STOCKTON, CALIFORNIA, May 24, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – A California-based bishop is concerned that the lawsuits to overturn the HHS mandate filed by the leading dioceses and institutions of his Church may be used to underscore political criticism of the Obama administration.

Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton told America magazine that, while the bishops he knows in California “are strong supporters” of these religious liberty lawsuits, “I think there are different groups that are trying to co-opt this and make it into political issue.”

Forces “very far to the Right” may be tempted to make the legal challenge a part of “an anti-Obama campaign,” he said.

The bishop added, “there is a concern among some bishops that there ought to have been more of a wider consultation” before 43 leading Catholic archdioceses, dioceses, and religious institutions filed 12 lawsuits against the Obama administration on Monday morning.

Nonetheless, “the California bishops very strongly support whatever action has to be taken to promote religious liberty,” he said.

The bishop’s remarks themselves took on a political importance, as the wider media reported them. Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post asked, “Are America’s Catholic bishops getting co-opted by the political right?” 

Deal Hudson, former chairman of Catholic Advocate and former chairman of Catholic outreach at the Republican National Committee, told LifeSiteNews.com, “Bishop Blaire’s real concern when he talks about being co-opted by the Right is that he’s afraid it’s going to play into the hands of the Republican Party and hurt the re-election chances of President Obama.” He said the bishop used “code language” that the bishops’ actions would have “political influence of the wrong kind.”

“Everyone knows Catholic bishops don’t go around looking for fights, especially for legal fights,” Hudson said. “This is simply a matter of Constitutional necessity and Catholic necessity.”

Deacon Keith Fournier, a constitutional lawyer who has long been active on the political scene, said he was not familiar with Bishop Blaire’s concerns and wished him “only the best,” but he felt his Church’s hierarchy effectively stated their reasons for filing suit. “I think our bishops have been overwhelmingly clear that what is at stake here is the free exercise of religion,” Deacon Fournier told LifeSiteNews.com.

He said the lawsuits “were strategically filed, which shows that this effort is serious and well thought-out” – but they were only one part of the effort.

At the same time, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops launched “an excellent public relations strategy” and “the call for a fortnight of prayer and penance, which is “an example of the right kind of Catholic action that is needed in our day.”

Bishop Blaire is a member of the USCCB’s Administrative Committee that approved the upcoming “Fortnight of Freedom” campaign aimed at overturning the HHS mandate, beginning on June 21 and culminating on Independence Day.

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He apparently wanted to take a more conciliatory stance with the administration. America reported, “Bishop Blaire believes discussions with the Obama administration toward a resolution of the dispute could be fruitful even as alternative remedies are explored.”

“How can you put any confidence in future negotiations when past negotiations have all [produced] promises not kept and in some cases promises egregiously broken?” Hudson asked. He said the worst cases were the president’s commencement address at Notre Dame, when he promised to secure the conscience rights of health care workers and to make an effort to find common ground with the bishops. Those assurances, and many others Hudson said, were broken.

That leaves only a legal remedy.

“The Church is rising to defend for all men and women the free exercise of religion,” Deacon Fournier said. “She must do so, because what is really at risk here is Her right and duty to live and proclaim the Gospel in the heart of the culture.”

As a constitutional lawyer, Deacon Fournier believed the HHS regulation, requiring religious institutions to pay for or distribute abortion-inducing drugs, violated the First Amendment and the Founders’ views of the church’s role in society.

“If this HHS regulation is not reversed, so much of the good work of the Church – our hospitals, our soup kitchens, our outreaches to the needy, to the poor, to the broken, to the wounded – will be forced to be shut down,” he said. “That certainly doesn’t serve the public good.”

He believed ultimately the Founders’ intentions would prevail in court, and the Church’s ministries will be protected.

“The God of love and mercy we serve is very good at pulling good out of what is intended for evil,” the deacon said.