Who is the architect of this fiasco with the HHS?
The buck stops with the President and the head of the department, which he appointed: Kathleen Sebelius. What is her background as a “Catholic”?
When she was governor, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas told her that she “should stop receiving Communion until she publicly repudiates her support of abortion.” More recently, Archbishop Raymond F. Burke, former archbishop of St. Louis but now prefect for the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court, ruled that Mrs. Sebelius should not approach the altar for Communion in the United States. Despite pastoral admonition, she obstinately persists in serious sin and now she would entice the bishops and the rest of the Church to join her.
In 2008, Sebelius vetoed House Substitute for Senate Bill 389, titled the Comprehensive Abortion Reform Act by its sponsors. Proponents of the bill claimed the legislation would strengthen late-term abortion laws and prevent “coerced abortions” particularly with respect to minors.
She has been given high ratings and endorsement from Planned Parenthood, the biggest abortion provider around. It has made a financial “killing” in destroying unborn children under the banner of women’s rights.
The administration was SHOCKED into making a compromise… not because religious liberty was esteemed as an important value in itself.
The Obama administration hopes that the U.S. bishops will accept its proposed compromise (February 10, 2012). However, while we are still awaiting word from our shepherds, I still have serious reservations. The administration was shocked that even liberal Catholic voices were joining the chorus in deploring the initial policy as encroachment upon religious liberty. It was certain that there would be no movement of the Obama Whitehouse away from the giving women free access to contraception. But as Republicans picked up on the issue, election strategists urged an immediate counter-strategy. The offer of a year of grace was insufficient. Is this the best for which we can hope? Might this merely be a ploy to defuse the situation while really changing very little? Catholic parishes, schools, charities, and hospitals should not be forced to provide birth control to employees since such would violate Catholic teaching against artificial contraception. That is the bottom line!
Even if the institution is protected; what about the rights of individual believers? What about individuals and organizations that are not part of the Church administration but are Catholic in values? EWTN, for instance, is a lay organization with a lay board.
The sentiments of Catholics and other pro-life Christians would not be respected by this change. The Church is more than the institution but is found in her membership. Their personal religious rights and conscience would not be respected. I know a doctor who runs her own practice and refuses to prescribe birth control. Now, she would still be forced to pay for it as a health benefit for employees! That is wrong and the Church needs to be a voice for people like her. Similarly, I know a man who refused to take a vaccine because there was the remote use of embryonic material from an abortion. He would rather close shop than add his money to the purchase of abortifacients.
The First Amendment protects not only the rights of churches but the individuals who make up those faith communities. Even if Catholics should themselves personally dissent, continued membership implies that they still respect (on some level) the teachings and the authority of the Church. I suspect that President Obama miscalculated in thinking that Church teaching was subject to polls or that liberal Catholics could force further passivity upon the bishops. This new measure might protect Church institutions and pamper dissenters, but it would hang faithful Catholic citizens out to dry. Their rights would not be respected.
Nothing has really changed, what we have here is only magical sleight-of-hand.
The revised rule says that religious organizations would not have to offer or pay for contraception. So far, so good; but then it stipulates that health insurers would have to take up the cost and provide it directly to women for free. Does this really leave the employer out of the equation? It seems to me that what we have here is a new version of the old shell game. Nothing is really free. The money is going to have to come from somewhere. What will happen is that premiums will go up and people will pay more for a sick person’s needed antibiotic to make up for a promiscuous woman’s contraceptive.
What about those dioceses which are self-insured? Would this force us out of the insurance business?
Another wrinkle, and I see this as very problematical in my own Archdiocese, is that we are self-insured. There is no absolutely independent insurance entity to which we can give the dubious honor of providing contraception. I suppose such a measure would also make it hard for practicing Catholics to function at the leadership level or as CEOs of insurance agencies.
Where do we go from here?
It is not clear to me that the Obama administration really wants to go to the bargaining table. However, the bishops have suggested that this newest offer is a sign that he is willing to make some kind of compromise. It is my interpretation and I admit to being fallible, that there remains a serious hurdle and that we must take to heart Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s remarks in The Wall Street Journal, “Coercing religious ministries and citizens to pay directly for actions that violate their teaching is an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience.” This really says it all and is the line from which we must not retreat.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has made this statement: “The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.” The statement continues, “We will therefore continue–with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency–our efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government.”
We must urge Congress to pass the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act!