GEORGIA ON MY MIND
I just left the Grand Ballroom of the Hyatt Atlanta Downtown, my daytime prison cell for the past two days. We just concluded our Spring Meeting of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB), which is distinguishable from the Fall meeting in several respects: it travels (which means that we never meet in the same city two years in a row), it is shorter (two days instead of three), it is slightly less well attended by the membership, and it usually results in nothing startling, controversial, or seismic. A new innovation attempted this year, quite successfully I would say, was to spend an entire afternoon listening to and responding to presentations on an issue of importance (this year the HHS Mandate debate). Quite frankly, I enjoyed the opportunity to spend some time in a matter of great importance to me, with insights and presentations given by experts in the field of religious liberty.
Dr. John Garvey, the President of the Catholic University of America and himself a lawyer, spoke about recent incursions into the freedom of religion. Citing five recent incidents in recent years, Dr. Garvey made a compelling case for the USCCB doing what it is doing relative to the Affordable Health Care Act and their attendant regulations from the Department of Health and Human Services. You may read Dr. Garvey’s talk to us by clicking here. A second presentation on the topic of international religious freedom was given by Ambassador Thomas Farr, currently on the faculty of Georgetown University and entitled “The Church and the Global Crisis of Religious Liberty” and it can be accessed by clicking here. The final presentation of the day was the most compelling to me and was given by Bishop Shlemon Warduni, a Catholic bishop of the Chaldean Rite from Iraq. Quite frankly, the bishop’s recounting of the cost to Christians in Iraq caused by the US invasion made me sick at my stomach. You may read Bishop Warduni’s brief talk here. Sometimes we bishops are accused of being the “Republican party at prayer” but this monstrosity was led by a Republican President. He ended by saying that the US had managed to get rid of one crazy dictator who has been now replaced by many crazy dictators. How sad and tragic and talk about an assault on religious freedom!
We spent a good deal of time dealing with the HHS regulations, the Conference’s response to them, the strategy of the lawsuits brought against the regulations, and where do we go from here. Starting next week, many dioceses throughout the United States will observe what is being called a “Fortnight for Freedom” which will end on July 4th. I will be celebrating Mass at St. Paul’s Church, just off Dale Mabrey in north Tampa, on Friday evening June 29, 2012 (The Solemnity of the Feasts of SS. Peter and Paul) and speaking in the context of the Fortnight for Freedom observance and I hope as many of you as possible can come that evening at 7:30pm. For more information on the June 29 Mass and to see how our Diocese is participating in the Fortnight for Freedom, please click here.
We talked about communications and how poorly we do it in the Church at the moment. Three bishops tweeted during the meeting and several posted to Facebook. There is wide-spread agreement among the bishops that the Church’s and the Conference’s communication efforts need to be improved and more use made of the modern means of social communication today – ah, like this blog! (Sorry, I could not resist.) There were some currents in the discussion which made me nervous as I feel the mantle of censorship coming to NC News which has since its founding enjoyed editorial freedom but may soon lose its “religious liberty.” I would rue that day. There is also a push for a spokesperson for the Conference (read that “easy to look at” and Walter Cronkite-ish in their credibility) and I would not want that job for all the proverbial tea in China. Nuance one thing in a way that upsets one bishop and that person’s livelihood would likely be at stake, a position Archbishop Wilton Gregory made on the floor in much kinder, gentler words.
We didn’t vote on anything except to authorize a statement to be written on the effects of the economy on people today. Today we spent ninety minutes in a regional meeting which is considerably longer than we are accustomed to doing. The day ended with an afternoon in Executive Session and then I am out of here and headed home tomorrow (Friday). If this blog has been less than scintillating, blame it on the fact that there is no train service from Atlanta to Tampa and I had to fly both ways. I tend in November to think better and perhaps even write better on the train coming home from Baltimore. It is always good to see friends at these meetings and the liturgies are well done in the morning. The Hyatt in Downtown Atlanta could, if it chose to do so, boast of the smallest hotel rooms for the steepest price on the eastern seaboard and while charging an arm and leg per night, there were no glasses in the room to be found and no room service from noon to five p.m. So that’s it from slumming it in HotLanta. Home sweet home awaits me.
Tags: Affordable Health Care Act, Ambassador Thomas Farr, Atlanta, Bishop Shlemon Warduni, Catholic, Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. John Garvey, Fortnight for Freedom, HHS mandate, HotLanta, religious freedom, religious liberty, Roman Catholic, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB