Bishop tells faithful ‘we cannot accept this mandate’
June 22, 2012
In the Church’s struggle for the protection of religious freedom, Bishop Wm. Michael Mulvey asked the people in the Diocese of Corpus Christi to pray. The bishop told a full Cathedral on June 21 that the Church is calling into question “secular tendencies that seek to limit the divine”
The bishop said government was impeding people of faith to minister to those in need.
“For many years now the Church has been working to protect the rights of the unborn in so many different activities, to counteract abortion and to protect the human dignity of every person. Now we also must defend and promote what should be protected for us in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America; that is our religious freedom,” Bishop Mulvey said as the Diocese of Corpus Christi joined Catholics around the nation in promoting a “Fortnight for Freedom.”
At the recommendation of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Diocese of Corpus Christi invited the faithful to participate in the two-week observance with prayer and fasting.
Many Catholics, Bishop Mulvey said, do not see this as a pressing need. “However, anyone who studies the facts and sees the incursion of government into our lives as Catholics cannot but be alarmed,” he said.
The USCCB and many others, both Catholic and non-Catholic, are working to assure that this egregious overstepping of boundaries does not go through, the bishop said.
The sometimes-contentious debate has been brewing since Jan. 21 when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the final rules governing group health plans and health issuers relating to coverage of “preventive services” under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act adopted by Congress in March 2010.
HHS initially did not ask for comments on the proposed rules but nonetheless received an outpouring of comments. Some of the comments received suggested “group health plans sponsored by religiously-affiliated employers be allowed to exclude contraceptive services from coverage under their plans if the employers deem such services contrary to their religious tenets…”
HHS ostensibly amended their initial proposed rules to provide an exemption to religious employers that have “the inculcation of religious values as its purpose;” primarily employed persons who share their religious beliefs; and primarily serve persons who share these tenets. The agency received more than 200,000 comments to these changes.
This final rule did not meet the approval of the USCCB, who agreed with respondents who believed that the religious employer exemption was too narrow. Among those opposing this narrow definition were religiously affiliated educational institutions, health care organizations and charities. They expressed the concern that the rules would not allow them to continue their current exclusion of contraceptive services from coverage under their group health plans.
The proposed rule also ran into objection from those who had concerns about paying for such services and stated that doing so would be contrary to their religious beliefs. Some religious groups expressed the concern that Federal laws, including the Affordable Care Act, have provided for conscience clauses and religious exemptions broader than that provided for in the rules. Finally, some claimed that this narrower scope of the exemption raised concerns under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The USSCB and others warned HHS that if the definition of religious employer were not broadened, they would not violate their religious canons and would no longer be able to provide health coverage to their employees.
Despite the many concerns, HHS refused to amend the regulation further to accommodate groups that could not violate their conscience in order to comply with the untenable proposal.
The bishops of the United States declared that they could not look the other way. In a statement of conscience they asserted “the federal government will both force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching and purport to define which religious institutions are ‘religious enough’ to merit protection of their religious liberty.”
The rules promulgated for the “preventive services” mandate amounted to “an unjust law,” the statement said.
“This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government. This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. Instead, it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs,” said Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.
The bishops were firm in their convictions, giving notice to anyone listening that they would not take this challenge lying down. “Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home,” the bishops said. “It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith?”
“Without religious liberty properly understood, all Americans suffer, deprived of the essential contribution in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights, and social services that religious Americans make every day, both here at home and overseas.”
The final rules mandated by HHS will go into effect in a month, on Aug. 1. What will happen then is not clear, but the bishops have made it clear that they do not intend to comply with an unjust law. They continue to ask the faithful to pray and write their representatives in Washington.
“My brothers and sisters, we must realize that mercy triumphs over judgment. It is not for us to judge but it is a time for us to pray. To pray for those who are causing this intrusion into the practice of our religion and faith and pray for those who are seeking to defend it,” Bishop Mulvey said. “God’s will for all of us is that we are united as a people and not divided.”
The bishop called on the faithful to pray that the Church’s call for justice does not become another wedge to divide the country.
“However, such issues, as the issue of religious freedom create a division between us. As we work to protect our freedoms and the first and most important freedom that of our right to express ourselves in faith, let us not lose charity and forget to pray for those who persecute us and those who seek to diminish the beauty of our faith,” Bishop Mulvey said.
“Our strength is only the strength the Lord can provide,” Bishop Mulvey said.