Catholic Democrat to Bishop and Faith Leaders Testifying About Contraceptive Mandate: ‘This is a Shameful Exercise!’

By Penny Starr | February 16, 2012 | 6:39 PM EST

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) (Photo: Penny Starr/

( – Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) spent his five minutes to question witnesses at a House hearing today on whether the Obamacare contraceptive mandate violates Americans’ First Amendment right to religious liberty by telling them that the hearing was a “sham,” and that they were being used in what he called a “shameful exercise.”

“I believe today’s hearing is a sham,” Connolly, a Catholic, said to Bishop William E. Lori of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and four other leaders from the Baptist, Lutheran, and Jewish faiths.  “And I believe – I have to assume each of you gentlemen came here in good faith.”

“But surely it has not escaped your attention that you are being used for a political agenda,” Connolly said. “Maybe you’re willingly being used, I don’t know.”

“I think this is a shameful exercise!” he said.

Connolly further said he thought the “panel was designed -- with your conscious participation or not -- to try one more time to embarrass the president of the United States and his administration.”

Connolly said he was initially concerned about how far the regulation, issued by the Department of Health and Humane Services, would go in requiring certain religious institutions or employers to provide coverage that includes sterilizations and FDA-approved contraceptives, including those that induce abortion – services that are contrary to Catholic teaching and are also opposed by many Protestants, Jews, and Muslims.

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But, Connolly said, President Barack Obama had fixed the problem with the “accommodation” he announced on Friday, Feb. 10.

Given the widespread criticism of the HHS amendment as a violation of religious liberty, President Obama announced on Feb. 10 what he characterized as “a solution that works for everyone.”

The Most Reverend William E. Lori, Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport, Conn. (AP Photo)

Under this solution, all health-insurance plans in the United States would be forced by the government to cover sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients free of charge. But, as Obama described it, if a woman works for a religious hospital or charity that objects to these services, the insurance company -- not the employer -- would pay to provide the services to the woman free of charge.

“Under the rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services--no matter where they work. So that core principle remains,” the president said. “But if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company--not the hospital, not the charity--will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles.”

Late on Friday, the Catholic bishops responded, saying that this “solution” was “unacceptable.”

“It would still mandate that all insurers must include coverage for the objectionable services in all the policies they would write,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement.

Rep. Connolly admonished the witnesses for taking part in the Feb. 16 hearing, saying, “Men of the cloth, it seems to me, ought to run, not walk away from that line.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, apologized to the panel for Connelly’s remarks and thanked them for participating, as did several other Republicans on the committee.