Connecticut Catholic Diocese Under Attack

On September 27, 2007, the Connecticut Catholic Conference announced its decision to allow the state’s Catholic hospitals to provide the morning-after pill, Plan B, for rape victims. A letter was issued by the three bishops: Archbishop Henry Mansell, Bishop Michael Cote and Bishop William Lori. At the time, the CCC issued a statement, which included these words:

The four Catholic hospitals in the State of Connecticut remain committed to providing competent and compassionate care to victims of rape. In accordance with Catholic moral teaching, these hospitals provide emergency contraception after appropriate testing. Under the existing hospital protocols, this includes a pregnancy test and an ovulation test. Catholic moral teaching is adamantly opposed to abortion, but not to emergency contraception for victims of rape.

This past spring the Governor signed into a law “An Act Concerning Compassionate Care for Victims of Sexual Assault,” passed by the State Legislature. It does not allow medical professionals to take into account the results of the ovulation test. The Bishops and other Catholic health care leaders believe that this law is seriously flawed, but not sufficiently to bar compliance with it at the present time. We continue to believe this law should be changed.

At the time, the CCC argued that the Catholic Church’s magisterium “has not definitively resolved this matter and since there is serious doubt about how Plan B pills work, the Catholic Bishops of Connecticut have stated that Catholic hospitals in the State may follow protocols that do not require an ovulation test in the treatment of victims of rape.”

In the aftermath of the CCC decision, American Life League, Human Life International and noted moral theologian Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner agreed that the CCC decision was fraught with error. All to no avail.

As Fr. Fehlner pointed out at the time, "The fact is, if we have any doubt about whether a given action would directly risk someone's life, entail a violation of justice or threaten the salvation of a soul, we may not act on the basis of a scientific probability. That means even if the pill in Plan B is only 'dubiously' abortive, we simply may not use it at all."

We understood that the Connecticut state law mandated that the abortive drug be provided, but we also encouraged the bishops of Connecticut to stand their ground and argue that their hospitals had every right under the law not to participate in any action that was contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. The pleas we and many others made had literally no effect. Bridgeport Bishop William Lori wrote in 2007 regarding Catholic hospitals’ administration of Plan B to rape victims,

The administration of Plan B pills in this instance cannot be judged to be the commission of an abortion because of such doubt about how Plan B pills and similar drugs work and because of the current impossibility of knowing from the ovulation test whether a new life is present. To administer Plan B pills without an ovulation test is not an intrinsically evil act.

That was then and this is now. As I write, Connecticut’s Office of State Ethics is putting unbelievable pressure on Bishop William Lori and the priests of his diocese. But this time, Bishop Lori is fighting back. American Life League first learned of this from the Creative Minority Report, which explains: 

The state government of Connecticut might just be the epicenter of state sponsored anti-Catholicism in the country right now. The state is seeking to silence the Catholic Church. Again.
Ever since the Church's stance supporting traditional marriage or at least for a conscience clause for religious organizations, many in state government have sought to punish the Church or at least silence it.
If you'll recall a few months ago two Democrat state legislators proposed a bill targeting Catholic parishes by instituting elected boards to oversee parishes. This, of course, caused an outrage as the government had no right to intervene in the Church's affairs.

Tim Carney, of the Washington Examiner reports:

Church officials mobilized against the bill, with the Bridgeport Diocese web site again asking Catholics to call their lawmakers. But then the church committed the cardinal offense, the act that compelled the Office of State Ethics to crack down: The diocese rented buses to bring parishioners to the state Capitol in Hartford for a rally against the bill on the day of the public hearing.

The public uproar spurred the bill’s sponsors to withdraw it and cancel the hearing the night before. But the church-sponsored rally went on anyway, making the diocese a renegade lobbyist.

Bishop Lori does not for a minute believe that his actions in decrying state efforts to step in and control Catholic parishes should be legitimately or logically defined as “lobbying.” He wasted no time in issuing a public statement against the state’s assault on religious freedom:

We believe firmly that it is unconstitutional to apply the state lobbying statute to our Diocese for having exercised its constitutional rights by participating in a rally at the State Capitol and posting information on its website, to protest an unconstitutional attempt by the State to reorganize our Church.

We are pursuing this matter through the judicial system… Fundamental constitutional rights include the responsibility to express our views in a civil and lawful manner.

Visiting the Diocese of Bridgeport’s web site provides an opportunity to review the history of this case, the relevant legal documents and additional background material.

Carney’s report, which is based on his investigation of this matter, is revealing:

I asked the Office of State Ethics about the ramifications of dubbing the diocese a lobbying organization. Would priests need to fasten “LOBBYIST” badges to their vestments whenever speaking from the pulpit about the death penalty, abortion or future state attempts to micromanage parishes? Who would enforce this? Would the state deploy ethics officers to regulate Masses so that no unauthorized lobbying occurred?

Would the diocese Web nerd need to clock in as a lobbyist for the time it takes him to write, “Tell the Governor to Repeal the Death Penalty” and upload that message to the site? A spokeswoman said, “We really don’t have opinions that specifically address those matters.”

The diocese has sued in federal court to block the state from enforcing the lobbying laws against it.

Connecticut recently ramped up its ethics enforcement in response to government corruption and abuse of power by former Republican Gov. John Rowland. Today, the lobbying laws look like another tool for government to use to control meddlesome priests who resist the politicians’ agenda.

The stark contrast between the 2007 joint decision of three Catholic bishops regarding Plan B and this latest turn of events in the Bridgeport diocese is interesting. How can it be that the 2007 state requirement met with hesitant but willing agreement, while this latest state action is meeting total, absolute opposition? We pray the answer is that Bishop Lori is not going to let the State ramrod him into accepting an agenda that compromises Church policies or moral principles ever again!

One has to wonder if, in retrospect, the little bit of evil which the Connecticut Catholic Conference accepted in 2007 by choosing to accommodate the State, rather than Catholic teaching, has permitted and even encouraged the evil that the State is now attempting to impose on Bishop Lori. Only time will tell.

The more fundamental issue is that if it succeeds, Connecticut’s current move against the Bridgeport diocese could have a chilling effect on Catholic parish priests and bishops elsewhere in that state and the country.

There are political agendas at work in the current situation, but they are no different today than they were in 2007. The State pressed the bishops in 2007 and won; this time around, it is our prayer that they don’t even come close. We pray that Bishop Lori continues his courageous resistance and that he succeeds in convincing the State of Connecticut that Catholics have the same rights and freedoms to which all Americans are entitled.

Bishop Lori said recently, "I believe that an order from the Court barring Mr. Jones and his colleagues at the (OSE) Office of State Ethics from applying the lobbying laws to the Diocese in this manner is necessary to enable the Diocese to continue to carry out its mission without fear of incurring civil penalties, exposure to possible criminal prosecution, burdensome administrative requirements, and intrusive oversight by the State.”

Please encourage Bishop Lori via mail or phone:

Most Rev. William Lori
Diocese of Bridgeport
Catholic Center
238 Jewett Ave.
Bridgeport, CT 06606

(203) 416-1364