No Deal! Bishops to Administration: You Can't Force Lay Catholics to Act Against Faith

February 7, 2013 - 4:39 PM
Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Timothy Dolan (AP Photo/Andrew Medichin)

(CNSNews.com) - Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement on Thursday signaling to the Obama Administration that the bishops will not make a separate deal to exempt Catholic institutions from an Obamacare mandate that requires health-care plans to cover sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs that leaves lay Catholic business owners and individual employees still subject to the mandate.

“In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage, we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs that they proclaim on the Sabbath,” said Cardinal Dolan. “We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences.”

The cardinal said the bishops will also continue to support the many lawsuits against the regulation--including those brought by private busineses--that are moving forward in federal courts around the country.

The Catholic Association, a group of Catholic laypersons dedicated to advancing the principles of the Catholic Church, issued a statement supporting the bishops' stand in defending the religious freedom of all Americans.

“We stand with the bishops today in rejecting the proposed ‘accommodation’ which still violates the religious freedom of Americans," said The Catholic Association.

"The bishops have recognized in their statement that when the religious freedom of one is compromised, the religious freedom of everyone is compromised, whether they be their own affiliated institutions or non-Catholic institutions or for-profit employers," said the association. "We call on this administration to provide an acceptable exemption for people of faith, and to put an end to its anti-religious liberty policies.”

Cardinal Dolan's statement was specifically responding to a new version of the Obamacare regulation that the Department of Health and Human Services proposed last week. The new proposal would slightly modify how Obamacare defines the “religious” institutions that can be exempted from the sterilization-contraceptive-abortifacient mandate. However, the proposed new version of the regulation would still force Catholic non-profits (such as hospitals, charities and colleges) to buy health care plans from carriers that, in turn, would be required to set up theoretically cost-free separate policies to provide free sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients to all beneficiaries. Further, the new proposal would provide no relief at all to individual Catholic lay people, whether they own a business or are employees.

Cardinal Dolan noted that the bishops will continue to judge the Obamacare regulation within the framework they laid out in a document the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops initially published last March and that all U.S. Catholic bishops unanimously approved in June.

“Third, the bishops explained that the ‘HHS mandate creates still a third class, those with no conscience protection at all:individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values,” said Cardinal Dolan, citing the bishops' unanimous declaration. “This includes employers sponsoring and subsidizing the coverage, insurers writing it, and beneficiaries paying individual premiums for it. Friday's action confirms that HHS has no intention to provide any exemption or accommodation at all to this ‘third class.’”

Cardinal Dolan’s statement included some placatory language, and the bishops seemed to be taking care to indicate they were not yet closing the door to working with the administration to find an outcome that will allow American Catholics to live both according to their faith and according to whatever final Obamacare regulations the administration ultimately decides to enforce.

“Because the stakes are so high, we will not cease from our effort to assure that healthcare for all does not mean freedom for few,” said Cardinal Dolan.

“Throughout the past year, we have been assured by the Administration that we will not have to refer, pay for, or negotiate for the mandated coverage," the Cardinal said. "We remain eager for the Administration to fulfill that pledge and to find acceptable solutions—we will affirm any genuine progress that is made, and we will redouble our efforts to overcome obstacles or setbacks. Thus, we welcome and will take seriously the Administration's invitation to submit our concerns through formal comments, and we will do so in the hope that an acceptable solution can be found that respects the consciences of all. At the same time, we will continue to stand united with brother bishops, religious institutions, and individual citizens who seek redress in the courts for as long as this is necessary.”

In an analysis published last August, the National Catholic Bioethics Center said that in keeping with Catholic moral teaching all Catholic business owners should drop health insurance coverage for all of their employees by no later than next January if the sterilization-contraception-abortifacient mandate is not lifted.

Last year, when the initial regulation was finalized, many of the nation’s Catholic bishops wrote letters to their congregations, declaring: “We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law.”