 seconds. While Planned Parenthood says that no federal dollars go to abortion, Planned Parenthood’s own numbers show that more than 97 percent of pregnant women it treated were given abortions and that fewer than 3 percent received non-abortion services such as adoption or prenatal care. Video footage has shown staffers at Planned Parenthood clinics avoiding their legal obligations to report statutory rape and willing to provide abortions for teenagers. Our federal tax dollars continue to support such illegal and immoral activities because this is another key battle front for the culture warriors.
The Solemnity of Easter is a celebration of grace conquering sin, life defeating death. In the end, the German Kulturkampf collapsed. In the American culture wars as well, evil can be overcome and good can prevail if we pray, persevere in hope, and keep our faith in the power and the glory of the Risen Christ.
May God give us this grace. Amen.