Masterful Confrontation: The Unprecedented Threat to Religious Liberty

The Jesuits’ America Magazine (which still calls itself “the national Catholic weekly”) published an editorial  chiding the bishops. Bishop Lori’s reply follows. Responding to the gravest threat to religious liberty in American history, this statement may long be remembered for its urgency, boldness and intelligence as well as its skillful use of well-directed irony and humor almost never seen in past statements of its kind. We are now witnessing US bishops at their finest as they address the Administration’s unprecedented attack on religious liberty.

Bishop Lori’s Reply:

The March 5th America  editorial takes the United States Bishops to task for entering too deeply into  the finer points of health care policy as they ponder what the slightly revised  Obama Administration mandate might mean for the Catholic Church in the United  States. These details, we are told, do not impinge on religious liberty. We are  also told that our recent forthright language borders on incivility.
What details are we talking about? For one thing,  a government mandate to insure, one way or another, for an abortifacient drug  called Ella. Here the “details” would seem to be fertilized ova, small  defenseless human beings, who will likely suffer abortion within the purview of  a church-run health insurance program.
What other details are at issue?  Some may think  that the government’s forcing the Church to provide insurance coverage for  direct surgical sterilizations such as tubal ligations is a matter of policy.  Such force, though, feels an awful lot like an infringement on religious  liberty.
Still another detail is ordinary contraception.  Never mind that the dire societal ills which Pope Paul predicted would ensue  with the widespread practice of artificial contraception have more than come  true. The government makes the rules and the rules are the rules. So, the  bishops should regard providing (and paying for) contraception as, well, a  policy detail.  After all, it’s not like the federal government is asking  bishops to deny the divinity of Christ. It’s just a detail in a moral  theology—life and love, or something such as that. And why worry about other  ways the government may soon require the Church to violate its teachings as a  matter of policy?
More details come to mind. Many if not most church  entities are self-insured. Thus, Catholic social service agencies, schools, and  hospitals could end up paying for abortifacients, sterilizations, and  contraception. If the editorial is to be believed, bishops should regard it not  as a matter of religious liberty but merely policy that, as providers they teach  one thing but as employers they are made to teach something else. In other  words, we are forced to be a countersign to Church teaching and to give people  plenty of reason not to follow it. The detail in question here is called “scandal”.
Then there is the detail of religious insurers and  companies that are not owned by the Church but which exist solely to serve the  Church’s mission. The new “accommodation” leaves them out in the cold. And if I  really wanted to get into the weeds I’d mention the conscience rights of  individual employers.
Have I forgotten any other details we bishops  shouldn’t be attending to? Well, I guess we’re policy wonks for wondering if the  government has a compelling interest in forcing the Church to insure for  proscribed services when contraception is covered in 90% of healthcare plans, is  free in Title X programs, and is available from Walmart (generic) for about $10  a month. Pardon me also for wondering whether the most basic of freedoms,  religious liberty, isn’t being compromised, not by a right to health care, but  by a claim to “services” which regard pregnancy and fertility as diseases.
And didn’t President Obama promise adequate  conscience protection in the reform of healthcare? But maybe it’s inappropriate  for pastors of souls to ask why the entirely adequate accommodation of religious  rights in healthcare matters that has existed in federal law since 1973 is now  being changed.
Oh, and as Detective Colombo used to say: “Just  one more thing.” It’s the comment in the editorial about when we bishops are at  our best. Evidently, it’s when we speak generalities softly and go along to get  along, even though for the first time in history the federal government is  forcing church entities to provide for things that contradict church teaching.  Maybe Moses wasn’t at his best when he confronted Pharaoh. Maybe the Good  Shepherd was a bit off his game when he confronted the rulers of his day.
But those are just details.
Most Reverend William E. Lori
Bishop of Bridgeport
Chairman, Ad Hoc Committee on Religious  Liberty
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About Ray Noble

Deus et Patria -- A Website for Americans Who Enjoy Being Catholic ... and Vice Versa. ABOUT ME: Retired lawyer-law professor-author. Raised in NJ, now living in Florida. Widower and Father. EDUCATION ACHIEVEMENTS: Summa Cum Laude, Undergrad debating scholarship, Fulbright scholarship, Campion Scholar at Oxford University, Presidential Scholar at Boston College Law School, law review editor. DIVERSE PROFESSIONAL LIFE: Corporate lawyer, state (NJ) Deputy Atty General for Civil Rights, Law school associate professor (St. John's University), legal writer, author of guide for women at the request of the New Jersey League of Women Voters, state judiciary's chief of long range planning, state bar association's chief counsel, USIA law reform rep in Gaza and the West Bank, co-founder and overseer of 9/11 Mass Disaster relief program for World Trade Center victims. In 2001, after 33 years of marriage and 8 children (6 living daughters), Alice, the love of my life (my high school sweetheart), died when she was only 55 years old. I still miss her deeply and always will. But in 2002, an unexpected, new chapter began when I left the practice of law and became a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal for 3 blessed years. I served in the Hispanic apostolate and the pro-life ministry, counseling outside abortion mills in Manhattan and the Bronx. I loved the CFRs' radical commitment to poverty. I also treasured the abundant daily prayer that included Mass, the Divine Office, daily Eucharistic adoration and rosary, and both communal and private contemplative prayer. But in 2005, while I was still in temporary vows, one of my daughters was hospitalized, with long term needs. It became clear to others and to me that my 3 years as a friar.was to become a prelude to other things. Retiring to central Florida, I continue to see my daughter's needs as my first commitment. I also work to combat human trafficking. In my parish ministries and in my life as a single senior citizen, I try to continue the life I knew as a friar as much as I can. This website is a recent development. I hope you find it helpful and, at least occasionally, fun. I do.
This entry was posted in America Magazine, Bishop William Lori, Catholic, contraception, contraception mandate, freedom of religion, health care compromise, Health care mandate, Jesuits and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Masterful Confrontation: The Unprecedented Threat to Religious Liberty

  1. Ray Noble says:

    Joe Quinn sent me the following comment by email. America Magazine discontinued the link to its editorial but here’s Joe’s comment on how you can read it:
    Thank you for this. However, I found that the web reference would not work. I even had difficulty on the America site in finding the editorial in question. I dug deeper and found it here.

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