We must continue to push for religious freedom

aymond    Religious freedom remains a top priority for the U.S. bishops, especially in light of the federal healthcare mandates and the U.S. Supreme Court’s pending ruling on the constitutionality of the healthcare law. Where do we stand right now?
    The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Washington continues to follow the matter very closely. The conference sends information to each bishop, which helps update us on what is going on. People I meet ask me what they can do, and there are three very important things all of us can do: pray, write your legislators and talk to other people about the issues involved. As I go around the archdiocese and bring this up in conversation, it seems as though there are a lot of people who aren’t even aware of the seriousness of the issue and how recent actions by the federal government constitute an affront to religious liberty, which was promised to us in the Constitution.
    It seems as though some people are trying to suggest that this is just a side issue and are accusing the church of trying to play politics.
    The reason the church continues to be so vocal about this is that it involves much more than the church. Many other Christian organizations, universities and hospitals have filed suit against the federal government over this issue. Our concern as the church is simply this: the federal government should not be able to tell me that I must follow the conscience of the government even if something goes against my own, personal conscience.
    The bishops of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama gathered at St. Ben’s last week for a meeting and fellowship. Did this come up?
    Whenever the bishops get together, this is always an issue we talk about. We continue to monitor things to make sure there’s nothing in our state laws or proposals for changes in state law that would take away our religious liberty. I’m happy to say that thus far, the Louisiana Legislature has not looked in that direction. I have a great deal of respect for Gov. Jindal, and he understands very clearly what religious freedom is. When the bishops of the state had a luncheon with him recently, we specifically talked about that. He well understands the separation between church and state and what it means to follow one’s conscience.
    Cardinal Dolan, the head of the USCCB, said the bishops are keeping all options open, which would include filing suit in federal court. Is that still a possibility?
    It’s definitely a possibility. I think right now we are waiting to see what the  Supreme Court rules. If the Supreme Court rules the healthcare law unconstitutional, then there would have to be some reform and change. Taking legal action must be considered in order to reclaim the religious liberty granted at the founding of our nation.
    Do you expect a Supreme Court ruling in June?
    That’s my understanding.
    On another note, how do you feel about the prospect of ordaining five men to the transitional diaconate on May 19?
    We talk and pray about vocations, and certainly this is a year of great blessing. We will ordain five men to the transitional diaconate on May 19 and four men to the priesthood on June 2. That means within a year, we will have nine newly ordained priests. I can’t wait to celebrate the joy of their ordinations. I also can’t wait to be able to assign them to parishes where we can give some pastors much needed help and also give to the people of God greater pastoral care. Also, as we have announced, we pray not only for vocations to the priesthood but also for vocations to the consecrated life. I’ve announced the opening of Magnificat House, which will be a house of discernment for women. Two sisters will coordinate the house – Sister Diane Roche, who is a Religious Sister of the Sacred Heart, and Sister Carmen Bertrand, who is a Sister of the Holy Family. We’re very excited about this because a young woman could choose to live in this house and would have the opportunity to have a life of prayer as well as a community life and spiritual direction. And then, during the day, she could either work or go to school. It would be a time for women to become more aware of consecrated life as a religious sister, with the opportunity to learn more about the religious communities serving in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and beyond.
    Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to clarionherald@clarionherald.org.

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