Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer - Cheryl Calire, director of the Office of Pro-Life activities, reads a letter from Bishop Edward U. Kmiec as dozens gather outside the United States Court House on Niagara Square, Buffalo, to protest the Heath and Human Services Mandate proposed by the Obama administration.
Editor's note: This column by Bishop Kmiec was written prior to the announcement that he would be succeeded by Bishop Richard J. Malone of Portland, Maine.
First things first: it has been one year since I submitted my letter of resignation to Pope Benedict XVI, as required by Canon Law on the occasion of my 75th birthday. As of press time, I have yet to receive word that the Holy Father has accepted my resignation.
When that does happen, we will also learn the name of my successor, the 14th bishop of Buffalo. There is no timetable for the announcement to be made. In the meantime, I will continue to shepherd the faithful of the Diocese of Buffalo with a focus on my episcopal motto: “Charity and Service.”
One area that I continue to speak out on is our ongoing effort to preserve religious freedom. As a Church, we remain steadfastly opposed to the Health and Human Services mandate that will require Catholic employers to pay for health coverage that includes contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. This fiat, which is an unprecedented assault on religious liberty, will force the Church to violate our own beliefs.
I am joining with my brother bishops in the United States by leading our diocese in “A Fortnight for Freedom,” a two-week period of prayer, study, catechesis and public action to preserve religious liberty, our most cherished freedom, from June 21, the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, the first martyred Doctors of the Church, through July 4, Independence Day.
At every Mass in the diocese, a special intention will be included in the Prayer of the Faithful. Parishes and Catholic institutions are also free to sponsor adorations and special devotions as part of this witness for religious liberty.
It will be my privilege to begin the diocesan fortnight with a holy hour on Thursday, June 21, at 3 p.m., at the Carmelite Monastery in North Buffalo. Bishop Edward M. Grosz will conclude the two weeks of prayer with a holy hour on Wednesday, July 3, at 3 p.m., at the Dominican Monastery in Buffalo.
The public is welcome to attend both holy hours, and I encourage all faithful to pray daily for religious freedom. These monasteries are “powerhouses of prayer” and I am grateful to the Carmelite and Dominican nuns for opening their doors in welcome.
Our efforts will continue well past the Fourth of July. Along with daily prayer, we will continue to advocate for repeal of the HHS mandate.
In our statement on religious liberty, the bishops of the United States wrote, “We need to speak frankly with each other when our freedoms are threatened. Now is such a time. As Catholic bishops and American citizens, we address an urgent summons to our fellow Catholics and fellow Americans to be on guard, for religious liberty is under attack, both at home and abroad.”
Even the Holy Father is aware of our struggle, telling a meeting of American bishops at the Vatican in January, “Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.
“Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.”
In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson responded to a letter from the superior of the Ursuline Sisters in New Orleans, who had expressed concern that the 1803 Treaty of Cession would compromise the order’s religious freedom.
“The principles of the Constitution and the government of the United States are a sure guarantee (that your property) will be preserved to you sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority,” the president wrote. “Be assured (your religious institution) will meet all the protection which my office can give it.”
More than two centuries later, we pray our nation’s current leadership will reflect on the wisdom of one of our Founding Fathers, and act accordingly.
Let freedom ring!
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