The bishops acknowledged that the effort had become a lightning rod for criticism that they had exaggerated the threat to freedom and aligned the church with the Republican Party in an election year. And they sought to debunk the notion that their campaign was fixated on their opposition to artificial birth control, saying that the Obama administration forced the issue by mandating that even Catholic institutions like hospitals and universities must provide insurance coverage for birth control and sterilization for their employees.
“It is not about parties, candidates or elections, as some others have suggested,” said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, the chairman of the bishops’ religious freedom committee, who noted that the bishops have faced hostility “even from some Catholic commentators.”
“In the face of this resistance, it may be tempting to get discouraged, to second-guess the effort, to soft-pedal our message,” Archbishop Lori said. “But instead, these things should prompt us to do exactly the opposite, for they show us how very great is the need for our teaching, both in our culture and even in our own church.”
To add weight to the religious freedom campaign, the bishops scheduled two afternoon speakers on religious persecution abroad: “Our credibility demands it,” said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the bishops’ conference. “As urgent as our fight is here, it pales with what our co-religionists throughout the world are going through.”
One of those speakers, Bishop Schlemon Warduni of Iraq, cataloged the tragedies that have befallen the church there: one bishop killed, 15 priests kidnapped and many tortured, more than 20 churches attacked. “No more war, no more death, no more explosions,” the bishop implored. “Push the cause of peace.”
Next week, Catholic dioceses throughout the United States will begin a “Fortnight for Freedom,” which runs from June 21 and ends on July 4 with the tolling of church bells. Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., said in an interview that he had come up with the idea and the name for the event to commemorate the feast days of several Catholic saints, including Thomas More, who were martyred for the faith. More than 70 of the nation’s 195 dioceses have scheduled events.
On the 10th anniversary of the bishops’ “Dallas Charter,” the abuse policies they adopted, the head of the National Review Board, a group appointed by the bishops, gave them high marks for shifting “from a legal response to a pastoral response” to victims.
Al J. Notzon III, chairman of the review board, said most dioceses now report accusations to law enforcement, have prevention and education programs in place and “assistance coordinators” to work with victims. But he noted that bishops in two Roman Catholic dioceses and five Eastern Catholic eparchies have refused to allow auditors to conduct the required annual review mandated by the charter.
“The question of consequences for those who do not follow the charter is still unanswered,” Mr. Notzon said.
In Kansas City, Mo., Bishop Robert W. Finn is awaiting trial for failing to report a priest found with child pornography, and in Philadelphia, a church official is awaiting a verdict in a trial for covering up abusive priests.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, who led the bishops’ conference when the charter was written, said in an interview that there had been much progress, but, “The frustration that I have is that we haven’t always learned the lesson that you’re not judged by the best examples, you’re judged by the worst examples.”
Bishops are meeting as the Catholic Church in the United States has been roiled by the Vatican’s censure of the nation’s largest organization of American nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and a theologian, Sister Margaret A. Farley, who wrote a book about human sexuality.
Members of a coalition called Nun Justice protested Wednesday outside the hotel where the bishops are meeting. They delivered petitions asking the bishops to end the crackdown on the nuns’ group. The petition had 57,818 signatures, about one for every American nun.
A nun on the staff of the bishops’ conference was dispatched to accept the petitions. The nun, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations, said the dispute would have to be resolved between the Vatican and the nuns. She said, “We hope that they can handle it in a P.C. way, and that means ‘prayerfully collaborative.’ ”