Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore argued that it is an “injustice” to imply that the Knights of Columbus’ support for defending religious freedom creates a sense of partisanship.
At a June 13 press conference at the U.S. bishops’ spring general meeting in Atlanta, the archbishop was questioned by Jerry Filteau of the National Catholic Reporter about funding for the bishops’ campaign to defend religious liberty.
Filteau said that he had heard “rumors” that much of the funding for the bishops’ effort is coming from the Knights of Columbus, whose head, Carl Anderson, is a former Reagan administration official.
He suggested that there may be “a partisanship aspect to the whole thing.”
“Oh my goodness, Jerry,” Archbishop Lori responded.
“Think of what the Knights of Columbus does for the Catholic Church and for many other humanitarian causes,” he said. “To try to say that is in some way partisan is, in my opinion, sort of an injustice.”
“It seems to me the Knights have been very generous to a whole variety of causes,” the archbishop observed.
He acknowledged that the organization has contributed to the bishops’ religious freedom efforts but added that “other groups have as well,” including Our Sunday Visitor, the Order of Malta and many others.
“So it is not just one group,” he said. “It is not in any way partisan, either in its spirit or in its funding.”
Archbishop Lori added that “the generosity that we’ve experienced has been heartening.”
Recent months have united Catholics from across the country in efforts to defend religious liberty from numerous threats, including a federal mandate that will require employers to offer health insurance that covers contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.
The mandate has drawn widespread criticism for violating religious liberty. The bishops have worked with individuals and groups of various faiths to speak out against the regulation and ask the Obama administration to respect the rights of those with religious objections.
Among the bishops’ efforts to protect religious liberty is the upcoming “Fortnight for Freedom” event in which Catholics and other believers are invited to engage in prayer, education and advocacy for a restoration of respect for fundamental religious rights.
“The question that we’re addressing is a question of religious liberty,” said Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City. “It’s not a question of birth control.”
“And the only reason we’re addressing it now is because it came up now,” he added in response to questions about it being an election year.
He explained to the media that the bishops did not choose to raise the subject now, but rather, the Obama administration did by issuing the mandate.
The bishops are “simply responding” to a single, “very focused point, and that is that the government cannot define religion for us,” he said. “It’s not about us mandating birth control or anything like that.”
Bishop Wester acknowledged that the topic “is certainly political,” but added that “that’s not something that we intend it to be.”
Instead, he said, the bishops and other Catholics are “very grateful” for the religious liberty they enjoy in America, and they realize the “need to be vigilant” and to “address these issues as they come up” in order to prevent “a slippery slope.”
Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, also commented on the question of partisan intent.
“We are trying to speak about principles, but principles do have traction,” he said.
Whether the topic is religious freedom or the economy, the bishops must address issues as they arise and cannot wait for “a perfect, non-political time,” he said.
Bishop Blaire observed that “it is always a challenge to bring the Gospel into the real world” so that it connects with people’s “everyday experiences as individuals, as a society, as a government.”
However, it is the job of the bishops to “try to bring Catholic social teaching to bear on the real world,” he stated.
Unfortunately, when the bishops do this, Bishop Blaire said it often happens that some people create “an interpretation that maybe is not intended.”