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Bishop calls contraception mandate unjust

Posted By February 2, 2012 | 1:26 pm | Lead Story #1, Local
Bishop McManus joins a growing list of bishops expressing outrage that the government is mandating religious organizations to provide employees with health plans that cover contraception and sterilization at no cost. “We cannot and we will not comply with this unjust law,” Bishop McManus said in a letter he has asked to be read in all parishes this weekend. The new contraception mandate, with a narrow exemption for religious organizations, is part of implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, which sets up new preventative health care coverage specifically for women at no cost.

Staff and Catholic News Service reports

Bishop McManus joins a growing list of bishops expressing outrage that the government is mandating religious organizations to provide employees with health plans that cover contraception and sterilization at no cost.
“We cannot and we will not comply with this unjust law,” Bishop McManus said in a letter he has asked to be read in all parishes this weekend. (See letter below)
The new contraception mandate, with a narrow exemption for religious organizations, is part of implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, which sets up new preventative health care coverage specifically for women at no cost.
That coverage includes services such as mammograms, prenatal care and cervical cancer screenings. But it also mandates free contraception, sterilizations and drugs (such as ella and “Plan B”) considered by the church to be abortifacients — all of which are contrary to Catholic teaching.
On Jan. 20, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced that nonprofit groups that do not provide contraceptive coverage because of their religious beliefs will get an additional year “to adapt to this new rule.”
“In so ruling, the Admin-istration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics and people of other faiths our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, the free exercise of religion.  As a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences or to drop health coverage for our employees and suffer the penalties for doing so,” Bishop McManus said.
One of the most strongly worded reactions to Sebelius’ announcement  came from Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh, in a column titled “To hell with you.”
Sebelius, a Catholic, and the Obama administration “have said ‘To hell with you’ to the Catholic faithful of the United States,” Bishop Zubik wrote. “To hell with your religious beliefs. To hell with your religious liberty. To hell with your freedom of conscience. We’ll give you a year, they are saying, and then you have to knuckle under.”
He called on Catholics in the Pittsburgh Diocese to “do all possible to rescind” the contraceptive mandate by writing to President Barack Obama, Sebelius and their members of Congress about this “unprecedented federal interference in the right of Catholics to serve their community without violating their fundamental moral beliefs.”
Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, Ill., enlisted the aid of St. Michael the Archangel in fighting “this unprecedented governmental assault upon the moral convictions of our faith.”
In a Jan. 24 letter to Peoria Catholics, he directed that the prayer of St. Michael be recited “for the freedom of the Catholic Church in America” during Sunday Masses at every parish, school, hospital, Newman center and religious house in the diocese.
The prayer reads in part: “Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil” and “cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits, who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.”
“We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law,” declared Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix in a Jan. 25 letter.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal Jan. 25, Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the HHS decision rejected the “loud and strong appeals” by “hundreds of religious institutions and hundreds of thousands of individual citizens” since the comment period began last August.
He said it is naive to think that contraception and sterilization will be “free” under the HHS mandate.
“There is no free lunch, and you can be sure there’s no free abortion, sterilization or contraception,” he wrote. “There will be a source of funding: you.”
Speaking at Fordham University in New York, the archbishop told reporters that Obama had called him the morning of Jan. 20 “to tell me the somber news” before the HHS decision was announced publicly.
The archbishop said he felt “terribly let down, disappointed and disturbed” and found it difficult to reconcile the decision with what the president had told him during a meeting in November — “that he considered the protection of conscience sacred, that he didn’t want anything his administration would do to impede the work of the church that he claimed he held in high regard, particularly in the area of health care, education, works of charity and justice.”
It will be up to Catholic voters to convince the federal government to rescind  the decision said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.
“Bishops can’t tell politicians what to do, but Catholic voters can,” the Philadelphia archbishop said during a recent visit to Nashville. Political leaders respond to pressure from citizens, he added, and Catholics ought to demand respect for religious values.
Catholic and other religious leaders have objected that the exemption is written so narrowly that institutions such as hospitals, schools and social service agencies would not qualify.
The mandate and the narrow exemption are examples of society’s growing indifference to religious values, the archbishop said.
The regulations leave Catholic institutions with few options.
One option would be to stop offering health insurance as an employee benefit, Archbishop Chaput said. Catholic institutions presumably would increase employees’ pay so they could buy insurance on their own, he said, but that would mean their health insurance premiums would most likely be more expensive.
“Or we can stop helping people who aren’t Catholic, but Catholics always take care of other people,” Archbishop Chaput said.
Bishop McManus said, “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 that the Church can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same.  Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.
“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 but with God, nothing is impossible.  Second, I would also recommend visiting www.usccb.org/conscience, to learn more about this dangerous assault on religious liberty and how you can do something about it by contacting Congress in support of legislation that would reverse the Administration’s decision.”
If all else fails, Catholic leaders might be forced to choose the option of civil disobedience, Archbishop Chaput said. Catholics are good citizens, he said, “but we’re God’s citizens first.”

 

The Bishops’ Letter

February 4-5, 2012

 

My 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 dealt a severe blow to almost a quarter of those peoplethe Catholic populationand to the millions more who are served by the Catholic Church.

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 care coverage that includes sterilization, abortion inducing drugs and contraception. Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those so-called “services” in the health policies they write. And almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as part of their policies.

In so ruling, the Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics and people of other faiths our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, the free exercise of religion. As a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences or to drop health coverage for our employees and suffer the penalties for doing so. The Administration’s sole “concession” was to give our institutions one year to comply.

We cannot and 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, only to have their descendants 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 that the Church can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.

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 but with God, nothing is impossible. Second, I would also recommend visiting www.usccb.org/conscience, to learn more about this dangerous assault on religious liberty and how you can do something about it by contacting Congress in support of legislation that would reverse the Administration’s decision.

With every prayerful best wish, I remain

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Robert J. McManus

Bishop of Worcester

 

Doctors wonder how federal mandate will affect practice of medicine

By Nancy Frazier O’Brien
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Whether they are just starting out or nearing the end of their careers, Catholics who want to practice medicine in conformity with the church’s teachings wonder how a new federal regulation requiring health plans to cover contraceptives and sterilization free of charge will affect their work.
Although the requirement will not directly impact physicians, some said it represents a governmental intrusion into health care that could grow in the future.
Dr. Anne Nolte, a family physician with the National Gianna Center for Women’s Health and Fertility in New York, thinks the mandate represents “such a dramatic violation of such clearly defined civil rights” that it is bound to be overturned in court.
But, she said, “If Congress failed to pass an act that provides an exemption for the groups affected by this, and the courts in some incomprehensible way allow (the mandate) to stand, then Catholic health care will have to make a decision to practice civil disobedience.”
Dr. Kim Hardey, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Lafayette, La., said he hopes the decision by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Obama administration will cause Catholics and other Christians to rise up against “the liberal left” and “misguided feminists” who would like to see abortion also become a required part of every medical practice.
“If we can allow the infringement of any group’s beliefs,” everyone’s beliefs are threatened, he told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview Jan. 31.
The new contraception mandate, with a narrow exemption for religious organizations, is part of implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, which sets up new preventative health care coverage specifically for women at no cost.
That coverage includes services such as mammograms, prenatal care and cervical cancer screenings. But it also mandates free contraception, sterilizations and drugs (such as ella and “Plan B”) considered by the church to be abortifacients — all of which are contrary to Catholic teaching.
On Jan. 20, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced that nonprofit groups that do not provide contraceptive coverage because of their religious beliefs will get an additional year “to adapt to this new rule.”
Sarah Smith is not a doctor yet, but she worries that the HHS mandate will further sour an atmosphere in which she already finds some challenges to her pro-life convictions.
“The one safe environment — Catholic hospitals — is not even going to be safe anymore” if the contraceptive mandate stands, she said in a telephone interview with CNS from Chicago, where she had just completed the last of “14 or 15″ interviews for a residency position in obstetrics and gynecology.
A fourth-year medical student at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, Smith made clear on each interview that her Catholic convictions prevent her from involvement in abortion, sterilization or contraception.
She said she has found that “most doctors as individuals respect my beliefs and my conscience; they might not agree with me, but they’ll defend my right to practice medicine.” Problems are more likely to arise at the institutional level, where medical students and residents are “culturally at the bottom of the totem pole,” Smith noted.
“Some Catholic hospitals make it much easier for medical students and residents to live out their faith,” she said. But at a secular hospital where “they are doing 400 tubal ligations a year, you might have the choice not to participate, but the work flow makes it harder,” she added.
A native of Natick, Mass., and a 2007 graduate of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, Smith said she enjoys “working with underserved populations” but might not ever be able to work at a federally funded community health center, since the government requires that all family planning options be offered at those centers.
“I am not at the point in my career where I have experienced” discrimination because of her pro-life beliefs, Smith said. “We are kind of insulated in medical school. But then you get out and you say, ‘Wow, all these policies could really affect my practice.'”
After assisting in the delivery of about 6,000 babies over the past 29 years, Hardey has the real-world experience that Smith lacks. He believes that some in Washington would like to drive obstetrician-gynecologists, or OB-GYNs, who won’t perform abortions out of business.
“There are not that many of us … that we’d be too big to go after,” he said.
Hardey prescribed contraceptives and even thought they were beneficial for the first nine years of his medical practice. But then he began to see some of their effects — not only on his patients but on societal attitudes — and decided to conform his practice to the church’s teachings in “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”).
The 1968 encyclical by Pope Paul VI on married love and procreation reaffirmed church teaching that artificial contraception is morally wrong.
At age 58, Hardey said he is thinking of leaving his work as an obstetrician, “not because of the environment the president has brought about” but because of the long hours and erratic schedule required to deliver babies.
“I love my practice,” he said. “But to live the OB-GYN lifestyle, you have to really love it.”
Nolte, who completed her medical training in 2009, focuses her family practice on providing “authentically Catholic” health care for women, especially in the areas of gynecology, infertility treatment and natural family planning. She sees the Gianna center as “an alternative to Planned Parenthood” in Manhattan.
“We do exclusively women’s health care faithful to the” U.S. church’s “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” she said.
The directives, most recently revised by the U.S. bishops in 2001, guide Catholic health care facilities in addressing a wide range of ethical questions, such as abortion, euthanasia, care for the poor, medical research, in vitro fertilization, prenatal testing, and nutrition and hydration.
But that doesn’t mean Nolte serves only Catholics.
About 40 percent of her patients are Protestants or have no religious affiliation. “Women come from other states just for their annual exams, and they bring their daughters,” Nolte said. “They see that we treat patients differently.”
Like Hardey, she expressed concern that “this administration is happy to violate civil rights” on the issue of contraception and could then decide to do the same on abortion or other problematic issues. But she said nothing will ever put Catholic health care out of business, even if civil disobedience is required.
“A large number of people would not have access if we get out of health care,” she said. “And we can’t let that happen.”