Bishops want Obama administration to ensure religious freedom is protected
Cardinal Timothy Dolan said he is “hoping wise voices will prevail” before the Obama administration contraception mandate takes effect in August.
Speaking on his weekly radio show, the cardinal, who is president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said that the bishops are “nervous” about the pending deadline and questioned how the government will respond to the more than 300,000 comments it received following the publication of the proposed rules in early February.
The cardinal added the bishops realise the deadline to comply with the proposed regulations is fast approaching, but he also pointed out: “We don’t really have the regulations yet. We don’t have the bill.”
The mandate, part of the Affordable Care Act, will require most employers, including religious employers, to provide coverage of contraceptives, sterilisation and some abortion-inducing drugs free of charge, even if the employer is morally opposed to such services.
When it was first issued, the mandate included a narrow exemption applying only to those religious institutions that seek to inculcate their religious values and primarily employ and serve people of their own faith. The government later amended the new rules to exempt organisations that are considered nonprofits under specific sections of the Internal Revenue Code.
Cardinal Dolan said the accommodations were “a step in the right direction”, but he noted that they didn’t answer all the questions of the US bishops. He said the bishops, along with about 300,000 others, submitted recommendations during a 60-day public comment period, which ended April 8.
“Apparently, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is mulling those over and will announce their response prior to August 1”, he said, adding that he hopes government officials will consider the bishops’ response that the mandate is a violation of conscience for Catholic and other religious entities morally opposed to what it requires.
“We’re kind of waiting now for the (final rules) to be announced so we’ll see what’s going to happen,” he said, adding that he hopes “the government will make the next step in the right direction.”
In comments filed with the DHHS, the USCCB raised concerns that the proposed rules exclude from the definition of religious employer various organisations that “undeniably are ‘religious’ and undeniably ’employ’ people, such as Catholic hospitals, charities and schools.”
Cardinal Dolan said he remains optimistic the government will pay attention to the issues the bishops and others have raised particularly about protecting religious conscience.
In his meeting with President Obama on the issue nearly three years ago, he said the President told him that he wanted to protect religious freedom and he had the highest regard for the Catholic Church’s work in health, teaching and charity. He also told the cardinal that he didn’t want “anything this administration does to impede your good work.”