Any Catholic unaware of the Fortnight for Freedom probably hasn't been
attending Mass lately.
In the Diocese of Palm Beach, along with every other diocese in the nation, bishops have been instructing parishioners to pray, fast and send letters to their representatives in Congress challenging certain aspects of the Affordable Health Care Act. Fortnight of Freedom is a two-week period of prayer, study and public action for religious freedom.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on President Obama's health care overhaul by the end of the week. The justices will decide whether Congress went beyond its authority in the Constitution in passing it. The Fortnight began June 21 and ends July 4.
"I've spoken in a number of parishes, to bring (The Fortnight) up," said Gerald Barbarito, bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach, which has dozens of masses, vigils and other events listed on its website. "We're giving them all a nudge."
At issue is what the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has defined as an attack on religious freedom.
Critics of the bishops say that with barely five months until the presidential election, the Fortnight is a thinly veiled assault on Obama.
Catholics have the same rights as any other Americans to vote their moral conscience, and the Fortnight provides them with information they need to make the proper decision, said Monsignor Michael McGraw, pastor of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Boca Raton.
"What our bishops are asking us to do during this election cycle is to connect the issues with the teachings of our faith," McGraw said. "We need to involve our conscience in deciding what are the best directions for our country to go in, and most importantly, not to forget to vote."
For the bishops, the center of the controversy is the part of the law that requires all employee health insurance plans to provide no-cost birth control coverage to employees, which is at odds with the Catholic prohibition against contraception. Though the law allows exemptions for faith-based organizations, many Catholic leaders consider the exemptions unacceptably narrow.
In May, 43 Catholic organizations filed 12 lawsuits challenging those aspects of the health care law. At stake, for Obama and the bishops, are the hearts and minds of more than 60 million American Catholics. About 26 million of them are registered voters and are considered a key voting bloc in the November election, especially in swing states like Florida.
It remains to be seen whether, through the Fortnight or other influence, they can command those Catholic votes, and whether Catholics are paying attention to their prelates.
As many as 90 percent of Catholic women have used some form of birth control despite the Church's prohibition, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Catholics' views on that and other social issues often mirror that of the general population.
The bishops have taken a substantial risk in trying to close the gap between what Catholics are instructed to do and what they actually do, said The Rev. Thomas Reese, an author and Georgetown University faculty member.
"The best outcome for the Fortnight is that thousands of people will come to their vigils," said Reese. "But suppose they call a holy hour and nobody
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