(CNSNews.com) - In a statement featuring newly installed Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone--who leads the San Francisco Archdiocese where House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi lives--the U.S. Catholic bishops announced on Thursday that they are calling on Catholics to pray the rosary every day and to fast and to abstain from eating meat on Fridays as part of a pastoral campaign aimed at preserving religious liberty, the right to life and the institution of marriage in the United States of America.
“The well-being of society requires that life, marriage, and religious liberty are promoted and protected,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said on a special webpage produced for the campaign. “Serious threats to each of these goods, however, have raised unprecedented challenges to the Church and to the nation.”
"With the challenges this country is facing, it is hoped that this call to prayer and penance will help build awareness among the faithful as well as spiritual stamina and courage for effective witness,” said a statement by Archbishop Cordileone, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. “We also hope that it will encourage solidarity with all people who are standing for the precious gifts of life, marriage, and religious liberty,"
The bishops especially pointed to what they called “two immediate flashpoints”: attacks on the free exercise of religion and the institution of marriage.
“First is the HHS mandate, which requires almost all employers, including Catholic employers, to pay for employees' contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs regardless of conscientious objections,” they said. “This is a clear affront to America's first freedom, religious liberty, as well as to the inherent dignity of every human person.
“Second,” the bishops said, “current trends in both government and culture are moving toward redefining marriage as the union of any two persons, ignoring marriage's fundamental meaning and purpose as the universal institution that unites a man and a woman with each other and with the children born from their union. These challenges call for increased awareness and formation, as well as spiritual stamina and fortitude among the faithful, so that we may all be effective and joyful witnesses of faith, hope and charity.”
In March, after calling the HHS mandate an “unjust law,” the Catholic bishops put out a statement on religious liberty in which they explained that Catholics cannot obey an unjust law.
“It is a sobering thing to contemplate our government enacting an unjust law,” said the bishops’ statement. “An unjust law cannot be obeyed. In the face of an unjust law, an accommodation is not to be sought, especially by resorting to equivocal words and deceptive practices. If we face today the prospect of unjust laws, then Catholics in America, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey them.
“No American desires this. No Catholic welcomes it,” said the bishops’ statement. “But if it should fall upon us, we must discharge it as a duty of citizenship and an obligation of faith.”
“An unjust law is ‘no law at all,’” the bishops said. “It cannot be obeyed, and therefore one does not seek relief from it, but rather its repeal.”
In a unanimous statement approved in June, the bishops also called the HHS mandate a “violation of personal civil rights” that attacks the freedom of conscience of individual lay business owners and workers. “They, too,” the bishops said, “face a government mandate to aid in providing ‘services’ contrary to those values—whether in their sponsoring of, and payment for, insurance as employers; their payment of insurance premiums as employees; or as insurers themselves—without even the semblance of an exemption.”
The bishops are calling on Catholics to do five specific things to advance this campaign for liberty, life and marriage. These include saying the rosary daily, attending a special Holy Hour on the last Sunday of each month, participating in a Fortnight of Freedom in the summer of 2013, including in every Mass prayers of the faithful for the causes of life, marriage and liberty, and fasting and abstaining from meat on Fridays.
“Life, marriage, and religious liberty are not only foundational to Catholic social teaching but also fundamental to the good of society," Archbishop Cordileone said in a statement announcing the bishops' campaign on Thursday.
At a conference in Washington, D.C. on May 24, Archbishop Cordileone--who was then the bishop of Oakland, Calif.--said that after he became active in the movement to protect the legal definition of marriage he began to fear that America might be moving in the direction of despotism.
“I sort of backed into this religious liberty debate by my involvement with her Siamese twin, the definition of marriage in the law,” he said.
“And I got swept up in that, not exclusively, but in large degree, because I was enlightened by Dr. [Robert] George [of Princeton University] and other people of his kind, as to the erosion of the rights of religious institutions to serve the broader community in accord with their moral principles precisely because of this issue, as well the rights of individuals to have their freedom of conscience respected,” said the archbishop.
“When I saw what was happening and my eyes were opened, it made me fear that we could be starting to move in the direction of license and despotism,” the bishop said.
Friday, the day Christ was crucified, is observed as a day of penance in the Catholic Church. Historically, the church called on Catholics to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year.