Bishops press religious-freedom fight with gov't
June 13, 2012
By RACHEL ZOLL, Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — The nation's Roman Catholic bishops on Wednesday
promised steadfast opposition to President Barack Obama's mandate that
birth control be covered by health insurance, saying it is one of many
threats to religious freedom in government.

Bishops insisted repeatedly that they had no partisan agenda. They
said they were forced into action by state and federal policies that
they say would require them to violate their beliefs in order to
maintain the vast public-service network the church has built over a
century or longer.

"It is not about parties, candidates or elections as others have
suggested," said Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, chairman of the
bishops' religious-liberty committee. "The government chose to pick a
fight with us."

The meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Atlanta is
its first since dioceses, universities and Catholic charities filed a
dozen federal lawsuits over Obama's rule that employers provide health
insurance covering birth control.

The provision, part of the White House health care overhaul, generally
exempts houses of worship, but faith-affiliated employers would have
to comply.
Federal officials have said the rule is critical to preserving women's
health by helping them space out their pregnancies.

Still, Obama has offered to soften the rule for religious employers by
requiring insurance companies to cover the cost instead of faith
groups. The administration is taking public comment through next week
while working out the details, but bishops have said that the changes
proposed so far do not put enough moral distance between the church
and artificial contraception.

The bishops are organizing a "Fortnight for Freedom," two weeks of
rallies and prayer services on religious freedom leading up to July
Fourth. Archbishop Carlo Vigano, the pope's ambassador to the United
States, told the bishops that the advocacy effort "has my full

Vigano noted that the religious-freedom push required a "delicate"
approach in the context of a presidential election. But, quoting from
a previous talk by Pope Benedict XVI about Catholics speaking out on
public policy, the ambassador said the concerns were so worrisome that
bishops had to act. Church leaders gave Vigano a standing ovation.

"It goes without saying that the Catholic Church in the United States
is living in a particularly challenging period of its history," Vigano
told the conference.
Many Catholics across the political spectrum have said they agree a
broader religious exemption is needed for the mandate, but have still
raised questions about the church's strategy of lawsuits and rallies.

"Most bishops don't want to be the Republican party at prayer, but
their alarmist rhetoric and consistent antagonism toward the Obama
administration often convey that impression," said John Gehring, of
the liberal advocacy group Faith in Public Life.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., a member of the bishops'
religious-liberty committee, said he had suggested the "Fortnight for
Freedom" in November to coincide with liturgical feasts of martyred
defenders of the faith including Thomas More.

"My intention was thinking of liturgy events, and that it was a time
of prayer and education, not that it's a time for a political rally,"
Paprocki said.

Chicago Cardinal Francis George said the bishops had "every reason to
hope and pray" that the Obama administration would respond to their
concerns on the birth control mandate. But he said they needed to
consider whether they should close their charities or take other
action if no such accommodation is made. The bishops planned more
discussion of the issue in private sessions throughout the week.

The bishops repeatedly emphasized that they were united in their
agenda. Recently, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., expressed
concern in an interview with America, the national Jesuit magazine,
that the timing of the lawsuits could be seen as overly political.

Critics of the lawsuits seized on the remarks as evidence the bishops
were divided. In Atlanta, however, Blaire spoke out forcefully against
the birth control mandate.

"We have to get the government out of defining the church," he said.
"We have an enormous battle ahead of us."