In the wake of the recent decision of Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois to spin off from the Diocese of Belleville, ensnared in the new state law that granted same-sex couples the right to seek civil unions, I asked Bishop William Lori whether the new USCCB ad hoc Committee on Religious Liberty that he heads would orchestrate both federal and state challenges to the free exercise of religion.

And, if there was not an orchestrated approach, could the decisions made by state Catholic conferences set precedents that could harm the USCCB’s battle at the federal level?

Bishop Lori said the USCCB committee would maintain a “relationship with all state Catholic conference directors. It is up to the state conferences to reach decisions on how they will respond.”

That said, Bishop Lori noted that common deliberations were essential to keep the entire conference informed and aware of the broad range of issues and threats that have surfaced: “It’s a good thing for us to come together here, where we are renewed in our teaching, in good practices, and in strategies needed for defending our liberties. How that will pan out remains to be seen.”

But Bishop Lori contends that the spinning of Catholic social agencies into secular entities cannot be seen as a broadly acceptable solution. These agencies were started by Catholics with the expectation that they would be part of what the Church does. In Deus Caritas Est, Benedict says organized charities are part of the mission of the Church. Spinning them off will lead agencies to lose the fullness of the Church’s response to serving human dignity.

“If the government knows all, decides all, determines all, the individual citizen is very vulnerable. Schools, churches and families provide a buffer between the individual and the state.”