We've covered the Catholic Church's ongoing battle with the Obama administration over contraception health care mandates for quite some time. Over the weekend, though, the stand-off took an unusual turn, as Catholic churches across America read a letter to congregants that perfectly encapsulated the church's stance against the impending federal requirements.
The Church's vocal arguments against the Obama administration are centered upon a Health and Human Services Department requirement that employers must include contraception and abortion-inducing drugs in health-care coverage. While this requirement doesn't apply to houses of worship, it will force Catholic colleges, hospitals and other Christian groups to provide these drugs despite their faith-based opposition to them.
Many of these organizations, despite not being, themselves, churches, are intrinsically rooted in religious belief systems that stand firmly opposed to medications and procedures that would terminate the life of an unborn child. These deeply-rooted moral codes, which drive the groups' work, will be impeded, Catholic leaders say, should the Obama administration continue with its planned mandate.
Recently, the federal government made one small concession surrounding the requirement, as officials decided to give church-affiliated hospitals and organizations another year before they will be forced to comply with the coverage restrictions.
"In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences," Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently said.
Over the weekend, the Catholic Church's letter went beyond simply issuing oppositional rhetoric to media. Instead, priests read an open note to congregations across the country, dubbing the administration's take on women's health and religious violations as an attack on their faith. In the letter, Bishops highlighted what they called "an alarming and serious matter," as their words contended that the federal government has "dealt a heavy blow" to the Catholic population.
In it, Catholic leaders went on to say that the Church "cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law," as it violates the Catholic conscience. Additionally, the church says that it is faced with a difficult decision -- either comply and violate its faith or drop coverage for employees and suffer the consequences. The letter urges congregants to take action and to call Congress in an attempt to overturn the regulation.
While there were some variations in the letter, as it was personalized by each Bishop, here's the text that was sent out by the Bishop of Marquette (Michigan):
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I write to you concerning an alarming and serious matter that negatively impacts the Church in the United States directly, and that strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith. The federal government, which claims to be “of, by, and for the people,” has just been dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people — the Catholic population — and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that almost all employers,
including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees’ health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception. Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those “services” in the health policies they write. And almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies.
In so ruling, the Obama Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. And as a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled to either violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). The Obama Administration’s sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply.
We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second class citizens. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America’s cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture,
only to have their posterity stripped of their God given rights. In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.
And therefore, I would ask of you two things. First, as a community of faith we must commit ourselves to prayer and fasting that wisdom and justice may prevail, and religious liberty may be restored. Without God, we can do nothing; with God, nothing is impossible. Second, I would also recommend visiting www.usccb.org/conscience,to learn more about this severe assault on religious liberty, and how to contact Congress in support of legislation that would reverse the Obama Administration’s decision.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Alexander K. Sample
Most Reverend Alexander K. Sample
Bishop of Marquette
This is the latest development in the spat between the federal government and the Catholic Church. While contraception is a major problem dividing the two parties, other developments have added to the relational deterioration. Among the developments, the Department of Health and Human Services decided to end funding to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last year.
Rather than continuing to allocate money to a special program the bishops group oversaw to assist victims of modern-day slavery (i.e. human trafficking), the administration, instead, chose to give the funds to three non-Catholic groups. The bishops conference had refused to refer trafficking victims to receive contraceptives or abortions, so the American Civil Liberties Union sued and HHS decided to provide funds to groups that would refer women for these services.
Then there’s gay marriage — another contentious issue. The administration’s stance of not defending traditional marriage also contradicts Catholic teaching.
As for the health care regulation -- a tenet that abortion-rights groups heralded when it was introduced last summer -- there's no telling how the situation will end, as the Church seems adamant about its refusal to comply.
In September, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the regulation "an unprecedented attack on religious liberty." In November, The Catholic Advocate PAC launched an attack campaign against the Obama administration as well. To these responses, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said late last year that the Church's "conscience thing" puts woman at risk (yes, she's a Catholic).
In the end, there will be dire results, it seems, should the administration proceed as planned.