On Thursday morning before our mid-day meal, Archbishop Vigneron, accompanied by Bp. Byrnes, Bp. Blair, Bp. Cistone, Bp. Sample and myself went inside the Apostolic Palace to meet with Abp. Dominique Mamberti (charged with the Vatican’s Relations with States) to ask for his counsel in addressing the serious matter of freedom of conscience for Catholics and other people of faith in light of the proposed policy of the U. S. Dept. of Health and Human Services requiring the inclusion of “reproductive services” (including contraceptive and abortion-related ones) in all plans for universal Health Care. I hope the impact of this on all Americans, and on our witness before the people of the world, has gotten wide press coverage, because it deserves to!
Abp. Mamberti spoke with admiration for the United States’ reputation worldwide for supporting freedom of religion and conscience…and for the weight of U. S. policy in world opinion and world politics. The Vatican’s diplomacy does not see matters such as this in terms of political parties, because the impact of such a proposed policy are universal, and touch on the supremacy of human conscience as well on fundamental human rights.
As an American and as a Catholic, I feel my fundamental values being dismissed in an almost casual manner. As a bishop, I am learning about the need Jesus spoke of for a Good Shepherd to protect and defend the sheep. I am proud of the statements so far from our national Conference of Catholic Bishops, and from individual ones like Abp. Vigneron. These look very much like historic moments for people of conscience, religious or not. The Vatican is supportive of our rights to defend our rights of conscience in this latest challenge to respect for all human life.
As we left our audience with Abp. Mamberti, My eyes caught a huge map of America, centuries old, painted on the wall. At the bottom, just below what is now called Central America, the cartographer wrote “Terra Incognita,” Latin for Unknown Territory…where it appears we are headed in terms of religious liberty and freedom of conscience worldwide.
I was glad our Mass this afternoon was at the tomb of St. Paul, who spoke so fearlessly and powerfully his witness to Jesus, the Lord of Life!
+Bishop Don Hanchon