As Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, I would like to share some thoughts and encouragement as the month of June draws to a close.
Beginning June 22, 2023, the feast of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher — saints and English martyrs who fought religious persecution, notably objecting to King Henry VIII's claims to be the supreme head of the Church of England and who were executed for treason in 1635 as a result — until June 29, 2023, the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops invites all Catholics in all the dioceses and parishes of our nation to pray, reflect, and act to promote religious freedom during Religious Freedom Week 2023.
Religious freedom is the human right that guarantees all other rights. It allows the Catholic Church and all religious communities to live out their faith in public and to serve the good of all.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution affirms:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
As Catholics and Americans, we are obliged to defend the right to religious freedom for ourselves and for others.
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations Dec. 10, 1948, states that,
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae), no. 2, observes that,
... the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. . . . This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right (Dec. 7, 1965).”
Sadly, throughout the world today, the right to religious freedom is largely ignored or, worse, threatened and opposed by governments and other organizations and institutions in society. Here in the United States, assaults on religious freedom are becoming more and more evident, among them: vandalism of churches and sacred spaces; threats to the sacramental seal of confession; threats to the expression of religious freedom in schools and among students’ and parents’ groups; opposition to religious healthcare directives and services; prohibition of prayer in all public places, etc.
Now, more than ever, Catholics and all people of faith need to stand up for their rights to religious freedom and religious expression in our world and in our own nation, founded as a place where such freedoms might thrive. And, so, the Church in our country embarks upon this year’s annual observance of Religious Freedom Week.
As with all that we do as people of faith, I invite the Catholics of the Diocese of Trenton to give witness wherever and whenever we can and to pray:
Almighty God, Father of all nations,
For freedom you have set us free in Christ Jesus (Gal 5:1).
We praise and bless you for the gift of religious liberty,
the foundation of human rights, justice, and the common good.
Grant to our leaders the wisdom to protect and promote our liberties; By your grace may we have the courage to defend them, for ourselves and for all those who live in this blessed land.
We ask this through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, our patroness ,and in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, with whom you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
June 24, 2023, the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist, marks the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. This occasion provides us with a reason to be grateful to God and to all the countless individuals who have labored heroically, day-in and day-out, to end the national nightmare occasioned by the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision a half-century ago.
And, yet we know that more needs to be done — much more — in our witness, prayer and efforts to protect life in all its stages from conception to natural death.
Here in New Jersey, which boasts of the most permissive abortion laws in the country, public opposition to life in our post-Roe experience has tragically become the norm and not the exception. As the efforts of the pro-choice advocates grow all the stronger and their voices all the louder, threats to life intensify and become more widespread and socially acceptable under the misnomer “reproductive health.”
In the face of a new and more aggressive pro-choice/pro-abortion agenda, those committed to the sanctity of human life cannot rest. We cannot give up. We cannot give in.
We must stand up and reach out to women considering abortion through parish and community initiatives like “Walking with Moms in Need” and offer expectant mothers the genuine care and support they need to welcome their children and to see that abortion is not their only or best choice. For those women who have, unfortunately, made a choice for abortion, we should encourage them to approach Project Rachel ministries in the Diocese to seek healing and God’s infinite mercy. We should match the current pro-choice political and legislative agendas voice for voice, letter for letter, vote for vote with our own pro-life advocacy!
And we cannot ever forget the power of prayer!
As we commemorate the first-year anniversary of the Dobbs decision, may all people of faith and good will renew their commitment to work together to proclaim that all human life, from conception to natural death, is a precious gift from God for which we are all responsible and for which we are all ultimately accountable to God.
O Immaculate Virgin Mary, patroness of our country and Mother of the Lord Jesus and his Church, strengthen our resolve to protect and promote life in our land and lead us always to the heart of your Son. Amen.