Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fr. Jim Bacik on Religious Liberty: Intellectual Feats and Magic Moments

From the light of the setting sun to the rise of a full moon,  a lecture
   by Fr. Jim Bacik at Lourdes and a reunion of old friends creates a magic moment.
Upper right, Dick and Pat Hanusz with circus priest Fr. Richard Notter. That
was fun. A story in itself.   
In a pluralistic democracy, under the mandates of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, religious liberty foremost among them, is it possible to reconcile the doctrines of institutionalized religions and the Rule of Law, the interests and roles of the church, state, and society? Is it possible to adhere to religious doctrine, maintain religious liberty, and at the same time serve the common good?

These were the fundamental questions that Fr. Jim Bacik, retired campus priest and humanities professor at the University of Toledo, and a founder of Corpus Christi church, addressed at his recent lecture at Lourdes University.  More than 100 Toledoans came together to hear him speak about the Affordable Care Act, church doctrine, and religious liberty. Who else could put all these topics together like Fr. Bacik?  A fearless thinker, he is willing to take on any subject, the more controversial the better, from healthcare and teen pregnancy, to abortion and gay marriage.

His approach is to examine contemporary hot-button issues in the historical context of great theologians and philosophers through the ages. He pushes the issues through the perspectives of different philosophical and religious traditions, and then links them, seamlessly and with great clarity, to American democratic traditions, social concerns, and public policy.  It's an intellectual feat, good for the mind and the soul.

His recent lecture dealt with controversial aspects of the Affordable Care Act (called "Obamacare" by friend and foes alike), which raises the issue of government funding for contraception and abortion.  To talk about it, Fr. Bacik placed the issue in the context of the theology and writings of a great Jesuit scholar, John Courtney Murray (1904 - 1967).  The astute members of the audience probably knew of Murray, but it was a first for me, and I was glad for the opportunity.

Murray, I learned, was a noted scholar who addressed the anti-Catholicism of the 1950s and 1960s, when questions swirled around the issue of whether you could be a good American citizen and a good Catholic.  Now that took me back a few years, and evoked some memories: It was the era of John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic to run for president of the United States. The campaign overflowed with  arguments, some hysterical, about whether a Catholic could become president without the Pope running the country.  JKF had to talk about his religious beliefs, his views of American democracy, and his commitment to the separation of church and state at every turn, as in his Houston talk in October 1960, Bacik reminded us.

Time Magazine Photo on Yahoo
And who was around to counsel JFK on these issues? John Courtney Murray, who "through the sheer force of his intellect" turned the Church around in its "fear of modernism" and addressed the role it could play in public life.   Fr. Murray, Bacik said, reinterpreted the Church's position on religious liberty through a series of pragmatic arguments.  His views were powerful and influential. He made the cover of TIME magazine on December 12, 1960.

I had some questions as I walked out of the lecture hall with my friend Teddy Wilson. Lots of us did. But time ran out. "What did you want to ask Fr. Bacik," my friend Teddy asked me later.  "I wondered what he had to say about Pope Francis' recent remark surrounding the issue of personal choice and gay marriage: "Who am I to judge?"  Did that view take the arguments of John Murray to another level?   

As we walked out into the sunset and a full moon rising,  however, another magical moment took the place of these questions for the time being: a wonderful run-in with old friends from the Old West End that I hadn't seen in over 20 years or since I returned to Toledo two years ago after serving with the Peace Corps in Ukraine.  The Boezi's, Dick and Pat Hanusz,  Barb McKinney, Paul Sullivan, Diane Pribor, Teddy Wilson.  Dear friends one and all, who had once shared a special time and place, whose kids played together and are still in touch via facebook (we smiled about that); friends who have grown older but remain critical thinkers, compassionate citizens, and as engaged in life as I remember them.   

It's the Fr. Bacik lecture series, we could all agree, that makes these magic moments possible.  These wide-ranging talks create the perfect atmosphere for reflection and reunion. We left each other with grateful hearts and hopes for more get-togethers.  For sure, Fr. Jim Bacik's lectures will bring us together again.

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