Archbishop-Designate William Lori Says New Evangelization is Top Priority in Baltimore

As he prepares to take leadership of a much larger archdiocese, the bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., sees no reason to halt his work in fostering religious liberty.

Archbishop-Designate William Lori of Baltimore speaking to reporters in Bridgeport, Conn.
Archbishop-Designate William Lori of Baltimore speaking to reporters in Bridgeport, Conn. (photo: John Burger)

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Archbishop-designate William Lori does not foresee having to give up his role as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Religious Liberty, even as he heads for a significantly larger archdiocese as the one he heads now.

But he said his attention will be focused primarily on his new flock in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, with a particular eye to the “New Evangelization.”

Archbishop Lori, who has served for 11 years as bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., will be installed May 16 in America’s premier see. He held a press conference in Baltimore the day the Vatican announced his appointment, March 20, and another at the headquarters of the Diocese of Bridgeport today.

He said the New Evangelization is the priority of Pope Benedict XVI and every bishop.

“Evangelization is at the heart of the mission of the Church,” he said. “Evangelization is not something the Church does, alongside other things. Really, everything the Church does — whether it’s proclaiming and teaching the word, celebrating the sacraments or engaging in works of charity and education — everything is a proclamation of Christ.”

He added, “Everything should converge on helping the people of our times to open their hearts to Christ and the Gospel and to let that become a part of who they are, how they think, what they do, how they live their lives, and also that they would become part of advancing the mission of the Church.”

The new archbishop has already become well-known for his work as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, including testifying before congressional committees considering legislation to secure religious freedom in the face of narrow exemptions for the U.S. Health and Human Services “contraceptive mandate” in the nation’s healthcare reform package. Having two auxiliary bishops and “what appears to be a wonderful, hardworking staff” in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, he said, will help give him the freedom to continue his work with the committee, and his new proximity to the nation’s capital will make it easier for him to testify on Capitol Hill.

Religious Liberty App

He said the committee soon will issue a “foundational statement” that “looks reflectively at the origins of religious liberty, how it is described in Church teaching, how it is described in foundational documents of the Church, and what are some of the broader threats to religious liberty beyond the HHS mandate.”

The archbishop said the committee will use that statement for “all kinds of communications; for example: pamphlets, bulletin inserts, apps — yes, there will be a religious-liberty app — blogs.”

Asked whether he had any comments as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments next week on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — often referred to as “Obamacare” — he said, “We’ll just be watching it carefully. Obviously, it could have some effect on what we’re doing and what we’re interested in. I would just say that the bishops have been in favor of universal access to health care since the conference was founded in 1919. So we’re a little ahead on that position.”

“But, all along, we argued that the health-care reform bill should have adequate conscience protection,” he continued. “It got passed without it. And we didn’t go looking for this [battle], but we have it, and we’re going to pursue all the remedies available to us as citizens — in all three branches of government.”

Archbishop-designate Lori faces similar battles on the local level as well. Maryland has a newly passed same-sex “marriage” law, but the Maryland Bishops’ Conference, which the archbishop will head, is already engaged in an effort to turn that law around with a voters’ referendum this fall.

“I will join with my brother bishops in making it clear about the Church’s consistent teaching on the nature of marriage as being between a man and a woman and as predating any government and any church as a fundamental structure of society. But what strategy we end up taking I don’t know yet. I’m just a little too new to the scene.”

Archbishop Lori said the bishops of the state are also supporting a referendum on the so-called Dream Act, which would allow many illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition.

“We are pastors of souls, and we believe people who are in immigrant families and who are productive and paying taxes should have opportunities,” he said.

A Listener

There have been rumors for months of Bishop Lori’s transfer to Baltimore, a post that became vacant when Cardinal Edwin O’Brien was appointed grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. He said he was aware of the rumors, but that “with the help of a great spiritual director that I see on a regular basis, I decided it was far better to bracket that and keep my eye on the ball, which is the Diocese of Bridgeport.

“So, with the help of this great priest who looks after my soul, I guess I must have done it better than I thought because I was really genuinely surprised to see it come true.”

He said it has been a “joy and a privilege” to be bishop of Bridgeport and that he was happy that he leaves the diocese with 35-40 men studying for the priesthood.

He said that he hopes one lesson he takes from his 11 years in Connecticut and puts into place in Baltimore is the ability to listen to the people he serves. “You may know things about a diocese or archdiocese,” he said, “but never presume that you know it.”

Listening, he said, will help a bishop go beyond the facts about a diocese, to “absorb something of the culture and to really know both the opportunities and the challenges.”

John Burger is the Register’s news editor.