The bishop was referring to a Jan. 20 ruling by the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services (HHS) requiring that nearly all private health plans in the United States include coverage for all FDA-approved prescription contraceptive drugs and devices, as well as surgical sterilization.These drugs and procedures are listed among "preventive services for women" that all health plans will have to cover without co-pays or other cost-sharing -- regardless of whether the insurer, the employer or other plan sponsor, or even the woman herself objects to such coverage.
The exemption provided for "religious employers," Bishop Mulvey said, is so narrow that it fails to cover the vast majority of faith-based organizations, including Catholic hospitals, universities and service organizations that help millions every year. Ironically, not even Jesus and his disciples would have qualified.
During the public comment period last fall, the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) launched a grassroots campaign that generated more than 57,000 comments to HHS opposing their mandate. The Administration, however, refused to listen and now will not recognize the Constitutional conscience rights of organizations and individuals who oppose the mandate.
The ruling, Bishop Mulvey said in a letter he asked be read at every Sunday Mass in the diocese, “will have an enormously negative impact upon the Catholic Church in the United States” and “will heavily weaken the life and work of the Church.”
Bishop Mulvey said HHS’ mandate would affect all those whom the Church serves through such Catholic schools, Catholic Charities and Catholic hospitals. Because of this rule, unless it is overturned, Catholic institutions will be compelled either to violate their consciences, or to drop health coverage for their employees, including priests and religious.
“The Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our nation's first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty,” Bishop Mulvey said.
Bishops across the United States condemned the HHS regulations when they were first proposed and worked to persuade federal officials to change them and to broaden the religious exemption. They have been forceful in their condemnations of the latest announcement as well.
“The bishops will do all that is needed to overturn this ruling,” Bishop Mulvey said. “We cannot be marginalized as second class citizens.”
Bishop Mulvey pointed out that the bishops’ response was not a political statement, but rather it was “a matter of conscience, of religious freedom.” Conscience is not a matter of “left or right” the bishop said.
“The Church has always taught that a good Catholic must be a good citizen, in fact, we must be exemplary citizens in all things,” Bishop Mulvey said.
Jesus stood up to what was wrong and so must Catholics of today, Bishop Mulvey said.
The bishop asked the faithful throughout the diocese to pray and fast regarding this egregious mandate, to get and remain informed and to contact their legislators and express support for overturning the ruling.
“As your bishop, I am counting on you to stand with me, and all the Catholic bishops of the United States to protect our sacred rights and duties,” Bishop Mulvey said.
The diocesan Web site, www.diocesecc.org, is providing ongoing information on the campaign to overturn the HHS ruling. The faithful can listen to the bishop’s homily and sign up for email alerts.