The National Catholic Review

For a century and a half the Catholic Church in the United States has served the American people with health care, education and social services. Even a few months ago it would have seemed preposterous to suggest that the U.S. government would place the future of those good works at risk. That seems to be what has happened, however, with a decision by the Department of Health and Human Services to allow only a narrow conscientious exemption to the employer health care insurance mandate of the Affordable Care Act, the administration’s signature health care reform law.

For U.S. Catholics as citizens, the administration’s failure to offer a broader exemption presents a grave test of the “free exercise” of religion protected by the Bill of Rights. For the narrow definition of religion in the new H.H.S. guideline is at odds with the millennia-old Catholic understanding of the church as a community of believers in service to the world. The H.H.S. definition would force the church to function as a sect, restricted to celebrating its own devotions on the margins of society. The ruling is a threat to our living as a church in the Catholic manner.

The controversial guidelines, announced on Jan. 20 by Kathleen Sibelius, secretary of H.H.S., restricts religious exemptions to those persons and institutions the administration defines as religious—namely, those that serve clear religious functions, employing primarily co-religionists and serving a largely denominational clientele. The administration rejected appeals from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Health Association for a broader conscience clause. Religiously sponsored institutions, like all other employers, will be explicitly required to provide coverage for contraception, sterilization and two potential abortifacients, services that are in violation of Catholic teaching. The administration has thus pushed the U.S. bishops into a destructive showdown over the future of Catholic health care, social services and higher educational institutions. It is a confrontation both sides should seek to avert.

The exemption devised by H.H.S. places Catholic institutional employers in an untenable position. The guidelines force them to cooperate, though indirectly, in grave wrongs by facilitating acts the church considers sinful. They also place dissenting institutions in the position of withdrawing health insurance benefits from their employees and from students at their colleges and universities. Employees of such institutions will have to seek out inferior and more expensive health plans on the open market, and their employers will face annual fines from the federal government for refusing to comply with the employers’ mandate.

A misunderstanding of the Catholic mission in the United States lies at the heart of this unexpected conflict. The Obama administration’s religious exemption covers only entities that serve patently religious functions, including parishes and parochial schools. But serving the broader community through hospitals, clinics, service agencies and institutions of higher learning is not an extraneous activity for the Catholic Church. It is a civic manifestation of the church’s deep beliefs in human dignity, solidarity with the suffering and forgotten, the importance of learning and commitment to the common good. Even as the church remains true to its moral teaching, it is called to remain open and engaged with the wider society. The administration must be led to understand that defining away the church’s service to the world infringes upon Catholics’ free exercise of religion.

Less, but equally real, is the threat to Catholic ecclesial identity created by exasperated responses from some church leaders, who unwittingly would acquiesce to the sectarian temptation presented by the state, jettisoning the church’s public institutions in the name of conscience, apparently without sober attention to the church’s historic teaching on remote material cooperation. By complying with similar state-level regulations, however, the practice of Catholic employers in a number of states without conscience exemptions (a full list is at suggests many have until now held a different reading of that tradition. In any case, the Catholic conscience needs to remain engaged in the public forum out of our faith in the church as a “sacrament” for the world.

Catholics have resisted authoritarian governments that attempted to confine religion to the altar and sacristy. What has distinguished Western democracies from authoritarian regimes has been not just the freedom of individual believers but especially the institutional freedom of the church. While Catholics should be prepared, if necessary, to resist such a policy in our own country, both sides should leave no stone unturned to find a workable solution without unnecessary confrontation. Practically, in an election year, a solution needs to be found as early as possible. Miscalculations from either side could prove devastating.

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Anne Danielson | 11/5/2012 - 8:39am
The fact is, by taking liberties, for the first time in the History of this Nation, we have an administration who have become peddlers of contraception, thus promoting promiscuity, and justifying the sexual objectification of the human person. 
Rudy Rau | 4/18/2012 - 8:47pm
Bill Carson-I'll bet that when John Paul II and the Vatican declared the invasion of Iraq a crime against God, you didn't think supporting the war was the 'work of the devil'.

Obama, like every one of us is a work in progress, as much a child of God as you or me. So your use of terminology is definitely on trhe extreme fringe.
Rudy Rau | 4/18/2012 - 8:40pm
I object to the HHS ruling but find it curious that the bishops who did not endorse or support Personhood Amendments in various states are raising the roof over the HHS ruling. And, there have been times when little was being said by many of the bishops about abortion-the fight was being carried by lay people but in an election year, they suddenly find their voice??

Marie Rehbein | 2/13/2012 - 4:48pm
Michael, you set out the contradiction between the word and deed in the Church's teaching on birth control very clearly, in my opinion.  It is easy to see why bureaucrats in both EEOC and HHS would not understand that mandating coverage for contraceptives would set off cries that the First Amendment has been violated.
Michael Barberi | 2/12/2012 - 8:54pm
 I will not repeat what has already been said. I add the following insightful contradiction:

There is a significant gap between contraceptive doctrine and pastoral practices that cause a contradiction over this entire issue of contraceptive coverage and everyday life. Permit me some latitude while I make my case.

 In the sacrament of reconciliation, there is a principle of graduation that is applied to habitual sinners. This principle was formulated primarily to resolve the moral and pastoral dilemma about contraception. Contraception is practiced by 97% of worldwide female married Catholics and it is an issue of conscience. Every parish priest knows that most married Catholics that line up each week to receive the Eurcharist practice contraception. These individuals also do not confess contraception as a sin in the sacrament of reconcilation because they don't believe it is a sin. Thus, the principle of graduation was introduced where the person over time was expected to reform his or her life through constant prayer, reflection, pastoral guidance and the frequent reception of the Eurcharist.

Since most Catholics do not confess contraception as a sin, those few that do have no real firm purpose of amendment. The problem was, after receiving absolution, why would a person go to confession everytime they contracepted, which is often every week. The answer: they did not. Conscious is the guide of every Catholic that practices contraception. Few, if any, priests and bishops have ever spoken from the pulpit or issued a bulletin that warned Catholics who contracept that they committ a sacriledge if they don't confess contraception as a sin before receiving the Holy Eurcharist. There are no fequent reminders from the pulpit or official communication because this would likely result in a significant reduction in Mass attendees, and their weekly contributions.

Now, consider the following: The principle of graduation is offered to Catholics who habitually contracept, but not to the divorsed and remarried, who are also habitual sinners in the eyes of the church. A contradiction? Now, the Hierarchy asserts that Catholic Institutions should not offer or pay for contraceptive coverage on the grounds that it is against their teachings. They want to deny Catholics medical necessary coverage but in the same breath they do not deny Catholics who practice contraception from receiving the Eurcharist. The church has yet to explain this contradiction.

Michael Barberi | 2/10/2012 - 3:51pm
Anyone familiar with the insurance industy knows that this tactic is absurd.

Most large employers self-fund their group health insurance plans. This means employers pay for their claims plus the insurance company's retention or administrative expense. If insurance companies are mandated to provide contraceptive coverage free of charge to employees of Catholic Institutions, they will pass on the cost to those employers.

To argue that contraceptive coverage is cost-neutral because the cost will be offset by less pregancies, abortions and medical care is true, but this is not how group insurance works. Many covered services reduce healthcare cost but are not offered free of charge. Why single out contraceptive services. The cost of many prescription drugs are offset by lower healthcare cost. You don't see insurance companies offering free drugs benefits.

If insurance companies are forced offer contraceptive coverage for free to Catholic Institutions because such coverage is so-called "cost-neutral", large employers will DEMAND the same.

It will be interesting to see how such a "compromise" will work.
Tom Maher | 2/10/2012 - 9:59am
Mindy Evans (# 49)

Excellent.  Your first sentences quotes the Religious Liberty clauses of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constituion the meaning of which is at issue by you and by the entire country.  The meaning of these Religous Liberty clauses is exactly the focal point of the Religious Libverty controvesy raised by the new Health Care regulation the Obama admistration imposes on Religious Institutions.

The central qustion is: What do these Religous Liberty clauses of the Consitution mean and how do they apply, if at all, to these new regulations on Religious Institution?.   

The U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court is definately the supreme law of the land since 1787.   We live in a Constituional democracy where the Constitution is the supreme law of the land that all laws, regulations and policies must conform to.  The essential central role of the  U.S. Constitution in defining our legal system and government is fundemental foundation that all American society is built upon.   
Melody Evans | 2/10/2012 - 1:17am
The first amendment to the Constitution says that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."  How is requiring birth control to be covered by insurance "prohibiting the free exercise thereof?"  It is not forcing Catholics to use birth control.  We still have the freedom to exercise our religion how we see fit.
Also, the First Amendment doesn't superceed all laws.  Polygamy is not protected and that is part of some people's religious beliefs.  Here in Oregon a certain church who believes in the power of prayer over modern medicine recently had several members sent to prison because their children died of treatable conditions.  I'm sure there are others but those are the two that first came to mind where their religious beliefs do not superceed laws.
Tom Maher | 2/9/2012 - 11:39pm

Most Americans do not understand that Religious Liberty defined in and derived from the  U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the United States.  The Religious Liberty clauses of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution superceed all laws and polcies in America.  The First Amendment has a lot to say about this very issue of what the government may or may not impose on Religious Institutions.  The First Amendment Religious Liberty clauses must be satisfied by the new Obama regulation. 

The legal debate is whether or not the Religous Liberty clauses of the U.S. Consitution apply to religious instituions.   Are Catholic schools, hospitals and social service agencies protected in the Religious Liberty clauses of the First  Amendment? 

The Obama administartion goes out to way to point out that churches are exermpt becasue the Obam a adminstartion clearly recongnizes that churches are exempts iunder the Religous Liberty clauses.  The Obama admisistration however does not recognize Religious institutions to be part of religous protection of the First Amendment as the Catholic Bishops do.  But everyone agrees that "Religion" is protected under the First Amendment. 

Michael Barberi | 2/9/2012 - 10:06pm

The issue from the legal perspective is whether a government can require a religious institution to offer coverage for contraception. These are sticky and complex issues and it seems that this conundrum will get politicized in this year's presidential election. A public policy must be fair to all, and respectful of religious institutions. However, with respect to this issue, the lines between religion and public policy blur. It will take a careful construction to find a solution. Consider these questions:

1. Should a non-profit Catholic University/Institution who employs both Catholic and non-Catholics deny medically necessary coverage (i.e., the results of the Institutes of Health) for contraception based on the principle that it is against their religious teachings? Is this fair and non-discriminatory to employed non-Catholics? Should the Catholic Church be able to deny coverage to employed Catholics that do not abide or believe that contraception is immoral? [Consider the common pastoral policy where few, if any priests, deny the Eucharist to those Catholics who practice contraception]. Is this a contradiction?

2. When a product or service is determined be medically necessary, as an issue of public policy, an employer cannot discriminate by denying medially necessary coverage. This applies to all individuals. There are religious exceptions, but are the rules being proposed by Obama unfair?

3. If cost is an issue, what would prevent religious institutions to increase the level of employee contributions to their employee medical plan to cover the cost of contraceptive coverage (albeit under the guise of higher healthcare costs, not specifically contraceptive coverage)?

As mentioned, these are complex issues.

Fernán Jaramillo | 2/9/2012 - 6:16pm

The editors point that "Catholics have resisted authoritarian governments that attempted to confine religion to the altar and sacristy. ", and such resistance is commendable.  Perhaps practicing Catholics should resist an authoritarian hierarchy that attempts to inject religion where it has no place.

ed gleason | 2/9/2012 - 1:47pm

The San Francisco Chronicle has reported on 2-9-12 that Ca. Catholic universities have been covering employee health care BC prescription coverage since 2001. If the sky fell on religious liberty 10 years ago and it made no noise till now… what are the odds on that?  Maybe it takes the bishops and the USCCB ten years to saddle the horse and ride out yelling  ' The Obama persecutors are coming'  The Obama administration will pass out exemptions, through Groupon,  and the Bishops and the GOP will declare a significant victory.. boring boring

Kenneth Latta | 2/9/2012 - 1:14pm
I have a question that I hope someone can help me with. Why are the Bishops so opposed to the government requiring that all institutions provide healthcare that includes access to contraceptives? What's all the fuss about?

Yes, I understand the Church's position against the use of contraceptives. Using contraceptives is sinful, got it. But is providing access to comprehensive healthcare that includes coverage of contraceptives sinful? Is the Church really doing anything contrary to its beliefs by providing health insurance?

If the Bishops are really doing their job, all good Catholics that work for employers providing insurance would just choose not to take advantage of the the easy access to contraceptives, because their consciences have been guided to understand that contraception is wrong. Right? Or wrong?

Am I missing something? I worry that this whole reaction on the part of the Bishops is the same kind of paternalistic/protective morality that the Catholic Church is infamous for and that doesn't do anybody any good. God graced us with free will and the opportunity to sin, but desires wholly out of love for us that we don't. Still, the opportunity is there. How is providing access to contraceptives - drugs that in many cases are used to treat other conditions than 'fear-o-pregnancy syndrome', conditions that can be very painful and dangerous for women - any different than God putting that dang apple tree in the Garden of Eden?

And isn't it more wonderful for us to choose to come to God in the face of temptation than for us to choose God when he's the only other thing in the room? Isn't it more wonderul for us to choose not to use contraceptives when they are readily available than for us to choose not to use contraceptives because we can't afford them?
Fernán Jaramillo | 2/9/2012 - 8:45am
Patrick says:

"Unfortunately many "Catholics" use their own 'subjective conscience' to repudiate teachings and beliefs of the Church while they express belief in its being, one and  holy every time they attend Mass and recite the Creed."

I MUST follow my subjective conscience and the bishops are not infallible.  I don't want to face the final jusgement and say "I thought it was wrong to deny contraception to Milena, in Colombia, who has five starving children and lives in a newspaper and boards hut, but I followed the bishops".  Let Patrick do it.

Patrick Veale | 2/8/2012 - 3:07pm
This is a difficult issue.  Obama avoided imposing the obligation to fund abortions, but not the other health care services that the Catholic Church, if not the faithful disagree with.  But the issue I want to raise is this.  Those who work in Catholic hospitals or universities etc., but do not agree with Church teachings on these questions, must now, according to the  Bishops, go and find a separate insurance.  Is this discrimination?  Is not this authoritarian?  Aare such people to be singled out...oh, so you  have another insurance?  Ah, ha!  We all know why!  This is really and truly unacceptable.  Then the Church wants to hide behind all the good services it provides.  This is definitely "sneaky" logic.  And where is the outrage at that Cardinal who now regrets having apologized for child abuse?  Somehow, it all seems really hypocritical.  
Melody Evans | 2/8/2012 - 1:48pm

Let me clarify that stat: 98% of Catholic women who ARE sexually active have used birth control at some point.

Also, this argument about following the Church or the crowd reminded me of Galileo. If I would have choosen to follow the Church back in the day it would mean that I believe that the earth is stationary and the sun revolves around us. In 1992 Pope John Paul II refered to "the error of the theologians of the time..." when talking about that whole situation. I believe one day (even now) we will talk about the error of the theologians of our time concerning most birth control.

Melody Evans | 2/8/2012 - 1:04pm

Mr. Mosman,

The teaching on birth control is not infallible. 98% of Catholic women who have been sexually active have used birth control at some point. When I joined the Catholic Church they did not ask me to give up my brain at the door.

Just saying...

E.Patrick Mosman | 2/8/2012 - 11:35am
It is evident that a number of  Catholics believe that their own subjective conscience gives them the moral authority to decide which actions, behaviors, are right, which are wrong,  which Church teachings can be rejected so as not to inhibit their secular life style in other words, to follow the crowd not the Church. Many believe that Vatican II provided this decision making authority but the authorities did not plaster over the wall of the Sistine Chapel on which Michelangelo's "The last Judgment" appears. If a copy of The Last Judgment were to be placed behind the altar in every Church, the Sunday Sermon be could be reduced to the priest pointing to the painting and saying "That all folks. We report, you decide".        
MICHAEL CARIDI | 2/7/2012 - 9:38pm
A workable solution with the Obama administration? I don't think so.... Catholics gave him power and now we are reaping what we have sown.
Gerelyn Hollingsworth | 2/7/2012 - 12:48pm

The editors misspelled the name of the Secretary:  It's Sebelius, not Sibelius.

Charles Erlinger | 2/7/2012 - 10:58am
The administration wanted this fight.  It was not an "unforced error," as the golf and other sports commentators say.  There were plenty of indicators months, and even years ago, that if the rule were written in such-and-such a way, there would be a fight.  Despite the almost infinite number of different ways the rule could have been written, this way was chosen deliberately.  The administration does not calculate this move to result in a political disadvantage, but the opposite.  Principle has nothing to do with it.  Think of the myriad ways in which the administration has carefully crafted rules to avoid confrontations with other interest groups, about which craftmanship it must also be said that principle has nothing to do with it.
Rosemari Zagarri Prof | 2/7/2012 - 10:15am
Isn't it convenient that the political issues that most concern Catholic bishops always involve women's rights? The all-male hierarchy seeks to mobilize its authority and resources to attack women's rights rather than to challenge society about deeper, more troubling issues such as war and poverty. The Church said sexism is a sin but its leaders do not examine their own consciences to see how their doctrines represent a fundamental affront to women's humanity and dignity.
bill carson | 2/6/2012 - 10:26pm
Obama is doing the direct work of the devil and many of the readers of this magazine seek to bend over backwards to help their friend, the devil.  Any of the liberals here that still complain about Obama had more than enough information in 2008 to know about him.  All talk of "misunderstandings" is simply ridiculous.  Obama is attacking the Church just as anyone with a brain could easily expect.

The only question now, as far as I'm concerned, is if the bishops are willing to directly engage the enemy of Catholics and fight someone for whom many of them voted.
Melody Evans | 2/6/2012 - 6:21pm

I hate that the Catholic Bishops are having a knock down, drag out fight over paying for insurance that covers birth-control. Of all the things to make a scene over. The government isn't forcing Catholics to use birth control.

For me the most frustrating part is being upset with the Catholic Bishops and at the same time feeling like I need to get in fights with my non-Catholic friends to defend my church.

Thank you Duffy and Clint Hyer for sharing your thoughts and knowledge on this issue. The Vatican II information was very enlightening.

Robert Harrison | 2/6/2012 - 5:57pm

On this issue, the church seems to have painted itself in a corner. At Vatican II, Paul VI withdrew the birth control issue from discussion at the third session of the Council, explaining there were more pressing issues to discuss.  Subsequent events tend to prove that he didn't want to face the results of what might evolve.  This was a hot issue in light of the fact that Catholic women in western countries had overwhelming practiced birth control for years.

Instead, he appointed a commission of fifty-five members, made up of bishops, theologians, scientists and a few married couples. A year later, the commission presented its conclusions that the Church could change its teachings on birth control.  Of the fifty-five members, only four voted against it.

Paul VI went against their overwhelming recommendation, and instead, issued "HUMANAE VITAE" which went against the Birth Control Commission. Humanae  Vitae was roundly rejected by the Church, and Paul VJI never wrote another encyclical.

On the releasing of Humanae Vitae by the Vatican, it was made clear that the encyclical is not infallible.  It is subject to error.  As Fr. McBrien noted back in 1968 after the issuance of Humanae Vitae:  "If it is faithful to the authentic tradition of the Gospel it will eventually produce a consensus of approval throughout the Church.  If not, it will take sits place with past statements on religious liberty, interest taking, the right to silence, and the ends of marriage.

And here we are, forty-four years later with 98% of American Catholic women still practicing birth control, Humanae Vitae, which proved to be a DEAD DUCK on arrival, has yet to show us the slightest quiver of life. The Catholic vote could really cause Obama some heart burn on this, but in this case, he shouldn't worry.

Robert Harrison | 2/6/2012 - 5:57pm
Clint HYER | 2/6/2012 - 4:20pm
#26 “Providing employment benefits to employees is NOT paying a tax. Those are two different things.”

The Obama administration agreed to require private insurance instead of a government insurance (like a Workers Compensation Tax) as part of its negotiations to get the bill passed. It is a government mandated payment to achieve a (now) legal benefit. “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, its probably a duck”

“Furthermore, the regulation in question does not merely order Catholic institutions to pay insurance premiums. It requires the institutions to procure and provide certain benefits for employees, which are required to include "free" (no co-pay) contraceptives.”

If this is true, I would have to agree with your position. Is it a fact that the law would require a Catholic College to physically provide contraceptives? Would it then not also require the company nurse to provide contraceptives to all of the companies employees? My understanding (which I would be happy to correct) is that the law requires a Catholic College must pay an insurance premium which would allow a student, or a (Catholic or non-Catholic employee) to go to a medical service provider who does provide contraceptives and not be charged a fee of co-pay.

“the bishops don't decide what moral principles are important based on what you think, or what I think. They decide based on what the Church through its Holy See has officially and consistently taught for hundreds of years” (Emphasis added)

There is a wonderful review of this at #28.
Jim Gunshinan | 2/6/2012 - 3:44pm
Isn't health care coverage considered a part of an employee's total compensation? In other words, isn't the money spent on health care just like the money given in a paycheck? And individuals can spend there pay according to their individual consciences. They can gamble, support a charity, support a political candidate, buy stock in a weapons manufacterer and so on. So why should the church inhibit the individual in taking responsibility for his or her choices?

I don't like that my taxes go to subsidze oil companies, bail out banks, and make preemptive war. But I pay my taxes because I am a member of a democracy. I think the church can look at their paying for health coverage that covers procedures that it deams sinful in the same way. The church's mission in my mind is to transform the culture through our words and actions, not control it.

Jonathan James | 2/6/2012 - 1:11pm
QUOTE: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...UNQUOTE

There you have it.  The First Amendment says that COngress shall make no law>  It says nothing about President Obama or the HHS Secretary, so they are free to do anything they want.

So when a future president says that fat free pork is kosher because it is healthy and cheap, then the Jews just have to accept it.  When a conservative president puts restrictions on abortion because the institutions use federal money, then the liberals will just have to accept it. 
Robert Harrison | 2/6/2012 - 12:57pm
E.Patrick Mosman | 2/6/2012 - 11:19am
All Catholics, in particular Catholic politicians, need to be warned by their Bishops, that calling attention to their Catholic faith and in the same breath voicing support for contraception,abortion rights and other acts deemed sinful, a public act of scandal, as defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nos. 2284-6), is committed. Paragraph 2286 is directly applicable to  people in political positions. It reads: ?Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion. Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structure leading to the decline of morals....?
 Since Vatican II the liberal wing of the Catholic Church has promulgated the superiority of one's own, or the subjective conscience, and in February 1991 Cardinal Ratzinger delivered the Church's response in his presentation 'Conscience and Truth" delivered at the '10th Workshop for Bishops; in Dallas Texas. A brief summary if his conclusion is found in the following extract, "It is of course undisputed that one must follow a certain conscience or at least not act against it. But whether the judgment of conscience is always right, indeed whether it is infallible, is another question. For if this were the case, it would mean that there is no truth - at least not in moral and religious matters, which is to say, in the areas which constitute the very pillars of our existence. For judgments of conscience can contradict each other. Thus there could be at best the subject's own truth, which would be reduced to the subject's sincerity."

Unfortunately many "Catholics" use their own 'subjective conscience' to repudiate teachings and beliefs of the Church while they express belief in its being, one and  holy every time they attend Mass and recite the Creed. Further many still support Obama and Obamacare  even after finding out 'what's in it"  while more than 1,500 unions and 'friends of Obama" companies have requested and received waivers to opt out of Obamacare and more are expected to reject its rules, regulations and mandates.Obama and his administration reward political allies and reject religious organizations.
James McParland | 2/6/2012 - 1:38am
#25-  Distorting and misstating  the facts does not serve the interests of truth.   Providing employment benefits to employees is NOT paying a tax.  Those are two different things. Furthermore, the regulation in question does not merely order Catholic institutions to pay insurance premiums.  It requires the institutions to procure and provide certain benefits for employees, which are required to include "free" (no co-pay) contraceptives.   Your mischaracterizations beg the question:  whose political interests does it serve to distort or minimize what the regulation requires? 

You express "amazement" that the bishops would shut down Catholic institutions ("take their bat and ball and go home") rather than play by the administration's rules.  Why the amazement?   Let us suppose hypothetically that an apartheid administration issued a regulation requiring employers to hire only White people and fire all African-Americans.  Would you be "amazed"  if the bishops said, "No, we would rather shut down all our offices than willingly engage in such reprehensible conduct"? I doubt it.  You would probably praise them for sticking to principle and refusing to compromise with racism.  Yet,  you expect them to shrug and knukle under on the contraception issue ("render to caesar" ) because -?  Well, I suppose because you don't think contraceptives are such a big deal, right?  Nothing to make a fuss about, just  silly religious scruples....

And then next year, when the administration decides the employers ought to provide free abortion services....  and the following year, when euthanasia is deemed
'preventative care"....

Well, Here's the news:  the bishops don't decide what moral principles are important based on what you think, or what I think.  They decide based on what the Church through its Holy See has officially and consistently  taught for hundreds of years.  You and Kathleen Sibelius might find it shocking that they take such things seriously, but they do. 

Your anti-Catholic bigotry really comes through loud and clear  in your blatantly false comparison of Catholic bishops to Muslims who try to impose Sharia law on non-muslim communities.   The church is obviously not trying to legally prohibit anyone from using contraceptives nor legally punish anyone for doing so. It is merely objecting, quite reasonably,  to being forced to act against its own religious principles - which raises very valid First Amendment concerns.   Possibly it is beyond your capacity to see the difference,.  If that is the case I apologize for misinterpreting your motives.
Clint HYER | 2/5/2012 - 3:37pm
The issue is whether Catholics institutions should be exempt from paying insurance premiums (a “tax”).

When asked about paying paying taxes, Jesus responded “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's" (Matthew 22:7-21, Mark 12:14-17, and Luke 20:2-25.) I can't find any passages where Jesus went to Rome to lobby against a Roman Law he disagreed with.

I was particularly amazed with the suggestion(threat) that Catholic social organizations might decide to limit there services exclusively to Catholics rather than pay the mandated insurance payments. It sounds to me awful close to: “Play by my rules or I will take my bat and ball and go home."

I also wonder if there isn't a parallel between the Catholic clerics who want to impose their moral law with Muslim clerics who want to impose Sharia law.

Since no one would be forced to use their insurance benefits for contraception, sterilization, or abortion, it appears to me that the bishops are trying to have it both ways - freedom of conscience for those who follow the bishops and but no freedom of conscience for those (both Catholic and non-Catholic employees) who do not follow the bishops.

Net- net, when the President of the US Council of Bishops get to speak directly to the President of the United States, I wish that they had more on their agenda that insurance premiums!
James McParland | 2/5/2012 - 11:59am
  The issue here is not whether patients admitted to  Catholic hospitals need contraceptives when  they're in the hospital.  The issue is whether, under the compulsory health insurance mandates of "Obamacare," Catholic -owned institutions such as schools, universities, hospitals, social service agencies, etc., can be forced to  provide free contraceptive coverage  to all their employees and students as part of their health insurance benefits.      Obama is saying, in effect,  you have to do it because I and my HHS secretary, Kathleen Sibelius,  think it's a good idea for all girls  to have free birth control pills, so you have to do as we say.   The bishops are saying, oh no we don't and we won't-period! This is not an issue the bishops can or should try to "compromise" on.  The bishops have no choice but to fight this kind of totalitarianism  tooth and nail.  If they cave in, the concept of religious liberty in this country is dead.
9008740 | 2/5/2012 - 7:49am
What percentage of patients who are treated in Catholic hospitals might require services that would be contrary to the Church's teachings related to contraception?   I'm guessing that it is not a large number.  Is it possible that Catholic hospitals could see fit to establish 'annex' entities within their parent facilities to handle such cases? 

I agree that this extremely important issue is a serious obstacle that must be overcome before the November elections.  As a Catholic and a strong supporter of President Obama, and a believer in his essential Christian goodness, and his convictions to act with Christ-like compassion, I hope that his administration and the bishops can work this out. 

Those who don't follow the Catholic Church's strictures on all aspects of unwanted or unwelcome pregnancies should not be deprived of attention to their circumstances in facilities that are under the Catholic unbrella.  Nor should Catholic facilities be forced into a conflict between the Church's universal compassion and awareness of the sacred nature of sexuality, against receiving the full benefit of the Affordable Care Act.
James McParland | 2/5/2012 - 12:56am
If the White House (N.B.,  we are discussing action by the executive branch, not the legislative branch) can constitutionally issue a rule or executive order forcing Roman Catholic bishops to provide "free" contraception to employees, then what is there to prevent the White House from ordering the bishops to provide abortion services? Or euthenasia? Or perform same-sex marriages in Catholic  churches?  This is not an idle or hypothetical question.  There are many activists, academics and politicians today who would fully  support such executive action,  if they believed it were politically feasible.   If religious liberty, as enshrined by the founding fathers n the the First Amendment, does not proibit such governmental overreaching, then churches as organized institutions exist at the whim and mercy of a few politicians in this country.

But very few people really believe that is the way things should be.

 There was no groundswell of popular opinion or political pressure demanding that Catholic institutions be compelled to provide "free" birth control pills.  This idea originated within this administration itself.  The administration clearly made a conscious decision, and took a calculated risk, to throw a tasty bone to its "reproductive rights" constituency, and give the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church a good poke in the eye at the same time, all at the expense of the First Amendment.  It has calculated that it will get away with it in the case of contraceptives and the Roman Catholics, because it appears  that many Catholics ignore their own church's teaching with respect to the use of contraceptives.  And, predictably,  we are seeing a number of  self-identified Catholics who disagree with the church's position  get  out their megaphones and use this very argument to defend the administration and attack the church's bishops for daring to assert a claim of religious liberty.

Ultimately, however, the administration is going to lose its bet, because its calculations were based on a faulty understanding of the Catholic Church.  The Church has never formulated its moral teachings based on popular opinion or compliance data;  the bishops are not generally subject to re-elections or recalls;   they view the church's announced principles as somewhat more fixed and less pliable  than those who spend their lives running for public office;  and, finally, most churchgoers, no matter how liberal in their personal views, still dislike seeing politicians disrespect their church and religion. 

To most bishops, and to most justices of the Supreme Court, principles matter more than politics.  Because of this, the Obama administration willultimately lose on attempt to force  Catholic bishops to do its bidding.
John Carney | 2/5/2012 - 12:09am
Thank you America editors for this reasonable, eloquent argument. Now, how do we get it in front of our Catholic friends inside the administration - Kathleen Sebelius and Joe Biden and the many others who value the PPACA, so they can do something about it? 

Countless numbers of progressive Catholics worked long and hard for health care reform all across this country, and believed that this delicate little issue would get resolved as promised - with deliberate consideration and imagination, using intelligence and thoughtful compromise rather than ideology. The regulatory avenues available to the administration in averting this disastrous, avoidable ideological showdown were wide enough to drive a double wide trailer through. This is political disaster that rivals John Boehner's circular firing squad he assembled before Christmas. And the President needs to put a stop to it as quickly as the Speaker did.

While you use the term "misunderstanding", for me, this misstep reeks of betrayal. It is beyond anything imaginable. We have come too far not to figure this out. We are the President's allies, not his enemies.

I pray as I know most of you do for a quick resolution. I also live with the fear that my prayers may be answered in a way that I thought not possible - I will have to face the ugly truth the President rejects our "Catholic church's service to the world" argument becaue the ecclesial manifestations blind him, forcing him to see too much red.

The miracle I pray for is that Catholic political leaders (the former Speaker and the current one)  would craft the compromise necessary to break the logjam. That indeed would give real meaning to our being "'sacrament' for the world."
E.Patrick Mosman | 2/4/2012 - 11:46am
Those who are critical of the Catholic Church's, not the Bishops', beliefs and teachings on contraceptoion and abortion seem pleased to give the governemnt control over religious beliefs and practices best seen in former communist countries and in today's China. They also would support, no doubt a mandate by the HHS that lean pork is  healthy food and must be sold in kosher markets and all food stores and restaurants even those that serve predominately Muslim clients must make available or sell alcoholic beverages or Catholic priests and Christian pastors must celebrate gay and lesbian "marriages".
The same critics seem unaware of the First Amendment's protection "prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion,.
So where is the "free exercise of religion' if the governemt can force religions to violate their religious beliefs? Where does governemental command and control end and Constitutional protection of rights and liberties begin for all individuals and religions?
JOHN DAHMUS | 2/4/2012 - 10:41am
The bishops talk about religious liberty, but the issue, it seems to me, should be the common good. Those who study or work at Catholic universities, for example, are not necessarily Catholic. Why should those non-Catholics be forced to put up with a policy that their conscience does not accept? One might counter by saying that those non-Catholics should not attend or work at Catholic universities. That alternative would create a Catholic educational ghetto. But it is not just non-Catholics who are affected. Many Catholics who work at or attend Catholic universities do not necessarily accept the Church's teaching on contraception either. Do those Catholic individuals not have any personal rights of conscience? (A similar argument can be made for hospitals and other institutions).

Who picks up the bill for contraceptive services if the Church refuses to participate? Do individuals? Does the rest of the general public? Will the Church next insist that Catholics refuse to pay taxes that will go for wars that the bishops consider unjustified? Will the Church refuse support for taxes because war is not waged on some anti-Catholic country? Will the Church demand that Catholics refuse to pay taxes because the rich are forced to pay too much, or because the middle class pays too much or too little? Will the Church insist that environmental disasters justify the Church's refusal to support taxes that might go to harming the environment? Does the Church want a Catholic republic, modeled on the Islamic Republic of Iran, where what the bishops want becomes the law of the land? Is the Church so hung up on this one teaching of contraception that the leadership is willing to jettison everything else, and this is certainly a contraception issue, not an abortion issue, because easy access to contraceptives would likely lower the number of abortions? 

Many American Catholics, and especially former Catholics, do not accept the bishops' teaching on contraception; can one even claim, then, that the teaching is Catholic when there is a massive lack of acceptance on the part of the faithful, for the Church is not the bishops but the whole community? When Humanae Vitae was promulgated more than forty years ago, many bishops opposed the doctrine. Since then the Vatican has apparently imposed a litmus test for new bishops that they must support the doctrine. Is it legitimate for the Church leadership under such circumstances to impose this teaching? Is this an example of Christ's observation that the Pharisees imposed needless burdens on the people? How many wise and holy men and women over the last forty years have effectively been silenced because they in good conscience could not go along with the party line on this issue?

This federal directive clearly does not help the reelection campaign of President Obama, nor is he shoring up his support with groups who support women's rights since he has their support in any case. Might this decision, therefore, not be an uncaring or unsympathetic action against Catholics by the administration but simply evidence of a paradigm shift in the entire American culture, the conclusion by most non-Catholics, and Catholics, in the United States that the emperor (Catholic teaching on contraception) has no clothes, that it is time for the bishops to listen to their people who understand this issue better than they? Is this a situation something like the period of the Inquisition or the witch craze when the general community finally said, "Enough is enough"?
LaRue Withers | 2/4/2012 - 2:58am

I understand your stand in this matter. If all of your employees were Roman Catholic, I would agree with you 100%, but I don't think that is the case. Whether or not the insurance coverage includes these things, the person for whom you provide it does not have to use it, and in the final analysis it is God who will be the final judge in the matter. As far as whether or not people will vote for him one way or the other, that is a no-win situation for him. IMNSHO we are not electing a Bishop and the President must govern over all religions not just one. This is what people who won't vote for a Roman Catholic have always feared. Although President Kennedy did not govern in this manner, as he promised, I feel pretty certain that a candidate who feels that a state can regulate contraception is going to try to legislate other religious beliefs. Many of our ancestors came to this country because of religious persecution and I don't believe that we need to go that route. I can't help but wonder if you really think that your stand will prevent anyone from doing anything that they want to do just because their insurance does not cover it. I, for one, remember the back-street abortions and the wealthy who simply flew to another country. God gives us the choice and we make the wrong one at our own peril. I don't know whether or not these facilities get government assistance, but when one does that, it becomes yoked to those who may be going in a different direction.

Tom Maher | 2/3/2012 - 10:38pm
Comment # 13 continuation

The Obama administration has blundered in creating a regulation requiring Catholic institutions to act against their moral ethics of the Catholic church.   The Obama admistration has wowher to go but to correct the error.

The political price of failing to correct this error is high and should be. This error will be an endless campaign issue in the Presidential election as it already has.  The Repulbican party could not have a more powerful issue to put before the voters to question the trust and confidence in the Presdient and his failure to defend religious liberties.  The broad appeal of religious liberty to all citizen should not be undestimated.   This error has already likely put President Obama re-election in jeopardy.   In the 2008 election Catholics gave 54 percent of their vote to Obama, a very high perecentage relative to most other groups.  That high percentage can very easily be eroded significantly and thereby would likely contribute to Obama losing the election as he should if this regulation is not corrected.
Virginia Edman | 2/3/2012 - 2:02pm
Since the United States is not a predominantly Catholic country, it seems that Catholic laws and regulations should be protected only in strictly Catholic Organizations and Parishes.  To be a Protestant Christian in the United States may mean that you are quite comfortable with contraception and sterilization, but not necessarily abortion.  I think President Obama has made the effort to avoid funding abortions, which most people do not favor. 

To have six or seven children in today's society is not happening that often, as we can see with our own eyes.  Hence the conclusion that many Catholics are accepting contraception and having fewer children.  It is their right of conscience to do so.   It seems to me that the bishops are in this fight with Obama because of other issues.  I see President Obama as still the better choice for the Presidency then the currant Republican candidates who are boldly proclaiming their ideas for cutting programs for the poor and continuing the tax breaks for the very wealthy. 
Tomas Faranda | 2/3/2012 - 1:59pm
Patrick, they will not learn. A few years ago the editorial page described the pro-life movement as "neuraligic"; evidently causing the America editors pain.  To quote a prominent NY priest writing the other day (Fr. Rutler) Jesus didn't say to the Apostles when he appeared to them after the Resurrection "I told you so", so I suppose we also need to be uhhh, understanding.
E.Patrick Mosman | 2/3/2012 - 11:40am
Before the 2008 election which "Catholic" magazine provided cover for Catholic voters to support candidate Obama by ignoring his available record and statements on "culture of death matters" abortion, contraception and end of life medical treatment? Which "Catholic" magazine provided space for Obama supporting Professors Kmeic and Kavanaugh, one being awarded with the Ambasssdorship to Malta, who sought to assure readers that it was possible to negotiate with the ONE on matters considered evil by the Catholic Church. Even Jesus Christ rejected negotiating with the devil three times in the desert but the editors and opinion authors failed to follow His example, leading many Catholics astray.
Is there a pang of buyer's remorse today?
Tom Maher | 2/3/2012 - 11:24am
Well thank goodness America magazine is finally beginning to recognize the gravity and significance of the Obama administration's regulation that encrouhes on the religous freedom of the Catholic Church to exist on its own religous terms free of government interference.

The Bishops have nowhere to go.  The Bishops must insist that Catholic instutions be Catholic.  The progressive rationalizations that the Church conform to governemnt dictates agaisnt its moral ethics is totally unacceptable. And very rightly the Bishops will have none of this anti-religious nonsense.  

T???????h?e? ?Obama ??admistrat?ion? ?h?a??s? ??b?a?d?l?y? ?b?l?u?n?d?e?r?e?d? ?a?n??d??? ??????????? ?h?a?s? ?n?o???w?h????????????e??r?e? ?t?o? ?g?o but to corect its error??.
? ??????????
JERRY VIGNA | 2/3/2012 - 11:07am
This discussion continues to generate more heat than light. Of course the First Amendment covers more than worship; otherwise there would not be Wisconsin v. Yoder, which was a home-schooling decision. One might also argue that the protection from court inquiry given the seal of confession is another example, unless one wanted to construe penitential confidentiality as essential to freedom to worship. The constitutional principles, as I understand them, are that religious practice must be constrained by a need to maintain public order and that practices essential to a religion are protected. Lay Catholic behavior notwithstanding, a church's sexual ethics seem to be essential, and, yes, even those are not exempt from legislation (no polygamy). I do not see how the public order is threatened by the bishops' stand; rather I perceive a clever maneuver on the part of the federal government and a social disaster in the making.

The definition of a religious institution in this case has come from the executive branch, not the legislative. It is not the executive's right to do so, and so this is open to both judicial and legislative challenge. Further, HHS has exempted Catholic parishes and thus agrees that a church's sexual ethic is protected. It thereby cleverly avoided a Constitutional battle over the law's power in various human activities that some consider religious; it instead attempted a unilateral definition of what a religious institution might be. (It also tacitly admitted that the First Amendment is about more than worship.) The executive branch also did not put this regulation in the original bill, thereby preventing a potentially disastrous legislative confrontation. It excluded the funding of abortions in that bill and so knew how far it could go. The issue should have been legislatively settled at the outset, and now may have to be judicially settled. I do not advocate either, but ask the administration to drop its definition.

The social disaster will come from the potential effect on the many Catholic institutions in this country. There are simply too many Catholic hospitals, social agencies, and universities to dismiss the harmful effect on the country as a whole that may result from HHS's insistence on its newly made rule. In lawmaking consequences count. The rule was made because of what HHS thought the effect would be on women's and hence public health. I am not so sure it made a good calculation.
Last, this is not about imposing beliefs, dominating others' lives, or anything of the sort. Nor is there a hidden political agenda. Employers are free to design their compensation packages. Apparently, compromises have been made at the state level, and Hawaii's has been cited as very workable. Let's hope for an amicable resolution.
5436984 | 2/3/2012 - 10:32am
When "the pill" first hit the markets it was intended to regulate women's periods so that they COULD conceive!  It was afterwards that it was discovered it could also serve to delay conception and therefore, usage began for that purpose.  So, we have women who still use oral contraceptives for serious medical reasons that morally adhere to Catholic teaching, yet if the USCCB wins its objection, will no longer have coverage for their medical situation.

And why haven't the bishops protested against paying taxes for alcohol and tobacco use?  These are certainly moral issues!  There are many of them within the umbrella of US legislation that we, as Catholics, have not refuted.  It seems very disingenuous of bishops to instruct their priests to preach about unfair taxing on Catholics on the current contraceptive coverage issue, and forget the myriad of other morally suspect issues for which we pay taxes.  Singling the "beginning of life" mentality as more important than other social justice issues complicates the follow through on being responsible for that life.  We all know that once life is created, it takes all of us to sustain the dignity of that life.  Sadly, many forget that once the child is born. 

The US opens its shores to people of many faiths.  The Catholic Church does not teach many of the things/issues that are protected by our laws.  Catholics have the mandate to live among society in such a way that others will know who they are by how they live.  That is the only real way the message of Jesus will be spread. 
JACK HUNT | 2/3/2012 - 10:21am
I'm hesitant to weigh in on this issue even though I have a strong moral and ethical opposition to depriving citizens as individuals and collectively of their freedom of conscience.  Nevertheless I would observe that the formation of conscience is antecedant to the freedom of conscience.  The former is a duty while the later is a right. Apart from pastoral letters and situations such as the HHS ruling arising the bishops and indeed the whole teaching structure of the church really doesn't communicate substantively and well it's core moral teaching.  In short don't just say don't but say why not?
Rosemari Zagarri Prof | 2/3/2012 - 9:48am
This is not a matter of principle for the American Catholic hierarchy; it is partisan politics. The bishops have been looking for an issue around which to mobilize Catholic sentiment against Obama. Despite decades of willingness to renounce the 1st Amendment in order to secure state aid for Catholic schools, they now distort its meaning in order to invoke its protection. 
Katherine McEwen | 2/1/2012 - 11:27pm
This issue is a tricky one. Contraceptives are also used as treatment for gynecological issues, not only as birth control. If Catholic institutions are allowed to duck provision of contraceptives as prescription drugs as part of health insurance coverage, they're going to be guilty of dereliction of duty. Yes, Catholic women use prescription contraceptives (and I daresay Catholic men use condoms). However, if this means their insurance plans won't cover a legitimate prescription drug for legitimate medical reasons (and what goes on between a woman and her doctor/nurse practioner is no one else's business), then I see a major disconnect. And in a lot of places, the Catholic-run healthcare system may be the only health providers in a particular area. This may leave a lot of people uncovered. So, magisterium, be VERY careful.


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