Wednesday, February 8, 2012

HHS, Henry VIII and Recusancy

Even a contributor to The Wichita Eagle's opinion line has noticed the parallel: Like Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy, the Obama administration’s HHS mandate is an attempt to seize control of all Catholic institutions. But Catholics are only the beginning. If this decision stands, freedom of religion is dead in this country.

This article in The Catholic World Report makes the connection between the recent contraception mandate and the English Reformation, although Matthew Cullinan Hoffman focuses on Elizabeth I and recusancy:

Intentionally or not, the administration's policy smacks of the methods established by England's Queen Elizabeth against Catholic "recusants," who refused to participate in the worship services of the Anglican Church during the late 16th century. Although Elizabeth's regime, and those that followed for the next two hundred years, did not provide a penalty for Catholic belief as such, they found a simple and devastating way to coerce Catholics to violate their consciences: the recusancy fine, which was levied against those who absented themselves from Sunday Anglican worship or failed to receive communion once a year.

The fine, which began as a few shillings, was eventually raised to 20 pounds a month, a devastating penalty that few could afford. After being impoverished by such levies, family members would be thrown in jail for failing to pay, and sometimes expelled from the country. Only the wealthiest Catholic families, generally of the aristocracy, could avoid persecution by paying the fines and maintaining a Catholic existence in the privacy and secrecy of their estates.

Although it is far removed from the severity of Britain's old recusancy measures, Obama's policy bears an uncomfortable similarity to them. Catholics will not be directly forced to repudiate their moral principles, but some of their most important institutions will be fined handsomely for refusing to do so. For each employee not provided with contraceptive insurance coverage, a Catholic university, charity, or other institution will be required to pay the government $2,000 annually.

As under the old recusancy system, some larger and wealthier institutions might be able to sustain the financial burdens, but smaller ones will simply go bankrupt and be forced to fold, or will publicly violate their religious beliefs to remain in existence. The outcome will be painfully similar to that of other policies that impose morally offensive requirements on Catholics, such as requiring adoption agencies to give children to homosexuals. As a result of such measures, Catholic agencies in some states have been forced to close or have renounced their Catholic identity to continue operating.

As the publisher's blurb on the back of my book Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation so clearly states: "This book tells the story of the Catholic Church's survival and restoration in one land. It serves both as a lesson and a warning of the risks to faith and freedom when absolute power is given free reign."

UPDATE: PLEASE NOTE: I will be on the Son Rise Morning Show Monday Morning, February 13 at 7:45 a.m. Eastern; 6:45 a.m. Central to discuss the connections commentators are seeing between the HHS Mandate and what I call the "Tudor Mandates" (Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy and Elizabeth I's Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity). Listen live here.

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