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All Catholics must take faith, witness to the public square, bishop says

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Catholic News Service

ST. PAUL, Minn. — In his famous work “Democracy in America,” published in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote: “Where education and freedom are the children of morality and religion … democracy … makes better choices than anywhere else.”

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb., encourages more than 1,000 Catholics to engage in the public square during his talk March 9 at Catholics at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., sponsored by the Minnesota Catholic Conference. The event featured Mass, talks and visits with state legislators. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb., encourages more than 1,000 Catholics to engage in the public square during his talk March 9 at Catholics at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., sponsored by the Minnesota Catholic Conference. The event featured Mass, talks and visits with state legislators. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, made the case March 9 that those words remain true nearly two centuries later, and that Catholics need to engage in the public square.

He made the comments in an address to more than 1,000 Catholics gathered for Minnesota’s first Catholics at the Capitol event.

Organized by the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the education and advocacy event drew Catholics from every region of the state.

A member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Bishop Conley noted that the Minnesota Capitol stands at the confluence of streets named for two prominent American leaders: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Irish-born Archbishop John Ireland, St. Paul’s first archbishop.

“Those two streets on which the Capitol stands,” he said, “should remind us of two fundamental and important truths: that democracies depend on believers to witness prophetically to virtue, to truth, to goodness and to beauty; that believers have a critical and important role to play in the public life for the common good, to build a culture of life and a civilization of love; and we must do all of this as … missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. Your state needs your faith and your witness.”

He told Catholics that democracy’s success depends on the “generous participation of believers.”

“Secular activists argue that our faith should stay out of the public square, that debates over public policy shouldn’t involve religious perspectives, (and) that we have no right to bring faith into the voting booth, or into the Capitol, or into the media,” he said.

But, he said, America’s Founding Fathers saw things differently. “”The Founding Fathers believed that well-formed believers were essential and critical for maintaining the social contract underlying the U.S. Constitution,” he said.

He pointed to the words of President John Adams, written in 1798 to soldiers of Massachusetts: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

“Public religious faith provides the ability to make moral judgments, which are rooted in a sense of common good rather than the individual good or personal gain,” Bishop Conley said.

He said in the first part of the 20th century, Catholics were observed to have kept their faith out of their political engagement, as they viewed it as a private or family matter “with no political implications.”

“But our faith is more than a family matter. Our faith is not private,” he said. “Our faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is teeming with political implications, and we cannot live our faith in Jesus Christ as a private affair. We cannot be afraid to challenge our democracy with the truths of the Gospel. In fact, our democracy depends on that challenge.”

He said that our faith upholds a vision of the common good under which all people can flourish.

“The Gospel calls the world to objective standards of truth,” Bishop Conley said. “The Gospel promotes human dignity and protects the family and orders justice. Jesus Christ tells us what freedom is, what justice is, what it means to have peace and what it means to prosper. The Founding Fathers knew that the American Experiment would depend on the public faith of religious believers, and they knew that democracy itself depends on people of faith.”

During the last election cycle, many American Catholics considered themselves “politically homeless” because their values didn’t fit easily in either the Democratic or Republican parties. While it’s true that neither party represents a Catholic worldview, Catholics should not feel “homeless,” Bishop Conley said.

“Catholics do not have a political party, but we do have a political home,” he said. “Catholics are not politically liberal or politically conservative; we are simply Catholics, disciples of Christ and his Gospel. Our mission in the public life is to be faithful to the truth of Jesus Christ and his church, and the truths he’s revealed to us.”

“Our political home is our eternal home, the city of God,” he said. “Because of that, our political mission in this world is to build a culture of life, a civilization of love.”

He said Catholics are meant to be prophetic voices who speak the word of God and trust in its power. He quoted G.K. Chesterton: “When the world is upside down, prophets are the ones who stand on their heads to see things as they are.”

“Today, in a world that is upside down, God calls us to stand on our heads … to see things as they are and to speak the truth,” he said, pointing to abortion and other life issues, marriage, and the need to help people who are poor, immigrant, refugees or incarcerated.

Speaking truth might mean that Catholics lose friends, he said. “If we are faithful witnesses to the church’s teaching, we will make our neighbors from every political party unhappy and uncomfortable,” he said.

Catholics also need to trust in God’s providence, he said. Success is measured by fidelity, not results, and God may use people’s efforts in ways they may never see.

“The time in which we live is a very difficult one for Catholics and for our nation,” Bishop Conley said. “May we together work for the kingdom of God, for justice, for truth, for charity. May we do all of this as disciples of Jesus Christ and may we trust in the Lord, who calls us to be holy above all things, who has a plan for each one of us, and who knows how that plan will unfold in his glory, in the providence of eternity.”

 

Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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St. Paul/Minn. Archdiocese offers $65 million in remuneration for sex abuse victims

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Catholic News Service
ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) — Sixteen months after entering Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis filed a plan for reorganization May 26 as part of the bankruptcy process.
The plan identifies more than $65 million in assets the archdiocese anticipates will be available to compensate victims of clergy sexual abuse, with the potential for that amount to grow. Read more »

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Archbishop Hebda named to head St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese

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Catholic News Service

St. PAUL, Minn. — Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda said his Holy Thursday appointment to head the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis highlights the connection between his new role and the Eucharist, priesthood and service.

Pope Francis has named Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda to head the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Archbishop Hebda, who has been apostolic administrator of the Minnesota archdiocese since last June, is pictured in a 2015 photo. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

Pope Francis has named Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda to head the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Archbishop Hebda, who has been apostolic administrator of the Minnesota archdiocese since last June, is pictured in a 2015 photo. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

“It’s the Eucharist that brings us together,” he told The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper. “The bishop is called to be that source of unity in his local church and where that takes place is at the table of the Lord.”

His appointment was announced in Washington March 24 by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States. It comes nine months after the archbishop was named apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.

Archbishop Hebda, 56, has been at the helm of the archdiocese as it has faced significant challenges, including bankruptcy and criminal and civil charges, since the June 2015 resignation of his predecessor, Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche. An installation Mass is being planned for May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima.

Prior to the March 24 appointment, Archbishop Hebda was coadjutor archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, on track to automatically succeed Archbishop John J. Myers when he retires. Archbishop Myers turns 75 in July; canon law requires bishops to turn in their resignation to the pope at that age.

Archbishop Hebda has been dividing his time between Newark and the Twin Cities, but made it clear at the onset of his duties in Minnesota that his priority was the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as long as he was its apostolic administrator.

The Pittsburgh native called the archbishop appointment to St. Paul and Minneapolis a shock, because he never seriously entertained the idea of staying in Minnesota, he said, even though many in the archdiocese said they hoped he would.

“I … knew that Pope Francis had already given me responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Newark, so really that’s what I’d been thinking of all along,” he said. “Monday evening (March 21) we had our chrism Mass in Newark, so I was already taking notes about what I would hope to do at next year’s chrism Mass. That was 12 hours before the nuncio called.”

Also shocking, he said, was the short time between Archbishop Vigano’s call March 22 and the Holy Thursday announcement of his appointment.

The urgency, he said, was related to the encouragement Pope Francis wanted to show the archdiocese, he said.

“I think the Holy Father really wanted to show his closeness to the archdiocese, which was going to have to go through the Triduum without an archbishop,” he said. “While that’s still going to happen, because I’m not the archbishop until the installation Mass on May 13, the Holy Father’s action was a great encouragement to me and resolved the unsettling uncertainty that so often reigns in the vacant see.”

The archbishop said much of his role has been consumed by administrative duties. However, he hosted 10 listening sessions throughout the archdiocese in October and November to gather information about the archdiocese’s strengths, challenges and hopes for its next archbishop, and compiled a report for Pope Francis to aid his decision making. A delegate from the nunciature, Msgr. Michael Morgan, also attended some of the sessions, calling them unprecedented in the process of selecting a bishop.

Typically, the nuncio seeks confidential input from some local leaders, including laypeople, Msgr. Morgan said, but never before on this scale. “This is the closest the church comes to direct democracy, you might say,” he said at the time.

Archbishop Hebda said he heard a range of views at the listening sessions that offered insights into the life of the archdiocese, which he expects to aid him as he transitions from apostolic administrator to archbishop. They also help him approach the role with humility.

“Remembering the qualities people had indicated that they would be looking for in the next archbishop, I’m somewhat intimidated to have been even considered for the post,” he said. “I remember at one of the sessions, somebody, after hearing all of the characteristics that people were looking for in their next bishop, said, ‘Basically you want this person to be able to walk on water.’ And somebody else piped in, ‘Well, at least not to drown.’ I’m hoping I can at least tread water and try to respond to those expectations.”

Among the challenges he’ll continue to face is the archdiocese’s bankruptcy, which it entered in January 2015 because of mounting claims of clerical sexual abuse, as well as criminal charges it faces related to a case of clerical sex abuse. Under Archbishop Hebda’s leadership, the archdiocese reached a settlement in December with Ramsey County on civil charges related to the same sex abuse case. The charges were filed simultaneously in June 2015.

“It’s a still long road that’s ahead of us. We’ve been … trying to deal with all of these things in a positive way that reflects who we are as church,” he said. “I suspect that other people would be a better judge for how well we’ve done, but can attest that I have experienced a lot of cooperation and even some affirmation. When we entered into the settlement agreement for the civil charges, for example, I had the sense that many people in the archdiocese thought that we were moving in the right direction even though there’s still much that needs to be worked out.”

Prior to his appointment to Newark in 2013, Archbishop Hebda was bishop of Gaylord, Michigan, from 2009 to 2013. From 1996 to 2009, he served in Rome in the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, which is responsible for canon law, serving for six years as council undersecretary.

He was ordained a priest in 1989 for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, a law degree from Columbia University School of Law, and a licentiate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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Pope Francis accepts resignations of St. Paul archbishop, auxiliary bishop — updated

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Catholic News Service

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Pope Francis accepted the resignations June 15 of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee A. Piche of St. Paul and Minneapolis and named coadjutor Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of Newark, New Jersey, a canon lawyer, to be apostolic administrator of the Minnesota archdiocese.

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, right, addresses the media alongside Auxiliary Bishop Lee A. Piche at a news conference Jan. 16 announcing that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis had filed for Chapter 11 Reorganization. Ten days after the archdiocese was criminally charged with failing to protect children, Pope Francis accepted the resignations of Archbishop Nienstedt and Bishop Piche. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, right, addresses the media alongside Auxiliary Bishop Lee A. Piche at a news conference Jan. 16 announcing that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis had filed for Chapter 11 Reorganization. Ten days after the archdiocese was criminally charged with failing to protect children, Pope Francis accepted the resignations of Archbishop Nienstedt and Bishop Piche. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

In a statement, Archbishop Nienstedt said he submitted his resignation to Pope Francis “to give the archdiocese a new beginning amidst the many challenges we face.”

“The Catholic Church is not our church, but Christ’s church, and we are merely stewards for a time,” he said. “My leadership has unfortunately drawn away from the good works of his church and those who perform them. Thus, my decision to step down.”

On June 5 the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office filed criminal and civil charges against the archdiocese alleging it failed to protect three boys who were sexually abused in 2008-2010 by Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest of the archdiocese.

Wehmeyer was convicted of the abuse and is serving a five-year prison sentence. He was dismissed from the priesthood in March.

Archbishop Nienstedt, 68, was appointed coadjutor archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 2007, and installed as its archbishop in June 2008, succeeding Archbishop Harry J. Flynn, who retired.

Prior to taking the helm of the archdiocese, Archbishop Nienstedt was bishop of New Ulm, Minnesota, from 2001 to 2007, and auxiliary bishop of Detroit from 1996 to 2001.

“It has been my privilege the last seven years to serve this local church,” Archbishop Nienstedt said in a statement. “I have come to appreciate deeply the vitality of the 187 parishes that make up the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. I am grateful for the support I have received from priests, deacons, religious men and women and lay leaders, especially those who have collaborated with me in the oversight of this local church.”

He added: “I leave with a clear conscience knowing that my team and I have put in place solid protocols to ensure protection of minors and vulnerable adults.”

Archbishop Nienstedt requested prayers for “the well-being of this archdiocese and its future leaders.”

“I also ask for your continued prayers for me,” he said.

Bishop Piche, 57, was ordained as an auxiliary for St. Paul and Minneapolis in 2009.

“The people of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis needed healing and hope. I was getting in the way of that, so I had to resign,” he said in a statement. “It has been a privilege to serve this local church, and I will continue to hold everyone in the archdiocese in my prayers.”

Archbishopd Hebda plans to serve both the Minnesota and Newark archdioceses until Pope Francis names Archbishop Nienstedt’s successor.

In his statement, he noted that the position of an apostolic administrator is temporary and his role “is not to introduce change, but rather to facilitate the smooth continuation of the ordinary and essential activities of the church, while advancing those positive initiatives to which the archdiocese is already committed.”

Still, he said, he hoped to meet as many people as possible in the archdiocese while still fulfilling his responsibilities in Newark.

“As the universal church prepares to embark on a Year of Mercy, I look forward to getting to know this local church and experiencing in a new context the marvelous ways in which the Lord works through his people to make his grace and healing presence known and felt, even in the most challenging of times,” Archbishop Hebda said.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis filed in January for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code amid mounting claims of clergy sexual abuse. In 2013, the Minnesota Legislature lifted the civil statute of limitations on claims of child sexual abuse for a three-year period.

In May, the archdiocese announced that it would sell archdiocesan offices, including the archbishop’s residence, as part of the reorganization.

Barbara Dorris, outreach director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, welcomed the resignations. But she said that “one or two or three small steps doesn’t erase decades of complicity,” and added that Pope Francis’ “public relations advisers are trying hard to burnish his imagine prior to his U.S. trip.”

In Washington, reporters asked Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl about his reaction to the resignations. The cardinal was participating in a symposium on solidarity attended by religious and labor leaders held at AFL-CIO headquarters.

At a midday news conference on the symposium, Cardinal Wuerl said it was a “great tribute to Pope Francis” that the pontiff acted swiftly to accept the Minnesota prelates’ resignations.

Cardinal Wuerl said he believes the U.S. church response “has been exemplary on the issue of clerical abuse going back to 2002,” when the bishops first adopted the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” It was revised in 2005 and 2011.

“I’m hopeful that one … of the good things to come out of this for country” is to see “what the church has learned from this sad experience,” and view the church as a model of the “accountability required of all institutions,” not just the church. He urged other institutions to adopt the church’s “zero tolerance” on abuse and conduct the same background checks it does.

While there was no direct statement from the Vatican that the resignations of Archbishop Nienstedt and Bishop Piche were tied to the Minnesota archdiocese’s mishandling of abuse cases and the criminal charges it faces, Cardinal Wuerl said there could be no more explicit explanation from the church than the resignations themselves.

The fact a resignation is voluntary shows that “the person who resigns now understands the significance” of the situation, Cardinal Wuerl said.

Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden in Rome.

 

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Twin Cities archdiocese affirms commitment to protect children after criminal charges filed

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Catholic News Service

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Catholic officials affirmed the commitment of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to protecting children and pledged to continue to work with an ongoing investigation after the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office criminally charged the archdiocese for failing to protect children.

The charges allege the archdiocese contributed to the harm of three minors sexually abused by former priest Curtis Wehmeyer.

“We all share the goal of protecting children,” said Judge Tim O’Malley, the archdiocese’s director of ministerial standards and safe environment, who spoke to the press alongside Auxiliary Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens outside of the archdiocese’s chancery.

“To that end, the archdiocese will continue to work with the St. Paul Police Department and the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, as well as our private and public sector partners, to accomplish that goal,” O’Malley said.

The charges, filed June 5, include six gross misdemeanors: three counts of contributing to the need for protection or services for a minor, and three counts of contributing to a minor’s status as a juvenile petty offender or delinquency.

“With regard to these three young victims, it is not only Curtis Wehmeyer who is criminally responsible for the harm caused, but it is the archdiocese as well,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi at a news conference announcing the charges.

The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office also filed a civil petition against the archdiocese related to the same conduct as the criminal complaint. The civil petition “is intended to seek legal remedies to prevent the archdiocese from allowing this behavior to ever happen again,” Choi said.

Former pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in St. Paul, Wehmeyer pleaded guilty in Ramsey County in November 2012 to sexually abusing two minors and possessing child pornography, and was convicted in February 2013. In November 2014, Wehmeyer was charged in Chippewa County, Wisconsin, with sexual assault of a third minor victim in 2011. He remains incarcerated.

Ordained in 2001, Wehmeyer served as an associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish in West St. Paul from 2001 to 2006 and parochial administrator of Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul from 2006 to 2009. In 2009, he was named pastor of Blessed Sacrament and nearby St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, which merged into Blessed Sacrament in 2011.

The archdiocese reported allegations of child sexual abuse against Wehmeyer to the St. Paul Police Department and removed him from ministry in June 2012. He was dismissed from the priesthood this year.

St. Paul Attorney Office’s criminal complaint alleges that the archdiocese failed to monitor Wehmeyer properly after instances of sexual misconduct with adults; did not alert his parishioners of his misconduct with adults; and did not take action when Wehmeyer violated church policies, including taking camping trips alone with minors.

Each count carries a maximum sentence of a $3,000 fine or one year in prison, or both. Because the archdiocese is not a person, only the fine would apply if it were convicted, Choi acknowledged.

The criminal charges and civil petition are “about the accountability,” Choi said. “Much can be gained, especially in a situation like this, when there’s an admission that the corporation did wrong. I think that will go a long way with respect to what victims need, what our community needs. Through this process we hope to achieve that.”

The charges have come from a 20-month, two-phase investigation conducted by the St. Paul Police Department and Ramsey County Attorney’s Office. The offices’ investigators have interviewed more than 50 witnesses and obtained approximately 170,000 pages of documentation.

The investigation is ongoing, Choi said, adding that his office does not have enough evidence to charge an individual at this time. Choi and St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith urged people with pertinent information to come forward.

“The facts that we have gathered cannot be ignored, they cannot be dismissed and are frankly appalling, especially when viewed in their totality,” Choi said. “More importantly, our community cannot allow them to be repeated.”

The archdiocese has been “generally cooperative” during the investigation, Choi said. “They have been responsive to all of our requests. We’ve also had the opportunity to validate and verify that what they’ve given us is truthful, since we have evidence from so many sources.”

At the archdiocese’s news conference, O’Malley repeated one of Choi’s promises, that “facts must lead the way.”

“Truth is always in the details,” said O’Malley, who was named to his post last August. “We join Chief Smith in thanking those who have courageously come forward and to help to find that truth and, in turn, protect children. We also join the county attorney and chief in encouraging anyone with information to contact the St. Paul Police Department. The more complete the information, the more likely justice will be served.”

O’Malley, who is the former superintendent of Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and a former FBI agent, declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation.

In a message to employees of the archdiocese, Father Charles Lachowitzer, vicar general and moderator of the curia, said the archdiocese was reviewing the charges and will continue to cooperate with the investigation.

“Please join in praying for victims/survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, as well as for healing in our local church,” he said.

Bishop Cozzens echoed that concern for victims. “We deeply regret the abuse that was suffered by the victims of Curtis Wehmeyer,” he said, “and are grieved for all victims of sexual abuse.”

Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

 

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Fortnight for Freedom: Catholics should be free to serve with ‘eucharistic heart,’ says Baltimore archbishop

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Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE — The Eucharist conforms Catholics to “the pattern of Christ’s self-giving love” and compels them to see the dignity of the poor and perform acts of mercy, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori said at the June 21 opening Mass for this year’s Fortnight for Freedom.

The Little Sisters of the Poor were among those Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori thanked for their service June 21 during the celebration of the third annual Fortnight for Freedom Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Tom McCarthy Jr., Catholic Review)

The Mass coincided with the feast of Corpus Christi.

“By entering the dynamic of Christ’s self-giving eucharistic love, we are impelled … to work for a loving and just society where the dignity of human life is respected from conception until natural death and all the stages in between,” he said in his homily.

More than 1,000 people packed the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the opening of the third annual Fortnight for Freedom, two weeks dedicated to prayer, education and advocacy for religious freedom.

Concelebrating the Mass were Auxiliary Bishop Martin D. Holley of Washington; Auxiliary Bishop F. Richard Spencer of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services; Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden of Baltimore; Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, an auxiliary bishop of Baltimore and bishop-designate of Springfield, Mass.; and a dozen priests.

Archbishop Lori is the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, formed in 2011. In 2012, it published a letter titled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” and launched the Fortnight for Freedom event in response to government infringement on religious freedom rights in the United States and abroad.

Chief among those perceived threats are the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that most employers, including religious employers, provide insurance for artificial birth control, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs. Archbishop Lori and the Archdiocese of Baltimore are among plaintiffs in 100 lawsuits nonprofit and for-profit organizations and businesses have brought against the federal government over the mandate.

In his homily, Archbishop Lori criticized the mandate, as well as state laws criminalizing churches that serve immigrants living in the country illegally and “discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services because they refuse to provide so-called services that violate Catholic teaching.”

Subtle threats

Archbishop Lori acknowledged that in other countries, people are killed for professing their faith. In the United States, he said, the challenges to religious freedom are more subtle yet very real.

“Increasingly, government at all levels is asserting itself in the internal life of churches, telling them that houses of worship are fully religious, whereas religious schools and charities that serve the common good are less so, and therefore less deserving of religious freedom protections,” he said.

The 2014 fortnight theme is “The Freedom to Serve” to emphasize the charitable works of Catholic organizations and individuals. During the Mass, Archbishop Lori distinguished the church’s work from that of nongovernmental agencies, as Pope Francis has done, adding that Catholics “are to be more than an NGO” by virtue of a “eucharistic heart.”

“We are seeking for the church and for church institutions no special privileges,” he said. “We are seeking the freedom to serve, or as Pope Francis once put it, the freedom to proclaim and live the Gospel in its entirety.”

He asked Catholics to keep “in the forefront of our heart” people whom U.S. Catholic humanitarian agencies, parishes and individuals serve.

“Let us look at them not merely as statistics but as persons created in God’s image and called to enjoy friendship with God,” he said.

Among the Mass attendees were members of the Baltimore-based Little Sisters of the Poor, plaintiffs in a well-publicized lawsuit against the federal government over the HHS mandate. The U.S. Supreme Court granted the sisters a temporary injunction in January.

In an interview after Mass, Mother Loraine Marie Clare Maguire, the Little Sisters’ provincial superior, urged Catholics to pray for religious freedom.

“Religious freedom is very important to us and to our mission of caring for the elderly,” she told The Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan newspaper. “You can’t do anything without prayer, and the Eucharist is the summit of our prayer life. It’s what brings us together as a community to pray.”

The Fortnight for Freedom will culminate with a July 4 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

 

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