Suburban Catholic churches launch two-week campaign for religious freedoms

and Projects Writer
Updated 6/27/2012 5:43 AM

For St. Thomas of Villanova Parish in Palatine, it means an education seminar today with a local bishop about "religious freedom attacks on the Catholic church."

Across town, St. Theresa Catholic Church has scheduled a "rosary reflection and litany for liberty" each night at 7:30 for the next 10 days.


During that same stretch, parishioners at Our Lady of the Wayside in Arlington Heights have been asked to recite a daily prayer during Masses for the protection of religious liberties.

In what the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops -- the governing body of the country's Catholic hierarchy -- has titled a Fortnight for Religious Freedom, suburban Catholic churches are using the two weeks that began Sunday to pray and educate their congregations about liberties they feel are under attack on both the federal and state level.

While proponents call the move a necessary -- and apolitical -- action during a crucial time, others view it as unnecessary politicization from the pulpit.

"My big concern is, the Church loses credibility when we paint the (Obama) administration as fanatics," the Rev. Corey Brost, a member of the Arlington Heights-based Viatorian order and an attorney, said.

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The Fortnight for Freedom was prompted by a January federal mandate requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives without a co-pay.

Churches are exempt, and Catholic institutions including hospitals and universities can offer the contraceptives directly through their insurance companies, a concession the Obama administration offered after outcry from religious institutions earlier this year.

Yet the exemption for churches does not include church-sponsored social service, health care or educational institutions. The bishops have said they will not provide insurance that covers "immoral services." Last month, 43 different Catholic institutions filed a lawsuit against the mandate.

While the Archdiocese of Chicago did not participate in the suit, Catholic Charities in Illinois and the University of Notre Dame are involved.

However, is it not just the health care mandate, the Rev. Bill Zavaski reminded parishioners at St. James Catholic Church in Arlington Heights several weeks ago in a homily.


St. James for weeks has distributed pamphlets on religious liberty and Catholics that detail the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as between one man and one woman as well as legislative efforts to require adoption and foster care agencies to give children to unmarried or same sex couples. While the Archdiocese of Chicago has suggested parishes in Cook and Lake counties "utilize prayers and resources" about the two-week campaign, it has not required them to do so, Dianne Dunagan, of the archdiocese office of communication, said.

The archdiocese also recently sponsored an event at St. Lambert in Skokie for deacons and parish leaders to better understand the issue, Dunagan said.

Churches can opt out of such activities, but Dunagan said the archdiocesan media office was "not aware" of any churches objecting.

"There wouldn't be a way for us to know if they don't make their complaints directly," she said.

Today's event at St. Thomas of Villanova will feature Bishop George Rassas. Members of more than 30 surrounding Catholic parishes have been invited.

While Rassas has asked local pastors to promote the event, Deacon Mark Duffey said the church wasn't sure how many planned to attend.

"It's a weeknight, it's a summer night. Families are busy. We're not sure whether we'll get 100 or 1,000 people," Duffey said.

With the broad focus of the two-week campaign as prayer, education and action, Duffey said today's event is focused on education, "helping make people more aware of what is the constitutional issue? What is religious freedom?"

He said he also hopes it will "generate action on the part of people in the pews," helping with awareness and calling local lawmakers. Duffey doesn't believe it is a partisan issue.

"We're saying the government in the last several years has taken action that really takes a stand against our own beliefs and is attempting to force us to do things against those beliefs," he said.

With polls showing a majority of Catholics support -- and use -- birth control, some Catholic organizations including Catholics for Choice have dismissed the two-week activism push, noting last week that more than 3,600 people have submitted comments to the Department of Health and Human Services in support of the mandate.

Brost, who describes a "natural tension" between two societal goods -- universal health care and religious liberty, advocates for more dialogue and warns the way such information is being communicated could be ultimately harmful to the church and the debate.

"There are priests and religious who think some of our leaders are taking positions that are too inflammatory and are harming the whole process of debate and dialogue that's inherent in a democratic system," he said. "We need to dialogue with the administration about it."

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