The bishops of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC) have issued a statement to the state’s Catholic faithful expressing their “deep concern” about a state provision that requires providers of health insurance include contraceptive services. The rule will force Catholic dioceses and other agencies to pay for a “gravely immoral” service, the conference says.
A provision in the new state budget mandates the coverage as a “benefit.”
Signatories of the August 20 WCC letter were Bishop of Green Bay David L. Ricken, Bishop of Madison Robert C. Morlino, Bishop of La Crosse Jerome E. Listecki, Bishop of Superior Peter F. Christensen and Bishop William P. Callahan, the Administrator for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“This mandate will compel Catholic dioceses, parishes, and other agencies that buy health insurance to pay for a medical service that Catholic teaching holds to be gravely immoral,” the Wisconsin bishops explained. “Contraception prevents the full and reciprocal self-giving that is essential to Christian marriage and diminishes the role of God, the giver of life, within marriage.”
The statement explained that only dioceses or agencies that are self-insured, such as the dioceses of La Crosse and Superior, will not be covered by the mandate.
“As Catholic teachers and pastors, we strongly object to this blatant insensitivity to our moral values and legal rights,” the bishops continued, noting that most other states provide accommodations for those whose religious or moral values are compromised by such mandates.
The bishops charged that the state government’s mandate violates constitutional rights as well as religious values, citing the right of conscience established in the Wisconsin Constitution. Religious freedom also includes the ability to publicly witness to one’s values in what one does and in what one declines to do, they explained.
“Nowhere does the Constitution say that the right of conscience is protected except in matters related to human reproduction,” their statement said. “Whatever course we pursue in this matter, we want all Catholics in Wisconsin to know that we will also continue to affirm and communicate the teachings of our faith.”
The bishops of the WCC also objected that the mandate was not a matter of open debate and “due deliberation.”
Acknowledging that many Catholics find Catholic teaching on contraception “difficult to accept or live out in practice,” the bishops emphasized that the immorality of artificial contraception is not a “Catholic issue.”
“Rather, the prohibition of artificial contraception is a principle of the natural moral law, which is inscribed in the mind and heart of all human beings,” the statement said. “The bond between husband and wife, in their inseparable love-making and life creating Vocation, is evident to human reason itself – another powerful consideration which should lead our legislators to take very seriously our conviction.”
The WCC statement suggested that this truth is not recognized because the “fashionable proposition” that there is no objective truth renders human reason “directionless.”
“We commit ourselves to continue listening to your objections and to explaining the Church’s understanding of human sexuality in such a manner that you may discover a greater understanding and appreciation of this teaching and the reasons for it,” the Wisconsin bishops pledged.
They added that Catholic teaching only seems overly restrictive of human freedom and in reality serves a “greater freedom” for both individuals and society.
“Our faith always challenges us,” the bishops said in conclusion. “We are measured by how we respond to those challenges. We ask for your support and prayers as we respond to this one.”