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Baltimore Archbishop William Lori.Lisa Bourne / LifeSiteNews

ARLINGTON, Virginia, June 2, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – The loss of religious freedom is leading to a “bloodless” persecution in the United States, a prominent Catholic archbishop warned at the ceremonial opening of a new graduate school last month.

At the opening of Divine Mercy University, an expansion of the Virginia-based Institute for Psychological Sciences, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori implored Catholic institutions to stand strong amidst ongoing challenges to religious liberty.  The newly-enlarged University integrates Catholic philosophy with modern psychology in order to train mental health professionals in fidelity to the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Lori chairs the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty and is the Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus.

The archbishop warned that “bloodless” and “polite” persecution manifests itself in public schools, courts, laws, and “policies that seek to manage and put limits on religion.” 

“Massive peer pressure via the social media that affects the thinking and decisions of young people [and] the more localized disapproval of our sophisticated friends,” also contribute to this persecution, according to Lori.

Religious freedom “does not mean the freedom merely to escape cooperation with evil by the skin of one's teeth,” said Lori. “Rather, it means the space necessary to create in our institutions a true culture of life, a culture that respects the teachings of the faith that inspires and shapes the charitable, social, and educational services we are providing.”

If Catholic institutions “collapse under the weight of the pressure that we face,” to conform to secular society, Lori said, it would be the opposite of merciful. 

Lori blasted the “destruction, marginalization, [and] overturning” of the family, parishes, schools, and Christian clubs at universities.  He labeled such institutions as “structures that stand between the power of the state and the individual conscience.”

“It is in these smaller, more local settings and institutions that our freedoms are exercised, that virtue is gained, and that people find their own dignity and, if you will, their niche in life,” said Lori.  “Yet it is these same institutions that are under assault today. We have only to think about the arbitrary redefinition of marriage and family or anti-family welfare and relief policies. As these intermediate structures either disappear or come under the direct control of the government, our society becomes less merciful and more impersonal, less apt to be a setting for human flourishing.”

Lori said the ongoing holy Year of Mercy, which Pope Francis called to draw extraordinary attention to God’s mercy, “presents us with a graced opportunity to see the most fundamental of our freedoms, religious freedom, through the prism of God’s mercy and compassion.”

Lori emphasized that Catholics are called to “bring the mercy and compassion of Christ to all these ministries that seek to care for the most vulnerable among us” and echoed Pope Francis’s call to Church charities to not serve as “mere NGOs.”

Religious freedom is vital to bringing God’s mercy to a wounded world, Lori said, and Catholic institutions struggling to survive increasing persecution are fighting for the right to serve those in need. 

“Defending religious liberty is…a work of mercy,” said Lori, because it allows for the creation of conditions “in which the mercy of God can touch the inmost hearts of people who are being carried along by the rapid current of contemporary culture.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor’s battle to not be forced to violate their consciences by including in their employee health plans life-ending drugs, sterilization, and contraception illustrates that Catholic institutions are “experiencing the severest threats to their religious liberty,” said Lori.

“The institutions that are under challenge are places of mercy that seek to bring the healing balm of truth, love, and human skill to the spiritual, emotional, and physical wounds of human existence, to be indeed the ‘field hospital’ amid a culture where many are wounded daily,” explained the archbishop.

As the imposition of same-sex “marriage” and the Obama administration’s contraception mandate have increasingly clashed with religious liberty, Lori has become a leading voice for freedom of conscience and Catholic teaching on marriage within the Church and in the American political sphere. 

At the 2015 March for Marriage, Lori led the crowd of 5,000 marriage supporters in prayer and said there “must be room in the public square for the sacrificial love that a mother and a father share with their children.”

In 2012, Lori publicly rebuked a Baltimore priest who preached in favor of same-sex “marriage” and said he thought it could eventually be recognized as part of the sacrament of Matrimony.

The U.S. Catholic bishops’ fifth annual Fortnight for Freedom, a campaign of special events around the country highlighting religious freedom, begins on June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fischer and St. Thomas More, two Catholic saints who were martyred for religious freedom defending the sanctity of marriage.