ROME — Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore told the inaugural gathering at the Religious Liberty Observatory in Rome June 28 that the U.S. government’s “attempt to tell the Church which of our institutions seem religious to the state is profoundly offensive.”
The archbishop, in Rome to receive the pallium from Pope Benedict XVI June 29 on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, said that unless it is stopped now, the government’s “narrow definition” of what a church is “will spread throughout our nation’s laws and policies.”
The Religious Liberty Observatory was established in 2012 by the Italian government and the city of Rome.
The archbishop, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, was a major force behind the Fortnight for Freedom campaign that focused on religious liberty. He spoke with Rome correspondent Edward Pentin shortly before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act June 28.
How is the Fortnight for Freedom going?
My impression is that it’s going quite well. Certainly, the kickoff [at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore] was a wonderful event, if I may say so myself — just because so many people came, and there was so much enthusiasm, so much good coverage. So that was good. Cardinal [Donald] Wuerl had a wonderful gathering at George Washington University the following Sunday. There are about 90 dioceses that have posted on the USCCB website [USCCB.org] very full activities, so my impression is it’s making an impact.
Can you explain to anyone who may think this campaign isn’t important why it is necessary to take such a stand at this time?
What was said here at the end was so true: Religious freedom is first compromised by intolerance, and if we simply let it pass, allow the government to say, “You were tolerable only if you define yourself as a worshipping community, only if you define it as freedom of worship, but you are not tolerable otherwise,” then we are simply heading towards the road of real religious persecution, of really becoming fatally compromised in our ability to speak freely and act freely. So I think it’s important to try to nip it in the bud.
It’s said the Church’s natural state is to be under a state of persecution. Would you say this dispute, in a strange way, is a good sign, that the Church is being prophetic in a world that is never going to fully accept it?
The Lord promised us nothing less than persecution, so we should expect that it’s going to happen. Indeed, it has happened consistently throughout the Church’s history. Persecution takes various forms. It can be the brutal type, the subtle type; it can be under the shroud of law and civility. When the Church is persecuted, it seems to me, people begin to suddenly look at their faith, and many people value their faith more; and many people will realize how precious their faith is. So I think many lay Catholics have told me how happy they are to see how united the bishops are and how resolute they are, and I think that can only be good for our Church.
The other argument is that the Church has not done enough in the past to prevent this, that priests and bishops haven’t upheld the Church’s teaching on contraception, for example, as well as they might have done. Is this a natural consequence of that?
Our opponents have cleverly chosen a wedge issue. They know it’s not a popular teaching, it hasn’t been well defended, and so, by trying to make it a fight about contraception, they are using it as a wedge to open the door to greater violations to religious liberty. It might be a wonderful moment — it is a wonderful moment — for us to step back and say, “Why didn’t we teach what we teach?” Isn’t our teaching on life issues, on the sacredness of human life and its origins, a further demonstration — maybe the primary demonstration — of our teaching on the dignity of the person endowed by rights from God? It all kind of hangs together, you know.
With the decision on the Health and Human Services contraception mandate, if it does get voted down, could this administration lose the election?
I don’t know. I’m not a good political analyst, and you’ll have to ask someone else who knows that reality of life. I don’t know what the political consequences will be. I think our concern is really to defend religious liberty. That’s what we’re really concerned about, and that’s what we’ll be really looking at if this comes down. If the whole bill is struck down, we will still maintain our position: There should be universal access to health care. It should have conscience rights in it — it should not involve using tax dollars for abortion.
And if it passes, will you step up your campaign?
We’ll continue; we’ll stay the course, hopefully with great energy.
What does it mean for you to be here to receive the pallium?
It’s a wonderful experience; just being in Rome is always a wonderful experience. But to receive this sign of communion and pastoral love at the hands of the Holy Father will be an amazing and awe-inspiring experience and a humbling one that I hope will strengthen me in my service as a bishop of the Church.
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.