The U.S. bishops will hold their spring meeting June 13-15, 2012, in Atlanta with a significant portion of their gathering devoted to the issue of religious liberty. The discussion will encompass domestic and international concerns as the bishops continue to rally support for and raise awareness about infringements on religious rights in the United States and abroad.
At the forefront of the bishops' religious liberty efforts is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' mandate that would force Catholic institutions to provide health insurance coverage to employees for procedures the Catholic Church opposes, including abortion-inducing drugs, artificial contraceptives and sterilizations. The mandate was announced Aug. 1, 2011, as part of the rules HHS is issuing to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.
Other concerns have surfaced that worry the bishops, including court rulings and policy decisions that have forced Catholic institutions out of adoption and foster care.
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, told Catholic News Service he will update the status of the series of lawsuits filed May 21 across the country by Catholic institutions and organizations challenging the HHS mandate. He also planned to discuss the major activities around the country for the "fortnight for freedom" campaign in support of religious freedom called by the ad hoc committee for June 21 to July 4. (The Diocese of Raleigh activities for the fortnight will be announced May 30.)
He said he also will review "ongoing efforts to educate Catholics and the general public on the church's teaching on religious liberty and religious heritage as Americans."
Thomas F. Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University, will provide an overview of challenges to religious freedom around the world.
"Our view is that the two (sides of religious liberty) are very much interrelated," Archbishop Lori said. "It's important for us to keep the torch of religious liberty burning brightly at home so we can be a beacon of hope for people everywhere, particularly for people who are suffering real persecution."
The bishops also will receive a 10-year progress report by the National Review Board on the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" and hear recommendations from the review board stemming from the study "The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010."
Representatives of the National Review Board will look at the progress made on preventing incidents of clergy sexual abuse since the adoption of the charter in Dallas in 2002 and offer recommendations on how to strengthen its implementation for the future, said Mary Jane Doerr, associate director of the bishops' Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection.
The report will examine accomplishments under the four sections of the charter: healing, effective response, accountability and protecting the faith. The recommendations will encompass the main factors identified in the study: education, situational prevention, and oversight and accountability, Doerr told CNS.
The bishops will hear from Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wis., chairman of the bishops' Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, on activities planned for the Year of Faith declared by Pope Benedict XVI, which will run from October 2012 to November 2013. His report will include an overview of the resources the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is developing for use in dioceses and parishes.
A discussion on a proposal for a special message on "Catholic Reflections on Work, Poverty and a Broken Economy" also is planned.
Finally, the National Advisory Council, which includes bishops, men and women religious, diocesan priests, deacons and laypeople representing the 15 geographical regions of the bishops' conference, will give its regular report to the bishops. Dr. John Pendergrass, Ed.D., Director of the Child and Youth Protection Office in the Diocese of Raleigh, is a member of the Advisory Council.