Freedom of Religion - Our Bishops Take the Lead

by Dr. Joseph D. Hollowell, 2 yrs ago

“We will not rest until the protection of conscience rights is restored and the First Amendment is returned to its place of respect in the Bill of Rights,” said Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Bishop Lori chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Like many other people across the country, I have been thinking about and trying to learn as much as I can about the recent mandate from the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services.   The mandate requires Catholic colleges, schools, hospitals, and other agencies to provide for full coverage of “services” that the Church teaches are gravely immoral and sinful.  The mandate has sparked a firestorm of outrage and protest.  Cardinal Francis George of Chicago went as far to say, “What will happen if the HHS regulations are not rescinded? A Catholic institution, so far as I can see right now, will have one of four choices: 1) secularize itself, breaking its connection to the Church, her moral and social teachings and the oversight of its ministry by the local bishop. This is a form of theft. It means the Church will not be permitted to have an institutional voice in public life. 2) Pay exorbitant annual fines to avoid paying for insurance policies that cover abortifacient drugs, artificial contraception and sterilization. This is not economically sustainable. 3) Sell the institution to a non-Catholic group or to a local government. 4) Close down.

Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship - no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long cold war to defeat that vision of society.”

When I read that Cardinal George was projecting a country without Catholic hospitals, universities, schools and charitable agencies it confirmed for me how fundamental this challenge to the Church and its ministries would be.  A “faith without works” would be how St. Paul would describe such a situation.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan is Archbishop of New York and president of the USCCB.  Cardinal Dolan has been at the forefront of the national dialogue now taking place.  Much of what Cardinal Dolan has to say on this matter is available on the web at  I hope you will use this as a resource to educate yourself on this issue.  In his personal blog at the beginning of March and in a subsequent letter on March 2 he seemed to reflect a growing awareness that legislative remedies are unlikely to effectively address the threat of the mandate and that upcoming court cases and the November elections may pose the most likely places to bring relief.

Cardinal Dolan’s letter reviewed the events of the past weeks that have marked a downward spiral of relations between the USCCB and the White House, from Secretary Catherine Sebelius’ January 20 approval of the new rule to President Obama’s February 10 announcement of an “accommodation”. The accommodation, in which insurance companies, rather than employers, would be responsible for the total cost of abortifacients, contraceptives and sterilizations, was roundly rejected by the bishops and many other groups.

“At a recent meeting between staff of the bishops’ conference and the White House staff, our staff members asked directly whether the broader concerns of religious freedom — that is, revisiting the straight-jacketing mandates, or broadening the maligned exemption — are all off the table. They were informed that they are,” wrote Cardinal Dolan.

“The White House”, Cardinal Dolan reported, “advised the bishops’ conference that we should listen to the ‘enlightened’ voices of accommodation, such as the recent, hardly surprising yet terribly unfortunate editorial in America. The White House seems to think we bishops simply do not know or understand Catholic teaching and so, taking a cue from its own definition of religious freedom, now has nominated its own handpicked official Catholic teachers.” The cardinal referred directly to an editorial in America magazine, a Jesuit journal, that criticized the USCCB’s stance and recommended acceptance of the accommodation.  Cardinal Dolan also urged Catholics to take action: “It is a freedom-of-religion battle. It is not about contraception. It is not about women’s health. We’re talking about an unwarranted, unprecedented, radical intrusion on a church’s ability to teach, serve and sanctify on its own.”

I hope you will answer this call to action by our bishops.  Start by becoming informed.  Pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance.  Act as your conscience dictates.  The future of the Catholic Church and its role in shaping our country is at stake.

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