Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif. has clarified that he is united with his fellow bishops in their efforts to oppose the threat to religious freedom posed by the federal contraception mandate.

“I stand solidly with my brother bishops in our common resolve to overturn the unacceptable intrusion of government into the life of the Church by the HHS Mandate,” said Bishop Blaire in a May 24 statement. 

He explained that he wanted to “clarify some misunderstandings” related to his earlier comments about the mandate.

A May 22 article in America magazine quoted Bishop Blaire as having concerns about an announcement the day before that 43 Catholic dioceses and organizations around the U.S. were filing lawsuits against the federal government.

Filed in 12 different jurisdictions across the country, the lawsuits challenge a federal mandate 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 regulation, warning that it poses a serious threat to religious liberty and could force Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable organizations to close.

Several media outlets and commentators have used Bishop Blaire’s comments to suggest division among the bishops regarding the mandate.

However, Bishop Blaire said that his comments have been misunderstood. He stressed his full support for his brother bishops in their efforts to fight the mandate and protect religious freedom.

He noted that the bishops’ administrative committee issued a statement in March committing to fight the mandate through appeals to the Obama administration, Congress or the courts.  

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“I contributed to and voted for this statement, and continue to support it, including its call for legal action as was announced on Monday,” he said.

Some liberal commentators have also suggested divisions exist among the bishops because not every diocese in the country filed a lawsuit. 

However, individuals involved in the strategy discussions behind the legal action explained that the initiative did not intend to have each diocese file a suit. Rather, certain dioceses were chosen to represent a wide cross-section of the concerns and interests voiced by all the dioceses in the country.

Numerous bishops from dioceses that did not file a lawsuit have spoken out in support of the legal efforts, confirming that they are represented by the actions of their fellow bishops.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who leads the U.S. bishops’ religious freedom committee, described the speculation about a lack of unity as “elements of the media looking for what they perceive to be a little, small crack in the wall.”

Speaking on EWTN's “The World Over” with Raymond Arroyo on May 24, the archbishop said that these media reports are “missing the whole story.”

He explained that the bishops have held numerous discussions and “no one disagrees about our need to defend our religious liberty.”

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Bishop Blaire believes that the recent lawsuits share the same “essential goal” as the discussions with the administration and congressional advocacy.

These efforts are all united in seeking “to defend the right of the Church to define herself and to preserve the identity and integrity of the Catholic ministries exercised through her institutions,” he said.

The bishop said he recognizes that religious freedom is critical in allowing the Church to fulfill her God-given mission. It is “totally unacceptable” for the federal government to force Catholic institutions to violate their core beliefs, he said. 

Bishop Blaire also urged efforts “to persuade others to join us in this just cause through reasoned civil and respectful discussion.”  

He said that he looks forward to discussions at the upcoming meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference in Atlanta this June, which will provide “an opportunity to agree on next steps to achieve our common and essential goal of ending this violation of religious freedom.”