One of the greatest and most famous Catholic religious leaders in American history, the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, once warned, “The acceptance of the fullness of Truth will have the unfortunate quality of making you hated by the world. . . . If the grace of God did not give me the fullness of Truth, and I were looking for it, I would begin my search by looking through the world for a Church that did not get along with the evil in the world! If that Church [were] accused of countless lies, hated because it refused to compromise, ridiculed because it refused to fit the times and not all time, I would suspect that since it was hated by what is evil in the world, it was therefore good and holy; and if it is good and holy, it must be Divine.”
When the Archbishop wrote these words several decades ago, his intent was to offer one more reason why Catholicism is the true and complete version of Christianity, and the point he makes is a valid one: one of the signs of the True Church is its knack for attracting persecution. Satan recognizes his most dangerous enemy, and thus unleashes the full force of his attacks upon her. Here in the United States this truth has always been more abstract or theoretical than actual, but that situation is changing—making Archbishop Sheen’s words not only an apology or defense of the Catholic Faith, but also a prediction of a new and frightening stage of her existence in our homeland.
More than anytime in memory, we as Catholics and Christians are hated and opposed in our own country—and a number of Church leaders are finally sounding the alarm. According to Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Illinois, “The intensity of hatred against Catholic Christianity in elements of our culture is just astounding. . . . We are under assault.” Cardinal Raymond Burke has stated, “[There] is a war [between] a culture of secularization which is quite strong in our nation,” and “the Christian culture which has marked the life of the United States during the first 200 years of its history.” Unfortunately, most people don’t fully realize this; in the words of Archbishop Jose Gomez, “We are slowly losing our sense of religious liberty in America.”
Our culture has been conditioned to accept, often in the name of “tolerance,” unholy behavior and attitudes previous generations of Americans would have rejected outright. However, religious tolerance for Catholics and other traditional, Bible-believing Christians is not included in this new mindset or paradigm; instead, for several decades the culture has been turning increasingly against us. That’s why Pope Benedict XVI, in an address to American bishops last November, said, “The seriousness of the challenges which the Church in America, under your leadership, is called to confront in the near future cannot be underestimated. . . . The obstacles to Christian faith and practice raised by a secularized culture also affect the lives of believers.” The Holy Father’s words are especially timely in light of the “contraceptive mandate” the Department of Health and Human Services now seeks to impose on Catholic hospitals, universities, and other religious employers, along with individual business owners morally opposed to abortion, contraception, and sterilization. If this mandate stands, it will run roughshod over the First Amendment religious freedom rights of millions of Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. As Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said, “Never before have we faced this kind of challenge to our ability to engage in the public square as people of faith and as service providers. If we do not act now, the consequences will be grave.” This warning was echoed by Cardinal Burke, who stated, “If Christians do not stand strong, give a strong witness and insist on what is right and good for us, both as individuals and society, this secularization will in fact predominate us and it will destroy us.”
Until recently, these words might have seemed unnecessarily alarming or pessimistic—but, tragically, the world in which we grew up is becoming more hostile to Christianity with every passing day; society and government have entered into an informal but quite serious alliance against the Church. America is no longer one nation under God; rather, she is becoming a nation opposed to God, one rebelling against religious authority, and, tragically but not surprisingly, one ever more capable of persecuting the children of God. One Catholic leader who has recognized this previously-unthinkable reality is Cardinal Francis George, the Archbishop of Chicago, who somberly predicted:
I will die in bed. My successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.
These blunt words, I believe, do reflect an accurate reading of the signs of the times, for the United States is no longer a land of freedom and a beacon of morality and religious liberty. Many carefully-researched books written over the last ten-to-twenty years have documented the growing assault on the free practice of Christianity in our country, and have warned of a possible religious persecution in America, including Janet Folger’s The Criminalization of Christianity, David Limbaugh’s Persecution, Rev. Donald Wildmon’s Speechless: Silencing the Christians, Donald McAlvany’s Storm Warning, and Bill Donohue’s Secular Sabotage. My own book Spiritual Dangers of the 21st Century devotes several chapters to the subject of a possible persecution of the Church here in the United States. I’ll review a few of the points made in my book, and then present some new information from various resources—including recent private revelations.
Persecutions, whether of religious or political or ethnic groups, generally unfold in five stages. First of all, the targeted group is stereotyped or stigmatized, making it an easier victim of bigotry, slander, and abuse. Then the group is marginalized, or pushed to the fringes of society, so as to reduce its moral authority and influence, while emphasizing its members’ differences from everyone else. Thirdly, the group is vilified, or viciously attacked and blamed for society’s problems and accused of having a secret and sinister agenda. In the fourth stage, the group is criminalized by means of legal restrictions upon its membership and activities. The final stage is one of outright persecution, in which members of the group are subject to varying degrees of discrimination, repression, or imprisonment—and sometimes even harsher and more permanent measures. Many commentators claim America is currently in stage three of this process, and rapidly moving into stage four—and there is mounting evidence to support this assertion.