Press Releases 2015

Pope Francis’ Remarks at the White House: A Possible Preview of His Message to Congress?

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Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, reflects on Pope Francis’ address at the White House:

It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that it appears Pope Francis may have felt forced to throw a bone to the lobbying agenda of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Referencing the bogus “religious liberty” campaign by the USCCB in his remarks on the White House lawn this morning, Pope Francis said, “American Catholics are … concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely-ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty…. As my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.

Francis’ concession to the US bishops is troubling. When the bishops talk about “religious liberty” it is a code word for the freedom to discriminate. American Catholics know that real religious liberty is freedom of and freedom from religion—it’s the bedrock of democracy in this country. No one should be persecuted for what they believe, and no one should have someone else’s beliefs imposed upon them.

The USCCB and other faith-based contractors like Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, World Vision and the Southern Baptist Convention are trying to sell our elected representatives a bogus idea of “religious freedom” in order to secure taxpayer-sponsored carve outs for their business interests and charities. They want special exemptions in state and federal policies that allow them to take taxpayer money while also having the “freedom” to discriminate against anyone who disagrees with them. It’s the USCCB that needs to respect the freedom of Catholics and non-Catholics to use birth control according to their conscience, rather than campaign against the Affordable Care Act.

If the bishops succeed in their bogus “religious liberty” campaign, they would be able to:

  • Fire a teacher at a Catholic school for marrying a same-sex partner
  • Block an employee at a Catholic-affiliated organization from getting birth control through their insurance
  • Use taxpayer dollars to provide services to those living with HIV, but refuse to provide condoms
  • Use taxpayer dollars to work with victims of sex trafficking without providing emergency contraception—or even a referral to another doctor.

The US bishops want to have their cake and to eat it too. They want to take taxpayer dollars but not play by the same rules as other government contractors. Is it possible that Francis will try to use his address to Congress tomorrow to serve it to them? One would hope that Francis will represent the pastoral message wanted by the majority of Catholics in the United States who don’t want Congress to fulfill a political lobbying checklist of the US hierarchy.

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Catholics for Choice shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women's well-being and respect and affirm the capacity of women and men to make moral decisions about their lives.