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

Catholic News Service photo
Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., center, takes notes during the annual spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Bellevue, Wash., in 2011.

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — 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.

“Our view is that the two (sides of religious liberty) are very much interrelated,” Archbishop Lori said. “It’s important for us to keep the torch of religious liberty burning brightly at home so we can be a beacon of hope for people everywhere, particularly for people who are suffering real persecution.”

Representatives of the National Review Board will look at the progress made on preventing incidents of clergy sexual abuse since the adoption of the charter in Dallas in 2002 and offer recommendations on how to strengthen its implementation for the future, said Mary Jane Doerr, associate director of the bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection.

The report will examine accomplishments under the four sections of the charter: healing, effective response, accountability and protecting the faith.

The National Review Board also will offer a series of recommendations to the bishops stemming from the “causes and context” study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York released in 2011. The study found “no single identifiable ’cause’ of sexually abusive behavior toward minors” by clergy and encouraged steps to deny abusers “the opportunity to abuse.”

The recommendations will encompass the main factors identified in the study: education, situational prevention, and oversight and accountability, Doerr told CNS.

“They want the recommendations to broaden the audience, not just to members of the church, but to the community at large. We’re all responsible for protecting children,” Doerr explained.

Carolyn Woo, the new president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, will address the bishops for the first time. She stepped into her position as head of the bishops’ international aid and development agency in January.

The bishops will hear from Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, Wis., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, on activities planned for the Year of Faith declared by Pope Benedict, which will run from October 2012 to November 2013. His report will include an overview of the resources the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is developing for use in dioceses and parishes.
A discussion on a proposal for a special message on “Catholic Reflections on Work, Poverty and a Broken Economy” also is planned.

Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, Calif., chairman of the bishops’ Subcommittee on the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, will deliver a report on the subcommittee’s work.

Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, who chairs the bishops’ Committee on Communications, will report on the work of the Task Force for Communications.

On internal matters, Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, USCCB secretary, will update the bishops on the development of the conference’s 2013-2016 strategic plan. USCCB staff have spent months developing plans to carry out conference-wide priorities under the overarching theme of “New Evangelization: Faith-Worship-Witness.”

The update is expected to identify strategies to tackle the priorities of faith formation and sacramental practice, life and dignity of the human person, religious liberty and strengthening marriage and family life.

Finally, the National Advisory Council, which includes bishops, men and women religious, diocesan priests, deacons and laypeople representing the 15 geographical regions of the bishops’ conference, will give its regular report to the bishops.