Churches Stand Together
Mobile, Ala., forum shows: Opposition to the HHS mandate is Catholic, and catholic.


Quin Hillyer

Most Catholics, especially readers of NRO, are well aware that American Catholic bishops are observing a “Fortnight for Freedom” to drum up opposition to the Health and Human Services abortifacient-insurance mandate. What might be lost in all the coverage is that the opposition is not a power play on the part of the bishops, or some sort of Republican political ploy. Nor is it a battle energizing only Catholics. Here in coastal Alabama, as in many places across the country, the alarm is widespread, intense — and decidedly ecumenical.

Nowhere will these realities be more apparent than in a remarkable forum scheduled for Tuesday night, June 26, at Mobile’s St. Ignatius Catholic Church, capping an already event-filled eight days that began even before the official launch of the Fortnight. The forum’s four featured speakers in support of conscience rights make a fascinating crew.

The host and lead speaker will be St. Ignatius’s pastor, the Rev. Bry Shields, who also serves as president of the 1,100-student McGill-Toolen High School (made famous during the confirmation hearings for Judge William Pryor of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals). In 1984, Shields became one of the first of a rare breed: married Episcopal clergy who converted to the Catholic priesthood under a special “pastoral provision” approved by the Vatican three years earlier.

Moderating the forum will be another religious convert, Norman McCrummen. McCrummen, the son of a Baptist minister, was a college administrator and scholar of Middle Eastern affairs when he felt called to become a Presbyterian minister; he retired from that position last summer after a hugely successful twelve years, only to convert to Catholicism within months and become an active lay leader at St. Ignatius.

Joining them will be Mark Foley, an ordained Baptist minister and president of the Baptist-affiliated University of Mobile (full disclosure: I have an adjunct affiliation with the university), and Agnes Tennenbaum, a regionally renowned, 90-year-old Jewish survivor of Nazi concentration camps.

One would have a hard time imagining a more ecumenical panel of speakers.

These four will build on the case made at two forums in the past week by the Most Rev. Thomas J. Rodi, archbishop of Mobile, who also holds a law degree from Tulane University and a licentiate in Catholic canon law. On June 19, Rodi wowed the local chapter of the Federalist Society with a brisk and learned review of American case law on economic liberty, and he followed June 21 with a tour de force of a sermon in a packed cathedral to officially kick off the Fortnight for Freedom.