Catholic Bishops to Obama: No Compromise, Rescind the Mandate

Source: Vatican Radio

Full text of the US Catholic Bishops’ statement in response to President Obama’s proposed changes to the HHS mandate:

The Catholic bishops have long supported access to life-affirming healthcare for all, and the conscience rights of everyone involved in the complex process of providing that healthcare. That is why we raised two serious objections to the “preventive services” regulation issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in August 2011.

First, we objected to the rule forcing private health plans — nationwide, by the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen—to cover sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion. All the other mandated “preventive services” prevent disease, and pregnancy is not a disease. Moreover, forcing plans to cover abortifacients violates existing federal conscience laws. Therefore, we called for the rescission of the mandate altogether.

Second, we explained that the mandate would impose a burden of unprecedented reach and severity on the consciences of those who consider such “services” immoral: insurers forced to write policies including this coverage; employers and schools forced to sponsor and subsidize the coverage; and individual employees and students forced to pay premiums for the coverage. We therefore urged HHS, if it insisted on keeping the mandate, to provide a conscience exemption for all of these stakeholders—not just the extremely small subset of “religious employers” that HHS proposed to exempt initially.

Today, the President has done two things.

First, he has decided to retain HHS’s nationwide mandate of insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacients. This is both unsupported in the law and remains a grave moral concern. We cannot fail to reiterate this, even as so many would focus exclusively on the question of religious liberty.

Second, the President has announced some changes in how that mandate will be administered, which is still unclear in its details. As far as we can tell at this point, the change appears to have the following basic contours:

  • It would still mandate that all insurers must include coverage for the objectionable services in all the policies they would write. At this point, it would appear that self-insuring religious employers, and religious insurance companies, are not exempt from this mandate.
  • It would allow non-profit, religious employers to declare that they do not offer such coverage. But the employee and insurer may separately agree to add that coverage. The employee would not have to pay any additional amount to obtain this coverage, and the coverage would be provided as a part of the employer’s policy, not as a separate rider.
  • Finally, we are told that the one-year extension on the effective date (from August 1, 2012 to August 1, 2013) is available to any non-profit religious employer who desires it, without any government application or approval process.

These changes require careful moral analysis, and moreover, appear subject to some measure of change. But we note at the outset that the lack of clear protection for key stakeholders—for self-insured religious employers; for religious and secular for-profit employers; for secular non-profit employers; for religious insurers; and for individuals—is unacceptable and must be corrected. And in the case where the employee and insurer agree to add the objectionable coverage, that coverage is still provided as a part of the objecting employer’s plan, financed in the same way as the rest of the coverage offered by the objecting employer. This, too, raises serious moral concerns.

We just received information about this proposal for the first time this morning; we were not consulted in advance. Some information we have is in writing and some is oral. We will, of course, continue to press for the greatest conscience protection we can secure from the Executive Branch. But stepping away from the particulars, we note that today’s proposal continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions. In a nation dedicated to religious liberty as its first and founding principle, we should not be limited to negotiating within these parameters. The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.

We will therefore continue—with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency—our efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government. For example, we renew our call on Congress to pass, and the Administration to sign, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. And we renew our call to the Catholic faithful, and to all our fellow Americans, to join together in this effort to protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all.


  1. Arguments for a “religious employer” exemption have gone from wrong to ridiculous.

    Those demanding such an exemption initially worked themselves into a lather with the false claim that the law forced employers to provide their employees with health care plans offering services the employers considered immoral. The fact is that employers have the option of not providing any such plans and instead simply paying assessments to the government. Unless one supposes that the employers’ religion forbids payments of money to the government (all of us should enjoy such a religion), then the law’s requirement to pay assessments does not compel those employers to act contrary to their beliefs. Problem solved–except perhaps for an employer who really desires not just to avoid a moral bind, but rather wants to retain control of his employees’ health plans, limit their choices to conform to the employer’s religious beliefs, and avoid paying the assessments that otherwise would be owed. For that, an employer would need an exemption from the law.

    Indeed, some continued clamoring for just such an exemption, complaining that by paying assessments they would be paying for the very things they opposed. They seemingly missed that that is not a moral dilemma justifying an exemption to avoid being forced to act contrary to one’s beliefs, but rather is a gripe common to most taxpayers–who don’t much like paying taxes and who object to this or that action the government may take with the benefit of their tax dollars. Should each of us be exempted from paying our taxes so we aren’t thereby “forced” to pay for a war, health care, or whatever else each of us may consider wrong or even immoral?

    In any event, they put up enough of a stink that the government relented and announced that religious employers would be free to provide health plans with provisions to their liking and not be required to pay the assessments otherwise required. Problem solved–again, even more.

    Nonetheless, some continue to complain. They fret that somehow religious employers ultimately will pay for the services they oppose. They argue that if insurers (or, by the same logic, anyone, e.g., employees) pay for such services, those costs will somehow, someday be passed on to the employers in the form of demands for higher insurance premiums or higher wages. They counter what they call the government’s “accounting gimmick” with one of their own: the “Catholic dollar.” These dollars remain Catholic, it seems, even when paid by a religious employer to others, e.g., insurers or employees, in the sense that they can be used only for things the religious employer would approve. The religious employers’ aim, we are assured, is not to thereby control the actions of others, oh no, but rather is merely to assure that the employers themselves do not somehow act contrary to their own beliefs by loosing “their” dollars into hands that would use them for things no self-respecting religious employer would himself buy. Their religious liberty, they say, requires not only that they be exempted from the law, but further that anyone to whom they pay money also be exempted and thus “free” to act according to their desires.

    I wonder what they would think of their follow-the-dollar theory if they realized they had some of my “atheist dollars” in their wallets that can be used only for ungodly purposes, lest I suffer the indignity of paying for things I disbelieve.

  2. macedonianReader :

    Definitely like this. While I am confused by the Roman Catholic Church as a whole, it seems the bishops are in the right mindset.

  3. I was raised as a Catholic. Or perhaps lowered. 🙂 Whatever. But seriously… I strongly disagree with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops statement, which denounces President Barack Obama’s attempts at compromise as “needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions”. On the contrary, the Bishops comments are themselves a needless religious intrusion upon the proper and legitimate functions of government…functions that serve to promote women’s rights, and equality, and fairness for ALL. No one is coming into our Churches and trying to tell parishioners what to believe. BUT If the Bishops want to start businesses that employ millions of people of varying faiths -or no “faith” at all- THEN they must play by the rules. Just because a religious group in America claims to believe something, we cannot excuse them from obeying the law in the PUBLIC arena, based on that belief. They can legally attempt to change the law, not to deny it outright. And if they want to plunge overtly into politics from the pulpit, then they should give up their tax-exempt status. Did I miss something, or when it comes to the “sanctity of life”, is every single righteous Catholic still a card carrying conscientious objector, refusing to take up arms, totally against the death penalty, and contraception in all its forms? Oh well, hypocrisy is often at the heart of politics, and politics masquerading as religion even more so. This country is an invigorating mixture of all the diversity that life has to offer, drawing its strength FROM that diversity. We need to work together to preserve, enrich, and strengthen this unique experiment – NOT to tear it down with poisonous, paralyzing, and un-Christian demonization of each other.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      Stan, the Catholic Church does play by the rules. They won’t however, enforce dictates that violate the conscience. They have the constitutional right to do this. It is called freedom of religion.

      I’m glad that freedom exists. If we followed your directive, Martin Luther King should have remained in jail.

      • Fr. Jacobse, I don’t follow your logic here regarding Dr. King. Dr. King protested unjust laws and was put in jail as a result. His protests led eventually to a changing of law. I don’t see how that relates to Stan’s comments.

        I once worked at a Catholic hospital, and it employed Jews, Muslims, Protestants, and people of no religious affiliation. For the most part, no effort was made to insist that employees of other faiths followed Catholic doctrine (with the exception of omission of contraception from health plans). Employees simply were asked to respect the hospital’s mission to carry out the healing work of Christ. If institutions choose to enter into an employer/employee arrangements with people of all faiths, perhaps it is not such a bad idea to offer health plans that mirror American society as a whole. Certainly the Bible frequently cautions about wealth and greed, but the hospital paid its CEO $650,000 in one year with the justification that it was necessary to be in line with other hospitals in the region. Perhaps the health plans for the rank and file employees should also be allowed to be in line with those of other employers in the area. My main point here is that many Catholic institutions act much like any other community employer.

        The concept of asking Catholic institutions to pay the for health coverage from insurance companies that are required to offer contraception benefits does not seem to be a direct infringement of freedom of religion. Tax dollars paid by Catholics that are used to pay for state and federal executions would seem to be as much or more of an imposition, but I do not hear Catholic clergy complaining anywhere near as loudly about that. Why?

        I just don’t see the government trying to injure the Catholic church. First, as I understand it, there was always an exemption for churches themselves, and if we are just looking at institutions like hospitals or charities, the government is often providing funding. As I understand it, Catholic Charities receives 65% of its funding from government sources. Why is this rule governing health insurance being interpreted as such a major imposition?

        • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

          Why is the insurance mandate being interpreted as a major imposition? Because it would force the Catholic Church to conform to policies inimical to its teachings. It really is as simple as that.

  4. Should we expect a response to the “accomodation” from the Assembly here? I feel like we are probably just raiding the coat-tails of the further-clarified Catholic position with regards to Constitutionality. Not a terrible thing, but every word spoken in active unity seems to strengthen our internal cause, as well as our external front.

    I do wonder where this is all leading, especially since it seems the president’s administration seems fairly set, despite disagreement on the part of the Catholic bishops and others.

  5. Let’s summarize the response so the whole world gets to see the differences in Christian leadership between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in America:

    The Assembly of Orthodox Bishops issued a simple statement made up of 3 whole paragraphs. It was posted on their website and no attempt was made to spread the word in all Orthodox parishes or have it printed in parish bulletins.
    Record of Protest Against the Infringement of Religious Liberty by the Department of Health and Human Services

    177* Bishops (Almost 100% of Dioceses) Have Spoken Out Against Obama/HHS Mandate
    We’re talking about 177 Catholic Bishops (almost ALL of them) who EACH issued a Full Statement. Most of them read their statements at all diocesan Masses or included them in parish bulletins on Sunday.

    “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:16-20)

    • Chris, I believe the EA statement was intentionally vague so as to have plausible deniability in some circles especially 79th Street. Notice no bishop is quoted. This is not accidental.

      • Geo Michalopulos :

        Where is this all going? The persecution of Christianity. All Christianity. Of course the time-servers and Obama-grovellers will get to keep their cushy jobs in new, “reformed” Christian Church.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        Andrew, the lack of specificity may also be due to the fact it was written quickly.

        More bothersome to me was that no explanatory paper has been issued subsequently. This is a significant lapse. It may be necessary to appoint someone more adept at public communication in the long run.

    • You can bet the leaders of the OC-Gay are pressuring their enabling hierarchs to put a stop to this sort of thing in the future. Pray for them.

  6. Michael Bauman :

    The problem is not the contraception mandate. The problem is the whole damn bill and the dictatorial power it gives the federal government.

    The bill is a massive boondogle that serves only one purpose well–more power to the federal governemnt. That is all it was intended to do. The rest of the demogogic rhetoric was simply to stir up the unwashed masses, the naive and the ideological statists (regardless of party).

    The contraception mandate is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the intrusions this bill allows. It is illogical and stupid to only oppose a particular part of the bill when one’s own ox is gored. Unless all of it is opposed and defeated, worse is yet to come.

    Anyone who honestly thinks that actual health care will improve and be available to more people under this bill is deluded. The rest of its supporters are simply lying to gain the power.

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