Bishop Blaire has issued a clarification of "some misunderstandings" based on his remarks to me on Tuesday (full text of the statement follows below). I've asked his press secretary if he wishes to speak specifically to comments or points made in the interview published here and will update if I hear back.
Reading his statement, however, I don't see much essentially changed from his remarks to me Tuesday morning. His comments generated a heavy speculative buzz in both the Catholic and secular media, and I presume his "clarification" is intended more toward how far columnists such as E.J. Dionne and Lisa Miller at the Washington Post and Michael Sean Winters at National Catholic Reporter carried his comments from the text that was published here.
I am pretty confident, whatever followed in the wake of our initial report, America was pretty Joe Friday ("just the facts") on this one. As he told me, Blaire reiterates in his clarification that he supports the religious liberty campaign in general. He expands slightly on points made on Tuesday: "It is totally unacceptable to have the federal government decide that our religious ministries are not 'religious.' The continuing effort of the government to intrude itself by re-defining Catholic ministries as somehow less religious or less Catholic because they employ or serve those without regard to their creed is unjust and a violation of religious liberty. The government should not intrude itself in forcing the Church and her institutions to violate her long standing teaching to provide essential health care to her employees."
He adds: "I am convinced we need to continue to seek to persuade others to join us in this just cause through reasoned, civil and respectful discussion. Our defense of religious liberty is advanced when there is open discussion about the best strategies to promote our common goal." Again, pretty much what he told me, though he advocated a "wider consultation" among the bishops at the June meeting.
At EWTN Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore were downplaying all talk of divisiveness within the conference. Archbishop Lori, who leads the U.S. bishops’ ad hoc religious liberty committee described the speculation about a lack of unity as “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 bull-dozer through it.”
In the interview, I don't hear much that conflicts with Blaire's statements to me. He supports the religious liberty campaign, has questions about strategy and seeks more discussion, as the churchmen acknowledge. Blaire does not return to his concerns about the politicization of the campaign in his clarification statement, but Cardinal Wuerl, during the EWTN interview, makes the point that it is actually to avoid further politicizing that some bishops (obviously not all) want to take the matter to the courts, which seems to suggest he shares Blaire's concerns (? Guess we can expect a clarification statement on that soon). And later Archbishop Lori says there is unity on the thrust of the campaign, but that disucssions of strategy continue. Pretty much what Blaire said to me. So after Blaire's clarifying and Wuerl and Lori's EWTN-spinning, I think we end up right back where we started from with the May 22 interview. The only outstanding question it seems to me is how real is this coalition of the moderate that E.J., MSW and others feel is out there waiting to push back against some of the conference's more strident voices. We're still waiting to find out that one because so far Bishop Blaire is the only moderating voice out there who has made his concerns public. Gentlemen, anybody care to join him?
May 24, 2012 Clarification by Bishop Stephen Blaire in regard to comments on the HHS Mandate
I wish to clarify some misunderstandings related to my comments about the HHS Mandate.
First of all, I stand solidly with my brother bishops in our common resolve to overturn the unacceptable intrusion of government into the life of the Church by the HHS Mandate. In March, the Administrative Committee issued a statement of commitment to persuade the Administration to eliminate this interference, the Congress to overturn it or the courts to stop it. I contributed to and voted for this statement, and continue to support it, including its call for legal action as was announced on Monday.
The fundamental issue is the freedom of the Church to carry out her mission as given by Christ. Religious Freedom protects the right of the Church to define herself and her ministries. It is totally unacceptable to have the federal government decide that our religious ministries are not "religious." The continuing effort of the government to intrude itself by re-defining Catholic ministries as somehow less religious or less Catholic because they employ or serve those without regard to their creed is unjust and a violation of religious liberty. The government should not intrude itself in forcing the Church and her institutions to violate her long standing teaching to provide essential health care to her employees.
From my perspective, the recent legal challenges by dioceses and Catholic entities throughout the United States, as well as discussions with the Administration, and the advocacy of Congress, all have one essential goal: to defend the right of the Church to define herself and to preserve the identity and integrity of the Catholic ministries exercised through her institutions.
I am convinced we need to continue to seek to persuade others to join us in this just cause through reasoned, civil and respectful discussion. Our defense of religious liberty is advanced when there is open discussion about the best strategies to promote our common goal.
I look forward to the discussions at the Bishops' meeting in June which will offer us an opportunity to agree on next steps to achieve our common and essential goal of ending this violation of religious freedom.
"THE FREEDOM OF THE CHURCH IS THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE GOVERNING RELATIONS BETWEEN THE CHURCH AND PUBLIC AUTHORITIES AND THE WHOLE CIVIL ORDER." (THE DECLARATION ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, 13, Second Vatican Council)