America’s Catholic bishops are planning how to strategically engage in the politically-charged issues of gay marriage, and access to abortion and contraception during their annual fall meeting.
A portion of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ three-day meeting starting Nov. 14 in Baltimore will be used to strategize their already-tense relationship with the Obama administration and the public. Maryland was one of the first states to protect religious freedom.
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan recently warned President Obama that his decision to not defend a federal ban on gay marriage could “precipitate a national conflict between church and state of enormous proportions,” the Religion News Service reported.
Leading members of American bishops shared similar concerns to Vatican officials this week amid unease among leaders of the the Catholic community that religious freedoms are being eroded. Just this past week, Maryland’s Roman Catholic bishops sent a 16-page statement to parishes throughout the state, saying legalizing same-sex marriage is threatening religious liberty.
“Religious liberty – a right rooted in our human dignity and protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution – is being silently and subtly eroded,” the report said.
A new religious freedom panel along with two full-time staffers, have been employed to spearhead the issues. RNS reported why the hierarchy’s “internal political dynamics” have led to the decision to focus on the narrow topics of same-sex marriage, abortion and contraceptives:
“For one thing, the bishops badly want to move beyond the sexual abuse crisis that has sapped their energies and credibility over the past decade...Moreover, the bishops are too divided to produce landmark documents on war and the economy as they did in the 1980s, insiders say. Opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion are simple, black-and-white issues that all the bishops can get behind.”
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops have been vocal before about their stances on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Daniel Avila resigned from his job with the association earlier this month when he wrote in a newspaper column suggesting the devil may be responsible for homosexuality, sparking condemnation from gay rights groups.
Critics may question the bishops’ focus on same-sex marriage at the meeting considering the string of sex abuse scandals that have shattered the institution’s credibility.
Bishops will not discuss the recent indictment of Bishop Robert Finn for failing to report a priest suspected of child abuse to police.
The bishop of Kansas City, Mo., had admitted in May that he waited five months to tell authorities about the hundreds of images of alleged child pornography found on the Rev. Shawn Ratigan's computer – some personally taken by Ratigan.