Washington D.C., Aug 1, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. bishops spoke out on August 1 against federal rules requiring nearly all new health plans, including those of most religious agencies, to cover all government-approved methods of contraception as well as surgical sterilization.
“Under the new rule our institutions would be free to act in accord with Catholic teaching on life and procreation only if they were to stop hiring and serving non-Catholics,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, chairman of the U.S. bishops' pro-life committee.
“Although this new rule gives the agency the discretion to authorize a ‘religious’ exemption, it is so narrow as to exclude most Catholic social service agencies and healthcare providers,” the cardinal noted.
The guidelines, announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on August 1, offer the exemption only if a religious employer “has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose,” “primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets,” and “primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets.”
Cardinal DiNardo wondered whether the federal government may actually “intend to pressure Catholic institutions to cease providing health care, education and charitable services to the general public,” by forcing the institutions to choose between following Catholic principles on the one hand, and serving non-Catholics on the other.
In a July 22 letter to Congress, the cardinal stated that “those who sponsor, purchase and issue health plans should not be forced to violate their deeply held moral and religious convictions in order to take part in the health care system or provide for the needs of their families or their employees.”
“To force such an unacceptable choice,” he wrote,“would be as much a threat to universal access to health care as it is to freedom of conscience.”
In his remarks on August 1, the bishops’ pro-life chairman also objected to Sebelius' statement that the “historic guidelines” would “help ensure women get the preventive health benefits they need.”
“Pregnancy is not a disease, and children are not a ‘health problem,’” Cardinal DiNardo said. “They are the next generation of Americans.”
He added that Catholics were “not alone in conscientiously objecting to this mandate,” which would include drugs such as the controversial drug “Ella.” While it was approved as an emergency contraceptive, the cardinal noted, Ella “can act like the abortion drug RU-486,” and “abort an established pregnancy weeks after conception.”
“The pro-life majority of Americans – Catholics and others – would be outraged to learn that their premiums must be used for this purpose.”
Cardinal DiNardo said it was “now more vital than ever” for Congress to pass the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, so that “employers and employees alike will have the freedom to choose health plans in accordance with their deeply held moral and religious beliefs.”
That proposal, which nine Republican and Democratic senators introduced in the House on March 17, would amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (popularly known as “Obamacare”) to allow conscientious objectors to opt out of providing some medical treatments.
The conscience-protection proposal has made no progress in the House since its referral to a subcommittee on March 28.
Washington D.C., Aug 1, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Obama administration has announced a requirement that all new insurance plans must cover contraceptives and sterilization. However, the religious exemptions are so narrow that they could force Catholic charities, health care providers and educational institutions to cover services they regard as sinful, Catholic leaders warned.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said Aug. 1 that the stated exemption is “so narrow as to exclude most Catholic social services and healthcare providers.”
The only situation where Catholic institutions would be free to act in accord with their religious beliefs is “if they were to stop hiring and serving non-Catholics,” said the cardinal, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ committee on pro-life activities.
The Department of Health and Human Services said on Aug. 1 that the guidelines, which were created in response to the 2010 health care law, require new health insurance plans to cover “women’s preventive services.” These include breastfeeding support, domestic violence screening and contraception without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or a deductible.
The Obama administration also released a proposed amendment that allows religious institutions “that offer insurance to their employees” the choice of whether to cover contraceptive services.
“This regulation is modeled on the most common accommodation for churches available in the majority of the 28 states that already require insurance companies to cover contraception. HHS welcomes comment on this policy,” the department said.
The exemptions cover a non-profit religious employer whose purpose is “the inculcation of religious values,” which primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets, and which primarily serves those who share its religious tenets.
“Our religious freedom is under attack,” warned Patrick J. Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society. He said that the guidelines “would force Catholic colleges to violate the law or violate the Catholic faith.”
Colleges may be forced to help students and employees obtain free contraceptives and sterilization, he added.
The exemption language is “ambiguous” and “likely to be interpreted with a bias against Catholic agencies.” Reilly said. He speculated that federal officials could define whether a Catholic college primarily serves Catholics based on its student body statistics.
Catholic University of America president John Garvey wrote an open letter on the regulation proposals that was published in the Jesuits’ America Magazine on Aug. 1.
“Employers, employees, and issuers who have moral and religious objections to sterilization, contraception, and abortion are now free to have health care coverage that excludes these practices,” Garvey noted. But a mandate by the government to require coverage for these service “would break both old and new promises to deprive them of that liberty,” he wrote.
The Catholic University president worried that the United States’ “distinguished record of liberal toleration might soon come to an end.”
Jeanne Monahan, director of the Family Research Council’s Center for Human Dignity, said the conscience protections are a “fig leaf” that targets certain churches that fulfill “very specific criteria.”
“This administration is promoting mandates that will violate the consciences of millions,” she said on Aug. 1.
Religious groups that provide social services, those that engage in missions work to people of different religious faiths, religious health insurance companies, and religious health care providers are “not protected from any discrimination whatever,” Monahan explained.
She also noted that the mandate will include FDA-approved drugs like Ella and Plan B, which can “destroy a developing baby” before or after implantation in the mother’s womb.
Both Garvey and the Family Research Council have backed the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011, sponsored by Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and Dan Boren (D-Okla.).
Garvey said the bill is a measure that “everyone who cares about religious liberty can support” and would prevent any new mandates in last year’s health care legislation from “infringing upon the rights of conscience.”
Cardinal DiNardo also backed the conscience protection legislation in a July 19 statement issued while the HHS was still considering possible regulations.
The U.S. bishops’ pro-life chairman also defended Catholic teaching against contraceptives and sterilizations in the same statement. “Pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition to be suppressed by any means technically possible,” he said.
CNA contacted the Department of Health and Human Services for comment but did not receive a response.
Garden Grove, Calif., Aug 1, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Despite the Diocese of Orange recently making a $50 million bid for the bankrupt Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, church board members announced on July 31 that the building is no longer for sale.
“The board feels its great responsibility toward all of our vendors and other creditors, to pay them 100 percent of what is owed as soon as possible,” senior pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman said from the pulpit Sunday.
Coleman also cited a “responsibility” to local church members as well as viewers of the televised “Hour of Power” to keep the ministry's headquarters “intact.”
The news comes after the Diocese of Orange announced in early July that it was considering buying the Crystal Cathedral as an option to meet the needs of the 1.2 million Catholics in Orange County, the 11th largest diocese in the nation.
Although it has been planning for over 10 years to build a new, 2,500-seat cathedral in Santa Ana, the diocese has only hired an architect for the project and was considering converting the bankrupt church into a Catholic cathedral.
The Crystal Cathedral was appealing to the diocese because it provided an instant solution to its building needs and would have cost roughly half the $100 million price tag for the planned cathedral.
Though the diocese made an official $50 million bid for the Crystal Cathedral on July 22, the church board voted against selling it and decided to appeal to church members and viewers to donate the funds instead.
The cathedral, founded by pastor Robert H. Schuller, filed for bankruptcy last October, after some of its creditors sued for payment.
Documents from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Ana show that hundreds of creditors could be owed between $50 million and $100 million, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“Through our filing of Chapter 11 last October,” Coleman said, “I believe God has used it to turn the eyes of the world toward the Crystal Cathedral because He wants to make a big, bold statement, and, as a faith-based ministry, it's important to put our faith in God in this matter.”
Coleman also said the board was “deeply touched by the outpouring of admiration for our beautiful 40-acre garden grounds and its world class architecture,” noting that many “of the potential buyers are community and faith leaders that have gone to great lengths to honor the ministry.”
According to the Orange County Register, four official offers were made for the glass church: two $46 million bids from the developer Greenlaw Partners LLC and Chapman University, and two $50 million offers from the Diocese of Orange and My Father's House Church International.
Rome, Italy, Aug 1, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The regent of the apostolic penitentiary, Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, firmly stated that the Catholic Church will never divulge the confession of a penitent.
“Ireland can pass whatever laws it wants, but it must know that the Church will never submit to forcing confessors to inform civil officials,” said Archbishop Girotti in July 27 statements to Il Foglio.
On July 14, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny promised to introduce a new law that would establish a prison sentence of five years for priests who do not inform civil authorities about cases of sexual abuse revealed to them in confession.
The proposed law contradicts Canon Law, which defends the inviolability of the seal of confession and prohibits confessors from breaking it.
Archbishop Girotti said, “A confessor who breaks the seal of confession is subject to ‘latae sententiae’ excommunication—which is automatic—by the Church,” and therefore the proposed measure is “absurd and unacceptable.”
“Confession is a private affair that allows the penitent to amend and purify himself. The seal is a necessary condition,” he said. “This does not mean that bishops should not guard against pedophiles and, once appropriate investigations have taken place, ask these individuals to pay for their crimes,” he added.
“If they want to violate confession, the Church’s answer will always be no.”
“All criminals have the duty to render an account of justice for the crimes they have committed, but this does not involve the confessor violating the seal. Confession is meant to cleanse the soul before God,” he recalled.
Archbishop Girotti said confessors “have the duty to absolve sins, assuming that there is sincere repentance,” and that informing civil officials, prison sentences or sanctions established by the laws of the state are another matter.
Rome, Italy, Aug 1, 2011 (CNA) - Some 4,000 young people with disabilities are expected to participate in World Youth Day Madrid.
The Italian National Union of Transportation for the Sick to Lourdes and other international Shrines will be in charge of providing the special services.
Speaking to Vatican Radio on July 27, the president of the union, Salvatore Pagliuca, explained the work that volunteers will carry out to help the young people. He said a plan was developed after reviewing the locations in Madrid where meals, medical assistance and rest areas will be offered.
Pagliuca said the young people will have assistance at all activities and will be ensured full participation in the event.