Morning Read: Region’s Roman Catholics decry attacks on “religious liberty”

Roman Catholic leaders in northern New York and Vermont are decrying what they describe as a broad-based attack on religious liberties in general, and on their faith in particular.

In Vermont, Roman Catholic leaders say the government should move to block or disallow civil lawsuits sparked by the priest-sex abuse scandal, according to the Burlington Free Press.

“The State cannot infringe on a protected freedom by imposing damages and penalties that the church cannot pay,” the diocese said in a motion asking Judge William Sessions III to throw out a lawsuit filed in 2010 by a man alleging that as an altar boy he was molested in Rutland by the Rev. Edward Paquette in 1974.

“If the protections of the First Amendment are to mean anything, the government should not be allowed to shut the doors of a church and put it up for sale,” church lawyers Kaveh Shahi and Tom McCormick wrote.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Ogdensburg in northern New York is blasting an Obama administration rule that would force the church to offer health insurance that includes services that the church rejects, including contraception, voluntary sterilization, and abortion.  This from the Adirondack Daily Enterprise:

“The federal government, which claims to be ‘of, by, and for the people,’ has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those

People – the Catholic population – and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful,” [Bishop Terry] LaValley said.

So what do you think?  Do you see a Roman Catholic church under siege in an increasingly secular world?  Comments welcome below.

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47 Comments on “Morning Read: Region’s Roman Catholics decry attacks on “religious liberty””

  1. Walker says:

    Wow! If this suit to “block or disallow civil lawsuits sparked by the priest-sex abuse” was won by the church, they would be immune to damage suits?! And this because of “damages and penalties that the church cannot pay?! Rome can’t afford these penalties?! I’m speechless.

  2. Mervel says:

    The issue is forcing a Church to do something that is against its basic moral teachings. This is a true infringement of religious liberty.

    The ironic part of the law is that if Catholic Charities only served Catholics and only employed Catholics, it would be exempt from the ruling. But because Catholic Charities serves anyone and everyone in need and because they hire people of all faiths who believe in the mission; they are deemed non-religious and are forced to offer these services.

    Its not right.

  3. TomL says:

    “The federal government, which claims to be ‘of, by, and for the people,’ has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those People – the Catholic population – and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful,” [Bishop Terry] LaValley said.”

    I guess Bishop LaValley is not including the 98% of adult US Catholics in sexual relationships that use birth control.

  4. Two Cents says:

    Yup how dare we interfere with their pederist freedoms.
    good thing the altar boy didn’t need an abortion after the alleged abuse.
    They shouldn’t be worried about civil law. The Church should be worried about what would God say about child molestation.
    And since when is an argument against damages based on the inability to pay the fine? (which is doubtfull cause the Catholic Church has more money than God)
    They Broke Civil and Moral law in regards to the sex abuse scandals, based on irony alone they should be “crucified”

  5. PNElba says:

    TomL beat me too it. Practice what you preach.

    I was raised a Catholic and survived 12 years of Catholic high school. In my opinion, what the Catholic church needs right now is another Martin Luther.

  6. myown says:

    A) It is a gross misinterpretation of “religious liberty” to try to use the term to avoid accountability for child molestation. And to use the ability to pay court awarded damages as any criteria just shows how out of touch these religious fanatics are. Frankly, if any organization fails to monitor its staff interacting with children or inadequately investigates rumors of pedophilia then it is a blessing if they have to shut their doors and cease to exist.

    B) Any organization that accepts governmental funding should also have to accept any strings attached to the money, including living with rules they don’t like. If you don’t like the rules don’t ask for public money.

  7. Pete Klein says:

    The Church could just not offer any health insurance to anyone who works for it. It could just say, “You want health insurance? Get your own.”
    It seems the Church, and by Church I mean the bishops, wants to pick and choose which civil laws it wants to follow. What it really would like to do is force its prohibitions upon everyone, Catholic or not.
    The Church doesn’t like the “faithful” to have any opinions or beliefs other than those it states in its codes, creed and canons. If truth be told, the Church uses the word “belief” when what it really means is that it “knows” everything. “I believe” does not mean I believe. It means “I know.”

  8. Jim Bullard says:

    The notion that the Catholic Church (or any religion) should be immune from suit for damages because of actions by its priests or other authorities in the church, is patently absurd. It reflects an attitude of arrogance that is more suited to absolute monarchy than to and organization of humble spiritual guides.

    Two Cents is a bit off on his assessment of the church’s financial state however. These days the Catholic church is what old timers called “land poor”, a lot of aging physical assets but insufficient cash flow to maintain them. I agree though that the church’s fiscal state has no bearing on whether damages should be paid in these cases.

    RE: The health insurance issue. It can be argued that while the church may frown upon contraception, etc. it should not be able to use health insurance an an enforcement tool for its dogma. The employees are not obliged to use the benefit just because it is there but neither should the church be able to dictate the health choices of its employees. I could see a compromise where the policies the church provided did not include those services but allowed for an inexpensive rider paid for by the employee. If TomL’s statistic is correct almost all would opt for it though which would be something of an embarrassment to the church.

  9. Two Cents says:

    I stand corrected, jim.
    You are right and i miss-spoke, but perhaps then, selling a couple of gold chalices off would help!
    Imagine if they had to pay Taxes on those land holdings.

  10. Increasingly secular? Huh? Trying being an atheist and run for president and you’ll see how secular this country is.

    What’s happening is that for all of this country’s history, religious folks have had special rights and privileges… such as civil authorities looking the other way as the Catholic Church protected predatory priests. Now less-religious folks are trying to chip away at those special rights and privileges. Those who once occupied a special place view it as being under attack… kind of like how white South Africans have reacted since the end of apartheid. An objective observer views this as long overdue fairness.

  11. I was raised a Catholic so I have seen the Church’s hypocrisy up close and personal for years.

  12. Paul says:

    I think in this case the church (or any other group) should have the freedom to do the wrong thing.

    I don’t support their choice but I do support their right to make it.

  13. Peter Hahn says:

    They still need to obey the secular laws. No child abuse and they need to provide health care for their employees like anyone else.

    If the church hierarchy can rationalize wars they can figure out a way to deal with insurance that covers contraception (or abortion for that matter).

  14. mervel says:

    They don’t have to provide any health insurance at all just like many businesses don’t provide any health insurance.

    If I were them I would budget the amount they would pay for health insurance and give it to the employees to buy their own. You cannot expect the Catholic Church to pay for something like abortion which is taught to be intrinsically evil. IF they can’t get around any of it I would close up the institutions impacted by the unjust law, even Luther said it is neither wise nor safe to go against your conscience.

    On the civil law suites they have to let those go. In my opinion they should fight the ones that are not justified and pay for the ones that are. It may mean the fiscal end of some dioceses’. But maybe that is okay, the Catholic faith is not about buildings and property, one priest, water, bread and wine and the Church lives, Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail. It may be a good thing to become truly poor in the world.

    The Catholic faith can never go bankrupt it is not about any of that.

  15. Paul says:

    I do not agree with the church’s position here. But I completely understand it.

    They consider abortion to be murder. Just like most companies would balk at being told that they have to pay for special services to facilitate murder (I know that I would not agree to it!) the church is in that same position here.

    What many people find to be completely moral they find to be completely immoral. Why should they be forced to support it? Especially if it makes it so they cannot care for all the other needs of their employees.

    I see I get all thumbs down but I find it ridiculous that so many folks want to force their views on the church in this case.

  16. PNElba says:

    If the catholic church considers abortion to be murder, why are they not screaming for laws that would incarcerate a women for life (or worse) for having an abortion?

  17. Paul says:

    PNElba, I used the “murder” analogy to make a point. You can choose any other thing that you would find immoral if that makes better sense. Another example would be something like taking a kid out and beating him. I find that reprehensible and would not want to facilitate it.

    Maybe your comment had nothing to do with mine. If that is the case just ignore this.

  18. dave says:

    “Why should they be forced to support it?”

    Because they operate in a society.

    We are all forced to “support” things we don’t agree with when live in a society. I assure you that my tax dollars and elected representatives do lots of things that I find morally reprehensible. Including, to use your example, several things that I would have no problem calling murder.

    In this case, no one is making them set up an abortion clinic, or forcing them to hand out birth control pills, or change their sermons or teachings about it… they are simply being told that they operate in a society where providing health care – and this includes women’s reproductive health and rights – is the law.

  19. Mervel says:

    The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is an intrinsic evil, the same as torture for example. For certain some Catholics do not follow these teachings, just as some commit adultery or steal or lie, but that does not mean that the Church itself should or can pay for these things and thus participate in them. For example someone who pays for an abortion or helps someone get an abortion is participating in what the Church teaches as something that is evil and is committing the same sin as abortion itself. Now this is all internal to the Church but now the government wants to force the Church to participate in what it teaches as evil, its really a gross violation of religious liberty.

    The only Catholic agency in the North Country that is impacted by this is Catholic Charities, the other parts of the Church have a religious exemption. The reason that Catholic Charities does not get an exemption is that it does not discriminate in who it hires or who it serves. What this will do is hurt Catholic Charities as they simply cannot participate in something like this.

  20. PNElba says:


    No the murder comment wasn’t directed at you. You just reminded me of the hypocrisy of those who want to make abortion illegal. I want to know what the penalty is going to be for the women who seeks and has an abortion. If abortion is murder, is the mother who gets an abortion a murderer?

  21. dave says:

    Catholic Charities affiliates received a total of nearly $2.9 billion a year from the government.

    That is billion, with a B.

    In case anyone was curious.

  22. Mervel says:

    Murder requires intent to harm and an intention to take another persons life it also requires I think malice and thinking ahead about doing it.

    I would say that most people in the US who have abortions have none of those qualities.

    I mean you could certainly make the case that Chinese officials who are using forced abortions are committing murder. I think it is pretty questionable when people have abortions because they didn’t want a boy or a girl, in India they are aborting girls at such a high rate that they have an imbalance in the sexes.

    But those are different cases then the western women and man who get an abortion because they have been taught and are convinced that this legal procedure is something that must be done in our case and there is nothing wrong with it.

    It is not hypocritical to be against abortion on moral grounds.

  23. Mervel says:

    Catholic Charities is in fact one of the largest Charities serving the poor in the United States.

  24. Mervel says:

    But in this case, it would not matter if the particular Catholic Charities received zero dollars from the government, they would still have to comply.

  25. Gary says:

    I think this controversy will influence the supreme courts decision regarding Obamacare. I see them viewing this as imposing on rights. First nail is being driven!

  26. Walker says:

    Just out of curiosity, why isn’t the Catholic Church against war?

  27. wj says:

    Maybe some clarification is in order?

    Abortion isn’t murder, it’s an out-patient medical procedure.

    If you’re not
    -the patient
    -the doctor or
    -the nurse
    your opinion – no matter how it’s reached – has no bearing.

    Most importantly, if your religion makes you think you have a right to interfere with what happens
    -in a bedroom
    -in a doctor’s office or
    -in a public school classroom (creationist nonsense)
    then you’re
    a) delusional
    b) dictatorial and therefore
    c) in the wrong country.

    We fought a lot of wars and a lot of people died so we could be free.

    Marrying who you want and getting the medical procedures you want are freedoms.

    Don’t like it? Then go to Iran or Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or China or any other country that actively quashes individual freedoms.

    I don’t care where you go, just get the hell out of my country.

    There. That clarifies things, doesn’t it?

  28. Gary says:

    Is it the church’s reaction we should be concerned with or the plan itself. In an attempt to sell Obamacare to the church/country in 2009 at Notre Dame U the president said, “Let’s honour the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause”. How many other surprises will we encounter as this package unfolds. I received an e-mail the other day that a 3.5% sales tax on home sales becomes effective in 2013?

  29. Two Cents says:

    Well, Gary we won’t have to worry about that will we!
    Nobody can sell their house! :)

  30. Walker says:

    The “3.5% sales tax on home sales” (actually 3.8%) is an extreme oversimplification. First, it doesn’t apply to any home sale where the net gain is less than $500,000. Second, it doesn’t apply to individuals making less than $200,000 or couples making less than $250,000 per year. I’m just guessing here, but I imagine that leaves most of us in the clear.

    Even if you are up in those rarefied realms, we’re not talking big bucks here: one example is a couple who have a $325,000 Adjusted Gross Income who sell their home for a $525,000 profit, they end up with a $950 extra tax. I would think the hypothetical couple will have no real trouble paying it.

    Anyway, that email you got Gary _wanted_ you to think it applied to all home sales for everyone, so you’d get really upset. In other words, they’re trying to manipulate you.

    For the straight (if decidedly complicated) story, seee

  31. PNElba says:

    Anyway, that email you got Gary _wanted_ you to think it applied to all home sales for everyone, so you’d get really upset. In other words, they’re trying to manipulate you.

    All my conservative relatives get emails like that which almost always either turn out to be completely false or very inaccurate. I have never received such an email. Why is that? also debunks the inaccuracies of that email.

  32. Walker says:

    Yes, and how many of your conservative relatives fact-check those emails? I’m guessing they just fume, just like they’re supposed to, and pass it on to like-minded folk.

  33. Pete Klein says:

    What started off of freedom to practice whatever religion (with some notable exceptions like having more than one wife) continues to become a money gravy train.
    Just look at all the tax laws religions are exempt from. Even the state pays property taxes on land it owns in the Adirondacks while the religions pay nothing.
    They want government money while they chew on everyone else’s freedoms.

  34. Paul says:

    “I want to know what the penalty is going to be for the women who seeks and has an abortion. If abortion is murder, is the mother who gets an abortion a murderer?”

    PNElba, I don’t think it is a legal issue for the church. The church has no “earthly” penalty for any kind of murder.

    “Just out of curiosity, why isn’t the Catholic Church against war?”

    Walker, I think they are?

  35. Paul says:

    “We fought a lot of wars and a lot of people died so we could be free.”

    In this case it appears “free” to impose one persons beliefs on another persons in the form of a government mandate.

    Most of us may agree with the mandate but that is how it is.

  36. Walker says:

    But Paul, I don’t see them raising a great hue and cry about war like they do abortion and contraception. I would be more impressed with their position on abortion if they invested just as much energy in opposing all killing. But it always seems like a handful of individual priests who protest war and the death penalty, rather than the Church itself.

  37. Pete Klein says:

    Let’s remember a few things from the not too distant past.
    Prior to Roe V Wade, there was no love lost between Catholics and Southern Baptist.
    Although a few priests did support MLK, there was not any strong support for him by “The Church.”
    Along comes legalized abortion and all of a sudden the Bishops can’t wait to jump into bed with Southern Baptists.
    It was also during this time that the Dixiecrats came out of the closet and became Republicans.
    Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows. All puns intended.
    No, the Catholic Church no longer threatens anyone with earthly punishments as it did during the Inquisitions. Now it just threatens with eternal punishment in hell. They want God to do their dirty work.

  38. Paul says:

    “I would be more impressed with their position on abortion if they invested just as much energy in opposing all killing.”

    I agree. Maybe they are trying to do more:

    On the death penalty:

    They could do more, but my point was that their message seems to be very consistent. Some what rare in a world of flip floppers.

  39. Walker says:

    Thanks for the links, Paul. It is good to see that the Church has not forgotten one of the central teachings of the Prince of Peace. But it is interesting that on that page it says “According to the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (, on any given day there are 1.4 million Catholics serving in the military.” So they are against war, but they are also participating in it. If they took the kind of absolute position with regard to war that they do with abortion, there would be no “Archdiocese for the Military Services.” They would be telling Catholics that it was a mortal sin to kill or to participate in killing. Period. End of story.

  40. PNElba says:

    Walker, like Gary, none of my conservative relatives check these emails that just don’t sound right. I also check the information sent in progressive emails to see what is factual. There can always be cherry picking.

  41. Mervel says:

    The Catholic Church opposed the Iraq war for example because it goes against the Catholic Just War doctrine, the Pope personally spoke to Bush about it to no avail. However the Church is not against all war out of hand in that at times it is the only option, but really those times are pretty rare.

    Abortion is considered an intrinsic evil as it kills the most vulnerable and unprotected member of humanity. At the same time however we recognize that many have been misled about what abortion is, that indeed if you outlawed or penalized abortion it would still happen, thus it is not the same as opposing a genocide or trying to stop random violence.

    But really the Church should never worry about public opinion or about what the world thinks, it is at its worst when it does that in my opinion.

    wj we are not going anywhere if you don’t like that you could also choose to leave, what you do to your child is indeed the business of others. Don’t worry though the precious abortions will continue, speaking of China they have embraced abortion, most totalitarian states have done so. Individual freedom applies to EVERYONE even the unborn.

  42. Walker says:

    So Mervel, if the Catholic Church is against the Iraq war because it is not a just war, then surely to kill in an unjust war is a mortal sin. And surely it is wrong for the church to support soldiers fighting an unjust war, especially as military service is now voluntary. If the Church truly believed that all killing is wrong (except in a Just War (wwJd?!)) then they should be informing Catholics that to participate in our killing in Iraq is a mortal sin. They should be excommunicating soldiers.

    Has the Church forgotten Jesus’ injunction to love thine enemy?

  43. mervel says:

    The Church hasn’t, I think your government has though.

  44. Walker says:

    Then why is there an Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA and why are there 1.4 million Catholics serving in the military?

  45. Mervel says:

    I don’t know for sure Walker. I do think there is a slightly different theological understanding in following orders in war compared to murder. If you are interested in the Catholic Christian faith though I could give you link to the Catholic Catechism? I like the United States Catholic Catechism for adults if you are interested.

    I think though this is a little off track, it is more of a religious discussion versus the topic which is religious freedom.

  46. Walker says:

    I am interested in how the Church can rationalize killing in the case of war, while taking an absolute stance in the case of a fetus.

    I know, I know… the fetus is “innocent”. But it’s only innocent because it hasn’t been born yet. Could turn out to be John Wayne Gacy. The innocence of a fetus doesn’t, in my mind, invest it with any more right to life than an innocent bystander in Iraq.

    And yes, it is off track, except that if you read through the discussion, you will see that much of it is directed at the hypocrisy of the Church. This is relevant to that thread.

  47. Mervel says:

    Its a good question. I have studied it some time ago, some Catholics are extreme pacifists and would refuse to go to war based on their beliefs others work very strongly to end all wars.

    I do think there is a misunderstanding surrounding abortion and excommunication etc. Many Catholics have had abortions and are a welcomed active members of the Church. One of my hero’s Dorothy Day who will probably be recognized as a Saint by the Church; had an abortion. Abortion is a mortal sin, so is adultery for example and Catholics believe it will separate a human from God. Excomomunication is a separation in our heart from the love of God as expressed in the Church, this is the whole purpose of confession, repentance and reconciliation. No one who is sorry for their sins will ever be turned away regardless if it is abortion or adultery or whatever.

    No one is standing at the door telling people who have had abortions to get out, in fact just the opposite, come and find healing for these wounds. I would imagine many Catholics have had abortions, felt the pain and sorrow of this decision and have found love and forgiveness in Christ who came to forgive sins not to accuse us of our sins, that is the job of the devil.

    Sorry for the religious/spiritual discussion I know it is not relevant to yourself and most of the board, but I just wanted to address the perception that somehow the Church hates people who have had abortions or performed abortions etc.

    For me I actually wish the Church would focus less on external events and politics and more on teaching the truth, although I think they do need to be a voice among many in the public square.

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