Religious liberty concerns, charter report on tap for bishops’ meeting

With a long-standing campaign to press its concerns about infringements on religious liberty by governments and the courts, the U.S. bishops will devote a significant portion of their spring meeting June 13-15 in Atlanta to the issue.

The bishops also will receive a 10-year progress report by the National Review Board on the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” and hear recommendations from the review board stemming from the study “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010.”

Two hours will be devoted to the religious liberty discussion, which will encompass domestic and international concerns as the bishops continue to rally support for and raise awareness about infringements on religious rights in the United States and abroad.

At the forefront of the bishops’ religious liberty efforts is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that would force Catholic institutions to provide health insurance coverage to employees for procedures the Catholic Church opposes, including abortion-inducing drugs, artificial contraceptives and sterilizations. The mandate was announced Aug. 1, 2011, as part of the rules HHS is issuing to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.

Other concerns have surfaced that worry the bishops, including court rulings and policy decisions that have forced Catholic institutions out of adoption and foster care.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, told Catholic News Service he will update the status of the series of lawsuits filed May 21 across the country by Catholic institutions and organizations challenging the HHS mandate. He also planned to discuss the major activities around the country for the “fortnight for freedom” campaign in support of religious freedom called by the ad hoc committee for June 21 to July 4.

He said he also will review “ongoing efforts to educate Catholics and the general public on the church’s teaching on religious liberty and religious heritage as Americans.”

Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, will address religious liberty concerns internationally during the two-hour discussion. Two other speakers will join Bishop Pates during the session to offer ways Americans can be in solidarity with the church abroad.

Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad, who serves as president of Caritas Iraq, will describe the situation facing Christians in the Middle Eastern country.

Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University, will provide an overview of challenges to religious freedom around the world. [More]


CNS/Catholic Sentinel