I have recently been re-reading a bunch of Michael D. O'Brien novels. O'Brien is very talented. I hope to write a serious "What We're Reading" post on his truly great (and free-standing) A Cry of Stone soon, but here I'm referring to Eclipse of the Sun, which is the third in a series and somewhat dependent on the earlier novels.
Eclipse of the Sun appears to be set approximately contemporary to its own writing in 1999, and, as O'Brien points out in a brief afterward, many of the things it portrays had already happened by the time it was written. It has the feel of a near-future dystopian thriller, and, as I'm sure O'Brien would have fully admitted, the sheer outrageousness of government behavior (in the book, the Canadian federal government summarily murders both an entire drug commune and an entire community of nuns for somewhat obscure reasons) and the thoroughness of the totalitarianism were not meant to be claims of present reality.
I could not help being reminded of our present times, however, by the following coincidence: I've just gotten to the part of the book that details the actions of a fictional, unnamed archbishop of Vancouver as he attempts to clean house in his diocese and, while he's at it, resist or prepare to resist various immoral government mandates. And just as I got to that part in the book, a link to this story was posted by a friend on Facebook. It's from February, but I hadn't seen it before. It prompts the reaction, "Go, Cardinal George."
Some quotations from the Cardinal:
What will happen if the HHS regulations are not rescinded? A Catholic institution, so far as I can see right now, will have one of four choices: 1) secularize itself, breaking its connection to the church, her moral and social teachings and the oversight of its ministry by the local bishop. This is a form of theft. It means the church will not be permitted to have an institutional voice in public life. 2) Pay exorbitant annual fines to avoid paying for insurance policies that cover abortifacient drugs, artificial contraception and sterilization. This is not economically sustainable. 3) Sell the institution to a non-Catholic group or to a local government. 4) Close down.
Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship-no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long cold war to defeat that vision of society.
George is completely right about the freedom of religion vs. freedom of worship thing. That small wording shift, signaling a very large shift in American protection of freedom of religion, is indeed part of Obama's agenda, as Wesley J. Smith (a lawyer, inter alia) has been pointing out all along.
Evidently Cardinal George has also said,
I expect to die in bed. My successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.Them's strong words. Even if they are not literally fulfilled, George may be justified in making the prediction. And if we weaken it to something like, "At some point a Catholic bishop in North America will go to prison for opposing a government mandate on Catholic churches or institutions that violates Catholic teaching," I would say it's not a bad bet.
It's an even better bet now that we see that Catholic bishops (not just individual Catholic priests) appear willing to do something other than capitulate. That's heartening, even to us Protestants.
In related news, Franciscan University in Steubenville is dropping its student health insurance in response to the HHS mandate. (Question: Does anybody know what this means, from the story? "However, the employee health insurance program will remain unchanged." How does that relate to the HHS mandate?)
As the iron fist inside the velvet glove becomes more and more evident, as is happening with startling speed in the current administration, we may see truth catching up with fiction more and more and O'Brien emerging as something of an informal prophet.