National Catholic Reporter writer Michael Sean Winters has a message for the United States Catholic Bishops: become complicit with evil or toll the death knell for the Church in the U.S. Unlike the Amish, who choose to live in a manner ny rallyoutside of modern culture, Winters exhorts the bishops to not only engage the world, but realize that being part of evil is simply part and parcel of that engagement:

I bring up the Amish for a reason. They are lovely people and their commitment to living a Christ-like life challenges us all. But their model is not our Catholic tradition. We do not shut out the world; we engage it. And it seems to me that the approach of many bishops in recent years has been to mimic the Amish, to construct walls around a ‘faithful remnant’ of Catholics, close the doors in the face of those who evidence ambivalence, and denounce the culture for its moral turpitude. Setting aside the fact that those denunciations tend to be ideologically one-sided, this dour, pessimistic, denunciatory stance toward the culture is a death sentence for the church…


Winters is specifically addressing the bishops’ decision to fight the HHS mandate, forcing employers to include abortificients and abortions with insurance coverage. Winters adds, “…no one is being tied down and force-fed contraception: We are talking about insurance coverage.”

Contrast this with what an actual Catholic bishop has to say. Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia notes that the bishops of the U.S. have long held that all Americans deserve adequate health care, regardless of their employment situation. It is not the bishops, he says, but the White House, that has politicized this issue.

[H]ealth care has now morphed into a religious liberty issue provoked entirely – and needlessly — by the current White House. Despite a few small concessions under pressure, the administration refuses to withdraw or reasonably modify a Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive mandate that violates the moral and religious convictions of many individuals, private employers and religiously affiliated and inspired organizations.

Coupled with the White House’s refusal to uphold the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, and its astonishing disregard for the unique nature of religious freedom displayed by its arguments in a 9-0 defeat in the 2012 Hosanna-Tabor Supreme Court decision, the HHS mandate can only be understood as a form of coercion. Access to inexpensive contraception is a problem nowhere in the United States. The mandate is thus an ideological statement; the imposition of a preferential option for infertility. And if millions of Americans disagree with it on principle – too bad.

If Winters’ rallying cry to American Catholics is “Just give in to evil”, Chaput’s is “Wake up!” Winters believes that American Catholics simply have to accept the fact that they cannot live in the world without occasionally – wittingly or unwittingly – sinning, and they should simply accept that:  “There is simply no way to engage a sinful world without somehow participating, even cooperating, in the evil in the world.”

Chaput, on the other hand, says that the days of religious freedom as a “given” are over, and that conscious cooperation with evil is simply not a choice. He notes the current IRS scandal as evidence:

As Mollie Hemingway, Stephen Krason and Wayne Laugesen have all pointed out, the current IRS scandal – involving IRS targeting of “conservative” organizations – also has a religious dimension. Selective IRS pressure on religious individuals and organizations has drawn very little media attention. Nor should we expect any, any time soon, for reasons Hemingway outlines for the Intercollegiate Review. But the latest IRS ugliness is a hint of the treatment disfavored religious groups may face in the future, if we sleep through the national discussion of religious liberty now.

American Catholics – and others who believe that religious freedom is precious and well-worth safe-guarding – cannot simply shrug their shoulders and say, “What are ya gonna do?” when it comes to being complicit with evil. While it may be true that we all find ourselves in sticky and even sinful situations, it doesn’t give one the excuse to do nothing to correct the situation, whether it is an issue in our own conscience or one outside of ourselves. Martin Niemöller gave us this quote to help us remember exactly where being complicit with evil will lead us:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

Archbishop Chaput is calling on the bishops and American Catholics not to be complicit with evil, but to speak out.