February 17, 2012 – A United Voice

Well this was another week that saw the Catholic Church hold a prominent place in the news headlines.  I’ve felt like one of those old time newsmen who smokes a cigar and wears a fedora with a pencil stuck in his ear trying to keep up on all of the news of the day, except that I’m following Facebook instead of going through rolls of teletype.  So I’ll hit on as much as I can and see where it goes.

At this time last week the Obama administration had just announced a “compromise” on the HHS mandate requiring Catholic-run organizations such as hospitals, universities and charities to include coverage for contraceptives and sterilization procedures in their health care plans.  At that time the church hierarchy had not had a chance to read and examine what the “compromise” really meant.  Essentially, the “compromise” or “accommodation” states that the responsibility to provide coverage for contraception and sterilization would be placed not on the religious employer, but on the insurance provider.  In other words, the “compromise” is telling religious employers: “you don’t have to provide the coverage.  We’ll make sure the insurers you contract with for employee coverage provide it instead.”  However, many Catholic institutions are self-insured, so they would still be forced to go against church teaching and violate their conscience to provide these birth control methods.  And no matter what the situation, the employer would still be forced to pay for this as part of their insurance plan.  Of course, the money to pay for this would have to come from an increase in the employer’s premiums to the insurance company, thus this cost would be passed on to the employee, whether they object to it or not.  The USCCB has put out a very informative insert, which is to be put into parish bulletins across the country, explaining that even with this “accommodation”, the original HHS mandate still stands.  I have put a link to this document on our website and the link to it is below:

www.maryhoc.org/files/Gallery_Eng_Bulletin_HHS_Mandate_Feb_2012_Final_1_.pdf

So essentially we still stand at a crossroads.  The people who favor or are indifferent to this mandate continue to make the argument that “it’s just birth control, what’s the big deal?  The Catholic Church has always been off base on this anyway.”  Well number one, Catholic teaching of course tells us that artificial means of birth control goes against biblical principles.  But the real heart of the issue is that our right of religious freedom is being taken away.  We are being “forced” by our government to either as an employer provide coverage for methods that they consider morally wrong, or as an employee being forced to pay for something they consider morally wrong.  This is not just an argument about whether artificial birth control is right or wrong.  This is about our CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS as a private, religious community to practice our teachings and to not be forced by our government to violate our conscience.

As I stated last week, many people of faith (not just Catholics) have lamented the fact that our rights to freely practice our religion have been slowly eroding away.  Letting this mandate stand would deal a severe blow to our rights.  In an article I read this past week, the author said that in following this line of reasoning, a hospital for example should be able to demand that they have the right to overturn bans on smoking in their institutions.  It forces those who smoke to change their own habits in order to comply with the views of their employer.  Of course this would not fly because of second-hand smoke issues, cleanliness issues, etc.  So these employees know that they have to comply with this policy in order to work at the hospital.  Likewise, those who work at Catholic institutions know what the church teaches about artificial birth control, and that as part of their agreement to work at this institution that they will either accept the health care plan as offered, or turn down the employer-offered health care plan and seek their own that does provide birth control coverage.  Any way that you dissect this, this mandate will force employers and consumers to be forced to violate their conscience in some way.  This is a slap in the face to our first amendment rights.

So is it going too far to say that this potentially could be a watershed moment for our country?  I don’t think so, particularly when I see the outcry not only from our church hierarchy but from other religions and other people of faith.  I don’t know if there would be another moment like this in the near future when leaders of many churches would be united for such a cause.  My hope in all of this is that we will not just get this mandate reversed, and not just that some type of legislation will be passed protecting our rights of conscience, but that people of faith will see that when united in one voice, we can protect our freedoms, and that we will become a stronger church in the end as a result. 

Sticking with the Catholic theme, we know that next week begins the Holy Season of Lent, the season in which we focus on penance and sacrifice.  We as a parish will do many of the same things we have done in the past.  This weekend you will receive the Lenten booklets with all of the activities and schedules (it will also be posted on our website) as well as the “Five Minutes With the Word” reflection booklets.  There are also many, many online resources to take advantage of as well, and I wanted to guide you to a couple of them.  One is a video, one is a web link:

A Guide to a Catholic Lent: www.osv.com/YourGuideToACatholicLent/tabid/8267/Default.aspx

Finally, a hearty congratulations to the 22 men who will be elevated to Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI tomorrow morning, particularly to Edwin O’Brien, Archbishop Emeritus of Baltimore and Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and a personal favorite of this blogger.  The actual ceremony begins at 3:30AM our time Saturday morning, but EWTN will present an encore broadcast at 4:00PM on Saturday afternoon.

Have a great week and a blessed Lenten season.  Peace.

 

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