Bishops say HHS lawsuits represent broad Catholic interest
By Michelle Bauman
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.

.- Bishops nationwide have voiced support for a wave of recent lawsuits against the federal contraception mandate, explaining that the dioceses that did not take legal action are represented by those that did.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta explained that the lawsuits “represent a concerted effort to exemplify the broad spectrum of Catholic institutions that are directly impacted by the HHS mandate.”

He said that while many other Catholic organizations “would certainly seek to join this legal action,” the most important actions are prayer and support for initiatives to protect religious liberty.

In a May 23 statement, Archbishop Gregory emphasized his full support for several recent lawsuits challenging the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.

Forty-three Catholic dioceses and organizations across the country announced legal action against the federal government on May 21.

The lawsuits, which are being filed in 12 dozen different jurisdictions across the country, challenge a federal regulation that will require employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.

Bishops from every diocese in the U.S. have spoken out against the mandate, warning that it poses a serious threat to religious liberty and could force Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable organizations to shut down.

The Archdiocese of Atlanta is not one of the plaintiffs in the new lawsuits, but Archbishop Gregory made it clear that he supported the efforts of his brother bishops.

A member of the religious freedom committee for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he explained that the conference “has tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress. No resolution has been made as of this date.”

Now, he said, the bishops must turn to the court “to protect our valuable ministries and fundamental right to practice religion without government interference.”

Known for his work in the African American community and for the critical leadership he provided in developing the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Archbishop Gregory served as the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2001 to 2004.

As the archbishop of Atlanta, he will be hosting the bishops’ upcoming Spring General Assembly in June.

Pat Chivers, communications director for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, explained that while the archdiocese is not being legally represented in the newest wave of lawsuits, its interests are being represented by the dioceses that are filing the suits.

Archbishop Gregory has written a letter that will be read at all Masses next weekend “to show that we are in support” of the legal action taken by several dioceses across the country, she told CNA.

Chivers explained that Jones Day, the law firm that is filing the lawsuits, has an office in Atlanta, and the archdiocese has therefore been “part of the legal strategy” behind the effort.

The goal was not to have every diocese in the U.S. to file a lawsuit, she said. Rather, the dioceses that did file them offer a broad and diverse representation of the concerns, situations and interests of dioceses across the country.

Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio agreed.

“The particular plaintiffs in this lawsuit were chosen by legal counsel at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,” he explained. “They are representative of dioceses and Catholic institutions across the nation.”

Bishop Murry explained that his diocese “unambiguously supports” the legal action to defend religious freedom, which “is a cornerstone of basic human rights and is necessary for the flourishing of a just society.”

Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati echoed his remarks. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has not filed a lawsuit, but it is unnecessary “for every diocese to join the suits in order for them to be effective,” he said. 

“The various plaintiffs reflect a broad cross-section of Catholic institutions, and together they represent the wide variety of issues, impacts, economic consequences, and divergent facts that exist among Catholic organizations nationwide,” Archbishop Schnurr observed.

He voiced support for the recently-announced lawsuits, saying that litigation has become “the only way left to fight for our constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion.”

Tags: Contraception mandate, US Bishops

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April 23, 2014

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