I have just returned from participating in the press conference yesterday on religious liberty at the National Press Club in Washington, D C. Featuring Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who serves as the chair of the USCCB’s ad hoc committee on religious liberty, the panel also included Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Dr. Yuri Mantilla, a Law Professor at Liberty University Law School. CSPAN carried the conference live.
The press conference was held to accompany the release of an open letter, “Standing Together for Religious Freedom” (PDF), signed by Archbishop Lori and more than 100 other religious leaders and scholars from a variety of faith traditions. The signers simply are asking the Obama administration to “expand conscience protections under the mandate to cover any organization or individual that has religious or moral objections to covering, providing, or enabling access to the mandate drugs and services.” The letter also calls on Congress to implement legislation to protect against religious freedom violations.
For me, it was an honor to be included on this panel to show my support for the courageous work on religious liberty that Archbishop Lori has been doing these past years. You can read my prepared statement on the Franciscan University of Steubenville website.
Never having participated in a press conference before, I was fascinated with the way it was structured. While most of the questions from the media were respectful, it was a bit discouraging for me to find that what I perceived as the most contentious question of the day came from Michael Sean Winters, a writer for the National Catholic Reporter. As you will see from the CSPAN video (23:50 mark), his was the first question from the assembled reporters. It was a long and multi-part question—and appeared to me to have been prepared well before the press conference. The crucial part of his question—the part at the end of his convoluted question—was to ask Archbishop Lori: “why is so much money and time being spent on this campaign?”
Archbishop Lori answered him respectfully—trying to help him understand that this threat to our religious liberty is real and needs to be addressed. But, Winters was obviously not satisfied with his answer. He complained on his blog that Archbishop Lori had “punted” instead of answering his question.
Watching Winters at the press conference I could not help but be reminded of Cardinal Francis George’s 1999 description of liberal Catholicism as an “an exhausted project parasitical on a substance that no longer exists.”
Faithful Catholics know why we need to support the courageous work Archbishop Lori is doing. The threat to our religious liberty is real—and Michael Sean Winters should know that.