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Catholic educators concerned about HHS mandate

Given the chance to query top Illinois Catholic officials, Catholic educators asked not about education but the federal mandate requiring all employers to cover contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

Coordinated by the Catholic Conference of Illinois, an education conference held March 18-20 in Normal featured a discussion panel on the current state of Catholic education by Cardinal George of Chicago and four of the state's five other diocesan bishops: Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville, Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of Joliet, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria and Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield. Bishop Thomas Doran of Rockford was unable to attend.

But the nearly 400 educators in attendance wanted to know about the status of the mandate recently handed down by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

This violation of the religious protections guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is unprecedented, said Cardinal George.

"We have never been in a situation where the government has told us what is Catholic," George said.

Bishop Thomas John Paprocki serves on the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) committee on religious freedom, and told the crowd of Catholic educators, "the ground is still shifting" concerning the proposed Aug. 1, 2013 implementation of the HHS mandate for religious organizations.

"We are in the process of contemplating a number of lawsuits," with differing plaintiffs to include Catholic Charities, schools and universities, Paprocki said.

Cardinal George also celebrated a Mass at Epiphany Catholic Church in Normal and was assisted by the other diocesan bishops, as well as auxiliary bishops Bishop Francis Kane, Bishop Joseph Perry, Bishop George Rassas and Bishop Andrew Wypych.

Fr. Anthony Sciorra of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., led the educators in interactive discussions throughout the three-day conference, focusing on a theme of "living simply in a complex world."

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