Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades watched from Rome with disappointment as President Barack Obama announced his “accommodation” to the contraception mandate last week. But that news reinforced for him that being a bishop today is about lovingly suffering for and with your flock.
Bishops from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin gathered on the evening of Feb. 10 around a television at the Pontifical North America College. Their attention was on President Barack Obama as he announced an “accommodation” to his contraception and sterilization mandate.
“I was very disappointed,” said Bishop Rhoades of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese, in a Feb. 17 interview with CNA. “My expectations were not high because when I heard the word ‘compromise,’ I thought to myself, ‘Well, how do you compromise on religious freedom?’ But I wanted to see what he had to say, though. I was open-minded.”
What resulted “wasn’t even an accommodation,” said the bishop, but another “denial of our rights of conscience and right to religious freedom. So it makes us very sad. I think it is something we need to fight.”
For Bishop Rhoades, being a bishop in the United States is no longer a position of “prestige or honor” but is about “loving service that includes sacrifice.”
He has been in Rome since Feb. 9 on an “ad limina” visit with 27 fellow bishops from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. As part of these visits, bishops make a pilgrimage to the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul, as well as attend meetings with the Pope and numerous Vatican departments.
“Praying at their tombs was very moving, to recognize that, yeah, to follow Christ and to be a bishop today means we must take up our cross.”
That “requires us to love our enemies, you know,” he said, “and that is the hardest part, I think, of living the Gospel.”
He stressed that the model for all Catholics has to be Jesus Christ, “who said that his disciples would have to suffer and experience persecution. But we look to Jesus, we look to his cross, we look at how he forgave from the cross and, so, there’s a call to bishops today.”
As he returns to the United States, Bishop Rhoades is reassured that in the battle for religious liberty, a united Catholic voice seems to be holding together, despite offers of “compromise” from the White House.
“I think it looked like it was starting to fracture, but what I’ve heard in the last day or two is that there have been some clear statements, which I’ve been very happy to see.”
He particularly applauds the statement of support from Catholic Charities USA, “even though it had been reported by the White House that they were supportive of the accommodation,” as well as from major Catholic colleges and universities like Notre Dame, which is based his diocese.
“I am very pleased with Fr. Jenkins statement in solidarity with the position of the bishops. And I guess we’ll have to see with the Catholic Health Association, but hopefully they will also be in solidarity, too.”
The bishop also offered his reflections on what was his first ad limina visit to Rome, calling it “an unexpectedly grace filled, peaceful time.”
“I didn’t know what to expect and, really, it’s been almost like a little retreat for me, very spiritually enriching.”
One moment that was a highlight for the bishop came on the first day, when he and the other bishops from Indiana and Illinois met with Pope Benedict XVI, an event he described as “a beautiful experience.”
He also relished being able to offer Mass at the tomb of Blessed Pope John Paul II on Feb. 11.
“That was very moving to me,” he said, “I was a seminarian and served Mass for him. And I was also one of the last bishops he appointed before he died, so that was an emotional moment for me.”
In fact, Bishop Rhoades said he has “thought a lot” in recent days about the example Pope John Paul gave through “his courage and his love.”
“In my own prayer this week, I see that need to be courageous in proclaiming the truth and also to have that spirit of love and charity for all whom we are called to serve.”
The visit concluded on the morning of Feb. 17 with Mass at the tomb of Blessed Pope John XXIII in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Tags: Contraception mandate