Since religion and politics, the third rail of family gathering conversations, often intersect with the popular culture, it is logical that this two-headed elephant in the popular culture living room needs periodic vetting.

With Memorial Day only a few days in the popular culture rear-view mirror and with television and internet ads filling up with programs about carefree summer activities, it might be wise to think again about what we were commemorating this past holiday — namely, to remember those who died fighting for freedom, the kind of freedom that has developed, evolved, or in some cases, devolved over the last two plus centuries in this country.

“Devolved” is the operative word when considering the 30-2 vote in the California Senate on Bill 360, which represents a 180-degree turn from thousands of years of Church and civil law. What a moment of incongruity to watch Memorial Day coverage on the news both nationally and here in southern California, with people waving flags and commemorating all those men and women in uniform who gave that “last full measure of devotion” to the cause of freedom, while knowing politicians in that same state are so eager to do away with one of freedom’s most basic tenants.

More than halfway around the globe, the totalitarian state of China is doing their own version of religion and politics. Just as they have somehow managed to combine western capitalism with communist dictatorship, they are now using, of all things, the philosopher Confucius to “Sinicize” all forms of religion inside China’s borders…including the Catholic Church. The goal is to be able to tell the world that it is open to the practice of all religions, while at the same time maintaining a stranglehold on what constitutes “official” religion and what does not.

Their track record is not so great as reports of multitudes of Chinese Moslems being sent to “reeducation” camps attests. Ironically, for decades, the communist regime detested Confucius, seeing him and his philosophy as a prop of the old order. But just as they have found a way to coexist with international monetary policy — kind of — they have turned the philosophy of Confucius into a hammer to form and shape all religious expression into a subordinate position whose only real purpose is to keep the “traditional Chinese values,” as dictated by Communist overlords. It’s as if the Emperor Nero had a bureau of Christina ethics set up in his palace in Rome, two doors down from the vomitorium.

The heavy handedness of the Chinese assault against religious liberty is easy for us to understand and wrap our heads around. The subtler forms of it we see going on inside our own borders are a little harder to grasp. Sadly, the spark that led to this horrible law, which removes the legal protection of the seal of the confessional from Catholic priests, was ignited by the scandal and shame of the sex abuse crisis. But as the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions…and hearing some California politicians, I’m not so sure their intentions are all that good when it comes to Bill 360.

But whether it is well-intentioned democratically elected public servants, or a collective group of dictators, the threat to religious liberty remains just as real. We Catholics in the U.S. have skated for a long time. No one alive today can recall “Catholics not need reply” signs in storefront windows. The “Kennedy question” of dual loyalty is found only in history books. But the truth in the cliché “everything old is new again” breeches the surface like a great white shark as we look at a proposed law halfway home to being codified into the California legal system that will demand a priest violate one of the most sacred oaths any man can ever make.

Does that make California the same as Communist China? No. We, as free citizens have recourses the people of China do not, and we should avail ourselves to them. When it comes to the issue of sexual abuse of anyone, anywhere, the Church should have only two agendas — the truth and justice. 

But if Bill 360’s other legislative shoe drops, and it finds itself on the governor’s desk, he will certainly sign it. If and when that day comes, the best advice for the Church ironically comes from Confucius: “Silence is the true friend that never betrays.”

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