ATLANTA – Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore June 13 acknowledged the U.S. bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom campaign has come under heavy criticism in the secular media, in the blogosphere and by some Catholics as being a partisan political effort.
But the two-week period is meant to be free of politics and will emphasize Church teaching on religious freedom, the chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom said in Atlanta.
“Already we realize that defending religious freedom is not a walk in the park,” Archbishop Lori said during the spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, saying that politics plays no role in the effort.
“We’ve seen some reaction to our work that is sometimes hostile, sometimes unfair and inaccurate and sometimes derisive,” he said.
The upcoming fortnight will be a period of prayer, education and action aimed at explaining how a federal health care contraceptive mandate violates religious principles. The mandate requires most religious employers to provide free health insurance coverage for contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations.
The fortnight opens with Mass June 21 in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. It ends in Washington July 4 with Mass in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the tolling of bells at churches across the country at noon Eastern time. Some 70 dioceses have formally announced events and activities they are sponsoring or participating in.
The archbishop said the USCCB has begun considering alternative actions should the U.S. Supreme Court uphold the health care law and should the dozen lawsuits challenging the contraceptive mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services fail to have the mandate overturned for religious institutions.
While not offering specifics, Archbishop Lori said the bishops remain interested in meeting with officials from President Barack Obama’s administration.
He also suggested that the bishops’ conference may look toward a legislative remedy “even though that’s pretty challenging at this particular time in our political history.”