The National Catholic Review

The Archdiocese of Washington today joined a rush of Catholic lawsuits around the country this week challenging the Department of Health and Human Services mandate on the inclusion of contraception in health care plans beginning August 2013. In California, however, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of the Diocese of Stockton expressed some guarded concerns about the opening of this latest front in the U.S. bishops’ continuing religious liberty campaign. Bishop Blaire is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and a member of the U.S.C.C.B. Administrative Committee which approved the "Fortnight of Freedom" campaign.

“The bishops that I am in contact with in California are strong supporters of the importance of defending and strengthening religious liberty in our country,” Bishop Blaire said. “I do think there are probably some different concerns with how it is being done,” he added.

According to Bishop Blaire, attorneys for California dioceses “did have some concerns with this strategy,” expressed a desire for more consultation and worried about possible legislative and judicial repercussions because of it in California. He explained that California diocese had already gone unsuccessfully down the judicial path in challenging government mandates on contraception and insurance coverage.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is not a party to the lawsuits. Several were filed initially by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and the most recent suits have been brought on behalf of 44, so far, Catholic dioceses, universities and other entities in 12 different federal jurisdictions in coordination with pro bono attorneys from the law firm of Jones Day.

Bishops Blaire acknowledged that “there is a concern among some bishops that there ought to have been more of a wider consultation” regarding overall strategy on the religious liberty question. “And I say that with some hesitation,” he added, “because the California bishops very strongly support whatever action has to be taken to promote religious liberty.

“The question is what is our focus as bishops and that we have opportunity to clarify our focus and that we are all in agreement on focus.” He said some bishops appear to be speaking exclusively on the mandate itself “that it is imposed … as a violation of [individual] conscience."

He said there are other bishops who see the crucial question as the religious liberty of the church itself and its freedom “to exercise her mission through her institutions.” He added, “I think that it’s important that there be a broader discussion of these issues [at the June U.S. bishops meeting in Atlanta]” so that U.S. bishops can clarify their message “and not allow it to be co-opted.”

Bishop Blaire explained he was worried that some national groups appear to be seizing on the issue and transforming the dispute over religious liberty into a political fight.

“I am concerned that in addressing the H.H.S. mandate,” he said, “that it be clear that what we are dealing with is a matter of religious liberty and the intrusion of government into the church and that it not be perceived as a woman’s issue or a contraceptive issue.

“I think there are different groups that are trying to co-opt this and make it into political issue, and that’s why we need to have a deeper discussion as bishops.”

Bishop Blaire believes discussions with the Obama administration toward a resolution of the dispute could be fruitful even as alternative remedies are explored. He worried that some groups “very far to the right” are trying to use the conflict as “an anti-Obama campaign.”

“I think our rhetoric has to be that of bishops of the church who are seeking to be faithful to the Gospel, that our one concern is that we make sure the church is free to carry out her mission as given to her by Christ, and that remains our focus.” If the bishops can maintain that focus, he said, “the people rally behind us,” but the bishops lose their support when the conflict is seen as too political.

Bishop Blaire said the upcoming meeting in Atlanta should offer an opportunity for a “thorough and careful discussion” about focus in the religious liberty campaign and Catholic “principles of cooperation that need to be applied in any kind of accommodation.”

Comments

Sean Gallagher | 5/25/2012 - 8:20am
"Here we have a case of elements of the media looking for what they perceive to be a little, small crack in the wall. And then they want to drive a bulldozer through it."

That is the analysis of Archbishop Lori to the discussion now going on that the bishops in the U.S. are divided on how to defend religious liberty.  You can hear more of what he and Cardinal Wuerl say on this question in this video:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=h980zgL1D4Q&feature=youtu.be
T BLACKBURN | 5/22/2012 - 5:33pm
I am afraid what Bishop Blaire fears is already out of the barn and galloping down the campaign trail. I am plugged into the right-to-life movement through my wife, who is a sidewalk counselor. I fully support the movement, but some of its adherents give me the creeps. Since the bishops made clear that nothing but individual choice will satisfy them on the contraception mandate, we have been deluged with emails on the subject. Some call for prayer. Some claim George Washington was a Catholic. And some pass on screeds from outside sources, including the Tea Party and the John Birch Society (no, it isn't dead, apparently). In "God's" cause, hate apparently is not a four-letter word.

Then, of course, there was the Lenten preacher, who admonished the congregation to go to work to prevent their religious freedom from being taken away by the "black activists" around President Obama. (I am reporting the buzz; I guessed what was coming from the preview at Sunday Mass and took a pass myself.) The red-blue nation is so polarized, and so steamed up by the 24 hour news(sic) cycle that the calmest statement of facts will be instantly turned into ammunition or attacked. Under the circumstances, to expect to provide calm, rational leadership while talking about assaults on basic human rights and unleashing lawsuits is to expect what you ought to know you will never get.
WILLIAM ATKINSON | 5/22/2012 - 5:18pm
Bishops, Catholic Universities, Religioud Educators, Theologians would do well to read,  reread, study and digest the DECLARATION ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
DIGNITATIS HUMANAE  from Vatican Council II before commenting on what and what not church doctrine and official comments on this subject are.
Clement Williams | 5/24/2012 - 2:28pm
I am only a mere member of the laity and was, am and will be a Roman Catholic. To me and the circles I move in consisting mostly of U.S. educated college educated Catholics, the center of our being confessed Catholics is that the Catholic Church is the Bride of Christ and the Pope is the Vicar of Christ.

Bishop Blaire is entitled to have his opinion regarding the current, but by no means the first, encroachment on the freedom of religion. Bishop Blaire says ''“principles of cooperation that need to be applied in any kind of accommodation.” At some point, the principles of cooperation mentioned having gone so far have to be replaced by simple principle without the qualifiers. When one gives to Caesar, Caesar always wants more (1 Samuel 8). Do not forget that idols are not just the carved from wood or cast from metal, but the living and breathing ones who are infinitely more dangerous, especially the ones in power.
John Koenig | 5/24/2012 - 12:31pm
Today's reading from Acts 23:6-30 has Paul exploiting a split in the Sanhedrin. It seems that the Pharisees and the Sadducees were deeply divided on some issues.

Who can deny that, today, our Church in America is deeply divided?

Today's gospel from John 17:20-26 has Jesus praying for us that we ''may all be one, as you, Father are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.''

The unity that Jesus desires for us transcends politics. If Catholics cannot keep their priorities straight, who will?
ed gleason | 5/23/2012 - 2:44pm
One would think that the Catholic hierarchy would have learned a lesson when Griswold v. Connecticut,.overturned their grip on civil law to enforce a particular and ignored Church teaching.
SA L
eiseca seems to hope for a revival of muscular Catholicism by citing bishop Blair as maybe  agreeing with Dolan's approach.I give thanks that 182 dioceses refused to get in the leaking boat with the thirteen dioceses who feel there is to be a mass strangling  in some Wash.DC federal lockup.
Sergio Leiseca | 5/23/2012 - 1:26pm
good afternoon, I carefully read the reported comments of Bishop Blaire, and I want to note his fundamental views before offering my comments. First, did Bishop Blaire in any way whatsoever disagree with the aim of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops or any of the plaintiffs to protect our religious freedom? No. I quote: "The bishops that I am in contact with in California are strong supporters of the importance of defending and strengthening religious liberty in our country,” Bishop Blaire said. “I do think there are probably some different concerns with how it is being done,”

Second, did Bishop Blaire in any way whatsoever dispute or disagree with Rev. Jenkins, President of Notre Dame University, and Cardinals Dolan and Wuerl, that the HHS mandate infringes on Catholic teachings and freedom of religions? No. 

Third, did Bishop Blaire in any way whatsoever refer or tipify the litigation as an attempt to restrict the availability of "contraceptive services" from sources other than Catholic institutions and organizations, and non-institutional Catholic employers? No.

Fourth, did Bishop Blaire disagree only with the timing and strategy used by the plaintiffs? Yes. I quote: "According to Bishop Blaire, attorneys for California dioceses “did have some concerns with this strategy,” expressed a desire for more consultation and worried about possible legislative and judicial repercussions because of it in California." Incidentally, I am a happily retired attorney so I can say without hesitation that Jones Day is a very major, reputable and national law firm; hopefully the Diocese of Stockton has equally good legal representation. I again quote: "Bishops Blaire acknowledged that “there is a concern among some bishops that there ought to have been more of a wider consultation” regarding overall strategy on the religious liberty question. And I say that with some hesitation,” he added, “because the California bishops very strongly support whatever action has to be taken to promote religious liberty." 

And, fifth, so what is Bishop Blaire's sole concern? I quote: "I am concerned that in addressing the H.H.S. mandate,” he said, “that it be clear that what we are dealing with is a matter of religious liberty and the intrusion of government into the church and that it not be perceived as a woman’s issue or a contraceptive issue. I think there are different groups that are trying to co-opt this and make it into political issue, and that’s why we need to have a deeper discussion as bishops.” Did Bishop Blaire in any way whatsoever say or imply that the Catholic Church was a failure, not worthy of any of us to employ a less than humble way to summarize some of the posted comments? No.

Incidentally, America's and Mr. Clarke's reporting would have been truly objective had the headline also refered to Bishop Blaire's agreement with the objective of the litigation, his strong support for the campaign to protect our religious freedom, and refrained from characterizing any filing as "rushed" and implying dissent among our Bishops concerning the fundamental aim to be achieved.

Now, for my comments. We look at life's events through our respective prisms but we should be careful because prisms at times blind us to reality. Take many of the comments posted above, inspired by antagonism towards our Bishops, cultural Catholicism, political biases both in favor and against Mr. Obama's Administration, and the like. The reality, however, is a simple but fundamental one: the aim of the litigation is simply to prevent our Federal Government from mandating Catholic organizations ministering to Catholics and non-Catholics alike, as well as non-institutional Catholic employers, to engage in conduct deemed to be against Catholic principles. There is no attempt to prevent the availability of "contraceptive services"; anyone wishing to receive the "contraceptive services" will obviously be able to do so but elsewhere. Thus, the Rev. John Jenkins, President of Notre Dame emphasized: "We do not seek to impose our religious beliefs on others. We simply ask that the government not impose its values on the university when those values conflict with our religious teachings."

And, our prisms also prevent us from acting in accordance with the message conveyed by the lyrics of One Bread One Body. Truly sad but, of course, we can change it all...it's up to us. Save us please God.

take care and have a great day
ERNEST RASKAUSKAS | 5/23/2012 - 12:33pm
ERNEST RASKAUSKAS | 5/23/2012 - 12:32pm
1.The suit is pre-mature. The government is still accepting comments on the regulations.
2.The Obama administration demonstrated it's interest in reaching some accommodation.
3.The hierarchy should use diplomacy and negotiate rather than pontificate.
4.The abortion issue is the best thing that ever happened to the  Republican party and  the only gain has been to swing Catholic votes into the Republican column and help defeat the Democrats on social justice issues like the minimum wage which the Republicans consistently vote against raising although it is not near a living wage.
5.For a Church that took about nine years and a lot of  acrimony and wrangling to change a few word in the mass and then come up with ''consubstantial'' for little girls in their white communion dresses to recite, leaves little room for optimism.
ERNEST RASKAUSKAS | 5/23/2012 - 12:31pm
1.The suit is pre-mature. The government is still accepting comments on the regulations.
2.The Obama administration demonstrated it's interest in reaching some accommodation.
3.The hierarchy should use diplomacy and negotiate rather than pontificate.
4.The abortion issue is the best thing that ever happened to the  Republican party and  the only gain has been to swing Catholic votes into the Republican column and help defeat the Democrats on social justice issues like the minimum wage which the Republicans consistently vote against raising although it is not near a living wage.
5.For a Church that took about nine years and a lot of  acrimony and wrangling to change a few word in the mass and then come up with ''consubstantial'' for little girls in their white communion dresses to recite, leaves little room for optimism.
James Martello | 5/26/2012 - 9:13am
It seems unjust to suggest that Bishop Blaire is in any way lacking in agreement with the decision of the USCCB to advance the legal remedy
Drusilla Barron | 5/25/2012 - 5:17pm
''I am concerned that in addressing the H.H.S. mandate,” he said, “that it be clear that what we are dealing with is a matter of religious liberty and the intrusion of government into the church and that it not be perceived as a woman’s issue or a contraceptive issue. I think there are different groups that are trying to co-opt this and make it into political issue, and that’s why we need to have a deeper discussion as bishops.”

Whatever Bishop Blair's concerns or those of anyone else, this is a political issue. Religios liberty is guaranteed in the our most fundamental documents. The courts are part of the political system. The law which gave rise to the HHS mandate was passed by one political party; not one republican voted for it. The mandate is an attempt to entice single women to vote for BHO in 2012. Bishop Blair's comments make me wonder how he defines ''political issue''?

What does his eminence think this is? A monastery or chancery or some other religious organization meeting? Two chums negotiatings the purchase of a car one of them owns? Tea at home w/ congenial acquaintances deciding who will get the last cucumber sandwich? Or perhaps a bunch of guys arguing that the one who gets the last beer must make a run to the 711 for more? I'm so sorry to inform his eminence that this is politics & the mandate was being used - co-opted, as Bishop Blair would say - before it was announced.

If the ''far right'' (not sure what he means by that) use it, that's a good thing. It means more support for religious liberty & all the other work we must do. I know ''I'm pro-life but would never force my views on others'' tea-party libertarians who are supporting the lawsuits because they see that religious liberty is not only under attack, it's being crushed under foot. This isn't time to be nice (& I do mean the original meaning of ''nice'' - look it up). It's a time to be sober, prayerful & to use all the means God has provided through the laws of this country. For once, we must act like saints even if we're really cowards who want to be friends all round & offend no one. Fighting the mandate & the federal govt's attempt to control us won't always be pretty & many of us will discover we can't be the persons we've tried to be & follow Christ. But that's nothing new, is it? We've already been told we must die to ourselves.
Cecilio Reyna | 5/25/2012 - 3:41pm
It is unfortunate that certain styles of rhetoric and certain levels of intensity associated with well meaning voices of protest on the part of some Catholics who are not bishops has served to inflame the animosity already present in large segments of society and even among large numbers of Catholics.  If the effect from our manner and intensity of protest elicits ill will and seals disagreements and disapproval, it is neither good nor is its practice justified on principle.  As we begin an intense campaign season we must pray that it will stop or else we risk seeing this animosity grow to unfortunate proportions and wounding to an epic degree our Lord's Church who tragically has already suffered so much as of late.    
LEONARD VILLA | 5/24/2012 - 12:58pm
Wider consultation about the strategy of a lawsuit?  What other options are there?  The government has intruded to force Catholic institutions to act against its own teachings in the name of health care.  Pregnancy is not a disease.  The fact that this or that political group wants to use the issue should not paralyze decisive action agains this government intrusion.
C Walter Mattingly | 5/23/2012 - 4:33am
It appears that Fr Jenkins' statement quoted elsewhere here in America is quite clear about the focus and limits of the bishops' concerns in this lawsuit and could serve as a model of what is and isn't involved therein.
ROBERT KILLOREN | 5/22/2012 - 7:37pm
The issue really needs to stay on target. The problem is that a committee of bureaucrats wrote an implementation of a law that violates religious liberty. The law does not and the legislative history on it demonstrates that. Thousands of letters in response to the notice in the Federal Register pointed out this difficulty. The bureaucrats chose to disregard those comments. That was highly unusual since that kind of response to proposed regulation is highly unusual and when it does happen the rules go back to be rewritten. Their action was purely political because they wanted the implementation to reflect their concept of the law not Congress's. Catholics were assured that the health law was not going to violate religious freedom. Many Catholic groups stuck their necks out based on that assumption. DHHS broke the pledge that was given.  The right move for the President would have been to tell the Secretary to send it back to committee for further work. And then let the full political process work it's way out. Maybe the next time the bureaucrats wouldn't be able to stack the committee with only people who suported their concepts. It is not too late for that to happen but the way some right wing bishops are handling things is ensuring that won't happen. If USCCB leadership had called for broader participation among the bishops in considering what to do everyone would not now be pushed into a corner. 
JOSEPH CLEARY II | 5/22/2012 - 5:55pm

 
FWIIW - several commentators have noted that Jones Day appears to be selective in which US districts to file suit. CA would not have been viewed favorably in my opinion. Those same commentators suggest that it appears Jones Day hopes to generate enough different district court opinions to push this issue to national stage – i.e. SCOTHUS  for a resolution.

All sides - people we agree with and do not agree with -select venue carefully so this is not an unusual approach.