The Challenges Before Us
A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: Whatever twists and turns might occur in our lives in 2022, followers of Christ know how the story ends.
The new year of 2022 has begun, and so, too, have the predictions of what issues and events will be of key significance to U.S. Catholics this year — both within the Church as well as in the public square.
As the month started, the escalating resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic via the rapid spread of the Omicron variant was atop the list of breaking stories. Only time will tell if Omicron represents the most harmful outbreak yet of COVID, courtesy of its high transmissibility, or if instead it represents light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, courtesy of the fact that for most of those infected, Omicron’s symptoms appear to be considerably milder than was the case with earlier variants.
But on the basis of the spiraling Omicron case counts, public authorities in many jurisdictions in the U.S. and other countries are intensifying their efforts to impose vaccination mandates on all public gatherings, including religious worship.
Any such clampdowns on our freedom to worship would be both unwarranted and unfair. It’s unwarranted because Catholic churches across the nation have implemented safety policies that have proven extremely effective at preventing the spread of COVID.
And it’s unfair because while most U.S. Catholics have opted to follow the guidance of Pope Francis and other Church leaders regarding the importance of getting vaccinated, some have decided not to do so for a range of legitimate reasons.
Many of these unvaccinated believers have declined on the grounds that all the currently available vaccines utilized abortion-derived tissues to some degree in their production. While the Vatican has advised that it is morally acceptable for Catholics to take these vaccines, those who disagree should not be refused access to worship as a result, so long as they continue to comply with the proven safety measures at their churches that prevent COVID’s spread.
Furthermore, some canonists believe that vaccination requirements for attendance at Catholic Masses are impermissible in principle. That’s because it’s a fundamental pastoral responsibility of the Church to make the sacraments available to all the faithful, without distinction.
The drive to implement vaccination mandates poses additional challenges to religious believers in their workplaces. The Biden administration and a number of state governments have been hostile toward granting of religious exemptions to employees who are required to be vaccinated. This hostility is obviously unconstitutional, as a federal judge in Texas noted when he issued an injunction on Jan. 3 against the imposition of the federal mandate for U.S. Navy Seals who are seeking religious exemptions. “There is no military exclusion from our Constitution,” the judge commented succinctly.
COVID-related concerns are not the only Catholic issues prominently in play as 2022 begins. Another is Pope Francis’ unexpectedly strict clampdown on the traditional Latin Mass, promulgated last summer in his motu proprio Traditionis Custodes and reinforced by a Vatican clarification regarding its implementation in December.
While the clarification immediately prompted Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago to apply Rome’s hard line within his own archdiocese, a more measured response from many other local bishops in the U.S. is likely to be manifested over the course of this year.
Another potential flashpoint is the unfolding Synod on Synodality process. Few Catholics would quarrel in principle with the synod’s stated purpose of touching base with the faithful throughout the world, seeking feedback about how the Church might better apply the principle of collaborative synodality to assist in its fundamental mission of Christian evangelization. But due to the scope and unfocused nature of the synodal discussion, and the widespread confusion about how to conduct the process, concerns are being expressed that the synod could sow more confusion than clarity.
To ensure that doesn’t happen, committed Catholics need to participate in the Synod on Synodality, thereby helping to shape a positive outcome. Sadly, though, activist groups who dissent from foundational Catholic moral teachings, such as the pro-“LGBT” New Ways Ministry, are also mobilizing, seeking to misuse the synodal process to undermine Church doctrine and advance their destructive agendas.
The recently launched U.S. National Eucharistic Revival poses no similar concerns. Focused on renewing Catholics’ appreciation of the centrality of the Eucharist to our faith, it’s a welcome and urgently needed initiative, in light of recent polls confirming the pervasive loss of belief among U.S. Catholics in the Real Presence as well as the continuing decline in Mass attendance.
These trends have been compounded by the ongoing COVID crisis, making this year’s inauguration of the three-year Eucharistic Revival even more timely.
With respect to public life, the impending U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs case far overshadows all other impending political issues. Oral arguments in the case, which addresses the constitutionality of a recent state law in Mississippi that banned abortion after 15 weeks, indicated that the court’s conservative majority is leaning strongly toward striking down Roe v. Wade, the profoundly flawed 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
If the court does eradicate legal abortion’s constitutional foundation, it will be the long-awaited judicial answer to the hard work and prayers of generations of faithful pro-life Catholics who have striven collectively for the last five decades to achieve this outcome.
At the same time, even though the hoped-for legal victory would represent a massive pro-life milestone, the challenges for the pro-life movement could be even greater in its aftermath. The focus will shift immediately to the state level, since individual states would likely regain the authority over abortion laws that they held prior to Roe. Along with joining actively in the political battles in individual states, Catholics must double down on their current pro-life initiatives to support women in crisis pregnancies, adoption programs, and aid for families in need. Only in this way can expectant mothers know that they will be loved and supported as they deserve, when they choose life for the babies in their wombs.
At the federal level, it can be anticipated that a Dobbs decision that overturns legal abortion will provoke an unprecedented torrent of fury from the abortion lobby and its political allies, against the parties they hold responsible. Indeed, Democratic strategists are already planning to utilize abortion as a wedge issue with female voters in the 2022 midterm elections, hoping to replay the “War on Women” narrative that was employed by the party with some success in the 2012 election cycle.
Faithful Catholics can expect to be particular targets of abortion proponents, given the crucial role that the Church’s unswerving proclamation of the sanctity of unborn life has played in fostering the continuing successes of the U.S. pro-life movement. The anger over this Catholic contribution to pro-life gains is likely to further embolden the Biden administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress to try to push forward with executive orders and legislation that strip away religious freedom. Such actions are especially likely to occur in the area of conscience protections for religious health-care providers who refuse to participate in abortions, sterilizations, and provision of gender-transition procedures. Indeed, as I noted in November, the Department of Health and Human Services is already in the process of crafting an administrative rule to do exactly this.
It’s easy for us to be overwhelmed when we consider the trials that we will face this year, especially since the ones that I’ve highlighted here are only a small sample of the variety of challenges each of us will experience in the months ahead. When we feel that way, as believers, we should remind ourselves that ultimately our trust is in God, not in man — and that no challenge is ever too great for God to overcome! Whatever twists and turns might occur in our lives in 2022, we know how the story ends.
This year let prayer, fasting and sacrifice be our anchor as we face the challenges before us, always remembering the victory already won for us by the sacrifice of Christ.
God bless you!