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US Bishops Unanimous in Stand for Religious Freedom

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The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) continued their annual Spring Meeting, being held this year in Atlanta. The three day gathering began Wednesday, June 13 with sessions open to the public on that day and the morning of June 14. The remainder of the time was scheduled for executive session and not open to media coverage.

In a presentation on religious liberty issues, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom, acknowledged the U.S. bishops' "Fortnight for Freedom" campaign, which will take place from June 21 through July 4, has come under heavy criticism in the secular media, in the blogosphere and by some Catholics as being a partisan political effort. Archbishop Lori pointed out the two-week period is meant to be free of politics and will emphasize church teaching on religious freedom, he said.

At the end of their hour-long discussion of religious freedom in the United States, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of USCCB, asked the body of bishops if it would be willing to declare its approval of “United for Religious Freedom,” the unanimous statement of the Administrative Committee issued on March 14. Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, California seconded Cardinal Dolan's motion, which was put to the body by a voice vote and unanimously affirmed.

“United for Religious Freedom” describes the bishops as “strongly unified and intensely focused in ... opposition to the various threats to religious freedom in our day,” and explains that the HHS mandate “demands our immediate attention.” The document identifies three basic problems with the mandate: “an unwarranted government definition of religion,” “a mandate to act against our teachings,” and “a violation of personal civil rights.”

“United for Religious Freedom” is available on the USCCB website at: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/march-14-statement-on-religious-freedom-and-hhs-mandate.cfm

In the Diocese of Raleigh, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge will begin the Fortnight in the Diocese of Raleigh with the celebration of Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Raleigh on June 21 at 6:00 PM. A letter on Religious Freedom will be available this weekend in parish bulletins on posted on the Diocesan website.

The bishops received a report from Bishop John C. Wester ofSalt Lake City, chairman of the USCCB Communications Committee.  Bishop Wester explained the Church is beginning to use new media in addition to traditional forms of print and broadcast, in rethinking how to carry its teachings and its stances on public policy issues to broader audiences, including Catholics.

"We've got to figure out a way to be where the people are getting their news," Bishop Wester said. "The advantage is the instantaneousness of it. Others are getting the news out there, and so if the church doesn't get her message out there, then other messages are going to be sitting there ... and then it's settled in people minds."

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, USCCB president, told the bishops that the effort will include the naming of a spokesperson for the conference who would be available around the clock to respond to media inquiries and to be pro-active in seeking to share church views and teaching. That statement brought broad support from the bishops.

It was also announced Thursday that Catechism of the Catholic Church is now available at the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in a format identical to an e-book. The new version, currently only available in English, can be found at www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/index.cfm.