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Catholic Fortnight for Freedom Begins Quietly in Pittsburgh

Written by Ann Rodgers on .

The Catholic Bishops’ Fortnight For Freedom began quietly and calmly in Pittsburgh, with Bishop David Zubik presiding at noon Mass in St. Mary of Mercy Church.
His focus was on the need to pray, fast and do good works to preserve religious liberty and he never explicitly mentioned either the dispute over a federal mandate to cover contraceptives and morning after drugs in health care plans or over whether the federal government can regulate faculty appointments at Catholic universities.
The church was well attended -- regulars said it was a larger crowd than usual for a Friday -- but not packed as a religious liberty service earlier this year had been. Bishop Zubik opened by asking each person present to silently meditate on some aspect of religious freedom that “has permitted us to be true disciples of Jesus.”
The closest he came to addressing the dispute between the federal government and some religious leaders over contraceptive coverage was when he said  that religious liberty is “not a political issue, it’s not a women’s issue, it’s not a philosophical issue, but a gift from God, having the freedom to be daughters and sons of God.” Earlier in the year Bishop Zubik was among the most forceful opponents of the contraceptive mandate for church-related agencies, first saying it was the Obama administration’s way of telling the Catholic Church to “go to hell” and more recently writing a short op-ed on the subject for USAToday.
Although there have been public protests against the Bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom in some cities, none were in evidence at Friday’s Mass in Pittsburgh. Some lay Catholics who sent e-mails to the Post-Gazette complaining about Bishop Zubik’s activism on the issue said they didn’t want to be quoted because they didn’t want to make waves in their parish.
However, back in March three priests, the Rev. Cornelius McCaulley, the Rev. Regis Ryan and the Rev. Garrett Dorsey, met with Bishop Zubik to express their concerns. All three are members of the Association of Pittsburgh Priests, which represents less than 5 percent of local priests and also includes laity, and is known for taking liberal positions on matters such as women’s ordination.
“If we’re worried about the freedom of the church -- which, of course we are -- we are also worried about the religious freedom of the non-Catholic women who work by the thousands for Catholic institutions and are being denied something that could be important for their health. We didn’t think it was right to impose our morality on the larger society,” said Father McCaulley who, like Father Ryan, is retired.
The bishop met with them for about 90 minutes and also invited Maureen Lally-Green, who heads the diocesan office of church relations with the wider community and Rita Ferko Joyce, the attorney for the diocese.
Father McCaulley believes that, under a compromise proposed by President Obama, the Catholic employer’s participation in providing the forbidden services would be so remote that they wouldn’t be considered responsible under traditional moral theology or canon law.  However he said that Bishop Zubik and the attorneys made compelling arguments about the problem of the government defining a Catholic hospital or agency as somehow less Catholic than a parish.
“There is some truth to that and it does worry me,” Father McCaulley said. “In the secular world we live in there is a great deal of anti-Catholicism and anti-religious activism and also a radical feminism where it is politically incorrect to say anything that might limit people’s access to abortion, for example. People fly off the handle on both sides.”

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