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Last week, a change was made by the Obama administration that would not require religious-based organizations to directly pay for sterilization and contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, and instead push that responsibility to their insurance carriers. Please do not be confused by this obfuscation. This shift does not change the moral and legal issues for which the Church objects.
Many dioceses self-insure themselves, thereby still requiring them to offer these so-called services. Secondly, if a religious organization isn’t self-insured, but contracts out through insurance companies, like the Archdiocese of Portland, we will still be in violation of our conscience for contracting with a carrier who is being required to offer immoral procedures that the Church cannot have direct or indirect involvement. Furthermore, there is no protection for exceptions for religious and secular for-profit employers, secular non-profit employers, for religious insurers, and for individuals.
Do not let the argument of cost misdirect you either. More important than cost is that of morality, conscience, ethics, and a reinterpretation of the Constitution. This mandate and its supposed “compromise,” does not remove any of these objections. All people of faith should be challenging the attempt to impose a belief system of a secular power over the rights of religious freedom by groups who have moral objections to such requirements. Broader than the violation of an individual’s conscience is the seeming violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. If this mandate by the Federal Dept. of Health and Human Services is allowed to stand, then a serious crack will have occurred in the foundation of the Constitution, thereby opening the dam for other mandates that will be required of citizens whose religious beliefs and consciences will be violated.
Don’t get sidetracked. The current administration is trying to redefine who is entitled to a religious exception unprecedented in the history of our country. Prior to this issue, the Obama administration has been trying to speak of “freedom of worship” rather than “religious liberty.” This slight-of-hand wording speaks only of our freedom to gather in our Churches, but does not secure our freedom to practice it in our world. Indeed, this mandate by the HHS is a direct result of this thinking.
The current administration has little concept of how the Catholic Church works. It is an essential part of our faith to be feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and lifting up the needy. Yet, it seems that even the Catholics involved in legislating and supporting this mandate and it’s recent change are ignorant of our fundamental belief to live out these Gospel values. It has even effected our ability to form the consciences of our service men and women when the Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Archdiocese was not allowed to have his own letter, challenging this ruling, read at military pulpits without changing the wording for fear of civil disobedience. Again, where is the right to religious liberty for even such a high ranking Church member? An unjust law must not go unchallenged.
Now, you may be saying that the Church should stay out of politics. That’s great in one sense: You will have more pleasant conversations with your friends. However, it is our responsibility to proclaim the Gospel, which means that we are to not only have a personal relationship with Jesus, but also transform the world in light of the Good News. Remember that faith without works is dead (James 2:20, 26). The Good News is not always convenient or easy to proclaim. But we must do it. The early Church was persecuted and many times martyred for their commitment to the Faith. Remember also, Jesus stood against the corruption of the powers of his time. We too must do nothing less for the salvation and love of all people of conscience.
Finally, as your pastor, I ask that you to write your elected officials and share your concerns. A phone call or actual written letter mailed is the most effective. Here is a quick link to that information: usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml. Also, spend this coming Lent in special prayer and fasting so that wisdom and justice may prevail.
Fr. William Holtzinger