In an interview published in America Magazine, which is published by the Jesuit order, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton CA expressed reservations about the manner in which his fellow bishops, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington DC, have addressed the Obama contraception mandate in federal court. Bishop Blaire is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and a member of the U.S.C.C.B. Administrative Committee which approved the "Fortnight of Freedom" campaign.
“The bishops that I am in contact with in California are strong supporters of the importance of defending and strengthening religious liberty in our country,” Bishop Blaire said. “I do think there are probably some different concerns with how it is being done,” he added. According to the bishop, attorneys for the bishops of the Left Coast “did have some concerns with this strategy.” Bishop Blaire hopes for more consultation, while worrying about possible legislative and judicial repercussions because of it in California. He explained that California dioceses had already gone unsuccessfully down the judicial path in challenging government mandates on contraception and insurance coverage. Bishop Blaire's musings were taken by some, including Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, as a signal that there is less than unanimous support among the bishops for the lawsuits now in federal court. Dionne, for example, noted that of the 165 dioceses and eparchies in the U.S., only 43 joined the lawsuit.
The following statement by Bishop Blaire was posted on the Diocese of Stockton’s website on May 24.
I wish to clarify some misunderstandings related to my comments about the HHS Mandate.
First of all, I stand solidly with my brother bishops in our common resolve to overturn the unacceptable intrusion of government into the life of the Church by the HHS Mandate. In March, the Administrative Committee issued a statement of commitment to persuade the Administration to eliminate this interference, the Congress to overturn it or the courts to stop it. I contributed to and voted for this statement, and continue to support it, including its call for legal action as was announced on Monday.
The fundamental issue is the freedom of the Church to carry out her mission as given by Christ. Religious Freedom protects the right of the Church to define herself and her ministries. It is totally unacceptable to have the federal government decide that our religious ministries are not "religious." The continuing effort of the government to intrude itself by re-defining Catholic ministries as somehow less religious or less Catholic because they employ or serve those without regard to their creed is unjust and a violation of religious liberty. The government should not intrude itself in forcing the Church and her institutions to violate her long standing teaching to provide essential health care to her employees.
From my perspective, the recent legal challenges by dioceses and Catholic entities throughout the United States, as well as discussions with the Administration, and the advocacy of Congress, all have one essential goal: to defend the right of the Church to define herself and to preserve the identity and integrity of the Catholic ministries exercised through her institutions.
I am convinced we need to continue to seek to persuade others to join us in this just cause through reasoned, civil and respectful discussion. Our defense of religious liberty is advanced when there is open discussion about the best strategies to promote our common goal.
I look forward to the discussions at the Bishops' meeting in June which will offer us an opportunity to agree on next steps to achieve our common and essential goal of ending this violation of religious freedom.
"The freedom of the church is the fundamental principle governing relations between the church and public authorities and the whole civil order." (The declaration on religious liberty, 13, Second Vatican Council)