Bishop Matthew H. Clark is among the many national Catholic leaders expressing outrage and dismay regarding the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that nearly all employers offer health-care plans that include coverage for sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs and contraception. This edict is set to take effect Aug. 1, 2012.
“Unless the ruling is overturned, we Catholics will be required either to violate our consciences or drop health coverage for our employees,” Bishop Clark stated in a letter that was to be printed in all diocesan parish bulletins Feb. 4-5.
The bishop urged Catholics to visit www.usccb.org/conscience “to learn about this assault on religious liberty, and to learn how to contact Congress in support of legislation that will reverse this administrative decision.” He also asked the diocesan community “to commit ourselves to prayer and fasting that wisdom and justice might prevail, and that true religious liberty might be restored.”
The HHS announced its mandate on Jan. 20, setting off a firestorm of reaction. Although Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, noted that nonprofit groups that do not provide contraceptive coverage because of their religious beliefs will get an additional year to adapt to this new rule, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan — archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — countered that, “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.”
Meanwhile, Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh used even stronger language in a column titled “To Hell with You.” In his column Bishop Zubik wrote that Sebelius and the Obama administration “have said ‘To hell with you’ to the Catholic faithful of the United States. To hell with your religious beliefs. To hell with your religious liberty. To hell with your freedom of conscience. We’ll give you a year, they are saying, and then you have to knuckle under.”
“Catholics and all people of faith have reason to be alarmed when the government oversteps itself with regards to fundamental rights,” remarked Jann Armantrout, life-issues coordinator for the Diocese of Rochester. “The government has no business defining what a faith is and what is a permitted expression of religion.”
Sebelius said that religious organizations can be exempt from the requirement if they meet such criteria as having religious values as their purpose, and employing and serving people who share those values. Yet the New York State Catholic Conference, in encouraging Catholics to contact their legislators regarding the HHS mandate, stated that “virtually all the Catholic Church’s ministries — schools, colleges, hospitals, nursing homes, Catholic Charities agencies — are deemed not sufficiently Catholic to get an exemption, simply because (as Jesus did) our ministries serve people of all faiths.”
“These organizations fulfill vital functions in our community but were formed first and foremost to minister in the name of Jesus Christ, to continue his ministry here on earth,” Armantrout agreed.
The state Catholic conference is instead pushing for passage of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179, S. 1467), which would ensure the continued right to provide or enroll in coverage that does not violate religious and moral convictions.
Contains reporting by Catholic News Service.