The National Catholic Review

America’s Kevin Clarke broke some news about a possible rift among US bishops and their handling of the religious liberty question. The Washington Post’s EJ Dionne picked up on the issue:

It turns out that many bishops, notably the church leadership in California, saw the litigation as premature. They are upset that the lawsuits were brought without a broader discussion among the entire membership of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and wanted to delay action until the conference’s June meeting.

Until now, bishops who believed that their leadership was aligning the institutional church too closely with the political right had voiced their doubts internally. While the more moderate and liberal bishops kept their qualms out of public view, conservative bishops have been outspoken in condemning the Obama administration and pushing a “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign aimed at highlighting “threats to religious freedom, both at home and abroad.”

But in recent months, a series of events — among them the Vatican’s rebuke of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, encouraged by right-wing U.S. bishops — have angered more progressive Catholics and led to talk among the disgruntled faithful of the need for a “Catholic spring” to challenge the hierarchy’s shift to the right.

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., broke the silence on his side Tuesday in an interview with Kevin Clarke of the Jesuit magazine America. Blaire expressed concern that some groups “very far to the right” are turning the controversy over the contraception rules into “an anti-Obama campaign.”

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

Dionne writes that more dissent within the ranks of US bishops would be a healthy development both for the church and American politics. Given the tremendous diversity of the Catholic Church in the US, I have found it difficult to believe that there is not some fissure in the outward unity among US bishops.

It will be interesting to see which dioceses participate next month in the US Bishops Conference’s Fortnight for Freedom campaign, “a 14-day period of prayer, education and action in support of religious freedom, from June 21-July 4.” Fewer than 20 dioceses are listed on the USCCB webpage that offers examples of activities around the nation.

Do you think internal debate and public dissent is healthy for the church? Will you participate in a Fortnight activity? Do you see the effort as underhanded electioneering for the GOP, or as an effective way for Catholics to resist true incursions of their religious freedom? If your bishop were to ask you to rank the top five issues facing Catholics in the US today, would religious freedom rank among them?   

Comments

Craig McKee | 5/30/2012 - 5:25pm
The USCCB missed the boat when the NEW ROMAN MISSAL translation was rammed down our throats and their power as an episcopal conference was usurped by Rome...and it's pretty much been downhill ever since.
Tim O'Leary | 5/26/2012 - 11:23am
Charles #9

You have made several errors of fact in your post and are incorporating the slogans of Planned Parenthood and the Obama administration in your attack. Please expand your reading/viewing outside the anti-Catholic sources and see what this fight is really about. If you have the stamina, listen to the first 30 minutes of this week’s interview with the two Bishops at the center of this fight. http://www.ewtn.com/tv/live/worldover.asp
1) It is not about withholding contraceptives or abortion-inducing drugs from anybody. It is about forcing the Bishops and all committed Catholics into paying to provide them to anyone working for them (many Catholic institutions are self-insured).
2) It has nothing to do with taking taxpayer money. It affects any organization that provides health insurance to its employees, even if they do not receive or refuse to take taxpayer funds.
3) This radical Federal government is trying to mandate that people pay for things against their conscience, with the threat of fines and imprisonment.
4) There is a lot of talk about an accommodation for religious institutions, where they don’t have to pay for this insurance, but their insurance provider does. But this is talk (it doesn’t help in any case, esp. the self-insured). The Law has the original mandate, with no accommodation.
5) The Bishops tried to negotiate a compromise to save the rest of the “Affordable Care Act” but the administration dug their ideological heels in. Now, it must go to the courts. The clock is ticking as they face fines or prison as early as August 2012.
6) This anti-religious mandate is not even in Obamacare. It has been arbitrarily inserted by the unelected people in HHS. The Church is trying to follow the teaching of the Gospel you describe. It is the State that is trying to get them to do evil as well.
7) The State could easily have taken care of this using other avenues (such as vouchers for contraceptives from Planned Parenthood) but they want more, they want to change Catholicism and make them complicit in their ideology. The State is putting access to serious healthcare for millions of Americans (whose nearest hospital is Catholic) in danger in order to impose this contraceptive/abortifacient mandate on them.
Tom Maher | 5/26/2012 - 11:20am
The reality of political attack on the Church by the Obama administration can not be denied and urgently requires a political and legal response by the CHurch.  Let's not kid ourelves, the HHS mandate and definitions of what is or is not a religious organization is higlhly political.  The very essence of this politcal conflict is the overreach of government into the affairs of religion limiting "free expression of religion" by Church religious organizations.     

In an election years with many other issues to campaign on President Obama against the advice several senior White House advisers chose to insist on implementing the HHS Mandate without exemption on Church organizations despite the Church strong objections.  President Obama as part of his Presidential campaign continues to seek politcal advantage in insisting the religious organizations of the Church such as schools. hsopitals and social service organizations are not religious and must comply with the HHS mandate.   The government is unconsitutionally interfereing with religion by making regulations defining that organizations part of the Church are not religious and therefore must comply with the HHS mandate to provide and finance serccice agasint the Church's moral teachings. 

Recognizing polical reality and rejecting the active denial of polictical reality within the Church is trhe first step needed to defend the Church's Religious Liberites. 
MARY THEISEN | 5/25/2012 - 10:25pm
I believe that the bishops in organizing this campaign against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are revealing their true intent when they wrap it in the flag of patriotism and freedom.  They incorporate the slogans of the Patriot party and so seem to endorse less government involved in our daily lives.  Yet they want the freedom to partake of taxpayers' largesse when they sign contracts to deliver services with government funds.  I don't disagree with their competing for government contracts to support the goal of helping the needy, (as a Guardian ad Litem in SW Florida I'm aware that they receive state funds) but, if you accept the funds then you must abide by the law or perform your charity without the restriction of the law or its funding.

By opting out of the Affordable Care Act they are depriving not only their employees but millions of poor Americans of various faiths of needed health care.  I believe that Jesus meant us to care for the poor and the sick especially as He is quoted in Matthew 25 verses 41 - 46: "...Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire...for I was hungry ...sick and in prison and you never visited me."  If the Bishops persist in opposing the Act I believe they are saying in effect that unless you follow our moral interpretation we won't care for you.  No government organization is forcing the insured to obtain the "forbidden" services, the Catholic hospitals don't even have to provide the services just allow their employees the freedom of conscience to use the services if they believe it is not a sin to do so.
JIM MCCREA | 5/25/2012 - 5:39pm
Paul challenged and disagreed with Peter.  As it should be, particularly when Peter is so caught up in his own marketing materials.
David Pasinski | 5/25/2012 - 4:13pm
The degrees of enthusiasm and participation in this "Fortnight" will probably be widely varied... and the response dependent upon so many factors outside of ecclesial concerns in those June and July days.

One huge factor may be the SC decsiion on the ACA which may either stoke or squash interest.

I still think it so odd that the bishops have chosen to tie this to Independence Day. Some of us are plannig a counterpoint on "independence" to anything that that the diocese may promote that will give a much richer picture of what religious liberty means .

And does anyone know exactly what hapens with these just filed suits and when they may be decided?
John Hayes | 5/25/2012 - 3:29pm
I was surprised to see Boston in the list of 20 dioceses on the USCCB website since I live here and haven't  heard of any demonstrations.  It appears that this amounts to one phone-in TV show with Cardinal Sean. Here s the suggested bulletin announcement. 



Sunday June 24
Live “Town Hall Meeting” with Cardinal Seán on Religious Liberty (tomorrow night, June 25, at 8pm on CatholicTV) – Cardinal Seán invites you to join the live “town hall meeting” he is hosting tomorrow evening, Monday June 25 at 8pm, on CatholicTV. Questions from the viewing audience will be received and responded to by the Cardinal and other panelists. Please mark this in your calendars. This broadcast is part of the “Fortnight for Freedom” initiative of the U.S. Bishops which runs from June 21 to July 4. Please see BostonCatholic.org/Freedom for more information. 


David Bjerklie | 5/25/2012 - 3:23pm
Differences of opinion, debate, and dissension are not only healthy, but are essential if the  Church is to truly serve the 72 million Catholics in the U.S., but also serve the hundreds of millions of Catholic and Protestant Christian believers around the world.  The Catholic Chruch is here to serve all Christians whether it knows it or not. And by extension, it serves all of mankind as Christ commanded.  Remember St. Paul, willing to be all things to all people to serve Christ.  You cannot be all things without difference of opinion and debate, and as such will risk and will find dissension.  The Church needs to be able to accept this, address it in a positve way, and serve Christ rather than itself. This is one of the crosses Christians and Catholics must bear.
Helen Smith | 5/25/2012 - 3:23pm
"They are upset that the lawsuits were brought without a broader discussion among the entire membership of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops."

The U.S. bishops were not consulted about the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.  They were told about it at their fall meeting last year.  It seems to me that they abdicated their control over such lawsuits when they overwhelmingly approved a 3% increase of their diocesan funds to the USCCB for the newly formed committeee.
Jack Barry | 5/25/2012 - 2:33pm
Internal debate is inevitable as few things show more clearly than the long history of the Catholic Church.  Whether it turns out to be healthy or not for the organization depends on how Church authorities handle it at the time in the environment in which they are then embedded.  Medieval thinking and sanctions (less the bloody ones) have limited utility in a world of real-time global communication, widespread education, and proliferating democracy.   
The most telling words from Bishop Blaine in his recent America interview identified the bishops' ''focus'', three times.   If that small group cannot get themselves organized coherently on a definable problem they have faced for many months, their potential in dealing with millions in the dynamics of today's Church is not promising.    
By the time the bishops get to their ''Fortnight for Freedom'', vigils and other activities supporting US Catholic religious women will likely be into their second month across the country.  International support for the US women continues in native languages online in France, Brazil, Sweden, and Austria.  Catholic loyalists may be spread thin, given competing demands for energy and commitment.  Is that a part of modern dissent?  
http://www.nunjustice.org/#.T6vry8YQb60  
http://sisternews.net  
David Pasinski | 5/25/2012 - 2:30pm
One swallow does nota summer make.

Brenda Sheridan | 5/25/2012 - 1:37pm
This has certainly become too political and the blatant support for the right-wing, anti-Obama agenda is very disturbing. 
At my former church in NY a couple of weeks ago, the pastor had a petition in the bulletin. He asked parishioners to send it to the senators and congressmen, and also to ''President Barack Hussein Obama.'' The use of the president's full name is only ever done by those seeking to paint him as an ''other''-a non-American, someone different. It was racist and political.  The bulletin each week has had the heading ''Religious Freedom'' with patriotic symbols as a banner across the page subtitled : ''From the Pastor's Desk.'' 
The church has a responsibility to teach what it believes are moral principles. It does not have the right to impose those views on others-we all have the right to make our own choices, moral or otherwise. Isn't that the whole basis for the concept of sin?
I am glad to see the bishops who I also knew had to be opposed to this, standing up to the conservatives. Lets hope this continues.