Nec Laudibus, Nec Timore

Soon after their rise to power, the Nazis were determined to stamp out any Catholic influence beyond the immediate confines of a church – whether in schools or in private professional organizations, and so forth. Sound familiar? (Think HHS mandate). Then as now, the totalitarian aims of a socializing state meant ratcheting back the scope of the Catholic Church.

In 1933, Clemens August von Galen was consecrated as bishop of the diocese of Münster, the first such consecration under Hitler’s regime. Feeling it was his duty to speak unambiguously about the emerging political threats, he rebuked the “neopaganism of the national socialist ideology,” and condemned, inter alia, the regime’s euthanasia program and its confiscation of Church property.

By speaking in this open way, he was risking his own life. The Lion of Münster, as he became known, is greatly honored to this day because of his brave defense of the faith in the face of political oppression.

Nonetheless, some critics tried to depict him as a politically motivated reactionary out of touch with the times rather than as what he really was: a faithful Catholic shepherd. Though history has acquitted him of such charges, the same kinds of accusations are leveled at those who speak clearly in defense of settled Catholic belief today.

Nec laudibus, nec timore” was the episcopal motto von Galen chose; he wanted to be motivated “neither by the praise of men, nor by the fear of men.” (It is often translated: neither praise nor threats will distance me from God).

His motto is timelessly pertinent – a solid “how to” guide for speaking truth in charity. Yet it was also finely attuned to the needs of the particular situation in that time and place, which like our own today, was growing increasingly hostile to Christianity.

His motto also relates to Pope Benedict XVI’s 2012 Lenten message in which he insists:  “We must not remain silent before evil.” He specifies that one reason we fall silent is “out of human regard” – in other words, because we seek that form of laudibus (praise) that the Lion of Münster foreswore. Benedict reminds us that the duty to rebuke and to admonish, as much as we may fear that unpleasant prospect, is actually an important dimension of Christian charity.

Nancy Pelosi – long in dire need of such charity, along with other soi disant Catholics betraying the Church and the Republic – has called the tyrannical HHS mandate a “courageous decision”, and duplicitously declared:  “I am going to stick with my fellow Catholics” in supporting it. After the farcical “compromise,” she went even further, saying she thinks the government should actually require the Catholic Church “to directly pay for contraception and abortifacients.”

After years and years of just such outrageous obstinacy, would it be unfair to interpret the lack of a correspondingly appropriate rebuke by our bishops, including canonically merited sanctions, as a lack of charity?

           Blessed Clemens August von Galen

Charity is demanding and we all fall short of the mark. Still, there is a certain irony that, as we Catholics fight for the freedom to continue providing charitable programs without being forced by the government to cover immoral “services,” we have yet to adequately exercise this additional form of charity, which is still entirely under our control.

St. James famously cautioned that faith without works of charity is dead. Perhaps part of the explanation for why individual bishops approach this issue differently – and here I refer to those obvious, clear-cut cases of grave and persistent public scandal – is that in some respects they (like all individuals) have differing depths of faith.

We are dealing, of course, with far more than matters of important but internal church discipline, yet it ultimately boils down to a wider crisis of faith:  Obamacare is a deeply and demonstrably unwise flirtation with socialism, which is “irreconcilable with true Christianity.” (Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno. N. 120)

The HHS mandate is a coercive codification of the libertinism of the sexual revolution, which is likewise antithetical to a Christian understanding of human love and sexuality. This method of advancing these destructive ends requires trampling on religious liberty and individual conscience.

The bishops’ unanimous rejection of the HHS mandate, it must be emphasized, is an energizing cause for hope and sign of faith. The times call for charitable men and women with a nec laudibus nec timore spirit to shine the light of faith on the darkness that has invaded our culture.

This implies a real concern to know and abide by the content of the faith – and as Archbishop Chaput recently observed: “naïve imprudence is not an evangelical virtue.” This bears repeating, after Obama predictably broke his brazenly disingenuous promise (while being honored at Notre Dame) to “honor the conscience of those who disagree” with his objectively vile positions.

Ah yes, what of “this conscience thing,” as La Pelosi belittled it? “A clear conscience is more precious than liberty or life.” So said Lithuanian factory worker Nijole Sadunaite to a KGB judge in 1970 when she refused to testify against a priest accused of teaching religion.

She’d been accused herself by the Soviets of mental illness, but even after being offered freedom (a narrow exemption granted by the state) if she would just incriminate him, she remained firm:  “If you gave me eternal youth and all the beautiful things in the world” in return for doing so, “then those years would turn into a hell for me. Even if you kept me in the psychiatric hospital all my life, as long as I knew that no one had suffered on my account, I would go around smiling. . . .I would agree to die a thousand times rather than be free for one second with your conscience.”

This noble woman of faith followed her conscience and ultimately endured years of exile and hard labor. Where will our own growing assault on conscience end?


Matthew Hanley’s new book, Determining Death by Neurological Criteria: Current Practice and Ethics, is a joint publication of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and Catholic University of America Press.