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Politics

Bishops' 'religious liberty' point man gets a promotion

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BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- If there is any Catholic bishop in the U.S. who probably didn't need a bigger platform, it would be William E. Lori, who was named Tuesday (March 20) by Pope Benedict XVI as the next archbishop of Baltimore.

For the past decade, Lori has led the Diocese of Bridgeport in Connecticut's Fairfield County, but in recent months he's become the public face of the hierarchy's new signature issue: the fight for "religious freedom."

Obama administration issues new contraception mandate rules

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Taking a conciliatory tone and asking for a wide range of public comment, the Obama administration announced this afternoon new accommodations on a controversial mandate requiring contraceptive coverage in health care plans.

Coming after a month of continued opposition from the U.S. bishops to the mandate, which was first revised in early February to exempt certain religious organizations, today’s announced changes from the Department of Health and Human Services make a number of concessions, including allowing religious organizations that self-insure to be made exempt.

Also raised is the possibility that the definition given for religious employers in the original mandate could be changed.

News of the changes came as a senior White House official told NCR in an afternoon phone interview unrelated to the new proposed rules for the contraceptive mandate that while the Obama administration and Catholic leaders may have “some points of disagreement” over a number of concerns, the president has “dramatically expanded” the federal government’s connection with Catholic organizations.

Low comedy and high cons in GOP race

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COLUMN

If ever the country needed bed rest and a chance to dose up on Prozac or the antidepressant of your choice, it’s now. Through some 20 televised debates and hundreds of interviews, Republican aspirants to the presidency assaulted the nation’s intelligence, or what was left of it, with displays of venality, egomania, pandering, deception, self-delusion, self-promotion and scripted nonsense -- and that’s just from Newt Gingrich.

America’s capacity for low comedy or high cons may be deep but a point must come when it’s too much. It could have happened around the 19th debate when Gingrich -- pardon, Professor Gingrich -- was running low on ideas to impress voters. After he proposed turning schoolchildren into janitors, he went over the moon by promising -- by the end of his second term as president, no less -- that he would have built a colony on, where else, the moon. That led Ron Paul, in a flash of welcomed wit amid the dross, to suggest we “send some politicians up there.”

Santorum shows the Religious Right isn't dead yet

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Does Rick Santorum's Southern surge also herald the return of the Religious Right?

Last January, the titans of Christian conservatism were widely dismissed as irrelevant, at best, after 150 of them gathered for an evangelical "conclave" at a Texas ranch and anointed Rick Santorum as their champion -- only to see him finish third in rock-ribbed South Carolina a week later, well behind Newt Gingrich and even their least-loved candidate, Mitt Romney.

Now, however, with Santorum on a roll after big primary wins on Tuesday in Alabama and Mississippi, those born-again bigwigs and their allies may be having the last laugh.

"People have been writing the obituary of the pro-family, evangelical movement for 25 years -- and they're always wrong," said Ralph Reed, head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and the architect of the Christian Coalition in the 1980s.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, head of the Susan B. Anthony List, which spent $500,000 boosting Santorum's candidacy ahead of Tuesday's primaries, said the formula is quite simple: "Social issues are winning issues."

Catholic faculty back contraceptive insurance rule

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Faculty members of Jesuit-run John Carroll University in Cleveland have urged U.S. Catholic church acceptance of the Obama administration’s contraceptive insurance regulation as adapted Feb. 10.

The federal Health and Human Services regulation mandates that nearly all employee health insurance plans cover artificial contraception and voluntary sterilization services, including plans for employees of many religiously run institutions, even if the sponsors of those institutions are morally opposed to the use of those prescriptions or medical procedures.

Lawyer: Christians united in opposition to HHS contraceptive mandate

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The new federal mandate that employers provide free insurance coverage for contraceptives that can be abortifacients, sterilizations and other services has united Christians across denominational lines, said a lawyer for the American Center for Law and Justice during a panel discussion at Aquinas College in Nashville.

"They understand it's not about contraceptives but religious liberty and abortion," said David French, senior counsel for the center who lives in Columbia, south of Nashville.

Maine diocese to focus on education about marriage, not political push

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PORTLAND, Maine -- Faced with a second referendum on same-sex marriage in three years, the Diocese of Portland will focus its efforts this time on education rather than contributing money or its name to a political campaign.

"We learned the last time around that we need to do a lot more effective teaching" about the nature of marriage as a union of a man and a woman, said Bishop Richard J. Malone of Portland at a March 2 news conference.

In November 2009, by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent, Maine voters repealed a law allowing same-sex marriage in the state. Supporters of same-sex marriage have gathered enough signatures to place the issue before the voters again Nov. 6.

At the news conference, Malone made public a 22-page pastoral letter titled "Marriage: Yesterday, Today, Always," which he said will be "at the heart of our response" to current challenges facing the institution of marriage.

He said in 2009, the diocese had supported the repeal campaign through television ads and by holding a special collection at Masses. In addition, Malone said he sent an appeal for contributions to nearly every U.S. bishop.

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