WASHINGTON (CNS) – A week after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told individuals and institutions who oppose contraception “to hell with you,” as one bishop put it, members of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy were mobilizing their followers to fight.
Bishops across the country – including Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans and Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla. – were preparing letters to be read at all Masses during the Jan. 28-29 weekend.
But one of the most strongly worded reactions to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ Jan. 20 announcement that religious organizations could delay but not opt out of a requirement that all health plans cover contraception and sterilization at no cost came from Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh, in a column titled “To hell with you.”
Sebelius and the Obama administration “have said ‘To hell with you’ to the Catholic faithful of the United States,” Bishop Zubik wrote. “To hell with your religious beliefs. To hell with your religious liberty. To hell with your freedom of conscience. We’ll give you a year, they are saying, and then you have to knuckle under.”
He called on Catholics in the Pittsburgh Diocese to “do all possible to rescind” the contraceptive mandate by writing to President Barack Obama, Sebelius and their members of Congress about this “unprecedented federal interference in the right of Catholics to serve their community without violating their fundamental moral beliefs.”
Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, Ill., enlisted the aid of St. Michael the Archangel in fighting “this unprecedented governmental assault upon the moral convictions of our faith.”
In a Jan. 24 letter to Peoria Catholics, he directed that the prayer of St. Michael be recited “for the freedom of the Catholic Church in America” during Sunday Masses at every parish, school, hospital, Newman center and religious house in the diocese.
The prayer reads in part: “Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil” and “cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits, who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.”
“I am honestly horrified that the nation I have always loved has come to this hateful and radical step in religious intolerance,” Bishop Jenky said in the letter.
“While it is primarily the laity who should take the leading role in political and legal action, as your bishop it is my clear responsibility to summon our local church into spiritual and temporal combat in defense of Catholic Christianity,” he added. “I strongly urge you not to be intimidated by extremist politicians or the malice of the cultural secularists arrayed against us.”
“We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law,” declared Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix.