It was good to see Pope Francis at the White House earlier this morning addressing our nation in English and ending his speech with a hearty “God bless America!”
America is indeed blessed to have the Pontiff with us in these days, and it is important that we pay close attention to what he has to say in order to take advantage of the wisdom that he has to offer us. His speech on the White House lawn did not contain any surprises – he spoke about immigration and climate change, as expected – but I would like to highlight what he had to say about religious freedom:
[Religious] freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it. [Emphasis added.]
We should not skip over the significance of these lines, especially since it is not hard to read between them. The most recent call to the defense of religious liberty made by the USCCB (US Conference of Catholic Bishops) was shortly after the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that employers provide insurance that covers contraception and abortifacients. The Pope’s reference to the bishops’ statement is, in my opinion, a subtle but clear admonition for the President and all of those behind the HHS mandate’s infringement on religious freedom.
Currently, the Little Sisters of the Poor are fighting against the HHS mandate to freely live according to their faith in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell. The Pope’s citation of the American bishops’ letter speaking out against the same mandate (which has pressured the Little Sisters and others to act contrary to the Catholic faith) was his diplomatic way of reminding the President and the American people that such laws are unacceptable. We have to “defend [religious] freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it” – even from our own government.
It is very significant that the Pope referenced the American bishops’ defense of religious liberty, and I think that the Pope, speaking as a pastor and international spiritual leader, will have more to say to us Americans that may not be comfortable for everyone to hear. It will be interesting to see what he was to say at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia this weekend, especially in light of the biggest attack on the family since Roe v. Wade: the Obergefell decision.