Did You Hear the NPR Piece Today on the “Fortnight for Freedom?”

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, shown speaking at the state Capitol in Hartford, Conn., in 2009, is the head of the U.S. bishops' Fortnight for Freedom campaign. Photo credit: Jessica Hill/AP

It was actually pretty balanced. A couple of parishioners “for,” a couple “against,” and snippets from Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop Lori, and (naturally) the strident comments of Bishop Jenky from Peoria.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launches what it’s calling the “Fortnight for Freedom” on Thursday — two weeks of praying and fasting because the bishops believe the church’s religious freedom is being threatened by the Obama administration’s health care policies.

“This is the first time that I’ve felt personally attacked by my government,” parishioner Kathleen Burke says after a service at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Bethesda, Md.

At stake, Burke says, is the federal health care law, which requires religious universities, hospitals and charities to offer insurance plans that cover birth control — an issue the Catholic faith opposes.

Another parishioner, Tom Shuler, says the government has always made exceptions for religious organizations to adhere to their beliefs, until now.

“The Obama administration and all of the accompanying executives there are clearly anti-religious,” Shuler says.

He accuses the White House of imposing a secular worldview and narrowing the definition of a religious organization. “Lookit, Mother Teresa could not operate in the United States,” Shuler says. “Jesus could not operate in the United States right now.”

His wife, Jamie, is delighted the bishops are fighting back. “Obama has brought this on himself,” she says. “If he doesn’t want to play with fire, then don’t light the match.”

Advocating Religious Liberty With Strong Rhetoric

The Fortnight for Freedom campaign, which runs through July 4, includes special Masses and sermons devoted to the theme. Radio spots and videos produced by the bishops conference accuse the Obama administration of taking “the first step to deny religious liberty.”

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who is heading the campaign, says the bishops have a simple goal. “We’re trying to protect our institutions and our fundamental freedoms as individuals,” he says, “and so this seemed to be the moment that we have to draw the line in the sand.”

The rhetoric is pretty strong. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who leads the bishops conference, says the White House is “strangling” the church. The bishop of Oakland warns of “despotism.” And then there was an April sermon by the bishop of Peoria, Ill., Daniel Jenky.

“Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open,” Jenky says in the video, adding that the dictators would not allow the church to compete in education, social services or health care.

“President Obama with his radical pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda now seems intent on following a similar path,” he says.

Lori says the times call for blunt language.

“Sometimes prophets are thought to be unduly alarmist, and sometimes their speech is a little bit strong,” the archbishop says. “But that’s what prophetic speech always has been.”

He contends Catholics are fully behind the campaign, dismissing a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute that found 57 percent of Catholics are not worried about their religious liberties.

Listen (or read) the rest here. If you really want to get heartburn, wade into the comment box too.

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As for me and my house, we’ll be remembering these words of wisdom penned by St. Ignatius of Antioch on his round about way to the Forum,

Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be; even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church.”

And so we’ll be at our parish at 7:00PM tomorrow for the Holy Hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament to kick off the Fortnight for Freedom. Here is my bishops’ letter to the flock regarding what is at stake,

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Four months ago I shared with you the deep concern that I and all my brother bishops have regarding the unprecedented attack upon our most cherished freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution—our religious liberty.  Unfortunately, our concerns have only grown more acute and worrisome.  This is a threat that transcends every religious affiliation and affects every person of conscience, such that no Catholic or Catholic institution will be unaffected.

If your source of information regarding this threat has only been the secular media, you could be led to believe that the bishops’ concerns are unwarranted, exaggerated, or even politically motivated—or made to believe that this is really only about a “crusade” against birth control.  But I can assure you that it is none of these.  Why then this bias in reporting?

History demonstrates that whenever there is an erosion of religious freedom and rights of conscience, there is a corresponding rise of anti-Catholicism, and this is the pattern we see today. “Catholic bashing,” said to be “a national past-time,” has risen to new levels of indecency, with even full page advertisements smearing the Church and her teachings and calling upon Catholics to “quit” in protest, featured in major newspapers. And yet, it is only the Catholic Church that is attacked in such ways.

This is why Catholics across the nation, led by their bishops, will be observing a “Fortnight for Freedom” from June 21st to July 4th.  This 14 day period is meant to help every Catholic to become better informed, not only about religious freedom, but about our Catholic faith.  It is a time for us to consider what it truly means to be a Catholic and to stand up against these attacks upon our freedom to exercise our faith.

Our freedoms are something to be grateful for.  We are Americans and we are Catholic, and our allegiances though distinct, need not be contradictory.  So when our government forces us to choose between two citizenships, we must stand up for the one that is of Heaven.  We will give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we cannot give to Caesar what belongs only to God—our conscience.

Let me very clear. There is no government creed that can supersede the Creed we profess in every Mass.  Nor is there any self-appointed government spokesperson, even should they profess to be Catholic, who can impose boundaries and restrict our preaching and living the Gospel and expressing it in our works of mercy.  But only to the bishops in union with the Pope is it given by divine right to not only teach the truth of the Gospel, but to safeguard and protect it against all that is contrary.

So I have asked all our pastors to observe this “Fortnight for Freedom” in their parishes, to conduct Holy Hours of prayer, to preach on religious liberty, and to utilize the educational materials available from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  I encourage you visit their website, www.fortnight4freedom.org.

And so I ask all of you to join in solidarity with me, and with all our priests, deacons and religious, to pray for our country, our government leaders, and for the protection of our religious freedoms. I also ask for your prayers, and for you to especially pray for all the bishops and priests in our country, that we will not be lacking in courage or resolve to defend the Gospel. Please be assured of my continued prayers for all of you.  May God bless you.

Sincerely in Christ,

╬  Richard F. Stika

Bishop of Knoxville

Ora et labora. Work and pray.

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  • enness

    “a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute that found 57 percent of Catholics are not worried about their religious liberties.”

    Reminds me of a sticker I first saw in my school days: “If you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention.” I AM THE 43%!

  • Frank Weathers

    Heh!

  • joannemcportland

    I guess the line that stuck with me was the woman who was turned off by hearing, at a parish F4F meeting, somebody say, “There are cars in this church parking lot with Obama stickers! They’re COMPLICIT!” This is why I won’t sign on to official observances that go beyond prayer for the general preservation of our religious liberties. When F4F becomes Beat Obama and/or Elect Mitt, as it has in way too many places (and completely in violation of tax laws), even in Bp Lori’s remarks, I’m not going there. That is one party or another coopting the Church, and it’s keeping the focus on the temporal, short-term. If people think the culture of secularism will change radically with a change in White House occupancy they are very wrong. If people think a Church w/o Democrats is a good goal, they’re also wrong. We should be using this fortnight to remind all Americans, of all parties and denominations, of the values of religious freedom (and other attendant values) and their centrality to American life. Instead, whether it’s bishops on the F4F train or nuns on the bus, it’s become partisan politics at its worst. (Sorry, Frank. I do go on . . .)

    • Frank Weathers

      It’s the noise vs. signal thing, as it always has been. It’s so easy for us to forget the signal, and go chasing after the noise. The bishops, in my opinion, are staying focused on “signal,” which is as you state:

      We should be using this fortnight to remind all Americans, of all parties and denominations, of the values of religious freedom (and other attendant values) and their centrality to American life.

      We’ve a long march ahead of of us, and there are no promises of rose gardens. Only the cross.


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