June 14, 2012

Fundamental Peril

By Archbishop Henry J. Mansell *

The warm days of May became warmer as the month moved on, and we are not talking about the weather temperatures. The focus continues to highlight Religious Liberty, enshrined in our Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791, and reverenced as the marquis issue in the history of our country to this day.

The threats to Religious Liberty become more dangerous as the weeks pass. Back on January 20 of this year, Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, decreed that all employers must pay for health insurance for their employees on various matters, including the provision of services that the Catholic Church, and others, consider immoral: surgical sterilizations, pills that may induce abortion, and contraception. On February 10, President Barack Obama announced that an accommodation would be made, but early study showed that it was no accommodation at all.

It was stated that Catholic churches and schools which teach only Catholic children might be exempt. Other entities would not be: Catholic Charities, universities, colleges, high schools, elementary schools, hospitals, nursing homes, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, etc. A so-called accommodation was introduced that stated that the insurance companies would provide the services for these institutions.  It appears the homework was not done: many of these Catholic agencies are self-insured.  even those that are not, commentators say, would wind up paying higher insurance premiums in the long run.

As you know, I have been addressing this matter in writing, on television, radio, and the internet, reminding us of the most serious consequences should this law be enacted as scheduled. The Supreme Court is expected to address the Affordable Care Act lawsuit this month.

In addition, on May 21, 43 Catholic entities brought 12 lawsuits against the federal government in federal courts across the country. It was not necessary for all dioceses to join in the lawsuits. Certainly a wide variety of Catholic institutions is involved, to show the tremendous dangers involved in such a mandate. Of course we are most supportive of the suits going forward. While these new lawsuits include only Catholic entities, we are hopeful that they will establish principles that protect all religious organizations.

It is preposterous to imagine that the federal government would seek to define what our religious ministries are and who our religious ministers are. Our very religion calls us to provide educational, social, medical, and pastoral services not only to Catholics but to people of various faiths and other backgrounds. It is because we are Catholic that we deliver these services. In Connecticut, for example, the Catholic Church is second to government in the provision of educational, social, and medical services.

With all the difficulties our country is facing at this time, and with all the good done by these organizations and those of other faiths, people wonder why the federal government would want to make it harder for religious institutions to contribute to the common good. The government picked this battle. We did not choose it or the timing of it. It would have been better for the country if this threat had never been posed. Given that it has been, we must defend the fundamental human right to religious freedom.

If the government can order our religious organizations to violate our consciences, what comes next? It is encouraging to note how many other religious organizations – Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim – are testifying in support of our actions in this regard.

To support our work in the matter of Religious Liberty, a special Fortnight for Freedom is being organized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It will run from June 21 to July 4, and will focus on prayer, reflection, education, and action in dioceses and parishes across the United States.

We will be mailing out materials from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to our parishes and institutions, with encouragement for all of us to participate in these events in some way. Our involvement in this program will be most appreciated.

Reprinted with permission from The Catholic Transcript, official newspaper for the Diocese of Hartford, Conn.

Most Rev. Henry J. Mansell is the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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