BALTIMORE - The leading voice of Roman Catholic bishops opposing a contraception mandate in the Obama administration's health care law was named Tuesday as the 16th archbishop of Baltimore, the nation's first diocese.
Bishop William E. Lori, 60, comes from the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., and has testified before Congress several times in the past few months on a proposed measure to make religious employers cover contraception for their employees. The White House later backed off the rule, making insurers pay for the coverage, though many critics are still not satisfied.
In one instance in February, Lori drew an extended analogy between the mandate to cover contraception and a hypothetical mandate forcing all restaurants nationwide to serve pork, saying it is "absurd for someone to come into a kosher deli and demand a ham sandwich."
When asked whether the Vatican was trying to move him closer to Washington, Lori joked about his frequent appearances before Congress.
"Yes, the Vatican decided that I was spending entirely too much time on the US Airways shuttle," he said. "So, they moved me to Baltimore so I'm a train ride away."
He said that he didn't know what went into the decision but he was humbled by "the very thought of teaching the faith, promoting and defending religious liberty and serving the common good of society from a chair once held by Archbishop Carroll."
John Carroll is considered a founder of the Catholic church in the U.S. and was the first bishop and archbishop of the Baltimore diocese, established in 1789. The Archdiocese of Baltimore serves 510,000 Catholics in Baltimore and nine counties in central and western Maryland. As the first U.S. diocese, it's considered a prominent post. Four of its archbishops have gone on to become cardinals.
Lori was born in Louisville, Ky., and ordained in 1977. He became a bishop in 1995 and has served as bishop of Bridgeport since 2001. He oversaw a diocese that includes more than 460,000 Catholics.
He has a bachelor's degree from the now-closed Seminary of Saint Pius X in Erlanger, Ky., and a master's degree from Mount Saint Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg. He earned a doctorate from The Catholic University of America in Washington and has served on several committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Lori has also served on a national committee to respond to the church's sexual abuse crisis and fought the release of sealed court documents generated by lawsuits alleging abuse by priests in Connecticut.
The Supreme Court refused to block the release of the documents after newspapers sued to get access to them, arguing they could shed light on how retired New York Cardinal Edward Egan handled the allegations when he was Bridgeport bishop.
Lori said at the time that he was disappointed with the decision. The diocese had argued unsuccessfully that the documents were subject to religious privileges under the First Amendment and Lori said details of the abuse were made public years earlier.
Lori also indicated he would be active in Annapolis, where Maryland lawmakers recently passed a gay marriage bill that is facing a referendum challenge. The bill was promoted by Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is Catholic.
The post means Lori will also head the Maryland Catholic Conference, he noted, adding that as a student of American history it has been "hard to miss that there's been an erosion of religious liberty over time."
"I think it's important for us to be there, not only looking after the interests of the church, but also the church comes to this as a provider for the common good," he said, noting that in almost every locality the church is the largest provider of social services after the government.
His assignment to Baltimore will not be the first time Lori has served in Maryland. His first assignment was as an associate pastor of Saint Joseph Parish in Landover.
He is a fan of classic cars and television shows from the 1960s. At one point he had dogs named Barnes and Noble.
Lori will succeed Cardinal Edwin O'Brien, who served as Baltimore's 15th archbishop from October 2007 to August 2011 when he was named grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
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