Archbishop Lori: Federal government could have avoided Catholics’ lawsuits
By Maria Wiering
WASHINGTON - The U.S. federal government could have avoided lawsuits filed by Catholic dioceses and institutions May 21 if it would have heeded the U.S. bishops’ religious freedom concerns, Archbishop William E. Lori said May 24 at the 2012 National Religious Freedom Award Dinner in Washington, D.C.
“It is unfortunate – even tragic – that Catholic institutions and other religious groups were forced by the federal government into this situation,” he said, later describing it as a “train wreck.”
Archbishop Lori, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, gave the keynote presentation at the dinner, which was sponsored by the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center’s American Religious Freedom Program.
He was also honored at the event with the American Religious Freedom Award, which recognized “his gracious-but-vigorous defense of religious liberty in the face of increasing hostility and legal and policy challenges.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a mandate that would require all institutions, including most religious ones, to provide health insurance plans that cover contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. Although those procedures and drugs violate Catholic Church teachings, noncompliant institutions would be subject to severe fines.
Forty-three Catholic dioceses, schools, hospitals, social service agencies and other institutions filed 12 lawsuits in federal court to stop three government agencies from implementing the HHS mandate. Defendants included the New York and Washington archdioceses, Catholic University of America and the University if Notre Dame.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore did not file suit, nor did any institutions within its boundaries.
The lawsuits already include a good representation of Catholic dioceses and institutions, and the Archdiocese of Baltimore will likely not be joining the plaintiffs, Archbishop Lori told the Catholic Review.
The lawsuits could have been avoided if President Barack Obama’s Administration and the U.S. Congress would have taken the U.S. bishops’ counsel, Archbishop Lori said during the dinner. He described several efforts the U.S. bishops made to express their concerns, even before Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010. The HHS mandate is a provision of that law.
Litigation is “a course no one desires, but a course that appears to be the only alternative left in order to seek relief from this unjust federal government mandate,” he said. “This is not about the Catholic Church wanting to force anybody to do anything; it is instead about the federal government forcing the church – consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions – to act against church teachings.”
The HHS mandate is “the most critical religious liberty challenge that we face in the United States today,” Archbishop Lori said. “This is the first time that the federal government has compelled religious institutions to facilitate and fund a project contrary to their moral teaching.”
If successful, the lawsuits would only provide a “Band-Aid solution to the greater problem of radical secularism that we face in this country,” Archbishop Lori said.
“This is not a Republican or Democratic, a conservative or liberal issue,” he said. “It is an American issue.”
During his presentation, Archbishop Lori also promoted the U.S. bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom,” 14 days of prayer, education and action from June 21 to July 4. The events will kick-off with a 7 p.m. Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, which Archbishop Lori will celebrate.
The Fortnight will culminate on Independence Day with a 12:10 p.m. Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., which will be celebrated by Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia will give the homily.
Archbishop Lori urged Americans to learn about the founding father’s religious freedom “legacy,” to share “treasures” from their own religious traditions with society, and to pray for religious liberty.
The National Religious Freedom Award Dinner followed a daylong conference titled “Rising Threats to American Religious Freedom,” which drew hundreds of religious leaders, elected officials and federal and state policy experts and featured speakers from several religious traditions.
The conference’s Catholic presenters included Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of Oakland, Calif.; Robert P. George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University; Gerard Bradley, law professor at the University of Notre Dame; and Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University.
Listen to his speech:
Watch his appearance on EWTN's The World Over with Cardinal Donald Wuerl:
Copyright © May 24, 2012 CatholicReview.org