The bishops are taking on the Department of Health over proposals to make religious institutions provide contraception and abortifacient pills

Further to my blog on Friday, it seems that some Catholic bishops in the US are coming out in the fight against the ruling by Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, that all religious institutions will now be required to provide medical insurance for employees that include cover for contraception, abortifacient pills and sterilisation.

According to CFNews, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, has ordered all the priests in his diocese to read out a letter to their congregations this last weekend pointing out that such insurance requires employers’ participation in “evil and grave sin.” He said he would be happy to join the effort to “protest most strongly against a mandate…that requires Catholics in the US to violate their consciences.” He emphasised that “we cannot and will not comply with this unjust decree. Like the martyrs of old, we must be prepared to accept suffering which could include heavy fines and imprisonment. Our American religious liberty is in grave jeopardy.”

Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha has written a similar letter. His diocesan chancellor, Deacon Tim McNeil, explained that the Bishop’s letter “will state how this order negatively impacts the Church in the US. It’s a violation of religious liberty and our First Amendment rights.”

I suspect that Bishop Bruskewitz is right and that penalties will follow. The Bishop is no stranger to strong words and actions. Some years ago he caused a national sensation in America when he issued a formal warning to Catholics in his diocese who belonged to organisations opposed to the Church – e.g. those supporting women priests  – that they were in danger of excommunication. Interviewed on that occasion by Paul Likoudis for The Wanderer, Bishop Bruskewitz stated that bishops “have a duty to maintain unity in the Church. This unity is maintained by full and obedient communion with the head of the college of bishops, the Successor of St Peter, the vicar of Christ on earth, the Holy Father.” Now that is what we want our bishops to state.

Still, there is suffering and suffering, and persecution in the free world is not quite the same as that under violent regimes elsewhere. Our parish priest mentioned on Sunday that not long ago a young priest in Baghdad, only ordained a year, was grabbed by terrorists during Mass, laid on the altar of his church and summarily beheaded – in full view of the congregation which included his elderly mother. This martyrdom by blood has been haunting me since I heard of it.