By Joan Frawley Desmond

In another blow to conscience rights, Congress passes a bill that will penalize Church-affiliated programs that adhere to Catholic teachings on marriage.

March 7, 2013 (NCR) WASHINGTON — As threats to human life and religious liberty become embedded in federal law, the U.S. bishops are being forced to withhold support from legislation like the Affordable Care Act, which advances key social goals but authorizes polices that violate Catholic teaching.

This increasingly familiar pattern was repeated last week as the Senate and House approved  the Violence Against Women Act of 2013 (S. 47), which President Barack Obama is expected to sign into law.

The legislation steps up the prosecution of perpetrators and offers five more years of federal support for women’s shelters and domestic-violence programs, and Church leaders have lobbied for such provisions that would aid victims cared for in Catholic shelters across the nation.

However, in a joint statement released March 6, the chairmen of four committees and one subcommittee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said they could not back the bill because it included language penalizing Church-affiliated programs that adhere to Catholic teaching on marriage and same-sex unions. More…