The Editors on the HHS Accommodation

Just posted online:

For a brief moment, Catholics on all sides were united in defense of the freedom of the Catholic Church to define for itself what it means to be Catholic in America. They came together to defend the church’s institutions from morally objectionable potentially crippling burdens imposed by the Obama administration under the Affordable Care Act. Catholic journalists, like E. J. Dionne and Mark Shields, and politicians of the president’s own party, like Tim Kaine and Robert P. Casey, Jr, joined the U.S. bishops in demanding that the administration grant a broad exemption for religiously affiliated institutions from paying healthcare premiums for contraceptive services. Then, on February 10, President Barack Obama announced a compromise solution in which religious institutions would be exempt from paying the objectionable premiums, yet women would not be denied contraceptive coverage. A confrontation which should never have happened was over. But not for long.


After a cursory nod to the White House’s retreat as “a first step in the right direction,” the USCCB rejected the president’s compromise as insufficient. The statement presented a bill of indictments on the fine points of public policy: It opposed any mandate for contraceptive coverage, expanded the list of claimants for exemption to include self-insured employers and for-profit business owners, and contested the administration’s assertion that under the new exemption religious employers would not pay for contraception. Some of these points, particuarly the needs of self-insured institutions like universities, have merit and should find some remedy. Others, with wonkish precision, seem to press the campaign too far.

The bishops have been most effective in influencing public policy when they have acted as pastors, trying to build consensus in church and society, as they did in their pastorals on nuclear war and the economy. The American public is uncomfortable with an overt exercise of political muscle by the hierarchy. Catholics, too, have proved more responsive to pastoral approaches. They expect church leaders to appeal to gospel values, conscience and right reason. They hope they will accept honorable accomodations and, even when provoked, not stir up hostility. In the continuing dialogue with government, a conciliatory style that keeps Catholics united and cools the national distemper would benefit the whole church.

Read the rest here.

Tim Reidy

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Michael Barberi
7 years 1 month ago
Obama's new solution will cause a series of legal challanges. The challange will be not about religious freedom. It will be about the premise to mandate both coverage and the cost of coverage. In this case, it is about contesting the government's right to force an insurance organization, HMO, BC/BS organiation to offer "free coverage". Free to employees and free to plan sponsors based on the premise that contraceptive coverage reduces total healthcare costs. In essence, the insurance company has no right to charge for contraceptive coverage. Many medical products and services reduce total healthcare costs and are not free.

What will happen?

1. Insurance companies will make up for the loss of contraceptive coveage claim cost and administrative fees by increasing administration and other expenses to alll plan sponors and Catholic institutions. They will all end up indirectly paying for such "free coverage".

2. Insurance companies, and plan sponsors, may legally challange the Obama "free" contraceptive coverage rule. If contraceptive coverage is mandated to be 'free" because it reduces total healthcare cost, other products and services that do the same should be free as well. Can the federal government dictate to insurance companies what their profit margins should be, what expenses they should or should not charge for, what claims cost are chargable to plan sponsors?

The insurance companies could well defend the fact that they have been "harmed" (loss of profit, claim cost, administrative fees, etc) by this government mandate without due process. The fact that total healthcare costs are reduced does not impact them since they do not directly benefit by this fact (other than the possibility in fully insured programs). Most large plan sponors self-fund their insurance coverage and it is the plan sponsor, not the insurance company, that gains "if" total heathcare costs are reduced by contraceptive coverage. Who pays for contraceptive coverage claims cost in self-insured plans if it is free? Under self-funded plans, the insurance company charges the plan sponsor for the payment of the claims. Will insurance companies be prohibited from charging self-funding plan sponors for paying contraceptive coverage claims?

This is a much larger issue than freedom of religion. In the end, this is a shell game where all plan sponsors will still have to pay for this so-called free coverage. More importantly, employees of Catholic institutions will still have full access to free contraceptive coverage. Nothing has really changed except that the government is now dictating how healthcare benefits should be offered and paid for.
Ronald Grace
7 years 1 month ago
I really do have to disagree on several points here. My response is rather long, so I've posted it on my own blog, located here

I really do appreciate the work you do, however, for the most part. :)

ed gleason
7 years 1 month ago
65% of all people side with Obama as of yesterday.. The public square will learn next week that bishops have moved the goal posts to include any for-profit business nuts that have religious objections. Ban circumcision coverage anybody? [In San Francisco a Ban almost made it.. the Ban wackos will be back and  this time on the side of the bishops who condemned them last time... nice allies EH?] ..
Next week more people will see a list of the scores Catholic entities that already cover BC.    Therefore I see a least 90% of US siding with Obama. Bishops will be hung out to dry.. then...... there will be the Philly trial... 
Michael Barberi
7 years 1 month ago
Dave, below is another perspective about the free contraceptive coverage issue.

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. The Church believes that they have a moral right to deny Catholic employes of Catholic Institutions medical necessary contraceptive coverage. However, in the same breath they do not deny Catholics who practice contraception from receiving the Eurcharist. If 97% of worldwide Catholic married women practice a form of contraception that is considered intrinsically evil by the Vatican, then the majority of married Catholics, in child bearing years, who stand in line to receive the Eucharist each week pracitce contraception as well, and every priest knows this.

The church has yet to explain this contradiction between the Church's word and its deed.
7 years 1 month ago
Is the legislative fix supported by the bishops the one that lets employers opt out of any coverage they find morally objectionable, on the principle that no one should ever have to contribute money to something that violates his/her conscience?

When do I get my tax refund for the Iraq war?
David Pasinski
7 years 1 month ago

I think Michael';s' remarks make sense, but I still favor this attempt
rather than another accomodation.

Ralph's remarks could be my own. Anybody see any statement from the bishops SUPPORTING Obama's proposal to reduce nuclear warheads by about 80%

 The GOP doesn't favor it. Wonder if and when the bishops will weigh in... but that's not their expertise!
Amy Ho-Ohn
7 years 1 month ago
It seems obvious the bishops' concern is not exclusively religious organizations' "religious liberty."

Because if it were, they could simply propose a compromise of their own to the White House and HHS: Grant religious-affiliated organizations an exemption from covering contraception, sterilization and "aborifacient" pills and we will whole-heartedly support the implementation of the ACA. We will use all our moral authority to oppose the efforts of the evangelical religious right, the libertarians and all those abominable little "hooray, let him die!" Ron Paulites to repeal the ACA. Because, at this point in time, the only possibilities are to implement the ACA or to continue allowing low-income wage-earners to suffer needlessly and die prematurely, and as Catholics, we think allowing people to suffer needlessly and die prematurely is wrong.

They could do that easily. But they don't. Why not? Does anybody doubt Obama and Sebelius would accept enthusiastically?
Amy Ho-Ohn
7 years 1 month ago
Michael Barberi
7 years 1 month ago

Moral error eventually manifests itself in conflict, contradiction, inconsistency as well as in tension with human experience and conscious. The truth eventually emerges after much debate, new knowledge and re-thinking. However the reception of a controversial teaching among theologians, clergy and the lay communities progress at different rates over time. This is why the teachings on slavery, usury, the ends of marriage and now capital punishment have changed. The teaching about contraception will eventually change as well.  

Your comment that in life contradictions abound and that the Church did not survive by condeming every sin and misguided bishop or true, but off-point. I will accept responsibility for not being clear enough. I was focused on the issue of contraception in its entirity and its relation to Obama's mandated coverage and cost rule, posting #1 and wanted to provide another perpective, posting # 8 regarding a glaring contradiction. 

Humanae Vitae (HV) and the entire sexual ethical teachings of the Church in modern times has its cornerstone in Paul VI's encyclical. Once HV is reformed, it will lead to the reform of other sexual ethical teachings that have divided our Church. If you study the history of moral theology and the contemporary arguments in theological ethics, you will appreciate the connection I made about the contradiction between word and deed. This is particularly important because the Church considers contraception in HV not just a teaching, but a moral absolute.
7 years 1 month ago
Why is it that the Bishops have never mounted such massive campaigns against the illegal wars that caused hundreds of thousands of deaths; sadistic torture on the part of the U.S government; the National budget,  that cut programs of social uplift effecting millions of poor people in the U.S.? Why is it that they vociferously voice objections on  issues of gender and sexuality and hardly whisper about the other pro-life issues? Imagine what might our world  be like if they did.
Crystal Watson
7 years 1 month ago
>>> For a brief moment, Catholics on all sides were united in defense of the freedom of the Catholic Church to define for itself what it means to be Catholic in America" <<<

This is untrue and I'm getting pretty tired of seeing this assertion made.    Many Catholics disagree with the bishops  on this subject.  A few examples  .....

 - Bishops don't speak for most Catholics on contraception  ..... (CNN)

 -   An Embarrassing campaign gone awrt  ...  (NCR)

 -  "A majority of Catholic voters in the poll were at odds with the church’s official stance, agreeing with most other voters that religiously affiliated employers should offer health insurance that provides contraception."  ....

Vince Killoran
7 years 1 month ago
In the first of his back-to-back comments David reveals the weakness of his position: "Obama sees only power, and you've subtracted from the bishops' power. "

The "bishops' power"?!  That's really what it comes down to for some of our "Christianists"-not witnessing for justice and mercy but, rather, prelates elbowing their way into the corridors of political power in the nation's capital.
William Kessler
7 years 1 month ago
I will be cancelling my subscribtion immediately to America. The Jesuits have long been a bastion of Faithful Catholic Teaching but no longer does this institution (America Magazine) seem to hold those teachings as sacred. The denial of any religious rights, whether directly or by subsidizing insurance costs that facilitate abortions, contraception or sterilization is unacceptable and a violation of the founding principles of our nation. Shame on America Magazine for this flawed if well argued compromise of the Values of Life and Religious freedom.

Peace, and hope for the conversion of all God's People.

Rev. William F. Kessler
Saint Mary Parish
Edwardsville, IL. 
Michael Barberi
7 years 1 month ago
America Magazine is a most valuable and faithful Catholic magazine that respects both Church teachings and reasonable philosophical and theological moral arguments. It offers a diverity of viewpoints especially on complex ethical and social issues. As I my posting make clear, the Obama compromise is flawed and will not work.

Nevertheless, I find perplexing however, the reason the good father Kessler gave for his decision to cancel his prescription of America magazine....that the denial of religious rights whether directly or by subsidizing insurance costs that facititate abortions, contraception and sterilization is a violation of the "founding principles or our nation". Religious liberty was a founding principle of our nation, but I am unaware that contraception was one of them.

Much has been written in error about the correlation of contraception to abortion, spousal abuse, et al. Most any issue can correlate with another issue, and not be a "cause of it". Correlation and cause are too different animals and many traditiion-minded theologians falsely exaggerate that Humanae Vitae was right because of the prophetic consequences of Paul VI.  An example will prove my point: the increase in contraceptive use correlates with an increase in spousal abuse. However, every expert knows, and studies have proven, that spousal abuse is caused by such factors as: the deep physchological problems of the abuser, alcohol and drug abuse, and the financial difficulties of protracted under-employment and unemployment. Contraception does not cause spousal abuse, nor does it cause abortion.

Michael Kelly
7 years 1 month ago
            Your editorial is stunning in its confusion, self-contradiction, and myopia in regard to issue of the impact of the HHS contraception mandate on the constitutional right to freedom of religion.  On one hand, you correctly note the obvious - that there is a difference between “authoritative teaching on matters of principle and debatable applications to public policy”.   Yet, having noted the distinction, you then proceed to ignore it in this instance by the subterfuge of ascribing to the HHS mandate - and implicitly the ACA which gives rise to it - the status of an authoritative, not-to-be-challenged implementation of the “right to health care”, as opposed to what it is – a mere public policy of debatable (and in reality, dubious) legitimacy and benefit.
            By your reasoning, the indisputable infringement resulting from the HHS mandate upon the constitutional right to religious freedom is of relatively minimal importance compared with a tendentiously defined “right to health care” – that is, a “right” not defined as merely the right of citizens under our laws to obtain products and services they deem necessary to their health care including abortifacients and sterilization, but as a service that some citizens have the “right” to demand be provided to them by other citizens, however objectionable on moral grounds the “health care” service in question is to those others.     
            Therefore, even though you purport to acknowledge the distinction between the authoritative principles and debatable applications of principles to public policy, the “right to health care” - including the forced provision of contraception, abortifacients, and sterilizations in all health insurance plans except those for narrowly defined religious organizations - is, in your view the legitimate authoritative principle that must be adhered to.  And the true authoritative principle – the necessity of respect for the right to religious freedom traditionally understood (and not as a mere “right to worship”) - simply becomes in your view a debatable public policy issue of far lesser importance. 
Tom Maher
7 years 1 month ago
Dave Smith (# 9)

I found your reaction - "  ... it's you who are uncomfortable ... " - to the highly subjective nature of this editorial very insightful and accurate.   I also agree with that Catholics should support the Bishops in this instense and very real church v. state conflict where the religous liberites of all  Americans are at stake. 

But probing even deeper where does this subjectivity in this editorial on so many levels come from?  How is it possible after so many weeks of this church v. state conflict ther editorial can still not accurately explain what the serious nature and intesity of the problem that compells the Bishops and evenryone else in America to be extremely alarmed and alert to , as you said so well, " the encroachment of the state led by what looks increasingly like an abnormally secularist president".  

Your " ... it's you ..."  response answer the subjectivity question about this editorial.  The editorial can not bring itself to be critical for his profound and continuting blunder.  The editor makes speculative judgements about all Caholics in effect disapproving of the Bishops while saying nothing about the obvious highly unusual role to the President in this matter.  The editorial faintly hints "this conflict should have never happened" but only is able to fault the Bishops and ignore the obvious question why did the President start and continue this conflict?   This editorial is in denial of the real ugly causes and effects of this conflict and how it should be properly resolved in favor of religious liberties.
John Hayes
7 years 1 month ago

I'm puzzled that Bishop Dinardo's February 15 letter to Senators asking suppport for S. 1467 describes the ''accommodation'' in a way that doesn't match up with any description I have seen from the government. My understanding is that contraception will not be part of the benefits included in the employers plan. Is it possible that the USCCB has misunderstood the proposal?

News of this regulatory action was obscured by the Administration’s simultaneous announcement that it would engage in new rulemaking next year, to develop a mechanism for applying the mandate to religious groups that are not exempt. It is proposed that, after a year’s delay in enforcement, these organizations’ health plans must include the same objectionable coverage as purely secular employers do – but the decision to do so will simply be taken away from them, as the coverage will be inserted into their plan directly by the insurer over their objections.

 It is little or no comfort that, rather than being forced to propose such coverage, religious organizations will simply have it imposed on them. The argument that they will not really have to subsidize the coverage, because insurers will offer it “free of charge,” runs up against the reality that this coverage will be integrated into their overall health plan, and subsidized with the premiums paid by employer and employee for that plan.  


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