Who’s funding the Catholic bishops’ religious freedom campaign?

ATLANTA — On Thursday (June 21), Catholics across the country will amplify what is an already loud outcry from the … Continued

ATLANTA — On Thursday (June 21), Catholics across the country will amplify what is an already loud outcry from the hierarchy over the federal government’s so-called contraception mandate.

With rallies, marches, lectures and special publications, the U.S. Catholic Bishop’s Fortnight for Freedom campaign will seek to galvanize Catholic opposition to President Obama’s proposed mandate to require employers — including religious institutions — to provide free contraception insurance coverage to employees.

But while Catholic leaders frame the events as a fight for religious liberty, critics see signs of political partisanship and electioneering. Questions over the financing of the bishops’ campaign have caused those suspicions to multiply.

“The activities around the Fortnight for Freedom cost money,” said Steve Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington. “What groups are paying for this, and what’s the accountability for that money?”

Those kinds of questions were asked of key Catholic leaders like Baltimore Archbishop William Lori last week as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met in Atlanta.

Lori, who heads the bishops’ committee on religious liberty, told reporters that gifts “from Catholic groups and foundations” would help sustain the campaign. “The generosity we’ve experienced has been heartening,” he said.

The campaign, Lori said, “is not in any way partisan, either in its spirit or in its funding.”

But he has not been specific about all the outside groups providing financial resources, or how much they’ve contributed.

The Fortnight for Freedom campaign launches with a Mass celebrated by Lori at the nation’s first cathedral, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. The two-week push comes as the church is also engaged in a legal battle over what Obama’s administration considers a women’s health issue.

In March, more than 40 Catholic institutions filed federal lawsuits seeking to block the contraception mandate. Lori told reporters that lawyers were offering pro bono assistance to the Catholic legal effort.

Critics like Schneck say many of the questions regarding the funding of the Fortnight for Freedom campaign center on private Catholic groups.

“The Knights of Columbus are clearly one of the major sources of funding (against the mandate), as well as other fraternal organizations,” Schneck said.

The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic charitable group based in New Haven, Conn., says it’s the world’s largest lay Catholic organization. Knights of Columbus life insurance sales neared $8 billion in 2010, and last year, it contributed $158 million to charity. In the last decade, the Knights have donated more than $1 billion to charity.

The group’s 2010 tax forms show that the Knights gave more than $3 million to the Vatican that year, nearly $2 million to the U.S. bishops conference and $25,000 to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has guided much of the legal action against the contraception mandate.

The group must disclose more recent donations in its 2011 tax forms. But Andrew Walther, a Knights of Columbus spokesman, said the group has asked for an extension in filing the documents, making them unavailable until the fall.

In 2010, the Knights were also generous with their contributions to individual bishops, doling out nearly $350,000 for a variety of programs in various dioceses. Of that, $248,700, or 71 percent, went to Lori’s former Diocese of Bridgeport.

Lori — who is the man most directly in charge of the Fortnight for Freedom campaign — has been the Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus since 2005.

The Knights did not respond to requests for an interview about the organization’s involvement with the bishops’ campaign, but the organization has dedicated recent issues of its monthly magazine to the topic of religious liberty.

John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, a liberal advocacy group in Washington, said while the Knights’ charitable works was “commendable … its leadership has steered a fraternal organization into political waters in ways that should raise questions.”

Asked by reporters in Atlanta last week if the Knights’ involvement in the religious liberty campaign introduces at least the perception of partisanship, Lori said no. Other groups have contributed to the campaign, he said, mentioning Our Sunday Visitor and the Order of Malta.

“Think of what the Knights of Columbus does for the Catholic Church and for many other humanitarian causes,” he said. “To try to say that is in some way partisan is … an injustice.”

(Tim Townsend writes for St. Louis Post-Dispatch in St. Louis.)

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Universal Uclick.

  • naksuthin

    Are the Catholic bishops not aware that the majority of Catholics want contraception coverage???

    58% of all Catholics agree employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception. That slides down to 52% for Catholic voters, 50% for white Catholics.

    61% of religiously unaffiliated Americans say employer plans should cover contraception.

    50%of white mainline Protestants want the coverage. However, for evangelical Protestants, that drops to 38%.

    Seems like the bishops need to spend more time trying to convince THEIR OWN congregation…than the government

  • maura

    This is irrelevant. The majority of Catholics want birth control. Great. The problem here is that a small minority of the population is morally opposed to providing contraceptive drugs and services and yet they will be coerced by the government to do so. The argument that this is a minority opposition works against you. Yes, this is only a small percentage of employers who wish to opt out…Access at the moment is NOT an issue, and won’t be in the future, regardless of whether or not religious institutions will pay for it, because their numbers are so small. These people aren’t trying to keep birth control form the masses. If you want it, you can get it for $9 a month at Wal-Mart. If you want birth control in your health insurance, don’t work for someone who is morally opposed to providing it for you.

Read More Articles

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

shutterstock_134310734
Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

shutterstock_188545496
Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

5783999789_9d06e5d7df_b
The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

concert
Why I Want to Be Culturally Evangelical

I’ve lost my faith. Do I have to lose my heritage, too?

shutterstock_37148347
What Is a Saint?

How the diversity of saintly lives reveals multiple paths toward God.

987_00
An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

shutterstock_188022491
Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

Pile_of_trash_2
Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

sunset-hair
From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.