My Dear People:
In April of this year the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published a statement titled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” a statement on religious liberty. That statement is a response to the continuing encroachment on religious liberty by the government and, in particular, recent actions taken by the Health and Human Services Department in its mandate regarding provision in nearly all health insurance plans coverage of contraception, sterilization, and abortion inducing drugs. This mandate from HHS is unprecedented and the federal government is attempting to force religious institutions to facilitate and fund something contrary to their own religious and moral teaching. The HHS is also reserving to itself the right to define which religious institutions are religious enough to merit protection of their religious liberties.
The issue at this present moment is not contraception, but rather the issue at hand is a matter of religious people and religious institutions being forced by the government to do something that violates their religious belief. The First Amendment of our Constitution guarantees freedom of religious practice. That amendment was created to afford the American people the right to practice their faith free from government interference.
In the pastoral statement, the bishops of the United States have called for a “Fortnight for Freedom” which is to begin on June 21, the eve of the Feast of St. Thomas More, and which is to end on July 4, Independence Day. The focus of the Fortnight is prayer and education and calls the Catholic community to muster its energy to focus on the critical issue of religious liberty.
I have requested that our priests preach on religious liberty at Masses on at least one of the weekends during the Fortnight, to schedule other services such as a Holy Hour, and to encourage all in our Catholic community to dedicate a day of prayer and fasting to this effort. On Thursday, June 21 at 7 p.m., the eve of the Feast of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, martyred for religious freedom, I will formally begin our diocese’s participation in the Fortnight with a Mass at Holy Cross Church in Dover. Anyone who can attend is encouraged to do so. Our solidarity in prayer is of the utmost importance.
This diocese, along with all other dioceses in the country, will provide materials which will educate our Catholic people and others about religious freedom and the dangers recent actions by government create for our religious freedom through bulletin inserts, our diocesan newspaper, and our diocesan website. Parishes will also make available to parishioners copies of the bishops’ statement: “Our First, Most Cherished Freedom.” The United States bishops have also created a prayer specifically for use during the Fortnight, which we ask be said after Mass, every day, in our parishes.
Our first and most cherished liberty as an American is religious freedom. It is proclaimed in the First Amendment. It is the foundation of all our freedoms, for if Americans are not free to exercise their consciences and practice their religious faith, then all our freedoms are fragile.
Sincerely in Our Lord,
Most Reverend W. Francis Malooly
Bishop of Wilmington