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US Catholics dismayed by Obama administration ruling

By on Saturday, 21 January 2012

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (AP)

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (AP)

Catholics in the United States have reacted with dismay after the Obama administration turned down repeated requests from Catholic bishops, hospitals, schools and charitable organisations to revise its religious exemption to the requirement that all health plans cover contraceptives and sterilisation free of charge.

Instead, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, announced yesterday that non-profit groups that do not provide contraceptive coverage because of their religious beliefs will get an additional year “to adapt to this new rule”.

“This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty,” Mrs Sebelius said. “I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.”

But Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said the Obama administration had “drawn an unprecedented line in the sand” with the decision.

“The Catholic bishops are committed to working with our fellow Americans to reform the law and change this unjust regulation,” he added. “We will continue to study all the implications of this troubling decision.”

Mrs Sebelius announced the mandate and a narrow religious exemption to it on August 1, 2011. Under the plan, after August 1 this year, new or significantly altered health plans will be required to provide all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives, including some that can cause abortions, without co-pays or deductibles as part of preventive health care for women.

The only religious organisations exempt from the requirement would be those meeting four specific criteria: “(1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organisation” under specific sections of the Internal Revenue Code.

Those sections “refer to churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious orders”, according to a footnote to the interim final rule.

Catholic groups, including the USCCB, the Catholic Health Association and Catholic Charities USA, called that exemption too narrow, saying it would require Catholic groups to stop all services to those who were not Catholic and would inappropriately involve the government in decisions about whether an organisation is “religious enough” to be exempted.

Mrs Sebelius’s announcement prompted an outcry from Catholic leaders and a sigh of relief from groups such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, which had opposed any moves to weaken the contraceptive mandate or strengthen the religious exemption.

In a video posted on the USCCB website, Cardinal-designate Dolan said the decision put the Obama administration “on the wrong side of the Constitution” and should be rescinded.

“In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” the cardinal-designate said in a separate statement. “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their health care is literally unconscionable. It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty.”

Franciscan Sister Jane Marie Klein, who chairs the board at Franciscan Alliance, a system of 13 Catholic hospitals, characterised the decision as “nothing else than a direct attack on religion and First Amendment rights”.

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, said the announcement was a “missed opportunity to be clear on appropriate conscience protection”.

“The challenge that these regulations posed for many groups remains unresolved,” she said. “This indicates the need for an effective national conversation on the appropriate conscience protections in our pluralistic country, which has always respected the role of religions.”

Fr Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, said he was “extremely disappointed” that the administration chose to ignore calls from religious institutions to broaden the exemption.

“With the existing restrictive definition in this mandate, the ministry of Jesus Christ himself would not be considered a religious entity,” he said.

“Just as the identity of Catholic Charities is firmly rooted in the teaching of its Church, the identity of this nation includes a mandated respect of religious beliefs,” Fr Snyder added. “It is this long-standing history that gave us hope that as a religious institution we would be granted the freedom to remain faithful to our beliefs while also being committed to providing access to quality health care for our 70,000 employees and their families across the country.”

  • EndGame

    Surprise surprise, Obama and his merry band of treacherous Catholic allies have stabbed the USCCB in the back after all their (shameful) support of the Democratic Party over the years. It’s not called the party of death for nothing, not just regarding it’s abortion and culture efforts but regarding the debasement of the US constitution and liberty. Obama is now acting more and more like the despot and dictator his voting record and Chicago history suggested he could be.
    People seem to have no idea how close both the US and Europe is to cultural/political/economic collapse, and takeover by a tiny elite.
    We get the politicians we deserve, and ultimately the world we deserve. We have traded God and his laws for shopping and entertainment, sex and self indulgence. Without a COMPLETE and very public return the God and his laws, coupled with sincere penance we shall soon reap the whirlwind our sins have sown……..

  • Anonymous

    Fewer than one Catholic family in a thousand obeys Humanae Vitae. If they did then mothers with ten to twenty children would be the norm. Is that really what Cardinal Dolan, Sr Carol Keenan and Fr Snyder (all presumably celibate) want? 

  • Elizabeth

    You are right.  Thanks for your courageous commentary.  Count me in.  There is hope for us because some of us are living as God intends and we are praying for His mercy.  May God provide for us a strong, faithful and just leader in the next election and the support in Washington that he needs to rebuild this nation to its former glory.  This is my constant prayer.  

  • Anonymous

    What Cardinal Dolan, Sr Carol Keenan and Fr Snyder want is the freedom from an Obama diktat that will try to violate the consciences of those Catholics who do obey HV.  We do not pay taxes to provide others with the means of forcing us to conform to their way of thinking.  If these tyrants in Washington want to involve America in a second civil war, they are certainly going the right way about it.

  • Anonymous

    Even if that is so, there is a difference between non-abortifacient and abortifacient “contraception”.

    Forcing Catholic organisations to administer even the abortifacient varieties is truly evil.

  • Brian A. Cook

    Actually, liberals sincerely believe (but the belief is flawed) that they are making every effort to avoid anything like a Taliban takeover.  Liberals sincerely (but mistakenly) believe that the Catholic Church is dictatorial and despotic.  I know because I read actual liberal websites. 

  • EndGame

    Actually, what is your point exactly?
    Abortionists believe about as sincerely as other liberals that they are not killing children. Muslims sincerely believe that Jesus was merely a prophet. I know because i have spoken to actual Muslims.

  • Anonymous

    In a pluralistic society surely freedom of choice extends to what a health fund may offer beyond core surgical and medical procedures.In such a context any fund could for example offer no form of contraception and let the consumer decide which fund to join.This would be good for single men and women who choose not to be promiscuous, not a moral decision or even a religious one, but one based on economics.It would get government out of at least some peoples bedrooms, or at least mean that some may opt out of this cross subsidy.Why force everyone to buy cover that some don’t want?They may want to put the money to a better purpose such as glasses,  intensive care or mental health services, other neglected areas.
    Some of the health funds could put together a proforma package with useful ancillary services that exclude those under discussion and suggest that they be launched after the next presidential election.
    A mass mailing to members would help this process.Most baby boomers have absolutely no need for sterilization,but maybe a need for intensive care and glasses.These and young singles and gays are a good demographic to start with.The latter could use running shoes and weight loss clinics.
    Most people are now looking for leadership,not control,from the elected.Freeing up the health system can only do good.

  • WSquared

    Oh, please.  Here we go again with the usual canard of “take HV seriously, and you will necessarily have a gazillion kiddies, because Everybody Knows that self-control = sexual repression.”  (and of course, Everybody Knows that the Catholic Church expects us all to have as many kids as humanly possible, even when HV says nothing of the sort).  *YAWN*

  • Anonymous

    I suggest that you re-read Humanae Vitae. You will find it says that only if there are “well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances” is it acceptable to use the safe period to control births, and that it is only for “serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts” that a couple could decide to use the safe period to prevent any further children. 

    The routine use of “natural family planning” just for the convenience of the family, for example so that the mother can return to work, is clearly not allowed by Humanae Vitae. 

  • Bart_0117

    At this point, the only thing I am asking of you, Catholic Herald, is to remove this gigantic photo of Kathleen Sibelius on the front page.

  • Bbshort

    The Obama Government is Satanic.  Period.

  • Bbshort

    To succumb to Unjust Laws, is to give in to Satan.  To obey unjust laws is to obey Satan. Who do you obey Israel? God or Man?

  • Zether

    The Taliban can’t take over – there’s very few of them and, despite what you may have heard, they aren’t a single group. Suicide tactics have never won a war, ever.

    The whole thing is as much a sham as the Iraq war being about weapons of mass destruction.