‘Christian leadership’ needed to defend religious liberty, says Bishop Conley

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Bishop James D. Conely

New HHS rules mandating contraception and sterilization insurance coverage could cause the ‘persecution’ of Catholic institutions, Auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley of Denver has said. However, Catholics should imitate the Christian leadership of Vietnamese Bishop Nguyen Van Thuan, who used his unjust imprisonment to witness to the gospel.

“In opposing unjust laws we can positively articulate the truth we have been given. In the weeks and months to come, we can witness to the Catholic belief that sexual relations are a beautiful and integral part of marriage, and that contraceptives rob them of their true and full meaning,” he said in his latest Denver Catholic Register column. 

If a new federal rule goes into effect, coverage for sterilization and contraception would be mandatory for many Catholic institutions’ health insurance plans. If implemented, the bishop said, “there could be persecution ahead for Catholic institutions.”

“If the Catholic Church is forced to comply with this rule it will be forced to compromise the core principles of its Christian identity. This is a grave violation of religious liberty and is unacceptable.”
Bishop Conley said the rule is unjust because it treats pregnancy and fertility “as diseases instead of gifts.” He noted that mandatory contraceptive coverage includes the “morning after pill,” which can cause an early abortion by preventing the implantation of the human embryo.

The rule also requires coverage for “education and counseling” to promote these measures among women of child-bearing age.

“We can fight this injustice,” he said. He noted the Department of Health and Human Services comment period lasts until Sept. 30 and he urged Catholics to use the contact information provided at www.usccb.org/conscience to voice their opposition.

However, it is not enough only to express opposition to laws that violate religious liberty, Bishop Conley added. Rather, Catholics should follow the example of Bishop Nguyen Van Thuan and “engage in Christian leadership in the face of injustice.”

He recounted the bishop’s imprisonment after his appointment as coadjutor bishop of Saigon. Vietnam’s communist government believed the appointment was a conspiracy between the Vatican and Western governments.

During Bishop Van Thuan’s imprisonment, he ministered to thousands of inmates. He provided pastoral care to Catholics and evangelized guards and non-Christian prisoners.

He celebrated Mass with hidden hosts and drops of wine. He heard confessions and preached.

“In the face of unjust imprisonment, Bishop Van Thuan found an opportunity to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Bishop Conley said.

Bishop Van Thuan, who later became a cardinal, said that the “greatest failure” in leadership is for the leader to be “afraid to speak and act as a leader.”

“Today, more than ever, Christianity needs leaders committed to truth in the face of injustice,” Bishop Conley said.

The bishop praised Regis University for saying it would not comply with a state law requiring contraception coverage in its student health plan. It could face a costly legal battle and significant opposition from opponents of Catholic teaching on contraception.

“Regis has seized an opportunity to lead—to express what we as Catholics believe and why,” Bishop Conley said. “This is what a Catholic institution of higher learning should do.”
“Imitate the courage of Bishop Van Thuan. Commit to Christian leadership. Let’s join together in witnessing to the truth of the Gospel and the dignity of the human person,” the bishop exhorted.

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