Posts Tagged ‘religious freedom’

Cardinal Dolan Congratulates President Obama on Re-election

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

The following press release was issued today by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the President Barack Obama’s re-election.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CARDINAL DOLAN CONGRATULATES PRESIDENT OBAMA ON RE-ELECTION

WASHINGTON—Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, congratulated President Barack Obama, November 7, the day after his re-election as President of the United States.

Cardinal Dolan promised the prayers of the bishops saying that “The Catholic Bishops of the United States offer our prayers that God will give you strength and wisdom to meet the difficult challenges that face America.”

He added that “In particular, we pray that you will exercise your office to pursue the common good, especially in care of the most vulnerable among us, including the unborn, the poor, and the immigrant. We will continue to stand in defense of life, marriage, and our first, most cherished liberty, religious freedom. We pray, too, that you will help restore a sense of civility to the public order, so our public conversations may be imbued with respect and charity toward everyone.”

His letter follows.

Dear President Obama,

In my capacity as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I write to express my congratulations on your re-election as President of the United States.  The people of our country have again entrusted you with a great responsibility.  The Catholic Bishops of the United States offer our prayers that God will give you strength and wisdom to meet the difficult challenges that face America.

In particular, we pray that you will exercise your office to pursue the common good, especially in care of the most vulnerable among us, including the unborn, the poor, and the immigrant.  We will continue to stand in defense of life, marriage, and our first, most cherished liberty, religious freedom.  We pray, too, that you will help restore a sense of civility to the public order, so our public conversations may be imbued with respect and charity toward everyone.

May God bless you and Vice President Biden as you prepare for your second term in service to our country and its citizens.

Sincerely yours,

Timothy Cardinal Dolan
Archbishop of New York
President
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Let Freedom Ring!

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Last night, I had the honor to speak at the annual John Carroll Society Lecture about religious freedom. I thought I would share a copy of my talk with all of you.

Here is an excerpt:

Thus, the defense of religious freedom is not some evangelical Christian polemic, or wiley strategy of discredited Catholic bishops, but the quintessential American cause, the first line in the defense of and protection of human rights.

See, religious freedom has always been understood in this land as one of a cluster of fundamental freedoms; that is, spheres of free thought and action essential to individual liberty and a civil society. The normative idea of a constitutionally, democratically restrained government – - a government that makes no theological judgments (religious freedom), that does not handcuff the media (freedom of the press), that does not dictate thought or culture (free speech), and that does not dominate all the room a humane society needs (freedom of assembly) – - is predicated on the belief in human equality and dignity.

So, my proposition is that, in “letting freedom ring,” we citizens of any and all faiths, or none at all, are not just paranoid and self-serving in defending what we hoard as “ours,” but we are, in fact, protecting America. We act not as sectarians, but as responsible citizens. We act on behalf of the truth about the human person.

Click here to view my speech as a PDF.

Freedom is Worth Defending

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

In my recent Catholic New York column, I wrote about why religious freedom is worth protecting. Let me share an excerpt with you:

Maybe some folks are a little tired of hearing or talking about it, but our priests who are there “on the ground” tell me I should not flag in presenting and explaining the Church’s high profile posture in our defense of religious freedom.

We’ve prayed about it—and will intensify our prayers during the upcoming Fortnight for Freedom—written about it, spoken of it, given endless interviews on it, and brought our case to the White House, Congress and, now, to the courts.

It’s not a struggle we asked for. I wish it would end. And it could so very easily.

All the government has to do is acknowledge that it has no business defining what a Church considers to be its essential ministry. That means creating an exemption based on federal laws dating back at least 40 years. These broader exemptions keep the government from deciding who is “religious enough” to enjoy religious freedom protection, instead covering all stakeholders who object in conscience.

You can read the whole column here.

Assault on Religious Freedom

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Today, I came across Michael Goodwin’s column in the New York Post on the recent media coverage of the health care mandate. I would like to share it with you. Here is an excerpt:

Do the New York Times’ attacks on the Catholic Church have any limits? Do the paper’s editorial writers have any sense of decency?

To judge by the latest screed, the answers are no and no.

Under the Monday headline “The Politics of Religion,” the paper’s editorial page called lawsuits by 43 Catholic groups, including 13 dioceses, “bogus” and “a dramatic stunt, full of indignation but built on air.”

The suits aim to stop the federal government from forcing religious organizations to provide free contraception, abortion drugs and sterilization services as part of ObamaCare. The plaintiffs, including New York’s Cardinal Dolan and the University of Notre Dame, say the requirements are “immoral” under Church teaching and claim the mandate violates their religious liberty.

You can read Michael Goodwin’s column here.

Insights from the Press

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

I would like to share two well-written editorials about the recent lawsuit against the healthcare mandate. The first editorial was printed in yesterday’s New York Daily News.

Here is an excerpt:

The church’s positions on contraception and abortion have been clear from time immemorial. While many Americans — perhaps most — live by other codes, Catholic teaching holds that intervening in the procreative process and terminating pregnancy violate the sanctity of life.

Dismissing that principle of faith, the administration decreed that, under the Obama health reform program, even church-related employers must provide insurance coverage whose benefits include not only contraception, but contraception without any payments by patients.

Click here to read the whole editorial.

The second editorial was printed in the Wall Street Journal.  (The online version is password protected. You would need an account to view it.)

Here is an excerpt from the editorial:

The famously liberal Notre Dame gave President Obama an honorary degree in 2009 despite his support for abortion rights. At the time, Notre Dame President John Jenkins applauded Mr. Obama’s “willingness to engage with those who disagree with him and encourage people of faith to bring their beliefs to the public debate.”

So much for that. The lawsuit signals that far from engaging with “those who disagree,” Mr. Obama has rebuffed Catholic leaders in their attempt to work out a compromise over the Administration’s mandate that all insurance plans offer contraception and sterilization services, including abortifacients. “If the government wants to provide such services,” Father Jenkins said in a statement Monday, “means are available that do not compel religious organizations to serve as its agents.”

But the Administration deliberately rejected any such means, exempting a religious employer only if it is a nonprofit whose goal is the “inculcation of religious values” and which primarily employs and serves people who share the same values. That leaves out legions of parochial schools, universities, hospitals, soup kitchens and other charities whose beliefs are also threatened by the mandate.

You can read the whole editorial here. Again, you would need a WSJ account to read it.

The Fight for Religious Freedom

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

I recently came across two excellent articles on the federal lawsuit against the HHS mandate that I thought it was worth sharing.

Mary Ann Glendon, professor at Harvard Law School, wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal about the attack on religious organizations.

Here is an excerpt from her article:

Along with leaders of other faiths who have conscientious objections to all or part of the mandate, they hoped to persuade the government to bring its regulations into line with the First Amendment, and with federal laws such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that provide exemptions to protect the conscience rights of religious institutions and individuals.

On Jan. 20, however, HHS announced it would not revise the mandate or expand its tight exemption, which covers only religious organizations that mainly hire and serve their co-religionists. Instead, the mandated coverage will continue to apply to hospitals, schools and social service providers run by groups whose religious beliefs require them to serve everyone in need.

Continued attempts to solve the problem by negotiation produced only an announcement by the Obama administration in February that insurance providers would pay for the contested services. Since many Catholic entities are self-insured and the others pay the premiums, the bishops’ concerns were not alleviated.

The main goal of the mandate is not, as HHS claimed, to protect women’s health. It is rather a move to conscript religious organizations into a political agenda, forcing them to facilitate and fund services that violate their beliefs, within their own institutions.

You can read the whole story here.

The second article I came across is written by George Weigel from the National Review Online. Mr. Weigel also argues that the HHS mandate violates the freedom of religion.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

This is not an argument about birth control, nor is it part of some “War on Women” waged by misogynistic clerics and their political allies from the fever swamps of the Right. The mandate is being legally challenged, in twelve different federal district courts, on the grounds that it violates the provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion. If those legal protections mean anything, they must mean that neither religious institutions nor individuals can be compelled to provide “services” that are readily available through means other than coercing religiously informed consciences. Contraceptives are more readily available in the United States in 2012 than either cigarettes or beer. There is no compelling public need to dragoon institutions and individuals who conscientiously object to providing them into doing so — with the threat of ruinous financial penalties if they do not.

This argument over the meaning of religious freedom was not initiated by the Catholic Church; it was initiated by an administration that seems to regard “religious freedom” as merely a privacy right to certain kinds of recreational activities (like worship). As in its international human-rights policy (which speaks exclusively of “freedom of worship”), the administration seems unwilling or unable to grasp an elementary truth: Religious convictions are community-forming, and those communities, like the individuals whose conscientious convictions form them, are the subject of genuine religious freedom.

Click here to read the whole article.

Archdiocese of New York Files Federal Lawsuit Against HHS Mandate

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Today, the Archdiocese of New York filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the recent Health and Human Services mandate. I would like to share with you the following press release that the Archdiocese of New York issued this morning.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 21, 2012
ARCHDIOCESE OF NEW YORK FILES FEDERAL LAWSUIT AGAINST HHS MANDATE

In order to protect our religious liberties from unwarranted and unprecedented government intrusion, the Archdiocese of New York has filed suit in federal court today seeking to block the recent Health and Human Services mandate that unconstitutionally attempts to define the nature of the Church’s religious ministry and would force religious employers to violate their consciences. The Diocese of Rockville Centre has joined in the lawsuit.

Named as defendants in the suit are the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury.  The lawsuit was filed at federal court in Brooklyn.  Other lawsuits also objecting to the HHS mandate were filed today in federal district courts throughout the nation by other Catholic (arch)dioceses, institutions and organizations.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, said about the lawsuits filed in New York and elsewhere, “We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress, — and will keep at it — and there’s still no fix. Time is running out, and our precious ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now.”

The Archdiocese of New York has filed this suit because the federal government is requiring religious organizations, under penalty of law, to provide, pay for, and/or facilitate access to services that are contrary to their deeply held and constitutionally-protected religious beliefs.

An equally grave concern is that while the government has recognized a religious exemption to these mandates, it is so narrowly worded that many – if not most – religious institutions such as Catholic hospitals, nursing homes, schools, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters do not qualify for it.  Incredibly, under the government’s exemption standard, these Catholic institutions would not qualify because they do not discriminate against non-Catholics who might come to them seeking assistance.  Nor do they discriminate against non-Catholics in their hiring practices.  Further, in order to qualify for an exemption, a religious institution must submit to an invasive federal government inquiry into its religious beliefs and practices, conferring powers on government that are forbidden by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  Specifically, for an institution to know whether it is religious enough to meet the government’s exemption standard, it must submit to an investigation whereby federal employees determine the religion of those employed and served by the entity, whether their beliefs are the same as the institution, and whether the institution hires and serves “primarily” those of the same beliefs.

For the Archdiocese of New York and its institutions, this situation is of particular concern since we have been subjected for nearly a decade to a mandate by New York State to provide services that are contrary to our religious beliefs.

In 2002, the New York State Catholic Conference objected to state legislation that directed Catholic institutions providing prescription drug coverage through standard commercial insurance policies to include coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices, which are proscribed according to Catholic teaching.  The Conference had enthusiastically supported major components of this legislation designed to ensure and expand healthcare for women, but sought to remove the objectionable provisions.  The legislation passed and was signed into law without the Conference’s recommended amendments.  Regrettably, the law includes an intrusively narrow definition of religious institutions similar to that in the current federal HHS mandates.

Suit was brought against the State of New York’s law on the basis of this objectionable requirement.  The case was lost, leaving Catholic institutions with commercial insurance in the regrettable position of either violating their religious conscience or canceling employee benefits. Those entities that chose to retain commercial plans have only done so “under protest.”

The dilemma facing Catholics institutions in the State of New York has now, under the HHS mandate, become a national issue. The current federal lawsuit attempts to remedy this injustice on a federal judicial level in a way that was unattainable on the New York State level.

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small image of PDF IconClick here to read a copy of the lawsuit filed.

Religious Freedom and Protecting Healthcare for Women and Children

Friday, March 16th, 2012

“These are the ones most grateful to you for the new well . . .”

With that, the chieftain of this Islamic village in Ethiopia, not far from Meki, took me over to meet about twenty beaming young girls, all who looked to be about the age of my niece, Grace, seven or eight years old.

I was in the village with a delegation from Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the acclaimed international assistance agency supported by the Catholic community of the United States.  We had just been enthusiastically welcomed to this small village to bless and start-up their new well, dug and outfitted by CRS.

The hundred-or-so inhabitants were all ecstatic over the new well . . . but the happiest, the leader told me, through the translator, were the little girls.  Why? I inquired.

“Because up to now everyday was the same for them, as it has been for centuries of our women.  The girls are the ones designated to walk the daily two-hour trek to the river, to fill up the buckets with water- – enough for their hut and family – - and walk two hours back.  Each day,  the men go out to the fields; the boys go off to school; the women stay in the village to care for their families . . . and the young girls ‘take the walk.’  They’ll do it until they marry and have a baby.  The survival of the village depends on them.  But this means,” the chief wrapped-it-up, “that they can never go to school.  If they did, who would get the water? But now” he pointed radiantly to the jubilant girls, “they can go to school because we have good water right here because of our new well.”

Episodes like that occur all over Ethiopia, as well as other impoverished, thirsty countries throughout the third world, because of CRS “fresh water projects.”  Villagers benefit; crops flourish; livestock fatten; all the people drink; but the girls are the happiest because they’re free and can now improve their lives.

When it comes to the health of women, their babies, and their children, the Catholic Church is there, the most effective private provider of such care anywhere around.

Another example:

We bishops of New York sponsor an agency called Fidelis, which provides health insurance to low-income folks.  I’m told we’re the largest such private provider in our state.

A recent physician survey of Fidelis showed that we got the highest ratings of anybody else in the area of – - guess what? – - supporting healthcare for women and children.

Here’s another illustration:

A couple years ago, I visited India, and travelled to particularly poor areas.  At one stop my host-brother-bishop asked me to visit a convent nearby.  “The sisters will appreciate your stopping-by,” he told me.  “They’re scared, and they might be harmed, run-out-of-town, or even put in jail!”

“Whatever for?”  I asked.

 “A couple years ago, they opened a residence for young girls.  Nearly a hundred of the girls, all Delats (“untouchables”) from the surrounding villages, live there, and go to school, learn handicrafts and skills, and are loved and cared for by the sisters.

“And that’s earning them threats?” I wondered aloud.

“Yes it is,” the bishop explained.  “Seems as if the wealthy people depend upon these young girls to clean their houses, cook, and baby-sit their own infants.  Now they’re losing this cheap labor source.  They’re mad.  They don’t like this social upheaval.  As one of them yelled at the sisters, ‘You take these girls, who will prepare my tea!’”

You getting a pattern here?  I could go on and on:  if you want to see creative, daring, lifegiving healthcare for women and their children, look at what the Church is doing.

And now understand why Catholics rightly bristle when politicians and commentators characterize the Church as backwards and insensitive when it comes to women’s health.  Yes, the PR experts advise them that this tactic is a proven ploy to take the attention off the current urgent issue of religious freedom.  The marketers advise them that, if they can reduce the issue to one of contraception, stereotyping the Church as opposed to women’s rights, they have a chance of clouding the towering issue of the First Freedom.

But the Church should not be the ones on the defensive here.  We’re on the offensive when it comes to women’s health, education, and welfare, here at home, and throughout the world.  We hardly need lectures on this issue from senators.

We just want to be left alone to live out the imperatives of our faith to serve, teach, heal, feed, and care for others.  We cherish this, our earthly home, America, for its enshrined freedom to do so.  Those really concerned about women’s health would be better off defending the Church’s freedom to continue its work.

A couple of years ago I visited a woman’s prison. The warden asked me if I wanted to visit the expectant and new mothers’ healthcare center. It then dawned on me that, of course, some women would enter prison pregnant. I was so happy to see the expectant moms, getting good health care for themselves and their unborn babies, and to see the moms with babies under two getting classes in childrearing and parenting skills, with the babies receiving tender care right next to their moms. When I told the warden how grateful I was to see such excellent care for these women and children, he replied, “Thank yourself. Catholic Charities runs it.”

Case closed . . .

Statement of the USCCB on HHS Mandate

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

The following press release was issued today by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Mandate.

BISHOPS PROMISE TO CONTINUE ‘VIGOROUS EFFORTS’ AGAINST HHS VIOLATIONS OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN HEALTH CARE REFORM MANDATE

Declare government has no place defining religion, religious ministry
Seek protection for conscience rights of institutions, individuals
Stress action with the public, White House, Congress, courts

WASHINGTON—The U.S. bishops are strongly united in their ongoing and determined  efforts to protect religious freedom, the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said in a March 14 statement.

The Administrative Committee, chaired by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB, is the highest authority of the bishops’ conference outside the semi-annual sessions of the full body of bishops. The Committee’s membership consists of the elected chairmen of all the USCCB permanent committees and an elected bishop representative from each of the geographic regions of the USCCB.

The full statement can be found at: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/upload/Admin-Religious-Freedom.pdf

The Administrative Committee said it was “strongly unified and intensely focused in its opposition to the various threats to religious freedom in our day.” The bishops will continue their vigorous work of education on religious freedom, dialogue with the executive branch, legislative initiatives and efforts in the courts to defend religious freedom. They promised a longer statement on the principles at the heart of religious freedom, which will come later from the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty.

The bishops noted that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that forces all private health plans to provide coverage of sterilization and contraceptives – including abortion-inducing drugs – called for an immediate response. Of particular concern, they said, are a religious exemption from the mandate that the bishops deem “arbitrarily narrow” and an “unspecified and dubious future ‘accommodation’’’ offered to other religious organizations that are denied the exemption.

The bishops thanked supporters from the Catholic community and beyond “who have stood firmly with us in our vigorous opposition to this unjust and illegal mandate.”

“It is your enthusiastic unity in defense of religious freedom that has made such a dramatic and positive impact in this historic public debate.”

The bishops said this dispute is not about access to contraceptives but about the government’s forcing the Church to provide them. Their concerns are not just for the Catholic Church but also for “those who recognize that their cherished beliefs may be next on the block.”

“Indeed, this is not about the 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,” they said.

The Church has worked for universal healthcare in the United States since 1919, they added, and said the current issue “is not a Republican or Democratic, a conservative or liberal issue; it is an American issue.”

The bishops called the HHS mandate “an unwarranted government definition of religion,” with government deciding who is a religious employer deserving exemption from the law.

“The introduction of this unprecedented defining of faith communities and their ministries has precipitated this struggle for religious freedom,” the bishops said.

“Government has no place defining religion and religious ministry,” they said.

“If this definition is allowed to stand, it will spread throughout federal law, weakening its healthy tradition of generous respect for religious freedom and diversity,” they said.

The bishops said the government’s foray into church governance “where government has no legal competence or authority” is beyond disturbing. Those deemed by HHS not to be “religious employers,” the bishops said, “will be forced by government to violate their own teachings within their very own institutions. This is not only an injustice in itself, but it also undermines the effective proclamation of those teachings to the faithful and to the world.”

The bishops also called the HHS mandate “a violation of personal civil rights.”  The new mandate creates a class of people “with no conscience protection at all: individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to live in accordance with their faith and values,” the bishops said. “They too face a government mandate to aid in providing ‘services’ contrary to those values – whether in their sponsoring of, and payment for, insurance as employers; their payment of insurance premiums as employees, or as insurers themselves – without even the semblance of exemptions.”

The bishops called for the Catholic faithful, and all people of good will throughout the nation to join them in prayer and penance “for our leaders and for the complete protection of our First Freedom – religious liberty.”

“Prayer is the ultimate source of our strength,” the bishops said, “for without God we can do nothing. But with God all things are possible.”

Lent Offerings

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

In my last blog post, I referred to Francis Cardinal George’s excellent column from Catholic New World entitled What are you going to give up this Lent?  I found this column to be especially interesting. I thought I would highlight it for you by reprinting it in its entirety.

Catholic New World

The Cardinal’s Column

Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

February 26, 2012

What are you going to give up this Lent?

The Lenten rules about fasting from food and abstaining from meat have been considerably reduced in the last forty years, but reminders of them remain in the fast days on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and in the abstinence from meat on all the Fridays of Lent. Beyond these common sacrifices that unite us spiritually to the passion of Christ, Catholics were and are encouraged to “give up” something voluntarily for the sake of others. Often this is money that could have been used for personal purposes and instead is given to help others, especially the poor.

This year, the Catholic Church in the United States is being told she must “give up” her health care institutions, her universities and many of her social service organizations. This is not a voluntary sacrifice. It is the consequence of the already much discussed Department of Health and Human Services regulations now filed and promulgated for implementation beginning Aug. 1 of this year.

Why does a governmental administrative decision now mean the end of institutions that have been built up over several generations from small donations, often from immigrants, and through the services of religious women and men and others who wanted to be part of the church’s mission in healing and education? Catholic hospitals, universities and social services have an institutional conscience, a conscience shaped by Catholic moral and social teaching. The HHS regulations now before our society will make it impossible for Catholic institutions to follow their conscience.

So far in American history, our government has respected the freedom of individual conscience and of institutional integrity for all the many religious groups that shape our society. The government has not compelled them to perform or pay for what their faith tells them is immoral. That’s what we’ve meant by freedom of religion. That’s what we had believed was protected by the U.S. Constitution. Maybe we were foolish to believe so.

What will happen if the HHS regulations are not rescinded? A Catholic institution, so far as I can see right now, will have one of four choices: 1) secularize itself, breaking its connection to the church, her moral and social teachings and the oversight of its ministry by the local bishop. This is a form of theft. It means the church will not be permitted to have an institutional voice in public life. 2) Pay exorbitant annual fines to avoid paying for insurance policies that cover abortifacient drugs, artificial contraception and sterilization. This is not economically sustainable. 3) Sell the institution to a non-Catholic group or to a local government. 4) Close down.

In the public discussion thus far, efforts have been made to isolate the bishops from the Catholic faithful by focusing attention exclusively on “reproductive” issues. But the acrimony could as easily focus next year or the year after on assisted suicide or any other moral issue that can be used to distract attention from the attack on religious liberty. Many will recognize in these moves a tactic now familiar in our public life: those who cannot be co-opted are isolated and then destroyed. The arguments used are both practical and theoretical.

Practically, we’re told that the majority of Catholics use artificial contraception. There are properly medical reasons, in some circumstances, for the use of contraceptive pills, as everyone knows. But even if contraceptives were used by a majority of couples only and exclusively to suppress a possible pregnancy, behavior doesn’t determine morality. If it can be shown that a majority of Catholic students cheat on their exams, it is still wrong to cheat on exams. Trimming morality to how we behave guts the Gospel call to conversion of life and rejection of sin.

Theoretically, it is argued that there are Catholic voices that disagree with the teaching of the church and therefore with the bishops. There have always been those whose personal faith is not adequate to the faith of the church. Perhaps this is the time for everyone to re-read the Acts of the Apostles. Bishops are the successors of the apostles; they collectively receive the authority to teach and govern that Christ bestowed upon the apostles. Bishops don’t claim to speak for every baptized Catholic. Bishops speak, rather, for the Catholic and apostolic faith. Those who hold that faith gather with them; others go their own way. They are and should be free to do so, but they deceive themselves and others in calling their organizations Catholic.

Since 1915, the Catholic bishops of the United States have taught that basic health care should be accessible to all in a just society. Two years ago, we asked that whatever instruments were crafted to care for all, the Hyde and Weldon and Church amendments restricting funding for abortion and respecting institutional conscience continue to be incorporated into law. They were excluded. As well, the present health care reform act doesn’t cover entire sections of the U.S. population. It is not universal.

The provision of health care should not demand “giving up” religious liberty. Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship-no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long cold war to defeat that vision of society.

The strangest accusation in this manipulated public discussion has the bishops not respecting the separation between church and state. The bishops would love to have the separation between church and state we thought we enjoyed just a few months ago, when we were free to run Catholic institutions in conformity with the demands of the Catholic faith, when the government couldn’t tell us which of our ministries are Catholic and which not, when the law protected rather than crushed conscience. The state is making itself into a church. The bishops didn’t begin this dismaying conflict nor choose its timing. We would love to have it ended as quickly as possible. It’s up to the government to stop the attack.

If you haven’t already purchased the Archdiocesan Directory for 2012, I would suggest you get one as a souvenir. On page L-3, there is a complete list of Catholic hospitals and health care institutions in Cook and Lake counties. Each entry represents much sacrifice on the part of medical personnel, administrators and religious sponsors. Each name signifies the love of Christ to people of all classes and races and religions. Two Lents from now, unless something changes, that page will be blank.

The observance of Lent reminds us that, in the end, we all stand before Christ and give an accounting of our lives. From that perspective, I ask lay Catholics and others of good will to step back and understand what is happening to our country as the church is despoiled of her institutions and as freedom of conscience and of religion become a memory from a happier past. The suffering being imposed on the church and on society now is not a voluntary penance. We should both work and pray to be delivered from it.