Archbishop Kurtz: Religious Liberty Week is about the Gospel, is meant to “inspire a culture”

“It has been difficult,” says the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee for Religious Liberty, “as we’re swimming upstream in this culture.  Some people think religious freedom is the threat!”

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., speaks June 13 during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' annual spring assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, 71, head of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee for Religious Liberty.

Speaking on behalf of the Conference, the archbishop has announced that June 22-29 is “Religious Freedom Week” and has asked Americans to pray and “act in support of religious liberty at home and abroad”. The archbishop went on to explain, “Religious freedom allows the space for people of faith to serve others in God’s love in ministries like education, adoption and foster care, health care, and migration and refugee services. We encourage people of faith to reflect on the importance of religious freedom so that we might have the space to carry out our mission of service and mercy, and we invite everyone to pray for our brothers and sisters whoface intense persecution in other parts of the world.”

Archbishop Kurtz, 71, was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1972.  He has served as a pastor and teacher, as well as being active with social services agencies.  He became Bishop of Knoxville, Tennessee in 1999, and came to Louisville in 2007. He has had a long involvement with the USCCB, and served as its president 2013-16.  He was elected chairman of its Committee for Religious Liberty in 2017.

CWR: What is Religious Freedom Week?

Archbishop Kurtz: It is a week in which we focus on the gift of religious freedom, the first freedom in our nation.  We call on our people to pray, reflect and act. Each day people are asked to focus on a different issue, such as migration or education.

In participating, we’re fulfilling our duty that comes from Christ, announcing the Good News.  We’re not doing it a single person at a time, but are hoping to inspire a culture.  We do not impose our beliefs upon people, but propose a vision to the culture in such areas as family, sexuality and the dignity of the human person.

CWR: From 2012-17, the USCCB asked Catholics to observe a “Fortnight for Freedom.”  Why has this been changed to Religious Freedom Week?

Archbishop Kurtz: A fortnight is 14 days, and is a phrase not used in our culture.  We also find that focusing on a single week allows us to telescope on particular topics more clearly.  When the Fortnight for Freedom began, the particular focus was on how religious organizations could comply with the HHS [Health and Human Services] mandate and be consistent to the teachings of their faith [the HHS mandate forced religious organizations to offer health insurance with coverage for contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization despite being at  odds with their beliefs].  We made some significant gains, but the HHS mandate is still tied up in the courts, and has not completely ended.

With Religious Freedom Week, and the years leading up to it, we’ve broadened our focus.  We particularly want to reach out to younger people. In general, people age 60 and up understand threats to religious freedom.  The millennial generation is not grasping the problem.  We need to pick our language carefully, be accurate and convey what religious freedom is and where it is in danger.

CWR: Where do you think religious freedom is in danger?

Archbishop Kurtz: The USCCB has developed eight short videos, about a minute and a half to just over two minutes each, which discuss areas of challenge.  Day 4 of Religious Freedom Week, for example, features Archbishop Timothy Broglio talking about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.  On Day 5, Bishop Joe Vasquez talks about issues relating to refugees and migrants.  On Day 6, we hear from
Archbishop Joseph Naumann, who talks about threats to religious freedom in the area of health care, such as health care providers being  coerced into participating in abortion procedures.

Other videos include Bishop Robert Barron, on Day 3, challenging us to speak boldly in the public square and me, on Day 8, bringing it all together.

CWR: You talked about the significance of the time of year.  The 4th of July is coming up, and the week starts on the day the Church celebrates the English martyrs Saints Thomas More and John Fisher.

Archbishop Kurtz: We could have not picked a better time of year.  Thomas More and John Fisher are great saints of religious freedom, giving their lives rather than compromising their faith.  Their sacrifice has been well documented.  We end on June 29, the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul, the twin pillars of the early Church who spread their faith and suffered martyrdom for Christ.

CWR: What would you like the average Catholic in the parish to do?

Archbishop Kurtz: On each particular day of the week, people can go to the website and  click on links in English or Spanish and see a suggested three-fold pattern of prayer, reflection and action.  Since the nature of the issues we talk about can change quickly from day to day, we have links to other websites run by people who actively monitor particular areas.

CWR: What impact do you believe the Fortnight for Freedom, now Religious Freedom Week, has had on Catholic parishes and U.S. public policy as a whole?

Archbishop Kurtz: It has been difficult, as we’re swimming upstream in this culture.  Some people think religious freedom is the threat! But, I believe we’ve been making positive inroads.  I hear people talking more about religious freedom.  There have been some instances where  public opinion has been on our side, such as the case involving the HHS mandate and the Little Sisters of the Poor.

CWR: What do you see as the role of the USCCB’s Religious Liberty Committee?

Archbishop Kurtz: We look for positive ways to promote the gift of religious freedom.  We also respond to potential crises in a thoughtful and human way, educating people about the gift of religious freedom.  Our hope is to inspire the culture, and ask people to make room for religious voices in the public square. Religious freedom and faith enrich public life, and a vibrant and robust use of religious freedom is good for America

CWR: One criticism of Religious Freedom Week and Fortnight for Freedom is that they promote a particular political agenda which has little to do with the Church’s mission of the salvation of souls.  How would you respond?

Archbishop Kurtz: We’re not promoting a particular political agenda, as our issues and positions span the political spectrum.  I also think that looking at the salvation of souls, one at a time, is a limited and mistaken view.  Our call as a community is to foster the gift of faith, and to go to heaven not one at a time, but together.  Our role is to inspire a culture, including families and schools, so that the individual person will have the support necessary to live out his or her faith.

CWR: Others argue that religious liberty is defensive by nature, asking to be left alone to practice one’s Catholic faith, rather than going on offense, working to pass laws in society that reflect Catholic belief and morality.

Archbishop Kurtz: I suppose there is a danger that religious freedom is taken too narrowly, asking society to merely make room for us.  But, what we’re trying to do is inspire the culture.  We propose, never impose.  We want to support  the dignity of the human person consistent with our faith, rather than becoming a Catholic ghetto asking to be left alone.  We’re not simply  trying to defend when there are attacks, but trying to have a positive influence on the culture.

CWR: June 13-14, you participated in a bishops’ spring assembly in Florida.  The most prominently discussed issue was immigration.  During the assembly, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said the nation’s current immigration policy “is consistent with cardiosclerosis,” or a hardening of the American heart. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn said of it, “there is an element of restrictionism, somewhat based on racism.”  Bishop Edwin Weisenburger of Tucson floated the idea of “canonical penalties” for those who cooperate with current immigration laws.  Did you find such comments unduly harsh to those who disagree with the bishops on immigration policy?

Archbishop Kurtz: There was a context to that meeting, the discussion of the separation of children from their parents at the border.  The overall approach that the bishops maintain is that we are to treat people with great dignity and we need to honor the family.

The bishops have called for immigration reform.  We have to protect our borders and care for people within our borders, but we believe there is a call to be generous, in rhetoric as well as policies.  Some bishops expressed a concern about the harshness of rhetoric and people not being treated with dignity, being referred to as inanimate objects or things to be discarded.

CWR: In your Archdiocese of Louisville, you’re completing the parish discernment process based on your pastoral letter Your Parish: The Body of Christ Alive in Our Midst (www.archlou.org/Parish-discernment).  What is this letter about?

Archbishop Kurtz: I issued that letter calling for the renewal of parish life on the Feast of the Holy Family at the end of 2016.  Since then, we’ve begun to implement the letter in our parishes, with all taking part.  I’ve been pleased by the results.

In the letter I ask our people to look spiritually and theologically at the gift of the parish, and to think about what God might be asking from our parishes. I ask them what they are doing to improve their family lives, reach out in service to their neighbor and deepen their spiritual lives. We’ve had two phases of the implementation of that letter, and we’re going through the third phase now.

CWR: You’ve just ordained five new priests.  How is the vocations picture in your diocese?

Archbishop Kurtz: We have 17 seminarians.  We always pray for more vocations, so we’re pleased to have five men ordained.  Two are from Vietnam, the other three from Kentucky.  Our two new Vietnamese priests came to us through an agreement with a bishop in Vietnam; after serving three to five years in Louisville we’ll discern whether it is best that they return to Vietnam or stay in Louisville with us.  We’ve accepted a total of six such seminarians.

CWR: And, your archdiocesan pastoral services center now has a solar array to help provide for its electricity needs.  Will this lead to significant cost savings for the archdiocese?

Archbishop Kurtz: No, our monthly payments have actually increased due to the new technology. But we weren’t doing it to save money, but to provide for a portion of the archdiocese’s electricity needs through the use of sustainable energy.  It was our way to exercise good stewardship of the Earth’s resources, encouraged and fostered by Catholic social teaching and in keeping with Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si.  Our rooftop has been fitted with 100 solar panels, which provides for about a third of our energy needs.

CWR: Any other thoughts?

Archbishop Kurtz: Yes.  I’m completing my 11th year as Archbishop of Louisville, and previously served eight years as Bishop of Knoxville.  That totals 19 years as a bishop in the province of Lousiville.  I’ve cherished the opportunity. It’s been my privilege to serve.

About Jim Graves 159 Articles
Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.

11 Comments

  1. Archbishop Kurtz: Religious Liberty Week is about the Gospel, is meant to “inspire a culture”

    So, let’s step away from the rhetoric and look at the results actually produced. Absolutely zero by the USCCB. The pluses have all been due to the Trump administration that the USCCB and its bishops never cease from condemning and insulting. Moreover, consider how utterly catastrophic the results would have been had the USCCB’s favored candidate Hilary Clinton become president.

    Archbishop Kurtz smugly pats himself on the back for 5 priestly ordinations in his archdiocese when it in fact is the case that two of the five are Vietnamese who are going to return to their own country in a few short years, so the total is really 3, a truly dismal result from an archdiocese that Wikipedia describes as follows:

    “As of 2018, the archdiocese contains approximately 200,000 Catholics in 66,000 households, served by one hundred twenty-two parishes and missions. One half of all Catholics in the Commonwealth reside within the bounds of the Archdiocese of Louisville, and seventy-nine percent of all Catholics in the archdiocese (forty percent of all Catholics in the Commonwealth) reside in the Louisville Metro area. There are fifty-nine Catholic elementary and high schools serving more than 23,400 students. The archdiocese is home to one hundred sixty-six diocesan priests.”

    And this is a bishop who claims he and his USCCB apparatchiks are “inspiring culture”? It is no wonder that the moral authority of such bishops has evaporated to the point of non-existence in the past 60 years.

  2. Dear bishops,
    You are far too late and much more than a dollar short.
    You have made yourselves irrelevant.
    Regards to “Uncle Ted” McCarrick….as if you didn’t know.

  3. And… what have the bishops done with their religious liberty? They have weighed in on one particular side of many political issues about which prudential Catholics of good faith are free to disagree, and have done so in a manner that has turned them into mere spokesmen for the most anti-religious political party in American history. They have accepted millions upon millions of dollars to entangle themselves in social programs, both nationally and internationally, that destroy families and undermine Christian culture. They have been silent witnesses to – and in many cases have abetted – the collapse of a once-great Catholic educational system, one that is now almost indistinguishable from the anti-life, materialist, culture-hating nihilism of public education. Well, this list is only a beginning, but it gives you an idea of why the bishop’s moral authority is at an end.

  4. Religious Liberty? Christ sovereign over the world. He founded one Church, that is the Catholic Church in Rome. There is no room for other faiths in heaven. Our Lord has one spouse and no other. A number of popes have condemned the separation of church and state, the foundation of modern societies. The most significant being Leo XIII in his encyclical Libertas. No one has the right to do or believe what is false. How can there be acts of religious liberty which set themselves against the one true faith? The US Constitution has no firm foundation because it is built on sand and cannot last. So the notion of our Bishops being for religious liberty can only mean they support a person’s right to make a choice for a false faith. Which is not true charity.

    • Mark,I agree with most of what you say. My concern is that if all religions are welcomed into Heaven, why do we evangelize? Evangelism seem to be in contrast with religious liberty. A few more McCarricks and we won’t have to be concerned anymore.

  5. I have a question for Archbishop Kurtz and for that matter every other USCCB bishop. Tell me what “culture” has been inspired by Cardinal “Uncle Teddy” McCarrick with his life-long homosexual predation and by you with your own episcopal silence, coverup, and acquiescence in vast homosexual infiltration in the Church?

    Every bishop in the USCCB should be required to answer the following question under oath: “Are you a homosexual?” If the answer is affirmative, the bishop should be required to resign or face involuntary deposition and degradation to lay status. We have paid over $4 billion for clerical homosexual rape of young men and boys as well as clerical homosexual affairs with adults. We now have the incredible spectacle in Cardinal “Uncle Teddy” McCarrick of a credibly established life-long homosexual predator who was appointed to perhaps the most important archdiocese in the world after Pope John Paul II and then Cardinal Ratzinger were personally notified of his unsuitability. How much more are we expected to take, especially under a pope who claims: “Who am I to judge?”

  6. I can’t wait to pull the lever again for Donald Trump in 2020 – right after I celebrate morning Mass at the parish!

  7. Bishop Kurtz,
    Saints Thomas More and John Fisher did not give their lives for “religious liberty”. Although your masters at the USCCB may think so.
    More and Fisher died for their Catholic Faith which they would never subordinate to any king.
    Look how the USCCB lives and breaths for Federal money and genuflects to the DNC. A pathetic disgrace.

  8. “Our call as a community is to foster the gift of faith, and to go to heaven not one at a time, but together. Our role is to inspire a culture, including families and schools, so that the individual person will have the support necessary to live out his or her faith.”

    Ask Joan of Arc about this idea.

  9. Jim, I am trying to leave a comment on a much earlier article, dated 2012. It’s a full description of the CMRI which I’m only 1/2 way through and intend to finish because it is worth reading but wanted to stop to say this: the Rites of Ordination and Consecration were the first ones to be changed by Paul VI. To avoid being labeled ‘inflammatory’ by the editors I’ll stop with this on this line of thought. Neither rite needed to be changed.

    I SAW the results. I ‘converted’ into the Church around 2012 at Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in Honolulu – the flagship for the Church in the Islands. It was more protestant than the Episcopal Church in which I was raised: high altar abandoned, female servers, presider’s chair, and table set up in the middle of the knave. I left permanently a few weeks later and resumed study.

    I qualify for membership in mensa, and have studied the situation in the Catholic Church well enough. I see sedevacantists at a disadvantage when compared with a few groups who DID make it under the door by which I mean were legitimate in 1958 and continue to operate today, more or less intact with the pre-1958 Church ways they each had had. Including in at least some cases, ordination and consecration as was done centuries ago. In fact, I have found one such group I intend to move to Florida God willing to assist with – which is entirely traditional AND receives congratulatory letters each time a bishop is consecrated even though the group is labeled ‘irregular’ by Rome.

    If you want to know more, please write to me. I don’t expect to be returning to this site after I finish reading your 2012 article.

    Thank you.

    That the rites were changed as the FIRST PRIORITY is a big smoking gun as to motivation from the beginning to destroy the integrity POWER of the Church. As you I am sure know, the masons and Pope Pius X didn’t get along. You also know, I think, that Bella Dodd, who was a Jew, and converted via Bp. Sheen, testified before congress that the church was systematically infiltrated in the 20’s and 30’s by those who wished to destroy it in the one way possible: by getting into the veins of the Church when very young, for use of position later.

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