Make us your home page
Instagram

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 jbarry@tampabay.com.

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

Loading...
  1. Comedian and activist Dick Gregory dies at 84

    Nation

    The comedian Dick Gregory rose to national prominence in the early 1960s as a black satirist whose audacious style of humor was biting, subversive and topical, mostly centered on current events, politics and above all, racial tensions. His trademark was the searing punchline.

    Dick Gregory, a comedian, activist and author, died Saturday. [Tribune News Service, 2011]
  2. Winter Haven police investigating armed robbery at Dollar General

    Crime

    WINTER HAVEN — Police are investigating an armed robbery Friday night of a Dollar General store on W Lake Ruby Drive.

  3. Rowdies settle for draw at home

    Soccer

    ST. PETERSBURG — The good news for the Rowdies is that they still haven't lost a game at Al Lang Stadium since late April. The bad news is they had to settle for a 1-1 tie against Ottawa on Saturday night in front of 6,710 sweaty fans.

  4. Bats come to life, but Rays' freefall continues (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG —The six runs seemed like a ton, just the second time the Rays had scored that many in a game during their numbing two-plus-weeks stretch of offensive impotency, and amazingly, the first time at the Trop in nearly two months.

    Lucas Duda connects for a two-run home run in the sixth, getting the Rays within 7-5. A Logan Morrison home run in the ninth made it 7-6, but Tampa Bay couldn’t complete the comeback.
  5. 'Free speech rally' cut short after massive counterprotest

    Nation

    BOSTON — Thousands of demonstrators chanting anti-Nazi slogans converged Saturday on downtown Boston in a boisterous repudiation of white nationalism, dwarfing a small group of conservatives who cut short their planned "free speech rally" a week after a gathering of hate groups led to bloodshed in Virginia.

    Thousands of people march against a “free speech rally” planned Saturday in Boston. About 40,000 people were in attendance.