Hartford, Conn., Feb 10, 2012 (CNA) -
Is freedom just the absence of rules, or something more? Over three hundred high school students will discuss what it means to be free, during the March 9-11 Convivio conference in Fairfield, Conn.
Freedom “is such an important topic in our time but also one that is very misunderstood,” organizer Florencia Silva said in an announcement released by congress. She directs youth ministry in the Diocese of Bridgeport, which is sponsoring the international Catholic youth congress.
Organized by the Marian Community of Reconciliation, the 2012 Convivio conference belongs to a 30-year tradition of bringing young people together to reflect on life's questions and the issues facing society. Its format features group discussions alongside larger gatherings and presentations.
“Convivio is a great occasion for young people to meet other people their own age who are also seeking for true answers to the problems of the world and to the fundamental questions in life,” Silva explained. “It is a place for them to seek and find answers together.”
Open to all high school students, the 2012 gathering at Fairfield's Sacred Heart University – on the theme “Freedom: It's Your Choice” – is the third Convivio event to be held in the U.S.
Past meetings have taken place in Australia, England, and the Philippines, as well as countries in South America and Africa.
For Fairfield Warde High School senior Madeleine Veith, who attended Convivio 2010, the event was “a life-changing experience where I both discovered my love for faith and found my closest friends.”
“It gave us a voice, and a community which showed us not only that we are loved, but that we can find happiness, and bring happiness to others.”
Along with the presentations and youth-led discussions, the weekend event includes Masses, opportunities for Confession and Eucharistic Adoration, music, skits, and time for recreation.
Youth minister Alyssa Brelsford attended Convivio as a teenager, and will bring a group from Stratford's Our Lady of Peace parish to the March 2012 meeting.
She said the event offers “a chance for young people to find the answers that they are searching for in a very positive, encouraging and happy environment.”
“When I attended Convivio I could see how the participants and the leaders changed from Friday to Sunday. They walk a journey to encountering Christ and they know that they are not alone, that hundreds of their peers are walking with them.”
Bedford, N.H., Feb 10, 2012 (CNA) - Crisis Magazine relaunched its website on Feb. 7, after being recently acquired. The magazine's new leaders are promising to focus on providing a Catholic perspective on politics, culture, business, faith and family life.
“You can count on Crisis Magazine to be what it always was,” said editor John Zmirak, who summarized the magazine as “a firm, insistent voice on the rights of the laity and the dignity of the priesthood; a partisan of justice and prudence in the face of misguided compassion and ideology; a staunch advocate of the compatibility of reason and faith, of honest enterprise and Christian living, of American patriotism and orthodox Faith.”
Zmirak has previously served as writer-in-residence at Thomas More College and as editor of Success magazine and Investor’s Business Daily.
Under a joint acquisition by the Merrimack, N.H.-based Thomas More College of Liberal Arts and the Atlanta-based Holy Spirit College, Crisis Magazine will operate under Sophia Institute Press, the publishing division of the two colleges.
William Fahey, Thomas More College president and publisher of Sophia Institute Press, said American culture “lacks a credible, coherent defense of the faith.”
“Crisis proposes to address this problem by assembling leading Catholic thinkers who will equip readers with the knowledge and confidence they need to defend the market economy and Church teachings.”
University professors Michael Novak and Ralph McInerny founded Crisis magazine in 1982. It became an online-only magazine in 2007, operating at the address www.CrisisMagazine.com.
Sophia Institute acquired the magazine earlier in 2012.
The Pope has encouraged the faithful to embrace the new media to advance the Gospel, noted Gareth Genner, president of Holy Spirit College and chairman of Sophia Institute Press.
He said his college’s partnership with Thomas More College helps in “laying the groundwork” to expand Sophia Institute as a publisher of Catholic books and as a “multi-platform media company dedicated to advancing the New Evangelization.”
In November 2011, Sophia Institute Press announced its acquisition of the Catholic Exchange web portal. The press was founded in 1983 and has published both Catholic classics and new texts. It has published over 200 titles and 2.5 million books.
Holy Spirit College was founded in 2005 as a Catholic undergraduate liberal arts college. It admitted its first full-time undergraduate class in 2009, while also admitting graduate students in theology.
Washington D.C., Feb 10, 2012 (CNA) - Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, defended presidential candidate Mitt Romney against claims that he required religious organizations to violate their consciences while he was governor of Massachusetts.
In a Feb. 9 statement, Glendon called it “preposterous” to think that Romney was not a strong defender of religious liberty.
“The truth is that Mitt Romney has been fighting assaults on religious freedom for a long time,” she said, adding that he had done so “at moments and in places where it was not popular, to say the least.”
Romney has criticized the Obama administration for its Jan. 20 announcement that a new mandate will soon require virtually all employers to purchase health insurance plans that include contraception, sterilization, and early abortion drugs at no cost to employees.
Despite widespread protest, the administration has refused to broaden the mandate’s narrow religious exemption, which applies only to organizations that exist to instill religious values and limit their employment and service to primarily members of their own faith.
Romney has recently pledged that if he is elected, he will repeal the mandate on his first day in office.
However, in recent days, he has been portrayed as hypocritical by both the Democratic party and his Republican competitors for what they say is a state mandate that mirrors the one recently introduced by the Obama administration.
On Feb. 8, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that it was “odd” for Romney to speak out against the federal mandate, arguing that it is “virtually identical to the one that was in place when he was governor of Massachusetts.”
Romney responded later that day, saying, “Mr. Carney needs to check his history.”
He said that the “provision was put in Massachusetts before I was governor” and that while in office, he “tried to have it removed.”
“I worked very hard to get the legislature to remove all of the mandated coverages including contraception,” he said.
Romney has also been criticized for a law that passed when he was in office that required Catholic hospitals to provide “emergency contraception,” which causes early abortions, to rape victims.
However he has responded that he vetoed this bill when it came to his desk. The legislature overrode his veto, and so the bill became law, but he had not approved it, he said.
Romney argued that as governor, he “steadfastly tried to honor and respect religious conscience.”
“I worked closely with the Archdiocese of Boston, met with Cardinal O’Malley from time to time, and did our very best to respect the religious feelings and beliefs of the people in my state,” he said.
While his opponents are skeptical and say he should have done more to fight the measures, Glendon believes that Romney “has shown backbone on every critical issue at every juncture when it counted.”
She explained that Romney filed a bill to defend the religious liberty of Catholic Charities in Massachusetts when a state law tried to force the organization to violate its beliefs by arranging adoptions for gay couples.
She also noted that Romney’s “courageous efforts in defense of religious freedom” led to him being chosen as a 2008 recipient of the Canterbury Medal, the highest honor awarded by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
“At this moment when religious liberty is under attack from many quarters, people of all faiths won’t find a more ardent or effective advocate than Mitt Romney,” Glendon said.
New York City, N.Y., Feb 10, 2012 (CNA) -
Priests for Life announced Feb. 9 that it will file a lawsuit against the U.S. government in order to protect its religious beliefs from the Health and Human Services contraception mandate.
“It's unthinkable that President Obama would force Americans of any faith to violate their consciences,” said Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life.
The announcement comes amid mounting criticism over secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius' Jan. 20 announcement that virtually all employers will soon be required to purchase health insurance plans that cover contraceptives – including abortion-inducing drugs – and sterilization.
Catholic media network EWTN also issued a statement on Feb. 9 detailing its lawsuit against the Obama administration over the federal rule.
Despite being one of the nation's largest pro-life educational organizations, Priests for Life does not qualify for an exemption from the contraception mandate because it educates people of numerous religions – not only Catholics – about issues surrounding abortion and euthanasia.
Priests for Life believes it to be especially qualified to challenge the administration because its mission “to promote and protect life” sharply contrasts with the intention of the HHS mandate to make abortifacients and contraception more widely available.
Civil rights lawyer Charles LiMandri of San Diego will represent Priests for Life in court.
LiMandri is known for his work in the “Mt. Soledad Cross” case in which local atheists tried to have an historic war memorial torn down because it was a religious symbol on public property. LiMandri was also involved in California's Proposition 8 campaign to support marriage defined as between one man and one woman.
The U.S. Catholic bishops, among other religious leaders, have led the rising opposition to the mandate since its announcement.
The White House has failed, however, to offer any concessions to religious groups concerned with protecting their conscience rights.
Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., the U.S. Bishops for Religious Liberty chair, told CNA in a Feb. 8 statement that “no one from the Administration has approached the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops for discussions on this matter of a possible ‘compromise.’”
Schools such as Bellmont Abbey College and interdenominational Colorado Christian University have also raised legal challenges against the Health and Human Services mandate.
Washington D.C., Feb 10, 2012 (CNA) -
The future of America depends upon the recognition that a democracy requires citizens formed in virtue in order to flourish, said Catholic scholar and author George Weigel.
In a Feb. 7 lecture, Weigel explained that modern “writing on the wall” warns America that it cannot survive without a foundation in proper democratic virtue.
The modern world has failed in its attempts to abandon God and set up an “empty shrine” that worships the “imperial, autonomous self,” he said.
Weigel delivered the 11th annual William E. Simon Lecture at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.
He recounted the biblical story from the book of Daniel, in which a supernatural hand appeared and wrote on the wall at a banquet where King Belshazzar of Babylon had defiled gold and silver vessels from the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
The prophet Daniel interpreted the writing, which accurately predicted that the king would be killed and his kingdom would be divided among his enemies.
Weigel said that the story presents “a biblical warning against the lethal effects of blasphemy, the worship of that which is not worthy of worship.”
He explained that similar writing on the wall exists for America in this election year, warning of “the results of the negation of worship.”
According to Weigel, recent centuries have seen repeated attempts to reject God in the name of human liberation.
This attempt “to erect an empty shrine at the heart of political modernity” has led to “two world wars and the greatest slaughters in recorded history,” and then to a “softer secularism” in the 20th century, he said.
Weigel explained that the “secular project” has failed because it ignored “the deep truth that it takes a certain kind of people living certain virtues to make democracy and the free economy work properly.”
Such people “do not just happen,” but must be formed, he said.
But the “empty shrine” is unable to form men and women of democratic virtue, and so America’s foundations are being strained.
The failure of the secular project can be seen in the collapse of families and in the moral and economic crises, which are driven by a “sense of entitlement that is wholly disconnected from a sense of responsibility,” Weigel said.
The “deficit of democratic culture” can be further seen in the notable absence of “profiles in courage” in public service, he added, as well as in a lost commitment to truth, reason and sacrifice for the common good.
Weigel said that in order to overcome its dire situation, America should turn to Pope Leo XIII, who lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as a modern-day Daniel.
He described Pope Leo XIII as “a kind of public intellectual” who analyzed political modernity through the lenses of faith and reason, and explained that the Pope challenged modern politics to a nobler understanding of law, freedom and justice.
The pontiff also recognized the need for society and private associations, in addition to the state, he added.
By turning to Pope Leo’s writings, Weigel said, we can see the dangerous results of abandoning “the deep truths on which the civilization of the West has been built.”
Ignoring fundamental truths while continuing down a path of selfishness and irresponsibility will dissolve the democracy into a dictatorship of relativism, he cautioned.
Weigel said that 2012 will be a “defining national election” for the future of America.
With help from Pope Leo XIII, he said, “perhaps we can decipher the writing” on the wall and heed its warning to rebuild the foundations of American democracy.
Vatican City, Feb 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict praised the launch of a three-day conference in Rome that seeks to explain to modern society why Jesus Christ is more than a historical figure.
“I am glad and grateful for your choice to dedicate to the person of Jesus, several days of interdisciplinary study and cultural offerings, destined to resonate within the Church community and throughout Italian society,” said Pope Benedict XVI in a message to Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, Feb. 9.
“Jesus Our Contemporary” runs from Feb. 9-11 and is organized by the Italian Episcopal Conference.
The Pope explained how Jesus entered “forever” into human history “and continues to live there” through “his beauty and power in that body which is fragile and always in need of purification but also infinitely full of divine love – the Church.”
“The contemporary nature of Jesus is revealed in a special way in the Eucharist,” he said, “in which he is present with his passion, death and resurrection.”
It is through the Church that Jesus is “a contemporary of every man, able to embrace all men and all ages because she is guided by the Holy Spirit with the aim of continuing the work of Jesus in history.”
Over three days, numerous events such as lectures, seminars, discussions, film showings and photographic exhibitions are taking place at various locations in and around the Vatican. Several thousand visitors are expected to attend, mainly from the dioceses of Italy.
The topics they’ll be able to explore include Jesus in contemporary literature, Jesus and the poor, Jesus and the Jerusalem of Yesterday and Today as well as a study of Pope Benedict XVI’s biographical trilogy of Christ’s life, Jesus of Nazareth. The third in the series is expected to be published later this year.
“This is a major question that niggles at the heart of man today including Christians,” Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan told CNA Feb. 9.
“Jesus lived in the time and space of 2,000 years ago. How can he save me today if he is not my contemporary?” Answering this question, he said, is the “challenge” of the conference.
“Many elements are being proposed that explain to us how Jesus breaks through and transcends time and, for eternity from his resurrection, particularly through his Eucharist, he reaches out to my freedom and that of every man and the freedom of all the human family. This is the sense of the event.”
Among the other clerical guest speakers are Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, former Vicar General of Rome and Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong.
Also taking part are the German theologian Klaus Berger, the French philosopher and historian Jean-Luc Marion, Italian film director and screenwriter Liliana Cavani and the Italian magazine L’Espresso’s Vatican correspondent, Sandro Magister.
“The title certainly attracted me to the conference,” said a local Catholic teacher as she went into the opening session. She described the issue as “the challenge of our times,” as “Jesus is always seen as a man of the past, especially by children.”
“I think this is the most beautiful message that Jesus left us, the love of God the father and this love of God is a universal love that has no time, no boundaries, so Jesus is a contemporary man.”
Washington D.C., Feb 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - President Barack Obama attracted harsh criticism for a new policy that claims to accommodate the religious freedom of employers who say their conscience rights are being violated by the administration’s recent contraception mandate.
“This is a false 'compromise' designed to protect the President's re-election chances, not to protect the right of conscience,” said Hannah Smith, senior legal counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
Smith was one of many who responded to a Jan. 20 announcement of a new policy regarding a mandate that will require virtually all employers to purchase health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and drugs that cause abortion.
Amid a storm of protest from individuals and organizations who argued that the mandate infringed upon their freedom of conscience, Obama announced a new policy on Feb. 10, which he said “accommodates religious liberty.”
Instead of directly purchasing contraceptive coverage, the new policy will require many religious employers to contract with health insurance companies that offer them free of charge.
However, the Becket Fund argued that “many religious organizations may still object to being forced to pay money to an insurance company which will turn around and provide contraception to its employees for free.”
The Becket Fund has filed three lawsuits on behalf of religious organizations that object to the mandate, including catholic media network EWTN.
Michael Warsaw, president and CEO of EWTN, said that he is “quite skeptical” that the changes will address the underlying concerns of religious freedom.
He explained that the accommodation “may not actually apply” to EWTN and similar organizations because they self-insure their health care plans.
Therefore, Warsaw said, many companies “will still be forced to pay for these services in violation of our religious beliefs.”
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, argued that “Obama’s latest ploy just adds insult to injury.”
“If the insurance plan of a Catholic institution must cover services it deems immoral, then such a healthcare plan is offensive, plain and simple,” he said.
Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, agreed, saying that the new policy “does nothing to change the fundamentally anti-religious, anti-conscience and anti-life contraceptive mandate.”
He said that the “compromise” is based upon “paperwork gimmicks” that will not protect religious employers from being forced to pay for products that they believe to be immoral.
Perkins argued that the contraceptives will not actually be free “because the insurance companies will increase the premium and administrative costs to the employer.”
He called for legislation that will ensure that conscience rights are truly protected for all Americans.
Washington D.C., Feb 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. bishops are hesitant to predict the effects of an ambiguous new policy announced by the Obama administration on its controversial contraception mandate.
“While there may be an openness to respond to some of our concerns, we reserve judgment on the details until we have them,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of U.S. bishops’ conference.
He noted the “remarkable unity” with which Americans have united in recent weeks to fight “the erosion of religious freedom and governmental intrusion into issues of faith and morals” and called for continued efforts to ensure that religious liberty is protected.
On Feb. 10, President Barack Obama announced a new policy that requires many religious employers to contract with health insurance companies that provide contraception free of charge.
Under the new policy, religious employers will not have to directly purchase contraceptives, but will be required to pay for health care plans from insurance companies that offer them without cost.
The policy was announced in response to the massive outcry against the Obama administration’s earlier mandate, which would require virtually all employers to purchase health insurance plans that include contraception – including early abortion drugs – and sterilization at no cost to their employees.
In recent weeks, the administration has faced widespread protest for refusing to expand the mandate’s narrow religious exemption, which applies only to organizations that exist for the purpose of inculcating religious values and that restrict their employment and services to primarily members of their own faith.
A vast number of Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable organizations would be excluded from the exemption because they offer their services to people of all faiths.
Well over 150 bishops from across the country have spoken out against the mandate, along with people from across a wide spectrum of political and religious beliefs who have voiced concerns that the government is infringing upon the religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Obama said that his new policy “accommodates religious liberty” because it does not require religious employers to directly pay for products that they believe to be immoral.
However, a statement on the bishops' conference website alongside the cardinal-designate's remarks indicated that it is not yet clear whether the new policy addresses the central concerns of religious freedom. It suggested that legislation is still necessary in order to secure religious liberty for all.
While Cardinal-designate Dolan believes that the new policy may be the “first step in the right direction,” he continued to express concerns.
“We hope to work with the Administration to guarantee that Americans’ consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations,” he said.
Washington D.C., Feb 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In coming up with its new “accommodation” on a controversial birth control mandate for religious employers, the Obama administration apparently turned to the Catholic Health Assocation, an organization that has previously sided with the administration and is in conflict with the views of the U.S. bishops on health care policy.
Hours before the Obama administration announced its supposedly “new” policy on the birth control mandate on Feb. 10, a White House official was already circulating a statement by the Catholic Health Association that praised the policy.
Darron Paul Monteiro, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, sent the statement in an email to multiple sources, including top Catholic Democrats and supporters of the administration.
Addressing the message to “friends,” Monteiro said: “I wanted to be sure you saw Sister Carol Keehan’s statement on the new regulation being proposed and finalized later this morning. This policy will accommodate important religious liberty concerns while protecting the health of women. The President will announce further details around noon today.”
In the enclosed statement, printed on the organization’s letterhead, CHA president, Sr. Carol Keehan said she was “very pleased” and “grateful.” She said the administration had “responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed.”
CHA’s apparent involvement in the policy change came even though leading U.S. bishops have said publicly that the administration had made no effort to discuss the issue with them.
Neither the White House nor CHA responded to requests for comment on what role CHA may have played in the “new” policy.
Others, however, complained that the administration has not made any real change, despite President Obama’s claims in his Feb. 10 news conference.
Under what the President called an “accommodation,” religious employers would not have to directly buy contraceptives for their employees. But they would still be forced to purchase health care plans from insurance companies that offer them free of charge.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami called the President's efforts “a smoke screen in which he has decided to kick the can down the road in the hope that the controversy will go away.”
He noted that the government is still requiring that employees of Catholic institutions receive free birth control and sterilizations in their health insurance coverage. He also said that the administration has not provided relief to dioceses and charities that are self-insured and do not rely on outside insurance companies.
“I don't believe he's offered us anything really substantial,” Archbishop Wenski told National Public Radio on Feb. 10. “We still have serious issues and these are issues of religious freedom.”
The President’s move did seem to have the effect of shaking up what had been a unified Catholic front against the contraception mandate.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement calling it “a first step in the right direction.”
And in a letter released on his website late Friday and intended to be read at parishes this weekend, Cardinal-Deignate Timothy Dolan of New York, head of the bishops' conference, said the government “seems to have softened the mandates, and is open to working with us in further progress.”
But, he told Catholics, “We must study it carefully. … Stay tuned, as we may need your help again.”
Meanwhile, prominent lay Catholics have begun circulating a petition calling the new policy “unacceptable.”
The group included former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon; president of Catholic University of America, John Garvey; and Princeton University professor, Robert George.
They said the President’s “so-called 'accommodation' changes nothing of moral substance.”
“It is morally obtuse for the administration to suggest (as it does) that this is a meaningful accommodation of religious liberty because the insurance company will be the one to inform the employee that she is entitled to the embryo-destroying 'five day after pill' pursuant to the insurance contract purchased by the religious employer,” the petition reads.
“It does not matter who explains the terms of the policy purchased by the religiously affiliated or observant employer. What matters is what services the policy covers. … It is an insult to the intelligence of Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other people of faith and conscience to imagine that they will accept as assault on their religious liberty if only it is covered up by a cheap accounting trick.”
The announcement of the “new” policy followed protests from more than 150 bishops and others against the Obama administration’s earlier mandate – which would require virtually all employers to buy health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and early abortion drugs.
Amid the strong disapproval, the White House had said that it was holding “further discussions” with those that voiced concerns about the mandate.
However, Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., head of the Bishops Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, told CNA in a Feb. 8 statement that “no one from the Administration has approached the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops for discussions on this matter of a possible 'compromise.'”
When asked on Feb. 8 about why the administration had not consulted the bishops during these conversations, White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “Certain individuals may say they haven't had a call, but others have been engaged in this conversation and will be engaged.”
The CHA was apparently among those “engaged.”
In her statement released by the White House ahead of its announcement, CHA head Sr. Keehan seemed to be looking beyond the controversy.
She said the controversy over the mandate has been “uncomfortable,” but that the hospital association was looking forward to “working with the administration and others to … extend comprehensive and quality health care to many who suffer today from the lack of it.”
During the debates over the comprehensive health care reform in 2010, Sr. Keehan and CHA broke from the U.S. bishops to support the legislation. The bishops had expressed concern over the legislation – under which the contraception mandate was later authorized – because they believed it may allow for funding of abortion.
Washington D.C., Feb 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. bishops released a new statement rejecting President Barack Obama's attempted compromise over the Health and Human services contraception mandate, calling for its complete removal.
The bishops issued an initial statement of caution the afternoon of Feb. 10 after President Obama announced a new policy stating that religious employers will not have to directly purchase contraceptives, but will be required to pay for health care plans from insurance companies that offer them without cost.
Later in the day, however, the bishops released a comprehensive statement calling the mandate and its recent update unacceptable and urging Catholics across the nation “to join together in this effort to protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all.”
Below is the U.S. bishops' statement in full:
The Catholic bishops have long supported access to life-affirming healthcare for all, and the conscience rights of everyone involved in the complex process of providing that healthcare. That is why we raised two serious objections to the “preventive services” regulation issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in August 2011.
First, we objected to the rule forcing private health plans—nationwide, by the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen—to cover sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion. All the other mandated “preventive services” prevent disease, and pregnancy is not a disease. Moreover, forcing plans to cover abortifacients violates existing federal conscience laws. Therefore, we called for the rescission of the mandate altogether.
Second, we explained that the mandate would impose a burden of unprecedented reach and severity on the consciences of those who consider such “services” immoral: insurers forced to write policies including this coverage; employers and schools forced to sponsor and subsidize the coverage; and individual employees and students forced to pay premiums for the coverage. We therefore urged HHS, if it insisted on keeping the mandate, to provide a conscience exemption for all of these stakeholders—not just the extremely small subset of “religious employers” that HHS proposed to exempt initially.
Today, the President has done two things.
First, he has decided to retain HHS’s nationwide mandate of insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacients. This is both unsupported in the law and remains a grave moral concern. We cannot fail to reiterate this, even as so many would focus exclusively on the question of religious liberty.
Second, the President has announced some changes in how that mandate will be administered, which is still unclear in its details. As far as we can tell at this point, the change appears to have the following basic contours:
· It would still mandate that all insurers must include coverage for the objectionable services in all the policies they would write. At this point, it would appear that self-insuring religious employers, and religious insurance companies, are not exempt from this mandate.
· It would allow non-profit, religious employers to declare that they do not offer such coverage. But the employee and insurer may separately agree to add that coverage. The employee would not have to pay any additional amount to obtain this coverage, and the coverage would be provided as a part of the employer’s policy, not as a separate rider.
· Finally, we are told that the one-year extension on the effective date (from August 1, 2012 to August 1, 2013) is available to any non-profit religious employer who desires it, without any government application or approval process.
These changes require careful moral analysis, and moreover, appear subject to some measure of change. But we note at the outset that the lack of clear protection for key stakeholders—for self-insured religious employers; for religious and secular for-profit employers; for secular non-profit employers; for religious insurers; and for individuals—is unacceptable and must be corrected. And in the case where the employee and insurer agree to add the objectionable coverage, that coverage is still provided as a part of the objecting employer’s plan, financed in the same way as the rest of the coverage offered by the objecting employer. This, too, raises serious moral concerns.
We just received information about this proposal for the first time this morning; we were not consulted in advance. Some information we have is in writing and some is oral. We will, of course, continue to press for the greatest conscience protection we can secure from the Executive Branch. But stepping away from the particulars, we note that today’s proposal continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions. In a nation dedicated to religious liberty as its first and founding principle, we should not be limited to negotiating within these parameters. The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.
We will therefore continue—with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency—our efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government. For example, we renew our call on Congress to pass, and the Administration to sign, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. And we renew our call to the Catholic faithful, and to all our fellow Americans, to join together in this effort to protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all.