Several years ago, a bishop got into trouble for his intransigence and was transported to the capital city to be punished as an example to all the others who thought they need not obey the law of the land. As he was on his way he wrote seven letters, one to another bishop and six to various churches. The letters mainly consist of exhortations to keep the faith and describe what the faith is. In at least one, he asks the citizens not to interfere with his punishment since he is hoping to be killed by the State. He is much more concerned with speaking the truth in season and out than currying favor with anybody. He is a model of what a bishop -or any clergyman - should be.
Courage has always been the exception rather than the rule. If we try to think of clergy that have spoken the truth to their great peril or death a few might come to mind, but not many; Mindszenty in Hungary; von Galen in Germany, Fisher or Becket in England, Wyszynski in Poland, Athanasius in Africa, or in the example above, Ignatius of Antioch in Rome. Ignatius eventually got to Rome and was thrown to the lions under the Emperor Trajan. Most of these early controversies concerned doctrinal disputes, not opposition to existing social evils such as the slave trade or oppression of women, but as the Church gained influence in secular society social evils came under scrutiny. After the Edict of Milan, proclaimed by Emperors Licinius and Constantine in 313, Romans were free to practice any religion they pleased and the official persecutions largely came to an end. Looking back on this era, it is hard to see how bishops ever had that kind of courage.
After most of the official persecutions had ceased there were still problems (as there will always be) to be dealt with. St. Patrick, the former slave wrote a Letter to Coroticus condemning the enslavement of baptized Christians. Pope John VIII, in 875 forbade the owning of slaves by any Catholic and Bishop Bartolome de las Casas was known as "Protector of the Indians" for his condemnation of their treatment in New Spain.
Today the American bishops are faced with government trying to force its will on the Church and the populace. The Obama administration along with congress (which is equally culpable) are trying to force everyone to provide health insurance that provides services that are considered by some - not just Catholics - to be morally objectionable.
This is largely a problem of the bishops' own making. The bishops and many other clergymen of various religions never met a social program they didn't like and support. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops seemed to be a political action committee for the Democrats most of the time. Church and Church-affiliated institutions willingly took money extorted from the citizenry in order to do good things such as feeding people or running hospitals and schools. Schools, hospitals, shelters and so on are worthy endeavors, but they should be funded with contributions, not exactions.
The bishops never seemed to oppose coercion when it benefited them, but now that they are the victims of it, they are suddenly discovering the Constitution and its First Amendment. Every day they should meditate on the line from the Epistle to the Galatians that advises, "...for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap."
They have sown coercion - or at least not opposed it - and now they are reaping its harvest. Even now they don't object to the government forcing everyone to buy insurance, they only object to certain procedures that must be provided.
It is not just in the financial realm that they have approved coercion. Many religious people supported laws that embraced what Frederic Bastiat called "forced fraternity." This is the brother of "philanthropic tyranny." It never seemed to occur to supporters of forced fraternity that the admonition to love one another did not mean "love and associate with one another or go to jail."
The solution to this problem is actually very simple, but difficult to implement. It was outlined about 450 years ago in a small treatise by Etienne De La Boetie called The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. In it he counsels his readers to overthrow a tyrant by withholding obedience.
“It is therefore the inhabitants themselves who permit, or rather, bring about, their own subjection, since by ceasing to submit they would put an end to their servitude. A people enslaves itself, cuts its own throat, when, having a choice between being vassals and being free men, it deserts its liberties and takes on the yoke, gives consent to its own misery, or rather, apparently welcomes it.....What could he do to you if you yourselves did not connive with the thief who plunders you, if you were not accomplices of the murderer who kills you, if you were not traitors to yourselves?....From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free.
Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces."
Stealing money through the agency of government has resulted in an odd situation in which the parasite is actually invigorating the thief and thereby endangering itself. Now the host has turned on the parasite which is actually a good thing, although it might not appear so yet. The first step in the return to self-determination is to refuse funds from the government. Money from the government is like free dope from the drug dealer. There will come a time when it will cost a great deal.