.- Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago has joined two Catholic dioceses and their charitable affiliates in a lawsuit over the federal contraception mandate, a move that one observer says demonstrates the potential societal impact of the rule.
The charitable ministry “will lose its identity as Catholic unless the HHS mandate now in force as the recent law of the land is changed,” Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago said in a July 9 statement supporting the charity's entry into a lawsuit against the federal government.
Chicago's Catholic Charities joins the Dioceses of Joliet and Springfield, and their respective Catholic Charities organizations, in challenging the Obama administration's mandate.
Formulated under the federal health care reform law, the rule requires religious employers to provide contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing drugs in employee health plans.
Catholic Charities cannot obtain an exemption from the rule because it serves Catholics and non-Catholics equally. The mandate exempts only those organizations that primarily employ and serve members of the same faith for the purpose of instilling “religious values.”
Chicago's Catholic Charities employs 2,700 staff. During 2011, their efforts provided approximately 2.5 million meals to the needy, over 450,000 nights of shelter to the homeless and displaced, and nearly 900,000 hours of service to the elderly.
According to Wall Street Journal columnist Bill McGurn, these figures show the real-life impact of the mandate. “In terms of religious liberty, the new lawsuit breaks no new legal ground. What it does is offer a window into how much the decency of daily American life depends on churches using their free-exercise rights,” McGurn wrote in a July 9 column.
At stake in the lawsuits, Cardinal George said, is the freedom of the Catholic Church and other religious groups to serve the public without violating their principles.
“This is the issue now before a court. It is also the issue before a nation that portrays itself as the 'land of the free,'” Chicago's cardinal archbishop observed.
“I am sorry that the intransigence of the Department of Health and Human Services has made it necessary to defend in court what every American could take for granted until this year,” he said.
In a July 9 announcement about the lawsuit, Chicago Catholic Charities President and CEO Monsignor Michael Boland said the loss of religious freedom is “the sole matter at hand” in the challenge to the contraception mandate.
The priest took issue with the narrow exemption and its criteria, saying the Department of Health and Human Services “fails to understand that there is no distinction between our Catholic faith and our commitment to serve the needs of all people regardless of their religion.”
“We support health care reform and efforts to expand access to health care to all Americans. But we oppose any policy that compels us to compromise our Catholic faith,” Msgr. Boland said.
He noted that the mandate's intrusion on religious groups “affects all religions and anyone of faith.”
“We must take a stand, not only on behalf of Catholic Charities, but for all faith-based organizations,” the monsignor declared. “We must protect our right to serve all the poor, not just those HHS defines for us.”
More than 50 plaintiffs, including several Catholic dioceses and their Catholic Charities affiliates, are now involved in 23 lawsuits against the contraception mandate.