Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Catholic Bishop Lynch vows to thwart health care law

TAMPA — The servants of the Lord wore red as always, and the servants of the law wore pinstripes. But the annual Red Mass for Tampa's legal community struck a new chord of civil disobedience.

Bishop Robert Lynch, leader of nearly a half-million Tampa Bay Catholics, surprised two dozen judges and 300 lawyers Wednesday by promising to thwart the federal health care law. It was a departure from his traditional homilies on the virtues of judicial wisdom.

If draft regulations aren't changed, Lynch said, the Diocese of St. Petersburg will no longer provide health insurance for its 2,300 employees.

Instead, he said, diocesan employees would be paid a cash sum and told to find their own insurance. The health care law, expected to be in full force by 2014, allows that.

"I'm extremely uncomfortable with even thinking of such a thing," Lynch said, speaking at the noon Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown Tampa.

But he said the church is at a "moment of history" in which it must take a stand for "religious liberty and individual moral conscience."

Lynch didn't name specific portions of the health care law, but the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops recently condemned draft regulations that require private health care plans to cover contraceptives. The proposed plans provide some exemptions for religious organizations but the church says they don't go far enough.

The diocese's existing health insurance plans do not cover sterilization, male sexual enhancement drugs like Viagra, or contraceptives.

"We don't know what final regulations will come out," said diocese spokesman Frank Murphy, "but what's been drafted so far is unacceptable."

After Wednesday's service, many of the lawyers and judges leaving church were uncharacteristically reluctant to talk. "I just came for the Mass," said Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ron Ficarrotta. Judges wore their robes to the Mass and occupied the first four rows. Most received Communion.

Bankruptcy lawyer Scott Lilly said he found fascinating the bishop's advocacy of civil disobedience. The sermon was delivered just blocks away from Occupy Tampa.

"It's a sign of the times," Lilly said. "We are on the verge of civil disobedience. Five years ago, I wouldn't have said that was possible."

Mark Robens, a second-year Stetson University law student, said his faith is the reason he wants to practice law, but he agrees with the bishop. "He cannot compromise."

The Red Mass has its origins in the 13th century, first celebrated in France, Italy and England. The color red is representative of the Holy Spirit, believed by Catholics to be the provider of wisdom. The TampaBay Catholic Lawyers Guild started the tradition here in the early 1990s. It has always welcomed lawyers and judges of all faiths to the Mass.

Guild president Karl Stevens said Bishop Lynch never before issued such a blunt message. "But he's always been a 'call-them-as-I-see-them' kind of guy, and the bishop really believes the time has come."

The venue, he said, couldn't have been better.

"These are lawyers who become officeholders and make the laws. The bishop may have planted a seed that will one day take root."

Controversy is new to Tampa Red Masses, but has arisen before at the annual Red Mass for the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Ruth Ginsburg refuses to go anymore after being subjected to a "sermon that was outrageously anti-abortion," she said.

This year, Chief Justice John Roberts joined associate justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito for the service. All are Roman Catholic except Breyer, who is Jewish.

John Barry can be reached at

Catholic Bishop Lynch vows to thwart health care law 11/30/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 11:18pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Amazon receives 238 proposals from places eager to become its 2nd headquarters


    NEW YORK — Amazon said Monday that it received 238 proposals from cities and regions in the United States, Canada and Mexico hoping to be the home of the company's second headquarters.

    Earlier this month, an Amazon employee gives her dog a biscuit as the pair head into a company building, where dogs are welcome, in Seattle. Amazon says it received 238 proposals from cities and regions hoping to be the home of the company's second headquarters. 
[AP Photo/Elaine Thompson]
  2. Police may have found the body of a Texas toddler whose dad said he banished her to an alley


    Police in Texas say they have "most likely" found the body of Sherin Mathews, the missing 3-year-old girl whose father claims he sent her alone into an alley when she wouldn't drink her milk.

    This undated photo provided by the Richardson Texas Police Department shows 3-year-old Sherin Mathews. Police in a Dallas suburb say they've found the body of a small child, not far from the home of Sherin Mathews, who's been missing since early this month. (Richardson Texas Police Department via AP)
  3. Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast: What went wrong on defense?


    Greg Auman is back from Buffalo, going back over a difficult finish and tough loss for the Bucs, in his latest Cannon Fodder podcast.

    Buffalo Bills tight end Logan Thomas (82) makes a touchdown catch over Bucs defensive back T.J. Ward (43) during the second half. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  4. Jim McElwain: Florida Gators have received death threats after 3-3 start


    GAINESVILLE - The Florida Gators' 3-3 start is causing some fans to become irrational - even by college football standards.

    UF coach Jim McElwain said there have been death threats made against people related to his program.
  5. Megyn Kelly hits back at O'Reilly's claim no one complained


    Bill O'Reilly, forced out at Fox News over allegations of sexual harassment, has said no one ever filed a complaint about his behavior with human resources or the legal department in the 20 years he was at the network.

    Bill O'Reilly at the Newseum in Washington D.C., on October 6, 2016.