PROSPECT – With an Aug. 1 deadline looming before most religious employers must comply with a controversial health care mandate, Archbishop Henry J. Mansell said that government has no right to tell any religion what it is and what it is not.
The archbishop’s homily was delivered during a Mass televised June 23 from the chapel of the Office of Radio and Television. It was one of many consciousness-raising activities to take place during the second annual Fortnight for Freedom. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) declared the Fortnight for Freedom to begin June 21 and end July 4, Independence Day, asking Catholics across the nation to pray, fast, demonstrate and speak out about challenges to religious liberty.
Archbishop Mansell sounded an alarm about the rapidly approaching Aug. 1 deadline set by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for most employers to provide health insurance for free contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees.
"It’s not for government to tell us what religion is and what religion is not," he said, referring to a federal government definition of a religious institution as one that ministers solely to members of one faith. Organizations that fit that narrow definition will be exempt from the HHS mandate, he said, but Catholic charitable, social and educational organizations serve people of all faiths and therefore would have to comply. These would include Catholic schools, hospitals, shelters, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities and more, he said.
"They serve many more than Catholic people. That’s our religion. We’re Catholic because we do serve everybody, everybody who is in need," he said.
Archbishop Mansell called on viewers to call the White House at 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414, or to contact President Barack Obama at www.whitehouse.gov/contact to express disapproval of the HHS mandate.
"We are in serious difficulty," the archbishop said. "It’s a significant time in our history. We have to be very careful, and we have to rise up and speak our piece."
The archbishop used adjectives such as "outrageous," "obtrusively wrong," "horrible" and "ridiculous" to describe the mandate.
He reminded viewers that the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights to the Constitution and the Magna Carta of 1215 recognized the rights of the individual and that these rights are threatened by the HHS mandate.
Archbishop Mansell said that June 22 was the feast of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, who were both martyred in defense of religious liberty. Saint Thomas More’s last words were, "I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first."
"These are great legacies we have. These are the heroes we have to show us how to live in a non-self-centered way, to stand up for our rights and responsibilities," the archbishop said. He urged viewers of the Mass to watch the film A Man for All Seasons, about the life of Saint Thomas More.
He said Catholics are not the only religious group to oppose the HHS mandate. Many Jewish and Protestant groups have joined the battle, "because they realize if this happens to the Catholic Church, it could happen to any one of our religions.
"We’re talking about a fundamental principle of democracy, a fundamental principle of our life here in the United States," he said.
He concluded, "It’s a time for prayer, yes. It’s a time for action. It’s a time for activity. So I ask you to stand up, to make the calls, to defend who we are.... Let’s keep up the struggle."
In an interview with The Catholic Transcript before the Mass, Archbishop Mansell said, "It’s important to people of all religious backgrounds because it relates to a fundamental principle of our democracy and that’s religious freedom, and that’s being abused right now. We’re in real danger in our institutions. We serve people from every kind of background. We’re very definitely being endangered."
He emphasized the importance of calling or writing to the White House. "It’s very important to call the president at the White House and let him know that there is strong opposition to this," he said.
A number of other activities were scheduled at parishes for the Fortnight for Freedom included prayers, holy hours, Masses, talks and socials.
St. Mary Parish in Branford is reciting the rosary at 7:30 a.m. each weekday during the two-week period for the intention of religious liberty. Information is available at www.stmarybranford.org.
St. Margaret Church in Madison is offering prayers for religious freedom following the 7:45 a.m. weekday Mass, at a holy hour at 3 p.m. July 1 and on July 4 at adoration followed by Benediction at 7 p.m.
St. Catherine of Siena Parish in West Simsbury plans a Fortnight for Freedom Prayer Service at noon Sunday, June 30, in its Mary Garden. Prayers and music will unite attendees in defense of religious freedom. The garden will be decorated in red, white and blue. Strawberries and cream will be served afterward. The event is sponsored the parish Defenders of Faith committee.
Assumption Church in Ansonia plans a holy hour for religious freedom at 7 p.m. July 2 in the convent chapel. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Scripture readings, music, prayer and Benediction are planned.
Also planned at Assumption is a "Patriotic Ice Cream Social" at which conversation about contemporary issues facing the nation will be encouraged. A sparkler fireworks display will follow, weather permitting.
St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Naugatuck will have a prayer service with Eucharistic adoration for religious freedom at 6:30 p.m. June 28. An ice cream social on the rectory lawn will follow. It is open to the public.
At St. Rita Parish in Hamden, various parish groups, including the Knights of Columbus and a youth group, will be involved in the activities.
They include a talk about immigration and citizenship at 7 p.m. June 26 by Sister Mary Ellen Burns, a member of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who is an immigration lawyer and director of the Apostles Immigration Center in New Haven.
"For Greater Glory," a film about the Cristeros Catholic fighters for religious freedom in Mexico during the 1920s, will be screened at 7 p.m. July 1 in the St. Rita Parish Center. Popcorn and other refreshments will be served. A closing Mass for the Fortnight for Freedom will be celebrated at 7:30 a.m. July 4.
In addition, parishioners at St. Rita have been encouraged to pray the rosary on both Saturdays of the Fortnight for Freedom for the intention of religious liberty.
Also, at Our Lady of Pompeii Church in East Haven, in honor of the Fortnight for Freedom, the 8 a.m. parish Mass on Independence Day, July 4, will include patriotic hymns. The congregation is being encouraged to wear the patriotic colors of red, white and blue. The rosary that will be recited at 7:30 a.m. will include intentions for our country and religious liberty. Both are open to the public.