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July 9, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 18
 

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photo: Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo gives the benediction at the Mass June 24 at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart which opened the Fortnight for Freedom observation in the diocese. With him is Deacon Marshall Banks. At the left is Nicholas Stein, who served as minister of celebration.Religious liberty at stake, Bishop says

The religious freedom that our nation’s founding fathers wanted American citizens to have is being threatened by the upcoming Health and Human Services mandate backed by the current administration.

This is the belief expressed by Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo who spoke about the importance of religious liberty in the United States and how many services made available by Catholic schools and service organizations might be denied due to loss of religious liberty if the HHS mandate is allowed to affect them.

The Bishop spoke about the threat to religious liberty in a homily June 24 at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. The regular Sunday 11 a.m. liturgy marked the beginning of the Fortnight for Freedom which was to be observed throughout the United States from June 21, the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, to July 4, Independence Day.

The Fortnight for Freedom observance was precipitated by the HHS mandate, Bishop DiLorenzo said.

Defend our First Freedom

Virginians have long recognized our God-given right to religious liberty. James Madison, often called the “father” of the U.S. Constitution, said in 1788, “There is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion. Its least interference with it would be a most flagrant usurpation.

“I can appeal to my uniform conduct on this subject, that I have warmly supported religious freedom.”

Fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson echoed the sentiment two decades later, “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.”

The mandate does not affect churches, but it will affect church-related organizations which will now be forced to offer health insurance which includes abortion, sterilization and access to abortion-inducing drugs. The Catholic Church has always clearly stated that abortion and sterilization is wrong.

In light of this, Bishop DiLorenzo asserted that Catholics and others who believe the mandate threatens the right to religious liberty must speak up.

“You and I have a role in the Church and in American society,” Bishop DiLorenzo said, adding that the role of the bishop is to clearly get across “what we believe.”

“It’s my role to teach,” the Bishop said. “It isn’t my role to coerce. I am to invite, persuade and exhort.

“It is your role as part of the baptized laity to build our society in such a way that our Christian values are undergirding it,” he continued. “You have to be good Christians and go out and be good citizens.”

Pointing out that he has been using a recently acquired IPad that he called “a walking library,” Bishop DiLorenzo said he used to it to learn more about the words of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution and see what those who framed those documents said.

“The founding fathers wanted us to have religious freedom,” Bishop DiLorenzo said.

“You are welcome to raise your voice in the context of the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution,” he explained.

“We do it in a peaceable way,” Bishop DiLorenzo continued. “We go to the courts when we have a disagreement. It has nothing to do with political partisanship.

“We are bringing to the public consciousness that this particular mandate oversteps the boundaries as it attempts to say who is religious and who is not.”

In light of what he considers “boundary crossing,” the Bishop said there is “undue entangling of the government” with institutions like Catholic schools and organizations like Catholic Charities which serve everybody and do not provide their services based on the religion or lack thereof of people they serve.

This is an outgrowth of Catholic social teaching.

“All are included in the ministry,” Bishop DiLorenzo said, adding “all of which we will try to give in the best possible service that you need.”

While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and various Catholic dioceses and institutions including the University of Notre Dame have filed lawsuits opposing the HHS mandate, Bishop DiLorenzo said the opposition is not merely a Catholic issue only.

“Others have raised their voices as well,” he said. “They feel that ‘if it can happen to Catholics, it can happen to us.’

“Some Protestant Christian organizations and Orthodox Jewish groups have raised their voices in concern.”

“If you are interested,” he said looking out at the congregation, “you should do something about it.

“You need only to go to the website of the Virginia Catholic Conference (www.vcc.org) and it will tell you how you can take action.”

In conclusion, Bishop DiLorenzo emphasized a point he had made earlier.

“I am expected to teach,” he said. “You are to be good Catholic Christians and live by Christian values.

“I know you’ll do the right thing.”

Many parishes throughout the Diocese of Richmond observed the Fortnight for Freedom, beginning with a Richmond Area Vespers service at St. Mary’s Church in Richmond. Father Michael Renninger, pastor, presented a talk on the Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae) from the Second Vatican Council.

Other activities included a talk on religious liberty by Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, at St. Andrew’s Church in Roanoke June 21, and a Holy Hour with Rosary and Benediction at St. Matthew’s Church in Virginia Beach June 21 with a talk by Father John Abe, pastor.

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