Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 22, 1960 when ground was broken for St. Philip Church, East Windsor.
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Rally-scheidler_2265 Joseph Scheidler, president of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, speaks at a rally for religious freedom on March 23 outside the federal courthouse in Harford. Looking on, from left and in foreground, are Father Robert J. Rousseau, director of the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Pro-Life Activities; Father Joseph Looney, pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem; State Senator Michael McMcLachlan of Danbury; State Rep. T.R. Rowe of Trumbull; and Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut. (Photo by Mary Chalupsky)

HARTFORD – More than 500 people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, gathered outside the federal courthouse on March 23 to protest an Obama administration mandate that forces religious institutions to provide abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilizations.

They were part of a nationwide "Stand Up for Religious Freedom" rally that took place simultaneously in 140 cities – including New Haven – on the second anniversary of the national health reform law (The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.)


Speaking in Hartford was Joseph Scheidler, president of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, who spearheaded the national event.


"This is much more than we expected," he said, looking out in amazement at the crowd gathered in the Constitution State’s capital city,  dubbed the insurance capital of the world.
Initally, "we wanted to get 30 cities," he said, but "we got 30 cities the first day."


As horns honked from passing cars and as signs, balloons and flags flew in the breeze, Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, which co-sponsored the rally with the Connecticut Right to Life Corporation (CLRC), said that the heart of the issue is the First Amendment and freedom of religion.


"This is not about contraceptives," nor is it about the Catholic Church, he said. "This affects the religious liberty of every one of us, regardless of our denomination.


"It’s an attack on the First Amendment … it’s an attack on all of us," he said.


Chris Mancini, a member of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Southington, who was in the crowd with her husband, noted, "We don’t believe this is a Catholic issue. It’s a God-given liberty issue."


In a news release, Bill O’Brien, president of the CLRC, listed recent government infringements on religious liberty and stated that the rallies were being held to "counter the increasing and unprecedented unconstitutional attacks on our religious freedom."


Mr. Wolfgang, who charged that the government is "redefining what a religious institution is" and "what health care is in our law," noted that organizations that fail to comply with the mandate face huge fines – as much as an estimated $10 million for Notre Dame University alone.


"What we have here is some thing that is unprecedented," he said. Going back to when the Bill of Rights with its First Amendment was enacted in 1791, he said, "Never in the history of our country has the federal government attacked our religious liberties the way they are doing today."


State Senator Michael McMcLachlan, a Republican representing Danbury’s 24th District, used the rally to dispel confusion over language about separation of church and state used by Thomas Jefferson in a letter he wrote to Danbury Baptists in 1801. He called it the most "misunderstood, misconstrued" piece of writing in the history of the United States.


Most people, he said, use that phrase as a defense against religious liberty because they believe it means, "church, stay out of government. That’s not what it’s about," he said. "The First Amendment is: government, stay out of church."


Also rallying the crowd, State Rep. T.R. Rowe, a Republican from Trumbull, called the "stifling of our religious liberties" with the required health care initiatives, "perhaps the clearest and most outrageously unconstitutional mandates that this great nation has ever seen."


Equally outraged, constitutional attorney Martha A. Dean, a former candidate for state attorney general, explained that the source of and moral argument for the nation’s freedom and rights that form the foundation of the Constitution is God.


"Our founders did not create rights," she said, quoting basic beliefs set forth by Samuel Adams, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. "Our rights predate our Constitution … our rights are unalienable because they come from God."


Last month, the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) attempted to negotiate a compromise with Catholic leaders that would exempt the Church’s schools, hospitals and clinics; but Catholic bishops were not swayed.


The rally took place just days before the Supreme Court began tackling the constitutionality of the 2000-page health care reform legislation beginning March 26.


Today’s rally "goes beyond the Catholic Church in the state," said Father Robert J. Rousseau, director of archdiocesan Pro-life Activities. "This is for everybody’s rights," he noted, "because if they remove our rights, who’s next?"


The rally in New Haven drew several hundred people to the Richard C. Lee Federal Courthouse, according to Norma Contois of Branford, who was its organizer and emcee.


The three speakers there were Isabel Marin and Travis Heine, both students at Yale University, and Estelle Stevenson, Connecticut state coordinator for We the People of Connecticut, Inc., a nonprofit constitution lobby.


Dominican Fathers Hugh Vincent Dyer and Peter John Cameron also participated.

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.