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.”
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
“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.”