The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) voted 132 to 53 today to approve the establishment of a permanent Standing Committee for Religious Liberty.

Five bishops abstained from voting. 

The USCCB formed the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty for three years in September 2011. It was then extended for another three-year term. Today’s vote was on making this committee a permanent part of the USCCB, funded independently of the conference and thus not affecting its budget.

Religious liberty hadn’t been at the forefront of the USCCB’s spring 2017 meeting until this morning. Wednesday afternoon was dedicated to a presentation on the “Spirituality of Immigration” and a report from the Bishops’ Working Group on Immigration Issues.

Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, who chaired the Ad Hoc Committee, asked his brother bishops to make the Committee permanent. Lori said that while the HHS contraceptive mandate may be about to end, there are still other pressing threats to religious liberty.

Lori also noted that another threat to religious freedom is “HHS issued a transgender mandate that would require doctors in Catholic hospitals” to help “biological men transition to women and vice versa.”

Also, the Supreme Court’s imposition of same-sex “marriage” on the country “has raised a host of challenges,” said Lori.

Pope Francis-appointed Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago raised a red card in opposition to the vote during the debate. He didn’t explicitly argue against the committee, but called into question whether the Committee would have proper funding. If it didn’t have the proper funding, he asked, wouldn’t it need a two-thirds vote rather than a simple majority.

Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz argued in favor of making the Committee permanent. Dolan and Kurtz are both former USCCB presidents.

It would be part of the “fabric of our conference,” Wuerl said.

Burlington, Vermont Bishop Christopher Coyne said he didn’t support making the Committee permanent because “money and funding can disappear for all kinds of reasons” and he was concerned about “optics.” He wondered if making the Committee permanent would be “sending out a message” that religious liberty is more of a priority for the bishops than immigration is, because its immigration committee is “evolving” into a “different place.”

He said he was “not in favor of the motion as it’s presented now.”

Another Pope Francis-appointed Cardinal, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, argued against the Committee. 

“I’d like to respectfully disagree with the proposition” to make the Committee permanent, said Tobin. “I agree with Bishop Coyne that the timing of this is very unfortunate.” 

“I’m not convinced that there is a need at this time to establish this committee,” concluded Tobin.

Toward the end of the debate, Cupich again brought up questions about whether it was acceptable for a majority to vote on the establishment of a permanent committee if there wasn’t a permanent funding commitment from the independent sources.

The parliamentarian responded that because the vote didn’t involve the budget, budget issues would have to be addressed later on if they arose.

Liberal San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy asked if the USCCB since its 2006-2008 reorganization had ever been presented with a proposal on a revenue-neutral permanent standing committee. (It appears this is the first time it has happened).

Full story at LifeSiteNews.