President’s ‘compromise’ really no compromise at all

Archbishop Nienstedt

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt

I had just finished celebrating Mass on Friday, Feb. 10, at our annual chancery retreat day when I received word that President Obama had revised his health care insurance mandate. My first reaction was one of gratitude and relief. I said a prayer of thanksgiving for the president’s openness to compromise. However, such feelings were soon dissipated as it became apparent that this compromise was really no compromise at all.

You will recall that last August the Department of Health and Human Services had announced that, with the new federal health care program, all insurance policies would have to include coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations and drugs that induce abortions.

Catholic parishes and parish schools were exempted because they employ persons of their own faith and serve clients of that same category. But Catholic hospitals, colleges and charities, along with for-profit Catholic institutions, Catholic-owned businesses and church institutions that self-insure, did not fit that narrow definition and, therefore, would be forced to purchase coverage for drugs that according to church teaching are intrinsically evil.

No solution

The so-called “compromise” issued on Feb. 10 would compel religious employers to refer these employees to their insurance company, and the insurance company will be obliged to provide such coverage at no cost. But, in essence, the religious groups would still be forced to offer insurance that covers birth control, sterilization and even drugs that induce abortion. This involves what is called “material cooperation” in an immoral act.

In addition, the insurance companies would, in all probability, add the cost of the “free” drugs to the employer’s premium. Thus, the proposed solution really doesn’t solve the moral dimensions of this mandate, since the Catholic employers would still have to violate their consciences by co-operating in an immoral act. The issue is not so much, then, one about contraceptives as it is about religious freedom and the legal protection of the inviolability of the conscience.

Legislation needed

Let’s be clear — there are already precedents for the government to provide reasonable concessions to religious groups relative to the protection of deeply held religious beliefs.  The Amish do not carry health insurance, and the government doesn’t force them to do otherwise. Christian Scientists are permitted within the new health care reform bill to heal by prayer alone. Quakers and conscientious objectors are allowed to refrain from military service during wartime. So why can’t the same respect be given to Catholics and other religious groups in this instance?

I urge our readership to contact the White House and to express these concerns, calling for a more complete revision of the mandate.

At the same time, I urge our readership to contact their respective representative and senators to ask them to support bill HR 1179 in the House and S. 1467 in the Senate, a bill entitled “The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act.”

I believe this is the best way to protect the rights of conscience in regard to this federal health care mandate.

The latest information and action alerts on this issue can be found at the Minnesota Catholic Conference’s website: http://mncc.org/issues/life-bio-ethics.

On a final point, we are not the only North American country where Catholics are being tested in terms of religious freedom. In Canada, the legislature voted a few years ago to alter the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

Recently, Catholic schools there have been told they must establish “gay-straight clubs” for students with same-sex attraction, as well as for transgendered students. These are clubs in which a lifestyle choice deeply damaging to human dignity is being put forward as acceptable and even laudable, despite the strong objections of the church.

On Jan. 25, the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association (OCSTA) tried to broker a compromise by suggesting that the student-led clubs focus instead on the combating of bullying related to racism, gender, disability and, indeed, sexual orientation. The OCSTA insisted that the “gay-straight” alliance is “not acceptable in Catholic schools.” The government, however, rejected the compromise, thus imperiling the practice of religious freedom in those Catholic schools.

In essence, the state has told Catholic schools that the position of the church on this issue does not matter. What matters is that the state has the authority to decide, even when it means that the rights of the Catholic conscience are trampled upon.

Many people have said that altering the definition of marriage here in the state of Minnesota would have little impact on the culture or the free expression and practices of churches.

But I believe our Catholic brothers and sisters to the north would argue otherwise in light of this recent experience. This is just one more reason for ensuring that the definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman should be guaranteed by a constitutional amendment.

God bless you!

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Category: Only Jesus

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