With all due respect to Dickens, living in the bay area and reading its two newspapers reminds me of the opening lines of the great Dickens novel whose title I have borrowed for this post. “It [is] the best of times, it [is] the worst of times.” Thank God there is still a choice of newspapers in this area and there can still be a diversity of editorial opinion. The Tampa Tribune has twice editorialized on the public position which I and the Catholic bishops of the United States have taken in light of the decision of the Obama administration not to broaden the exemption from the HHS regulations which would in effect force many of our Church institutions to provide contraceptive services (including abortifacients). The Tribune got it right and I am grateful to them for the care and precision with which they have approached this matter. To read the first editorial, click here. To read the second editorial, click here.
The Tampa Bay Times has twice editorialized against the position I have taken, in the first instance accusing me of wishing to create a “theocracy” and just today writes “Lynch mistakingly claims this is a matter of church-state separation” and then the paper adopts the specious argument that we are only a protected “church” when we are at prayer or worship, and not when we are caring for the sick, housing the homeless, teaching our faith to our children, etc. Wow! Let some future administration trample on the paper’s first amendment rights of protection of free speech (for example, the ability to hide the identity of sources) and one would hear a similar outrage emanating this time from the Times.
The establishment clause and religious liberty are two pillars of our Constitution and the first amendment. The present administration has deliberately and purposely given short shrift to both in search of votes in November. Other papers in the nation which usually embrace the Time’s postions have allowed their columnists and op-ed writers to present precisely (and perhaps more clearly than I) the position which the Catholic Church is taking at this moment in history. The Washington Post has recently printed two significant articles in opposition to the administration’s position (see the Michael Gerson article and the E.J. Dionne article) as has The New York Times. The legal argument has been made clearly and convincingly in the pages of The Wall Street Journal. Not so our Times. Thus, in addition to our own Tampa Tribune there are many editorial and reporting voices out there who understand what we are attempting to conveyto Catholics and others worried about the growing intrusion of government into free exercise of religion.
As I indicate in my letter to be distributed and/or read in all our parishes (read it here in English or Spanish), I did not choose this moment which just happens to be an election year nor did my brother bishops. President Obama did and HHS Secretary Sibellius. It is generally acknowledged that within his own White House family, there were a number of voices including the Vice-President and his departing chief-of-staff who counseled against this. He almost promised Cardinal-designate Dolan in November that some broadening of the regulations would happen. I believe it would be wrong for me as a bishop to endorse any candidate for political office but it is entirely appropriate for me to point out error and dissimulation when I see it manifest in an act of Congress or of the Administration. But no administration in the history of this union has acted against my Church and its mission and work like this one. One is left with the impression that one must either buy their whole package or be left at the station waiting for a train to return which will never come again. Ask the women who we used to be able to help who were victims of human trafficing in the sex trade which operates in this country but who we can help no more (and the same agency that denied our continued participation also acknowledged that we were perhaps the best and most effective agency previously working in this area). All because we can not provide access to abortion to these women. Ask those looking to adopt children in Illinois who Catholic Charities used to be able to give help and hope to but no more. Is it unfair to ask on whose watch all this has happened?
Finally, The Tampa Bay Times would do well to study the decision in the Hosanna-Tabor case of a few weeks ago in which a unanimous Supreme Court (including Justices Sotomayor and Kagan) decided against the administration in a religious freedom case which looks very much like what may wind up before the same court again if these regulations are allowed to stand. Congress may intervene but more than likely this battle will be won in the courts because the very freedoms we espouse are constitutive of our nation’s founding principles. So let others make fun of our religion, of our Church, of our core values and teaching all they wish. Amazingly perhaps to others, I find the vast majority of Catholics whom I am privileged to serve equally worried about these recent events and more and more fiercely determined to make their positions known.
For further updates about how you can take a stand and let your voice be heard, please stay tuned to this blog and to the Diocese of St. Petersburg website at www.dosp.org. To read PDF versions of the letter to parishes, click here for the English version and here for the Spanish version.