USCCB General Assembly
USCCB General Assembly
Thanks, very much, Cardinal Dolan. And welcome, everyone, to Baltimore! This morning I would like to offer a brief outline of the activity of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty since we last met together in Atlanta. This presentation will have two parts. First I will review with you the activities that pertain to teaching about religious freedom and the pastoral initiatives that have been launched nationally & locally. I will also report on efforts that have been made to communicate in the media as well as efforts in the area of public relations. The second part of my comments will be looking ahead ... first to the immediate and mid-term goals and second to the longer-term goals that the Ad Hoc Committee envisions.
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Let me begin with the Teaching/Pastoral Activities Launched by the Committee. First is the Fortnight for Freedom held June 22 – July 4 of this year. At the national level – there were so-called “bookend” Masses – the Opening Mass at the Basilica of the Assumption here in Baltimore where I served as celebrant and homilist and the Closing Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington celebrated by Cardinal Wuerl and the homilist was Archbishop Chaput. Both were completely packed and both congregations were very enthusiastic. At the same time, prayer and educational resources were posted on line and by all report the traffic was heavy ... And we launched a texting campaign to build a network so that people could receive information/encouragement in the work of fostering religious freedom and participate in that work as well – the word “freedom” to 377-377.
At the LOCAL level – Some 120 diocese held events that were marked by energy, creativity, diversity ... some examples follow ...
There you see the Independence Walk in Des Moines, and On-line Town Meeting in Boston, an Inter-faith Prayer Rally in San Antonio, a very large Rally in Kansas and the activity that looks like the most fun is the Rosary Ride in CO Springs. In addition, in parishes across the country there were special Masses, Holy Hours, talks and discussion groups, and many other activities. So a warm word of thanks to you, brother bishops, for your leadership and for all you did to promote the Fortnight for Freedom.
Moving forward – and sticking with teaching/pastoral activities, let me note the following: A Pilgrimage for Life and Liberty was held at the National Shrine on Oct. 14 which I celebrated and preached at, and again we had an overflow crowd of 5,500 to 6,000; it was televised, and very enthusiastic, with lots of young people. In addition, working with Pro Life Activities, we launched a national novena for life and liberty the beginning of which was the pilgrimage to the Shrine just mentioned.
As you also know materials have been sent out for the Solemnity of Christ the King. The foundational statement on religious freedom, Our First Most Cherished Liberty suggested that the solemnity of Christ the King is a natural moment to focus on religious freedom and an opportunity to offer encouragement and to send the signal that whatever setbacks occur the efforts to defend religious freedom are not going to go away.
Let me also mention that a religious liberty curriculum was developed and that many contacts have been made with ecumenical and interfaith partners, relationships that will be very important as we look to the future, as well as concerted outreached to various Catholic organizations.
Let me turn now to public communications – the purpose of these efforts is to educate and form Catholics – those who attend Mass regularly and tend to see clearly the challenges to religious freedom that we are facing; and those who don’t attend so regularly and may not perceive as clearly the reality and significance of challenges to religious freedom. These public communications address a range of religious freedom issues, from the HHS mandate, to the religious liberty implications of SSM, to the Alabama immigration law, and these materials are not forgetful of those who around the world suffer overt religious persecution. These materials were designed to be evergreen – before the election, right now, and into the future.
In our public communications, we used the media in its various forms – brochures, print ads, radio, internet, and the texting campaign. We also worked in both English and Spanish and while we have a lot of work to do sought to make these messages culturally and age appropriate. We gathered together resources on a new website – www.firstamericanfreedom.com. In the next 2 slides you will see a web-site screen shot and one of the four print ads that made it into newspapers around the country.
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I think the first thing to be said is that we’re not going away but intend to pursue the project of defending and foster religious freedom in the short and mid-term and in the long term. The Ad Hoc Committee has been operative only 1 year – but from the very beginning of its work, from its initial meetings, understood that the defending religious liberty required dealing with short and mid-term goals and long term goals ... that this was a project that caused us to focus on what is immediately before us but also to look ahead and to do longer term formational work. One year later that seems truer than ever. In the short to mid-term – the political landscape is the same but so is our resolve to eliminate the HHS mandate and most especially the four-part definition it contains of what constitutes religious activity such that a church or church institution can qualify for an exemption from the mandate ...
The lawsuits continue and since we last met in Atlanta additional law suits have been filed and all of us are carefully monitoring the progress of these suits.
The legislative efforts continue – again, it is a challenging political landscape for these efforts – but it is also important that we leave no stone unturned.
And the Conference is participating in and monitoring the latest round of rule making from HHS – around the mandate – it is important to note that it is not just the HHS mandate but the redefinition of marriage that gives the work of defending freedom great urgency. The Ad Hoc Committee does not address these things alone but rather in close collaboration with all the appropriate committees/staff and in these matters works directly with the leadership of the Conference.
Apart from urgent policy matters, our goal is to provide education/formation as part of the New Evangelization ... I think our initial efforts – which all of us have undertaken together – have demonstrated the need for greater formation, especially to reach young people to open their hearts to the faith and to their heritage as Americans. Reciprocal relationship between the New Evangelization & Religious Freedom: on the one hand, religious liberty related to human dignity is part and parcel of the Gospel we re-propose for the people of our day; on the other hand, we seek to defend religious liberty so that we will have the freedom to fulfill our three fold mission of proclaiming the Gospel, worship in spirit and truth, and engaging in that charity that evangelizes. As the document Our First Most Cherished Liberty notes and I as stated in my address here last November, we have to keep in focus both the Church’s teaching on religious freedom and the heritage of religious freedom that is part of our republic.
Clearly, a lot has happened in the last year, and there is a lot more to learn and a lot more to do, especially growth in our capacity to communicate a good message in new and effective ways.
Finally I would say that defending religious freedom, like defending life and marriage – are not short term projects – and perhaps they never were – it’s only that we can see this with great clarity in these days. It is important we be continually renewed in our resolve and that we see ourselves not as part of a fleeting effort but rather as part of a movement to defend, promote, and foster life, liberty, and marriage. Thank you, dear brothers, for your kind attention.