Category Archives: HHS

USCCB responds to inaccurate statement of fact on HHS mandate

Whoops, guess the Catholic bishops are not too happy about Vice President Biden’s dissembling during the debate last night (although, strangely, they don’t say who said this–trying to be politically neutral? Hey, a fact’s a fact: Biden said it, he needs to own it):

Last night, the following statement was made during the Vice Presidential debate regarding the decision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force virtually all employers to include sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion, in the health insurance coverage they provide their employees:

“With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.”

This is not a fact. The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain “religious employers.” That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to “Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital,” or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.

HHS has proposed an additional “accommodation” for religious organizations like these, which HHS itself describes as “non-exempt.” That proposal does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation “to pay for contraception” and “to be a vehicle to get contraception.” They will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.

USCCB continues to urge HHS, in the strongest possible terms, actually to eliminate the various infringements on religious freedom imposed by the mandate.

For more details, please see USCCB’s regulatory comments filed on May 15 regarding the proposed “accommodation”: www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/rulemaking/upload/comments-on-advance-notice-of-proposed-rulemaking-on-preventive-services-12-05-15.pdf

Check it out.

Who shares your values?

Protecting consciences, or what I found in my church bulletin today

From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

USCCB Nationwide Bulletin Insert June 2012
WHY CONSCIENCE IS IMPORTANT

During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Americans shone the light of the Gospel on a dark history of slavery, segregation, and racial bigotry. The civil rights movement was an essentially religious movement, a call to awaken consciences.

In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. boldly said, “The goal of America is freedom.” As a Christian pastor, he argued that to call America to the full measure of that freedom was the specific contribution Christians are obliged to make. He rooted his legal and constitutional arguments about justice in the long Christian tradition: “I would agree with Saint Augustine that ‘An unjust law is no law at all.’… A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”

Some unjust laws impose such injustices on individuals and organizations that disobeying the laws may be justified. Every effort must be made to repeal them. When fundamental human goods, such as the right of conscience, are at stake, we may need to witness to the truth by resisting the law and incurring its penalties.

The church does not ask for special treatment, simply the rights of religious freedom for all citizens. Rev. King also explained that the church is neither the master nor the servant of the state, but its conscience, guide, and critic.

Catholics and many other Americans have strongly criticized the recent Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring almost all private health plans to cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. For the first time in our history, the federal government will force religious institutions to fund and facilitate coverage of a drug or procedure contrary to their moral teaching, and purport to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit an exemption. This is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide such coverage even when it violates our consciences.

What we ask is nothing more than the right to follow our consciences as we live out our teaching. This right is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith? Without religious liberty properly understood, all Americans suffer, deprived of the essential contribution in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights, and social services that religious Americans make every day.

What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society—or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it.

What can you do to ensure the protection of conscience rights?

  • The U.S. Bishops have called us to get informed, pray and advocate. To send your message to HHS and Congress telling them to uphold religious liberty and conscience rights, go to www.usccb.org/conscience today! Thank you for joining the effort to end this unprecedented government coercion.
  • The Bishops have called for a Fortnight for Freedom – June 21-July 4. Please go to www.fortnight4freedom.org for more information on this important time of prayer and action!

Cardinal Burke explains: Catholic employers cannot provide contraceptive coverage because they would be materially and formally cooperating with sin

From Renew America, on Thomas McKenna’s interview with Cardinal Raymond Burke on EWTN’s Catholic Action Insight:

Thomas McKenna: “It is beautiful to see how the faithful have rallied behind the Hierarchy….How does your Eminence comment on the union of solidarity of our bishops?”

Cardinal Burke: “Yes, I have received emails and other communications from lay faithful who say that they are supporting their bishops 100% and they have communicated to their bishops their gratitude and assured them that they want them to continue to be courageous and not to be deceived by any kind of false accommodations which in fact continue this same kind of agenda which sadly we have witnessed for too long in our country which is totally secular and therefore is anti-life and anti-family. I admire very much the courage of the bishops. At the same time I believe they would say it along with me that they are doing no more than their duty. A bishop has to protect his flock and when any individual or government attempts to force the flock to act against conscience in one of its most fundamental precepts then the bishops have to come to defend those who are entrusted to their pastoral care. So I am deeply grateful to all of the bishops who have spoken about this and who are encouraging the members of their flock to also speak up because our government needs to understand that what is being done with this mandate is contrary first of all to the fundamental human right, the right to the free exercise of one’s conscience and at the same time contrary to the very foundation of our nation.”

Thomas McKenna: “So a Catholic employer, really getting down to it, he does not, or she does not provide this because that way they would be, in a sense, cooperating with the sin…the sin of contraception or the sin of providing a contraceptive that would abort a child, is this correct?”

Cardinal Burke: “This is correct. It is not only a matter of what we call “material cooperation” in the sense that the employer by giving this insurance benefit is materially providing for the contraception but it is also “formal cooperation” because he is knowingly and deliberately doing this, making this available to people. There is no way to justify it. It is simply wrong.”…

Read it all, and check out the entire interview here.

USCCB: Our first, most cherished liberty

From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

…As Catholic bishops and American citizens, we address an urgent summons to our fellow Catholics and fellow Americans to be on guard, for religious liberty is under attack, both at home and abroad.

This has been noticed both near and far. Pope Benedict XVI recently spoke about his worry that religious liberty in the United States is being weakened. He called it the “most cherished of American freedoms”—and indeed it is. All the more reason to heed the warning of the Holy Father, a friend of America and an ally in the defense of freedom, in his recent address to American bishops…

Is our most cherished freedom truly under threat? Sadly, it is. This is not a theological or legal dispute without real world consequences. Consider the following:

  • HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services has received wide attention and has been met with our vigorous and united opposition. In an unprecedented way, the federal government will both force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching and purport to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty. These features of the “preventive services” mandate amount to an unjust law. As Archbishop-designate William Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, testified to Congress: “This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government. This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. Instead, it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs.”…
  • Christian students on campus. In its over-100-year history, the University of California Hastings College of Law has denied student organization status to only one group, the Christian Legal Society, because it required its leaders to be Christian and to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.
  • Catholic foster care and adoption services. Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and the state of Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services—by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts, or both—because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.
  • Discrimination against small church congregations. New York City enacted a rule that barred the Bronx Household of Faith and sixty other churches from renting public schools on weekends for worship services even though non-religious groups could rent the same schools for scores of other uses. While this would not frequently affect Catholic parishes, which generally own their own buildings, it would be devastating to many smaller congregations. It is a simple case of discrimination against religious believers.
  • Discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services. Notwithstanding years of excellent performance by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require us to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching. Religious institutions should not be disqualified from a government contract based on religious belief, and they do not somehow lose their religious identity or liberty upon entering such contracts. And yet a federal court in Massachusetts, turning religious liberty on its head, has since declared that such a disqualification is required by the First Amendment—that the government somehow violates religious liberty by allowing Catholic organizations to participate in contracts in a manner consistent with their beliefs on contraception and abortion….

What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society—or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it….

This is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. It is an American issue….

Read it all.

Cardinal Dolan: “‘radical,’ ‘unprecedented’ and ‘dramatically intrusive’”

From James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal:

The president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops is careful to show due respect for the president of the United States. “I was deeply honored that he would call me and discuss these things with me,” says the newly elevated Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York. But when Archbishop Dolan tells me his account of their discussions of the ObamaCare birth-control mandate, Barack Obama sounds imperious and deceitful to me….

“So you can imagine the chagrin,” Archbishop Dolan continues, “when [the president] called me at the end of January to say that the mandates remain in place and that there would be no substantive change, and that the only thing that he could offer me was that we would have until August. . . . I said, ‘Mr. President, I appreciate the call. Are you saying now that we have until August to introduce to you continual concerns that might trigger a substantive mitigation in these mandates?’ He said, ‘No, the mandates remain. We’re more or less giving you this time to find out how you’re going to be able to comply.’ I said, ‘Well, sir, we don’t need the [extra time]. I can tell you now we’re unable to comply.’”

Archbishop Dolan explains that the “accommodation” solves nothing, since most church-affiliated organizations either are self-insured or purchase coverage from Catholic insurance companies like Christian Brothers Services and Catholic Mutual Group, which also see the mandate as “morally toxic.” He argues that the mandate also infringes on the religious liberty of nonministerial organizations like the Knights of Columbus and Catholic-oriented businesses such as publishing houses, not to mention individuals, Catholic or not, who conscientiously object.

“We’ve grown hoarse saying this is not about contraception, this is about religious freedom,” he says. What rankles him the most is the government’s narrow definition of a religious institution….

“We find it completely unswallowable, both as Catholics and mostly as Americans, that a bureau of the American government would take it upon itself to define ‘ministry,’” Archbishop Dolan says. “We would find that to be—we’ve used the words ‘radical,’ ‘unprecedented’ and ‘dramatically intrusive.’”

It also amounts to penalizing the church for not discriminating in its good works: “We don’t ask people for their baptismal certificate, nor do we ask people for their U.S. passport, before we can serve them, OK? . . . We don’t serve people because they’re Catholic, we serve them because we are, and it’s a moral imperative for us to do so.”…

The archbishop sees a parallel irony in his dispute with Mr. Obama: “This is a strange turn of the table, that here a Catholic cardinal is defending religious freedom, the great proposition of the American republic, and the president of the United States seems to be saying that this is a less-than-important issue.”…

Read it all.

U.S. bishops set March 30 as day of prayer, fasting for religious liberty

From the Catholic News Herald (Diocese of Charlotte):

The U.S. bishops have urged Catholics and “all people of faith” across the nation to observe March 30 as a day of prayer and fasting for religious freedom and conscience protection.

The bishops announced the daylong observance in a statement titled “United for Religious Freedom” that was approved March 14 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Administrative Committee.

They asked Catholics and others to join them in “prayer and penance for our leaders and for the complete protection of our first freedom — religious liberty — which is not only protected in the laws and customs of our great nation, but rooted in the teachings of our great tradition.”

The bishops said that among current threats to religious liberty is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that forces employers, including religious ones, to provide coverage of contraception/sterilization in their health plans.

Prayer resources have been posted on the USCCB website, www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/resources-on-conscience-protection.cfm….

Read it all and check out the resources available.

‘This is tyranny’: Tens of thousands decry HHS mandate in 146 nationwide protests

Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally in New York
From LifeSiteNews.com, a report on yesterday’s Stand Up for Religious Freedom rallies nationwide:

Tens of thousands of men and women gathered in 146 protests on Friday, joining a grassroots effort that organizers say grew far beyond expectations. The rallies were held to protest the Obama administration mandate forcing religious universities, charities, and other groups to pay for abortifacient drugs and other birth control for students and employees. …

According to the Friday rallies, the HHS mandate is not a birth control issue, but a religious freedom issue, and a challenge to fight that won’t be ignored.

One fulcrum of the national protests was Washington, D.C., where about 1,500-2,000 gathered on a hot and sunny afternoon before the Health and Human Services building. Beneath the windows of HHS offices was heard the chanting of “We will not comply,” car horns honking in solidarity, and the rallying cries of several prominent speakers, including Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life, conservative activist Star Parker, and Lila Rose of Live Action.

Hawkins put the issue in blunt terms, stating simply, “This is tyranny.”

“We are being told that our beliefs, our conscience, no longer matters,” said the pro-life youth leader. “What stops them from targeting someone else next?”…

Read it all.

Conspiracy or just incompetence masquerading as?

I am not a conspiracy-theory enthusiast. I think it’s hard enough for one person to keep a secret, much less the dozens it would take to organize some of the most famous conspiracy-theory events out there.

So, yes, we did land men on the moon—more than once. (Can you imagine all of Houston keeping a secret?)

And, yes, the Twin Towers came down because they were plowed into by airplanes directed by Al-Qaeda terrorists, and yes. . .steel can melt.

(But I’m not touching the JFK assassination—even anti-conspiracy theorists know when to get out.)

So, I don’t go looking for conspiracies, especially in politics or government, but I am beginning to wonder if the U.S. government, especially the Executive Branch, is purposely targeting traditional Christians by making it difficult for churches to conduct their business, hold their meetings, travel unencumbered, and fulfill their mission of being Christ’s Body in the world. Here’s a list, just off the top of my head, of recent events:

*  Inclusion of the Holy See (the Vatican) on U.S. State Department’s 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

From Catholic.org:

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) – The US State Department has added an unlikely name to the list of countries that are considered money-laundering centers – the Vatican. The listing was published Wednesday in the 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, and lists 190 countries.

The list is divided into three categories, primary concern, concern, and monitored. The Vatican has been listed with 67 other countries which also includes Poland, Egypt, Ireland, Hungary, and Chile.

A State Department official did confess that the Vatican had recently established programs to prevent money laundering….

In plain English, there is no accusation of wrongdoing, nor even evidence of it. The State Department merely sees the Vatican as a possible risk because of the large volumes of money processed through its banking system.

Now this is somewhat understandable. The Vatican has had financial problems in the past, which is why they are instituting changes. They are also in the “countries of concern” category, the middle group, primarily it seems because of the amount of money they handle, not because of any specific wrongdoing.

But then this happens, and you have to ask “why now?” since the Vatican has already taken steps to address its problems:

*  Closing by JP Morgan Chase of the Vatican’s account

From Reuters:

JP Morgan Chase (JPM.N) is closing the Vatican bank’s account with an Italian branch of the U.S. banking giant because of concerns about a lack of transparency at the Holy See’s financial institution, Italian newspapers reported.

The move is a blow to the Vatican’s drive to have its bank included in Europe’s “white list” of states that comply with international standards against tax fraud and money-laundering.

The bank, formally known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), enacted major reforms last year in an attempt to get Europe’s seal of approval and put behind it scandals that have included accusations of money laundering and fraud….

Last year, the Vatican adapted internal laws to comply with international standards on financial crime.

The 108-acre sovereign state surrounded by Rome now complies with the rules of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

It also established an internal Financial Information Authority (FIA) along the lines of other countries and has committed to comply with international anti-money laundering standards and liaise with the group and law enforcement agencies….

JP Morgan’s actions are less understandable than those of the U.S. State Department. If the Vatican is in the midst of instituting reforms, why close their account? Investigations haven’t presented any new information and talk of money-laundering and tax fraud are still just allegations. Was there pressure, overt or implied, by the U.S. government?

* Concern about travel documents

The United Methodist Church has repeatedly on the international level upheld the traditional Christian understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman, despite ongoing attempts from various groups to allow for same-sex unions. Once again at their General Conference this April they will face this issue. In a write-up for First Things, Thomas C. Oden mentions in passing the ability of foreign delegates, especially those from Africa, to get the proper travel documents to attend the conference:

The struggle for the soul of the United Methodist Church has reached a decisive point. At every quadrennial national meeting since 1976, the issue of the ordination of partners in same-sex unions has been raised and defeated. Until now my church has not gone the way of the Episcopalians, the United Church of Christ, the mainline Presbyterians, and the Evangelical Lutherans. At the General Conference this April, Methodists face another battle over this issue, and the legislative outcome is in doubt. The contest will hinge on how many of the African delegates will get visas and on whether we can meld together the voices of evangelicals, moderates, overseas delegates, and centrist liberals who care about the future of the United Methodist Church and who wish to avoid a decade of devastating court challenges….

The presence of Christians from Africa and Asia is essential for the UMC to continue to uphold the biblical mandate on marriage. I wonder how many will get visas—I guess we’ll have to wait until April to see.

A paperwork hold-up did affect some long-scheduled Nigerian clergy unable to get visas to come to the U.S. for a religious conference earlier this year. Apparently, the State Department pointed to the security issues involved with Nigeria, which is a valid concern, but given the lead-time for the paperwork, questions remain.

*  Abridgement of First Amendments rights

And of course, the biggest area indicating that the administration is targeting traditional/conservative Christians is the mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for all employers, religious or not, to pay for (either directly or indirectly) contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients. Or, as Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York said in response to the 2013 deadline for compliance: “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.”

If religious freedom falls and the Catholic Church as well as other religious institutions pulls back from operating for all instead of just their own faithful, the government will have succeeded in keeping them from following Christ’s Great Commission, of imposing the State between people gathering together to help each other, and of gravely weakening all of our “inalienable” rights.

But I reassure myself that this can’t possibly be a conspiracy with the adage:

Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence.

And that goes double when dealing with government bureaucrats.

Protests against Obama mandate to take place in 129 cities


From LifeNews.com:

Thousands of pro-life advocates across the country will take part on Friday in “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rallies taking place in more than 129 cities.

The rallies are meant as a public demonstration against the Obama mandate that requires religious organizations, churches and other objecting employers to pay for birth control and drugs that may cause abortions.

This makes this event one of the largest in American history with respect to simultaneous rallies occurring in cities across the nation and the main rally in the nation’s capital will be on the plaza of the HHS (Hubert Humphrey Building) on March 23, at 12:00 noon

“The HHS mandates and the issue of religious freedom have now ignited a political firestorm that will be a major issue in the 2012 Presidential Elections. In an odd way, President Obama’s forcing Christian institutions to violate their conscience and core beliefs has energized the faith community in a way that none of the republican candidates have yet been able to accomplish,” said [the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition and one of the organizers of the rally in Washington, DC].

Polling data shows Americans are strongly opposed to the Obama mandate. A February Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds 38 percent of likely voters think health insurance companies should be required by law to cover the morning after pill without co-payments or other charges to the patient. But 50 percent of Americans disagree and oppose this requirement while 13 percent are undecided….

Read it all, and check here for rally locations.

Dolan blasts White House contraception plan as ‘freedom of religion battle’

From the New York Post:

Cardinal Timothy Dolan ramped up the battle with the White House today, blasting the government for a controversial new regulation that would require providing free contraceptive services to workers of religious institutions.

“Don’t impose your teaching upon us and make us do as a church what we find unconscionable to do!” the freshly minted prince of the church told a roaring crowd of 1,000 at Holy Trinity Diocesan HS in Hicksville.

In a blistering attack interlaced with humor, Dolan never mentioned President Obama by name — only his policies….

He told the crowd of church leaders that the battle over the US Health and Human Services regulation is bigger than contraception.

“It is a freedom of religion battle,” Dolan said. “We are talking about an unwarranted, unprecedented radical intrusion into the interior life of integrity of a church’s ability to teach, serve and sanctify in its own.”…

“We live in an era that seems to discover new rights every day and then expects government and culture and society to pay for it. The church emphasizes responsibility more than rights.”

Read it all.

Cardinal Dolan gives an update

From Timothy Cardinal Dolan:

…This has not been a fight of our choosing.  We’d rather not be in it.  We’d prefer to concentrate on the noble tasks of healing the sick, teaching our youth, and helping the poor, all now in jeopardy due to this bureaucratic intrusion into the internal life of the church.  And we were doing all of those noble works rather well, I dare say, without these radical new mandates from the government.  The Catholic Church in America has a long tradition of partnership with government and the wider community in the service of the sick, our children, our elders, and the poor at home and abroad.  We’d sure rather be partnering than punching.

Nor is this a “Catholic” fight alone.  As a nurse from Harrison emailed me, “Cardinal, I’m not so much mad about all this as a Catholic, but as an American.”  It was a Baptist minister, Governor Mike Huckabee, who observed, “In this matter, we’re all Catholics.”

And it is not just about sterilization, abortifacients, and chemical contraception.  Pure and simple, it’s about religious freedom, the sacred right, protected by our constitution, of any Church to define its own teaching and ministry.

When the President announced on January 20th that the choking mandates from HHS would remain — a shock to me, since he had personally assured me that he would do nothing to impede the good work of the Church in health care, education, and charity, and that he considered the protection of conscience a sacred duty — not only you, but men and women of every faith, or none at all, rallied in protest.  The worry that we bishops had expressed — that such government control was contrary to our deepest political values — was eloquently articulated by constitutional scholars and leaders of every creed.  Even newspaper editorials supported us!

On February 10th, the President announced that the insurance providers would have to pay the bill, not the Church’s schools, hospitals, clinics, or vast network of charitable outreach.  He considered this “concession” adequate.

Did this help?  We bishops wondered if it would, and announced at first that, while withholding final judgment, we would certainly give it close scrutiny.

Well, we have — and we’re still as worried as ever.  For one, there was not even a nod to the deeper concerns about trespassing upon religious freedom, or of modifying the HHS’ attempt to define the how and who of our ministry through the suffocating mandates.

Two, since a big part of our ministries are “self-insured,” how is this going to help us?  We’ll still have to pay!  And what about individual believers being coerced to pay?

Three, there was still no resolution about the handcuffs placed upon renowned Catholic charitable agencies, both national and international, and their exclusion from contracts just because they will not refer victims of human trafficking, immigrants and refugees, and the hungry of the world, for abortions, sterilization, or contraception.

So, we have given it careful study.  Our conclusion: we’re still very worried.  There seem far more questions than answers, more confusion than clarity.

Now what to do?…

The President invited us to “work out the wrinkles,” and we have been taking him seriously.  Unfortunately, this seems to be going nowhere: the White House Press Secretary, for instance, informed the nation that the mandates are a fait accompli (and, embarrassingly for him, commented that we bishops have always opposed Health Care anyway, a charge that is simply scurrilous and insulting). The White House already notified Congress that the dreaded mandates are now published in the Federal Registry “without change.” The Secretary of HHS is widely quoted as saying, “Religious insurance companies don’t really design the plans they sell based on their own religious tenets,” which doesn’t bode well for a truly acceptable “accommodation.”  And a recent meeting between staff of the bishops’ conference and the White House staff ended with the President’s people informing us that the broader concerns of religious freedom — that is, revisiting the straight-jacketing mandates, or broadening the maligned exemption—are all off the table.  Instead, they advised the bishops’ conference that we should listen to the “enlightened” voices of accommodation, such as the recent hardly-surprising but terribly unfortunate editorial in America.  The White House seems to think we bishops are hopelessly out of touch with our people, and with those whom the White House now has nominated as official Catholic teachers.

So, I don’t know if we’ll get anywhere with the executive branch.

Congress offers more hope, with thoughtful elected officials proposing promising legislation to protect what should be so obvious: religious freedom.  As is clear from the current debate in the senate, our opponents are marketing this as a “woman’s health issue.”  Of course, it cannot be reduced to that.  It’s about religious freedom.  (By the way, the Church hardly needs to be lectured about health care for women.  Thanks mostly to our Sisters, the Church is the largest private provider of health care for women and their babies in the country.  Here in New York State, Fidelis, the Medicare/Medicaid insurance provider, owned by the Church, consistently receives top ratings for its quality of service to women and children.)

And the courts offer the most light.  In the recent Hosanna-Tabor ruling, the Supreme Court unanimously and enthusiastically defended the right of a Church to define its own ministry and services, a dramatic rebuff to the administration, but one apparently unheeded by the White House.  Thus, our bishops’ conference and many individual religious entities are working with some top-notch law firms who have told us they feel so strongly about this that they will represent us pro-bono.

So, we have to be realistic and prepare for tough times….

Read it all.

AUL: The con

Watch it all.

The bishops and the mandate: Principled witness vs. politics as usual

From Robert P. George, Sherif Girgis and Ryan T. Anderson, writing for the Witherspoon Institute:

…Let’s consider some facts. When national opposition to the mandate was a white-hot blaze, President Obama announced a few changes meant to satisfy critics. Hours later, the mandate was enshrined in the Federal Register without any of those changes having been made. The President’s self-imposed deadline for making good on his promises? After the election.

He claimed to be accommodating religious, especially Catholic concerns. It was a compromise, say America’s editors. That would make it history’s first unilateral compromise: The White House had secured (and promptly rolled out) the approval of longtime supporter Sr. Carol Keehan—and Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards—but not a single bishop.

In fact, the New York Times reports, the proposal was never really meant to address the bishops’ concerns. It was calculated to give cover to liberal Catholics, whose renewed support of the mandate would mute the roar of criticism of Obama from champions of religious freedom on the Left and Right both….

Well, the bishops certainly do oppose mandating this funding (and always have), for contraceptives and abortifacients are, as Cardinal Timothy Dolan and others have noted, not health care. Anovulent pills can be used for genuinely health-related purposes, which the bishops support and even cover for their own employees. But what contraception and abortion prevent or “treat”—the existence of new people—is no illness or disease. They serve, as such, no common good. And when one weighs religious liberty against what is no public good at all, it’s easy to see how the scales of justice will tip. Bishops who point this out are not flexing “political muscle” in a hyped-up “difference over policy,” as America’s editors suggest. They are drawing the plain implications of Catholic principle—to which Jesuit magazines are, we presume, editorially committed.

But suppose, for the sake of argument, that these services were forms of health care. Imagine too that the “compromise solution” were more than the election-year I.O.U. of a politician who had already revealed himself to be reckless about religious freedom (and even averse to that term). We still face the fact that the mandate would require Catholic and other religiously opposed employers to provide plans that cover services they find morally abhorrent, or else pay crippling fines. Insurance companies would be the ones to advertise (and, officially, to fund) the plans’ controversial parts, but objecting employers would in practice bear their costs. …

Freedom of conscience is hardly safer after the new proposal: Objecting employers will still have to contract for insurance plans covering what they judge to be immoral. Their employees will still have this coverage through employers’ contracts, effectively on their dime….

But it gets worse. All these threats—to conscience, to witness, to religious freedom, to pluralism and civic virtue—would take their toll for no good reason, whatever one’s view of the services at stake. The cause of subsidized contraception and abortion has, again, no share in the common good. But suppose it were a public good, and important enough to justify risks to conscience and witness and religious freedom; suppose Obama’s revision really would be implemented as promised; and would, so implemented, diminish all these risks. The case for the mandate would still fail, for whatever risks remained would be unnecessary.

For one thing, contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs are widely available—not just at drug stores but also (to cite the administration’s own announcement) at “community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support.”

But even more tellingly, the administration has on non-religious grounds granted exemptions from the mandate to employers that account for an estimated 88 million employees in 2013. If coverage of contraceptives and abortifacients is indispensable, why is it not guaranteed for these tens of millions? If, on the other hand, the administration can afford to exempt employers for other reasons, why not show the same solicitude for employers with moral and religious objections? HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebellius, who promulgated the mandate, may have let the reason slip when she declared herself at “war” with those she cast as enemies of—you guessed it—“women’s health.”…

The administration’s dubious record on religious freedom, its selective intransigence on the insurance mandate, indeed the weakness of its position from every vantage-point leave only one explanation. Against people seeking to keep and share their faith, the Obama administration has chosen to give shining witness to its own dogmas—for which it would risk one-term martyrdom; before which it would bend every pillar of society, make every last man and woman bow. The Catholic bishops remain standing in bold resistance, and somehow it is this—and not their own, rather awkward posture on the matter—that embarrasses the editors of America magazine.

Read it all.

Cardinal George: No Catholic hospitals in 2 years unless HHS mandate is rescinded

Hey, for the administration, that’s a feature, not a bug. From Catholic New World (archdiocese of Chicago), a column by Francis Cardinal George:

Catholic hospitals, universities and social services have an institutional conscience, a conscience shaped by Catholic moral and social teaching. The HHS regulations now before our society will make it impossible for Catholic institutions to follow their conscience.

So far in American history, our government has respected the freedom of individual conscience and of institutional integrity for all the many religious groups that shape our society. The government has not compelled them to perform or pay for what their faith tells them is immoral. That’s what we’ve meant by freedom of religion. That’s what we had believed was protected by the U.S. Constitution. Maybe we were foolish to believe so.

What will happen if the HHS regulations are not rescinded? A Catholic institution, so far as I can see right now, will have one of four choices: 1) secularize itself, breaking its connection to the church, her moral and social teachings and the oversight of its ministry by the local bishop. This is a form of theft. It means the church will not be permitted to have an institutional voice in public life. 2) Pay exorbitant annual fines to avoid paying for insurance policies that cover abortifacient drugs, artificial contraception and sterilization. This is not economically sustainable. 3) Sell the institution to a non-Catholic group or to a local government. 4) Close down.

In the public discussion thus far, efforts have been made to isolate the bishops from the Catholic faithful by focusing attention exclusively on “reproductive” issues. But the acrimony could as easily focus next year or the year after on assisted suicide or any other moral issue that can be used to distract attention from the attack on religious liberty. Many will recognize in these moves a tactic now familiar in our public life: those who cannot be co-opted are isolated and then destroyed. The arguments used are both practical and theoretical.

Practically, we’re told that the majority of Catholics use artificial contraception. There are properly medical reasons, in some circumstances, for the use of contraceptive pills, as everyone knows. But even if contraceptives were used by a majority of couples only and exclusively to suppress a possible pregnancy, behavior doesn’t determine morality….

Bishops are the successors of the apostles; they collectively receive the authority to teach and govern that Christ bestowed upon the apostles. Bishops don’t claim to speak for every baptized Catholic. Bishops speak, rather, for the Catholic and apostolic faith. Those who hold that faith gather with them; others go their own way. They are and should be free to do so, but they deceive themselves and others in calling their organizations Catholic….

The provision of health care should not demand “giving up” religious liberty. Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship-no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long cold war to defeat that vision of society.

The strangest accusation in this manipulated public discussion has the bishops not respecting the separation between church and state. The bishops would love to have the separation between church and state we thought we enjoyed just a few months ago, when we were free to run Catholic institutions in conformity with the demands of the Catholic faith, when the government couldn’t tell us which of our ministries are Catholic and which not, when the law protected rather than crushed conscience. The state is making itself into a church. The bishops didn’t begin this dismaying conflict nor choose its timing. We would love to have it ended as quickly as possible. It’s up to the government to stop the attack….

Read it all.

Of course, I happen to think that the Obama Administration would be perfectly happy if all religious institutions closed their hospitals, charities, etc. It leaves an empty field for the state to take over and increase their hold on the economy and their control over all people’s options and actions. (And that the Catholic Church helped create this debacle by their perception that the government was a good faith partner and the best solution, through taxes, for things like universal healthcare. They forgot their own principle of subsidiarity and that whoever pays the bills, sets the rules.)

H/t to New Oxford Review.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan issues strongest statement yet against the HHS mandate

It’s all over the Internet today, a letter dated February 21, 2012, to the bishops of the United States from Timothy Cardinal Dolan, President of the USCCB, and the Most Reverend William E. Lori, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty (all emphasis is mine):

Dear Brother Bishops,

Since we last wrote to you concerning the critical efforts we are undertaking together to protect religious freedom in our beloved country, many of you have requested that we write once more to update you on the situation and to again request the assistance of all the faithful in this important work. We are happy to do so now.

First, we wish to express our heartfelt appreciation to you, and to all our sisters and brothers in Christ, for the remarkable witness of our unity in faith and strength of conviction during this past month. We have made our voices heard, and we will not cease from doing so until religious freedom is restored.

As we know, on January 20, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a decision to issue final regulations that would force practically all employers, including many religious institutions, to pay for abortion inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraception. The regulations would provide no protections for our great institutions—such as Catholic charities, hospitals, and universities—or for the individual faithful in the marketplace. The regulations struck at the heart of our fundamental right to religious liberty, which affects our ability to serve those outside our faith community.

Since January 20, the reaction was immediate and sustained. We came together, joined by people of every creed and political persuasion, to make one thing resoundingly clear: we stand united against any attempt to deny or weaken the right to religious liberty upon which our country was founded.

On Friday, February 10, the Administration issued the final rules. By their very terms, the rules were reaffirmed “without change.” The mandate to provide the illicit services remains. The exceedingly narrow exemption for churches remains. Despite the outcry, all the threats to religious liberty posed by the initial rules remain.

Religious freedom is a fundamental right of all. This right does not depend on any government’s decision to grant it: it is God-given, and just societies recognize and respect its free exercise. The free exercise of religion extends well beyond the freedom of worship. It also forbids government from forcing people or groups to violate their most deeply held religious convictions, and from interfering in the internal affairs of religious organizations.

Recent actions by the Administration have attempted to reduce this free exercise to a “privilege” arbitrarily granted by the government as a mere exemption from an all-encompassing, extreme form of secularism. The exemption is too narrowly defined, because it does not exempt most non-profit religious employers, the religiously affiliated insurer, the self-insured employer, the for-profit religious employer, or other private businesses owned and operated by people who rightly object to paying for abortion inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. And because it is instituted only by executive whim, even this unduly narrow exemption can be taken away easily.

In the United States, religious liberty does not depend on the benevolence of who is regulating us. It is our “first freedom” and respect for it must be broad and inclusive—not narrow and exclusive. Catholics and other people of faith and good will are not second class citizens. And it is not for the government to decide which of our ministries is “religious enough” to warrant religious freedom protection.

This is not just about contraception, abortion-causing drugs, and sterilization—although all should recognize the injustices involved in making them part of a universal mandated health care program. It is not about Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals. It is about people of faith. This is first and foremost a matter of religious liberty for all. If the government can, for example, tell Catholics that they cannot be in the insurance business today without violating their religious convictions, where does it end? This violates the constitutional limits on our government, and the basic rights upon which our country was founded.

Much remains to be done. We cannot rest when faced with so grave a threat to the religious liberty for which our parents and grandparents fought. In this moment in history we must work diligently to preserve religious liberty and to remove all threats to the practice of our faith in the public square. This is our heritage as Americans. President Obama should rescind the mandate, or at the very least, provide full and effective measures to protect religious liberty and conscience.

Above all, dear brothers, we rely on the help of the Lord in this important struggle. We all need to act now by contacting our legislators in support of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which can be done through our action alert on www.usccb.org/conscience.

We invite you to share the contents of this letter with the faithful of your diocese in whatever form, or by whatever means, you consider most suitable. Let us continue to pray for a quick and complete resolution to this and all threats to religious liberty and the exercise of our faith in our great country.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan
Archbishop of New York
President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Most Reverend William E. Lori
Bishop of Bridgeport
Chairman, Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty

Check it out.

Promised objectivity, Americans receive Planned Parenthood ideology

From HLI America, part of Human Life International, a report on how the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) used information provided by the Women’s Preventive Services committee of the Institute of Medicine (IOM, part of the National Academy of Sciences) to further their political pro-abortion agenda by insisting that including contraceptives in government-mandated health care is medically necessary, when objective evidence shows that it isn’t.

Virtually all of the Women’s Preventive Services committee members are affiliated in some way with Planned Parenthood or NARAL.

From HLI America:

… But these eleven members—out of a total of sixteen—demonstrate a more than casual commitment to the furthering of the abortion lobby. In fact, according to information available from the public record, a total of $116,500 has been donated to pro-choice organizations and candidates by these committee members. What is more, public records show that not one of the sixteen committee members has financially supported a political candidate who is politically anti-abortion. Whatever one thinks of the relevant issues, one would be hard pressed to argue that this IOM committee is politically non-partisan. This committee was purportedly assembled for the very purpose of providing outside, objective, and expert advice to the policy-making HHS; as the above roll call demonstrates, however, the committee was anything but a balanced sampling of experts….

The committee held three “open information-gathering sessions” to receive expert testimony regarding the preventive services that should be mandated and funded. However, nearly all the invited speakers were known advocates of contraception and abortion on demand. In a press release, Michael O’Dea notes:

At both meetings, the invited speakers represented organizations which advocate coverage of contraception, without cost sharing of expenses. Those organizations include the Guttmacher Institute, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, Planned Parenthood, The Kaiser Family Foundation and the Society for Family Planning.

Furthermore, there was not one representative from the Catholic health care system, despite the fact that, taken together, it constitutes the single largest provider of health care in our country. Representatives of the pro-life and pro-family organizations (who were forced to seek for themselves permission to speak) were relegated to the brief public comments portion at the end of the day.

This relegation is not insignificant, for though the use of contraception by American women during child-bearing years is nearly universal, support for publicly funded contraception is not. As indicated by a recentRasmussen poll, 46% of Americans do not support the committee’s recommendation, while only only 39% of Americans believe that contraception should be covered free of charge. This diversity in viewpoints should have been reflected both in the makeup of the committee and of the speakers invited to testify at the hearings. Instead, there was a built-in bias in support of the provision of contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs….

The central claim of the report, as it is bears on Recommendation 5.5, is “that greater use of contraception within the population produces lower unintended pregnancy and abortion rates nationally” (pg. 92). In support of this claim, the report cites only two sources—one of which is a non-peer-reviewed advocacy report. This spurious source was published by the Guttmacher Institute, the former research arm of Planned Parenthood, and a strong advocate for abortion and contraception. One reason for this dearth of evidence is simple: numerous studies show that greater access to oral contraception and emergency contraception does not in fact reduce unintended pregnancies or abortion….

Read it all. (H/t Stand Firm)

What I heard at Mass this weekend

I posted earlier that my bishop (Bishop Jugis) wrote another letter on the HHS mandate debacle, with a request that it be read at each Mass this past weekend.

I did not hear it at Mass (we go to the Sunday evening Mass, probably the smallest of the weekend), but we did have a bright yellow bulletin insert with a copy of Convincing witness in the face of radical secularism, the address to the bishops of the United States by Benedict XVI on January 19, and the USCCB insert, Conscience rights, religious liberty violated by sweeping HHS contraceptive mandate. The insert also included a personal note from our interim pastor that said in part:

Our Diocese of Charlotte has taken a “wait-and-see attitude” concerning a compromise by President Barack Obama in regards to the Catholic Church and its religious liberty. I am concerned that if we “wait” too long it may be too late. Catholics compose 25% of the nation’s population and we are witnessing yet another instance of an anti-Catholic sentiment which is growing in our country. Silence could be dangerous in this case. …

I haven’t talked with my pastor to see why the letter itself wasn’t read, but we are between permanent clergy. Our pastor of two years was just reassigned and the assistant pastor is our interim priest. We also have a new temporary assistant pastor, so things are a little confusing in the front office. I hope we hear the bishop’s letter next week. . .I’ll be waiting!

Feds ask for delay in Belmont Abbey College’s lawsuit against HHS mandate

When you got nothin’, you stall. From LifeSiteNews.com:

Days after saying the birth control mandate was “final,” the Obama administration has told a federal court it shouldn’t rule on a lawsuit against the new rule because the administration may decide to change it at an unspecified later date.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Belmont Abbey College in the case, said Friday that the administration’s response lacked any constitutional defense of the mandate, which would force religious organizations, including charities, hospitals, and even religious orders, to cover birth control, sterilizations, and abortifacient drugs.

“Apparently, the administration has decided that the mandate, as written and finalized, is constitutionally indefensible,” said Hannah Smith, senior counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “Its only hope is to ask the court to look the other way based on an empty promise to possibly change the rules in the future.”…

And you would trust this administration why? So read it all, and check out the news from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

My bishop writes another letter–will I hear it at Mass this weekend?

From the Catholic News Herald, a copy of the letter Bishop Jugis has asked be read at all masses this weekend (I’ll let you know what I hear at my church):

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I write to you today regarding the healthcare regulations that would require religious institutions to provide contraception for their employees. Since the HHS guidelines were released in January, a great many people in the Diocese of Charlotte have contacted my office to express their concern. More recently, President Barack Obama offered a compromise in the administration of the regulations.

Unfortunately, the compromise does not address the fundamental concern of conscience protection and religious liberty that the original regulations threaten.

The compromise retains the nationwide mandate of insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacients, for all religious employers. This remains a grave moral concern.

Additionally, it appears that the regulations will still mandate that all insurers include coverage for the objectionable services in all the policies they would write. At this point, it would appear that self-insuring religious employers, including the Diocese of Charlotte, are not exempt from this mandate.

The lack of clear conscience protection for key stakeholders is unacceptable and must be corrected.

The bishops in the United States therefore continue – with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency – the efforts to correct this problem. We urgently need legislation to correct the mandate’s threats to religious liberty and conscience rights. The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act has been introduced in Congress (H.R. 1179, S. 1467) to ensure that those who participate in the market for health insurance “retain the right to provide, purchase, or enroll in health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions.”

As a community of faith we must commit ourselves to prayer and fasting that wisdom and justice prevail, and that religious liberty be restored. Without God, we can do nothing; with God, nothing is impossible. I ask you to visit CatholicVoiceNC.org to learn more about this severe assault on religious liberty, and to contact Congress in support of legislation to reverse the Administration’s decision.

Assuring you of my prayers, and asking God’s blessings upon you, I am

Sincerely yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend Peter J. Jugis

Bishop of Charlotte

And check out Concerns remain among local Catholics over HHS contraception mandate, also in the Catholic News Herald.