Archive of June 28, 2013

US bishops: court ruling cannot change essence of marriage

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2013 (CNA) - In the wake of the Supreme Court’s rulings on DOMA and Proposition 8, the bishops of the U.S. are calling on the faithful to work to strengthen marriage and witness to its true meaning.

“While the culture has failed in many ways to be marriage-strengthening, this is no reason to give up. Now is the time to strengthen marriage, not redefine it,” said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco.

Cardinal Dolan is the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop Cordileone chairs the conference’s Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

In a joint statement, they called the rulings “a profound injustice to the American people” and urged a renewed effort to proclaim the truth about marriage as the only institution that unites a man and a woman for the sake of any children that may come from their union.

On June 26, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act in a 5-4 decision, claiming that it violated the Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law.

The law had defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman for federal purposes. The court said that it is up to the states to define marriage individually, and the federal government must accept the definition given by each state.

The court also dismissed an appeal seeking to defend California's Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment solidifying the meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman in the state.

Saying that the group trying to defend the law did not have the legal standing to do so, the Supreme Court rejected the suit. As a result, a lower court’s ruling that the amendment is unconstitutional will stand, paving the way for “gay marriage” to be recognized in California.

Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Cordileone charged that the court was “wrong” in its decisions and said that it was a “tragic day for marriage and our nation.”

“The federal government ought to respect the truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, even where states fail to do so,” they said. “The common good of all, especially our children, depends upon a society that strives to uphold the truth of marriage.”

“Now is the time to redouble our efforts in witness to this truth,” they continued. “These decisions are part of a public debate of great consequence. The future of marriage and the well-being of our society hang in the balance.”

Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Cordileone called on the people of the U.S. to unite in their bold witness to the truth of marriage with both “confidence and charity.”

Other bishops across the country also expressed their disappointment in the court’s ruling, emphasizing that a judicial decision cannot change the nature of marriage and calling for efforts to strengthen the institution in the U.S.

The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., said in a statement that it found the court’s decisions “very troubling,” but noted that while the “government might choose to use the word marriage to apply to a whole range of unions of people, it cannot change what marriage is in its very essence.”

“Marriage is not a creation of the state,” stressed the archdiocese, adding that while governments may create legal definitions, they “do not have the ability or authority to change created human nature.”

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City echoed the Archdiocese of Washington’s statements, saying that “we as Catholics reaffirm that no court decision can recreate reality or change the truth about marriage.”

He asserted that the difference between men and women “matters, in general, but it especially matters for marriage and parenthood.”

The archbishop lamented that the court rulings will likely result in many people losing “the conviction that marriage is between one man and one woman and the freedom that comes from living in that conviction.”

“Genderless marriage and parenthood is a costly illusion that deliberately deprives children of the knowledge of that truth,” he said.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia observed that “(a)ffirming the true definition of marriage denies no one his or her basic rights. On the contrary protecting marriage affirms the equal dignity of women and men and safeguards the basic rights of children.”

“Same-sex unions, whatever legal form they take, cannot create new life. They cannot duplicate the love of a man and woman,” the archbishop stated, noting that the Supreme Court did not go so far as to require a redefinition of marriage or proclaim “gay marriage” as a “right.”

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who heads the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee, warned that the rulings pose “a serious threat to religious liberty and conscience rights for countless people of faith” who cannot in good faith recognize “gay marriage.”

“This threat to religious freedom is one of many, locally and nationally, that has prompted our current Fortnight for Freedom, which we hope will inspire people throughout the country to prayer, education, and action to preserve religious liberty,” he stated.

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Be not afraid of immigrants, Archbishop Gomez encourages

Los Angeles, Calif., Jun 28, 2013 (CNA) - In a new book marking Independence Day, the archbishop of Los Angeles addresses immigration reform in the context of the American Dream, seeking to stir the consciences of national Catholics.

“Fears about America’s future have given rise to a new nativism,” Archbishop José Gomez, a Mexican-born American citizen, wrote in “Immigration and the Next America,” due to be released July 5.

“Their idea is that 'real' Americans descend from white Europeans and that our culture is based on the individualism, work ethic, and rule of law that we inherited from our Anglo-Protestant forebears.”

“Our history teaches that when we get scared, we want to close ranks and close the 'golden door' of America to foreigners and those of other races. In today’s immigration debate we need to be honest with ourselves,” the archbishop said.

“We must acknowledge that there have been times in our history when we have allowed our fears to drag us down, and caused us to forget our creed and our national identity,” he emphasized.

“We cannot let this become one of those times. Our task today is to confront our fears and resist the temptations to narrow the horizons of who can be an American.”

As Congress considers immigration reform to address the situation of 11 million people who live here illegally, hundreds of thousands, many of whom have intact families, are being deported in the name of enforcing our laws.

Immigration policy has been “focused on punishing” illegal immigrants, Archbishop Gomez wrote, and that immigration debate has a “persistent undertone” of “fear and … chauvinism.”

In response to this, “as a pastor,” the archbishop said that “I'm worried we are losing something of our national soul.”

In focusing on deportation, America is focusing on “justice and law” to the exclusion of “compassion and common sense.” The present policy “betrays our values,” wrote Archbishop Gomez.

He noted that the Church has “far more day-to-day experience with immigrants … than any other institution,” and over her 2,000 years “has gained a lot of insight into human behavior and society.”

A root cause of the immigration problem, the archbishop said, is economic inequality, and that the situation will not change until inequality across the Americas is addressed.

“People leave their homes and their families because they are needy and desperate. They leave their home countries because they cannot provide the necessities of life for themselves and their families.”

Another fear feeding into anti-immigrant sentiment comes from the recognition that America is in a spiritual decline, marked by secularization.

“We are making immigrants, especially the undocumented ones, into a kind of symbol of all these factors that we are worried about.”

Archbishop Gomez reminds his readers that 200 years before the Declaration of Independence was written, missionaries from the Spanish world were preaching to native Americans, and that “the Hispanic presence has deep roots in this soil.”

The national story that focuses on the 13 colonies is not “untrue,” he said, “but it is biased and incomplete,” and has played into the anti-Catholic politics of Protestant Europe.

“America needs a more accurate and honest story of its origins,” one that acknowledges the place of the United States in the larger Americas, wrote the archbishop.

“Without the rest of the American story, we are left with a distorted idea of American identity and national culture. And at certain moments in American history, this incomplete sense of American identity has led to grave injustices. I am afraid we could be in one of those historical moments right now.”

Immigration has always been essential to American identity, said Archbishop Gomez, though he added that the country has often had conflicts over immigration and race.

He noted the anti-immigrant forces of the 1800s, the “Know-Nothings,” who wanted to keep America white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. They argued that the new immigrants “came from inferior backgrounds; that they were lazy, uneducated, and inclined to criminal activity; that they wouldn’t learn English; that they didn’t share American values and weren’t interested in becoming loyal citizens.”

In contrast to this narrow vision of America, the best vision, the founding vision, is based on the biblical teaching that human life is sacred and imbued with great dignity, wrote Archbishop Gomez.

The immigration debate requires “that we examine our conscience about our commitment to the American creed. It also requires that we take a hard look at our attitudes about race and our assumptions about what it means to be an American.”

The fear over America's future has lead to a “new nativism,” the archbishop said, adding that “the arguments of today’s nativists aren’t much different than those of nativists in years gone by.”

Archbishop Gomez added that anti-immigrant bias has often “merged” with anti-Catholic prejudice, and that as American society becomes more secularized, this is increasingly a factor.

In the face of this, he urged Catholics to make political judgments “rooted in our religious convictions and moral values,” rather than in political parties.

Our own judgment will be based in part on whether we welcome Christ in strangers, Archbishop Gomez reminded.

To show that his teaching on immigration is not his own, the archbishop referred to a 1952 document by Venerable Pius XII which called the Holy Family, who fled to Egypt, “the models … of every migrant, alien, and refugee of whatever kind who, whether compelled by fear of persecution or by want, is forced to leave his native land, his beloved parents and relatives, his close friends, and to seek a foreign soil.”

Migration is a natural right, Archbishop Gomez noted, though saying this has to be balanced with the right of national sovereignty.

However, “governments must be careful not to use their policies as an excuse to deny decent people the right to seek their livelihood,” nor “deny the natural human right to immigration out of exaggerated fears for national security or selfish concerns about threats to domestic jobs or standards of living,” as Blessed John Paul II taught.

In this light, Archbishop Gomez said the American Dream “must inspire a new movement of conscience,” and that the outcome of immigration debate “will tell us if the dream of America still beats in our hearts or whether other dreams have come to take its place.”

Immigration – including illegal immigration – “is not about us versus them,” he writes.

Archbishop Gomez agrees that undocumented persons “should be held accountable,” but does not favor deportation as a realistic answer in the face of the families it will break up.

He suggested intensive and long-term community service, as well as education and formation in American civic life. “To my mind, this is far more constructive than deportation and fines,” by actually building up families and communities.

“We need to work for an America where life is cherished and welcomed as a gift – from the child in the womb to the elderly and the handicapped, the poor and the prisoner; to the immigrant who comes to our land seeking a new life for his family,” he urged.

Christ, he said, “never distinguished between those who 'deserve' our love and those who don’t. He told us that God makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.”

“So we can’t choose to love some but not to love others. We can’t justify showing less compassion for those who don’t have the right documents.”

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Hobby Lobby moves forward in seeking mandate reprieve

Denver, Colo., Jun 28, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A federal appeals court has paved the way for arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby to pursue an injunction that would block devastating fines while it continues its lawsuit against the federal contraception mandate.

“Today marks a milestone in Hobby Lobby’s fight for religious liberty,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is defending Hobby Lobby, in a June 27 press release.

“This is a tremendous victory not only for the Green family and for their business, but also for many other religious business owners who should not have to forfeit their faith to make a living.”

Since founding Hobby Lobby in an Oklahoma City garage in 1972, the Green family has seen its company grow to include more than 500 stores in over 40 states.

The family is among more than 200 plaintiffs – including for-profit businesses, non-profit charities, individuals and states – that have filed lawsuits challenging the federal contraception mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The mandate requires employers to cover health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and some drugs that could cause early abortions, even if the provision of these products violates the employer’s deeply-held religious beliefs.

Hobby Lobby’s owners do not object to the provision of contraceptives, which they already cover in their plan. However, they have deep religious objections to the “morning-after” and “week-after” pills which are also included in the required coverage and may cause early abortions by destroying the life of an already-created human embryo.

“It is by God’s grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured,” said David Green, founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby on his case. “Therefore we seek to honor God by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”

The federal government has contended that the owners of “secular, for-profit” companies cannot exercise freedom of religion in their business decisions.

However, the Greens argue that their religion teaches that faith must affect all areas of life, influencing the charitable donations they make, the higher-than-average minimum wages they provide and their decision to close all stores on Sundays so that employees can rest and worship with their families.

Courts on several different levels initially denied Hobby Lobby’s request for a temporary injunction to block the mandate from taking effect while the company’s lawsuit works its way through the court system. Without an injunction, the company would soon face up to $1.3 million per day in fines for violating the mandate.

However, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals then granted en banc consideration of Hobby Lobby’s appeal and reversed a lower district court’s ruling from last December.

The appeals court is sending the case back to the district court to hear more argument and reconsider whether to grant the injunction being sought by Hobby Lobby. In doing so, it made the case that the company and its owners had “established a likelihood of success” in arguing that the mandate “substantially burdened” their religious freedom and would cause “irreparable harm.”

Duncan described the decision as a victory and said, “The Greens will continue to make their case on appeal that this unconstitutional mandate infringes their right to earn a living while remaining true to their faith.”

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New Vatican Secretary of State may be appointed soon

Vatican City, Jun 28, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Rumors have emerged that Archbishop Pietro Parolin, apostolic nuncio to Venezuela, will shortly be appointed as the Vatican's Secretary of State.

The move could take place as soon as June 29, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.

As the Secretary of State must technically be a cardinal, he would first be appointed pro-secretary of State, retaining his status as archbishop. He would, however, be the acting Secretary of State until a new appointment is made or until receiving the red “biretta” of the cardinal, thus taking officially the post.

A skilled diplomat, Archbishop Parolin, 58, served as Vatican undersecretary for relations with States from 2002 to 2009.

Suggestions of a possible “important appointment” for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul emerged from a couple of different Vatican sources who spoke to CNA at the beginning of this week on the condition of anonymity.

“The Pope knows that he cannot have an outgoing secretary of state for so long,” one of them said June 26.

After the first 100 days of his pontificate, the source maintained, “Pope Francis is now in a hurry to have his own staff carry out the reform of the Curia.”

The appointment of a new secretary of State is not to be considered a rejection of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who has been in the post until now.

A second source explained to CNA on June 27 that “Pope Francis is asking a lot of recommendations of Cardinal Bertone” and that the relationship between the cardinal and Pope Francis is said to be “good.”  

“Bertone seemingly also recommended Cardinal Raffaele Farina as the head of the Pontifical Commission,” appointed on June 26 to report to Pope Francis about the so-called Vatican Bank, the Institute of Religious Works.

The choice of Archbishop Parolin for the post of Secretary could come to some as a bit of a surprise.

“Until now, everybody has been thinking that Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello would be the new secretary of State. Now, all the signals are going toward the appointment of Pietro Parolin,” an official of a Vatican body told CNA on June 28.

Cardinal Bertello is the number one of the Vatican City State administration.

Following the appointment of the new Secretary of State, sources say that Pope Francis would also change several of the top-ranking officials of the Curia.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras could be appointed prefect for the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (the so-called “Propaganda Fide”).

Cardinal Maradiaga is also the coordinator of the Pope-appointed Commission of Cardinals now studying a reform of the Roman Curia.

At the same time, the current prefect, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, would be appointed Archbishop of Palermo, in Southern Italy.

A new prefect for the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Sacraments should soon be appointed, as well.

The current prefect, Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, would be appointed as the successor to Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela as the Archbishop of Madrid, Spain.

To cover his post, Pope Francis would call Archbishop Piero Marini, who was Pontifical Master of Ceremonies during Bl. John Paul II’s Pontificate and now heads the Vatican’s commission for Eucharistic Congresses.

A source from Spain who works in the archdiocesan curia in Madrid confirmed to CNA on June 28 that Cardinal Rouco Varela has left for Rome. He also said that “the usual reception” held in the nunciature in Madrid for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul has been canceled.

It would be very significant if Pope Francis made the appointments public on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. He could, however, sign the appointments without officially announcing them by way of Holy See Press Office bulletin.

On June 29, the Pope delivers the “pallium” to the new appointed metropolitan archbishops, in St. Peter’s Basilica.

This year, 34 archbishops will receive the woolen vestment from the hands of Pope Francis.

A source explained to CNA on June 27 that “the feast of Saints Peter and Paul is an important moment of magisterium. The Pope will show that he has taken the situation into his own hands.”

Other minor appointments are expected in the coming days.

The final goal is the reform of the Curia, but, the source asserted, “alternatively to the approach of Pope Benedict who tried to reform the Curia without the Curia, Pope Francis has understood that without the Curia, his reforms will die.

“This is also one key to understanding the appointment of the Pontifical Commission, full of members of the Roman Curia, to report to the Pope about the Institute of Religious Works,” he concluded.

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Vatican 'ready to cooperate' in investigation of accountant

Vatican City, Jun 28, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican said it is ready to collaborate in the investigation of one of its accountants who was arrested today over allegations of corruption and slander.

“The Holy See has not yet received any request from the competent Italian authorities on the matter, but it confirms its willingness to cooperate fully,” said Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Holy See’s press office.

Monsignor Nuncio Scarano was arrested June 28 for allegedly trying to move 20 million Euros – $26 million US Dollars – from Switzerland illegally into Italy, involving the Vatican's so-called bank, the IOR or Institute for Religious Works.

The arrest happened just days after Pope Francis created a commission of inquiry into the IOR's activities and legal status on June 26.

Msgr. Scarano was arrested along with Giovanni Maria Zito, an Italian secret service agent, and Giovanni Carenzio, a financial broker.

“The competent authorities of the Vatican, the AIF (Financial Information Authority), are overseeing the problem to take, if necessary, appropriate measures within its competence,” said Fr. Lombardi in a statement released June 28.

The 60-year-old cleric worked as a senior accountant for a Vatican department, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, and had an account at the IOR.

But Msgr. Scarano, now held in a prison in Rome, was suspended from his job a month ago after transactions of a series of checks described as church donations were cycled through the Vatican bank.

Fr. Lombardi said this happened “as soon as the superiors were informed that he was under investigation.”

He explained this was “in accordance with the regulations of the Roman Curia, which requires the precautionary suspension for people for whom prosecution has been initiated.”

The Vatican created the Financial Information Authority in 2010 and it became operational in April 2011 to make the IOR more transparent.

During pre-conclave meetings discussions included a desire to abolish or reform the IOR.

Pope Francis personally issued a chirograph on June 24, an official document of Medieval origins, in which he appointed a board of five members to report to him about “the legal position and the activities of the Institute” in order to “harmonize the Institute with the universal mission of the Apostolic See.”

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God acts in our lives on his timetable, not ours, Pope stresses

Vatican City, Jun 28, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - God's action in our life is according to his own plan rather than ours, Pope Francis taught in his daily homily June 28, and this requires patience on both his part and ours.

“The Lord takes his time. But even he, in this relationship with us, has a lot of patience,” preached the Bishop of Rome at the chapel of the Vatican's Saint Martha House. “Not only do we have to have patience: He has. He waits for us.”

“And he waits for us until the end of life. Think of the good thief – right at the end, at the very end, he acknowledged God.”

Pope Francis gave Abraham as an example of God's sometimes lengthy timetable: when he was 99, and his wife 90, God promised him a son.

On the other hand, God immediately acts in the life of the leper who in the day's Gospel asked for healing.

“When the Lord intervenes, he does not always do so in the same way,” explained the Roman Pontiff.

“There is no 'set protocol' of action of God in our life; it does not exist.”

God acted one way with Abraham, and “in a different way” with the leper, but he always acts in our lives.

There is “always this meeting between us and the Lord,” yet he “always chooses his way to enter into our lives.”

“He always enters, he is involved with us, but he does so in his own way and when he thinks it's best.”

We are often “in danger of losing our patience a little,” because of this, as we pray, “But Lord, when?”

On the other hand, “when we think of what the Lord has promised us, that it is such a huge thing, we don’t believe it; we are a little sceptical” as Abraham was when promised a son by his 90 year old wife.

“How often, when the Lord does not intervene, does not perform a miracle – does not do what we want him to do – do we become impatient or sceptical,” Pope Francis reflected.

In the face of temptations to disbelief and impatience, we must remember that “the Lord walks with us, but often does not reveal himself, as in the case of the disciples of Emmaus.”

“The Lord is involved in our lives … but often we do not see. This demands our patience. But the Lord who walks with us, he also has a lot of patience with us.”

The “mystery of God's patience,” said the Bishop of Rome, is that “in walking, (he) walks at our pace.”

We are called to imitate his patience, because when life is at its darkest, when we “are in trouble,” “we want … to come down from the cross.”

“And when we come down from the cross,, we always do so just five minutes before our release comes, at the very moment when our impatience is greatest.”

Christ too “heard them challenging him” while he was on cross to “come down,” but chose not to.

“Patience until the end,” Pope Francis urged, “because he has patience with us.”

“He tells us exactly what he told Abraham: Walk in my presence and be blameless.'”

The Roman Pontiff concluded, saying, “This is the journey with the Lord and he intervenes, but we have to wait for the moment” he chooses.

“We ask this grace from the Lord, to always walk in his presence, trying to be blameless.”

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HHS mandate for religious groups finalized with few changes

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Obama administration announced on June 28 that it has finalized its regulations on the federal contraception mandate as it applies to religious employers.

A statement by the Department of Health and Human Services said that the final rule regarding the mandate’s application to many religious groups “is similar to, but simpler than” a previous proposal in February.

Issued under the Affordable Care Act, the mandate requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, including some drugs that can cause early abortion, as well as sterilizations.

In the months that followed its release, the mandate became the subject of lawsuits by more than 200 plaintiffs across the nation who claimed that it forced them to violate their deeply-held religious beliefs.

Faced with a wave of protest from objecting religious organizations, the Obama administration announced in early 2012 that it intended to modify the mandate. It issued a one-year “safe harbor” delaying the implementation of the mandate for these organizations while it considered various proposals for an “accommodation” for their right to religious liberty.

Over the following months, the administration engaged in a multi-step process of revising the mandate. That process was completed with the release of the final rule on June 28.

The final rule maintains the definition of “religious employer” proposed in February, which allows a full exemption from the mandate for those employers that fall under Internal Revenue Code, Section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii), which “refers to churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious order.”

The administration has said that this “would primarily include churches, other houses of worship, and their affiliated organizations.”

Religious groups have voiced concerns that faith-based organizations – such as soup kitchens, hospitals and schools – that are not affiliated with a specific house of worship would not be exempt.

For these religious groups that object to the mandate but do not qualify for the exemption, the administration has finalized an “accommodation.”

Earlier suggestions for this accommodation had involved separate health insurance policies for contraceptive coverage that would be given for free by the objecting organizations’ health insurance issuers.

The final rule changes this slightly, simplifying the process to instead require insurance issuers to directly “provide payments for contraceptive services” purchased by women working for religious employers who oppose such products.

Self-insured religious employers will work with a third party administrator, which will act in place of an insurance issuer to provide or arrange for the “no-cost payments” for employees’ contraception.

“Issuers are prohibited from charging any premium, fee, or other charge to eligible organizations or their plans, or to plan participants or beneficiaries, for making payments for contraceptive services, and must segregate the premium revenue collected from eligible organizations from the monies they use to make such payments,” the rule said.

“In making such payments, the issuer must ensure that it does not use any premiums collected from eligible organizations.”

This places the burden of payment for the objectionable products on the insurance issuers themselves.

Asked during a press call how the insurance issuers would be reimbursed for these payments, an HHS official responded that they would not need to do so because paying for birth control is “cost-neutral” for them, due to the resulting decline in childbirth costs and the other “health benefits” afforded by contraception.

However, the idea that contraceptives can be offered free of cost was rejected by pharmacy directors in a national survey shortly after the accommodation was initially announced last year.

Religious freedom advocates initially responded to the announcement of the final rule – which was more than 100 pages in length – by indicating a desire to examine it more closely in order to see whether it adequately addresses the religious freedom concerns that had been raised.

Among these concerns was the complaint that religious employers under the “accommodation” would still be facilitating the objectionable coverage because the plans that they offer are necessary to “trigger” the contraception coverage or funding.

Some critics of the mandate also warned that insurance companies would find that contraception was not actually “cost-neutral” any may ultimately end up funding it by raising the cost of the objecting employers’ premiums.

The question of religious individuals running for-profit businesses had also been discussed. More than a dozen for-profit companies have filed lawsuits over the mandate, including arts and crafts giant Hobby Lobby and several other manufacturers, publishers, medical groups and other employers. However, the final rule does not allow any accommodation for these employers.

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Religious freedom groups worried over final HHS mandate

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Despite assurances from the Obama administration that the finalized version of the contraception mandate accounts for freedom of conscience, some religious liberty advocates are still concerned.

“The final rule,” explained Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, “is not very different from the inadequate rule that was proposed back in February.”

While the final rule “tinkered with some of the mechanisms” regarding the mandate’s implementation, Rassbach said in a June 28 teleconference, it did not address “the mandate’s fundamental religious freedom questions.”

The Becket Fund is a law firm specializing in religious freedom litigation, and is representing numerous plaintiffs who have filed suit against the contraception mandate.

Issued under the Affordable Care Act, the mandate requires employers to offer health insurance plans that include contraception, sterilizations and some drugs that can cause early abortions. More than 200 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits challenging mandate, arguing that it violates their right to religious freedom by forcing them to violate their consciences.

In response to the widespread objections, the Obama administration announced that it would modify the mandate to account for the religious liberty of objecting employers. During the months that followed, the admiration took multiple steps to make changes to the mandate, which was finalized on June 28.

The final version of the regulation offers an exemption to religious employers that fall under Internal Revenue Code, Section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii), which “refers to churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious order.”

The administration has said that this “would primarily include churches, other houses of worship, and their affiliated organizations.”

Religious groups such as hospitals, schools and charitable agencies that object to the mandate but are not affiliated with houses of worship may not qualify for the exemption. Instead, they are offered an “accommodation” under which their insurance issuers will directly “provide payments for contraceptive services” purchased by their employees.

Self-insured employers will go through a similar process with a third party administrator providing or arranging for the payments.

Insurance issuers must ensure that they are not using money paid by the employers to fund the contraception and related products. According to the administration, the insurance companies can pay for these products with no reimbursement because funding contraception is “cost-neutral” for them, due to the reduced pregnancy costs and the health benefits that result from contraceptive use.

Critics, however, have warned that the products will not be cost-neutral and that the insurance companies may end up funding them through increased premiums charged to the objecting employers.

Rassbach stated that the final rule still contains several threats to religious liberty. He explained that non-profit organizations must still act as “gatekeepers” who facilitate the controversial products, since their insurance plans are necessary to trigger the contraceptive payments from the insurance companies.

He added that religious owners of for-profit businesses are given no relief from the mandate at all. They are required to provide the coverage, even if they object, and could face potentially crippling fines if they refuse.

“I don’t buy the government’s attempt to discriminate between a non-profit and a for-profit,” he said. “They’re trying to turn it into a status protection, rather than a protection of religious exercise.”

“The easy way to resolve this would have been to exempt sincere religious employers completely, as the Constitution requires,” he argued. “Instead this issue will have to be decided in court.”

Brian Walsh, executive director of the American Religious Freedom Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, also voiced concerns over the finalized regulation.

“The administration continues to refuse to include in its mandate the sort of robust exemptions that have been understood since the founding of this nation to be necessary to protect religious liberty,” he told CNA.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, explained in a statement shortly after the finalized mandate was released that the 110-page regulation is “complex” and will require “careful analysis” by the bishops before a response can be issued.

Cardinal Dolan had previously stressed the importance of religious liberty for all people, including owners of for-profit businesses.

“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,” he said in a February analysis. “We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences.”

Lawyers for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reaffirmed this point in March, stating in a document that “(t)he identity of the person or group having the religious freedom objection should not matter; what should matter instead is whether the person or group faces government coercion to violate conscience.”

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Church in Dominican Republic warns of ambassador's gay advocacy efforts

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Jun 28, 2013 (CNA) - Citing concerns over gay activism, a bishop from the Dominican Republic said that the Church in the country does not approve of the new appointee as U.S. ambassador to the nation.

He urged the government to veto the appointment of James 'Wally' Brewster as new U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

Speaking on behalf of the Dominican bishops, Auxiliary Bishop Pablo Cedano of Santo Domingo said that “the appointment of a gay activist (as new US ambassador) shows a total lack of respect and consideration to our country.”

He explained that gay advocacy is “foreign to our culture and values.”

Brewster is the National LGBT Co-Chair for the Democratic National Committee and is on the Board of the Human Rights Campaign fund, which pushes to redefine marriage.   

Brewster and his partner, Bob Satawake, worked to raise money for Obama’s 2012 election.

“We do not reject Mr. Brewster as a person,” Bishop Cedano stressed, pointing instead to the nominee’s gay advocacy efforts that “will affect our laws.”

“That fact is not irrelevant when it comes to a high ranked official,” he said, noting that the United States “may have their own laws, and that's up to them, but ours are very different.”

The Dominican Republic's Evangelical Confederation has also released a statement requesting that the government “seriously consider the negative consequences to our country” that may result from an ambassador pushing for a redefinition of marriage. 

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