There have been many questions about the unity of the bishops in this controversy, and attempts to undermine that unity. George Weigel has written another incisive analysis of the ongoing fight over religious liberty.
Weigel points out a key idea underpinning the bishops’ position:
Hewing closely to the Catholic theory of religious freedom laid down by the Second Vatican Council and Blessed John Paul II, Bishop Lori has insisted on the indivisibility of the first liberty. Religious freedom, in other words, has both personal and corporate dimensions; both individuals and institutions enjoy the right of religious freedom. Thus any attempt to solve practical problems, such as those which the mandate poses to Catholic institutions and to conscientious Catholic employers and employees, by splitting the difference (i.e., the bishops’ defending their institutions but leaving individual Catholics to fend for themselves against Leviathan) would not only be pastorally irresponsible; it would mean an abandonment of Catholic tradition.
Conscience rights do not apply only religious organizations, be they narrowly defined as in the HHS mandate, or more broadly defined as are Catholic charities, universities, and hospitals. Every individual person has conscience rights, and the Church and her bishops must defend those as fervently as any other. Religious freedom is indivisible.
What is next in this fight?
As for next steps, the Lori committee on religious liberty will shortly issue a comprehensive statement on the nature of religious freedom and the many ways in which the first liberty is under assault; the Obama administration will not be the only target here — not for the sake of “balance,” but for the sake of the facts.
The bishops have pledged to engage in serious dialog with the administration on the HHS mandate and the so-called accommodation; as Weigel notes,
But the bishops are not fools; they understand, as the administration made clear in HHS’s March 16 “Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” (ANPRM), that the White House will try to drag this out as long as possible, convinced that its “war on women” mantra is an electoral winner; and the leadership of the bishops’ conference does not intend to play the role the administration has assigned it in this cynical game.
What is at stake in this fight? Weigel sums up nicely:
Should the Obama administration’s attempt to dumb religious freedom down win the day, the Catholic Church — and indeed every religious community that challenges the hegemony of the sexual revolution and its ally, the Leviathan state — is in very serious trouble, in the short term and over the long haul. If, on the other hand, the bishops and their allies across the religious and political spectrums succeed, they will not only have done the country a great service, they will have set the legal foundations for a robustly evangelical Catholicism far into the future: a Catholicism that, as Winters puts it, will make its contribution toward “a culture of life that will better reflect our highest ideals as both Catholics and Americans than the culture we have today.”