Are America’s Catholic bishops getting co-opted by the political right?
One day after a group of bishops sued the Obama administration over a mandate for employers to provide contraception coverage, a California bishop says he and some other bishops are worried that the church’s campaign against the mandate is becoming too political and could hurt the Catholic Church.
Bishop Stephen Blaire, of Stockton, Calif., said in an article in America, a left-leaning magazine published by the Jesuits, that a wider range of views need to be heard when the bishops meet next month in Atlanta. Said Blaine:
The question is what is our focus as bishops and that we have opportunity to clarify our focus and that we are all in agreement.
I think there are different groups that are trying to co-opt [the mandate debate] and make it into a political issue, and that’s why we need to have a deeper discussion as bishops.
The article added that Blaine is “worried that some groups ’very far to the right’ are trying to use the conflict as ‘an anti-Obama campaign.’”
Thus far leading bishops have attempted to present a united front in their campaign against what they call a government assault on religious liberty. Church culture frowns on “brother bishops” criticizing one another, so it’s been hard to glean what the real range of views are. Thirteen of the country’s 195 dioceses were involved in the lawsuits filed Monday, as well as some prominent universities from across the Catholic spectrum.
Several key leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, including Cardinal Tim Dolan of New York and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, have made the religious liberty issues their top current priority. They have focused heavily on the mandate, which requires most employers to provide coverage of reproductive services, whether directly or by requiring their insurance companies to do so.
“The Catholic Church has not picked this fight,” Wuerl wrote in an op-ed for Wednesday’s Washington Post. “We are simply trying to defend our — and other faith groups’ — long-standing rights. While the administration wants to regulate religion, we are not trying to force anything on anyone.”
It’s unclear how far dissent over this issue will go. A recent editorial in archdiocese’s newspaper, criticized America magazine for not focusing enough on traditional marriage and not hewing more closely to priorities of the bishops’ conference.